Politics Writer – PEOPLE
Rep.-Elect Robert Garcia will, like all lawmakers, take his oath of office on the Constitution of the United States. But beneath the venerable document will be a handful of items near and dear to the California lawmaker's heart: a photo of his mom and step-father, who both died of COVID-19; a copy of his United States Citizenship certificate; and a first-edition Superman comic, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
"Will be proudly sworn-in to Congress on the U.S. Constitution," Garcia, 45, wrote on Twitter Tuesday. "Underneath the Constitution will be 3 items that mean a lot to me personally. A photo of my parents who I lost to covid, my citizenship certificate & an original Superman #1 from the @librarycongress."
Along with his tweet, Garcia posted a photo of the three items.
The Superman comic, which was published in 1939, is a collector’s item (similar versions of which have sold for upwards of $5 million) — but more than that, it’s personal for Garcia, who was born in Peru.
"I came to America at the age of 5 as a Spanish-speaker," the lawmaker tells PEOPLE. "As a kid, I would pick up comics at old thrift shops and pharmacies and that's how I learned to read and write in English."
The photo of Garcia's parents is deeply personal, too, as he immigrated to the U.S. with his mother, Gaby O'Donnell, before becoming a U.S. citizen — which he has cited as his proudest moment and his reason for going into public service — in 2001.
When she met his step-father, it was Garcia who walked his mom down the aisle.
Garcia was serving as mayor of Long Beach, California, in 2020, when he announced that his mother, 61, and his stepfather, Greg O'Donnell, 58, had tested positive for COVID-19.
Less than a month after announcing the diagnosis, Garcia said that both his mother and step-father had succumbed to the virus within days of one another.
"Not having them here is difficult," Garcia tells PEOPLE. "My mom immigrated here. We grew up very, very poor and she worked as a health care worker at the same clinic for more than 25 years. To go from immigrant to seeing her son sworn in to Congress would be a huge deal. I know they are observing from afar, and having them be a part of this is really important."
With his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, Garcia will become the first openly gay immigrant in Congress. He will be sworn in along with the other members of the House once the ongoing stalemate over House speaker comes to an end.
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Speaking to PEOPLE during a short break outside the House chambers, Garcia ruminates on what his younger self might have thought of his recent political rise.
"That young boy was grateful to be here in this country, he was thankful to be given the chance to one day become a U.S. citizen," Garcia says. "So many kids don't get that opportunity. It's meaningful that now I have that opportunity to represent and fight for kids like that across the country."
But before he fights, he'll take his oath — alongside a most American superhero with whom he shares more than a few commonalities.
"Superman is the first comic I read as a kid," he tells PEOPLE. "He was an immigrant from another planet who was raised to believe in truth and justice — and those are things I value. So, definitely, there's a personal connection there."
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