Luz Bazan Gutierrez knows how people talk about her.
“I’ve always been known as a strong personality,” she said. “That’s what they call it, ‘a strong personality.’”
Well, that’s what they call it when they’re being polite. She knows they call her a lot worse when they’re not. And, you know what? None of that fazes her. She keeps doing what she’s always done because it works, because her efforts with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Yakima County and the Washington Association of Minority Entrepreneurs (now the Rural Community Development Resources) have helped dozens of local businesses.
“I’ve always been assertive,” Gutierrez said. “I speak my mind, and I’ve been slammed down many times. But I get up and keep going. ... We’ve loaned out millions of dollars to small-business development because of me being assertive. I have a strong voice and it carries.”
Gutierrez grew up in Texas and was a big part of the Chicano rights movement, founding the Raza Unida Party along with then-husband Jose Angel Gutierrez. They left Texas in the 1980s, moving to Oregon to get away from the stress of activist politics. But they were lured back into the fray almost immediately, with Luz organizing a voter-registration effort in rural areas and (to hear her tell it) introducing rural Oregon judges to a whole new type of Chicana. The pair split in 1989, and Luz moved to Yakima for a job as a Department of Social and Health Services administrator. That job didn’t last, at least in part because of personality conflicts. But she stayed in Yakima and founded the Hispanic Chamber and WAME.
She brought the lessons she learned as a Texas activist with her. When some old white guy in Yakima doesn’t take her seriously because she doesn’t match his expectations of a Mexican-American woman — something she said happens a lot — it’s not her style to be diplomatic.
“We’re told to stay quiet, you know, nod your head, don’t challenge authority,” Gutierrez said. “And I just didn’t come from that kind of background. I came from the background of the movement of the ’60s and ’70s when we were activists.”