Two out of five people living in Redwood City are Latino. But until Alicia Aguirre, only two or three had ever served on its city council, according to her research.
It’s no surprise that Aguirre’s rise in local politics has Latin leaders thrilled. After six years on the city council, she was recently selected to be mayor. The term will last two years, until the next election cycle in 2014.
“This is a big step for Latinas and Latinos on the Peninsula,” said Jorge Jaramillo, president of the Redwood City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “When you have these role models, more people will get the power to say, I want to run for city council or serve on a city commission.”
Aguirre has been a professor of Spanish and English at Cañada College for more than 20 years. She grew up in Detroit, where her father immigrated from Mexico to work for the auto industry.
She credits him and her mother with her penchant for civic engagement. Even when her parents struggled to pay their bills, the family remained active with church, immigrant organizations and nonprofits.
When work brought her to the Peninsula, she decided it would be a good place to raise children, and took the position at Cañada. She became interested in the school board at her sons’ district, and over many years became a leader in the local education community. In 2005, when Ira Ruskin left the City Council to join the state Assembly, Aguirre was chosen out of several candidates to replace him.
Assemblyman Rich Gordon has known Aguirre since the mid-1980s, long before she became involved in politics. Gordon gushed about the new mayor’s chops for the job, including her “great intellect and great compassion.”
“And candidly, we need more women, and particularly Latinas, to be engaged in our political process.”
Why there are so few people of Aguirre’s demographic in politics is something she has given thought. But she hopes her own story will provide inspiration for people to become more engaged politically.
“It takes people seeing other people like themselves in a position of leadership to feel empowered to do the same,” she said.
As to whether her career may have a higher trajectory than Redwood City’s City Council, Aguirre was circumspect.
“Right now I’m just really excited to have been chosen for mayor and looking forward to doing the best job possible,” she said.
Alicia Aguirre’s career