Adriana Garibay, 50, of Centralia, is a born fighter. Not the physical variety, but she fights for what is right and good. She fights for the American Hispanic community, and she fights to do the will of God. Adriana is a wife, mother of five, a Mexican immigrant and a Centralia City Councilor. She is impressive and leads with her heart. Tapping her chest with her hand, she says, “I think that a lot of the time, I get connected with people because I talk with my heart.”

Adriana was born and raised in Michoacan, Mexico. The 24-year-old newlywed came to the United States to live with her husband, Salvador. Today, she speaks fluent English, which is remarkable, considering she taught herself from a dictionary by memorizing words during the day and then quizzing Salvador on the pronunciation when he came home from work. Today, Salvador and Adriana are parents to Cindy, 23; Giovanny, 20; Sabastian, 12; as well as little Valerie and Matthew, both who died in infancy.

The Garibay family worships at the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Chehalis. Adriana also works for the church, filling two positions: the Pastoral Assistant Administrator for the Hispanic Community and the Faith Formation for Hispanic Community Outreach. Working to support the Hispanic community is vital to Adriana. She talks about the importance of helping Hispanic people feel welcome when they come to church for the first time. “I like to help them feel engaged with the non-Hispanic community, too,” she says. “I love working with the kids by helping them get closer to God, getting to know faith and Jesus.”

Adriana Garibay Centralia
Adriana Garibay entering the St. Joseph Catholic Church’s doors is more than symbolic as she works to open doors for other immigrants in Lewis County. Photo credit: Diane Markham

Adriana Garibay’s Road to U.S. Citizenship

Today, Adriana is a naturalized citizen, a requirement to hold elected office in the United States. The long process was worth it to Adriana. “I wanted to be a citizen,” she recalls. “I own a home. I live here and want to do it well.”

Like teaching herself English, Adriana was extremely focused on preparing for the citizenship exam. One hundred questions can be posed in the oral interview, and she studied them all with homemade flashcards. “I learned them all, back and forth. I learned the questions, and I learned the answers. If you told me the answer, I could ask the question,” she says with a grin.

When the day came for the interview at the Seattle Center, she was very nervous but was relieved that the interviewer was African American. Adriana believed that because she was also a minority, she would better understand. “She was very sweet,” Adriana says. “I could see it in her eyes.” To Adriana’s surprise, the two just had a conversation. It wasn’t at all like questions being fired at her as she prepared for. “We just visited,” Adriana recalls. “After a while, I asked her when she would ask me the questions.” To her surprise, she was told the questions had already been asked and answered. They had been asked so casually in the conversation Adriana hadn’t even realized she was being interviewed.

Afterward, everyone sworn in as new American citizens gathered and were given a little American flag. They recited the pledge of allegiance as a group, and the National Anthem played. “It was so beautiful,” Adriana remembers with tears glinting in her eyes. “Beautiful.”

Adriana Garibay Centralia
Serving as a city councilor provides Adriana Garibay the opportunity to give back to her community. Photo credit: Diane Markham

Adriana Garibay’s Path to Centralia City Council

Adriana’s Road to the city council began before she even knew the council existed. She was the manager at GT Roofing in Centralia. In addition to their roofing jobs, her boss also wanted to complete a construction project that would require a hefty cost to hook up to city water and sewer. However, he did not have Adriana’s language skills, so it was up to her to learn all the possible ways to reduce costs. The task required multiple trips to speak with city employees, back and forth between City Hall and the Public Works office. One city employee advised her to talk to the city council to explain the long-term plans. “How do I do that?” she recalls asking. “Who are they? Is this a meeting?” The answer was plain, “Yes. If you want help, that’s what you need to do.”

However, before she attended her first meeting, she met then-City Councilor Elizabeth Cameron, who also recommended that she attend the council meeting. With that, Adriana became a regular attendee. “I always took notes,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘This is important. They’re talking about homeless people, about children, important things.'” Afterward, she would go home, look over her notes and tell Salvador about the discussions that took place and the decisions made. 

After attending the public meetings regularly for about six months a city councilor resigned, creating an opening. Elisabeth encouraged Adriana to apply, and her response was, “Oh no, I’m not ready.” However, she feels God saw it differently and gave her the encouragement to try. “When I said, ‘I’m not ready,’ He said, ‘Yes you are.’”

When it came time for her interview, six applicants were before her, placing her as number seven. Noting the significance of seven in the Bible, she felt calm. God told her, “You do not have to be nervous.”  Which she wasn’t until it was her turn to be interviewed. Then, she was so scared that she forgot how to speak English for a moment. Obviously, it came back to her quickly, and she answered the questions to the best of her ability. Ultimately, she didn’t have to be nervous as the council selected her for the position. “I started crying,” she recalls. “All I could think was, ‘Oh my goodness! This is real!’”

“Now I feel a part of the community. Now I feel that I belong here,” she recalls saying to the council.

Sitting in a city hall conference room one year after her appointment, Adriana further explains that she finally felt like she had found some of what she had lost by leaving her hometown. “I finally fit into this big puzzle.”

Elizabeth continued encouraging and guiding Adraina after her appointment to the council. “Elizabeth helped me to study and understand the rules and procedures in the city council manual,” Adriana recalls. “She played an especially important role in getting me here. I love her so much and appreciate everything she has done to help me on this journey.”

As to what she personally brought to the council, “I brought diversity,” says Adrina. “I can be a help in both ways of communications, the Spanish-speaking to the council, and the council speaking to the Spanish-speaking.” The need for communication is significant because the number of Spanish-speaking residents in Lewis County is significant. Adriana reports that the Centralia School District population is over 40% Hispanic. The St. Joseph Catholic Church sees 400-500 Hispanic attendees weekly.

Adriana Garibay Centralia
The combination of her smile and the plaque on her office door says it all. Photo credit: Diane Markham

Adriana Garibay’s Run for Election

After her appointment to the vacant unexpired term, the next challenge occurred when it was time to run for election. Adriana credits Patty Howard from Gather Church for encouraging her to campaign actively. She also gives enormous credit to former County Commissioner Edna Fund for helping her with every step of the campaign. She recalls Edna telling her, “We need to be doorbelling every day.” Then Edna drove her all over town. “She was the best doorbelling companion,” Adriana says. “She is one of the several who got me here.”

Adriana credits God for placing Elizabeth, Patty and Edna in her life to guide her and then making everything fall into place. “Why?” she asks. “I don’t know yet. I just know He brought me here (to the city council) for a reason. I am here to serve the city and the people. I love to serve everybody.”

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