As Diana Avalos-Leos’ father always used to tell her, “ ‘No sigas al líder. Tenías que ser tú,’ ” according to her mother, Lourdes Casas. “ ‘Never follow the leader. It has to be you.’ ”
That idea has stuck with Avalos-Leos as she’s helped create positive change in the community, and it earned her the First Citizen Award for 2020 and 2021 on Thursday. According to her colleagues and partners, she is an energetic champion for those without a voice and an advocate for the most vulnerable and unrepresented youth in Clark County.
Among her many achievements, Avalos-Leos founded the annual Clark County Latino Youth Conference in 2011 (now called Latino Leadership Northwest) to urge Latino youth to seek a higher purpose in their community. She served on the Vancouver Police Department Equity Task Force, co-founded the Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens and helped found the Southwest Washington Latino Parent Leadership Institute in collaboration with Washington State University.
“She’s in it for the entire community that she loves and supports,” Diana Perez said.
Much of Avalos-Leos’ work has taken place during times of fear and uncertainty when there was concern about changes in immigration law and citizenship opportunities for minorities.
“I deeply believe that our responsibility as a community is to shake our conscience free of the division, discrimination, hate, prejudice and racism that will only ensure our self-destruction,” Avalos-Leos said. “Let us reflect and take action to build communities that are able to coexist in a dignified way. In a way that honors and protects life in a way that our children are safe, in a way that the unhoused are housed, in a way that inequities are addressed through innovative strategies and passion.”
The award video, which can be viewed on columbian.com, includes a documentary video that tells her story of overcoming challenges and achieving positive change in the community. The video was created by Brendan Reardon,26, a recent graduate of WSU Vancouver, and faculty adviser Dene Grigar.
Visit www.columbian.com/first-citizen/ to view the video and read more about Avalos-Leos’ work.
The First Citizen Award is given in collaboration with the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington and The Columbian.