Natalia Cornelio: Embrazing her inner Aztec warrier
You may want to call Natalia Cornelio “Nata” as her friends know her, but “Your Honor” seems more appropriate. Natalia currently presides as the District Judge for the 351st District Court in Harris County.
Her political perspective was developed by her parents who were highly engaged in serving the community. Her family regularly volunteered and donated toys and other items. Moreover, her father and mother played significant roles in the migrant workers' movement and were strong advocates for education in the Latino community. Their focus was on expanding educational opportunities and enhancing representation in local government.
As she continued her education and delved deeper into understanding the law and the justice system from a more academic standpoint, she also drew insights from personal experiences. She believes that individuals from brown communities often have some form of interaction with the justice system, either as victims or through other encounters. Recognizing the impact of these systems on their communities, she aspired to become a resource for positive movements.
She sought a position where she could effect meaningful change while fighting bullies and establishing a strong connection between her work and her community. These values were of utmost importance to her, and she felt a deep calling to advocate for those who were voiceless.
Before she ran for office, Natalia had little prior knowledge about how to run for office. She had few mentors or resources to guide her. Ironically, this question came up, and as she now reflects on it, she realizes that the only reason she believed becoming an elected official was possible was because one of her colleagues decided to run.
Having been a judge for almost three years, Natalia believes the most difficult thing for a Latina or a woman of color in politics is the uniquely difficult journey of building self-confidence. At times, it feels like we are "faking it until we’re making it."
Additionally, based on her personal experiences and those of many others, she realizes that sometimes the individuals closest to us are not as supportive as we would hope. Overcoming this lack of support can be an added challenge on the path of staying true to our beliefs, especially when it feels like the closest people may not be fully behind us.
Even when there is some level of support, building the confidence to assert oneself in spaces that might appear daunting is a significant journey. The courage to step forward and ask, "Why not me?" was still a formidable task. Overcoming impostor syndrome and the tendency of women to be exceptionally demanding of themselves requires a real mental shift.
She understood the importance of realizing that she has the qualities necessary to continue to learn as she embraces new challenges. This self-acceptance became enough for her. So when you're putting yourself in a situation where you're expecting yourself to succeed, it should be aligned with your strengths.
As far as strengths go, leaning into her culture and traditions gives her that grounding that she pulls from in difficult times. Her love for the Aztec Concheros dances grew from a desire to tap into her inner warrior.
She believes that Mexican identity often centers on the post-Colombian era, but she also sees the deep-rooted influences of the Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Olmecas in music types like Danza or Musika Folklorica. The rhythms of the drums and the beats that emanate from these ancient cultures offer a sense of “groundedness” and authenticity. When asked, if she feels her inner warrior emerges with the beats she enthusiastically agrees, saying, "Yes, absolutely!"
As far as advice for the next generation of women aspiring to run for positions such as judge, she suggests, "Stay grounded and go for it." Her advice is to seek support early and consistently, as there are always individuals willing to assist in achieving success. She emphasizes the importance of showing up with dedication and thorough preparation, surpassing the efforts of the competition.
As Natalia aptly states “Nobody was born a judge. Right? People that are there, have to learn it too, and that's okay.” Like Nata, when in doubt let your inner warrior lead the way!