World Watches Detroit’s First Hispanic Council Member

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    Raquel Castaneda-Lopez is the first Hispanic member of the Detroit City Council representing the newly created District 6. And being first does come with responsibility, especially the expectations of her constituents in Southwest Detroit who are beaming with pride to have someone from the nation’s most rapidly growing community to be represented on this legislative body.

    But Castaneda-Lopez’s election on Nov. 5 is not only reverberating around Detroit and Southeast Michigan. Rather, her elevation from a simple beginning as the daughter of an immigrant and a rural postal carrier to the Detroit City Council is receiving national attention.

    This week, the Texas evangelist, Rev. Frank Emeka Obi, who commands a large Hispanic following hailed news of Castaneda-Lopez’s election as a bright spot for Detroit, which has been in the glare of the national and international press for reasons other than celebrating diversity.

    “My heartfelt prayer is for the new councilwoman to serve her city with the fear of God, drawing worthy examples from our Lord Jesus Christ, and pleading the pertinent cause of the poor, the weak and the oppressed who really need help,” said the Texas minister who is president and founder of the Spring Texas-based Revival Evan­gelism Institute. He hopes to meet with Castaneda-Lopez during his visit to Detroit.

    Rev. Obi, a Black preacher who works primarily in Hispanic communities in North America and South America said he is delighted for what he calls a “well deserved victory” and hopes that Castaneda-Lopez’s election “marks the beginning of a new era of resplendent and productive diversity in the city of Detroit.”

    Jimmy Hernandez, communications director of the Washington, DC-based VotoLatino organization, said in a phone interview that Castaneda-Lopez’s election is a strong signal that “Latinos are a growing community in the U.S. with a huge influence,” and that by 2050 Latino youth are expected to comprise 29 percent of the entire population of young people in the U.S.

    Hernandez cited as an example Election Day (Nov. 5) where he said Hispanic voters helped to elect two governors: Chris Christie of New Jersey and Terry McAuliffe of Virginia.

    “It is important for Hispanics to be elected in all of these municipal bodies because these local offices make decisions that impact the everyday lives of their constituents,” Hernandez said. “They make decisions when it comes to school boards and that is why every segment of the community should be represented when local bodies are making those types of decisions.”

    Local elections set the stage for national office, Hernandez said, citing President Barack Obama’s rise as an indication given that the leader of the free world was once a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side before he ran for U.S. Senate and eventually president.

    “Hispanic business operators like me don’t depend on government, but we desire and encourage government policies that promote entrepreneurship and create jobs for people in our multicultural communities,” said Ezekiel Serna, owner of Ezekiel Innovation Design and Art in Houston, Texas. “So, I wish and hope that my sister, Raquel, whose Detroit electoral victory I celebrate in far away Houston, will dedicate herself to good policies that help Detroit businesses expand and create much-needed jobs.”

    Councilwoman-elect Castaneda-Lopez has also touted her community organizing skills during the campaign trail, having honed those skills in several political offices including that of State Rep. Rashida Tlaib and other community and volunteer programs.

    “We know that one of the best ways to get people into national office is to look at the local level,” Hernandez said. “That type of recruitment at the local level is necessary so we have national figures who can speak on behalf their communities.”

    Elias Gutierrez, who runs the Latino Press, Michigan’s leading Hispanic newspaper, said he welcomed the political development on the Detroit City Council because “Raquel represents the future, not the division of the past. We hope that other council members work in concert with her to develop our communities and enhance Detroit and its image nationally.”

    Gutierrez said Castaneda-Lopez’s campaign theme has been to serve all of Detroit and that he believes she will keep to that mantra of “working for all of Detroit given the fact that she grew up in a diverse community.”

    On her campaign website, Castaneda-Lopez prides herself as a “first generation college graduate with a master’s degree in social work,” who worked tirelessly in the nonprofit sector for 13 years because working for Wayne State University helped underrepresented African American and Native American students.

    A volunteer soccer coach with Think Detroit PAL, she has served on the Hispanic Commission of Michigan, chairing its education and health committees as well as being part of its civic engagement committee.

    Bankole Thompson is the editor of the Michigan Chronicle. Email bthompson@michronicle.com.

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