Last November, when thousands of West Salt Lake voters cast their ballots, I became the first-ever Latino elected to represent Salt Lake City‘s most diverse community. (District 2 is a predominantly Latino district, with a very diverse mix of cultures and nationalities.)
If you’re surprised by this, you wouldn’t be the first, and you’re certainly not the only one. The truth is that critical barriers to entry still exist for minorities seeking to run for office. Only when we understand what barriers exist can we break them down, paving the way for a new generation of diverse representation in Salt Lake City and our state. The incredible time commitment, the expectation of a traditional education in a decidedly non-traditional world, economic demands, trust, and political connections can leave everyday Utahns behind when it comes to representation.
But politics – becoming an elected official and serving your community – shouldn’t be open only to white, educated, wealthy people. We always talk about the lack of diversity in elected and volunteer positions; how valuable voices from different backgrounds are in our government. We desperately need diverse voices, but now this City Council I serve on, in tandem with Salt Lake County and the State of Utah, must do all we can to break down the walls we’ve had to cross to get here, when no one else ever has to fight.
I know the walls first hand. As a recently naturalized immigrant, I had to balance my personal obligations, putting many of them on hiatus, and my desire to serve my community. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take time off from work from the day I filed my application until the end of our campaign. I am single and I have no children. I worked in politics, made connections, and knew what it took to run in Salt Lake City for years before I decided to file a case. I was lucky, and the system shouldn’t just reward the lucky ones.
But how do you open up the opportunity to others: the single mother on the West Side, who works two jobs, who wants to serve her community to create a better future for her children — how to create a town where she can volunteer for a city council or run for office without it creating an undue burden on his life?
Provide plenty of affordable and accessible childcare opportunities, expand public access to technology like a working computer and webcam that is imperative for joining boardrooms, running and showing up at virtual town halls and meetings constituencies, and making advanced civic education easily accessible to all are good starts. Yet they demand that all of our city councils, our county council, and our state legislature come together to make representation for all of us truly possible for all of us.
I will continue to work to make the application more accessible to everyone. And if you are eager to serve your neighbors as a volunteer or elected official, I hope you will join me in breaking down barriers and creating a stronger, more representative Salt Lake City where all voices are heard and valued.
Alejandro “Ale” Puy represents District 2 on the Salt Lake City Council.