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Special coverage: Latino life in Sonoma County

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La Prensa Sonoma: Visit our Spanish-speaking site at laprensasonoma.com

They range in age from 18 to 45. One is a scholar. One is a teen organizer. One is a district director for a county supervisor. One is attempting to influence Santa Rosa Junior College through its student government. And one is seeking to empower the community through art and environmental education.

Meet five emerging leaders in Sonoma County’s Latino community.

Mariana Garcia Martinez

Age: 35

Role: research coordinator, McNair Scholars Program at Sonoma State University’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Experiences; lecturer, SSU’s Department of Chicano and Latino Studies.

Why she is an emerging leader: I see myself more like a transformative agent. I am deeply engaged in transforming educational institutions so that there is more access to equitable schools and culturally relevant curriculum that meets the needs of a changing demographic.

I realized that change and transformation needed to occur at higher levels, or better yet, in different spaces, including institutions of higher education. As such, I pursued a Ph.D. in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, that I successfully defended in March and will be conferred this May.

As a Ph.D., I am now part of the less than 1 percent of Latinas and Latinos in the country to hold the highest level of educational attainment, something I see as both a privilege and a great responsibility.

I’ve learned firsthand successful strategies to navigate a sometimes unwelcoming space — the academy as we often call it — and came out on the other end with a degree in hand. I see my role as a mover, as someone that guides and supports children and young adults onto the next step of their educational journey. Through my training as a researcher, I am a stronger advocate for educational equity, in particular for the Latino community.

Next year, I am working with the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies to establish a center for research and resources, and to continue to increase the number of Latina and Latino students graduating college.

Role model: The person I look up to the most is my mother, Martha. She risked everything by moving to the U.S., with limited English, and no secured employment. Twenty years or so later and she has accomplished a lot. She argues that she does not speak English well, yet she managed to buy a home and owns her own car. She has taught me that neither my gender nor race/ethnicity will dictate my future. Yes, there are a multiple obstacles and challenges that I have and will continue to face, but I should not let being a woman nor a Latina stop me from overcoming them. This type of mentality on her end is what gives me drive.

Favorite quote: “I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you.” — Gloria Anzalúa.

Isabel Lòpez

Age: 35

Role: founder and executive director at Raizes Collective, a nonprofit group that seeks to empower people through art, culture and environmental education.

Why she is an emerging leader: We are living in a time when the fight for equity in all areas of life for disadvantaged people is still at the forefront of many communities. It is especially true in California, which, according to the latest Census Bureau report, is both the wealthiest state and has the highest poverty rate in the country.

Special coverage: Latino life in Sonoma County

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La Prensa Sonoma: Visit our Spanish-speaking site at laprensasonoma.com

That statistic is felt right here in Sonoma County, the place I grew up, where the income gap continues to grow. I see more and more working people suffering from stress and anxiety over having a roof over their heads, a living wage, quality education for children. These are factors we think about every day and even though I found allies and began working with organizations to create change in our community I still find myself escaping to cultural hubs in Sacramento or the Bay Area to heal the stress and anxiety of the inequities we are living in.

I began to reason why I sought out art, culture and activism, and came to the conclusion that this is the way I became aware of the injustices in our communities. It was within these spaces created for self expression that I was able to feel the sense of connectedness with others. So I thought to myself, “Why not build it here, in Santa Rosa, for all those people that feel like aliens in their own community?”

I was able to bring a vision of creating Raizes Collective to reality, an organization to mobilize and heal community the way the Royal Chicano Art Front mobilized their community in the ’70s and ’80s and the way Sol Collective in Sacramento is mobilizing their community now, through art, culture and activism. One of the goals for Raizes in 2016 is to provide even more platforms for underrepresented artists, poets, yoga instructors, dancers, MC’s or whatever artistic avenue one wishes to explore.

Role model: One of my role models is Estela Sanchez, founder and executive director of Sol Collective because she was my blueprint. Because of her work I was able to see what I could be and the impact that I could have in my community. Every time I attend workshops and events at Sol Collective I become re-energized with love and a renewed sense of purpose.

Favorite quote: “Hasta la victoria siempre (Until victory always).” — Che Guevara

Jenny Chamberlain

Age: 45

Role: district director for Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore; vice president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Sonoma County; vice president of Los Cien Latino Leaders; board member at North Sonoma County Services.

Why she is an emerging leader: I see myself play the role of a mentor, one who works to engage the community. Often times, you see the desire to serve our community in their eyes, but the fear or lack of confidence is what often holds people back, or the belief that they have nothing to contribute.

When working in the community, it’s not about “my ideas” or doing things “my way.” One of my greatest joys is having people’s ideas flow and encouraging them to partake in the process by affirming their value and how they add to the situation.

A good leader always recognizes that they need to accept and be open to fresh perspectives. The “way we’ve been doing it for years”... may not be the best way for today or tomorrow.

You have to be humble enough to realize that if you did a darn good job at training someone to take your role, then take pride that you did such a good job at mentoring. Most importantly, you must be willing to be led by your mentee, the one you trained. That is what gives me the greatest pride and joy. Seeing someone I mentored taking what I have started to the next few levels lets me know I did something right, but also that’s part of my legacy that moves on.

Role model: Gosh, I am very lucky to have many role models in my life. First, the women in my family. Each grandmother had 12 kids, grew up in Texas picking cotton, moved their families to California to raise their children for a better life while the families picked prunes and apples. They, along with my mother and aunts, taught me the perseverance to push through all challenges and rise up to the occasion. The hard work they put in to rise out of extreme poverty has not gone in vain. There was a village that raised me, and I have to thank the women in my family who helped shape me into the woman I have become.

Favorite quote: “Do not remain silent, do you know that you were born for a time such as this?” — Anonymous

Erika Hernandez Ramirez

Age: 23

Role: vice president of committees at the Santa Rosa Junior College Student Government Assembly; former female co-chair of M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanista de Aztlan).

Why she is an emerging leader: I consider myself a leader because I have come to understand my responsibility to serve my community and defend the well-being of all life. My role in my community is that of a student — the most active and vital force in society. I am the co-author of Indigenous Peoples Day Resolution #2941. I have also been a traditional dancer in the local Aztec Dance Group Xantotl of Santa Rosa for six years. Outside of my leadership roles in school, I have traveled and lived in Latin America, joined national organizations like Gamaliel North Bay Organizing Project and Organizing for America, through which I was able to meet the current president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Currently myself, my ‘compañero’ Hernan Rai Zaragoza Lemus, and ‘compañera’ Rose Hammock, are leading the initiative on our college campus and throughout the state of California to recognize Oct. 12 as Indigenous People’s Day. The Indigenous People’s Day Resolution was started by Hernan, who reached out to me for the purpose of drafting and finalizing the resolution.

Furthermore, we will be taking it to the City Council of Santa Rosa. We see it to be the duty of educational institutions and the government to promote the fearless discussion of uncomfortable truths, which include invasion, conquest, genocide and environmental destruction of indigenous lands and indigenous peoples that still continues today.

Role model: One of my role models is my ‘amá’, Lorena Hernandez Ramirez. Fortunately, I was raised by two incredible parents, my ‘apá’ Andres Hernandez and ‘mi mamá.’ The story of my parents is that of many others: despite countless suffering, oppression and trauma, they found ways of overcoming and building something out of nothing. My mother, who migrated to the United States at a very young age, always held deep values of family and service. Through my mother, I inherited my deep sense of service, as I’ve watched her fight day-to-day to provide for her family and community. Her profound sense of love for life was passed down to me. Out of misery and suffering, she built love and hope. Out of oppression and injustice, she built opportunity and resistance.

Favorite quote: “Many small people, in small places, doing small things can change the world.” — Eduardo Galeano

Bismark Torrez Rodriguez

Age: 18

Role: Lead organizer of North Bay Immigrant Youth Union

Why he is an emerging leader: Even though my title may say otherwise, the leadership in North Bay Immigrant Youth Union is horizontal. Within the community I do my best to be as knowledgeable as possible so I can educate my community, uniting them, and organizing.

Throughout this year, it is my goal to make intersectional spaces where people are able to express all their different identities, whatever they may be, instead of having to only show one aspect of themselves. Through this, I want to center youth and build their leadership skills so they can become involved within their community and have more options to move about it and support whoever they may choose.

The idea of intersectionalism started with black women. Intersectionality is referring to the fact people have multiple identities and not just one. In organizing, this is a difficult idea to implement. We have to think about how something might affect not only a person of color, but someone who is also a woman, queer, trans, undocumented or any other identity. Many organizations will speak about their diversity and their acceptance but refuse to organize around all of the identities of the community and become a single-issue organization, but we are not single-issue beings.

I am queer, Afro-Latinx, undocumented, non-gender conforming and unafraid. Even as I write this, I recognize my privilege, which is why I have to create a spot for myself whenever I enter a space, so that others who aren’t as privileged can feel more comfortable entering the space as well. This is what I intend to do with North Bay Immigrant Youth Union: create an intersectional space where we organize surrounding issues that reflect the community.

Role model: Definitely my female mentor, Noemi Reyes. She is one of the first people I met when I began organizing and has continued to push me to speak up and out, making my voice understandable and eloquent when it needs to be, and forced me to think of everything critically, questioning everything from every angle before accepting or rejecting the idea.

Favorite Quote: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We’ve got nothing to lose but our chains.” — Assata Shakur.

You can reach La Prensa Sonoma Editor Ricardo Ibarra at 526-8501 or ricardo.ibarra@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @PrensaSonoma.

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