When Diego Hernandez was 11, his mother asked him to hold the ladder.
Today, Hernandez is a newly elected Democratic state representative from East Portland, House District 47. Back then, he was a kid helping his immigrant mother on weekends as she tried to support four kids, alone, on minimum wage jobs.
Clara Gaytan was cleaning the upper windows in a fancy new house in Happy Valley, Oregon. She worried about scratching the floors, so they put a rug under the ladder. Diego's job was to keep it steady.
The ladder slipped. His mother fell.
"For me, that was a pretty traumatic experience," Hernandez said, "because my first assumption was that she had died."
She didn't, but her injuries meant she couldn't work. They created a cascade of events that show how easily a family can slip from subsistence into poverty.
Hernandez's mother left him with relatives in a small town in Mexico while she got back on her feet. He attended a school so modest that he had to walk his own desk to school.
State Rep. Diego Hernandez took the oath of office in Salem Monday, with education his top priority. To hear his backstory, click on the audio player above.