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 firstname.lastname@example.org.