| Follow Us:



Detroit City Council District Six

P.O. Box 32392
Detroit, Michigan 48232

Raquel Castaneda-Lopez

By Matthew Lewis
January 17, 2014

Raquel Castaneda-Lopez's election to Detroit City Council is historic in two ways: she is the first person ever to represent District Six as city government shifts back to representation by district for the first time in nearly a century, and she is the first Latina ever elected to Detroit City Council.
She acknowledges the significance of being the first member of Southwest Detroit's Latino community on Council. "It's a huge honor and responsibility. When I visit schools and see the kids' faces when they see someone who looks like them and speaks Spanish, it's such a cool feeling," says Castaneda-Lopez.
But just representing the Latino community was never a focus of her campaign. Castaneda-Lopez is focused on representing and being accountable to all of her constituents – a challenge considering the district's diversity. That's why she walked the entirety of District Six twice during her campaign. "It was such a powerful experience to go out door-knocking and hear people's concerns. I'm so honored that they put their trust in me."
Detroit's Council District Six is diverse in many ways. It's neighborhoods — Downtown, Cass Corridor, Woodbridge, Corktown, Chadsey Condon, Hubbard-Richard, Springwellls, Delray, and others — are quite varied in character. Racially and ethnically, District Six is the city's most diverse council district (39 percent Hispanic, 39 percent African American, 18 percent white, and 4 percent other race) and is home to some of the city's largest immigrant communities.
It was amid this diversity that Castaneda-Lopez, a lifelong resident of Southwest Detroit (apart from a few stints living away for school), grew up.
As a girl, she got involved in the after school programs at Alternatives for Girls, a storied nonprofit in Southwest Detroit providing girls with a variety of support and mentorship opportunities. It was there where her interest in social work and community outreach developed.
She fell in love with travelling after participating in an exchange program in Venezuela while in high school, which prompted her to apply all over the country when she was looking at colleges. Castaneda-Lopez eventually chose the University of Montana at Missoula because it offered both Native American Studies and Social Work programs.
Returning to Michigan, Castaneda-Lopez enrolled at the University of Michigan for a graduate degree in Social Work. It was during this time she got her first taste of political life through an internship with the office of State Representative Steve Tobocman, who represented the 12th District in Southwest Detroit.
When she finished school, Castaneda-Lopez was approached by the current State Representative for Southwest Detroit Rashida Tlaib. The two met when Castaneda-Lopez was interning for State Rep. Tobocman and Tlaib was a member of his staff. Tlaib recruited Raquel to serve as her campaign manager.
Despite these experiences, Castaneda-Lopez had no interest in a political career of her own. After leading a successful campaign for State Rep. Tlaib, she went to work at Wayne State University as an academic advisor.
But Detroit's political climate was changing. Voters approved an initiative to change the way City Council members were elected — from at large to by district. After that, a rewrite of Detroit's charter enshrined district-based representation in the city's governing document.
Shortly after the new council districts were announced, Castaneda-Lopez's neighbors and soccer teammates were the first people to approach her with the idea that she should run for City Council. Later, it was friends, family members, and colleagues who prodded her to run. Some of these people, believing in Castaneda-Lopez so strongly, started collecting signatures to get her name on the ballot.
"I was going to start my own business: a gelato truck," she chuckles. "My brother said, 'I have faith in your gelato, but you should run for Council.'"
It is the faith placed in her by friends, family, and neighbors in Council District Six that motivates Castaneda-Lopez to do the best she can to represent the interests of her diverse community when the new members of City Council convene at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in 2014.
While being elected to Council has forced her to delay her dream of starting a gelato truck, Castaneda-Lopez has found a good substitute. "Now I'll have a mobile office instead of a food truck," she says. Look for her cruising the neighborhoods of Southwest Detroit in her mobile office in 2014.

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

Share this page
Signup for Email Alerts

Twitter Feed