Nevada Assemblywoman Selena Torres is shown in her legislative office in Carson City on March 3, 2021.
Monday, March 8, 2021 | 2 a.m.
A screen grab shows a TikTok post by Nevada Assemblywoman Selena Torres from the Legislative Building in Carson City on March 3, 2021. Assemblywoman Torres uses TikTok as a teaching tool to reach her younger students.
CARSON CITY — Following the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol, Nevada Assemblywoman Selena Torres, an east Las Vegas English teacher, asked her students what they knew about what had transpired and where they learned it.
To her surprise, most answered TikTok.
As its popularity has exploded, the app — initially a hub for short, fun lip-sync and dance videos — has also become a prominent information medium for its mostly younger audiences.
This sparked the clever idea behind the @selenatorresnv TikTok account last month: The educator and Legislature would fuse her expertise to teach the youth about the legislative process. “For me it became a way for me to engage with my students,” Torres told the Sun last week. “They’re really excited to be a part of this political process … through a medium they’re familiar with.”
The Democrat Torres was the youngest member at the Legislature when she was elected in 2018. At 25, she remains the youngest lawmaker in the Nevada Assembly. She’s on leave from teaching during the four months of the ongoing legislative session.
In the lighthearted clips, Torres offers a virtual tour of the Nevada Legislative Building: “This is your house,” she says. The phone pans to her feet as she defines the legislative floor. “Not that type of floor,” she quips, showing the Assembly chambers, explaining that lawmakers can bring visitors: “Someday, that can be you, hope to see you soon. I have to get to the floor,” she says, waving.
In one video, Assemblyman Edgar Flores, a fellow Southern Nevada Democrat, explains the three branches of government introducing the lesson while he holds literal tree branches.
In her most popular post yet — amassing more than 30,000 likes and more than 1,600 comments since mid-February — Torres gives a lively lesson on bipartisanship, dancing with Republican Assemblyman Gregory Hafen after the Legislature passed a COVID-19 relief bill.
Later explaining the clip, Torres mentions overwhelming bipartisan support for legislation in Nevada. “Republicans and Democrats work alongside one another so that we could do good things for our hardworking Nevada families.”
Asked by a TikTok user what issues she was helping tackle this legislative session, Torres mentioned education, housing and employment.
Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen, Torres’ “legislative mom,” who had a guest spot in one of the videos, told the Sun about how her colleague has educated her children.
“She’s engaging my 8-year-old and my 10-year-old in the legislative process,” Nguyen said. “They showed no interest in what I did up here until they watched her TikTok videos, and they think it’s great.”
A screen grab shows a Tik Tok post by Nevada Assemblywoman Selena Torres from the Nevada Legislature building in Carson City on March 3, 2021. Assemblywoman Torres uses Tik Tok as a teaching tool to reach her younger student. RICARDO TORRES-CORTEZ
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, who also uses TikTok, supports Torres’ efforts: “I think it’s a new way to communicate with a new generation,” he said. “Not just young people, but voters who are more engaged, and we certainly have to keep them engaged.”
From Las Vegas to Carson City
Torres is the daughter of a teacher and a casino worker. Her mother came from Hawaii in search of a teaching degree, while her father fled a treacherous civil war in his native El Salvador.
Her parents met around the time both arrived in Las Vegas in the early ’90s and started a family. As Torres aged, she realized how her parents had shielded her and her sister from how difficult it was to get by.
“We had a good childhood, but it wasn’t always lavish,” she said.
When her mother — who teaches along with her daughters at Mater Academy in Torres’ east Las Vegas Assembly District 3 — successfully battled ovarian cancer, Torres began to understand how challenging it was to navigate the health care system, and how costly her mother’s treatment was.
A news consumer from a young age, Torres blossomed into a policy wonk early on. From middle school through her time at Valley High School, she was busy with speech and debate.
The Latina joined a speech and debate team in middle school and continued during her time at Valley High School, belonging to “every club imaginable,” including JROTC, and following legislative sessions.
To her father’s distress, she was never home. Nelson Araujo’s successful run for the Nevada Assembly District 3 emboldened her to run. Former Assemblyman Araujo was the first Salvadoran-American to be elected to the legislative body.
“I saw that people like us could be representing our community in the Legislature,” she said, also citing inspiration from the elections of Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz (now a Las Vegas city councilwoman), Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson and Assemblyman Edgar Flores.
For Torres, their path proved “that our voices deserve to be heard.”
A couple of years after she knocked doors for Araujo, Torres found herself doing the same in the same neighborhoods for her campaign. Her father never missed a campaign event and volunteered in his daughter’s campaign when he wasn’t working.
She remembers a young Latina staffer telling her, “You know, Ms. Torres, you’re going to win this thing” as the moment she understood “This race was bigger than me.”
Torres was victorious, being one of the Nevada lawmakers of the historic election that produced the first legislature in U.S. history to have a female majority. She credits lawmakers like Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton for blazing the way for women in the legislative body.
“I recognize that buildings like this were not built for people like me,” Torres said. “It wasn’t built for the daughter of an immigrant, it wasn’t built for women of color, and it wasn’t built for young professionals to navigate in these spaces.”
Asked about her future political ambitions, Torres said, “I have no idea,” noting that it will involve serving Nevadans and that she’s happy being an assemblywoman.
Assemblywoman Nguyen put it more succinctly: “The sky’s the limit for her,” she said. “She could do whatever she wants, and I know she will do that with her sense of her community, her sense of civic commitment to our state.”
Torres said her parents would say they always envisioned her on the Assembly floor, but she hadn’t, at least not at such a young age, she added.
The excitement she first had walking into the Nevada Legislature as a lawmaker — the same feeling her family felt — is still fresh. It’s the same emotion she has every day she’s here, she said.
Torres’ family can’t join her this session, which remains closed to the public due to the pandemic. It didn’t stop her father from driving her here last month.
“My family has always been a part of this political journey,” she said. “And they’re part of my team now that I’m here in office.”