on student organizing post-Compton Cookout of 2010

Highlighted in this essay is my experiences navigating, leveraging, collaborating, and doing work with an organization on UC San Diego’s campus. I offer a story to all first-generation underclassman from historically under-resourced communities trying to find their way in a sea student organizing post-Black Winter of 2010. This is a critique of an organization I worked with from 2010-2015 as Gender & Sexuality Studies Coordinator, representative for the Raza Resource Centro’s development, and eventually Co-Chair.

A close friend and I had the opportunity of taking part in creating a joint resource center as first years in college. This was an ongoing collaboration with the Black Student Union and el Movimiento Estdiantil Chicano de Aztlan and prior our arrival the project had been born from demands fought for tirelessly on behalf of students organizing around UC San Diego’s most infamous Compton Cookout of 2010. Characterized as a racially themed party, a series of anti-black racist acts would follow and later be re-named the Black Winter of 2010. Informing the creation of Dear White People in 2014, the film highlights issues revolving institutional accountability, racism, sexism, and student affairs in campus climates throughout universities across the nation.

Among ethnic specific resource centers for Native, Black, and Latino students – themed housing programs, diversity requirements, matched funding for the Student Promoted Center for Education and Service, a fully staffed office for a would be Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion were also made a reality as a result of students (not administration). Prior the Black Winter of 2010 campus climates held little-to-no importance in relation to access, retention, and graduation rates of historically under-resourced students in the eyes of academic leadership and administration UC-wide. A labor always already spearheaded by the Student Affirmative Action Committee and all affiliated organizations for generations prior and post the appointment of a Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

I remember sitting in our first meeting with the Black Student Union thoroughly impressed by their vision, mission, and organizing of institutional needs to be addressed by the would-be joint resource center. But, there were tensions from the start. While BSU planned to create a professionally staffed resource center, MEChA felt it was more radical to create yet another student-ran center proceeding to invite organizations outside this union to derail and take part in creating a multicultural resource center instead.

As freshmen, my homie and I were expected to follow blindly. I recall being in meetings outside the coalition where upperclassman strategically spread rumors on how the joint-committee was being “co-opted.” MEChA gauged other organizations to push for a new coalition under the guise of resource centers for all (not just some). All the while halting progress with BSU by dragging committee meetings along with antagonisms like, can I have you redefine what you mean by Blackness, alluding to how this experience is too exclusive to function within a shared mission/vision statements with Latino students.

It did not matter that a plethora of BSU’s committee members were Afro-Latino. It was made apparent that BSU could not hold the best interest of a majority non-black Latino organization (read: anti-blackness). While all historically underrepresented students should have respective resource centers, we risked losing a space fought for under an explicit understanding of a joint resource center within the gaze of administration because of us.

My homie and I began to speak up in fear of losing the space lobbying for what we felt was best for the Latino student body and our relationship with BSU. After all this space wasn’t just MEChA’s as we understood it to belong to the generations that would come. We asked upperclassman to rethink their positions in opening a project already in development, that another student-ran space would only add to the burn-and-drop-out rates on campus, and to start being honest to BSU about what MEChA truly desired out of human decency. Propositions to work with Latino staff, administration, and professors were also thrown out the window with little-to-no context as it was understood to be working with the institution and not against it – a big no for radical student leaders.

Eventually, push came to shove. As we dragged out MEChA and BSU resource center committee meetings over how/who would be running the space and minutia around language in our mission/vision statements, BSU decided to end the coalition. They gave us the space where the would-be joint resource center would have been housed and advocated for one of their own. By now, my homie and I were labeled problematic by upperclassman for wanting to preserve a healthy relationship with BSU, seeking council outside of the org, and desires for professionally staffed as opposed to a student-ran resource center. I remember being in meetings when my homie was not present in which their Chicanidad was put to question because they were mixed-race. Although I decided to stay, they were very much pushed out strategically much like many close friends who held opinions against and outside of the inner circles of the space.

I would go on to serve the organization as their Gender & Sexuality Studies Coordinator. But, why perform programming highlighting the histories of queer/trans people for a space not invested in my communities reality? While the space was being student-ran, I decided to build a coalition within the Latino community on campus in efforts to push for a budget. If we were going to have programs we would need solidarity to achieve an active budget and administrative commitment to develop a resource center. But, again, MEChA felt this was not needed and although a coalition among the Latino body on campus was formed, I decided to leave the space for good to organize my healing with other non-binary femmes metabolizing the ever present brunt of communal neglect and academic rigor. Still to this day I’ll never understand how some of these upperclassmen call themselves “allies,” “Black” or “queer” so freely without living these experiences first-hand. Ethnic Studies doesn’t preach I know therefore I am but rather: Know history, know self. No history, no self.

It was exhausting trying to bridge between what a select few upperclassmen wanted and what the rest of the Latino community needed (in my eyes). My desires for something tangible to hand generations to come were derailed by liberal and white-ascending self-ascribed activists hijacking social justice spaces, taking up the most space, using a newfound language of social justice to get laid, and police the margins of exclusion. A normalized trend whereby queer/trans and/or femmes being pushed out of ethnic specific social justice based organizations was apparent. While at the same time relying on us for programming around such gender, poverty, the undocumented, and our collective experiences. Milked to meet quotas of diversity at the hands of an institution so far removed from the material conditions of communities like mine, no thank you.

Learned to weed out snakes more concerned with building resumes and social justice credibility than tending to each other’s stories (read: differences). Seen more organizations on campus rally to defend macktivists, rapists, racists, and sexual predators than reaching out to people dropping out their own communities like flies. Most of whom are survivors of sexual violence, femmes, trans, poor, undocumented, and psychovariant –  becoming hauntings like we often do in the communities we hail from on campus.

Heading into my 5th year I was approached by a fierce individual and undocumented student organizer to run with her as Co-Chairs. Our incoming board inherited an organization in debt due to irresponsible predecessors, reputation in strife, space for a Latino resource center being threatened to be stripped due to negligence, and themed housing programs yet to be fleshed out. With an incredible team we accomplished our yearly programming, got out of debt, restored relations among Latino staff, admin, and professors as well as negotiated an administrative commitment in developing themed housing programs alongside BSU. The Raza Resource Centro would open few years after the Black Resource Center with the guidance BSU’s leadership and El Concilio making sure the advisory board center the voices of those it will serve in solidarity. Sure, we were far from perfect as a board but it was my dream team with no toxic self-proclaimed activists to slight the leadership, professional, and personal development of younger organizers.

What are the limits of nationalist spaces when addressing campus climates? How much labor has gone unrecognized on behalf of our queer/trans femmes in such spaces?

So, question graduate students who won’t leave undergraduate organizing alone. Question leadership, hold them accountable, and challenge them. Remember why you decided to apply to college in the first place, what is at stake for you personally, and hold those who call themselves activists with no involvement on the ground, outside of UCSD. Organizations uninvested in local issues while centering programming exclusively on campus are not radical, they’re elitist. The issues our ancestors have been fighting have only become compounded with time and while we learn to fill incredibly large shoes – I’m more interested in how we hold one another accountable in the coming times of racial and gendered strife.

I need underclassman to not place upperclassman on pedestals. I need readers to understand that there is nothing inherently radical about a resource center professional or student-run. What a radicalism entails is a dismantling of the academy and a disseminating of knowledge into the communities we hail from with an explicit understanding of how experiencing the institution is privileged. Access work shouldn’t be merely about joining the ranks of our oppressors as academics, but rather access to other aspects of life which build a more holistic, healthy, and accountable movement of compassion with those most marginalized at the center. I refuse to let the memory of this would-be joint space be warped into something that could have been, but rather understood as an incredible failure in bridging gaps of solidarity and compromise to learn from instead.

(A Quick) Autobiography of Self

I was raised in the San Fernando Valley in a mixed-status immigrant family. Being that some of us had citizenship and others did not, it proved to be a peculiar situation for my mother, two older sisters, and I. At 22 years old, my mother broke the Mexican and U.S. border in half escaping domestic violence and third-world conditions. When I turned 22 I dropped out of university the last quarter of senior year because I could not bare the weight of graduation day knowing my family became homeless. I will forever be from North Hollywood, CA, but from one day to the next my family was fragmented and my sense of community politicized.

I joined Public Allies to learn what building community looks like beyond the ivory tower, but unintentionally found a cohort full of incredible talent. In a training our director once stated, “Whether you know it or not, you came to Public Allies to heal.” Here, I was challenged to be real about where I am, to seed, nurture, and transform the context of a very personal despair: the reality of being gender nonconforming and a mixed-status family member in the face of an anti-trans and anti-immigrant national climate. Organizing collective healing and transformation of both undocumented and queer/trans communities is a space I draw power from. In my most darkest times I learned to be held by a community of people willing to support my family and I in a world where individual security trumps communal responsibility.

However, in June 12th, 2016 this country saw a horrific massacre of queer/trans Latinx people of color in Orlando, Florida leaving 50 dead and 53 injured. While the media speculates whether or not Mateen was actually gay, use his ethnicity to incite an agenda against muslim people, completely overlook his history of domestic violence or aspirations of becoming a police officer – what becomes displaced are the lived experience of my people. Mothers who will learn their children are queer/trans the day they are murdered, victims with no family members and/or citizenship to have their bodies claimed. Uplifting queer/trans people of color through writing, ancestral memory, collective healing, and policy is where I see myself in the future. In the wake of instances like this I hope people realize how much violence is normalized and expected when you’re an unapologetic gender nonconforming hood fag like me.

Ultimately, I seek to effectively nurture and sustain the personal and professional development of people because I understand the art of holding space for another to be a practice I like to learn from this second year around. Although I understand I can never save someone else, I saw as a first year how we can empower one another to have us help ourselves. After the program, I wish to finish my undergraduate career, begin my transition from Jason to Yaneli, and pursue work in mental health, art, and law one small step at a time.

Working With You, Not Tryna Fix You: Moving Toward Mutual Accountability

An apprenticeship in a family resource center located in the Bayveiw-Hunters Point as well as organizing with an array of people has shifted the way I look at community organizations, non-profits, and leadership styles indefinitely. As someone dedicated to building mass movements around undocumented/immigrant and/or queer/trans issues, I’ve gained an incredible insight to how pivotal family resource centers are in communities historically navigating drug epidemics, poverty, police terror, and genocide in San Francisco. With my time in Public Allies I found my leadership role to be centered on doing work with community, as opposed to doing work for community or to community. While the latter two forms of engagement set up paternalistic undertones for service, the first requires a leadership unafraid to engage people most affected in sharing the responsibility of empowering themselves and through extension their communities.

However, working with communities as opposed to providing services to a community or for them is a difficult task at hand. Being assigned a team service project experiencing a lack of structural support and guidance prompted a group of very frustrated individuals to make the best of ambiguity.  I saw myself take less of the goal-oriented visionary-type facilitator role beat into me as a community organizer take more of a nurturing approach – validating people’s process and keeping everyone accountable to their personal growth. Although very small, I continuously learned how the nature of my community organizing experience was invested in capitalizing upon responsibility due to difficulties with being unable to connect on a personal level. “Let me handle it,” became synonymous with “I don’t trust you can do the job” during my undergraduate career for reasons best left for another time. But, with Public Allies it became a moment for me to genuinely share in the frustration while being open, honest, and empathetic to group dynamics, collective processes, and most importantly a shared vision when finally given clear directives.  For the sake of collaboration it was important to accept a past where transphobia and xenophobia made it impossible to share my truths in college. I came to be empathetic of people’s needs to grow as leaders, organizers, facilitators, and people navigating their own personal narratives.  To me breaking bread became just as important as completing action items, because it is through genuine connections where community organizing become platforms to keep one another accountable to personal as well as communal transformation(s). Without building trust a space can be a really toxic environment to one’s health, spirit, and desire to sustain the integrity behind direct service.

I learned the paradigm challenging organizations to work with communities as opposed to providing services to or for them from a training highlighting the importance of increasing parent engagement. Unfortunately, I found myself as a development and outreach coordinator for the afterschool program performing in a for and to fashion. “These communities need more access to mental health resources,” so I tried to partner with an organization to educate the Bayview-Hunters Point. “These communities need more access higher education,” so I tried to partner with an organization to give our youth a field trips to local universities. I wasted so much time trying to get outside sources into the community, as opposed of honing in on asset-based community development to provide solutions to organizational service gaps. Building upon Rebeca Munoz’s work as a Public Ally last year in developing sustainable curriculum for the youth, I have been able to focus more on outreach and retention efforts. For example, through family appreciation dinners / fundraisers we not only build better relationships with parents, but are also able to create an emergency relief fund for families struggling to make subsidized payments. In our Black History Month Celebration we were able to pack the center full of parents for the first time in a long time while simultaneously informing them of workforce opportunities and family support services. As coordinators of the after school program our team realized how ill-informed the community was about FACES SF. After learning how involved parents want to be in our organization’s growth and development if given the chance to, it has then become our mission to create a parent advisory board to serve as an internal support system for families as well as a well of accountability for the org’s middle and upper management .

I came to learn how in the shadows of FACES SF’s past there was once a parent advisory board discontinued due to a growing fear of empowering parents to create platforms for institutional change and organizational accountability. This came from a mother who has been with FACES SF for about 12 years and two kids in; single parents being the greatest asset in particular. As I prepare to leave my term of service I see effective leadership to be one who keeps continuous self-growth (learning), integrity, inclusion, and an asset-based community development approach to inform my practice moving forward. I am a firm believer that the best solution to communal problems come from the community affected most and proud of all the growth, challenges, and reflection FACES SF and myself will continue to experience as we mature.

In 2011 the Florence Crittenton Services Center merged with the Whitney Young Child Development Center to create what we now know as FACES San Francisco. This merger represents a shared history of more than 170 years of serving San Francisco’s most vulnerable populations. As someone non-native to San Francisco and critical of urban space, it was vital to my understanding that I become attuned to the political, racial, and economic landscape of families and children I’ve been working for these past couple of months. For this is the context in which the FACES SF family support services, child development, and workforce programs takes place – acknowledged or otherwise. What I came into was an afterschool and summer program that has been abandoned due to institutional neglect, but now leave a team of committed individuals carrying the entire organization forward in quality individualized academic and social services for youth and their families.

Lastly, as I look back at my unconventional childhood and adolescence, I am reminded of the ways in which afterschool programs like that of FACES SF saved my life. It was my high school jazz instructor Mr. Smith who taught me to turn to music when my family was being torn apart by drug use. “You don’t have to tell me what’s going on, but how about you show us when you play,” he’d say. It was Dr. Bobby McDaniels who helped me get the classes I needed in high school through the UpWard Bound Program at Los Angeles Valley College. In a training our director for Public Allies once said, “Whether you know it or not, you came to Public Allies to heal.” I was quick to learn that being an afterschool coordinator was much more than piggy-back rides and always being “it” in a game of tag – had I known we’d be so hands on with youth k-6th I would have ran the other way. But, through them I’ve been able to visit my childhood self and learn to be grateful for everyone who modeled the possibilities for me to be great in a world so quick to mute the self-determination of youth like me.