California leaders with a global perspective

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From left: CA Attorney General Rob Bonta and Deputy LA Mayor for International Affairs Ambassador Nina Hachigian.

Two California politicians spoke with UCLA Vice Provost Cindy Fan about the global perspective they bring to their work during International Education Week 2021.

By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

UCLA International Institute, December 3, 2021 — The International Institute was particularly delighted to host well-attended UCLA Global Conversations with two California politicians — California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Deputy LA Mayor for International Affairs Ambassador Nina Hachigian — during International Education Week 2021 last month.

Each of the speakers engaged in thought-provoking conversations with Cindy Fan, UCLA vice provost for international studies and global engagement, and shared their backgrounds and advice with current students.

Rob Bonta, the first person of Filipino heritage to serve as California attorney general, spoke  passionately about the need for a global perspective and international collaboration to advance social justice, particularly on climate change and public health.

Bonta shared three major life lessons that inform his work as leader of the nation’s largest state justice department. As a child, he witnessed his parents work in the California farmworkers’ movement alongside famous Chicano and Filipino leaders. “The lesson I learned… is that there is great power in coming together in solidarity across cultural differences — that power can change the world,” he said.

Vice Provost Cindy Fan and CA Attorney General speak on November 15, 2021.

In his teen and college years, Bonta was an avid soccer player who traveled across the U.S. and the world to compete. “I built lasting relationships with teammates and players from different backgrounds, different lived experiences, different cultural backgrounds and from different nations,” he recounted. “There were times when I could step on a field and not speak the same language or not have anything in common with… the teammates I was with.

“But if you and those who are with are determined, you can… work in unison across cultural differences and accomplish positive things together. So as we work together across the international community to solve humanity’s big challenges, we should do it as if it were a team sport. We need to collaborate, we need to cooperate. We're at our best when we're working together.”

Bonta’s third lesson came from his international travel as a California legislator (he served in the California State Assembly from 2012 through 2021). “These trips affirmed for me that across our cultural differences and borders, at the end of the day, we all want our children to achieve success and experience prosperity to realize their dreams and meet their full potential,” he shared.

He emphasized that the social justice work he and others are doing in California — “at the intersection of poverty and pollution and the fight for the health of our communities” — has a global impact.

“What we do affects others. We are interconnected in terms of our actions and the outcomes and our shared future. … [W]e all have a role to play in advancing justice at the local and at the global level,” he said. “That's my mission every day.”

In her own UCLA Global Conversation with Vice Provost Fan, Ambassador Nina Hachigian spoke about her unexpected journey from an undergraduate biology major to U.S. Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) during President Barack Obama’s second term.

In a reflection than could only reassure Bruin undergraduates, Hachigian said her career journey had never been based on a plan, but evolved as she continued to pursue what most interested her. The Los Angeles deputy mayor encouraged students to follow their own interests and not worry inordinately about a long-term plan. “If you’re not that kind of person, you don’t necessarily need to be [in order] to end up in jobs that are really satisfying,” she said.

Vice Provost Cindy Fan speaks with Deputy LA Mayor Ambassadror Nina Hachigian on November 16, 2021.

Hachigian stressed that her office of international affairs had three major goals: to build on the extensive global assets of Los Angeles to attract foreign investment, global nonprofit organizations and international institutions to create jobs and economic opportunities for city residents; to provide young Angelenos international experience and skills; and to engage with global partners in solving global challenges, such as climate change, that affect Los Angeles.

Indeed, she pointed out that at the recent United Nations Climate Conference (COP-26) in Glasgow, Mayor Eric Garcetti brought together 1,000 cities to pledge to do their fair share in halving carbon emissions by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2050. “Cities took a lot of work to put that campaign together, and that’s because of LA’s leadership,” she said.

With respect to international opportunities for young people in LA, Hachigian noted that her office engages student interns as well as student researchers to work on major global projects, such as the city’s compliance with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. Under her leadership, Los Angeles has also created a young ambassador program that funds low-income community college students to take their first trips abroad. Interrupted during the pandemic, the program will resume in summer 2022. Hachigian’s office has also established a program in which foreign consulates partner with local high schools in the city.

“Then during the midst of COVID-19, we created a two-week… international career fair,” she said. The series saw the city partner with “just about every institution of higher learning in Los Angeles” she said, with a different speaker every day addressing the varied international careers possible in Los Angeles. “It’s really important to us that we are giving young people these opportunities… it’s one of our top [priorities],” she added.

The deputy mayor discussed the many different efforts in which she is engaged to forge more trans-Atlantic ties and exchanges with European organizations. Reflecting on whether cities might lead diplomacy in the future, Hachigian said, “The United States is a little slow to this game. There’s really only a handful of cities that even have international offices, let alone a deputy mayor.”

By contrast, she pointed out, global cities all over the world hold major city conferences, conduct visits and are part of many global networks. “We’re part of most of those networks,” she said, “it’s just not quite happening at the pace that [it] is in many other parts of the world. Not just [in] Europe, but also [in] Asia, Africa and Latin America.”