Yakima City Council Candidate for District 2, Avina Gutierrez.

Yakima City Council Candidate for District 2, Avina Gutierrez.

Courtesy of Avina Gutierrez

Yakima, Washington, elected three Latina city council members this week — a first for a city that is 40 percent Hispanic or Latino but had never elected a Latino city council member until now.

Avina Gutierrez will represent District 2, which is nearly 60 percent Hispanic. “It was just a culmination and a mix of so many emotions - of excitement, of joy, of humbleness, of hope - of all those things wrapped up into one,” she told Think Out Loud host Dave Miller on Thursday.

The city council election came in the wake of a federal lawsuit that changed the structure of Yakima’s local government. In August of 2014, the ACLU of Washington argued that the “at-large” local election system, in which city councilors are elected by the entire population, unfairly restricted the Latino vote. The court ruled in favor of the ACLU, and Yakima switched to a system in which candidates ran for positions representing individual districts.

Gutierrez now believes she would have won a citywide race. But she also says she certainly didn’t think that was the case when she initially ran for office — and without the successful lawsuit that created geographic districts for local elections, she probably would not have run in the first place.

“Unfortunately, in my mentality, I didn’t think the system was created for me to be able to make that happen,” she said, referring to the former “at-large” election system.

Gutierrez grew up in Yakima during the early 1990s, when there were “very few” Latinos or other minorities. After moving to Texas for college and working under a state senator, she decided to move back to central Washington and dedicate her life to public service.

“I wanted to come back to the community that raised me and give back to where I could really make an impact and be effective,” she said. “It’s always great to come back to where you’re from.”

Gutierrez said she will prioritize infrastructure improvements on the east side of Yakima, which is a part of the city that “has been a bit neglected.” She is also confident that the new council will repeal a resolution that the previous one passed which appealed the very lawsuit that created individual districts in the first place.

Going from zero to three Latina city councilors is a historic first for Yakima. But it’s not the only milestone; for the first time, women will constitute a majority of the council.

“History-making all around,” said Gutierrez.