Alexandra Valladares- trailblazer for Latinx communities

Alexandra Valladares

Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024

By Reyna Drake

On Dec. 19, 2019, community organizer and advocate, Alexandra Valladares, rushed to the Durham County Board of Elections to submit an application aimed at re-shaping the narrative in the Durham community.

For years, Valladares dedicated herself to advocating for Durham’s minority-dense population, where minorities constitute around 55% of the population. 

She points out the lack of representation on the school board. 

“A lot of the movements call on the importance of representation and call on equity and advocating for the most vulnerable, and yet the people who are leading usually don’t represent them,” said Valladares.

This disparity is not new to Durham, as positions of influence have historically been dominated by the white population, prompting Valladares to raise the question: How can one effectively support a group without a genuine understanding of its experiences?

Valladares, an immigrant herself from Honduras who sought asylum in the United States at the age of five, understands firsthand the challenges faced by marginalized communities. 

She said her childhood experiences as a Latin American immigrant in the U.S. had its challenges, a sentiment that resonates with many families in Durham.

Despite being an ideal candidate to combat this disparity given her background and ideologies, Valladares had not initially wanted to run for office. 

“My community had wanted me to run for a while, but it seemed impossible,” says Valladares, “I know what it’s like to be used and extracted, I was only beneficial to the diversity crew. It looked like an impossible feat, given the demographic on the board and the support.”

 It wasn’t until journalist and professor Carl Kenney II convinced her otherwise. 

“I wanted to do a series of articles on Latina women in the community. I had never met her before,” says Kenney, “We met at a coffee house and five minutes into the conversation, I was like, ‘you need to run for office.’”

Valladares pondered the reality of running for a position that a favorite candidate had held for years. 

Valladares explained that she was often told she could never become a member of Durham’s political elite. Colleagues and voters were upset that she was challenging the highly decorated position. 

“It’s almost as if his name was written on that seat. Colleagues would remind me that this was his seat,” said Valladares. 

Despite that, Valladares successfully submitted her application and, on March 3, 2020, became the first Latina woman ever elected to the Durham County Public School Board.

Her journey, however, was not without obstacles. 

Valladares faced tensions among minority groups, receiving emails from individuals who felt their preferred candidate had been overlooked. 

She acknowledges the historical narrative of pitting minority groups against one another, emphasizing the importance of unity to combat systemic inequalities.

“There’s a bond of people who recognize that when it comes to the system and when it comes to society, we will never get first dibs on anything,” said Valladares. “The narrative that people want and what white supremacy culture wants us to believe is because we don’t get first dibs, we have to be violent with each other. Any win means another loss, and it’s fighting over crumbs.” 

Along with journalist Carl Kenney, Valladares has grown a Rainbow Coalition in the Durham community with aims to unite black and brown people across the community. 

“When you’re challenging a narrative that has historically benefited one group, and then you have the minority populations fighting, that creates tension,” says Valladares. “That’s what is so powerful about a rainbow coalition. We are taking that away.”

Despite challenges, Valladares has been instrumental in empowering minority communities through educational initiatives. 

She established a Multilingual Research Center to alleviate the burden on English as a second language classes, introduced dual-immersion programs and increased representation in Durham School’s upper management. Valladares also criticized the divisive comparison between the 81% and 19%, highlighting the exclusion of black and brown populations.

“When you have a public school system that is driven by achievement, but achievement that glosses over the suffering of others, then that is not something that is equitable,” says Valladares.

Reflecting on her impact, she challenged the Utopia movement in the Durham Community. 

“Utopia, there’s a certain delusion to it. It’s a movement not based on reciprocity and actual, real, truth. It’s based on what I want to perceive about you,” says Valladares.

While Valladares won’t be running for office in the upcoming term, she plans to serve her community through the MRC as well as by combating classism and bias in the community. 

Her ability to challenge deep-rooted narratives of white supremacy serves as an inspiration for dreamers in oppressed groups.

Valladares created a standard that proves it is possible for people from diverse backgrounds to hold important positions of leadership and influence.

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