Here’s one for the history books: Arlington on Jan. 1 became the first jurisdiction in Virginia history to have its two local elected bodies headed by Latinos.
As expected, Walter Tejada was selected by his colleagues that day to chair the County Board for 2013. He joins Emma Violand-Sanchez, who is halfway through a term chairing the School Board.
“This is an important milestone for our community,” said County Board member Libby Garvey, who served with Violand-Sanchez on the School Board and now serves with Tejada.
Tejada is a native of El Salvador who came to the U.S. as a young teen. Violand-Sanchez is a native of Bolivia who immigrated to the U.S. to further her education.
It was the second time chairing the County Board for Tejada, who previously wielded the gavel in 2008.
“Who would have thought that the young boy who helped his struggling family by shining shoes in the central market in San Salvador would become chairman – twice – in one of the best communities in the world?” Tejada said in remarks at the County Board’s New Year’s Day organizational meeting, a civic tradition dating back decades.
Elected Latinos and Latinas remain relatively rare in Virginia: In addition to Tejada and Violand-Sanchez, there is Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th), plus a handful of School Board members across the commonwealth.
Arlington’s distinction of having two Latino leaders helming the ship of state probably won’t last beyond mid-year. Violand-Sanchez likely will rotate off as School Board chairman in July, to be succeeded by current vice chairman Sally Baird.
As was the case five years ago, Tejada’s accession to the top leadership post in county government brought out a large contingent of Spanish-language media to the organizational meeting.
Tejada used the meeting to call for community groups, the business community, civic associations and others to “celebrate the ethnic and cultural diversity that makes Arlington such a fascinating and exciting place to live.”