Between 38 and 40 Hispanic high school and college students from Porterville and surrounding communities gathered Saturday at the Comision Honorifica Community Center to gain valuable advice and learn how make their voices heard at the 2018 Porterville Youth Summit and empowerment program.
The summit on Saturday was sponsored by the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE) and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) . Presenters at the summit were Syvannah Sandoval, Kathy De La Cruz, Ofelia Rojas, Rosanai Paniagua, Chris Aldaco, Diego Paniagua, Roberto Bustos, CRPE, and CHIRLA and other organizations.
The conference focused on the importance of voting and having a voice in the community, youth expression and learning about pursuing college and higher education, plus protecting themselves and the local community from pesticides.
Besides voting information and a discussion about LGBTQ identity and explanations, there were workshops throughout the day, a homemade taco lunch, and art workshops.
A poem read by Martiza Ruby Altamirano protested the separation of children from their parents by the Trump Administration in the non-partisan Youth conference and was met by applause. Altamirano told students they should just get up and speak if they have something to say.
Roberto Bustos, who was a captain of the Caesar Chavez march from Delano to Sacramento, encouraged the students and told them about the difficulties they faced as farm workers in the 1960’s. He spoke about their march and fight for farm worker’s right’s to unite in a farm workers union in 1966.
He said students from all over the country traveled to vote in 1964, and people from all different backgrounds joined the farm worker’s in their fight for rights.
He said farm workers had no rights, no protections in the fields, no restrooms, and no water.
“I asked Caesar Chavez why farm workers were left out of the 1935 law written by Congress that allowed workers to bargain with their employers for better treatment,” said Bustos. “He said, ‘That’s why we are marching and going on strike.’”
One of the organizers of the Central Valley Freedom Summer spoke and said the people who are putting on the presentation are people who made it out of the valley and pursued their education.
The Central Valley Freedom Summer (CVFS) is a community-action research project that will engage approximately 25 UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) and UC Merced (UCM) students in investigating and participating in non-partisan voter education and grassroots organizing efforts targeting youth in low-income communities in the Central Valley of California.
Through university-community partnerships, CVFS places trained UC students as interns and action researchers in local communities to encourage voting in the November 2018 election and all elections.
Some of the startling information presented at the conference highlighted the low turnout of voters in 2014. Only 8% of people voted ages 18-24, compared to 57% for older voters aged 65-74.
Low-income youth in the Central Valley encounter significant challenges to their success and well-being. Young adults from Fresno, Madera, San Joaquin, Kern, King, and Tulare counties have among the highest poverty rates and lowest levels of educational attainment in the state.
Younger people ages 18 to 24 are the largest generation in California not getting out to vote, said organizers, and California has the highest minority population in the country at 31%.
There are many reasons for contemporary voter suppression. Many people don’t know how to vote, or they don’t think their vote counts, Bustos said
Student interns from Santa Cruz and Merced showed charts and histories about voting in the U.S. and told the young audience “Voting Matters,” especially in the November election, because there will be important state-wide issues and local issues, like the election of the new California governor and many more. Kathy De La Cruz stressed the conference was a non-partisan effort and told students, “vote with your own decisions and values.”
The interns helped 11 students and young people pre-register to vote for November, while the rest of the audience was too young, but they were very enthusiastic and interested in the process.
“It has been really inspiring to see so many young minds come together and get involved with learning about things that are not taught in a high school classroom,” said Neida Sandoval of Richgrove.
Daniel Penaloza, who is running for City Council, said people need to empower themselves with education and come back and put value into their communities.
Diego Paniaqua said if people of color would vote they could help change their reality.
His sister, Anai, an intern from Santa Cruz, worked at a similar conference in Delano in early August, and is excited and passionate about reaching out and teaching young people throughout the Central Valley.
“People need guidance to learn how to vote,” said De La Cruz, who graduated from Porterville High School. “There are often many unconscious barriers to voter suppression. With young people often their parents didn’t teach them to vote because they never voted themselves. There are many reasons. There could be a language barrier, an education barrier, and economic barrier. Even no access to newspapers or technology. And the list goes on.
“This has been a great opportunity to come back to my home town to work on a project (an internship sponsored by UCSC) to engage people in community events and raise political awareness at both the local and federal level.”
She said it was great people were getting involved and pre-registering to vote at a young age.
Chris Aldaco spoke at length about colleges and college requirements available to them throughout California, and said they should look at all education resources available to them.
“Don’t stay local if you don’t have to. It can be available to all,” he said.
Porterville High School students Natalie Cornejo, Natalia Sanchez, Amairani Ceballos, and Marco Rodriguez really enjoyed the conference and were inspired.
They enjoyed learning more about the community, and learning together in a non-judgemental setting. They learned young people could help change the way the Central Valley operates, as well as learning more about college and education and the problems facing people daily in the community.