When Dallas native and D.C. lobbyist Cristina Antelo first arrived at the Brooks School, a prestigious boarding school in Massachusetts, she immediately felt out of place. It wasn’t just her Texas-style big bangs and colorful clothes that set her apart. As the daughter of Cuban immigrants, Antelo was one of the school’s few minority students. Her true outsider status became clear during a class discussion about the social safety net. She remembers a fellow student arguing that his father’s tax dollars shouldn’t pay for Medicaid. “My Mom has multiple sclerosis and was benefitting from those kinds of programs,” Antelo thought at the time. “She worked hard and paid taxes. She did all the things we ask people to do in this country. She wasn’t asking for a handout. If she needed some help, then we should give it to her!”
We don’t have a seat at the table because we don’t know the table exists.
After this experience, Antelo was determined to make her unique voice heard. “There was another perspective out there that wasn’t being represented,” she says. “The richness other people from other cultures bring to our thought process is unparalleled,” she says of immigrant families like her own.
Antelo’s father immigrated to the United States in the 1960s, moved to Dallas, and later helped create the computer code for the city’s 911 emergency response system. Her mother, who had moved to Texas as a teen, worked in administration for the city. Following in her parents’ footsteps, Antelo chose a career in public service. She earned a law degree at George Washington University, worked for former Senator Hillary Clinton and is now a lobbyist for corporate clients at the firm Podesta Group, where she specializes in financial services, tax, healthcare, and trade.
Antelo’s work is motivated by her worldview that outsiders should be included and welcomed. Growing up as a first-generation Cuban-American, Antelo wasn’t sure how she fit into American society in general. “There aren’t that many people from Cuba in Texas. You’re not Mexican, so you’re grouped into a catch-all Hispanic category,” says Antelo. She eventually learned to embrace all parts of her identity. “I was happy to talk about Cuba, but it wasn’t the only part of myself,” she says. In high school, a nonprofit organization that helped minority students with high SAT scores apply to private high schools helped her win a full scholarship to Brooks School, a preparatory school in Massachusetts. “At some point I realized that that there’s a big world out there. I made a decision to make a place for myself.”
Today, Antelo wants to help other Hispanic teens become active participants in government and serves on the Board of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships and fellowships to prospective Latino leaders. “We don’t have a seat at the table because we don’t know the table exists,” says Antelo of new immigrants and their children. “I got that opportunity, and it’s my job to make sure other kids get it, too.”
In addition to welcoming new immigrants to the United States, Antelo wants to help those who are already here thrive. “We need a solution so they can find their own seat at the table,” she says