Written by Lisa Khiev
Photos by Elizabeth Martinez
It is clear that new concept restaurants and small businesses that have been popping up in the city has become an exciting and integral part of the development of our community, offering new, unique culinary experiences and opportunities for those who like to wine, dine, and convene. The 1st District, specifically, is approaching changes in itself with an upcoming November special election to elect a new First District City Council member to succeed Lena Gonzalez, now a California Senator. The fourth candidate in the run introduces Mariela Salgado, a Long Beach small business owner, community leader, mother, wife, and a board member of Long Beach’s Parks / Recreation Commission. For this issue, we met with Mariela to learn and discuss topics ranging from her emergence and passion in the community to her favorite eats, treats, and local businesses in the city.
Can you tell us more about your background and how it lead you to your passion for serving the Long Beach community and its people?
My passion for education and service has directed my work on issues that impact our environment, children and small businesses. Since 2010, I’ve worked alongside many Long Beach organizations doing neighborhood clean-ups, beautification projects, park clean ups, supportive services to small businesses, to volunteering countless hours at two school sites and serving on boards. My work with the city really came to light on the topic of Park Equity – it became clear as a mother, we weren’t providing the same recreational and educational opportunities to our children in many parts of Long Beach including the First District. We have the least green space per 1,000 residents, and the least structured programming in our parks. I knew something had to change so my efforts changed accordingly. I was appointed as a Parks Commissioner and have taken steps to advocate for early education, additional programming for our youth and seniors and changing the way we communicate with our diverse populations. I serve on various organizations and believe solutions start with knowing the work. Change happens when people collaborate and apply their knowledge to make our community a better place. It’s what I see on a weekly basis across Long Beach, people making a difference and supporting each other.
What ignited your desire to run for the seat of 1st District, City Council?
Thirty years ago, I started at a school similar to Edison Elementary in the First District, called Stoner Elementary, in which we had limited resources and enrichment programs. My parents won the educational lottery of sorts and were able to send me to one of the best schools in LAUSD. Then, I saw the stark inequities between zip codes and differences in health outcomes and economic opportunities. We see those same problems in our First District and other neighborhoods where we have the lowest performing schools, highest unemployment rates and shorter life expectancies. I came into this space advocating for park equity and have learned so much in the last few years, including the need to have strong independent leaders to represent this District, face tough issues and bring new solutions and partnerships to the table. Not a hand-picked candidate by City Hall. Representation matters and while I don’t follow the traditional path of a candidate, I believe it’s important that we change the direction of politics to ensure someone is serving the community and championing the issues our constituents face. There is no candidate more invested in this city. I own here. My business serves Long Beach. Our children attend schools here and we’re doing the work alongside community leaders. Protecting our democracy takes courage.
Do you have any favorite restaurants, cafes, or small businesses that you are inspired by and love to go to in Long Beach?
As a small business owner, I am a strong proponent of shop local, shop small, shop handmade. Multiple studies show that small businesses reinvest in the local economy. For every $100 spent at one of these businesses, $68 stays in the community and generates a multiplier effect and why we do our best to patronize Long Beach small businesses. My favorites… well, I’ll start with dessert – Romeo’s Chocolates Frozen Hot Chocolate , my go-to sweet indulgence! Chocolate perfection in a cup, in part thanks to Long Beach Creamery who purveys their ice cream to Romeo’s and others. For a good conversation and a cup of coffee, it’s Long Beach Coffee & Tea , involved with Veterans and LGBTQ advocacy work. Confidential Coffee has an amazing and original Cajeta latte, a homage to Mexican caramel. Rose Park Roasters has a great ice cold mocha and is a picker-upper with feel good interior, and lastly, my cafe con leche from Agua y Viento in East Long Beach. For a quick snack and fresh fruit, there’s Birdcage on 5th St . Can you tell I like sweets and love supporting our local small business owners? For lunch, there’s Michael’s Downtown, great for an elevated family meal. Our girls love making their own pizza and I love that they provide activities for kids. Manaow has the best SPICY basil fried rice in the city and Cinco De Mayo is my go-to quick and local burrito spot. We’ve gotten to know each of these owners and staff and love the home-y feels they provide.
Can you explain your experience with community service, including your involvement in the building of the Best Dang Gingerbread Village in Long Beach?
I vividly remember every time my father lost his job (life of an immigrant with seasonal work), my mother would find ways to ensure we’d have food on the table. Her and I would head to the food bank or church in Santa Monica and stand in line at midnight to receive a ticket to then, return bright and early to pick up groceries and sometimes clothes. Times were tough. I learned early, what it meant to receive help from others and my contributions to our family’s well-being. There are many stories about my childhood – I remember feeling compassion from others. If it wasn’t for their donations and service, I would’ve gone hungry. If it wasn’t for the mentorship program I took part in, in high school, I wouldn’t have had internships to explore and support to start college. Time and time again, I experienced the service of others. So I, in turn, have always felt the desire to help others too. Like a covenant. A promise I’ve kept for over twenty years – doing community service, continuing to expand on the work, and involving our daughters in the work we do. For example, their favorite activity of the year is building the Best Dang Gingerbread Village. I participate in planning, decorating with our girls and business sponsorships. The man behind each masterpiece is Isaac, my husband, and his mini-elves who love this annual tradition. None of this could happen without builder Hulean T. and the support of WCHA. I enjoy the work and then, spreading the love via social media reaching close to 50k online visitors. With the intent to help and support our community, we bring visitors to a local small business who gets to display it for a month during the holidays. I continuously reflect on the work we do and the example we provide for our children. It’s been a pleasure teaching our daughters the importance of service by leading the way!
Do you have any special food practices?
Absolutely, similar to our business practice, we believe it’s a shared responsibility when it comes to sustainability, so we practice what we preach inside and outside our office. Our first goal is to cook often to teach our daughter’s healthy eating habits and what it’s like to cook with homegrown produce from our garden, including those from our local crop swaps, and our traditions. If you haven’t been to a crop-swap and garden, it’s a MUST-do! If we go out, we always look for a local restaurant to support and pack our stainless straws and cups for our girls. To pack lunches, I use honey and cloth wraps as well as glassware and have eliminated any plastic-ware and wrap in our home. No more plastic wrap, ziploc or containers. Our girls are involved too… my oldest often gets mad when she sees plastic in the trash and I end up carrying recycle along on our walking trips. She ends up cashing her recycle about once a month. We believe it’s important to raise environmentally conscious kids and do our best to reduce our waste and minimize our carbon footprint.
Lastly, what are your hopes and goals for District 1?
I was advised to look at the work of Council as “People, Projects and Policy” and agree with this idea.
People: We have to empower and support our community partners and neighborhood associations to continue their work. The goal is to build community, activate neighborhoods and empower residents to take part in making our city better. Our community groups are on the front lines of change and want to ensure we sustain their efforts and build a more equitable city that celebrates our diversity.
Projects: Complete the Cesar Chavez/Drake Park Master Plan project so we add much needed green space and enrichment programs for youth, adults and seniors. An active community builds a healthier ecosystem.
Policy: Institutionalize a culture of economic opportunity for our residents and Long Beach. We have to look at the deeper issues and not get easily persuaded by outside parties. It’s important we solve these issues together because #WeAreALLIn.
Writer’s Note: This article has been shortened for length, clarity, and format purposes.