CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — For Hispanic Heritage Month, we introduce you to the first Hispanic woman elected to the West Virginia senate.
Senator Patricia Puertas Rucker’s multicultural background extends beyond the Appalachian hills to the suburbs of DC and the coastline of Venezuela.
Senator Rucker (R-Harper’s Ferry) sits on the Republican Senate Caucus and the Senate Education Committee.
She says she was once made fun of for her accent while in school, but today, you could never imagine she was once the victim of bullying by the way she walks confidently into the senate chamber.
As she leafs through her swearing-in picture book, Ruckers points out pictures of her father, her husband, and Lala Mooney, the Cuban-born mother of Congressman Alex Mooney.
Rucker is one of only three women currently in the West Virginia Senate and the only Latina.
“What really made me run for office, I know it sounds like a cliche but I really, I really wanted to make things better for West Virginia,” she said.
But her journey to the Mountain State began in Venezuela, where she was born.
At six years old, her father, a national correspondent with Agence France Press, moved the family to DC where he held a high-profile job at AFP’s DC news desk.
“So, by the time we were 12-years-old we were pretty much Americanized I guess you can say,” she said.
Rucker met her now-husband while growing up in the DC suburbs and became a naturalized citizen shortly after marrying him in 2004.
Even though she hasn’t been back to her home country since 2001 because of the political turmoil, the thought of Venezuela still brings a smile to her face, especially when talking about the food.
“Mangos and avocados, those were ‘the weeds’ and you would walk by people’s yards, and they have avocado and mango trees and you could just pick them and eat them and eat that on our way to school and it’s just so amazing, and there’s year-round beauty there,” she said.
In the Senate chamber, Rucker’s not afraid of tackling tough topics.
This past legislative session she introduced a bill to withhold pay for public teachers who strike.
“We feel that it is important that they understand that they don’t have the legal right to strike,” she told 13 News after introducing SB 11: Declaring work stoppage or strike by public employees to be unlawful.
It’s in education reform where she says she takes the most pride as a lawmaker, aiming she says to bring more choice to parents and local control to school boards.
And just like her voting record is not black or white, neither is her identity.
Like many South Americans, she has Native American, European and African ancestry as well.
“I feel much more comfortable with Latina than I would with Hispanic — Hispanic means you’re from Spain, and that doesn’t fit a lot of South Americans,” she said.
Senator Rucker is celebrating her naturalization anniversary this October 8th.