I am Xicana. I am the daughter of Chris and Christina. I am the great grand-daughter to those born in the midst of the Mexican Revolution. I am the great-granddaughter of Consuelo Ruiz, who at five years old, was crossed over the border with Pancho Villa’s army, concealing their bullets so they wouldn’t be confiscated. I am the great-granddaughter to Juan Vallejo, who crossed the border alone at eleven years old, and raised himself in the fields of California, never learning how to read or write, but knowing how to speak five different languages to navigate his life on the other side. I am a descendent of powerful revolutionaries, who fought for liberation, alongside Black and Brown leaders of San Jo, during the Chicano Movement. I was born the fourth daughter to a single mother in West San Jose, CA. While I am the youngest of all girls on my mom’s side, I am the oldest of three on my father’s side. I am a tia, or “Titi” to six.
I grew up on Locust Street in San Jose. Locust Street is just south of Downtown and west of the major freeways. While most may think of Locust Street as a street in the middle of gang violence, drug addiction, heavy police presence, I would describe it as home. My home smells like El Rico Pan, or a fresh pot of frijoles on the stove of most homes on the block, both made with the love that flows through the hands of the mujeres who are the caretakers of the children of my community. My home is the one small part of San Jose that as of 2022, is still fighting off gentrification. If you drive down the main street, Willow, you will see signs that read “Calle Willow” or “Willow street” in English. My home is full of bright, colorful, buildings that don’t match, murals that illustrate the vibrance of my culture, rocky, dirt, alleyways that only those of us from the neighborhood know how to use to get to our next destination the quickest, or which fences to hop over to get home quicker. My home is a place of hopes and dreams that the world we live in has criminalized and condemned us for.
I say all that because my home is what raised me. My home was once a place I was ashamed to call my home because the kids I went to school with didn’t look like me, didn’t have the worries we had, never had to deal with what comes with being from “the other side of the tracks”. The kids I went to school with lived what my great grandparents came here to find but even in this generation, we still question the existence of. My home is beautiful and my home is powerful.
Growing up, I spent most of the time with my mom and sisters, and some weekends with my dad, stepmom, and siblings. The weekends were filled with baseball practice and games, Football Sundays, hiking, bike riding, some camping trips, and whatever else my dad could find that was inexpensive and exposed me and my brother to the beauty of nature. I owe a lot of my adventurous, athletic, side and exposure to the world to my dad and my “Daddy’s Daddy”, who did their best to introduce me to things that would allow me to escape the box growing up in the hood would put me in. My mom was a single mom, who tried her hardest to raise us to be independent and always know the power we held as women. And even if we didn’t always have the finances or the time to do what I did with my father, she instilled the values of faith, family, siblinghood, and hardwork in us. My mom was the caretaker of our entire family and not just the immediate family. The home I grew up in was across the street from my grandma., whoShe lived next door to the home that anyone who was in need of a roof over their head– stayed in. With that being said, I have so many memories growing up with my cousins, riding bikes outside ‘til the street lights came on, playing ding dong ditch with all the kids on my block, running back and forth to the liquor store on the corner or the taquerias on the main street.
In high school, I did what most young people do when they’re seeking escape: guidance and identity. But this was also the point in my life I learned most about myself and decided sometime after high school, I would want to invest in my community because I knew the world was banking on statistics. It took a while after high school to find enough stability to enroll in college. Four years later, I graduated with an Associate of Arts in Sociology and an Associate of Science in Administration of Justice from San Jose City College. Being systems-impacted, I knew from the beginning I wanted to be someone who fought for those who society has kept out of sight, out of mind. In 2016, I also began my career being a mentor and advocate for youth in the juvenile justice system. Today, I have found passion in prison and youth justice policy. I am currently a student at San Jose State, working towards my Bachelor’s degree in Justice Studies, with a minor in Sociology. I am someone who believes in the liberation of our gente. And most of all, I am the woman the younger me never believed I could be, whose loved ones didn’t always get the chance to be, but whose ancestors always knew I would be.
This story has been edited and condensed for clarity.