By Wendy K. Leigh
With all the talk of “October surprises” in an election year, Seattle’s Latino community unleashed a very different kind of surprise on the first day of October 2016: a state-of-the-art, high-rise plaza and apartment complex that’s actually affordable. They unveiled the Plaza Roberto Maestas with mucho gusto in a whirlwind day of folklore Tonantzin dancing, live full-brass banda music, Native American interpretive dance and a sacred blessing by The Quinault Indian Nation.
Putting politics on a back burner for the day, Seattle’s mayor Ed Murray joined in the celebration while admiring the sparkling new plaza, a carefully planned living community that integrates technology, open spaces, a cultural center and an early learning program into a very livable micro-community across from the Beacon Hill Light Rail Station.
Named after the late Latino leader and social justice advocate Roberto Maestas, a former Spanish teacher at Franklin High School and director of the adjacent El Centro de la Raza, the building features 110 units for residents earning from 30 to 60 percent of the area median income.
To new resident Angelica Gonzalez, a working single mother raising five young children, the community is a dream come true. Speaking into the microphone while holding a baby on one hip and gaggle of happy youngsters around her on the stage, she explained how a tight-knit community such as Plaza Roberto Maestas gives her family a place to live, away from shelters and unsafe environments, while allowing immediate access to light rail for grocery shopping, doctor appointments and commuting to work.
The childhood early learning center in the downstairs courtyard gives little ones a jumpstart on education, while the inbuilt technology within the plaza provides immediate access to tools needed for success. Large companies with a strong local presence have contributed to making that a reality as well, including Comcast NBCUniversal.
Miguel Maestas, Housing and Economic Development Director for El Centro de la Raza and nephew to the plaza’s namesake, describes the impact that business involvement has made:
“Comcast made this center state-of-the-art,” explains Miguel. “They put Wi-Fi in the plaza so that people could access it anytime, installed audio visual equipment, and provided smart board displays and vendor carts, all the things we needed for the community and the Centilla Cultural Center.”
The leaders behind El Centro de la Raza and Plaza Roberto Maestas, including Estrela Ortega, wife of Maestas and current Executive Director, recognize the importance of retaining cultural identity while also preparing each generation for success in the highly progressive Seattle environment of the 21st century.
Like the “Four Amigos” coalition of cross-cultural leaders formed by Roberto Maestas in the 1970s, current community members ascribe to the same concept of “Beloved Community” as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “a world where poverty, racism, and social inequality could be eradicated through multiracial unity and community and civic engagement.”