The Durham City Council made history last week by appointing its first Latinx member to fill a seat that opened up when Steve Schewel was elected mayor. Javiera Caballero is a mother of three, a former teacher, and a program coordinator with an education consulting firm. She moved to the United States from Chile as a child and has lived in Durham since 2010. Over a plain glazed Monuts donut (she has a discerning sweet tooth after a stint as a baker), Caballero spoke with the INDY about her first city council meeting (which took place just an hour after she learned she got the job), her plans to make City Hall more inclusive, and her love of the Bull City.
On her appointment and first meeting
That was a little surreal. I remember getting home that night and quite frankly being like, What just happened? I did not go into the meeting expecting that I had it. I knew Pilar [Rocha-Goldberg] had a very good shot at it. She definitely has a much higher profile than I did in the community. But I also know that, I guess, the activist Latino community very verbally was supporting me.
On the lack of Latinx people on Durham's elected bodies
I was kind of floored that there had never been any representation. The community is twenty-five years old. That's a generation. Our numbers are stabilizing, but when people say fourteen percent of the community is Latino, I'm like, maybe, but in the public schools it's thirty—so that's going to increase as that generation gets older.
Her hopes for the city council
This is a very progressive council, I would say almost radical city council, and I think that we are in this moment where Durham has just a few years to really figure out the pattern that we're going to be. Are we going to be like so many other cities? We're in gentrification mode—everyone knows that—but we're not at the end of it. We're in the middle of it. We still have a chance to not just make this city for super-affluent people.
On making City Hall more inclusive
I would actually love to have a meeting where you do simultaneous interpretation and the meeting is in Spanish and it's the English speakers that have to flip and have to wait. There's a power in there. There are basic things like translation and interpretation at meetings, agendas, some outreach. Then we get into the deeper level of accessibility, which is how many people in City Hall speak Spanish? And I say Spanish because that's the largest population. I think that there would be a conversation about what other languages are in our community.
On why she loves Durham
You just meet people who are very genuine and kind and not pretentious, and I had never really experienced that in other places. It's all kinds of people—all classes, all ethnicities, gay, straight. There was just this openness. And then the kids started school and made friends really easily.
On creating a safe space for immigrant families at Club Boulevard Magnet Elementary School, where she serves as PTA president
Right after the election in 2016, we had just a routine PTA meeting. We were going to talk about mundane things like a cookies-and-cocoa event coming up in December. I approached our assistant principal and I said we can't do that—people are terrified right now. I had already heard kids crying in school, that kids had come home crying, asking are so-and-so's parents going to get deported? So we had this forum so that people could express their concerns. We weren't the only one. Club was first but there was one at Riverside, one at Forest View, and what ended up happening is that DPS crafted policy about what the rules were going to be. There were several messages from our superintendent saying you are welcome, please come to the schools, do not be afraid.
On joining a council that is mostly working mothers
You have four working moms under about forty, and I don't think that happens very often. I find that pretty radical. Regardless of ethnicity or race, working moms get left out of many things in our society. I work for an all-women team in my other job, and it's a very different place to work. My hope and expectation is that it's going to be a more collaborative effort. I think women approach work in that way. I know that's a stereotype, but it's always been my experience.