Wednesday night, Juan Orozco, Ukiah’s first Latino mayor, was sworn into office. Born on a rural ranch in the Mexican state of Michoacán, Orozco spoke told us of his many years working the vineyards of Anderson Valley, becoming an educator in the Ukiah area, taking on the role of Ukiah City councilman in 2018, and finally becoming the first Latino mayor in the history of Ukiah.
Orozco said he was raised on a ranch in the Mexican agricultural state of Michoacán. Orozco told us he decided to come to the United States in 1981 at the age of 19, where he laughingly remembered, “I didn’t come to stay. I just wanted to get rich and go back.”
When Orozco arrived in Mendocino County, he labored in Anderson Valley’s vineyards. He remembered starting to attend Mendocino College driving the long, windy roads to Ukiah for night classes after days of picking wine grapes. From there, Orozco continued his education, earning degrees from Sonoma State University and Dominican University.
During the 1986 Farm Worker Amnesty Program, Orozco told us of his work to organize and help undocumented immigrants in their efforts to become United States citizens.
In 1995, Orozco began his work with the Mendocino County Office of Education, serving the community’s at-risk youth working in the county’s juvenile hall.
In 2018, Orozco began his tenure as a member of the Ukiah City Council, where he said he had worked hard to advocate for Ukiah’s Latino community.
Looking forward, Orozco hopes to implement changes to the City of Ukiah’s communication with its Latino population. He hopes to hire more bilingual staff members to serve all of Ukiah’s residents, keeping them “informed and getting services from the city.”
Reflecting on what being Ukiah’s first Latino mayor means, Orozco said, “We tend to focus on individual personal success. If we do not succeed together, if we don’t collaborate, it will be difficult to get anywhere individually.”
In a call to action to the Latino community, Orozco said, “I think for us Latinos, we are going to be expected to be leaders and government officials. It’s time for us to be involved.”
Thinking back on the arc of his life leading to his new role as Ukiah’s mayor, Orozco remarked, “I can’t believe it. I’ve gone from goat herder to mayor.”
(Matt LaFever operates the local website MendoFever.com.)