Did it matter to me?
As the director of a non-profit I had never intended to help with 'las papeles" as my friends in
the neighborhood call them. Living in a lower income predominantly Latino there are many things I
never thought I would become familiar with. Immigration is a case a point.
These two girls I worked with in the late 1980's got me hooked not only into the debate but the process. They were the great grandchildren of a bracero who had come in the early 1920's to help put in the railway in California. From a small rancho in Jalisco this gentleman was a single father who would also in time bring his only child a daughter along. "Lita" (not her real name) was then by all accounts a bracero as well working in fields and accompanying her father into "De Los Estados". Her children made their 'papers' off her papers and left to work in the slaughter plants of the Central Valley. But what about the children?
I came to know Lita and her family through our organization that provides educational and emotional assistance to all underserved families in our community. These services are offered without any checking of immigration status.
Raised on a farm with a father who hired his own crews to do orchard work I had a working understanding of the laws at the time. I also assumed every farmer treated their workers the way my family did. I was mistaken.
Lita brought two of her grandchildren across the border after being caught several times. She told me she prayed that they would be invisible. It worked. They walked right past the immigration officials. Reunited in Los Angeles they would eventually make their way as a family to our town and into the services we provide. But two of the children were undocumented.
The problem came when their father was swindled out of over a thousand dollars by a woman who claimed to fill out 'Family Fairness Act" paperwork. This act allowed a type of limited amnesty for those children whose parents had come to the U.S. to work and had official paperwork to work in the 'states'. A surprisingly large number of the children we worked with qualified. And as many were swindled.
So my mother and I took the girls to the Immigration and Naturalization offices in San Francisco. They brought their birth certificates, parents marriage certificate and their parents legal papers to work in the US. They were petrified. Stories had been told that you would get taken if you asked questions. But instead we met a sympathetic agent who took the time to teach us to fill out the forms. And we did. For many families. For free.
I will never forget the day one of the girls graduated from college. She had become a citizen and had big plans for her future.
I am happy to report that all of the youth we 'made' papers' for are functioning and succeeding in the U.S. But over the years I have worried and become saddened by the number of youth who have no hope to attend college and graduate. Their parents pay taxes. They are excellent students. People scream and yell and rant on social media and say "GO HOME" I ask where is home? Back to the Bracero's?
If we allow men and women to come and work in our country we must make a legal way for their children to follow. Not only follow but be given the freedom to be who they are created to be. We who see and know the truth of undocumented peoples in the U.S. must stand up and be counted and speak out minds. We know that these are children and youth who are desperate to be a part of the greatest country in the world.
DACA and the "Dreamers" are not programs. They are people who have been 'vetted' to progress toward citizenship. If it was done successfully in the 1980's it can be done today.
Is it perfect? "NO!", just as the "Family Fairness Act" and the "Bracero" program had flaws. But if we do not demand a conversation we will allow this administration and this Congress to relegate us to the back of the bus. Again.
There is a solution.
But do not throw the 'baby' out with the 'bathwater'.
And besitos to "Lita" for telling me her corrido de su vida. I love you abuela. You are truly the most
humble one of La Concia. Your truth has become my passion.
Si Se Puede!
Dr. Jolynn Di Grazia is the founder and director of Westside Ministries in Turlock, CA.
My name is Randy Villegas. I am from Bakersfield, California.
We are the most illiterate city and county in the nation. We are also the most polluted city in the nation. More than a fifth of our county residents (21.9%) live in poverty, and we have a staggering 9.4% unemployment rate that is more than double the national rate. Our libraries are only open two to three days a week, and offer very limited hours. Bakersfield was also ranked as the worst city in the nation for Latinos seeking a bachelor’s degree by several major publications, including The Atlantic. In a town with a 49% Latino population, only 5% have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent.
Randy at his college graduation.
I say this not to cast negativity on my home, but rather to illustrate why I am pursuing a doctorate and have plans to return to my community to inspire los jovenes like myself, and to create change.
In a place often recognized for its terrible statistics, I’m proud to be one less statistic on that list. I want my community to flourish and reverse those statistics we are known for. I am determined to be a part of that change.
My journey started two years ago when I was asked to join South Kern Sol, a youth-led media program. I was curious but didn’t know what I would write about.
The next week I had my answer.
“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” The infamous words that kicked off a presidential campaign. I knew I had to say something. So I wrote an Op-Ed piece in response.
South Kern Sol gave me a platform to speak truth to power and report on stories that traditional media wasn’t reporting on. I used that platform to change the narrative of the communities in Kern County.
I’ve called out the Majority Leader of the House for locking his doors on constituents, and rejected inappropriate comments from our local district attorney on shutting down our local libraries. When our two leading mayoral candidates refused to acknowledge whether or not they would support our LGBTQ community by participating in a Pride Parade, I encouraged Bakersfield residents to “Queer the Vote” and stand alongside our LGBTQ community.
In a piece on how the DACA program saved a young woman’s life in Bakersfield, I asked why these stories weren’t being told. Why was the media reporting on Trump bashing immigrants, but not telling the stories of the very people he was insulting? When our local School District was trying to improperly distribute Local Control Funding Formula Funds intended for high needs students, why was nobody calling them out besides the Kern Education Justice Collaborative and myself?
The local television stations and local papers weren’t there, but I and the rest of the youth reporters were. South Kern Sol gave me the opportunity to elevate youth concerns, and youth voices in Kern, through my writing.
Since then I’ve had the opportunity to travel places I would never have been able to go to otherwise. In 2015, I had the opportunity to travel to Sacramento for the first time in my life. I participated in the annual Free Our Dreams Day of Advocacy where I spoke to state legislators to discuss solutions that promoted the health, safety and success for young people of color. I found myself not only writing about my experiences, but becoming actively engaged. Although I never thought of myself as an “activist,” I soon found myself on the front lines of social justice in Kern.
I attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and watched as activists locked arms to build a “human wall” around the entrance to the convention in order to give Trump his wall. Together they sang “The walls that they build to keep us apart will never be as strong as the walls in our hearts.” Together they chanted ““Undocumented and Unafraid! No Papers, No Fear!”
In the summer of 2016 I helped organize and lead the 2016 Social Justice Summer series where South Kern Sol held three events, including a youth panel discussion, in order to encourage community members to embrace the power of their voices through civic engagement and voting.
It is through listening to other youth leaders that I learned just how important it is to be intersectional. We need to speak up on all the issues, even when you feel it has no direct relation to you.
I don’t have to be black in order to understand that black lives matter.
I don’t have to be gay in order to stand up for LGBTQ rights.
I don’t have to be undocumented to realize that a nine digit social security number doesn’t make someone more or less of a human being than someone else.
All you need is compassion, empathy, and a belief in social justice and equality for all. That is how we all #RiseUpAsOne for #Unity in our communities. It means #StayingLoud for social justice so that no person should fear walking down the street in public because of the clothing the wear, the religion they practice, their gender identity or the person they love.
Regardless of religion, color, gender, citizenship status, or sexual orientation, we need to rise up as one. When there is hate or intolerance in our community, we must stop it in its tracks. When there are inequalities that exist within our own institutions we must not be afraid to speak out against them. That is exactly what I have tried to do.
Some days I wear a suit and tie and speak my mind through pen and paper. Other days I wear jeans and a t-shirt with a megaphone in one hand and a sign in the other. Last May, I helped organize the 2017 Kern County May Day March. With the help of some amazing people and organizations, we put on one of the largest marches that Kern has ever seen. The intersectional march not only included labor and immigrant rights, but also included demands for LGBTQ rights, health care access, and more.
Aside from my work as an activist and a journalist, I have been honored to work as a mentor at Sons and Brothers Camp and with younger youth reporters at South Kern Sol. I am so grateful to watch as these youth reporters write powerful stories, give speeches, and created their own PSA’s that aired on local radio stations.
Throughout my experience with South Kern Sol and Building Healthy Communities South Kern, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. I’ve built connections with friends, mentors, and other young people all across the state. South Kern Sol gave me a platform to speak up and have a voice. It gave me the courage and support I needed to stand up and stay loud for those in my community. Journalism gave me an outlet to talk about the issues that the mainstream media would sometimes fail to talk about, or even mention.
As I reflect on my experience I think one of the most important things I was able to do in my community, was to change the narrative surrounding many issues. Where many were afraid to speak up or speak out, I tried my best to be a voice for the voiceless. Once I started calling out elected officials and my pieces were getting published in the Bakersfield Californian my mom worried. “Ten cuidado mijo, hay gente mala…” she said. “Be careful son, there are bad people out there”.
While I admit that I got my fair share of nasty comments and messages from people who disagreed with my viewpoint, the messages of support were what kept me going. I remember receiving messages from complete strangers who had read my articles and thanked me for speaking out. For that, I will always be grateful.
So, what’s next for me? I’ve been accepted into the PhD program in Politics at UC Santa Cruz. Although it’s quite the drive from Kern, I continue to try and stay informed on what’s going on back home. After earning my PhD I hope to return to the Central Valley and teach as a professor at a local university or community college. I have had some amazing mentors throughout my life, and would like to fulfill that same role for others.
A few weeks ago I was once again able to travel to our capitol where to visit the new Unity Center, the newest exhibit in the California State Capitol Museum. I felt extremely humbled and honored to be featured in this exhibit for my work as an activist and a journalist in Kern County. The Unity Exhibit will inspire countless visitors to stand up for social justice, and to stand up for others regardless of their religion, race, documentation, their gender or gender identity. The Golden State has given my family and I the opportunity to chase after our own little American Dream here in the United States. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to write, organize, and speak truth to power in Kern County. I plan to be back someday. See you soon, Kern County.
Good morning world,
Welcome to Humans Tell Stories, a site where you will find real stories told by real people. The goal is to create a space for stories many mainstream journalists cannot tell. At my last TV station, I was told by an EP, "Your passion for people is to a fault"...I was dumbfounded. I believed my "passion for people" is what made me a great journalist. I took the feedback and reflected, but a week later, the news director (same station) said something similar, criticizing my "passion" for people.
There IS a reason why I have "passion" when covering stories about people, all people because I am a person. It is easy to work on TV and forget we are working for people, the viewers, the ones that need the vital information we are giving to them. Many of us get caught up in the superficial aspects of the job, forgetting who we are, journalists. Those viewers have daily trials and want to feel heard, understood. I like relatable stories. I love stories where at the very end you felt something, compelled to change the world...you might call it solution based journalism.
Who are you? What do you want to be? What is your purpose of making the world a better place? I would ask myself these question every day in college, and the answer was always (insert drum roll) a journalist. My mind would always try and convince me otherwise, "Why?" "You won't make any money!" "People will hate you 99.9% of the time!" "The President even criticizes your every move!". Despite my monkey brain, I would always respond with... "BUT I want to help people!". I know journalism isn't a conventional way of helping others, but to me, it is one of the best ideas, especially for communities that do not have representation in the media.
I am not the "normal" blonde, blue-eyed, middle-class white girl that many might think I am when they look at my polished headshot. My family multi-racial and I grew up in a tiny town in California's Central Valley, surrounded by gang violence and farmland. Over 85% of the students that went to my elementary school lived below the poverty level. Unlike my friends, my family chose to live on the westside in what many called the ghetto side of town.
My parents devoted their lives to working with addicts, children, gang members, and undocumented people. I saw first hand what it is like to live in a community held hostage by gang violence, with little police intervention or journalists to tell a story. Witnessing injustice firsthand has given me a different perspective in news/journalism/storytelling, one many newsrooms rarely understand. I choose to embrace my passion for people and create this platform to focus on social justice issues worldwide. I think my life experience prepared me to be a journalist at this very moment in time.
If you get the message and would like to contribute, reach out. .