Roadside Chat | Celebrating Hispanic American Heritage Month with Stefan Winkler, who works for SDOT in our Transit and Mobility Division

Stefan with SDOT SpokesSalmon, Sal. 

National Hispanic American Heritage Month started on Wednesday, September 15 and ends Friday, October 15. This month recognizes the culture, contributions, and history of Hispanic Americans in U.S. history.  

September 15 was chosen as the starting point for the commemoration because it’s the anniversary of independence for five Hispanic countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, who all declared independence in 1821. In addition, Mexico, Chile, and Belize, celebrate their independence days on September 16, September 18, and September 21, respectively.   

Our SDOT colleague Stefan Winkler is a Strategic Advisor in our Transit and Mobility Division.  

He has been instrumental in developing and managing our Flip Your Trip program, focused in West Seattle, which helps and encourages people living or working within the West Seattle area to replace car trips with sustainable travel options. This helps to limit the negative effects of car travel on people living along the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge detour routes in neighborhoods like Highland Park, South Park, and Georgetown. (Visit FlipYourTrip.org for more details!) 

Stefan also serves as one of the chairs for SDOT’s Race and Social Justice Change Team. He has been with SDOT since summer 2019.  

We talked with Stefan about his work at SDOT, Hispanic heritage, inspirations, and more. 

Hi, Stefan! What do you love about your job?  

I love getting up every morning knowing that my daily actions are aligned with my principles. Racial equity and environmental justice are near and dear to my heart. My past work in the private sector hasn’t always allowed for this alignment. So, to work with team members within Transit & Mobility, the Race and Social Justice Change Team, and across the department who are also passionately committed to this work brings a deep sense of meaning to my life. 

What’s something people might not know about the work you and/or your team do? 

The Change Team is committed to finding flexible ways for ALL employees to participate in SDOT’s human-centered and equitable transformation. The Change Team is working with leadership in exploring ways to involve employees whose schedules may not fit the standard perception of Change Team participation. So, if you work at SDOT and if changing SDOT’s culture to be more human-centered and equitable is important to you, the Change Team has a place for you. I encourage anyone who’s interested to reach out to me or any of the other leads on the Change Team. 

What comes to mind when you think of Hispanic American Heritage Month?   

I’m a multiracial, first-generation, Colombian-American and have Mexican family ties. So, naturally I tend to focus on my family’s heritage. And within the historical (and current) context of the United States’ immigration policy, I believe it’s especially important to evolve this annual celebration to include all South/Central American and Caribbean people–not only descendants from Spanish-speaking cultures.  

Who is someone in the Hispanic community that you look up to or admire? Why? 

I admire Roberto Felipe Maestas’ leadership in organizing solidarity among all races against poverty, racism and social inequity. Nearly 50 years later, El Centro de la Raza still adheres to this organizing principle of solidarity. Within the nation’s polarizing climate of rampant misinformation, solidarity sounds quaint. But, I truly believe organized solidarity—gleaned from a thoughtful consideration of one’s racial privilege and an empathetic discovery of shared goals—is the fastest and least violent path towards transforming extractive, inequitable systems into human-centered, equitable systems. 

Who inspires you, either personally or professionally? 

My late abuelita hated abuse of power and used any power she had to fight back. For instance, at one point in her career she was employed by a large hotel chain as head of housekeeping over a mostly Spanish-speaking, immigrant staff. The conditions were often unsafe; people were asked to do things that put them at risk of injury. After injuring herself, she filed a complaint and was offered an opportunity to move to a better position. Instead, she successfully organized for improved working conditions. Growing up, I watched her repeatedly resist inequitable power dynamics; she never backed down, even at her own peril. I owe my deep sense of justice to my abuelita. Te extraño Abuelita. 

Thank you, Stefan, for your tireless work to make SDOT and Seattle a better place to be. 

Want to celebrate Hispanic American Heritage Month, too? There’s still time to join one of the many local events to help recognize this month.