A Washougal woman recently appointed to a three-year term on the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs is hoping to build relationships between the Latino community in Camas-Washougal and officials in Olympia.
“My goal now is to introduce myself to local leaders and community members and see where there’s a need for some communication between this community and Olympia, and to find out if any projects need attention,” Lina Alvarez recently told the Post-Record. “I would like to build relationships, meet like-minded people in the community who want to see growth and positive change and are willing to do the work, and grow a network like the one I left back home.”
Before moving to Washougal in 2012, Alvarez spent most of her life in Yakima, a small central Washington city that boasts a substantial Latino population due to its robust agricultural industry.
While in Yakima, Alvarez served as vice chairwoman for the Central Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and volunteered as a mentor, fundraiser, translator and advocate in her community.
After moving to Southwest Washington, however, she experienced a strong sense of “culture shock.”
“I think the Camas and Washougal communities are kind of set in their ways, with a mentality of, ‘This is how it’s always been done, and there’s no reason to change what we’re doing,'” Alvarez said. “In Eastern Washington, resources have been in place (for the Latino community) for more than 25 years. Here, there’s still a lot of pushback — the ‘This is America, speak English’ kind of mentality. In terms of where I come from, moving here was like going back in time.”
That’s why Alvarez is excited to begin working for the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs, which serves in an advisory capacity to Governor Jay Inslee, the state legislature and local agencies on issues impacting Latino communities throughout the state.
“I felt that I needed to plant roots and be more involved in my local community,” Alvarez said. “I’ve got the energy to do this because I was waiting for a chance to serve, and this seemed like the right opportunity.”
‘On a mission to break every barrier and build bridges’
Alvarez began her three-year term on the nonpartisan commission on Aug. 2.
“(The commission) picked a great person,” said Bertha Alicia Garza, co-founder of the Central Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and chief executive officer of Yakima-based Centro Servicios Comunitarios, an economic development organization that endeavors to increase opportunities for Latino- and women-owned businesses. “We need her at a statewide level. Lina is not going to be a token by any means. She wants to make an impact in the community. If anybody can make things happen, it’s her. I’m so proud of her. She’s come a long way. I’m behind her all the way. We’re on a mission to break every barrier and build bridges.”
About 10 percent of Clark County’s 488,241 residents identified as Latino or Hispanic, according to United States Census Bureau’s July 2019 population estimates.
Alvarez hopes to provide “a voice for the Spanish-speaking community in the area, and is particularly keen on the idea of establishing a “resource hub” to help local Latinos find answers to their questions about business ownership and labor laws.
“I want to be able to show the folks here that they do have someone that is going to be listening and open to discussion, and that they can do that freely without fear of having too much attention brought to them,” she said. “There’s a lot of fear right now. I don’t know why, but I sense it. I think people are afraid to speak up. I want to create an open-door policy for the local Latino community. If I can become a conduit of communication, I’ve done my job.”
Alvarez remains committed to helping her hometown as well; she’s currently assisting Garza’s efforts to revitalize a dilapidated park in northeast Yakima.
“We’ll take her back anytime,” Garza said of Alvarez. “She’s very talented. She has a great personality and great communication skills. She has a powerful, but eloquent way of speaking. She’s bilingual and can connect with everybody — from the farmworker all the way up to a CEO. I really admire her passion for making a difference. She’s an asset for any community.”