Hello, my name is Alex Mario Mijares. I grew up in a rough environment in San Fernando Valley, California. My neighborhoods were diverse in race & class. Communities there were, and still are today, experiencing issues with affordable housing, illnesses, jobs, drugs, and gang related violence. Growing up observing these community issues from an early age, I pondered the many reasons as to why my environment was so entrenched in suffering.
In my teen years I succumbed to the trends and became a product of my environment. I dropped out of school and got involved with gangs and drugs. A desire for success and a better life became a fairy tale. It was a “dog eat dog” world and I quickly realized I wanted to have the upper hand in the game. It wasn’t until I moved to Oregon that my whole understanding of the world changed, and my hope for the future was re-ignited.
Moving to Oregon was a huge culture shock for me. The city I moved to was dominantly white; had few if any people of color, and the many Latino families were first generation undocumented immigrants. High school was an even bigger culture shock; I had come from a city where my school was about 80% people of color & Latino, 10-15% API and 2% white. My new Oregon high school was a lot to adjust to. What stood out the most about my new high school was how much my peers cared about their future. Students were focused on getting into good colleges and creating successful lives. This was very different from where I grew up, where the dropout rate was about 70% and many of those students either joined gangs, became drug addicts, had kids, joined the military, or got into hard labor work to gain a skill. College was the least of their concerns.
My new environment changed my world views and gave me hope and vision. However, I was deeply confused about the stigma of my early life. Why were these two states, cities, and peoples so different? Is it that people make bad decisions and all the hardship is of their own making? Or is there a system set up to keep a certain order aligned? Is race a factor? What is the root of all this and how, as an individual, can I learn to heal my communities?
After high school I ventured out into the world with an optimistic view that anything is possible and the world is a playground. Young, foolish and adventurous I took on many endeavors. Many failed miserably, some are incredible feats, and all of them are the backbone to my wisdom. I lived many lives and always maintained a high level of ambition and enthusiasm.
Once I came full-circle in my Hero’s Journey, I became content with life and made plans to ride my bike across the country and explore. However, the universe had other plans for me. On three separate occasions within a six month time-span I was hit by cars while riding my bicycle. I was stripped of my freedom to escape. I had to accept my permanent injuries and learn to be still. I became apathetic.
It wasn’t until the birth of my two nieces, Amelia & Gabriella, when all my questions emerged once again and a sense of urgency to get involved with a change movement ignited me to start Hero’s Journey Part 2. I was recognizing a pattern with my younger sister and her newly-developing family. Poverty, fear and scarcity were the mindset of those I loved. It moved me to search for a solution. First I searched for a practice in faith, a language to express life. My people needed an ingredient that would create genuine happiness from within. Without it, it’s easy to be discouraged by the obstacles and setbacks. That is when I joined the Sokka Gakkai International (SGI) and became a proud member and practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism.
Phase One was to bring my family and friends to learn a philosophical language to express self on a common ground and to accelerate their Human Revolution. Phase Two was to search for community based organizations to learn the process of organizing and campaigning. I wanted to learn what I could do to change the system that keeps people oppressed and join the movement.
It didn’t take long for me to find an environmental justice organization that was in full alignment with my morals and mission. I stumbled on an article concerning TriMet investing $12 million in a new jail and increased police force. This news infuriated me, so I signed up to be a volunteer for OPAL & BRU. That’s when I met my organizing mentor, Orlando Lopez. After participating in my first campaign and attending a dramatic and inspiring TriMet board meeting, I was motivated to make this line of work my profession. Orlando reached out to me and we met for a heart to heart conversation. By the end of our meeting he asked me to apply for OPAL’s annual summer intern program as an Organizer-In-Training (OIT).
Since I’ve been involved with OPAL and part of the OIT program my life now has a clearer direction. The tools and experience gained from the OIT are exactly what I need to see my visions manifest and build movement with my community, friends and family. All the skill and wisdom in the world are nothing without leadership. OPAL stands by their name when they say they “organize people and activate leaders.” That’s exactly what they’ve been able to do for me. After each training day my world view is expanded. My capacity is stretched and I’m growing into a new way of being. I feel incredibly blessed to have cross paths with OPAL and its members. I am a person of faith and to me there is only one law and that is the law of cause and effect. At this moment I am incubating in this new field, new language, and new way of thinking. I’m processing how I can link everything I’m learning to my unique abilities. I am excited to see what will come into fruition when I come full circle in Hero’s Journey part 2. The later phases of my mission will be revealed in due time. Thank you for reading my story.
Alex is one of our Organizers-in-Training, and will serve as a delegate to the Oregon Just Transition Assembly taking place September 1st through 4th. OPAL’s transformational organizing is only possible because of the investments our community makes in OPAL. Moving your money into a Just Transition is critical to the success of our communities. Contribute to OPAL today.