Naila Prieto-Duval has lived in the Yakima Valley for most of her life. Born in Yakima and raised in Toppenish, Prieto-Duval has always wanted to see her community prosper. Over the past three years, she has devoted much of her time to making sure that happens.
In 2019, Prieto-Duval was appointed to Toppenish City Council, where she began her journey as a public servant. Prieto-Duval quickly learned that balancing her time with a full-time job with the Granger School District, a growing family, and board responsibilities would require major sacrifices and compromises. Three years later, Pietro-Duval also sits on the health board for the Yakima health district.
It’s not always easy – she’s had to dip into her paid vacation on occasion to take time out for her many responsibilities, and family members have helped her look after her children. For Pietro-Duval, it’s worth it.
“Maybe it’s just a part of me to be like that,” she said, referring to the fact that her grandmother, Petra Jimenez-Gonzales, was a city councilor in the town of La Barca. in Mexico.
During his tenure on City Council and the Board of Health, Pietro-Duval advocated for affordable housing, access to the COVID vaccine, and took a more proactive stance to meet the needs of Toppenish’s homeless population.
Here are some questions and answers with Prieto-Duval. Some answers have been edited for space.
What made you want to enter the civil service?
It’s because of my children. When you have a child, you just want to give them the best life possible, and I just felt that by serving on the town council, I could help make Toppenish safe for my son and my family. I was 5 months pregnant when they said there was a pandemic so there was a lot of worry and uncertainty. I was stressed and very scared of what might happen from being pregnant and not being able to be with my child if there were any complications due to COVID.
To be able to see other Latin women do it before me like Dulce Gutierrez, Carmen (Mendez), Benji Aguilar. These people have served on school boards, city councils or are just very involved in the community. I saw that they were able to do it, that they gave back to their community in those ways and I just felt that if they could do it, so could I. Hopefully, being a Latina sitting on those boards where we might feel out of place will encourage others to do so as well.
What was your experience on city council and the board of health as a Latino woman?
I guess it’s not that you show up and feel like people are being mean to you or that they don’t accept you or want you. It’s just that this place at the table can seem intimidating, and all it takes is a little encouragement to speak up or to feel that what you have to say matters. I got this from André Fresco. He is the Executive Director of the Yakima Health District and whenever I wanted to say something or whenever my hand was up he always gives me the opportunity to say what we want and ask the questions we want to ask .
I really thought about belonging and what it looks like and for me you have to feel welcomed and invited, like the people there want to hear what you have to say and you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up. Over the past few years, I feel like I’ve evolved and gained in confidence. It’s not necessarily that you don’t belong, it’s that I feel like these types of boards or these types of activities in the public service are not for people who work and raise a family. Meetings are held in the middle of the day during the working week. They are not after work or on the weekends or at working mother friendly times.
What community issues do you focus on the most?
Public safety is something I watch very closely. As a resident of Toppenish, you can’t get very far without being hit by crime, gang activity, gunfire. You are affected by this. Ensuring that we have a police service that feels fully supported, and that they know their work is important and valued in the community. That’s what I strive to do.
Another very big issue right now is the flea market closure, a large portion of our homeless population (who lived on the property) has been displaced. Once in a while I drive around and see what’s going on in the community. I’ll look where the homeless hang out. They are on the sides of buildings, around parks and near hotels. It’s heartbreaking. I feel like I have to do more to help them. I’m not sure they have all the services they need to not be homeless. What worries me the most is if, for whatever reason, if they wanted to change their lives, where would they go for help?
Do you have any tips for community members on how to get involved?
Find out what really motivates you. Find something you’re passionate about, then look for ways to volunteer in that field. If you can, join a board or committee. Look at the time spent, see if it’s something you can spend your time on. And if there aren’t any organizations or groups focused on what you’re trying to do, then create your own.