Caroline Bañuelos has lived in Sonoma County for over 35 years. Born in East Los Angeles, her father was a Mexican immigrant and her mother was a native of East LA. Growing up, Caroline’s family struggled to make ends meet. Too many young people in her neighborhood were involved in gangs, and gang violence was commonplace. Caroline’s parents were determined to keep her and her siblings out of harm’s way, emphasizing the value of education as the pathway to a better life.
Despite their circumstances, Caroline’s mother was invested in creating a better world through her civic participation. Caroline remembers from a young age her mother talking about local politics and the impact it could have on their lives. She remembers her mother would leave home early on Election Day to serve as a poll worker and translator at their local polling station. This early exposure to the importance of the democratic process helped shape Caroline’s view of public service. In high school, when she had the opportunity to meet Mayor Tom Bradley — Los Angeles’ first and only African American Mayor to date — she can remember the feeling of awe. This inspiration towards civic engagement and public service has remained with her to this day. From poll worker to mayor, for Caroline, the highest calling is public service.
After Caroline graduated from high school, she moved to Sonoma County where she enrolled in Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC). She attended classes at night and worked full-time during the day with the goal of completing the certification requirements to become a bookkeeper. However, when a school counselor told her she should consider attending a four-year university to pursue a Bachelor’s degree, Caroline broadened her thinking. She completed her general education requirements at SRJC before transferring to Sonoma State University (SSU). There, her passion and respect for social justice and public service drew her to courses in the political science department. After working her way through college, she graduated with a Bachelor’s in Political Science from SSU in 1994.
Since then, Caroline has dedicated her career to leadership roles at various nonprofits. She has also remained politically engaged through her work on state and local political campaigns, and her various positions on local boards. Caroline served on the Santa Rosa Planning Commission for four years. She has led Cinco de Mayo in Roseland as its Co-Chair for the last 15 years. Most recently, Caroline has been engaged in calls for police reform as the Chair of the Sonoma County Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force (CALLE).
In her spare time, Caroline enjoys volunteering, reading and exercising. Most weekends you can find her spending time with her partner, Keith, at their home in Santa Rosa.