Rubén Peralta says Pasco is the best place in Washington to raise his children. “Here, they grew up knowing their heritage,” he says. In downtown Pasco, Rubén says, he can purchase formal wear for quinceañeras, get authentic ingredients for Mexican cooking, and attend gatherings like the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration.
A new Group Health Foundation program officer, Rubén will be based in our Pasco office when it opens sometime next year. In this role, he will form relationships with grantees and collaborate with Foundation staff to develop, recommend, implement, and evaluate grants and programs. Rubén will also be a champion for the communities the Foundation serves—a role he says he has been preparing for since he was a teenager.
Rubén was born in Colima and, in 1972, he with his eight siblings and two parents moved to Tijuana, Baja California. In 1978, the family moved to Pasco, Washington. At the time, his was one of the few Mexican families in the area. They were also undocumented. Rubén’s early years in the United States would shape the work he pursued later in adulthood.
Alongside other undocumented people, Rubén spent many years as an agricultural worker. His family lived in fear and panic over immigration raids by the federal government. It was also “very, very difficult for us not knowing English,” says Rubén. In Mexico, he was an exceptional student. Here, he fell behind because there were no programs for English learners.
After graduating from Pasco High School, Rubén attended Columbia Basin College, and then earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies and a secondary teaching certificate from Washington State University. By the time he returned to the Pasco School District as a bilingual educator, the district had started offering programs for students who shared his experiences. Rubén spent more than 12 years with the district, including serving as dean of students and a school board member.
Rubén stayed in Pasco because he is proud of what communities of color have built there. He reminisces about friendships forged from shared experiences, like with a classmate from Vietnam, even though they didn’t speak a common language. He commends the work that went into making Pasco School District what it is today: a model for serving English learners. He is grateful for the civil rights efforts of the African American community, who made the city a more welcoming place by the time his family arrived.
“When we first came to Pasco and then go visit our family in Los Angeles, we would experience culture shock,” says Rubén, who still marvels at how much his city has changed. “We said, ‘Wow! This is so weird to see so many people with black hair!’ Now, Pasco is like Los Angeles.”
Rubén was most recently a community and tribal engagement specialist with the Greater Columbia Accountable Community of Health. He sits on several boards and councils, and continues to advocate for the undocumented community. A proud father, Rubén has three children: Diego, an excellent saxophone player; Camila, a future kindergarten teacher; and Valentina, an aspiring immigration lawyer. One of his favorite hobbies is watching tutorials on how to fix up his car.