Changing the narrative: What does it mean to be an activist? Gen Z activist looking to build community and solidarity


By Andrea Valadez

| Part of the series Our Future, produced in collaboration with the California Youth Media Network.

Youth activism has always been instrumental in social change — from the East L.A. walkouts in the 1960s to the student-led March for Our Lives in 2018. But activism isn’t always manifested through protesting. 

Lupita Cruz, 20, shows that activism can have many faces and is not always linear.

Born in Salinas and now living in Greenfield with her family, Cruz is pursuing a political science degree at California State University Sacramento. She balances her studies with her passion for providing immigrants and undocumented people with the information necessary to thrive in the United States.

Cruz works with the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County (CAB), a nonprofit organization that provides residents with various forms of aid, such as economic relief and homelessness prevention. While she does important social work, Cruz does not call herself an activist.

“I have a different meaning of what I think an activist would be: during your free time to gather people for marches and say, ‘Let’s get together and do this,’” she said. 

While Cruz may not lead the marches, she’s always been a part of them. “My journey began when I saw my father be an activist in the community. I have joined several marches along with my family and the UFW when I was younger,” Cruz said.

She vividly remembers hearing shouts of “¿Qué queremos? ¡Reforma migratoria!” during protests when she was 6 years old. When she first began marching with her father around 2010, two of the most prominent immigration policies in the news were Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA).

President Barack Obama made DACA into law in 2012 through executive action. DAPA didn’t have the same fate and even the future of DACA is uncertain right now. “We’re still in la lucha,” said Cruz, referring to the ongoing struggle. 

On Feb. 14, 2022, a social media campaign and economic boycott called “Un día sin inmigrantes (A day without immigrants)” swept the nation in an attempt to pressure President Biden to prioritize immigration protection. Cruz was one of the organizers for the Monterey County strike.

“We made several calls and spoke to several people to join us at a march in front of the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office. About 40 or 50 people were there,” she said.

Cruz appreciates how this type of outreach has an impact “so immigrants can show that they matter to the U.S. economy … and we should show solidarity.” 

In her role in the Office of Community Partnership and Certification Communications at CAB, Cruz’s focus is making educational presentations to communities throughout the Central Coast. Many of her talks educate immigrants on the process and benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen, as well as the process of receiving an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), which allows non-U.S. citizens to file taxes.

According to Cruz, the hard work pays off when she can see “lives transformed, especially with the information I provide people.” 

“When I have people who are calling me back and saying, ‘Thank you for the presentation. I needed a little push.’ (Now) they’re in the process of becoming a U. S. citizen, and this year they’re going to be voting for our president,” she said.

Immigration remains a controversial topic in this country — made more extreme by the former president’s anti-immigration campaign and policies. In Cruz’s opinion, a common misconception is that “immigrants rely a lot on public (benefits) and I believe that’s not true because undocumented people work a lot. A lot of people that are not surrounded by agriculture believe that, but they don’t even think about where their food is coming from.”

California is the top agricultural producer in the country, and 75% of its farmworkers are undocumented. This is why, in Cruz’s opinion, it’s crucial to use activism as a way to “build community and solidarity, working alongside with our community and other organizations. (This) makes us stronger.”

While she may not consider herself an activist yet, Cruz is looking ahead to what her life may look like once she graduates from college next year. Activism could take her on many different paths, especially since she hopes to one day become an immigration attorney.

“Who knows, maybe then I will jump into the role of becoming an activist,” said Cruz. “That is my goal, to lead marches and protests. To show that our community is here not to rely on the government, but to look for a better future.”

This story was produced by Voices of Monterey Bay and is part of a collaborative project “Our Future” that includes content from young journalists from Boyle Heights BeatCoachella Unincorporated, The Contra Costa Pulse, The kNOw,  Tower of YouthVoices of Monterey Bay, and YR Media

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About Andrea Valadez

Andrea Valadez was born and raised on the outskirts of Los Angeles and is now a journalism student at Cal State Monterey Bay. She’s the current editor-in-chief of the school’s student-run newspaper, The Lutrinae.