Alejandro Santiago Ortega acts as an executive aide for Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley, and he works to bring a better quality of life to families of all kinds. In addition to tackling gun violence, immigration issues, and homelessness, Santiago Ortega is also a board member for the Congressional Workers Union where he advocates for safer workplaces, more equitable pay, and dignity for those who serve the government. Learn more about the podcast host, LGBTQ+ advocate, and hopeful future governor.
What do you do today?
My work aims to provide a better quality of life for all families. My work with the US House of Representatives as outreach representative is to make sure that the people’s concerns are heard and resolved. From gun violence, immigrations issues, and homelessness, I have covered many issue areas in hopes to provide relief.
As board member of the Congressional Workers Union, my role and work have evolved around making sure that staffers that help US legislators to create laws for the country have secure fair pay, safer workplaces, and dignity on the job.
With the Balsa Foundation as director of alumni relations and mentorship, I assisted with connecting first-time entrepreneurs with resources that would help them grow and scale, such as funding, marketing advice, legal advice, and many other resources.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it is important for me to use my skills and time to assist those who need support. This led me to be part of the Food Outreach board, an organization that provides food assistance to members of the LGBTQ+ community that are experiencing food insecurity.
I also cohost a podcast called Auténtico Podcast. As a Latino, it is important for me to shine a light onto the amazing people that are doing outstanding work across the country in their own industries. From restaurant owners to Hollywood writers, we have talked with our guests about their unique journeys as Latinos in the US to only find inspiration on what they share.
What is your greatest career accomplishment to date?
Working for the US Congress under the leadership of Congresswoman Cori Bush is, to this day, my biggest accomplishment. Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, I could have never imagined that my journey would take me to the halls of Congress. It was during that time that I was able to use my life experience to shape the work of our office, specifically in the area of language access. In 2022, St. Louis experienced historic flooding. After our office requested the president to sign a major disaster declaration, I jumped into action to make sure those affected could access federal relief.
Understanding that sometimes Black and Hispanic/Latino communities do not trust and, at times, fear the government, I reached out to trusted community organizations like STLJuntos to enact an outreach plan that intentionally targeted those groups. We printed and distributed thousands of flyers in English and Spanish with instructions on how to apply for relief.
I spoke with media outlets both in English and Spanish to share, and I led the effort for our office to communicate on social media platforms in Spanish which I translated. Speaking a language other than English should not bar members of our community from accessing assistance that they are entitled to receive. Sometimes it takes knowing the struggle firsthand to know that it exists and to fix it.
What is your greatest personal accomplishment to date?
Being married to the love of my life. Although this should not be an accomplishment, it was one because of the mere fact that we are a gay couple. We both had to fight family dynamics and a society that is not welcoming of your being.
It takes an enormous amount of personal growth and accomplishment to be at peace with oneself and live as free as I do now, something that early in my life I swore I would hide forever.
How do you tackle problems and overcome challenges?
My approach to issue-solving is to tackle it with collaboration. I lead coming from a place of understanding that I do not know it all and that different perspectives will bring something useful to help with the resolution. For example, during a conversation with a teacher at a neighborhood meeting, she shared concerns about 911 not answering emergency calls and delayed response time. Knowing that the issue cannot be fixed unilaterally by our office, I reached out to the mayor’s team and community members to lead an intergovernmental effort to employ teachers as 911 dispatchers during the summer to assist with staff shortage and to alleviate delayed time response.
Describe yourself in five words.
Advocate, connector, empathetic, creative, courageous.
What are your future goals?
Short-term goals are to continue working for the US government and use my lived experience to inform the work our office does. Long-term goals are to be California’s governor and/or California’s US senator. Not even the sky is the limit.
What is your favorite form of self-care?
I love going on walks with my two dogs Beyoncé and Shakira. I also enjoy being at home watching YouTube videos. When I want to escape reality for a moment, I write on my journal or read.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not working?
I love spending time with my family. We can be doing nothing, or we can be on a hike; family time is fun time. I like home décor too, so I am very happy at an antique shop just to look what is around.
What does making NextGen Collective’s 30 Under 30 list mean to you?
It is a great honor because it reflects on the work, sacrifices, and effort I have poured into helping the communities I have advocated for. Indeed, these past few years I have experienced uncertainty and change. Change being the constant all along. I moved to the US to pursue a master’s degree; I had to quickly adapt to a new everything. After graduating, I realized that the goal I once had for myself was no longer what I wanted for me, which was stressful and daunting. Then, I moved to St. Louis, a place I didn’t know anything about, to give myself an opportunity to try and find my purpose.
I dealt with personal and professional insecurities: can I be my true self in the workplace? Can I show up with my full queer self? Can I use Guayaberas when the dress code asks for formal wear?
However, when doubt and change were present, so were opportunity and innovation. This award celebrates those hard moments, celebrates the people that I met along this journey that believed in me and empowered me, celebrates my true self, and celebrates the work that I will continue to do with a fervent passion.
What is your personal theme song?
“Hasta la Raíz” by Natalia Lafourcade
What is your Latino background?
I am Oaxaqueño/Mexican American. My mom and dad are both from Oaxaca in Mexico. I was naturalized as a US citizen in 2023.
Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for clarity.