When Star Bales, El Cajon’s newest council member, came to America from Iraq, one of her top goals was to get a college education.
Although she spoke little English at the time, she started to take classes at Cuyamaca and Grossmont colleges in the early 1990s. She attended classes through the years, while taking care of her husband and two children and running her hairdressing business.
“I just wanted to go to college. I liked learning and meeting quality people,” Bales said. “Every class I took, I enjoyed it so much that I took another one. It’s like magic when you learn something new.”
She said her classes helped hone her art talent, in particular a class taught by Diane Weintraub, a Cuyamaca College instructor, who encouraged her artistic creativity. “Diane was the first person who pushed something in me that even I didn’t recognize in myself,” Bales said.
Bales graduated from Cuyamaca College with an associate degree in visual arts in 2006. She now pursues her artistic bent in murals she’s painted in El Cajon, at Edwards Air Force Base, the Lakeside Fire Department and Flying Hills Elementary School in El Cajon.
“Cuyamaca and Grossmont are the heart of my art career,” Bales said. “I am very proud of my degree.”
Because of her interest in art, Bales joined El Cajon’s Arts and Culture Commission, then was appointed to the city’s Planning Commission in 2008. When a vacancy opened on the City Council, Bales was selected by council members in December 2013 from among 27 applicants for the three-year term. In an area that is home to the nation’s second-largest population of Iraqis, Bales will be the first Iraqi to serve on the El Cajon City Council.
Bales, who’s been married for 27 years, has two grown children who both attended Grossmont College. She’s looking forward to serving on the City Council for the city that she said has been welcoming to her since she moved there in 1982.
And, with her new civic responsibilities, Bales said she’s thinking about taking another class – perhaps in public speaking.