Sunday, June 11, 2017

Youth Policy Camp

Earlier this month, I attended a civics and leadership camp run by the non-profit organization, Youth Policy Initiative. The five-day camp was hosted at a local high school and aimed to teach middle schoolers about local/national issues, how the government works, and how citizens might influence policy. 

Students were sorted into small groups and assigned a topic. My group's topic was public education. With the help of some high school student teachers, we did some research and learned a fair amount about public education, how it is funded, and the issues it faces nationally. This information would later be put to use as we explained our topic to other groups, discussed the issues on a field trip with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and wrote bills to pass through a US Senate simulation. 

Another goal set by the camp's founder was to improve students' public speaking skills and help them become the leaders their communities need. Being somebody who is extremely shy and does not like talking to strangers, this was the perfect experience for me. It was uncomfortable, challenging, and exactly what I needed.

I was very inspired by the experience, especially learning that the Youth Policy Initiative and Youth Policy Camp were actually started by a high school student. I hope to emulate his drive and passion for making the greater community a better place.  Some of the high school teaching assistants were inspiring, too. One of them is an intern for Katy Tang, our local supervisor!  Maybe someday, thanks to the learning experience the Youth Policy Camp provided, one of the participants will run for Mayor, Governor, Congress, or even President!   :) 

Thank you, Youth Policy Initiative!

Side note- Here are some of the videos we watched to help us learn about public education:

Saturday, May 27, 2017


On Wednesday the 17th of May, my mother was sworn in as a citizen of the United States of America. We attended the ceremony where 1,063 people from 82 different countries became citizens. It was powerful, seeing all the countries represented in that room. It was inspiring to realize that each and every one of these people was, from this point on, committed to this country, and had hope for its future. The ceremony marked the end of a very long journey, as well as the end of uncertainty and fear for a lot of families. I loved seeing the voter registration tables outside the venue and all the volunteers who were so enthusiastic to welcome our newest citizens and encourage them to vote. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

My Thoughts on Immigration

I am the daughter of immigrants, as are most of my classmates (if not immigrants themselves). I believe it is very important for everybody to know that we live in a nation of refugees and immigrants. Unless your ancestors are Native American or were kidnapped from Africa and brought here as slaves, immigrants and refugees are your parents, grandparents, and so on.

I was always somewhat aware of the importance of immigrants. As a younger child, I asked my mother, who is Mexican, why all the workers in San Francisco restaurant kitchens were latino. She answered that it wasn’t because all latinos are good cooks (much to my surprise), but because they might not have that many opportunities outside the kitchen. She explained that they might not have a college education, or might not speak English well enough. That’s when I realized that immigrants do much of the work that goes unseen. They clean the streets and buildings, wash the dishes, harvest and make the food, and so much more. They often do the jobs nobody else is willing to do.

Immigration laws today are unfair, because they pretend we do not need the labor of immigrants in our society, make it difficult for them to come here legally, and force them to live in fear.

It broke my heart when a classmate told me, “You’re so lucky your Mom has papers.” No wonder he has trouble focusing on schoolwork.

Americans have always been afraid of new immigrant groups. John F. Kennedy, arguably one of the bravest and most respected presidents of all time, was of Irish descent. The Irish used to be stereotyped as feisty alcoholics who liked to brawl. I find this funny because my Irish-born father would rather read a book than fight at a bar.

We need to destroy these stereotypes and tell the truth about immigrants, and how they are crucial to our society. We need to appreciate what they bring to our country. Immigrants diversify our country's culture and uphold the values of determination, hard work, and resilience, core American values. Immigrants, refugees, and their children also start businesses, from small grocery stores and restaurants to giant corporations like Apple and Google. And that means that they create jobs for others, too.

Right now, the most I can do is write to senators and legislators who believe in improving our immigration laws to show them that they have support. I can also be an empathetic ear to my classmates, help them stay on task academically, and keep their minds off the worry and uncertainty of what could happen if their parents are deported.  

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Letter From My Candidate

Receiving this letter made my day. I always assumed I would get some sort of response, most likely a generic letter from her office. But I never expected to get such a personal note. I will cherish this letter and take her words to heart. I feel more motivated than ever to make my voice be heard.

Monday, November 14, 2016

My Letter to Hillary

Dear Hillary Clinton,

My name is Elena, and I am 12 years old. I currently live in California, and am in the seventh grade. I have been a tremendous fan of yours since 2008 when you ran against President Obama in the Primary Election. My parents would gather the family, (then just my Mother, Father and I) and sit in front of a very old antenna TV to watch the Democratic debates and convention. I’d like to think that I, only 4 years old at the time, would speak with them intelligently about the political issues being addressed among the candidates, but it was not so. I barely understood what half your words meant, much less the importance of the event taking place on the screen. It all sounded awfully boring to four year old me, but I didn’t care. I liked to watch. Why? Because I thought you were great. Of course, I didn’t understand how great at the time, but pretty great. Great enough for me to sit at the table and draw detailed pictures of you in your orange pantsuit.

Now fast forward 8 years. My friend Paulina and I traveled to Reno, Nevada with my godmother to help get out the vote for both you and Catherine Cortez Masto. Being fluent Spanish speakers and the children of Mexican immigrants, we took on the task of going to latino neighborhoods, knocking on doors, telling people where to vote, handing out flyers, and making sure they had a ride to the polls. We walked the streets every day, reaching out to more than a hundred people in person and making dozens of phone calls.  It was tough work, and emotional at times -- especially when we were confronted by an angry Trump supporter who had just attended his candidate’s rally. What was your first campaign experience? Who were your first political heroes?

But our most memorable encounter was one where we knocked on the door of a small, but festive looking house, where a latina woman greeted us and listened as we explained where her polling place was and how important it was for her to vote. The woman hesitated, evidently not speaking a word of English, so we started again, in Spanish. As we explained to her that we were with the Hillary campaign, her face lit up. She told us she could not vote, but that her husband could, and was a strong advocate of yours. Then she made a request: “Le dicen a Hillary que ponga luces por nuestra calle? Se pone muy oscuro por las noches y no se puede ver nada, y creo que Hillary nos podrĂ­a ayudar.” Basically, she had asked us this-- “Can you ask Hillary if she can put lights on our street, because it gets very dark at night, and we can’t see very well.”  Well, I here I am, keeping that promise and telling you. (My mother says we all need to be lights in a time of darkness.)

The day after the election left my family devastated. My parents are not yet citizens and can’t vote, but they tried to compensate by volunteering in your San Francisco campaign office. (My Mother applied for citizenship the morning after your inspiring acceptance speech at the convention.) My 7-year-old brother cried and screamed for hours on election night. He even printed out pictures of Trump, drew red crayon horns popping out of Trump’s head, and taped  them to the walls of the bedroom we share.  (We both have classmates whose parents could be deported under Trump and my brother wants them to come live with us, too.)

All of San Francisco has felt the loss. I cannot recall a single day since Tuesday where there has not been a huge protest against our president-elect in SF. The most emotional moment for me was on Wednesday during choir rehearsal. I belong to the Young Women’s Chorus of San Francisco, a group of middle/high school girls who sing around the SF Bay Area and the world, this summer in Austria, Slovenia, and Hungary. (I’m sure if you’re ever in SF we would love to sing for you)! At Wednesday night’s rehearsal the results of the election still weighed heavy in our hearts. A girl asked if we could sing “I Dream a World,” a song based on the poem by Langston Hughes, as the song reflected our hope for America. We all gathered in a circle holding hands in the center of the room and began to pour our hearts out into song. By the end of the song, there wasn’t a single person in that room who wasn’t in tears.

That moment, we were at our weakest. Now, we are starting to get stronger. I promise you that we will use our fear and anger as an asset, to continue to support you and the values we share. I, for one, have already promised to turn Arizona blue in 2020! (I even made that pledge on my blog!)

I will not let this disappointment hold me back. I will learn from this experience and from your example, and find ways to make a difference. Perhaps I’ll go to law school, like you did, and focus on civil rights, so I can uphold the laws that make America special (or develop new ones to move us forward). Your campaign sparked within me an interest in politics, both the action and science behind it all. I’m probably too shy and reserved to run for office myself, but could make a difference behind the scenes. Did you ever feel too shy to run for office? Maybe I’ll work in the White House like Sam Seaborn and Josh from The West Wing (they went to law school, too)!

Please do not feel as if you’ve let us down. If anything, we’ve let you down. We should have worked harder on the campaign trail, and not become complacent thinking you would win. And do not worry about your loss. You are the real winner. And I’m not talking technically (which you are-- you received more of America’s votes!) but at heart. You made history, and if the world wasn’t ready to see a woman in the White House, that’s their problem (and yes, also our loss). But we’re not giving up. We will get someone great in there, whether it be Kamala Harris, or Catherine Cortez Masto, and with your help and inspiration, we’ll be unstoppable.

I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next. Keep inspiring us. And I hope your silver lining is you get a little more time with your grandchildren, Charlotte and Aidan. My grandparents are all deceased, so I think grandchildren and grandparents should spend as much time together as possible. Charlotte and Aidan are lucky to have such an incredible role model as their grandmother.

Your admirer,
Elena, age 12

PS. Here are my Godmother Celia, me, and my friend Paulina, watching you on Facebook Live the night before election day.

PPSS: The song we sang (the one that made us cry) is based on this poem by Langston Hughes.


I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the Earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day
A world I dream where black and white
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the Earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Day After

It was hard to wake up to the news this morning that America chose Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton. We did have a few bright spots, though:

1- Nevada turned blue.

2- Nevada elected the first Latina senator, Catherine Cortez Masto

3- We elected some great new women senators: Kamala Harris from California, Tammy Duckworth, Illinois and hopefully Maggie Hassan from New Hampshire. Maybe one of them will become president one day?!?

Maybe there's hope because if you look at this map on how young people voted, it is clear that they would have given us a different president.

Here we are at the beginning of the evening when we still thought Hillary's path to the White House would look like this:

Imagine if we didn't have the Electoral College. Hillary Clinton (like Al Gore in 2000) would be our president because she won the popular vote by more than 200,000 votes (and counting). Maybe it's time to consider whether we should have an Electoral College.

Sidebar: Our favorite encounter with a potential voter was with a woman who didn't speak any English and said she couldn't vote but that her husband was voting. She didn't say who he was voting for, but told us that if she could vote, she'd vote for Hillary. Then she asked us in Spanish:

"Le dices a Hillary que ponga lamparas por la calle porque es muy oscura?"

(English translation: Can you tell Hillary to put street lights on our street since it gets really dark?)

We are committed to going to Arizona in 4 years and turn that state blue next!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Crossing State Lines

We are so proud to be part of a large group of volunteers who came from places outside of Nevada to help the local Democrats get out the vote. As we compared notes with other volunteers, we started asking them why they came. Why did they take time away from work and their regular lives? The answers were always heartfelt and very moving.

For example, Leland from Alameda (a gay activist) and Pat from Grass Valley, CA met when they were working in Ohio in October to help with early voting. They became good friends and now are here in Reno together doing what they can to help. Pat remembers seeing John F. Kennedy speak and Leland remembers working for the 1972 Democratic candidate, George McGovern.

We've met so many interesting people who came to Reno to work on the campaign. One of the teams we met was a mother, Jacqueline, and her daughter, Ashley, who are both from Sacramento. They have worked together in swing states since Obama first ran 8 years ago. Ashley has become a community organizer as a result of her work and they were both passionate about the power of women and what we can do when we put our minds to it. Ashley is only in her early 20's but she seemed so poised to us.

While we were walking in the neighborhoods we felt especially proud to see other canvassers who were like us-- working to get local Reno voters to the polls. Hillary and Zack, from Oakland, were also young and very enthusiastic about the work that they are doing to help turn Nevada blue.

One of our very favorite people, Sue from New York, was training all the volunteers. She always has a big smile for us and welcomes everyone to Reno Democratic headquarters. We signed up with so many Californians that you could almost forget that you were in Nevada.

Sidebar: We can't help commenting on the very large number of pit bulls and chihuahuas we've seen while canvassing. If you were to take a poll of favorite animals in Reno-- they would win in a landslide!

Here we are interviewing Leland and Pat (in striped shirt).