Born In The USA
Born in Chula Vista, her mother came over from Tijuana to give birth in order to ensure that Luciana would be an American citizen. Luciana then lived the next eight years of her life in Tijuana. Her mother, too, was a native of Tijuana. She also was a single mom who found an excellent job with the telephone company.
“In Tijuana we used to live in Infonavit. It’s a housing that’s affordable for people who work for the gas and electric companies.”
But at the age of eight, Luciana’s mother remarried and brought Luciana to live in Morena Valley near Riverside. Now a part of a blended family, her mother was determined to have Luciana learn English.
As a matter of fact, Luciana sees this as a problematic part of the Latina experience in San Diego. Many very highly educated and talented women come over from Tijuana through marriage or their spouse’s work. They had successful careers in Tijuana, but due to the language barrier, they are cleaning houses. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning houses, of course, but are these women meeting their full potential? Luciana asks.
Learning English for Luciana, even at the age of eight, was difficult.
English Language Learners
“I remember from my ESL classes, they would take me to a separate classroom and they would just throw me into English regular for the different subjects, but I couldn’t understand a word that they were saying. And then they would put me in this little room with Kindergarten books.”
When Luciana graduated high school, she immediately returned to her Tijuana. She had her immediate family there, her mother’s two sisters. Although living in Mexico, she commuted back and forth across the border to get her associates degree and also for different jobs.
In 1998, she married a native-born Tijuanan. He, too, had spent some years living in El Cajon, having a binational experience like so many of us in this region. By 2000 and 2001, they had two boys and they had planned to always live in Tijuana.
9/11 Changed Everything
However, September 2001 changed everything. The border waits became severe and Luciana decided to move to the U.S. But she wanted to be as close to her culture as possible. She chose San Ysidro because it was a walkable community. A place where she could easily go back and forth between the border, take the bus to the pedestrian crossing or take the trolley to downtown San Diego.
At first, her sons went to Smythe preschool and then she enrolled them in Mt. Carmel Catholic Church. The boys received first communion there, something very important to her and her husband.
But then the recession hit. Her husband, who had received his green card and then became a U.S. Citizen, was a building inspector for the City of San Diego. He received a letter saying that he was going to be laid off. Luciana still has the letter. It was a life-changing moment. Many of their friends had already been hit with the recession, losing their jobs and even their homes. Although her husband got lucky and never completely lost his employment, they switched their sons to the San Ysidro Public School District.
Luciana’s friends thought she was crazy. They told her that her boys would get on drugs soon enough and they would never be properly educated. That’s when Luciana said that she would fight to make the public schools in her own community better. That was 2010.
“The public system has to work. There’s the rumor that they say students in San Ysidro don’t learn. It has to be false and I need to prove that because this is the community I choose to live in and the boys need to be successful here.”
Willow Elementary, a school located a stone’s throw from the U.S.-Mexico border, had just been newly built. Her boys began to attend Willow and Luciana offered to volunteer filing for the secretary, then she joined Willow’s School Site Council.
English Language Learner Advisory Committee
She also volunteered to be on the English Language Learner Advisory Committee (formed whenever there are more than 21 English language learners in a school). Soon she was invited to attend the district committee for English language learners.
“That’s why I’m so passionate about the English Language learners here in San Ysidro and their opportunities because I experienced that myself and it was shocking.”
Community Bike Rides
She also became very passionate about safe walking and bike routes to school for San Ysidro children. She started out going to meetings of Walk San Diego.
By April 2013, she applied and got the job as Community Engagement Coordinator for the San Ysidro Walks and Wheels to School, a program that collaborates with the San Diego Bicycle Coalition, Circulate San Diego, the City of San Diego and the San Ysidro School District. Her temporary desk is at the San Ysidro School District offices, but her boss is located at 1111 6th Avenue in downtown San Diego, Circulate San Diego’s office.
She is the outreach person and during her last Safe Route bike ride, she was accompanied by Council member David Alvarez of District 8 and Captain Tai of the Southern Division of the San Diego Police Department.
The program started by doing an audit of the streets and sidewalks, making it safer for students to arrive to school. Then, she began to recruit volunteer parents to provide safe routes for kids.
On Mondays and Fridays parents wear safety vests that identify them. They then become the eyes in the streets, keeping things safe. They often provide children with incentives by giving out informational cards or even providing bikes and helmets. Four schools in San Ysidro have parents who are active in the program. Luciana’s program thus far has been successful in lowering student absences and encouraging parent engagement.
As part of the federal grant given to Circulate San Diego, Luciana has also piloted community bike rides into the Tijuana River Valley Regional Park as a way to keep neighborhoods active in recreational activities.
She holds community bike rides, but it’s been tough. The community bike rides encourage parents to ride with their children, but parents say their apartments don’t have bike racks and there’s no storage space. Most parents only buy the bikes for their children, not themselves. Luciana has come up with a solution. Bikes del Pueblo have now donated the bikes for everyone to do the rides together.
San Ysidro School Board
Luciana is also a trustee on the San Ysidro School Board. In June 2014 a position opened on the San Ysidro School Board and she started to go to board meetings to assess the level of community engagement. There wasn’t much. She also observed to see who was leading the community.
She applied for the position because “my dream is to change the reputation and hopefully say there are working families who live here that are binational, that enjoy having this culture, that we do have qualified teachers, that we do have great students that make the San Ysidro School district a good district. We haven’t reached our potential and I saw it as an opportunity.”
She also feels leadership needs to include the perspective of mothers. Luciana has spent years as both a stay-at-home mother and as a working mom. After Luciana received the trustee position in June 2014, she won her seat during the November elections. When sworn in as a board member, she talked about the significance of being a mother. Currently, she is the only woman on the board and the only trustee with a child enrolled in the district.
“We, as women, we bring children to this world. We face many different challenges, all of us at different stages. We see the schools as a gateway for the success of our children. We need to have leadership that meets the expectations of the new generation, especially leadership from Latina women.
“If a Latina woman gets married and decides not to have a career, you still have a career within your household. You still make decisions. You still empower your own community. I really have issues with people who say, if you don’t have a career then you don’t count. And no, I think it needs to be said: if somebody wants to get married, that’s fine. Okay. They should get married, but they should know their rights, they should know that they’re their own person and they should never feel that they’re not going to be contributing to society.”
Copyright 2015 by Barbara Zargoza. To read further blogs by Barbara visit: www.Southbaycompass.com