Sunday, May 31, 2015

Please Welcome Special Guest Victor Gonzalez

The Power of Community
By Victor Gonzalez

Sadly, I believe the education I received slowly conditioned me to think that powerful stories shared by community members were not credible because they were not in history books. I had always considered community stories, such as my dad’s migration from Arizona to Coachella to follow the lemon and orange harvest, or a friend’s departure from Mexico due to her economic instability, side stories and not those that helped shape history, and certainly not the simplified stories found in the history books.

I have also made the mistake of looking past stories that community members had to offer. For example, looking past immigrants’ professions and expertise that they practiced before their migration, but are now unable to perform due to their employment status or language barrier. An agricultural worker that I know, for example, can no longer practice his profession of Agronomy and Engineering because of the multiple tests that must be taken to transfer the practice license. I made the mistake of disregarding a person’s background and the amount of knowledge that they already had, and only associated their knowledge with the level of work they do now.

I see now that I had become too comfortable with what was given to me by my parents and my education. I never questioned the work my parents did in the agricultural fields to provide for me. Their motivation was to provide what I needed to obtain a higher education, to not repeat what they continue to go through. Yet, I normalized the working conditions and the education I received as if there was no way to make it better. Although I did value what was offered to me, I realized it would serve no purpose if I did not try to make it better so that more people have opportunities, not just a few.

These personal stories shared by members of the community have motivated me to learn from others and better appreciate their will to make a better life for themselves, their family, and their community. Now, I understand the power and drive that parents have to change their community and create opportunities for their children. Bringing up children, despite adverse conditions, is a form of social justice to me because it is an investment that will alter the future in a positive way. 

This recognition has moved me to understand more of the social justice issues that have occurred and continue to occur in the Eastern Coachella Valley. Many of these social movements might not be recorded in books, but are passed down through community stories. Like the story of my dad traveling to larger cities every Sunday, like Los Angeles, to spread the word about the grape boycott and conditions of people in the Eastern Coachella Valley, or the story of my neighbors talking about how they would protest by not going in to work. Many of these stories begin with the migration that many families went through and continue to experience. I also believe migration is a form of social justice that many engage with when they migrate for better conditions and as they attempt to retain and reshape their culture as they adapt.

A more traditional and specific example of social justice is the United Farm Workers movement. Although it is well recognized, I did not personally know the extensive roots the UFW had in the Cities of Coachella, Mecca, and Indio. It is empowering to know that my dad organized in my hometown, Mecca, with the UFW. He has shared stories of meeting Cesar Chavez and many organizers from Coachella to Delano. He has told me stories of driving buses to Delano with his friends and joining the picket lines to support agricultural cities in the state of California. He also recalls the same level of support the people in the City of Coachella gave when they took social action. Recently, through the Leadership Academy Training hosted by Building Healthy Communities, Christian Paiz, a local historian, community member, and previous teacher of mine, shared with me even more stories of history that had not been documented. Such as the Filipino community advocating that the Latino population in the Coachella Valley help in the strike movement. This is valuable history because it is important to understand the power of joining forces with different races and regions across California. Previously, when I would hear the story of the UFW, I understood the local effects it had in our agricultural community, but not the local involvement people had in the movement. What has become important to me now is that there are many others in our community who share similar stories as my dad. There are many of us who know someone, or are someone who has advocated for his or her community in one way or another.

The continued legacy of my parents is to have provided for my siblings and me to pursue a higher education. I have gone through the education system in the Coachella Valley and pursued a higher education. Through my education, I have gained new skills that I have brought back and continue to mold as I see fit in my community. I did not necessarily come back to teach others, but to learn and grow together.  Again, I want to reiterate the value that our community already has, and the continued passion to shape it through the ongoing culture of advocating for our community.

I would like to extend an invitation so you all can share stories and help each other understand the issues that we face so that we can advocate for the changes together. For those of you that are going off to school, it is important to understand what needs to be changed so that you can have a better focus when you go to a university.  When and if you come back, the community will gladly incorporate you in the movement to make it better.

Graduating from UCSC has not fulfilled my purpose, neither will it happen when I decide to move out and purchase a house or a car. There is a need to continue the legacy our parents have initiated of social justice to make our future brighter. What would my purpose be if I didn’t learn from the upbringing in my community? I am returning from UCSC; yet, my parents continue to work in agricultural fields at minimum wage. Higher education has given me access to more opportunities, but what about those that continue to work in agricultural fields, hospitality services, service sector, construction, etc.? Couldn’t we say that their conditions can be improved? People who pursue higher education cannot, and will not be the only ones that can help improve the conditions in our communities, but we can sure help. How do we ensure we keep the dreams of the youth alive, but also ensure that elders don’t stop dreaming?

Victor Gonzalez is a Desert Mirage Alumni and a graduate of UC Santa Cruz with a BA in Politics and Feminist Studies. He currently works with Building Healthy Communities in Coachella, and would like for you to get involved in your community. To stay engaged throughout the BHC summer program, or if you have any questions for him, his contact info is 760-989-7188 or

Monday, May 25, 2015

Please Welcome Special Guest Hector Marin-Alcantar

Geek Activist Shares College Aspirations

By Hector Marin-Alcantar

Greetings fellow students! My name is Hector Marin-Alcantar. I'm a senior at Coachella Valley High School, a science fanatic, a community organizer, and a soon to be freshman at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

My education doesn’t only happen in the classroom, it happens in the community. I've been a community organizer for three years now. Specifically, I volunteer for Inland Congregations United for Change, or ICUC. I help develop youth in the Coachella Valley to stand up to injustices that occur here. I've also been involved with many other organizations across the Valley. I have attended school meetings, school board meetings, state school board meetings, city council meetings, research meetings, and the list keeps going. I volunteered at two Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals clinics where we helped undocumented applicants apply for a two year, deferred immigration status.

Something I am very proud of with ICUC is the work we did to win the implementation of a District wide A-G policy in our high schools that requires all courses qualify for acceptance to a UC or Cal State. It may surprise you to know that until this change the requirements for graduation were at a lower standard than those required to apply to colleges. The implementation of A-G requirements to graduate will give all students an equal opportunity to apply to colleges. There is so much more to discuss concerning our education, our school, and our community…and so much more work to be done. I've even had the privilege and the honor of flying to Sacramento—twice—as a constituent to speak to our assemblyman about education policy and reform.

My work in the community has led me discover many things, not only about my culture and family, but also about myself. Relative to other cultures, within my family education is not necessarily a sacred philosophy. However, what is sacred in my culture is how one shows exceptional hard work and determination in the face of a great challenge. For example, my parents are immigrants from Mexico and have worked in the agricultural industry for over twenty-five years, harvesting grapes in the blistering heat of the desert summers and the bitter cold of its winters. I too have worked in the grapes for a paycheck to buy supplies for school. Seeing the sacrifices my parents have made only deepens my resolve to work harder than they have, so I can provide a much better life for my future family and become a role model for others like me. A role model that shows that education has a place in my culture, especially for those who are first generation college students who never had such examples of higher education. With today's increasing demand for new technologies, more diverse engineers with new ideas will be instrumental for scientific innovation and economic growth.

My inspiration for becoming an Aerospace Engineer began in elementary school. I was in the fifth grade and summer was approaching, a group of students and I where going to a place called Balboa Park in San Diego. There I spent hours touring the park and seeing the many museum exhibits, until I stopped by the Air and Space Museum. I was awed by the spacecraft and the stealth planes and I thought to myself, "I want to build something like that!" Ever since then, I've been fond of rockets and planes and I will seize any opportunity to expose myself to this curious topic. I applied and attended COSMOS at UC Irvine so I could learn what engineering is and learn the basic principles of plane design. I got to design, build, and fly my own plane. That experience was priceless. These events have lead to my resolve to study in the field of engineering. As an engineer, one builds something, or rather creates something that leaves a legacy. I wish to leave a legacy for my family and for the good of the nation.

Hector Marin-Alcantar is pictured here with one of his science idols: astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Please Welcome Special Guest Adrian Moreno

In Celebration of Academic Rivalry

By Adrian Moreno

“How much do you know about yourself if you've never been in a fight? How much can you know about yourself if you've never had a nemesis? You have a person who's your opposite, some one to go with, someone who wants to see you fall.” —The Smash Brothers Documentary
A rivalry is a very important factor that can greatly enhance your academic performance, even in things outside academics. We know this to be true from CV's rivalry with Indio in the annual competition for the bell in the Bell Game. The key factor that makes rivalries such a great motivation is the urge you feel inside to prove your rival wrong. When I've had a rival, I find they take me out of my comfort zone because they specifically want to see me fail, and they're pushing, even advocating it. This, at least to me, has been a great motivator. Over the years I have come across many different forms of rivalries, some lighthearted, while others much more hostile and antagonistic, yet both have equally pushed me beyond my boundaries.

Today I have friendly rivalries with my fellow AP students. There is this type of pseudo-competition going on regarding the top ten of our class. It's a nice thing to be in the top ten of your class, regardless of how much you care about the title and recognition. I myself am trying to "compete" to be in the top ten, and I use quotations around the word because it really isn't an official competition. Nonetheless, I have a weird relationship regarding this "competition." On one hand I want to crush them, but the problem is I know the people that make up my competition, and they are really good people. How can I crush the people I know and like? Well, these are the people who make me strive to become better academically. An added benefit in a friendly rivalry is in the fact that your rivals are your friends, so you can look to them for help and vice-versa. You and your rivals help each other, and you all improve and become better people as a result.

I remember a time in elementary when I joined a school competition against one of my friends to see who was the smarter one between us. There was a math competition where the classrooms were competing against each other for the chance to win an ice cream party. Well, this friend of mine was going to participate so I decided to join the competition in order to test my intelligence against his. I, at least at that age, wasn't very outgoing and wouldn't have participated in a school competition by my own motivation, but in this case I was given an outside motivation to compete with my friend and prove my superiority. In the process, I left my comfort zone and did a positive thing for myself, all thanks to a rivalry I had with a friend about who was smarter.

The other more prevalent and interesting form of rivalry is between you and your adversary. The rivalry that I'm speaking of is the Batman vs. Joker kind, the good vs. evil archetype…the rivalry between you and your enemy. When you have a rival who is very much different from you in personality and opinion, you just want to beat them at their own game. I have been pushed to greater heights to prove these rivals wrong. At some point in your lives, I'm sure many of you have encountered someone who doesn't believe in you, and you just have this overwhelming feeling of wanting to prove them wrong. For example, there's a guy named James in my junior class; he's a smart kid, but God forbid I allow him to be smarter than me without a fight. Over the years we've actually had competitions outside of academics, from arm wrestling that started since middle school, to games of Smash Bros. in high school (he's pretty terrible by the way). As long as the rivalry between you two doesn't get out of hand, it can be a positive thing. I'll argue that a rivalry between opposites is what drives innovation. Look at Bill Gates vs. Steve Jobs, Coca Cola vs. Pepsi, Michelangelo vs. Leonardo da Vinci. These rivalries pushed each other to create bigger and better things.

One of my more antagonistic rivalries occurred again in elementary school and left a significant mark on my dedication towards education. There was another very smart kid that was considered one of the smartest kids in our grade, and this time he wasn't my friend. I really didn't like the guy. He made fun of me a lot and was really just a jerk to me. Well I just couldn't let him be the smartest kid, so I worked really really hard in my class to be able to compete with him academically. In elementary there wasn't a letter grading system to compare our intelligence, but our grades on tests and quizzes was what I used to compare our skills in English and math. From what I can remember, we were about equal intelligence by the end of 6th grade year. My antagonistic rivalry with this person may be credited with the dedication I have towards my education. Since then I have always pushed for my best in order to compete with the smartest in my grade.

I think a rivalry or at least the concept of a rivalry is a great thing, exceeding what the other person expects of you, and changing yourself for the better in the process. Keep in mind that a rivalry isn't necessarily a destructive thing if you treat it as a motivation for your goals. I will always push for people to find friendly rivalries instead of the antagonistic rivalry because they're a more positive form of rivalry, but sometimes it's the antagonistic rivalry that will make the most significant impact towards becoming better and accomplishing the impossible.

Adrian Moreno is a junior at Coachella Valley High School. He plans to pursue business, law, or politics as a profession. When he is not focusing on his education or trying to get his classmates to do the same, he is playing video games. His favorites are Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, and Legend of Zelda…and he always welcomes a challenge (especially with the first two).

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Book Smart: The Importance of Independent Reading

Why Read?
By Philip Hoy

Are you a reader? You can…obviously, but do you qualify as one of those people who, you know…like to read? Let me try asking another way. What are you reading right now? Okay…thank you, but besides this blog. I mean, what have you been reading for your enjoyment? You know, what is the name of the book in your backpack, or on your tablet or phone, or next to the couch in the living room, or on the floor of your bedroom?

If you answered with the title and author of a book, any book, then, yes, you are definitely a reader.

Here is why I ask:

If you are seriously thinking about going to college after you graduate from high school, then you need to start reading more. And I don’t just mean the reading your history or science teachers assigned, or even the novel your English teacher gave you…that’s homework (and if you’re not in the habit of completing your homework, then you’re not as serious as you think you are about college). Reading for homework is tremendously important, yes, but it’s just not enough. You need to read for your own enjoyment…and some of that reading needs to be literary fiction.

Now, there’s just something contradictory sounding about that last statement, isn’t there? You need to read for your own enjoyment? Since when was “enjoyment” a requirement of anything you “needed” to do? And why, literary fiction? Say, what you sellin’ here, mister? Personally, as soon as I hear the words, “you need to…” I’ve already decided, “I don’t really want to,” and that’s before I’ve even heard what it is I’m supposed to need.

But please, hear me out. If there’s one single thing you can do to better prepare yourself for the intellectual rigors of college…it is to start reading more…much more…than you probably are right now. I’ll tell you why.

As teachers, our job is not to simply give students our knowledge, but to guide students to acquire their own…to help them become independent learners. People who read independently—of their own free will and for their own enjoyment—are self-educators by nature.

Readers are perpetual learners because they are constantly decoding text into meaning. Because of their engagement with the text—clarifying, questioning, summarizing, and predicting—readers are self-teachers. Because of their constant exposure to models of good writing, readers are better writers. Because of their ability to manipulate both the precision and ambiguity of language—to both explain and to create using words—writers make better thinkers. And because these creative and critical thinkers are also readers of literary fiction, readers have acquired the ability to walk in another’s shoes and to see the world through another’s eyes. This practiced empathy allows them to consider a subject from multiple and often differing points of view, and to know that there is never only one answer or only one way to do anything. Because of all this, readers make better communicators, better problem solvers, and better leaders.

But what if, you might ask, reading a novel for pleasure…is actually a painful experience? You’ve tried, but books just don’t interest you. What if you were just not born to be a reader?

Sometimes the difference between natural ability and a learned skill is not all that clear. Is someone good at something—like sports, or singing, or drawing, or in this case…reading—because they were just born that way, or because they worked hard to get that way? Yes, some people are simply better than other people at a particular thing; but often, what appears to be a natural ability is really the result of practice and dedication.

And while some people may have simply been born with a natural appetite and aptitude for reading, just as many—maybe even more—struggled with reading at first and had to put in hours and hours of practice to eventually become good at it.

Some readers grew up around books; others didn’t, but found ways to get them. Regardless of what motivated these people to start reading, they now have the academic advantage on their non-reading peers. What matters is that their love of books has made them better readers, with larger vocabularies…and because of that they have learned to be better at many other things as well, and not just intellectual things, but emotional too.

What matters is that in the competitive world of college admissions, when it comes down to grade point averages and SAT scores…readers have the advantage.

So, if you are not a reader…there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is you are falling behind. The good news is it’s not too late. Start reading…and catch up.

Easier said than done, right? Well, as with any important change you want to make in your life, set realistic goals, and achieve them one at a time. First find a book that interests you and set a goal of reading, let’s say, at least ten pages a day for the first week, then raise that goal to fifteen pages a day for the second week, and so on until you are automatically reading at least twenty-five to thirty pages a day of independent reading. And remember, this is a book of your choice. This doesn’t count homework reading. If it’s a good book, you probably won’t have to count pages, and if it’s a really good book, you might not want to put it down at all…even when you know you should be doing your homework, or going to sleep already.

If you’re not sure where to find a book you might like, ask your English teacher to recommend one…or any of your teachers. After all, English teachers are not the only people who read for enjoyment. Ask the school librarian. Ask me. Ask that boy in class who is always reading his own book, even when he should be doing something else. Ask that girl who—instead of texting or playing video games— always seems to be reading some kind of eBook on her iPad. Ask her what she’s reading and why she finds it interesting. Or go online and Google it. Try a search for the “top ten books for teens,” or the “top ten books for teens who hate to read.” Try it.

And me, what am I reading right now? The Round House by Louise Erdrich. It’s on my Kindle for iPad. Great book.