Rebecca Acuña: A household name in Texas
Rebecca Acuña graced statewide headlines after she was selected as the Texas State Director for the Biden-Harris Presidential campaign. This was not her first brush with politics. Prior to this, Rebecca served in various roles for state legislators, communications director for a statewide political party, and the executive director of a training incubator for up-and-coming Latinx candidates. Her political journey began as an activist fighting for in-state tuition rates for undocumented students. Now, she is a household name among Texas politicians. Meet Rebecca.
Rebecca was born in a small town in México. During her childhood, her family immigrated to McAllen, Texas and eventually landed in Laredo, Texas. She looked up to her parents, both of whom worked hard in the United States. As a Latina living along the southern border of Texas, Rebecca recalls growing up without a sense of race or ethnicity. “Everybody looks like you,” she said. Additionally, Rebecca never had to consider the limitations of being in immigration limbo until she decided to attend college.
When Rebecca started scouting colleges, she quickly learned that despite living in Texas, she would likely be ineligible to attend or pay international tuition rates at public universities in Texas. International tuition rates can sometimes cost up to four times the in-state tuition rate. Then, in 2001, Texas state legislators passed a law that allowed in-state tuition rates for students who were long-term residents of the state and graduated from a Texas high school —the first law in the nation of its kind. The following summer, Rebecca enrolled and began attending the University of Texas.
During her junior year, Rebecca learned that some state legislators were proposing bills that would repeal the in-state tuition law that opened the door to college in Texas. Rebecca met and started organizing with fellow students who wanted to preserve the in-state tuition law. They testified at the Capitol, met with legislators, and high school students about the process to apply to college under the state law. The repeal efforts failed, allowing her and a generation of students to complete their studies. As graduation neared, Rebecca and several student organizers started to focus around passing the DREAM Act, federal legislations which would allow certain undocumented students to seek work authorization if they graduated from college or joined the military. Her advocacy took her to Capital Hill in Washington, D.C.
When she became eligible to work, Rebecca applied to work in the Texas Capitol for Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman. Rebecca originally applied for a role of Legislative Director but was instead offered a Communications Director role. She jumped at the opportunity, saying “[n]o one was going to outwork me because I wanted it.” She understood what it felt like to be unable to work.
Rebecca’s initial steps into politics blossomed into an impressive career. She would go on to work for State Representatives Victoria Neave (fun fact: she met Rep. Neave in college) and Cesar Blanco, U.S. Congressmember Pete Gallego (where she met her mentee Melissa Alfaro), Texas Democratic Party, and Wendy Davis’s gubernatorial campaign. She also co-founded the Latino Center for Leadership Development, an incubator for Hispanic folks across the country training to run for office. Now, she works as the Director of Government Relations for PepsiCo, a position she was scouted for. In this role, she oversees a seven state region and works to maintain relationships with different government entities through product sponsorship, scholarships, and community giving.
In 2020. Rebecca was offered the opportunity of a lifetime. While working for PepsiCo, she was approached to serve as the Texas State Director for President Biden’s campaign. The Biden-Harris team needed someone rooted in Texas politics with extensive communications experience given the constraints of COVID on in-person campaigning. Rebecca was hired on the spot because of her experience on the policy-making and campaign sides of politics. In this capacity, Rebecca introduced now Vice President Kamala Harris at a socially distanced Fort Worth campaign event prior to her taking the state.
Even with her name becoming a household name in Texas democratic politics, Rebecca’s greatest accomplishment comes from playing a small part in others’ journeys. One time, Rebecca remembers drafting an announcement about a PepsiCo scholarship opportunity for Dallas-area students which was addressed to Justin Henry—Dallas ISD Board Trustee—and Monica Lira Bravo—Dallas County Community College District Trustee. Both Justin and Monica were alumni of the Latino Center for Leadership Development, the incubator program she co-founded. Rebecca is inspired by “getting to play a small part in helping others get to positions of leadership where they in turn enact major policy.”
Rebecca advises young women interested in pursuing politics to cultivate a specialty. For Rebecca, this was her communication skill. Having these skills exemplified as experiences on her resume opened the door to everything she has since succeeded in.