Cristal Retana: Lifting others while we climb
Cristal Retana is the proud daughter of Mexican immigrant parents and is only the second Latina to be elected to the Farmers Branch City Council despite 50% of the city’s population being Hispanic. Her interest in politics started when she was asked to testify in front of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and Texas Senate committee in favor of a first-generation higher education program that was at risk of losing funding; this program helped thousands of first generation college students attend college, including herself. “I was standing in front of a group of leaders that didn’t look like me, however, were making decisions that affected people like me across our state” Retana stated. This incident encouraged Retana to add an additional major in government to her degree as well as apply for the Luna Scholars internship program that allowed her to work in the Texas Senate during the 81st legislative session. This opportunity marked the beginning of her career in public policy as she continued to work for several elected offices at the state and local levels over the next several years.
Growing up, Retana recalls her childhood as tough, where her parents worked multiple jobs in construction and housekeeping. Her parents are from Durango, Mexico and she was raised in a conservative Catholic household as the only daughter among five sons and the first in her family to pursue a college degree. However, it is the values that Retana learned throughout her childhood that she says inspires her to this day, especially her mother whose work ethic and passion for her family, religion, and culture that Retana admires.
While working at the City of Dallas for a Northeast Dallas councilmember, Retana began to be more exposed to the local level of politics and that’s when she realized that local policy affects the quality of life of residents more than any other branch of government. This also opened her eyes to the low voter turnout of Dallas county which she says is a result of the lack of education of the large impact that local policies actually have on your day to day life. These events heavily sparked her interest in helping shape local policy in her community. Around the same time, the council member representing her in Farmers Branch was being termed out and several community leaders, including the councilmember, approached her with the idea of running for her seat. Retana first discussed this with her family members before running for council and becoming the second Latina to ever be elected to office in Farmers Branch. “I was very fortunate that my family was very supportive and very proud that I’m able to represent a voice that is not usually represented” Retana stated.
Retana believes that there is also a lot of inequality when it comes to public policy in her city and is working to change that. For instance, although there is a large population of Hispanics residing in the city, the majority of the marketing material and city public documents are in English. While she understands that not everyone needs translations, Retana still thinks it’s important these documents be in Spanish even if it only helps a small percentage of residents there since it is a large factor in extinguishing the disparities in Farmers Branch. She also believes that it is important to bridge the gap between law enforcement and minorities and recently partnered with the Farmers Branch Police to launch a new program, UNIDOS, that allows for better communication and positive interactions between Latinos and police officers.
Retana is currently the Manager of Community Relations at the Children’s Health Medical Center in Dallas and is passionate about ensuring that everyone has access to quality healthcare and is able to attain the best quality of life. While she agrees that it’s difficult to manage all her responsibilities, planning out everything, having candid conversations with your employers, and having a personal board of directors of women and mentors that support you really help. For Retana, her favorite resources are people and she believes that it’s important to have individuals with different perspectives in your life. She also added that her greatest accomplishment is being in a position where she is able to mentor other aspiring women who may also come from difficult backgrounds and says that it’s essential to “lift others while we climb”. Retana states that the biggest advice she has for young women aspiring to be in politics is to not be afraid to reach out to individuals you want to learn more about and be consistent as well as true to yourself. “Being yourself is important and culture is important but what you’ve been through should not be the only thing to dictate your path forward so don’t let that stop you from reaching your goal. Your story is one of the most important things that you have. Don’t be afraid to share it with the world.”