read the full conversation
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m from San Bernardino, California, in the Inland Empire. I’m a high-school student, a senior at Arroyo Valley High School. I live with my father and my mother and one of my sisters. I also have a sister in Mexico, another one in Texas, and another in Los Angeles. I had two brothers in Mexico, but unfortunately both of them passed away.
Are you working right now?
I’m working right now, but I just haven’t gone to work because of school and everything. I told one of the supervisors I’ll come back for sure because I need money. I’ll work over break. Basically I started off unloading trailers at a warehouse. What we do is unload trailers with tires in them, and put them on pallets and put cones on them and mark them and wrap them up.
It’s pretty fun but is it worth the pay? It’s honestly not, because they pay by how much the trailer weighs, not by minimum wage. So you know, there are days where I make $30 and there’s some days when I make $60. Some people have been working there for years, they easily make $15 an hour because of how many trailers they unload. They unload like three or four trailers a day and I go and do one. It’s not a lot.
It sounds pretty physical.
It really is. It’s brutal. I worked over the summer, so it was 100 degrees outside and it would be at least 120 degrees inside.
Why that work instead of other jobs here?
We don’t have a lot of resources in San Bernardino. Especially since I just turned 18, there’s not a lot of resources out there. Most of the jobs require a resumé or a high school diploma — I don’t have either of those yet. So this is the only place that actually would take me in and give me a job.
So this is your job for now. What do you want to do in your future?
I would like to get a degree in teaching. Come back to my school and help out my school because that’s where I see all the youth struggle — in high school. Especially knowing the fact that they actually aren’t bad kids.
So I want to make sure I get that support for them, to get them into a university or Cal State, because I don’t have that opportunity. I felt discriminated against in school. My high school experience sucked, but I want to make it good for other kids.
What has been challenging about high school?
I try to put in effort and do better in school. I honestly want to be successful in life. I want to go to university someday. But they labeled me as a kid that messed up. They saw me and they judged me by my looks — that kid’s going to mess up. That’s how I was treated all of high school.
My junior year I had this teacher that really didn’t like me. He moved me to a corner desk, isolating me from everyone else. I was dealing with depression at the time — I lost my brother, my grandma, and my best friend. He didn’t know that I was dealing with that at home and seeing how my mom was and everything.
So you know, I’m not focused. And that’s when he would put me down in front of the whole class. And I was like what the hell? You’re a teacher, you’re supposed to encourage me to do better. I told him I have problems going on at home and coming to you every morning and telling me I’m worthless — he started laughing and he told me, “Oh, go see a counselor about it.” That motivated me to do better in my community and help it out and be a teacher.
You said the opportunity to go to a university was taken away from you. Can you say more about that?
I would love to go to a four-year university, or at least Cal State — I can’t even go to Cal State because my GPA is low. So I’m going to start at Valley College and then transfer to Cal State.
Walk me through your ideal school. What does it look like?
You know, I want my school to be like the dopest school out there. I want kids to come in and feel like they’re safe, they’re comfortable with themselves and with the kids as well and with the teachers, and mainly with the administration.
Like a second home — better than home. Where they actually come and love to spend their time instead of thinking, “I’m in here. There’s blank walls, it feels like a prison. I’m getting yelled at by a teacher, getting discriminated against, getting bullied, harassed.” A safe environment.
Not only that, but like I want murals, paintings, and inspirational quotes everywhere. To have a characteristic to have kids be like, “I want to come to school because I want to learn. Not because I want to be judged.”
Is it just about appearance? Would the classes be different?
A mental health class where you literally go to class to meditate. Relieve all your stress — especially when it comes to finals. A room where you could just put on music and relax. That would be amazing too. Just somewhere where you could take a mental break from everything. Because you know, not a lot of kids have a car or the resources to go somewhere to do something like meditation.
It would create a lot more happiness. More work ethic, too. Like when I was going through depression, I didn’t want to do any work. I didn’t want to show up to class. And seeing someone you really care about really happy and dedicated about school makes you want to do the same thing. It’s a pattern.
What’s the benefit of taking art?
I noticed the fact that kids, when it comes to art, they’re actually getting inspired and they get into it. They put on their earphones and they just get in the zone. That’s when they’re having a mental break — in that class. They want to show up to that class to finish a project.
Like all the mental relief is crazy. I’ll put on my earphones and I’ll do my art piece. I’ll think deep thoughts. I’ll zone out and still finish the art. And then when you look at the art piece that you finished, it’s like, “Wow. I did that.” And then other people see it and they’re like, “Wow. You did that?”
Can you tell us about the art you’ve made?
I started doing art on wood. This is my favorite artist, Kid Cudi. Just the words and his songs, basically they motivate me to do better. I try to get people to listen to him because it inspires me and other people. What inspires me is the fact that you know, he talks about dealing with depression. He actually put himself in rehab this year.
I’m gonna shout out a song, “Love.” Kid Cudi’s like, “don’t be afraid young homie / soon you’ll find real love.” So basically saying keep doing what you’re doing. Then it says, “sometimes a hero gets lonely / show them what you’re made of.” Come out, you know. Be free, be yourself. People are going to love you for who you are.
I spent three weeks working on this piece. I was literally in deep thought doing this. I was thinking of myself, my grandma, my best friend when I was doing it. It inspired me to do better.
Tell me about the work you’ve done with ICUC?
Basically what ICUC is is Inland Congregations United for Change. I think we’re in 63 congregations and 20 schools here in San Bernardino. We’re nonprofit and nonpartisan and we work on propositions and student rights and help our community get better.
Sergio Luna, he’s actually another organizer here in San Bernardino, and he’s working on Common Ground for Peace. Because here in San Bernardino we have a lot of shootings. We’ve had I think 23 shootings just in this year alone, probably more. A lot of murders.
So basically we’re trying to promote nonviolent activity by doing walks around the community — night walks — and having prayers. So that way we promote stopping the violence and get to praying. Become a better community.
What other work have you done with ICUC?
I worked on Prop 30, Prop 47 as well. And then this election year we worked on Prop 55, 56, and 57 as well. We also did Why Vote?
What does it mean when you say you worked on a Prop? What are the activities involved?
So this is the cool part — in my opinion I think it’s cool. In the beginning of the year we worked on — we tried to get Proposition 56 and 57 on the ballot by doing petitions early, like February. And then from there, that’s when it actually got on the ballot. Then we started actually making phone calls for that. And now they passed. Which is really cool, the fact that I got it on the ballot and the fact that I made it pass. So that’s a really good privilege that I have, you know, it’s cool to see your work ethic actually show.
How else do you spend your free time?
Basically in my free time, I try to spend all my time with youth. Develop them into good leaders and come out of their little cocoons. Make them feel free with themselves, instead of being shy and outcasting themselves from society. I want them to go out in society and face the struggles and try to help other people.
Why do you spend time developing youth?
The way I see it, if you give to your community, your community is going to give back to you. Honestly I love this community. I grew up here. I get that there’s poverty, but we make it like that.
My Economics teacher told me the reason that San Bernardino has so much poverty and everything is because people leave. They go everywhere else. Many of the youth that grow up here are like, “I don’t want to live here the rest of my life.” I would love to live here for the rest of my life because if you want to go to the mountains, the mountains are right there, the beach is right here, the city, the desert — everything is close by.
So, you know, it’s comforting for me. My main focus: to get people to look at San Bernardino in a different way.
How do you want people to see San Bernardino?
When you hear San Bernardino, you hear gunshots, drugs, prostitutes and all that, you know. I want the vision to be, guess what, San Bernardino is the most beautiful city in the whole California. And it is — in my opinion it is. So I want to get youth to stay here and help out the community as well. Especially around high school and middle school.
What will San Bernardino be like in 10 years?
I think like honestly we’re going to stop all the violence. Not so long ago, I still remember a San Bernardino where you didn’t hear gunshots every night. Now you do. But I feel like we need to put an end to it.
I’m going to see most of the people in my high school grow and see them hopefully come back to help the community as well. Instead of seeing it full of abandoned houses, to see it full of people. A lot of job offers. More public things for the people.
I want to see people walking at night. Where everyone just knows each other and cares for each other. That’s the way I would like to see San Bernardino.