Simona Grace’s quest to help shape the world started at a young age. Growing up in Hungary during the decline of the communist regime, Grace saw the consequences of a lack of democracy firsthand. Searching for a better life, she left her home and family in Hungary and moved to the United States to attend college.
Now a single mother and entrepreneur, the Sherman Oaks mom is fighting to increase the representation of mothers in politics. In 2019, she created Moms in Office, a political action committee that advocates for policies that help working-class families. Earlier this year, she became the 75th woman to hold the title of California Mother of the Year selected by the national nonprofit American Mothers, Inc.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born and raised in Hungary, in Eastern Europe. During the 1980s, it was a communist country. One of my earliest memories is me standing outside my grandparents’ house [when] I was around 7 years old, and the Berlin Wall [had just fallen], and there were a lot of Russian army bases, tanks and a lot of Russian military in the country. After communism was over, they had to leave. I remember standing outside that house and watching the caravan of soldiers leaving. I was able to appreciate civil liberties at a very young age – to have the right to vote, the right to travel, to have free speech. Those concepts are very interesting to me because I grew up without them. After that, the period that followed in Hungary was democratic, but we still experienced a lot of economic injustice because people’s salaries did not rise. Now we had access to more things, but most people could not afford them.
I had the opportunity to come to the United States to study, and that’s how I moved here. I did not know anyone in the country. I did not know how to fill out college applications, and I did not have anyone giving me guidance. I had to be very driven and independent from a young age. I had to come here, learn English and put myself through school. It wasn’t easy, and it took me much longer, but I ended up graduating from UCLA summa cum laude with a degree in comparative literature.
Tell us about your inspiration for founding Moms in Office.
In 2018, I was following the [midterm elections] very carefully, and I was involved with the organization called Working Hero, which supported candidates who were running and fighting for working families and against poverty. They supported Katie Porter [U.S. Representative for California’s 45th district], and she actually won. She’s a single mom with three kids. As I watched her campaign, I realized mothers and women have to work twice as hard to reap half of the funds as men. I saw that if [Porter] got elected, she would be the only single mom in Congress in the entire country out of 535 members. Even if we’re not talking about single mothers, if we’re talking about mothers with children under 18, there are only 25 of them in Congress.
I love this country, but we can do better when it comes to democracy. If we want to see equal representation in politics, we have to include moms. While moms make up the larger portion of the women in our country, they make up one of the smallest portions of our federal government. This means women are delaying their careers in politics, and they’re not getting to those positions of power soon enough.
What are some of your top policy priorities?
The United States is the only developed country in the world without paid parental leave on a federal level. We’re lucky in California that we have it on a state level. However, 113 million workers in the United States don’t have access to any form of leave. One in four women return to work two weeks after giving birth. I wholeheartedly believe that if we want to see change for working families in America, that change will come from those women who are raising their children today.
How do you think becoming California Mother of the Year will help your cause?
This is a great honor for me! A lot of the time, when you think about “mother of the year,” you think about the quintessential image of a mom who does everything, but I don’t do everything. However, I try my best and I stand up for others. It means a lot because they recognize there are different types of moms in this country: single moms, married moms, moms who make it to soccer practice; I never do. However, I fight for my child and I fight for the future of all children. I think, for the American Mothers organization to recognize that, was a huge amount of support for my work and validation that what I’m doing matters. In this capacity as California Mother of the Year, I represent the voice of moms in California. In an official capacity, I’m meeting with elected officials in Congress and advocating for moms. The award does help my work tremendously, because I am able to advocate for the needs of working families.