History has been made in Orange County this midterm election as José Trinidad Castañeda is the first Latino, Native American and LGBTQ person to be elected to the Buena Park City Council.
Castañeda beat out his other opponents by nearly 300 votes taking 46.3% of the vote, according to the Orange County Register. He will fill one of the two open seats on the Buena Park city council board representing District 2 of the city.
“What made me want to run for city council is we need a competent person who understands what families are going through, and have that community driven focus to lead because at every city council, there are issues and in Buena Park we [underserved community] have never had a voice,” Castañeda said.
José Trinidad Castañeda, 31, Buena Park City Council Member-Elect for District 2, Orange County, He/Him, Mexican-American, LGBTQ
Castañeda is now among a growing number of young and diverse leaders changing the political landscape in Southern California. As many departing incumbents are having their seats filled with younger, more diverse leaders. For example, in Anaheim, Natalie Rubalcava was elected to be one of the city’s first Latinas to serve on the city council, and Ashleigh Aitken became the city’s first female mayor. Similarly, in Santa Ana, Valerie Amezcua will become the city’s first female mayor.
“It is an enormous privilege. It feels like we just won the super bowl and I am so ready to get to work that most people are asking if I can just take a breather because I’m so pumped.” Castañeda said.
Up to this point, the city of Buena Park has only had one person of color be on city council with the mayoral election of Sunny Park in 2018 while having a 39.7% latino population, according to the U.S Census Bureau. Castañeda simply wants to be put in a position where he can make a difference directly because he feels like it is his moral obligation to the community he grew up in.
This is a position Castañeda never expected to be in about 10 years ago when he attended his first city council meeting in Fullerton for a school assignment. At the time the decision regarding transferring about $2.5 million to Latino majority schools in the Fullerton school district was denied by the city council, which angered and frustrated him to the point he never felt before.
From that moment on, he vowed to attend every city council meeting he possibly could and be prepared to speak during public comment until it became a habit. He carries that same drive to make change in any way he can still to this day that truly resonates with the residents of Buena Park.
“Based on my conversations with [Castañeda] he appears to be genuine and you can tell he truly has a passion to help make Buena Park a better place. I appreciate how accessible he is because he takes the time to listen to me whenever I have concerns, which says a lot about a person,” said Nadine Baker, a Buena Park resident.
Buena Park is the city Castañeda grew up in where he became a founding member of a local community organization, Buena Park United, to facilitate the needs of its community and increase engagement. With a population of 82,000 people and a freeway separating his district, Castañeda will look to implement more civic participation to continue the momentum he’s built.
Castañeda is proud of what he has been able to do in Orange County at such a young age, like establishing a new public agency to increase local jobs, creating policies to produce more clean energy, and serving as a Delegate to the California Democratic Party. Nonetheless, his biggest accomplishment he says comes from renovating an elementary school’s park in south Fullerton, where he constantly attended as a kid. After six years of advocacy, a $2.5 million renovation of Woodcrest Park was possible thanks to him, because he led the push to advocate for the underserved community and constantly challenged council members to approve the renovation.
“He is very active in defending the community and I hope people of the district realize how much of a hard worker he is.” said Veronica Moran, a Buena Park resident, who first met Jose during city council meetings. “I am confident in him and I hope he is able to connect with the residents.”
His main goal on his first day in office will be to increase civic engagement to develop a pipeline of residents just living their days to actively being involved with community members so the city can have new diverse voices regardless of political ideology. He loves this work and is looking forward to leading his own community.
“This year has made me see and realize why I need to do this work because there have been many moments where I felt maybe this is not for me, maybe I should just do something else and focus on my professional career or goals to generate income but there needs to be more good in this world,” Castañeda said.