As a political firebrand and activist, Cristina Arroyo has been outspoken about the need to tackle the structural barriers that exclude under-represented groups in her hometown of Valley Stream. She wants to make them seen, give them a voice, and ensure they have a space to thrive.
And she believes she can push that vision ahead at Village Hall as she runs to unseat Edwin Fare as mayor.
The single Latina mother of two is no stranger to using the ballot box to make her issues heard. Arroyo ran in 2020 as a trustee candidate for Valley Stream District 24 Board of Education.
Although her bid was unsuccessful, Arroyo says she was inspired by the discussions she had on the campaign trail about race and inequities in her school district to spearhead discussions on how to address issues of segregation and racism in the village.
Dozens of people attended a series of virtual discussions Arroyo hosted to broach the topic of race and share their own experiences, which soon organically sprouted in founding her own organization, the Valley Stream Justice Project. There, Arroyo wants to normalize these conversations and put recommendations for fighting unfairness and inequality into practice.
A data manager and nonprofit educational consultant who also spent time as a reporter and editor for Herald Community Newspapers, Arroyo has an extensive background in the nuances of race relations and inequality. She taught the psychology of prejudice and discrimination at Baruch College, where she had previously earned a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology.
Arroyo has led diversity and inclusion seminars, and provided counseling and support in the police department as a juvenile protection specialist.
Arroyo has also been a rallying voice for greater teacher diversity in Valley Stream District 24 after a surge of parents urged the inclusion of more teachers of color among its mostly white teaching staff in a majority-minority school in 2020. This eventually led to a series of diversity hiring initiatives, and the creation of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee. She also made a second bid to become a board trustee in 2022, but did not win.
Now Arroyo, who moved to Valley Stream in 2008, wants the village to make progress in supporting its diverse population, support greater inclusion, and give a platform for those often sidelined and left out of village politics.
“I thought I should use what I learned in my education and politics to help the community,” she said. “I started through the school board and the schools. And once you start learning how things are run behind the scenes, you learn what things you can change or twist to see great results from our institutions. And I didn’t hear anyone have those conversations. I wanted to change that.”
Valley Stream has great potential to become an amazing village that accommodates residents of all walks of life through more proactive and community-focused developments, Arroyo said, while advocating to rectify perceived injustices.
“A lot of people don’t want to hear about injustice because they did not experience it,” she said. “Or they don’t want to face the injustice that they’re living in. But we can’t ignore it.”
Progress can only be made by bringing more people to the civic table, Arroyo said, including young people and people of color — all while listening to what they have to say.
“Valley Stream right now is not the Valley Stream of 20 years ago,” Arroyo said. “If you really want to be inclusive and reach out to people, you have to lend your power to people who are in a more capable position to make decisions, or provide their own form of thinking of how things should run.“
“We need to raise the bar in Valley Stream and hold our officials to a higher standard,” she said.