Advocate Dalila Reynoso is making her second run for Tyler City Council as representative of District 3. City Council Election Day is coming up May 1, and Reynoso will be on the ticket with incumbent Shirley McKellar.
The Tyler Loop contributor Jess Hale sat down with both Reynoso and McKellar for in-depth interviews. You can read Hale’s interview with McKellar here.
Ahead of the May elections, Reynoso has made a name for herself as an advocate and helper in her community, specifically for residents who lack access to mental health care and end up in Smith County Jail; and those struggling to make ends meet throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and February’s Winter Storm Uri.
Reynoso’s platform is based on her experience as a longtime resident and champion of District 3, an area of Tyler in which some residents went without power for over three days during the winter storm. Here, Reynoso shares her vision for the city with The Tyler Loop in an in-depth interview.
What has changed in District 3 since you ran last election?
I have seen a lot of community members struggling because of the lack of access to mental healthcare…resources that community members need.
When it comes to a treatment facility, we only have one in north Tyler. In order for you to receive treatment or services there, the costs are very high, and a lot of community members don’t have health insurance.
Some of them also have lost their insurance because of the COVID pandemic.
What sets you apart from your opponent?
The sheriff recently gave me an award that I was not expecting. And he once told me, ”Dalila you don’t give up, you don’t take no for an answer.”
I think that is what sets me apart. I don’t take no for an answer. I’m very persistent. Yes, I lost two years ago. It hurt, losing. I’m not going to lie, but that doesn’t mean I gave up. I worked even harder to show folks.
I’m still continuing to knock on doors and do block walking. That hasn’t changed, because I really do just simply care, because they are my neighbors. I don’t have to know you on a personal level, because I know what it feels like to be in the trenches with the people that are hurting.
What changes do you seek to make if you win this election?
One of the changes is having more resources for community members who are struggling with their mental health and struggling to pay bills because of COVID. My partner and I, we gave up our stimulus check and we did a GoFundMe so we could assess and assist community members to pay their water bills or their gas bills.
Of course, we know we have community members that have mixed status, they did not receive a stimulus, either. We were able to also assist those community members.
I think an important question is, how can we be more inclusive of those community members as well as the population that is sitting in the county jail?
Can you describe three main issues you want voters to consider this upcoming election, as well as their relevance to the position that you’re running for.
I think it is very important for voters to consider how we are utilizing tax payers’ money. We need more transparency, more accountability, because that is going to have an impact on what type of quality of life they’re going to have.
We know that in this district, we have a lot of individuals struggling, whether it’s to pay their rent, mortgage or utility bills. One big thing is to better educate community members on how local government works and also being inclusive of everyone, so there can be a higher participation within these local elections.
When we’re doing these door knockings it is apparent, like it was two years ago when I first ran for this position, that many folks do not understand or know how local government works when it comes to their trash, their water, the parks and so forth.
We saw it within the winter storm as well. Many folks in District 3 lost their water and power. My neighborhood in District 3 did as well. We thought we were on these rolling blackouts, but we lost power for about three and a half days.
I’m thankful that we have family members’ houses that we could go to, but that wasn’t the case for my neighbors. Once we left, we came back to check in on them.
I will never forget, one of our neighbors is in her 90s. We found her in the driveway, in her car with her daughter trying to keep warm. We made it a priority to always come back and check on our neighbors to ensure that they had breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Are there other ways you supported your community during the winter storm?
This brings up many emotions when talking about the storm, because it did happen so recently and District 3 is my home. When we did get power for maybe 15 minutes, the thermostat read 38 degrees.
I remember it got so cold that when we would talk you could see our breath. We set up the air mattress, we had all these covers. My partner Jaron said, “Dalila, we have to make the decision. We have a five-year old daughter.” Luckily, my sister did let us go and stay with her along with our two dogs.
I was texting my neighbors, but there was still no power. Early in the morning, we came back and we checked on them and I can understand why they didn’t want to leave.
They were too scared to, because no one knew how to drive in that weather. Finally we were able to convince them, and a friend of ours came and helped find a warm place for the elderly neighbor to stay.
We created a GoFundMe and raised more than $3,291. We are still helping families pay their bills from missing work due to the storm.
A friend of my next door neighbor, his hot water boiler completely stopped working for him, but we were able to assist him as well. He is an older gentleman and has rosacea. The lack of warm water made his condition even worse.
When we talk about access, some community members don’t have a car. We have a lot of elderly folks too. So, how do we make sure that we are inclusive of those community members and those community members that maybe don’t understand how vital information about warming centers and bottles of water are being disseminated?
People say, ‘Oh, you can get on the computer or on your phone and get on the internet.’ Not everybody knows how to do that, not everyone has internet access.
Many folks are still living paycheck to paycheck. District 3 has a lot of community members that are poor, have fixed incomes or are mixed status families.
Can you tell me a bit about what you mean by mixed status families?
When we talk about mixed status families, it means that one of the parents or both of the parents are undocumented, but they have a U.S. citizen in the family, maybe a child or the other parent.
Those individuals were also not eligible for a stimulus check. They are struggling financially because of the days they lost from work because of COVID-19 and the winter storm.
They also cannot apply for federal financial aid because they’re undocumented. It has an impact. It has an impact on individuals who are incarcerated as well, because sometimes they have to make that dollar stretch.
They’re putting money aside for the commissary, for the phone calls to their loved ones. So along with the financial strain of the pandemic and the winter storms, they are trying to deal with that as well.
The organization I work for, Texas Jail Project — we were putting money in their commissary during the winter storm so their family members would not have to figure out how they’re going to send money to their loved ones.
Can you tell me a bit about your work for the Texas Jail Project?
Yes, I work for the Texas Jail Project and I am their community organizer. I know Tyler Loop recently did a story about Mr. Robert. I helped him by helping to pay for his cash bond.
The reality is that he was just simply too poor to afford his bond. He is a 69-year-old man that has pancreatic cancer. He is literally dying.
Tyler PD had the discretion to say, ‘Hey, I’m not gonna arrest you.’ Not that he’s not going to be punished or not have his day in court. They could have given him a citation, but they didn’t.
He sat in our county jail for six days without chemo treatment or certain medications because they are not allowed in the county jail. More harm was caused than anything else. His wife didn’t know where he was, so she was really panicking.
We were able to assist, but was arresting him really worth it? How much did it really cost us to incarcerate him and was it really necessary? Did it keep our community safer?
One big thing that I’m a big advocate for and I’m pushing for is mental health because mental health, unfortunately, is also criminalized. I had childhood friends and still have friends that are sitting in the county jail because of the lack of access to mental health resources.
I am going to be a big advocate of making those meaningful investments in District 3, because we lack those resources. Things haven’t really changed.
I’m born and raised here in Tyler, and I’ve lived here in this area all my life. Things have not really changed in this district. I do strongly feel we have not made those meaningful investments to resources so we can have a better quality of life.
A lot of the folks that have been through this criminal system, they are my friends and my family. It hurts because one of my friends, she has been part of what we call this revolving door for over 20 years.
So where’s the harm reduction in all this? What safeguards have been put in place in our community to prevent some of this harm that has been inflicted upon her and her family?
These are things that the city can do better.
What would you say is the biggest obstacle that you faced whenever you first ran?
I think one of them is that folks sometimes don’t give you an opportunity. I think that they’re already passing judgment. I can’t show them if they never give me an opportunity, that I’m going to continue to be an advocate, whether I win or lose.
I’m going to still be doing this work because these are issues that do impact our community whether we acknowledge that or not.
How was your district uniquely impacted by current events like the coronavirus pandemic and the presidential election? And the winter storm?
District 3 needs access to housing, behavioral and mental health resources and critical public health infrastructure. That way we can get our vulnerable neighbors back on their feet. People still can’t find jobs. We haven’t even survived COVID-19.
One of my friends messaged me. She said her sister lives at the apartment complex which is part of District 3 and right across the street from John Tyler [High School].
She messaged me like, ‘Hey, can you help my sister and take her some cases of water?’ And I said, ‘What’s going on?’
She said, ‘They have been out of water.’ I asked, ‘How long have you been without?’ She said ‘Oh, before the winter storm.’ She made it seem like it was not that big of a deal, but I think this is a problem that has existed.
Then once again, it’s like we haven’t educated you enough, or you probably don’t even know who your elected official is, so you could have reached out to them and got this issue addressed or looked at.
This is something that I have seen all my life, these issues. Everyone says ‘Oh, this is just the way it is,’ but that doesn’t mean that it is right.
I spoke with someone who lives in the Douglas [Elementary School] area, and they want their streets to be fixed. They are filled with potholes.
They have lived there for 30 years. There are certain pockets of the district that continue to be ignored and we can’t continue to ignore community members.
I think something very important that we are doing with this campaign is not just educating, but listening. Sometimes people just simply want to be heard.
It means a lot, especially to the population within the jail. They know that I can’t always assist them, but because I took time out of my schedule to listen to their concerns, it means a lot not just to them but their families.
I think we can say the same within District 3. If they are not coming to us with their concerns and issues, we should be going to them.
Jess Hale is a lifelong East Texan born in Nacogdoches and graduated from Waskom High School in 2016. She is also an alumnus of Kilgore College and currently a senior at The University of Texas at Tyler studying Mass Communication. In the past, Jess has been involved with community events such as Longview LGBT Pride Festival, UNSCENE Shreveport, and efforts to organize community involvement around pro-choice issues. Jess hopes to share reproductive health options and access to people in East Texas, as well as the importance of sex education.
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