From graffiti girl to organizer: my revolutionary education

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I am from drive-bys, sirens, and the cries of a desperate mother asking for help. From the city of lost souls, the city of angels. I am from beans, rice, and leftovers to the endless streets of taco stands. I am from Aztec dancers. I am from feminism and activism.

I have witnessed first-hand how poverty and inequality affects the human spirit. As the daughter of immigrant parents from Mexico who only speak Spanish, I grew up in poverty in South Central Los Angeles. I grew up watching my parents struggle to make ends meet. Often, we didn’t have enough money for food, electricity or water. Many times my dad went out to Home Depot, waiting long hours for someone to hire him to paint or garden in their homes — long hours he could have spent with his children. All of this because of his immigration status.

When my mother crossed the Mexican border, carrying my older sister, who was only seven months old at the time, she was forced to stay in a home with a dozen other immigrants until someone paid the coyotes for her release. My mom always reminded us that the reason why she came to the U.S. in the first place was for us to have a better future. By example she taught my siblings and me to have pride and pushed us to get an education. It was our key to opportunity.

My adolescent years and poverty, however, blinded me to this opportunity. When I was twelve I started sneaking out of the house to escape the reality of my everyday life. One night I befriended a group of graffiti artists and eventually graffiti became all that was important to me. I started skipping school and by the end of my sophomore year became a high school dropout. Not long after I learned I was pregnant and decided to move in with the father of my baby, which was a poor decision. I ended up dependent and trapped, with bruised eyes, busted lips and bite marks.

A couple weeks after I gave birth, my mom asked me to move to Seattle with her. It was a new start for me. I met up with other teenage parents and we created a space to support each other and to pursue an education. Then I was lucky enough to be introduced to Ida B. Wells High School for Social Justice, a public school program for youth from tough backgrounds who want to go on to college. Here I was exposed to political activism and taught the truth about oppression: where it comes from and why. It was very liberating. Suddenly one sees the bigger picture. My teachers understood that for us it was not a matter of being limited or incapable of thinking academically, it was more about needing a clear understanding of why things are the way they are. History teaches us about the forces that create change. And it is from this power that people like us, the working people, can liberate ourselves from oppression. I have gained a greater understanding of the complexities surrounding social inequalities fueled by what I have experienced and suffered first-hand.

In early 2013 I spoke at a public forum about immigration sponsored by the Freedom Socialist Party. In the following months I worked with the party and became actively involved with many other struggles, such as the fight by berry workers to unionize at the Sakuma farms in Burlington, Wash.

During the last couple of months in high school, I flew back to South Central Los Angeles to help organize the 2014 Freedom Socialist Party convention. Going back home reminded me that because I have the opportunity to reach for higher education, I should not forget my people back home. I must continue to be a motivator, and it is my responsibility to make it easier for the next generation to achieve too. Today, my goal is to receive a BA and continue to law school so that I will have the capacity to help others. Although I have faced difficult social challenges, I have not given up and my interest in educational growth and social activism continues.

For the past year and a half I’ve been part of the campaign to free political prisoner and indigenous leader Nestora Salgado, a naturalized U.S. citizen being held in Mexico. Salgado was unjustly imprisoned for leading an indigenous community police force in the state of Guerrero, but her case has broader implications, from environmental justice to police brutality. Nestora is the face of universal human rights. Reminding us that a revolutionary change is necessary. Working on the committee to free Salgado has taught me organizing and leadership skills, and how to work collectively. This campaign has empowered me to speak up for myself and others. The first week of my college career I organized a couple of students and myself and together we formed a committee to Free Nestora in Olympia, Washington.

I want my human rights respected. And together we can achieve this. We must actively voice our interests now. There are so many social injustices facing our society today that cry out for radical solutions and new leadership. I have learned the courage to take control of my life, and am determined to break boundaries. Through hard work and a strong sense of hope, I look forward to a future where Nestora will be free, and where my daughter, my community and my class will live free.

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