Inclusive, welcoming communities lead to successful cities | COMMENTARY

By Ruth Perez, Renton council member

I am an immigrant. I was born and raised in Mexico City and, even though both of my grandmothers were born in the United States and both of my parents are U.S. citizens, I first came here 20 years ago with a student visa. It was years later that I became a U.S. citizen.

In Mexico I was a national news reporter who started three magazines. I moved to the United States determined to get the best education I could. From the minute I arrived in the Seattle region, I learned how inclusive communities become more prosperous by making everyone feel like they belong. In 1999, when Governor Gary Locke launched a trade mission to Mexico, he turned to me to make it meaningful and to bring home business because that is what I did. He believed that all people, including immigrants, are valued contributors and vital to the success of our communities and shared future.

I have a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Science and a Master’s in Business Administration. I worked at the Consulate of Mexico in Seattle for ten years. During my tenure at the Consulate’s office, I traveled all over developing educational programs. I led a collaboration between the governments of Mexico and Washington State for Spanish-speaking students to be able to learn English in class and keep up with their peers by taking high-school level classes, such as geometry and physics, online in Spanish. During this time, I was really lucky to work with communities actively seeking to engage all of its residents, including immigrants. These communities embraced the contributions immigrants make and leveraged the assets they bring for the benefit of the whole.

I have called Renton my home for more than a decade. Building inclusive and tolerant communities that reject bigotry has been a central pillar of this city and one that makes all of us stronger. In 2014, after a long public interview of 18 applicants, I was appointed as the first Latina to serve Renton. I won the election for my seat as a council member in my own right in 2015. Since my first day in office, I was excited to learn more about Renton’s goal to become more inclusive. Renton’s charm and character are a product of many different cultures and immigrant groups coming together. We pride ourselves on the strength of our collective neighborhoods. As an immigrant and American, I feel really proud to live and represent a city that embraces diversity and inclusion. Now, more than ever, we need to come together to make sure our communities feel safe. This is a city for all of us.

In a 21st century world, the strongest communities will be the ones where all people can take part in economic, civic and social life. Just as fertile soil is needed for a seed to grow, inclusive communities foster a culture and policy environment that makes it possible for people of all backgrounds to feel valued and to fully participate alongside their neighbors in the fabric of their hometowns. Being a more inclusive community means having a more vibrant culture, more customers for our local businesses, more jobs created, and a thriving economy that benefits us all. When we find ways to be more inclusive and welcoming, our city becomes a beacon of opportunity and a community that can compete for the best and the brightest. Our community’s success depends on making sure everyone who’s a part of it feels welcome here.

I believe and stand for values of inclusion, equity and justice. It is important to respect all people and recognize the rights of individuals to live their lives with dignity, free of discrimination because of their faith, race, national origin or immigration status. We will continue our work in making our services and programs accessible and open to all individuals. Advancing equity and inclusion is critical to the success of our communities. In our diverse community, you see people who share values — people working hard to provide for their families and build a stronger economy for all. We want people to know that our community is always willing to extend a hand in friendship to those who want to be a part of it. Around here, we take neighborliness seriously. It’s just who we are.