Greenfield’s cultural heart remains in its downtown | Photo by García Meza
By Yajaira García Meza
“Making it out of Greenfield” and striving for a better life is defined as success in this small farming town in the Salinas Valley. Many who have had the privilege to attend a university or move out of Greenfield end up settling in a place that provides more opportunities. This is undeniable: our community is poorly funded, our people are constantly criminalized, and the environmental disparities make it unappealing for young, recently educated Greenfield natives to come back and live here.
Yet the town’s growth is evident, as there is a new shopping center and homes being built. What’s painfully obvious is that internal issues are being ignored. Families in Greenfield are not able to afford the cost of living, our schools have a school-to-prison pipeline, and there are prevailing health issues due to pesticide poisoning. Our community has yet to heal from the generational traumas of systemic racism.
Unfortunately, in this political climate, raising awareness to the issues occurring in our town is being perceived as a “radical agenda.”
Creating a new PUEBLO
It was at this juncture that many of us watched in horror the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer, and how the Black Lives Matter movement shed light on the lack of education about issues that affect Black communities.
On Facebook, Greenfield Mayor Lance Walker posted a video proclaiming that “all lives matter,” which we feel is disrespectful to the many Black people who have died at the hands of police officers. The video caused a huge uproar in town, with many people supporting it and others deploring it. This revealed the dire need for our community to learn about the systemic racism that has been prevalent in this country since colonization.
It’s a difficult topic: Conversations around systemic racism are thought of as bringing in “race issues” to Greenfield. But for young Latinx people like me, who grew up facing the myriad challenges that systematic racism brings, what this conversation revealed to us is that affluent and privileged community members cannot see past their own limited world view. There is denial that we are on stolen land, that the police system was founded based on racism, and that minorities have suffered from institutional racism for generations.
Upon the racist and negative reactions provoked by the Black Lives Matter movement, multiple community members participated in a group chat to discuss the matter and organize against these racist sentiments in our community. Our conversations and strategy led us to form a nonpartisan collective to combat social justice issues in our community. This is how Pueblo Unido Eliminando Barreras a través de La Lucha Organizada — PUEBLO, United Town Eliminating Barriers through Organized Struggle — was formed.
We first identified that our community was affected by a lack of education on systemic racism and, in order to make change, we must begin by educating our community on the topic. Second, we must increase civic engagement to create empowered community leaders that will seek leadership positions and increase representation within our City Council. Lastly, we must become engaged, demand transparency and seek accountability within our City Council.
First: addressing language barriers
The seven founding members of PUEBLO are all Greenfield natives, young college graduates who returned and began to put a name to the issues happening around us. All eight members were empowered by one another to make a difference in our community.
It is time that the youth began to use their voice and influence to address the multiple issues in Greenfield. We became involved in our town’s politics. Unfortunately, in this political climate, raising awareness to the issues occurring in our town is being perceived as a “radical agenda.” Often we encounter negative reactions to our involvement but this has not stopped us.
One of the issues we’ve taken on is the fact that our community has a great population of Spanish speakers, but there is not much information available for them in Spanish. This language barrier is rarely addressed.
It is important to acknowledge that Greenfield has residents who are undocumented and their voices are not being heard either. Simply because they are not allowed to vote does not mean that they should be forgotten. There is a disconnect and a lack of trust between noncitizens and public officials. Their immigration status makes it difficult for them to speak up and voice their opinions. This is where PUEBLO is needed; we must be the voice for the marginalized voices.
“Organizing as a community has been a big accomplishment in a small town — there is a constant sense of independence and learning on your own,” said Daisy Arevalo Mendoza, a founding member. “Coming together, there is more impact.” By PUEBLO being formed we are attempting to get rid of the “small town” mentality.
In October we hosted a City Council candidate forum. This forum was intended to have the community learn about city issues and ask questions of the candidates. On the PUEBLO social media pages we posted a form for community members so they could pose questions to candidates. The forum had more than 1,800 views on Facebook. Although the forum was in English, we translated the forum in its entirety to give access to the Spanish-speaking members of our community.
From multiple conversations among the PUEBLO leadership we realize the need to include more youth voices. Founding member Rosa Hernandez said, “We must engage with the youth, empower the youth and they can contribute so much. The youth has so much potential to share and no direction on how to translate passion to concrete action and make a change in the community.”
We created Youth PUEBLO, an internship/mentor program that provides high school students different perspectives and promotes efforts among students to organize.
New and promising
We are currently working on two scholarship opportunities for graduating seniors, community college, university and graduate students. We are actively collaborating with organizations such as MILPA, UNIDOS, and Safety Ag Safety Schools. We hope to build and strengthen relationships among city, county and state level public officials. PUEBLO is preparing for the second cohort of Youth PUEBLO to continue to empower more young people. Lastly, we are working to write a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom to prioritize farm workers for the COVID-19 vaccination.
We are all new to grassroots organizing, and as time progresses we learn from our mistakes and we improve. As time progresses we hope for PUEBLO to become a non-profit organization. Founding member Monica Aguilar said “growth will be beautiful and continuing that engagement.” As PUEBLO grows we hope to provide paid internships, student scholarships and resources for the community. It is also our goal to continue collaborating with other organizations.
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