Bolivian Legislative Fellow Travels to Indiana to Focus on Transparency Legislation

Mariana Rodriguez, Legislative Fellow from Bolivia

I arrived in Indianapolis on a warm morning on Sunday, September 28th. I remembered that morning. I was anxious because everything there was new for me. In my first week, I stayed with former U.S. Legislative Fellow, Aaron Short, and his wife Sarah and their daughter Cheyenne, who made me feel a part of their nice family. I shared beautiful moments with these great people, I learned about their ideas, feelings and beliefs, and I think they learned about my way of thinking too. Interacting with them that week and the rest of my trip was special. They gave me the possibility of trying different kinds of dishes like chili soup, flat bread pizza, and delicious desserts! They made a bonfire for me on my first weekend and invited their Latinos friends, just to give me a warm welcome. I tried the famous s'mores for the first time and I really loved them! Chocolate with marshmallow is a great mix!

During my fellowship at the Indiana Senate, I learned about the features of the American political system, the State Government, and the three branches. I learned about the work of the staff, good public administration, political campaigning, and different ideas about the legislative process. To summarize in a sentence I learned there, “The best government, the less”. That means that a good government is not the one that approves more laws because that will not provide solutions. Most of the (Republican) people believe that government has to be limited in order to be efficient and it has to give opportunities to people to work and create business.

I had the opportunity to meet many interesting people like a former State Senator, politicians, a former Public Counselor, lobbyists, people who work in political campaigns, a professor of geography, and many others who gave me a different perception of the U.S.  With these meetings, I learned to understand better liberal ideas, American democracy and its institutions. American people learned some about my country, my city, my culture and our politics affairs. It was a great cultural exchange!

I met great people like Chris Kashman, my host mentor, a young, polite attorney who did his best to give me the best experience in my fellowship. He arranged meetings, gave me information about Indiana and its government, and he shared his time at work and some tasks. Diego Morales, another former U.S. Fellow, was helpful and friendly. He works with the Governor of the State of Indiana and gave me the opportunity to travel to the Indiana countryside, and I got to meet the Governor and the First Lady! Jhani Laupus, from the Partners of the Americas Indiana Chapter, was always in touch with me to do activities or get to know me. She went with me to the campus of Indiana University Purdue University of Indiana (IUPUI) in Indianapolis and the amazing campus of the Indiana University in Bloomington. Jhani introduced me to her Brazilians friends, funny and lovable people with whom I spoke in Portuguese about their experience in Indiana. Another great person I got to know who was also a previous Fellow was Becca Polcz, a fun person to go out and hang out!

I focused my fellowship work on transparency laws because I work in the Government of Santa Cruz and I think there is a lack of legislation in this area. The Indiana State Government has good experience in this field. The Indiana Transparency Portal (ITP) has received top ratings from Sunshine Review and Public Interest Research Group, independent government transparency rating agencies. The State Government has a public access counselor, a person who takes complaints and requests for public information. Also, the state has the Open Door Law, which permits the public to participate in public meetings, and the Access to Public Records Act, a law that gives people the opportunity to ask for records from public meetings.

Some things I enjoyed during my stay was walking around the city, seeing the architecture, especially the Circle Center Monument, trying all different kinds of food and desserts, going shopping and feeling enchanted with the politeness of the people. Indianapolis is a quiet, clean, and safe city where you have the possibility to walk or ride a bike safely. I visited amazing places like the State Museum that showed the history and the culture of the state; the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art had a great exhibition of paintings and sculptures of the American Indians; and the Children’s Museum, the biggest of the country and considered one of the best, had an amusing way of teaching kids about history, science, paleontology, etc. I went to the Lucas Oil Stadium, where I watched my first American football game, and it was a unique experience to learn about this sport that I didn’t have an idea before. I also went to the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the basketball stadium of the city to watch an NBA match.

During my fellowship, I took a trip to Chicago. I was in this beautiful city for four days; I visited the most amazing museums I had never been before. I went to the Arts Institute, the Field Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium. I saw the city from the top at the John Hancock Observatory and the Skydeck on the Willis Tower. The Skydeck was a wonderful experience because I walked on the ledge, a glass balcony extending outside the 103rd floor. I ate delicious food, visited exotic restaurants and finally, I attended the Blue Man Group Show. They were definitely hilarious!

The last week was really fun and different because I met other Fellows from 45 different countries of the world. I learned a little from different cultures and enjoyed talking with people with diverse and interesting experiences about their fellowship in the U.S.  I have to say that I especially remember the moments lived with the 15 Fellows from 4 countries of Latin America. We shared experiences and became friends talking about our cultures, laughing with each other, dancing, and sharing our feelings and ideas. which support my belief that Latinos like to have friends and live life with joy and fun.