Maria Echaveste, who grew up in Oxnard and once toiled as a young farm laborer in the fields of Ventura County, on Friday was named to head the White House Office of Public Liaison.
“This is really exciting,” Echaveste said. “It may seem glamorous to have an office location in the White House, but it’s a lot of work.”
The office tries to keep the White House in touch with special constituencies and groups across the country.
“It’s the eyes and ears of the president. . .to keep him from being insulated from the rest of the country. We will try to assess what the public thinks and also tell the communities what the president is doing,” she said.
Echaveste takes over from Alexis Herman, whose nomination to become labor secretary has run into roadblocks over her role in formulating campaign strategy and participating in White House coffees for donors to the Democratic Party.
Echaveste has been administrator of the Wage and Hour Division at the Labor Department since June 1993.
She grew up in a family of Mexican-American farm laborers with six other children.
“I know those strawberry, tomato and carrot fields pretty well,” Echaveste said.
She last visited Oxnard over the Christmas holidays. Her sister and parents still live in the area.
She moved to Oxnard when she was 12 and attended Channel Islands High School and then Stanford, earning a B.A. in anthropology. She went on to get a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley and moved to New York to practice law in 1984.
Before joining the Labor Department, Echaveste was deputy director of personnel for the Clinton administration and was national Latino coordinator of Clinton’s 1992 campaign.