San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Astronaut’s Daughter Becomes Political Star

BOSTON, Massachusetts – Costa Rican astronaut Franklin Chang may have been the first Latino to travel into outer space, but here on Earth, his daughter, Sonia Chang- Díaz, has a career that’s skyrocketing in its own right.

A relative newcomer to politics, Chang- Díaz, 30, was elected Tuesday to a state senate seat in the U.S. state of Massachusetts after her opponent, incumbent state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, dropped out of the race following her arrest last week on federal bribery charges.

But for Chang-Díaz, who campaigned in English and Spanish throughout the state’s ethnically diverse Second Suffolk District in Boston, even an unopposed victory is still a victory.

Chang-Díaz, a Democrat, narrowly lost her first bid to defeat Wilkerson in the 2006 Massachusetts state senate elections, but this time around she received some powerful endorsements from environmentalists, state health-workers’ unions and Boston’s leading newspapers, including The Boston Globe.

“I was very honored to have earned those endorsements, especially because we weren’t counting on endorsements,” she told The Tico Times in a phone interview this week from her home in Boston. “But in the end, there’s only one endorsement that matters. That’s the voters.”

Chang-Díaz, a former school teacher who was born in Boston but spent much of her youth visiting Costa Rica, is the first Latina to be elected to the Massachusetts State Senate. She said she will focus on improving public education, working toward affordable, universal health care, citizen security, job creation and protecting the environment, among other issues.

Though she identifies mostly as a U.S. citizen, she says her Costa Rican roots and value system “inform my experience and conscientiousness” as a community figure.

She says her father, who splits time between Houston and Costa Rica, has always been a big example for her, and traveled up to Boston to support her through a tough primary several months ago.

“We were always e-mailing and Skypeing throughout the entire electoral process,” the affable senator-elect said.

“Dad has always been a big booster of me running for office. He and my mom stressed (the importance of) giving back to the community and helping the community.

He did it through science and my mom as a social worker.”

Asked if she’d ever consider returning to Costa Rica for a career in politics there, Chang-Díaz said that would be “a pretty big leap,” and for now she’s just glad to have made it through this election.

However, she doesn’t rule out the possibility of another Chang eying public office in Costa Rica someday.

“I’ll leave that speculation to my dad, who is more qualified,” she said with a laugh. “Although he’s going to kill me for putting him in the spotlight.”


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