Participant at a march on Seaside on May 30, 2020 | Photo by Jesús Valenzuela, Building Healthy Communities
| YOUTH BEAT
“I feel like now is when we should come together and work together so that we can bring real change that is positive for everyone. If we stick together, both sides are gonna win, and we will all be together.”
— Janet Zavala, 17
By Amber Solorio
Soledad is often described as “the Gateway to the Pinnacles,” with its abundant natural resources and rolling fields, but what the town should be known for are the people who live there. Sweat glistens on the foreheads of the campesinos — the farmworkers who work the land as the sun rises and disappears on the horizon over Salinas Valley.
Soledad is a beautiful, fruitful community in which many ethnic backgrounds are represented, with a Latino majority. Almost 73 percent of the town’s 26,000 residents are Hispanic or Latino, while 8.6 percent are Black, according to 2019 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the reawakening of the Black Lives Matter movement, youth from this small Monterey County community are stepping up to promote Black and Brown unity. Latinx youth advocates say that coming together is necessary because although their struggles are not the same, the parallels in the history of the Latinx and Black communities are real.
Somos for Black Lives, a national coalition of Latino leaders, wrote that the Latino community has failed to confront the anti-Blackness that exists: “Many in our community benefit from the privilege or illusion of proximity to whiteness, without acknowledging the depth of our own African diaspora.
Although many Latinos stand with the Black Lives Matter movement, some Latinx community members ask why they support BLM when they also are being targeted by violence such as police brutality, or the detainment of almost 70,000 migrant children in cages. According to Statista.com, 551 Hispanics have been shot to death by police between 2017 and 2020. In the first six months of 2020 alone, police have killed 66 Hispanics.
The city of Soledad held a BLM protest on June 6, 12 days after the murder of George Floyd. Through participating in the protest and other activities, youth advocates have been leading the charge to educate their community about the importance of solidarity.
One of these youth leaders is Soledad native Janet Zavala, an upcoming senior at Soledad High School. Throughout her high school experience, she has gained many leadership skills, been an active member of the community, and is a youth advocate for the BLM movement in Soledad. Janet described her experience educating her Latino parents about BLM.
“Both my parents are immigrants, so they have to get their information from Spanish-based places like the news or radio,” she told Young Voices via FaceTime. “I remember in the beginning I asked them if I could go to the BLM protest in town and they both got really mad because they thought it was going to be a riot or dangerous.”
Janet explained that her parents used to think that “all protesters do is cause problems,” but after many conversations her parents now understand that the BLM movement fights for change and human value. She also constantly keeps them updated. Janet said that Black and Brown unity is important because “I hate the idea of people hating on others because of skin. Both Brown and Black people are fighting for that respect because of our skin colors and it’s so upsetting to see us divided.”
She believes that Latinx and African American communities are stronger together. She acknowledges both communities are being targeted but she doesn’t believe that it means we should stop supporting BLM. “Just because we’re helping a group doesn’t mean that we’re taking away from our own; if we ally with them they’ll ally with us,” she said. “I feel that we should fix the worst first and then go on with the rest.”
The Latinx and African American communities have experienced racism and police brutality. Janet explained that the focus is so much more on the Black community right now because its members have experienced it a lot harsher and longer. But the two communities have faced the same struggles, so coming together is a win for both sides, she said.
Sixteen-year-old Sofia Vargas is an upcoming junior at Soledad High School. Although she recently moved to Soledad, Sofia has found ways to stay active in her community. Through her contributions to clubs like the Environmental Club and Youth Council, she hopes to make it a better place for future generations.
Sofia also is a young advocate for the BLM movement. In a phone interview, Sofia explained that her family is willing to listen and understand, although she has faced challenges with relatives that work for the police force. She’s helped her family members learn about things such as the importance of petitions and how they can help create political change.
When asked about Black and Brown unity, Sofia said it’s important to come together because “people racially profile us. We even get thought less of because of where we came from, what color our skin is, or what language we speak.”
Sofia explained that personally, it would hurt her if any of her family members experienced police violence or discrimination because of their skin color, and so it’s important not to be silent because “as long as this keeps going it could happen to others and it’s not gonna get better unless we try to do something about it.”
She added the Latinx community should continue to support BLM even though they also are being targeted — and maybe because both communities are being targeted. “Something as simple as people (who) are supposed to protect you…committing violence is something that is a big problem,” she said.
Sofia wants to ensure that she’s not the only young person who is trying to educate others, especially as media attention wanes on protests. She said her generation is increasingly diverse, so “we should work on educating others so we don’t continue to make these same mistakes as generations pass on.”
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