Bursting the Orange bubble: Chapman doctorate student runs for city council

city council

Beatriz Valencia was inspired to get involved in local politics after the April 10 Orange City Council meeting, when council members voted not to comply with parts of a bill that made California a sanctuary state. Photo by Bonnie Cash

In a heated, six-hour meeting April 10, the Orange City Council voted not to comply with parts of the California sanctuary state bill. The next morning, Beatriz “Betty” Valencia went to city council and declared her candidacy for the Nov. 6 local election.

The upcoming campaign will be Valencia’s first journey into politics, but the 46-year-old Orange resident, who is a student in Chapman’s leadership studies doctoral program, believes her commitment to community service has prepared her for what’s ahead. She’s an immigrant, a Latina and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and she’s ready for her identity to be represented on city council.

Q: When did you know you wanted to get involved in politics?

A: Never. There’s a fine line between what people call community work and politics. I’ve always been in community work. Since I was 17 years old, I was very involved in different communities throughout the U.S. and Mexico 10 (including the Women’s March on Washington and a Santa Ana DACA march). So I always really focused on community work. This next step came about because of all the division we’ve been seeing since 2016. We’re focused on a national level, and it struck me that we should start looking at a lower level as well. Especially after the (Orange) City Council meeting (April 10) on SB 54 (California’s sanctuary state bill), that was really the moment I decided to jump in, especially because I’m not the typical candidate.

Q: Did knowing that you were not the typical candidate deter you at all?

A: That’s what kept me from jumping in earlier. I kept asking myself if Orange is really ready for new leadership. I’m an immigrant. I’m Latina. I’m married to a woman. I’m 46 years old. That was something I really had to think about. If I put myself out there, how will Orange respond? It took many months, but after that meeting with city council, I knew what the answer was. Orange is ready for responsive and inclusionary leadership.

Q: How long have you lived in Orange?

A: I’ve lived in Orange 17 years. I (received amnesty under former president Ronald) Reagan. Many farm workers became residents, like myself. Today, it’s very different. Whatever it is, it’s my identity, it’s my history, it’s who I am, and it’s a little bit scary to mention this in today’s times, but I think that it’s necessary for our voice to be heard. I wear this intersectionality pin because I am all those identities, and I occupy all those spaces. I was brought to the U.S. in 1978 at the age of 6, where I spent the next 10 years fully assimilating in a very painful environment – erasing my history, my culture, my language, my identity.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish?

A: I met a woman earlier this week, and she told me, ‘I’m from Santa Ana, and I love the (Orange Plaza), but when I come to the Circle, I don’t feel welcomed.” This really struck me. We live in this bubble that is Orange, and one of the things I hope to accomplish is to puncture that bubble and let fresh air in. We have many residents with mixed statuses – in terms of who’s DACA, who’s a citizen, in one family you can have mixed statuses – and I don’t think that the city of Orange is as inclusive as it could be. I don’t know if you went to see Angela Davis speak at Chapman, but she said, ‘Everybody talks about inclusion and diversity – wonderful, but what about justice?’ and that’s what I’m talking about. We can include people and be diverse. I could be (the first female) Latina on city council, but where’s the justice? How can we make people feel that there is justice in Orange?

Q: How does your personal identity shape your campaign?

A: (Some people told me), ‘Deny support for LGBTQIA+ rights and (sanctuary city laws) because people will bury you,’ but that told me that I need to say it. I need to own it, because this needs to be a conversation. Our city should be not only inclusive, but we should say we are a (sanctuary) city. We’ve made progress in so many ways with diversity, but we’re seeing it as a deficit, and we need to flip that narrative.

Q: How did the 2016 presidential election affect your involvement in politics?

A: Initially, I regressed, and felt fearful. I felt unsure about my position in my own community and in the U.S. I have dual citizenship – I’m a citizen of Mexico and a citizen of the U.S. – and I realized it doesn’t have to be ‘either or.’ It could be ‘and.’ Let’s not kid around. We may have citizenship, but you don’t ever lose this feeling of ‘do I belong?’ The election kicked that into force. Unfortunately, our own immigrant population is segregated or excluded, especially in schools. That’s what gave me motivation to say that we can do this in Orange, too, to not only make room for our residents, but room for everyone. Open up the bubble and let others in.

Clarification: Information was added to this article to clarify how Valencia was brought into the U.S.