Justicia para Yanira

Monday I did a considerable amount of running around as I had to go to one of the cities near Pescadero to get a full background check completed, fingerprinting and all.  At first, I thought I would drive back to the big city (San Francisco), but I made a last minute decision to drive to Santa Cruz instead as I have considered UC-Santa Cruz as a potential school/program for my Ph.D. should I decide to pursue that path.

I arrived in Santa Cruz to find out that I needed some specific paperwork from Puente in order to get the correct background check completed, so I drove 40 minutes back to Pescadero and Puente to get the paperwork and then returned to Santa Cruz again.  While I did spend a considerable amount of my morning in the car, really what Midwesterner can complain about driving along the coast of the Pacific Ocean for 2 hours?  The weather patterns as I drove were particularly interesting.  The skies were consistently cloudy/foggy the closer I was to Santa Cruz, and the temperatures were around 61-63 degrees (F).  In Pescadero, however, the skies were sunny with only small cotton ball clouds floating around.  The temperature was closer to 73 degrees (F), and the colors were vibrant and beautiful everywhere.

On my way back into Santa Cruz to get my background check completed (with all necessary paperwork in hand), I stopped along Highway 1 at a farm workers’ truck/table set-up where he was selling the literal fruits of his labor.  I bought 2 baskets of strawberries and 1 basket of blueberries freshley harvested from his land.  Conversation with the farmer was choppy at best as there was definitely a language barrier, but the fruit tasted absolutely incredible.  Some of the blueberries still had a very earthy flavor to them because they were so fresh, but both the strawberries and blueberries were super sweet.  I can say with certainty that I’ve never eaten that many blueberries and strawberries in one sitting as I did yesterday.  They were delicious.

After I completed the background check process, I drove to a YMCA camp in Loma Mar to meet up with some of the staff of Puente and their student/youth leaders.  This group of people was at the camp to conduct a training/orientation of the new youth leaders, most of whom were high school aged students, and so that the staff of Puente could get to know the young leaders better.  Talk about a non-profit organization getting their youth programs right!  The youth leaders at the camp were preparing for a summer of working various jobs with other younger youth and/or aligned with their specific passions, which ranged from sustainability to child abuse to music and video games.  Puente works with these youth leaders to hone their young professional-skills and tap into their individual passions for the good of not only the students themselves but also the larger community.  It was truly a beautiful group of people, youth leaders and staff alike.  One of the things I found particularly interesting as the youth leaders introduced another youth leader to the group was that many of the youth leaders talked about their dreams including being financially stable and/or owning their own home.  As a teacher of primarily upper/middle class, white students, I can’t imagine this being something many of my students would include in their list of dreams as they introduced themselves on the first day of school.  I think my students back home would assume this is a given for their lives, but this isn’t the case for this amazing group of young student leaders, most of whom were an ethnicity other than white and who grew up in or near Pescadero.  In later conversations among the Puente staff and board members, who also come to stay overnight and spend time getting to know the new youth leaders, the adults really tapped into that newly acquired knowledge that the students had just offered them and immediately began brainstorming ways to equip the students to be successful in that regard in their lives.

Charlea and me at the youth leaders’ orientation/camp. Charlea is a native Hoosier, so we bonded over our Midwestern roots. :)

These brief yet imporant conversations heightened my cultural awareness about the different challenges these students face compared to my students back home.  A later conversation among the adults continued the eye-opening experience.  While the youth had a few moments of free time, one of the board members and some of the Puente staff were talking about a recent incident plagued with injustice in one of the nearby communities.  Here are two accounts of that incident from two popular enws sources:

Deputy Shoots, Kills 18-Year-Old Half Moon Bay Girl

Half Moon Bay woman, 18, fatally shot by deputy after lunging at him with knife, authorities say

What these popular news accounts don’t tell readers is that the Moonridge Housing Complex is residential housing for farmworkers and their families.  This source explains more about the housing complex: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  There are many questions for local community members, especially people like the staff, board members, and volunteers of Puente whose lives are dedicated to being activists and advocacy representatives for this marginalized portion of the population.  One of the questions that continues to be asked in the community and was highlighted in the articles is why were non-fatal tactics not attempted before the deputy shot and killed this young woman.  To the community, something doesn’t feel right about the absence of information, the delay in sharing the story via any news sources, and the unanswered questions that remain.

Stories like this one compel me to remind my own students what the profile of our stereotypical U.S. voter looks like, or in this case what the profile of the stereotypical voter does not look like.  (Remember that the sheriff’s position is an elected position.)  The profile of the stereotypical U.S. voter is NOT female (as the victim is), is NOT of a low socioeconomic status (as the victim and her family/community are), is NOT non-White (as the victim and her family/community are).  There is certainly a hierarchical structure in place here that does not lend itself to justice for the family of this young woman or her community.  I do not mean to suggest that the outcome will not be just.  However, with so many unanswered questions and the primary witnesses outside of the sheriff and his deputy themselves are of the farmworker community, I question whether or not justice can be the outcome given the power hierarchy that is in place.

There is still much work to be done in the name of justice, and I am so thankful to be volunteering for an organization like Puente that actually cares about the wellbeing of all humans, particularly this group of marginalized individuals.  There is more to be said here, and I intend to continue digging and following this story.  Please share if you feel compelled to do so.  Justice for Yanira!  Justicia para Yanira!