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Demonstrating Strength

Demonstrating Strength

A Reflection from Mayor Norma Hernandez  

By Jessi Vietz 

March is Women’s History Month, which is recognized as “commemorating and encouraging the study, observance, and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.” [1] As the Walla Walla University Campus finds ways to observe and celebrate women all over the world, pride should be taken in our local change-makers as well. 

An interview with College Place Mayor, Norma Hernandez, revealed a powerful story of Hernandez’s ability to overcome numerous obstacles and a passion for serving her community. Mayor Hernandez is College Place’s first elected female mayor, as well as its first Latina council member and mayor. She uses her position to “provide mentorship to females of all ages.” [2] 

Her story begins as a third-generation Mexican American in El Paso, Texas. With an abusive, alcoholic father and drug-addicted mother, Norma had to grow up quickly at the age of ten when her parents divorced. At the age of thirteen, she lost her father to murder. She had to raise her brother on her own after her mother spiraled deeper into drug abuse and her older sister married young to get away from “the mess of our home.” [3] 

Similar to her parents and sister, Hernandez got married at the age of sixteen to her high school sweetheart, Aaron. She thanks God for bringing them together, “His timing is not by accident, the Lord knew I was going to need him to get to where I am supposed to be.” The couple left El Paso for Seattle at nineteen years old, fought their way out of poverty, and were blessed with two children of their own. [4] 

Finding a career in credit unions, Norma never shied away from opportunities to learn and have new experiences. Within five years she rose to the position of President/CEO of the company. In 2009 she “was instrumental in creating and opening Washington State’s very first Low-Income Designated and Community Development Credit Union based in Seattle.” Numerous credit unions still follow the model she created today. [5] 

In 2010 Norma went before both the State Senate and House asking for restrictions on the “life-destroying lending practices of payday lenders and check-cashing business.” She was the only banker to do so, and her request was granted. This was her first experience with public policy, and she witnessed that the “ability to create change and increase equity was the ultimate power of the decision makers,” leading her to pursue a new career path. [6] 

After battling and overcoming a rare and aggressive form of Breast Cancer in 2015, Norma and her husband Aaron searched for a different pace of life and a community to serve. After living in Seattle for over thirty years, the family moved to College Place. “The Walla Walla Valley called to me, sight unseen, I just knew this is where we needed to be,” she reminisced. [7] 

Mayor Hernandez says she still has “zero interest in being a politician” but wants to serve her community in a personal way. Her life experiences have led her to be frustrated when people are given no better opportunities or options to better their lives. “Decisions were being made by people (mostly men) who had zero concept or life experience in what they were making laws and rules for.” The injustices of the American System did not allow for equal opportunities of success [8]. 

In March of 2019, Norma ran along with six men for College Place City Council. She won the seat by a unanimous vote and is grateful to the other council members for taking a chance on someone different than themselves. As an outsider to the region, her fresh point of view was valued.  

With encouragement from the previous resigning Mayor, Harvey Crowder, she ran for the position. Once again, she won with unanimous votes and was appointed Mayor. [9] 

After being re-elected as Mayor, Norma stated that she continues to keep politics out of her non-partisan role as mayor. She said that her “focus is to serve the people, not to play politics. I am a grateful servant of my community and I pray that in the end I will be blessed with the words ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’” [10] 

See Also

Mayor Hernandez aims to bring new business to College Place and increase housing for a full spectrum of economic situations such as “stable and affordable housing for our senior citizens and those on fixed incomes, housing for individuals and small families who simply need studios, one-and two-bedroom rentals, to homes that our workforce can afford to purchase.” [11] 

As College Place’s first elected female Mayor, she believes it is her personal responsibility to “encourage women to get involved civically in shaping their community”. She actively provides guidance and mentorship for women who are considering running for a government position. Norma hopes to be viewed as a “powerful and respected representative of all my communities-College Place, Latinas, and women.” [12] 

References 

1. Congress, T. L. of, Administration, N. A. and R., Humanities, N. E. for the, Art, N. G. of, Service, N. P., Institution, U. S. S., & Museum, U. S. H. M. (n.d.). March is Women’s History Month. Women’s History Month. https://womenshistorymonth.gov/ 

2. Interview with Mayor Norma Hernandez, 3/2/22. 

3-12. Ibid. 

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