“You have a lot of power,” he told them. “But you need to get involved.”
A sizable crowd gathered to hear Reynoso, a former associate justice of the California Supreme Court, and Rita Medina, the first woman president of the Community Service Organization speak about the importance of civic participation.
The event, titled “Democracia: The Story of the Community Service Organization in the Imperial Valley,” gathered a who’s who of the Valley’s community leaders as well as a number of Calexico High School students.
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Although she and her fellow classmates were getting extra credit for being there, 16-year-old Glorya Escobar said she also hoped to get something more lasting out of the event.
Namely, “some Valley history, something not found in the history books,” the CHS junior said. “It’s very important for citizens of the Valley to know their history.”
The local efforts of the CSO are not found in any school books because “historians didn’t consider them or they didn’t think of them as that important,” she said.
The CSO was a prominent statewide organization that sought to empower people of color in low-income communities. The group was active in the Valley during the ’50s and ’60s, during which time Reynoso took part in various social justice efforts that earned him the sobriquet “rabble-rouser,” he said.
Medina, who also is the older sister of the late farmworker organizer Cesar Chavez, also reminded the young people in attendance of their potential to enact social change and the urgency of the moment.
“We’re getting old,” she said, driving the point home.
With more than 60 years of community organizing efforts under her belt, Medina said civic engagement is best learned hands on, something she thanks her late brother for introducing her to.
“Thank you for teaching me how to volunteer and work without pay,” she said, to a round of laughs.
As the Advanced Placement U.S. history teacher at Calexico High, Alonso Oceguera said the event was a perfect opportunity for his students to learn some “living history.”
“This is something important I thought they could relate to,” said Oceguera.
Concerned that the younger generation’s emphasis on technology may be displacing basic human interaction, his students in attendance were assigned the task of interviewing another attendee for their perceptions and attitudes about history.
Valley native Juanita Salas said it was an honor to hear such vaunted Latino activists speak locally.
The daughter of farmworkers, Salas said her own family has a history of being involved in social justice movements and credits her parents for instilling a strong sense of community activism in her at a young age.
A former field representative to U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, Salas is the founding community engagement manager for Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest in Imperial County.
“(Reynoso and Medina) are an inspiration to a migrant student like me who grew up in the movement,” she said.
Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-337-3415 or at firstname.lastname@example.org