This month I have been preoccupied with making sense of the implications interconnected with local Latinx histories. This surfaced in part because I am teaching a course on local histories, but also because earlier this month the King County Council added two Latinx members, Teresa Mosqueda and Jorge Baron. Both are the first Latinx council members ever elected to their positions.
The timing is also somewhat serendipitous, as this month marks the two-year anniversary of a coalition of civil rights organizations filing a lawsuit against Washington’s bipartisan Redistricting Commission on behalf of a group of Latino voters from Yakima Valley. The suit pointed to the clunky restructuring of Washington’s 15th Legislative District in Central Washington. The groups inferred there was intentional dilution of the Latino vote and subsequent violation of the Voting Rights Act in the newly redistricted political maps.
In unpacking what this lawsuit signifies in social and historical context, I grapple with how the current moment is also a reflection of a reality born in the neoliberal economic era. This reality has shown me visual representation may not always be the end all be all it’s hoisted up to be when considering strides in social progress; Spanish surnames and brown faces may not be enough.
My mind often comes back to similar patterns in different areas along my sociopolitical journey. The promise of a different future was an aspirational goal when looking at electoral politics. Seeing a visage that mirrors your own does bring some level of comfort and connection. However, when social identity is the sole marker, the result may not always be the one desired. This is one contradiction that often surfaces.
I am reminded of Seattle’s first Mexican American police chief, John Diaz, whose administration presided over a period that saw a reinforcement of systemic police violence. Under his watch, the U.S. Department of Justice ordered a consent decree in 2012 upon finding a pattern of use of excessive force. The culture within the SPD shifted little from Diaz’s reign, spanning from 2009 to 2013, when an officer was filmed audibly threatening a Latino man by sying he was goint to “beat the [expletive] Mexican piss” out of him. In 2020, we had then-Chief Carmen Best at the helm of a force that sprayed chemicals on peaceful protesters.
Of course, I don’t believe that Baron and Mosqueda will mimic the same dynamic as Diaz and Best, but I also retain a sense of cautious and skeptic optimism. It is hard to envision the future, but I’m hoping a new set of eyes allows for more than just ceremonial or token inclusion for our communities.
Read more of the Jan. 24-30, 2024 issue.