Miguel Canales received a BA in American Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a Masters in Education and U.S. history from Claremont Graduate University. He was a member and chair of the Artesia Planning Commission prior to his election to the city council in 2011. He is a member of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, NALEO, a member of the League of California Cities, a board member of the Local Government Commission and a delegate for his state political party. Mayor Canales has been a high school teacher for the last seventeen years, teaching government and economics at ABC Unified School District.
Interviewed by Bill Britt
What are some of the specific challenges facing your community today?
The biggest challenge is providing services in the city of Artesia, even though we’ve done so many great things in the last four years with very little. We have a small budget of $9 million and a population of 16,000 speaking 47 different languages. We rely almost entirely on grants and revenue from retail. But in the last four years we’ve increased our general budget 52% because our city reserves improved as the U.S. economy improved. It’s helping us transform our main downtown boulevard into a walk-able, livable community.
We also negotiated several contracts that increased our reserves. The challenge is keeping our merchants happy and our residents happy while working with a small budget.
What are the most effective ways you use to connect with your community?
The easiest way for me is one-on-one. I’m very accessible. I use social media and I work with our city manager to help us update our website presence. We also have a local TV station that we use to spread the word about special events and festivals.
“Our voice is minimal so we don’t have the luxury of making mistakes. We have to be ethical and responsible. We have to be!”
Did you have a mentor in life, or in your early career, and exactly what did they offer you?
My first mentors were my parents. My father was a labor organizer and very involved in the political arena. He didn’t encourage me to go into politics, but he was extremely political and certainly influenced me. And then there were several people [I regarded as mentors] in the years before I joined the council, like [Senator] Tony Mendoza and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez. I observed how they talked to people and how they answered questions. Larry Nelson, who passed away [May 1, 2010] was a former mayor and city council member of Artesia. He told me, people might not respect colleagues but they need to respect the position. He wanted to make sure that despite personal feelings people have about each other that they stay professional and respect each other in public.
What does being a Latino policymaker mean to you?
It means we walk on eggshells. There’s very few of us. Our voice is minimal so we don’t have the luxury of making mistakes. We have to be ethical and responsible. We have to be! We can’t sit on the sidelines. We have to voice our opinions, but how we voice our concerns can quickly [result in being] judged as being sexist or, as we call it in the Latino culture, machista. Being assertive can be considered being rude, which is something women of color face more than men. So, at the end of the day we have to be able to look in the mirror and say we are choosing the right paths and voicing the right concerns for our community. Delivery is key. Being Latino, you just have to be cautious of how you say things sometimes, but other times you just have to be raw and just say it when it has to be heard.
What was the most memorable day of your life?
Experiencing my son’s birth. He is a beautiful, spirited young soul.
If you were required to appear on one of these television shows, which one would you choose? Survivor, Dancing with the Stars or The Voice?
I have very few artistic talents that anyone would want to witness! In fact, even my stick figures [that I draw] are ugly. Performing in public would eliminate The Voice. I do enjoy dancing, so Dancing with the Stars is doable. Clearly with the understanding that I would simply want to have fun.
If you had a pair of front row seats who would you be going to see?
I enjoy most genres of music. But I do want to see Mana live before I die.