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Not Just Another Statistic

“What are you doing?! Do you want to be just another statistic?” my cousin yelled at me. I didn’t know what a statistic was or why she was so angry at me. But when I look back at this moment, I realize it’s the moment that changed everything for me. A sophomore in high school who basically failed my freshman year, I had no direction and no one at school pushing me to do better. Today, I am a working professional, a wife, and a mother of two daughters. I know what a good education can do to break the cycle of poverty, and that’s why I have been organizing and fighting for educational equity for the past 20 years. It wasn’t until my cousin invited me to the Chicano graduation event at SJSU after this conversation, where I met all her Latina friends graduating from college, that I saw so many Latino college students in one room. I was inspired to do more for myself and my future.

I was born in Mexico in a small house that my father bought for my mother. He went to work in the US to support us, then came back, and took us all with him. We emigrated to Santa Barbara at first but then settled in east San Jose. We lived with different relatives and moved around a lot so I went to about 5 or 6 different elementary schools – I had lost count. I remember school was really hard for me. I was always bullied because I was Mexican and English is my second language. Middle school was no better for me, and my first year of high school was more of the same.

My family struggled with poverty thanks to Reagonomics and border politics, and without access to high-quality public schools, my brother and I were doomed to fail. My cousin helped me break the cycle by forcing me to enroll at a youth organization that she worked at, which changed my life. I started to get better grades. I stopped hanging out with bad influences, and I finally felt like I had a future. Even though my dream was to follow mi prima’s footsteps and enroll at SJSU, I was only able to go to a community college because nobody ever told me what the SATs were or helped me become college-ready early on.

I’ve seen what a good education can do to break the cycle of poverty. And even though I finally found the right path for myself, I have also seen how the system can push you out, marking some of us for failure. That’s why I started community organizing for school choice two decades ago, helping found Rocketship Mateo Sheedy and ACE Esperanza. I can definitely say my two daughters are thriving now because of the foundation Rocketship gave them in their elementary years. I came back to Rocketship because I know the power good social services have to help families access the care they need to flourish.

Because I grew up poor, I very much resonate with our Care Corps families. I remember how I only had one pair of shoes every school year – my family couldn’t afford to buy us more. I was the family translator since the age of 7 because my mom was monolingual. We also couldn’t access health and other social services because of our documentation status. We have been very intentional about the Care Corps coordinators that we hire, looking for local people who have had similar life experiences to those of the families we serve. These shared experiences help coordinators build that connection with families that is based on empathy and understanding.

I am so excited for all the great work Care Corps continues to do for our families and about all the great relationships we are building with other community organizations to elevate this work. Watch the video below to learn more about the Care Corps program.

Published on October 11, 2023

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