Teen meets hero, joins cause

Gilroy High School freshman Jackie Gonzalez holds up a T-shirt

Gilroy
– At first glance, Jackie Gonzalez appears to be a typical high
school freshman in her T-shirts and faded jeans, but inside is the
heart of a young activist just waiting to get her start. And the
dark-haired 14-year-old is bound to succeed with
internationally-renowned civil rights activist Dolore
s Huerta cheering her on. …
… Huerta active in Gilroy
Gilroy
– Dolores Huerta has been spending a lot of time in Gilroy. The
activist, best known for her work with the United Farm Workers
union, is still very much involved in promoting her causes.
Gilroy – At first glance, Jackie Gonzalez appears to be a typical high school freshman in her T-shirts and faded jeans, but inside is the heart of a young activist just waiting to get her start. And the dark-haired 14-year-old is bound to succeed with internationally-renowned civil rights activist Dolores Huerta cheering her on.

A month ago, Jackie didn’t know much about Huerta and never dreamed she would have a chance to meet the woman in person. Given an assignment in her Spanish Speakers I class to write about an historical Latin American person, Gonzalez noticed Huerta on the list, and started research on the woman’s work for civil rights.

While Gonzalez has been involved with local community plays and has volunteered at the Lord’s Table at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in the past, after reading about Huerta she felt inspired to do more.

“She’s really motivated and she takes action for what she believes in,” Gonzalez said of Huerta.

She was moved by Huerta’s work for farmworkers and feminist causes, and by the fact that she continues her activism even though she is well into her 70’s.

The teen’s mother, Patty Pena, whose job at South County Housing involved helping to plan the recent Health Fair held at Glen View Elementary School, knew Huerta would be visiting Gilroy for the fair.

“For me as a Latina, I thought wow,” Pena said. “And I asked Jackie to do some volunteer time [at the fair.]”

Her daughter agreed and continued the work on her class assignment.

“It was not until I started doing my research that I found out what a really amazing person she is,” Gonzalez said. “That’s when I got excited about meeting Dolores.”

After setting up tables and booths at the health fair in late May, the teen had a chance to chat with Huerta.

While she was impressed with Huerta, the activist was also impressed with the young woman.

“She seems to be a go-getter,” Huerta said. “She is definitely not shy. She is an assertive person and this is what you need in terms of leadership qualities.”

Huerta invited Gonzalez to join a youth committee in Gilroy sponsored by the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

“It will give her some leadership experience,” Huerta said. “She will be able to work with other youth and be able to make changes in her community.”

Huerta’s youth committee is part of what she calls her “Communities in Action” program and the youth committee will deal with issues in Gilroy, including school violence, the drop-out rate and other problems affecting kids and teens today.

Gonzalez will continue to pursue her newly found activism, but she is still a teen and a high school student so she won’t be giving up her other pursuits just yet.

Keeping her grades up and challenging herself with honors classes takes up a lot of her time.

Her favorite class this year is honors Global Studies, but she also enjoys honors English. Next year, she plans to increase her workload to four honors classes, including Modern World History, English II, Biology and Geometry.

“It’s a bigger challenge and I feel like I learn more in those classes,” she said. “I know I want to go to college, a four-year college. Maybe even Stanford.”

In the meantime, she is looking forward to a summer off from academic pursuits.

“I want to relax, definitely,” Jackie said. “And hang out with my friends or maybe get a summer job.”

When she is not enjoying her time off with all those ordinary teenage activities, she will be giving up part of her summer to volunteer around the community.

She hopes to volunteer with a senior group, teaching arts and crafts since she enjoys drawing but hasn’t been able to fit art into her class schedule at the high school.

And she is sure to be found at fundraisers and meetings for the youth committee as it gears up for its fall conference, following in the footsteps of her mentor, Dolores Huerta.

Huerta active in Gilroy

Gilroy – Dolores Huerta has been spending a lot of time in Gilroy. The activist, best known for her work with the United Farm Workers union, is still very much involved in promoting her causes.

When the Dolores Huerta Foundation decided to start a pilot program to bring communities together and get residents more involved in helping each other out, Huerta chose Gilroy as the initial location for her “Communities in Action” program.

“Gilroy has a lot of issues of discrimination in terms of the high school and not enough cooperation between the community and immigrants,” Huerta said.

The premise of the program is that the Huerta Foundation will come into a city such as Gilroy to help identify issues, organize committees to address the problems and eventually the foundation will be able to move onto a new town once the current locale is self sufficient.

“We organize the people so they can identify their own emerging leadership,” Huerta said.

The foundation set up five committees to deal with some of the issues they identified in Gilroy.

The impact of the committees can already be seen. The economic justice committee worked with other organizations to create the One-Stop Center, a site where day laborers can look for jobs and get job training.

The health committee was active in planning the recent health fair and has worked with local hospitals to increase the number of bilingual employees.

Victor Frias, a member of the civic participation committee said Huerta’s work in Gilroy is a positive thing for people.

“It helps people to get organized,” Frias said. “To get out there and help other people.”

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