By: Alejandra Gutierrez, Youth Organizing Coordinator, Fathers and Families of San Joaquin (FFSJ)
I come from a hardworking, Mexican family that taught me the value of ganas, which does not have a direct English translation, but for me, it means that if you have passion for something, you must work hard to attain it no matter what it takes. While attending the University of California Irvine, I was inspired by my community organizing classes and justice became what I had ganas for. The love that I have for social justice work was first developed through my studies, but it truly solidified through the teachings of my mentors, the ones that showed me how to organize. Grassroots organizing brings solutions.
I am honored to be working as the Youth Organizing Coordinator at Fathers and Families of San Joaquin (FFSJ). I grew up in a small town in the Eastern Coachella Valley – a poor, marginalized, and agricultural community. Although Stockton is not where I was raised, I now proudly call it home. On paper and via statistics, Stockton is not where you come to realize your dreams. In fact, Stockton has been named one of the most miserable cities by Forbes magazine and became the largest American city to declare bankruptcy. Stockton has very high unemployment rates and one of the highest homicide and incarceration rates in the State. But we, at Fathers and Families continue to work with the most powerful tool to bring about change- our people. And we are seeing real results. Last year, we joined forces with our community and rallied to prevent the development of a new prison in our county. This was a tremendous victory that deeply motivated our community to continue efforts to bring alternatives to incarceration and support for the formerly incarcerated, which will inevitably strengthen families and our greater community.
What makes us so successful is the fact that we don’t “serve” people, we engage the community and create a positive and empowered extended family. The people we engage through our programs feel like they are part of something bigger in their community, something that they help shape and lead. We are a community-based organization and our organizing is led by a diverse Latino, African-American, and Asian community. There is no division between me, the organizer, and the person who walks into our doors. We treat individuals and all families with love and respect. Not one single person walks in and out of our center without acknowledgement, without a handshake, and very rarely, without a hug. Nor do they leave without hearing words of encouragement and hope that follow them throughout the rest of their day, and will hopefully follow them for the rest of their lives.
We are intentional about working with the most vulnerable populations. In our Youth Program, we reach out to the youth who others have failed to engage and would consider the most difficult to work with. Their stories become our story and they become part of our family. We follow the teachings of our maestros and maestras (mentors) that have guided us in bringing healing into our community. When we learn about our roots and cultura, we remove our blindfolds and gain the mental freedom to understand that in fact, we can change our destiny. We resist, insist and persist that we, the people, will shape a healthier, safer, and more prosperous future for Stockton.
I pass down the importance of having ganas as I organize our youth and partner with our elders. I know that if we can come together, we can achieve the impossible. I invite you to join our movement in Stockton or to find ganas for making change in your own community.