Matt A. Barreto is professor of political science and Chicana/o studies at UCLA and the co-founder of the research and polling firm Latino Decisions. He is the co-author of 2014’s Latino America: How America’s Most Dynamic Population is Poised to Transform the Politics of the Nation, with Gary Segura. Before joining a Zócalo/UCLA Downtown event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles titled, “Will California Pick the Next President?,” Barreto sat down in the green room and discussed growing up in Topeka, Lyndon Johnson, and his favorite soccer teams.
Who is your favorite president and why?
Not the current one. He’s probably the worst. Obama is probably too easy of an answer, since he’s the most recent. I would say someone like Lyndon Johnson, who came into a really hard situation after Kennedy was assassinated and worked really hard with the civil rights community to get some very important legislation passed at a time that was very difficult for the country. He’s definitely one of my favorites.
What issue do you think is most important to California?
For me, that’s easy: affordable housing. I think it’s something we don’t get solved, it could have negative repercussions for our economy and the vibrancy of our state. It’s not always the number one issue for voters. But if we cornered them, they would probably agree with me that it’s the single most important thing.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?
I’ll give you a selfish answer: a book called Mobilized by Injustice. It was written by one of my former Ph.D. students, Hannah Walker, who is a professor at Rutgers and studies criminal justice and political science. It explains how African American and Latino communities are being overpoliced, how immigration is getting integrated into criminal justice and law enforcement, and how people are responding and getting mobilized and politically active. So it’s explaining a lot of what’s happening with Black Lives Matter and the anti-ICE movement today.
What was it like growing up in Kansas?
Well, I’m never going to run for any political office there, so I can tell you honestly, it was awful. I once saw someone on Twitter beg people, “Hey, stop making fun of West Virginia.” They were trying to defend their state. And then this other friend of mine tweeted, “Hey, I grew up in upstate New York, and please continue making fun of us. It’s an awful place.” And it just made me laugh because that’s sometimes how I think of Kansas.
I tell people growing up is pretty much the same experience everywhere, you know? You have your friendship circles, you have your family, you have stores, and restaurants, and places that you hang out and play with your friends. But Topeka, Kansas, is not a great place. It’s in a conservative state that is not growing and is missing out, I think, on a lot of the excitement of the diversity and cultural change that’s happening across the country. Although, they have a Democratic governor now.
Did you have any nicknames as a kid?
So I go by Matt now, mostly. I remember the first time I brought my wife to meet my full extended family she said, “What is everyone going to call you?” I said, “Matt. Everyone calls me Matt.” And after a full day there, she said, “Not a single person called you Matt. They either called you Mateo or Matthew.”
So I guess Matt is sort of my nickname. I went by Matt my whole life—or at least, I thought I did.
What’s your happiest childhood memory?
My happiest childhood memory is probably spending summers at my cousin’s lake house in the middle of Missouri. They have a cabin on a really small lake. Just sort of going there and being with family and not worrying about the rest of the world. We used to go there every summer, sometimes for really long stretches, like weeks and weeks. We now take our kids back there to my cousin’s cabin at least once a year in the summer.
What’s hanging on your refrigerator?
Nothing, because we have a stainless steel, I don’t know, Viking, or some sort of fancy refrigerator. But, on our microwave we have these magnets of our kids—the soccer magnets that you can get when you order the soccer pictures. And my daughter has a set of play magnets of these, like, super fat cats—Pusheen, I think they’re called. She’s got, like, 50 of them, a whole set, and so on top of the magnets of the two kids are little ears and little speech balloons coming out, and we decorate them and make them look funny. And then people move them around.
If you didn’t live in the U.S., what country would you want to live in?
The first place I would live if I didn’t live in the United States—if I didn’t live on the mainland—would be Hawai’i. Which is, for many intents and purposes, another country. It has no business being part of the United States. It’s my favorite place to go.
But if I can’t choose that, I would probably say Salvador, Brazil, which is where we spent a month during the 2014 World Cup. I would go back in a second.
What’s your favorite place to eat in Westwood?
Westwood is terrible. I rarely go to Westwood. I live an hour away from school, and so I’m only there for working hours. It’s funny, today, none of us college professors actually live near the campus. And the kids are in Westwood all the time.
I would say we have a lot of functions at Frida, which is a Mexican restaurant there. I also like the outdoor restaurant by the pool at the W Hotel across the street from campus. Those are two good places to get together.
How do you procrastinate?
I don’t. Or I watch soccer.
Who is your favorite team?
In the United States, the Seattle Sounders, and in England, Tottenham Hotspur. In Spain, Barca. And in Germany, Dortmund. I’m a fairly big soccer fan.
Where would we find you at 10 a.m. on a typical Saturday?
At my son’s soccer games. He plays for the L.A. Galaxy youth team. If you ask [my colleague] Gary [Segura] that same question—"Where will you find Matt at 10 a.m. on a Saturday?”—he’ll say the same thing. Because he is always like, “Oh, let me guess, you’re at Dan’s soccer game?”
And the answer is, “Yes, I am.”