Arlington Schools Candidacy Captures Latino Imagination
Monday, June 16, 2008
In Bolivia last month on business, Diego Arias of Arlington County picked up a newspaper and stopped at a familiar face. Prominently placed on the third page, in a section separating winners from losers, was a photograph of Emma Violand-Sanchez.
Somehow the landlocked South American nation that Violand-Sanchez left as a teenager more than four decades ago not only knew about her victory in a party caucus to endorse Arlington School Board candidates but also considered the development newsworthy.
"It's amazing," Laura Anduze said, looking at a copy of the newspaper her husband, Arias, brought home. "She must have a lot of people who believe in her."
The Democratic caucus, held last month to make endorsements for two School Board seats at stake in the fall election, had a record turnout, and Violand-Sanchez received more votes than the five other candidates, including an incumbent, who placed second.
The five-member board is nonpartisan. But the caucus victory virtually guarantees Violand-Sanchez a four-year term because the county electorate is overwhelmingly Democratic and because she and runner-up Libby Garvey were the only candidates to file by Tuesday's deadline.
And so the November election in all likelihood will make official what is already being celebrated as a milestone: the first election of a Latina to a board that oversees a well-regarded 18,700-student school system.
"Make no mistake about it: This is a tremendous, positive message," County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada (D) said, "not just to Arlington, but to the region as well."
The victory for Violand-Sanchez comes as a crackdown on illegal immigration in nearby Prince William County has gained national attention and federal immigration agents have been raiding businesses locally and across the country.
In contrast, the Arlington County Board unanimously passed a resolution last year welcoming immigrants.
"The folks who are creating a divisive tone to immigrants are focusing on negative aspects," said Tejada, a native of El Salvador. Violand-Sanchez, he added, "is an example of the American success story."
Violand-Sanchez was 16 when an aunt brought her to Virginia to live with a Fairfax County family and work as its nanny. Knowing little English, she went from being a top student in her hometown school to questioning her intelligence at Mount Vernon High School.
"I became so small, so inadequate," recalled Violand-Sanchez, 63.