Caballero-Roca, as Mayor Would Help Holyoke Focus on People Again…
HOLYOKE—Gloria Caballero-Roca has been around the world and her academic research has taken even further. But after a life crisscrossing the globe and the humanities, her next task became running for mayor of Hampden County’s fourth largest city. Her message is a call for change—or perhaps reassessment.
Embedded in her campaign is a grave concern for climate change. However, she is looking at smaller efforts—or at least hyperlocal ones. That scale extends to rethinking how people treat one another—and government’s role in that process. In short, Caballero-Roca to invest in people and better understand her fellow Holyokers.
“I am not a politician, but what I bring to my city is a care for the human being that we have lost track of,” she said. “We live in a community or in a society that is a throwaway society where you are valued as a consumer, and not a human being.”
In a hotly contested open race for mayor, seven candidates on the ballot are battling in Tuesday’s preliminary. The two with the most votes will go on to a titanic battle in November.
But up against city councilors, school committee members and savvy whippersnappers, what are Caballero-Roca’s chances? That may be the wrong question. Her campaign is rooted on answering the right questions or at least better ones after all.
“While she may not have the political experience in government she is a politician of life and her story speaks to this more than I can,” said Juan Sanchez, a friend of Caballero-Roca’s.
Caballero-Roca is not the only candidate in the race emphasizing listening. It is a mandatory skill given the politics here. While the Council chambers had been a minefield for Alex Morse—whose retirement as mayor prompted this election—spats between the mayors and councils have existed for time immemorial. Caballero-Roca implies a persistence in her strategy as applied to other political actors.
“I start first by listening to them. You know, I don’t want to dismiss anyone, I don’t want to dismiss any city councilor,” Caballero-Roca said. “So you listen to the person, and then you go back. I listen to the person. And I would really genuinely would like to understand, why is it but our proposal would not move on. unless that person, you know, gets his or her way.”
Caballero-Roca spoke to WMP&I in her cozy backyard garden off Dwight Street. She described her life and her philosophical approach to this campaign and, if elected, to government.
Originally from Cuba, Caballero-Roca came to the United States in the late 90’s. She became a citizen five years later. In Cuba, she had become a mother young but by age 23 she dove into academia. She became a translator and taught other interpreters. When the Soviet Union fell, its ripples rebooted Cuba, too, although it remained Communist.
“All those professionals in Cuba were called recycled,” she said. “So they have to go back to college in your 50s and 60s, and begin a new career.”
Caballero-Roca began teaching English language and literature until she married her husband, an American, in 1997 and came stateside. She taught at Milton Academy and later in the Latin American Studies Department at UMass-Amherst. Her academic pursuits brought to Poland and Portugal and exploring gender and race. One of her PhD’s is in literature but the second was on auto-ethnography, studying her own Afro-Cuban heritage.
“So that dissertation was more of a personal quest for spirituality, for understanding us, as human beings, and for also trying to come to peace with my past, with my ancestors, with everybody that looks the same way I look, people who look different, you know, look different, was coming in coming to peace with humanity,” Caballero-Roca explained.
That informs her ethos about politics, looking past the division and differences.
“It’s a matter of our community, being the center of every policymaking. It is not us. It’s not our ego,” she said.
On that front, Caballero-Roca wants paradigm shifts. She wants to see the city take an active role in educating people how they can have less of an impact on the earth for example. However, she also wants to see government subsidize businesses’ conversion to become climate friendly. Usually, such an idea would be a pipe dream for city of Holyoke’s resources. But with federal money flowing in with more potentially to come, this could be plausible.
Caballero-Roca agrees that public education needs more focus and would fight to bring local control back from the state. However, she zoomed out and said education is not just about what is happening in the schoolhouse. The environment children live in is part of the equation.
Regarding the crisis of vacancies in City Hall, Caballero-Roca conceded she did not have a direct answer. Yet, she said her priority of investing in people applied and could help identify the best candidates for these positions.
Knocking on doors, Cababellero-Roca said she had met people who had moved away but were visiting family in Holyoke. They had moved away because there were no jobs or poor education in the city. Others did not feel represented.
Continuing the embrace of the city’s Latino community as Morse had done would be central to Caballero-Roca, too.
“What I want to do, what I would love to do and envision for the city is really to embrace its multicultural population, to give opportunity to people in governance, so that they be part of the decision making,” she said.
There is a lot of aspiration in Caballero-Roca’s voice, but government moves slowly. That may not be the worst thing in her mind. Better decisions are not going to come in haste, Caballero-Roca said. Rash decisions will affect people for years if not decades.
“I think as a society, we want immediacy,” she explained. “As a society where we have to make decisions that are going to affect other people’s lives, we have to not rush.”
Whatever happens Tuesday, Caballero-Roca has no regrets. She was philosophical about fundraising, but unequivocal about the entire experience of seeking office.
As a first time candidate, Caballero-Roca has thorough enjoyed running for mayor. The campaign took to parts of the city she had never visited and met people she otherwise would not have known. She has been around the world, but only a citywide political campaign could bring her around Holyoke as this election has. In fact, she recommends it to everyone.
“Telling the truth, it’s been a wonderful, awesome experience. I am inviting everybody, from all walks of life, to try to run for any position,” Caballero-Roca said.
“In my case, people have been swept up in the entire Holyoke city of Holyoke. People have been very kind, people have been very open minded, and very receptive and respectful.”