I’m in this for my family. My mom and her 9 siblings grew up working in the fields. They have been exposed to all kinds of pesticides. The women suffered miscarriages. My family works in factories, in grocery stores. Their wages barely cover the cost of the food that is poisoning them and that comes from companies that exploit their labor. Because of the chemicals contained in the food available to them, most of my family is diabetic. Although most of my family lives in the country, those who live in the city have lived all their life along smoggy traffic corridors. My cousin grew up breathing in the exhalations of a trash processing plant. Her grandma was the first of my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side to die. It angered me because her death was the most colonial of deaths.
My father’s family had a life claimed to breast cancer as well. They grew up in the projects of Boyle Heights, next to an industrial area. The boys grew up working on cars, and being exposed to all sorts of chemicals and carcinogens. The lead they were exposed to affects their cognitive capacity up to today. My dad and some of his siblings are able to separate themselves from the current pollutants and dangerous places, but some of my family are still struggling and have to live in Environmental Justice communities and continue to eat and buy necessities that leach chemicals into them 24/7.
I am a queer Xicana youth. I have pretty bad anxiety and I’m still trying to learn how to be an adult. I grew up in Southeast Portland, in a neighborhood where I was one of the few people of color, and the only Mexican. I spent most of my free time listening to my dad talk about gentrification, the history of Portland, racism, the Iraq invasion. From him, I was able to continue learning in a way that my alienation had hindered. In middle and high school, I remained one of the few Latinx people in school, all the way through 10th grade. It was then that I took a year off school to figure out which career path would suit me best.
Within that year, I decided that I didn’t want to go back to the toxic environment I was in at school. I wanted to go to Woodburn High School for the last 2 years of high school. In Woodburn, Latinx people are the majority. There I was able to learn and grow in ways I never thought I would. That year was the first year I went to the May Day parade in Salem. Being involved in my community since then has been a priority over school.
When I left Northwest Academy, I was interested in dance, theater, and music as subjects to study. Now, I see them as tools to help teach others what I’m learning through organizing.
Later on, I contacted CAPACES Leadership Institute to get involved with TURNO, a program for high school youth where many of my classmates went. A year in my school showed me my own privilege and gave me a good idea of all the work that needed to be done within it. That year, I began to participate in student organizing. I became a part of Teen Council, a peer-led sex ed program. The first time I really helped organize an action was when I was invited to help stage a walk-out. Watching the number of students who participated walk into the schoolyard, I was aware of the power that directly impacted communities really have. I felt like the students could make a difference. Since then, I have been very involved in the Woodburn community. Through participating in Teresa Alonso Leon’s campaign, I met Maria Hernandez, who is now OPAL’s Advocacy Coordinator. She encouraged me to apply for Organizers In Training, and though I was doubtful of my ability, I did.
As a young organizer with anxiety, I sometimes look at the amalgamation of problems facing us today, and I can feel overwhelmed and hopeless. My communities and our resources are being exploited, and our planet is threatened. When I work on certain projects, I feel sometimes as if it is not enough. Throughout this program, I have gotten to engage with the Portland community in an intimate way that I thought I would never be able to. Getting to hear individual’s stories and understanding them as a person is the heart of all organizing. This program is also giving me essential tools, such as how to pick an issue, and how to decide on tactics, and looking at a bigger plan. Learning skills in this program to stay focused and move ahead is essential in my future as an organizer with anxiety.
I feel confident that I can advance and continue to empower my community and build other leaders. I owe it to my communities, who are hit first as this world becomes uninhabitable.