Mateo Gasparotto is the ACLU-VA's first-ever investigator. On any given day, you can find him combing through arrest data, compiling statistics for advocacy campaigns, or interviewing potential plaintiffs for pending litigation. To Mateo, defending the rights of the disenfranchised and under-represented is more important now than ever.
Not long after my head stopped spinning upon receiving the job offer from the ACLU of Virginia, I realized that I had gotten myself into something big.
I misspent my high school years plotting one activist scheme after another, attempting to organize the hitherto un-awakened masses at my Catholic high school around Palestinian independence, labor, and every other issue that Jello Biafra pumped into my 15 year-old brain. Not long after starting at Virginia Commonwealth University, sometime roughly around the invention of the wheel, I charted a course through the Political Science department that I knew would lead me to fame and fortune working either for the ACLU or at The Hague.
The flame of activism never flickered, but reality took me, for a while, down a different path. Years of odd jobs, travel, and a generally unfocused youth eventually brought me into federal service at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where I learned first-hand what happens when civil liberties go on the back burner.
I then decided it was time to choose a different road and so I began my dark descent into differential equations and electron probability density clouds. A VCU Ram once again, I set my sights on a career in physics. In the senior year of earning my physics degree, my fluency in Spanish and natural magnetism landed me a position as a Housing Specialist at Commonwealth Catholic Charities.
I was raised by a hard working Peruvian single mother and the greatest abuela in history, so when my first assignment was to relocate families from a predominantly Hispanic mobile home park, I knew I’d found my niche through service. I saw the effects of racial and economic disparity in such stark terms that when the opportunity to work as an investigator at the ACLU of Virginia presented itself, my resume couldn’t have gotten there fast enough.
Now, as the first investigator at the ACLU of Virginia, I’m thrilled to be able to define the role. The borders of my position are still nebulous; on a given day, I may be combing through arrest data from Henry County to help advocacy get the statistics they need to move the needle of public opinion or scheduling interviews with potential plaintiffs for pending litigation.
Although the scope and scale of our work astounds me, I’ve been finding no small measure of satisfaction in the apparent dissonance inherent in what I do. A decent amount of my professional working life has been spent feeling like I chose academic disciplines with a blindfold and a dart. In this role, I can mesh the warm blanket of mathematical certainty with the frantic feeling of being chased through the woods by a machete wielding maniac that only advocacy can provide.
Our work is built on our relationships with the network of communities and advocacy groups we represent and that represent our ideals. One of my primary goals is to expand and foster those relationships in the field. It’s also built on our ability to bring our internal resources to bear on the work before us. Success in my position is being able to quickly and reliably provide those resources with the information they need to achieve our goals through research, data analysis, and collaboration with the community. Our affiliate is staffed by some of the most capable, intelligent, and dedicated people I’ve gotten to work with and I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that I get to support their work.
I’m honestly humbled to be a part of this organization. Our work in defending the rights of the disenfranchised and under-represented are more important now than ever and I can’t wait to see where the fight takes us.