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Hill Climbers: Role Models Paved Way for Aide

Ray Martin has always had role models close by. His grandparents raised him and introduced him to “Star Wars,” and a lifelong friend inspired him to pursue a career in politics.

Martin’s grandmother worked as a waitress near the redwood forests, which served as a backdrop to many of the scenes that took place on the imaginary “Star Wars” forest moon of Endor. In between watching the movies, Martin remembers his grandmother recounting the times she waited on director George Lucas and the stars of the films. 

Between the stories and the movie magic, he was hooked. 

“So I decided that I wanted to make movies,” said Martin, an energy, environment and Native American affairs legislative assistant for Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.).

Martin, who was a high school wrestler, had hoped to pursue the sport in college at the University of Oregon, but the Ducks dropped their wrestling program his freshman year. So he transferred to the University of Southern California to pursue his first dream, filmmaking.

“I wasn’t very good at it,” he said, smiling. 

Then Martin decided to pursue a career in politics. His childhood friend’s family, neighbors of his grandparents, had taken Martin in after his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer when Martin was 12. He lived with both his grandparents and his “unofficial foster family,” he said. 

While the two were in college, the friend worked as an intern for a couple of elected officials, a notion that began to appeal to Martin.

Martin decided to study history, a topic that had always interested him because his grandfather was a World War II veteran and a member of the tribal council at Smith River Rancheria, a Tolowa Native American reservation on the border of Oregon and California.

Martin remembered his grandfather telling him stories from his time in World War II. 

“It was always ‘the big war,’” he said, explaining that his grandfather would talk about his experiences in places such as Guadalcanal and Tarawa. “You hear about these places, and you want to learn more about them.”

Coming from a Native American background, Martin wanted to learn more about the history of Native Americans, and especially the Tolowa tribe and how that history resonates today.

“How did we go from a tribe of 2,000 people before contact to 100 people?” he remembered asking.

Since graduating from college, where he focused on Native American affairs in an academic setting, Martin received a Master of Public Policy degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He joined Baca’s office after graduating in May.

Although working on the Hill may seem different from being the next Lucas, the two fields have one very important thing in common, according to Martin. 

“Movies are just like politics,” he said. “It’s all a matter of perspective.”

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