In Salinas, young voices opposed to racism make themselves heard

Youth at a recent local BLM protest | Photo, Selene Martinez


By Soraya Zepeda

Protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement to end systemic racism spread across the world after the May 25 death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and Salinas teenagers have begun their own demonstrations, along with calls to defund the police.

Local protesters are advocating to reallocate a portion of police budgets to education, shelters, and other services seen as helping communities. Believing law enforcement is already overfunded, supporters argue crime rates will drop as police funds are spent elsewhere.

Like demonstrations across the country, Salinas protests are led by young, mostly Black or Latino residents.

“I 100 percent support the movements that are going on,” Selene Martinez, 16, said. “It’s all about equality.”

To show her support, Martinez has participated in one protest, signed many petitions supporting Black Lives Matter, and emailed city officials to push for change.

As a young woman, Martinez said, “If I say something in public, people will not listen to me.”

But Martinez chose to protest because she believes in being a witness to the pain her community is experiencing.

“If the police were defunded, it makes their job easier as well. Teenagers will have better outlets, like mental health facilities, which can help lower crime rates,” Martinez said. “…for the most part, it will make things better.”

Protesters have also seen the connection the Black Lives Matter movement has with areas like Salinas which, while not majority Black communities, deal with higher rates of crime, homelessness, and less access to education.

For example, according to the FBI’s 2016 California Crime report, Salinas had one of the worst crime statistics among California cities of fewer than 200,000 people. The Monterey County Homeless Census Report states that more than 2,400 residents are unsheltered. According to the 2019 Census Report on Education, only 13.3 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

In nearby Seaside, Councilman Jon Wizard, a candidate for mayor in the November 3 election, encourages young people to use their voice in order to be heard and bring about change.

“Until you can vote, I think it has a lot to do with advocacy and sharing these ideas with people, because believe it or not, as a young person you hold a lot of power,” Wizard said. “There are people in your life that understand that you will be here when they’re not. As a young person, the most powerful thing you can do is have an opinion. I really believe that you speaking up and sharing is wildly transformational for grown folks who think they’ve got it figured out.”

Similarly, 16-year-old Sophia Irinco of Salinas encourages other students to “do as much research as possible, especially outside of social media, because that’s where we get most of our information.”

Irinco showed her support in the movements by making bracelets and selling them online. She says she donated all proceeds from the project to the Black Visions Collective, an organization dedicated to Black liberation.

“Racism is taught, it’s not just something that you’re born with,” Irinco said. “It’s being taught in their families and where they’re growing up so I feel like we need to find a way to teach them and help them understand that it’s not okay to say these racial slurs.”

Another point made in protests in Salinas, with its large Mexican and Central American populations, addresses anti-Blackness at home, not just with police.

“People in Salinas have the tendency to say the N-word,” Martinez said.

She said she believes that racial slurs are not taken seriously and that the community can better educate itself to understand the harm that these words cause.

As the youngest member on the Salinas Union High School District board, 21-year-old Trustee Anthony Rocha believes young people can advocate for change by “organizing, showing up, speaking out, posting on social media, educating your friends, and being parts of these discussions that are needing to take place in our society. That’s one key component of it.”

He said young people have the power to amplify the voices of all and to allow all voices to be heard. He also believes that it is important for young people to be involved and better educated about politics and our community in order to take a stand and effect change.

“Young people need to be involved in all sections of the community to make sure all voices are heard,” Rocha said. “We need to have these voices heard in all levels of government.”

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About Young Voices

Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported by the Clare Giannini Fund.