M anuel Natal is just 34 years old and has already made history in his native Puerto Rico. He became the youngest person elected to its House of Representatives in 2013. He won more than half of the vote when he ran for a second term in 2016. After getting elected Natal made an abrupt change. He left his original party to become an independent when he saw “corruption that couldn’t be ignored.”
Despite having the pedigree to be part of the new political class — he has a bachelors from Cornell University and a law degree from University of Puerto Rico. However Natal has a different vision: serving his country to the best of his ability. This is why the basketball loving, aspiring vegan has set his sights on making history again: getting elected the Mayor of San Juan with a new political party that has nothing to do with the old guard.
Natal spoke to ‘LLERO about how student activism impacted his views on creating change, transforming a chip on his shoulder to make an impact, and how he wants Puerto Rico to be a country everyone deserves.
‘LLERO: Before going into politics, what were you doing? Was being public in office always a goal?
Manuel: I started my own law firm with two colleagues. We were representing workers and unions. I did that for close to two years in between graduating and becoming an elected official. The only thing I was publicly known for was the student movement.
I think from a very early age I always saw public service as an opportunity to help people. When asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I’d say “Governor of Puerto Rico, then I can help more people.” I understood that basic concept growing up.
After I went to Cornell and came back to Puerto Rico for law school it became clear I had my end goal correct but I confused the ends and the means. The end is to be able to help people; it could be in public service, as an organizer or public servant. The specific positions were not important.