Originally published in La Plaza Press
By JAZUI MEJIA
One undeniable truth is that students have been nothing but loud as they uncover serious gaps in their social and political education. As racial incidents become devastatingly more frequent in schools, time and care are placed into building a sense of community and a mutual support system among high school students of color, making it a true definitive characteristic of this generation.
Although it is natural to believe that the classes of 2021, 2022, 2023 and 2024 are the first classes of people to become pioneers of change, it is not the case. Meet Alejandra Davila, a Peruvian-born San Bernardino native that graduated from Cajon High School and Pomona College with a degree in Political Science and Gender/Women’s Studies.
She describes how during her studies, the idea of a political education program for femme-identifying students came to fruition: an idea that would eventually become the Young San Bernardino Queens in Politics (now Politics For Us):
“I developed the idea for the Young Queens in Politics program my junior year in college after taking two courses titled 'Women and Public Policy' and 'Voices and Stories in the Latinx Community.' They were the first courses I had taken that positioned the contributions of women and people of color at the center of the curriculum. "Throughout the entirety of those courses, I was continuously shocked by how little I knew about historic and powerful women. I began questioning why the Civil Rights Movement, United Farm Workers Movement, and Women’s Liberation Movement had been summarized to a bullet point in my high school history classes. I wondered how empowered I would have felt if I had learned about the change-makers that had made my presence in educational and political spaces possible. "Last spring, I enrolled in Professor Ochoa’s course 'Chicanxs/Latinxs and Education.' The class completely changed the way I viewed the education system and pedagogical strategies. Ira Shor’s book Education is Politics served as a point of inspiration for the program. Shor argues that there is no such thing as 'apolitical' classrooms with 'unbiased' teachers and 'neutral' curriculums; rather, classrooms and curriculums are inherently political. Shor posits that an empowering education is student-centered. "With these ideas in mind, I decided that I wanted to create a learning experience for young femme-identifying students in San Bernardino. With the mentorship of San Bernardino community organizers and educators, I founded the Young Queens in Politics program, space where young femme-identifying students could step into their power, raise their voice, and strengthen their sense of self. "The original program structure was a two-week afterschool program, the first one held at San Bernardino High School, and the second one held at Cajon High School. The first week of the program focused on the basics of the U.S. political system, the merits of civic engagement, and the current state of women in politics. The second week, students met with city council candidates and state representatives and asked their representatives questions about policy issues they were passionate about. Guidance on the college application process was also provided, and Claremont College Admissions Officers spoke to students.” - Alejandra Davila
Despite current global hardships, the program has grown tremendously and became a space that exceeded Davila’s previous vision. Davila and her planning committee which includes four radical women of color each equipped with a unique role and talents are responsible for the program’s growth. They work together to elicit powerful initiatives for the collective.
One member of the committee is Kenia Garcia-Ramos, a sophomore at Pomona College studying both Chicana/o-Latina/o Studies and Gender & Women’s Studies. Based on the roles within the Social Change Ecosystem, Garcia-Ramos describes themselves as caregivers, storytellers, and guides.
Adriana Vazquez is a senior at Cajon High School who specializes in the role of a caregiver, a weaver, and a guide. Taelen Cobb, a senior at Pomona High School and a gifted storyteller boasts the additional talents of caregiver and healer. Lastly, Jazui Mejia, a sophomore at Redlands High School with a passion for being a visionary, builder and disruptor of all systems that do not serve an empowering purpose.
Now, what exactly does the program’s growth look like? Davila explains, “My two main goals were to create a very safe, empowering space to discuss “taboo” topics with femme-identifying students and to supplement their education with college resources. What Politics For Us is now, whether in-person or virtual, is a collective space where femme-identifying students can come and find their political voice, community and be somewhere where they can feel safe enough to learn about politics and education through a completely different lens.
Young Queens in Politics was trying to replicate my education at Pomona which was just learning from the top to the bottom and saying “Let’s talk about laws, policies, structure, and theory’ whereas Politics For Us is much more localized and it’s more grounded in community, so more ‘Let’s talk about Black and Brown authors, let’s talk about social movements, let’s talk about what’s happening on the ground now.’”
Impact on Committee
For the Planning Committee, the complete shift in focus is something that has made a significant impact in their lives. Vazquez shares, “I think Young Queens was the first space where I definitely learned about what community was outside of school. I definitely consider that space to be where I realized what community is. Going into Politics For Us now, learning and establishing the sense of community as the center of our curriculum and what we’re trying to do, I love it even more, and it just makes me realize that I want this sense of community in college. When I’m writing my college applications and essays, I definitely had to talk about community a lot, as well as both Young Queens and Politics for Us.”
Cobb remembers the particular meeting day that turned everything around for the program, she reflects, “When we discussed the ongoing election, I only had feelings of helplessness, thinking we couldn’t do anything to change the way that our democracy was going. Then we began exploring what we need to look at locally. And these are, this is how these policies are just how these policies affect those how we feel about it. Then I was like, okay, like, now I can really add from a personal point of view, like, Oh, yeah, this is what’s going on here.”
Cobb, similar to Vazquez, was inspired to write about this collective in her college applications, particularly as a way to resist the expectations placed on Black students in regards to writing about Black trauma:
“This collective has really helped me think when I’m doing my writing for college and realize that I don’t have to talk about trauma. A lot of colleges made it a point to talk about the Black Lives Matter movement during the presidential debate. I said ‘why are you debating about Black Lives?’ At the end of the day, that is so trauma-inducing. I’m tired of having to write about it even though everything that I am has been a Black person in America, but I don’t want to write about the trauma that comes along with that.”
Garcia-Ramos feels that the program has made what is oftentimes inaccessible political education more widely available. “It’s taught me a lot about how to bring these ideas in a promoted classroom is selectively gate-kept. How we can really bring these topics that are so often just theorized about, into the lives of the people that we’re actually talking about. I think that we’ve been learning how we want community spaces to operate and how we really want to actually realize these things. Everything about this program is how education should be.”
Advice for Newcomers
The beauty of this collective is the connection and care between each individual. For this reason, if any young, Inland Empire, femme-identifying high school student is reading this and is thinking of joining in on the experience when the program opens up to the community in the coming months, the Planning Committee offers some words of wisdom.
Davila makes sure to clarify misconceptions. “I’ve heard students say things like, ‘I just don’t have time for this, I don’t have time for another class’, but this is not a class. It’s not structured like your typical high school class, the ‘I’ll talk to you and you have to read all this stuff.’ It’s very much where we can all bring our experiences together and have more of a conversation. We reflect, we journal, we do a cool reading. That is what this looks like, because it’s more centered on the connection.”
In addition, Vazquez dives into the fear of being in a completely new space: “Advice I would give if you’re scared to come because you feel like you’re going to be the loner, or you’re just scared to come alone, tell your friends about it! If they’re your friends, and they’re supportive of you, and what you want to do, then let them know. If they say ‘okay, yeah, I’ll join you’, then there you go, you’re definitely not coming all on your own. If you can’t find friends to come and join you then don’t worry. You’re not going to be alone, because you have us, we’re here to support you. And we’re here to welcome you. We’re not here to lecture you and force you to learn. This is for you, hence the name Politics for Us.”
To those that wish to break away from the mold created by schools, Garcia-Ramos suggests, “If you’ve ever felt frustrated with the way that your education has gone, if you’ve ever felt like you have been a loss of agency with your learning process or your education is not what you would want it to be, then I would say you should give this program a shot. If you ever want a space to, visualize, and imagine and disrupt and be emotional and talk, just like say whatever is on your mind about anything.”
Cobb keeps it simple and real: “We’re really not focused on pushing our opinions on others. It’s really like a round table sharing our opinions. It’s never like, ‘Oh, you think that? That’s weird.’ I would tell them to definitely join, come to meetings, and if they’re not feeling us, there’s no need to come back. If they are though, I’d encourage them to keep coming back, because we’re gonna have different topics and really expand on them.”
Each discussion, each reading, and every minute of both simple and authentic unity is being tailored by this team of young femmes, for young femmes. Every week, the Politics For Us (PFU) Planning committee comes together to work actively on a curriculum for when the program opens up. For more information on how to become a part of this space, follow @politicsforus_ on Instagram or reach out to Alejandra Davila at firstname.lastname@example.org.