2020 Monterey County Youth Summit Poster | Provided photo
By Emma Garcia
From poignant speeches to poems to a “structured rant,” Monterey County youth leaders described their visions for change during a youth summit last week.
Dozens of students gathered for an online “Race to Equity” summit gathering Friday hosted by CSU-Monterey Bay, with discussions and performances that addressed racial inequality. Among them was Alexis Mendez, a freshman at CSUMB, who described the gruesome reality for many agricultural workers who live in cramped homes and who fear contracting COVID-19 and spreading the virus to their loved ones.
“If you contract COVID there’s nowhere to run,” Mendez said in a poem he wrote and recited at the summit. “Nowhere to hide. Sad part is a lot of our Hispanic population is undocumented as well. So the fear they carry of a possible deportation. A vicious occurrence is just crazy, and they keep to themselves because they know if they complain they’re easily replaceable.”
He said people outside the farmworker community don’t get “what it means to give and sacrifice your body and time to provide for your family and every single one of those people would love to find another way to make ends meet. Every single one of them would love to see their child succeed. Being close like penguins in houses that cost so much. It may just be their death. People living in garages, same thing as living in a freezer. It just doesn’t seem possible to live our life the way we dream, without breaking our back. Got us living like dogs just to live check by check.“
Oakland recording artist Ise Lyfe, the featured speaker, encouraged the young leaders to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” saying that avoiding conversations about race slows progress. Change can happen when oppressed people take responsibility for the change they want to see, he said.
Politicians give “the same old promise of ‘we are going to take care of (people of color),” Lyfe said. “But your generation will rise to the occasion to say, ‘no, it’s not about you saving us. These are our demands. This is what we are building and if you prove to be worthy we invite you to join our movement.”
He also told student leaders he believes police departments were created to serve the wealthy and to protect property. “People who are poor don’t have property,” he said. “Police are janitors of capitalism.”
Lissa Alaniz, another CSUMB student, spoke about racial profiling and the importance of education. She said California ranks 12th in the nation in mass incarceration rates, blaming a racially biased justice system and inferior educational opportunities.
Camryn Littleton, a student at Monterey Peninsula College who is majoring in communications, performed the structured rant, calling it “We’ve Come a Long Way, But We Have a Long Way to Go.” She said she hoped to avoid a traditional speech, but wanted to concentrate on topics that were difficult to discuss. “While writing about these topics it made me upset and furious and I wanted to show how I feel about this happening in 2020,” she said.
Alexandria Adams, a former CSUMB student, discussed the importance of solidarity and how to develop what she called “allyship” to achieve a greater good. First, she said, participants must have an honest desire to change. The must practice “inclusive listening” to allow for open dialogues and they need the self examination it takes to understand privilege and how participants can use their privilege to help those who don’t.
Another speaker, CSUMB Assistant Professor Daniel Summerhill, composed a poem urging students to go beyond labels placed on them, and to stay true to who they are.
“Each kid is a piece of stained glass mosaic masterpiece that spans the crust of the earth,” Summerhill said. “I will say something like break formation. Be new. Be you be. Be a flailing albatross. Live outside the box society has placed you in because, well, Mark Wahlberg sold drugs, Charles Dickens spent a year in prison, Einstein stuttered as a child, Buzz Aldrin has a rap song with Snoop Dog. So tell me how much you know about these brown eyes.”
Meanwhile, Mendez’s performance brought to light education inequalities, how violence in East Salinas plays a role in student success, and the difficulties of breaking away from a generational cycle of poverty and violence.
“To some it may be the only way out,” he said. “Hispanics killing Hispanics. Turning their white T-shirt to red ruby polka dots. Blood leaks and blood turns to the tears of our ancestors. Crying we won’t see the morning sun. Mothers crying over their fallen sons. Generation after generation following in the same slum, and all this for all what? Can’t they see that the struggle can be passed down to generations too. We’re too busy learning how to survive. We don’t have the privilege to learn how to live. There’s too many issues that surround. I hear many people say they want the easy way out.”
Mendez wrapped up his moving performance to proclaim that “my parents fled their homes to this magical place called America. Well it wasn’t that magical, but now we’re making it our America.
“We can’t flee and leave the future children to rot in the same corrupt system we got. We need to make the change. We can’t just keep applying bandages onto a broken bone. We need to dismantle and change the system that would build off racism. I just want my people to get the same chance at life.”
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