“My Texas friends say if you don’t have a Dairy Queen in your town then it’s not a town,” Raul Alvillar, who last year became the first Latino to work as national political director for the Democratic National Committee, told Fox News Latino. In the town he grew up in Tome, New Mexico, just south of Albuquerque, “We didn’t have a Dairy Queen, but we did have a church and a post office.”
Alvillar’s job, plain and simple, is to win elections. From his tiny corner office at the DNC headquarters on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., he oversees a staggering national operation in all 50 states.
Despite the magnitude of his role, Alvillar’s past and values are rooted in small-town Americana.
“I grew up bailing hay and driving John Deere tractors on a farm. The experience really framed who I am – the small-town values, but progressive values, too – making sure you take care of the land and making sure you give back to your community.”
Alvillar, 37, got his start in politics as a volunteer with the Democratic Party of New Mexico where he put together the organization’s first e-newsletter.
“This essentially entailed cutting-and-pasting articles and sending it out to our readership on the email list,” he recalls. “That was the technology we dealt with back in 1999.”
After that, Alvillar held a series of jobs on Democratic campaigns and for the party’s elected officials, including as a scheduler for then-Congressman Tom Udall and as a regional field director in 2003 for then-Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign.
When Kerry lost, Alvillar became the deputy national political director for his PAC.
“I had 25 states where I would travel with the Senator all around the country – Iowa being one of them,” Alvillar recalls. “I’ve been to Iowa a lot.”
When Kerry decided not to make another run for president in 2007, Alvillar’s telephone rang and his professional trajectory changed forever.
“I got a call from the Obama campaign,” he told FNL. “They said, ‘We know everything about you. What do you want to know about us?’”
In March 2007, Alvillar moved to Chicago and became the campaign’s western regional political director.
After Obama beat Mitt Romney, Alvillar moved to Washington, D.C., where he was appointed senior advisor to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Shaun Donovan.
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Alvillar, who happens to be gay, also served as interim-LGBT community liaison for three months.
“Growing up LGBT in a small town, you didn’t talk about it,” Alvillar said. “Especially as a Hispanic male, there’s this expectation that you will have a wife and three kids and a minivan … That’s just how I grew up. Not knowing any other folks who were gay, you kind of feel like it’s not a ‘normal’ thing.”
“I didn’t come out until I was in college, and even then I only came out to my sister,” he admitted. “I didn’t come out to my mother until I went back to New Mexico for my 10-year high school class reunion. I told her, ‘There’s something I have to tell you because I don’t want you to feel I haven’t been honest.’ She was immediately concerned and then I told her, ‘I’m gay.’ She was like, ‘Oh, okay,’ and was totally relieved. She thought I was going to tell her I was sick.”
Alvillar has noticed through his extensive travels that even in rural areas attitudes toward homosexuality are shifting away from yesteryear’s prejudice and toward inclusion.
“I think people in Smalltown, USA,” he said, “recognize that there are people who are their brothers and sisters and cousins – people who are important to them, who they embrace, who are everyday people – who happen to be LGBT.”
He added, “Does that mean that the fight is over? No. Have we accomplished everything we need to for full inclusion in this country? No, there’s still a lot that we need to do. But the country is a better place.”
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Pablo Manriquez works in Washington, D.C. He tweets at @vato.