In November, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor appointed Guadalupe Ayala to be the city’s first diversity, equity and inclusion officer. Ayala, 29, graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor of arts in Latina/o studies, sociology and Spanish. She joined the city’s Human Relations and Community Services Department in 2015 as an equal employment opportunity specialist. In the mayor’s announcement, Ayala is quoted as saying, “I am committed to speak for those who may be afraid to speak for themselves” and “This is a time for healing, a time to come together o unite and do positive work.”
Tell me what your new assignment entails.
I’m assigned to implement the mayor’s Racial Justice and Equity Alliance plan and promote diversity and equity within the city — identifying programs and initiatives that will strengthen diversity within the organization. So it’s not really just diversity but also getting those tools and strategies that will help our staff and leaders in our community in addressing issues that they may be facing due to their demographic populations.
What does a diverse city government look like to you?
We are in a way already diverse because our Lansing community is diverse. Definitely being inclusive of all races, color, gender, sexual orientation, being able to create an inclusive environment where all feel comfortable to strive and don’t feel that they’re being discriminated against or held back.
What is the most important part of this? Hiring? Training? Where does it start?
Right now, the city is doing a scan to determine where our employees and where our community need the assistance. This plan that we’re developing [which Schor announced the details of in December] is something that will assist us within City Hall, but also with the community. And if you see the survey, we’re asking how people feel living and working in the city of Lansing. So it’s something that we’re trying to create to assist us in developing something that can help our community, our city as a whole.
Can you give any example of how the outreach might work in a particular instance?
Language is something really common, so maybe implementing language access, where we’re able to have any individual knowing any language be able to access a certain resource.
So for someone who say speaks Spanish as their first language, perhaps the city website needs to be in Spanish as well?
Right. Something like that.
Let’s find out more about you.
I was born in California, grew up in El Salvador and came to Lansing about 21 years ago when I was in third grade. I’ve been here in the city since, except for college. This is what I consider my home, where my family lives, and where I started my family.
What is your impression of Lansing in terms of diversity? Not city government, but just your experience growing up here and living here.
I feel like Lansing is very diverse. There is a huge immigration and refugee population, and I love it because I feel comfortable and able to celebrate my culture. I go to Cristo Rey Church. For the 21 years that I’ve been here, I have felt comfortable expressing my religion and my culture and celebrating it. So I love Lansing. I mean, it is a really diverse city.
Does that imply you think that minorities are generally accepted in this community?
Throughout our country, we can get various reactions, interactions with people. I’ve had my own where I have been discriminated in the streets for speaking English with my family. And at that time, I did not know much English. I was still little and just walking around with my mom, waiting for a bus and the person behind us said, “Stop speaking Spanish. You’re in America, speak English.” I understood just enough to know what he said. We didn’t know how to respond. And my mom feeling saddened that she was the adult in that situation and she couldn’t respond as well. So yeah, so people are there who are not accepting, but overall I feel that our community is welcoming and there is a place for us to live and, as I said, this is where I live. This is where I have my home, where my children are growing up. So, yeah.
(This interview was conducted, edited and condensed by Berl Schwartz.)