Blanca Soto is ready to get started in new role as Dodge City commissioner
On Feb. 1, Blanca Soto was named the new Dodge City commissioner, making her the first Hispanic woman to hold the position in Dodge City.
Soto was born in Durango, Mexico, a colonial city in the northern part of the country with a population of 650,000. Soto moved to Dodge City in her junior year of high school.
"My father, like many immigrants in the 1990s, arrived in Dodge City to find work in the packing plant industry," Soto said. "My father, or Soto, as most of his coworkers knew him as, and my older brother arrived in Dodge City a few years earlier, before he was able to relocate my mother, my sister and me to our new home."
Soto gained her U.S. citizenship in 2006 in a crowded Century II in Wichita.
She held a small American flag along with hundreds of other immigrants ready to become Americans by choice.
"As I recited the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time I was nervous but couldn't quite articulate why," Soto said. "Taking my oath validated my feelings and created a sense of responsibility to my newly adopted country. That day I felt proud to be a citizen of a country that is a beacon of democracy, freedom, justice and hope.
"Obtaining my citizenship gave me not only the opportunity to vote, serve on a jury and be a candidate for government appointments, it is also a constant reminder that my father's sacrifices were worth it."
To her fellow Dodge Citians, Soto said to not wait to become a citizen.
"Do it, do it now, and do not wait," she said. "There are resources in our community to help you. There are many others in our community without a path towards citizenship. Do not take this great privilege for granted — become a citizen."
Soto, who graduated in 2001 from Dodge City High School, went on to attend Dodge City Community College and two years ago went back to school to earn her bachelor's degree in human services and organizational leadership from Colorado State University online.
Soto has been a member of the Kansas Appleseed organization, a nonprofit advocacy organization working toward laws and policies to build a more thriving, inclusive and just state, according to its website.
Soto was also part of the city's Cultural Relations Advisory Board and was a representative with the U.S. Census Bureau in southwest Kansas in 2020.
She is the mother of two children. Camila, a senior in high school who will be attending Kansas State in the fall, enjoys dancing and photography and is a member of the Dodge City High School Drill Team, active in Golf and STUCCO. Matthew is a fifth-grader at Wilroads Gardens Elementary who loves playing soccer, hunting and fishing.
Soto said women are less likely to run for office.
"We are not likely to just take that step on our own. You need to be asked, and asked many times," she said. "When the city commission seat became available, different individuals asked me several times to apply for the special appointment, it is thanks to these individuals, their guidance and mentorship that gave me the courage to take that step.
"I love Dodge City, and I want to be a part of the decision making process on issues that affect my community. I think we all are able to take immediate and significant actions, big or small that benefit our community; for me, this action was finding an opportunity to represent and serve my community. I feel it is time that people my age and younger, especially women and people of color find a seat at the table where decisions are made, decisions that affect us daily."
When Soto looked at becoming a commissioner, she was unaware at the time that she could potentially be making history if she were selected.
"I didn't realize I was the first Latina to serve on our city commission until that night of voting," she said. "I am very honored, it is a great privilege, but I am confident I will be followed by others pretty soon. I hope that my appointment helps other very dedicated and talented leaders in our community to take that step.
"Latinos account for a large portion of our population, our voice should be represented across all commissions and boards."
Soto will hold the position for one year, and her seat will be up for election in the fall of 2021.
"This special appointment is for less than a year. I will lean into my fellow commissioners to learn from their experience and expertise to make this a successful term," Soto said. "As discussed in my interview, I want to make sure the community is able to identify with me and increase the trust towards local government, increase community participation and invite the entire community to become more involved; everyone in this community has one thing in common, we all love Dodge City and we want to continue moving us towards positive progress.
"The state of Kansas is becoming an aging population. One of our strengths is that Dodge City has a more vibrant and energetic young population, we need to capitalize on that and create opportunities for this demographic to stay in this area. I look forward to working with the other commissioners, local stakeholders and partners towards workforce development and business recruitment that as a result will boost our economy.
"I am also very passionate in the beautification projects happening in our community; The creation of more green spaces, as well as recreational, cultural and arts events can be very impactful in the retention and recruitment of young professionals to our area as well as keeping Dodge City a tourist destination."
Now that she is commissioner, Soto said, "I am a proud Latina. I have always worked hard on issues that affect my community. I am a social justice advocate.
"As a commissioner, I am here to help and serve the entire community. I will look for opportunities to hold community conversations to listen to your ideas and suggestions on what improvements are needed and what the biggest community's needs and challenges are.
"You have something to share, I am here for it!"
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