May 30 2017

My name is Candy Lara and I am a sophomore at Lakewood High School and a youth leader with Californians for Justice. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending Free Our Dreams, a state wide event with the goal of gathering youth across California for a weekend to prepare them for meetings with legislators to speak about bills that can harm or help their community and schools. Over the weekend we meet many other youth, participated in workshops to inform us about what to do and what not to do during a meeting with state leaders, learned about others that have fought for their rights, and finally worked to strengthen our own personal stories so we can make an impact when we share them with leaders.

This was my first time in the state capitol and I was there to make a change and raise my voice for myself and for those who couldn’t. I spent the weekend preparing for what seemed like one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever faced — speaking to legislators. Over the weekend I met new people that were of color, low income, lived in food deserts, and went to poor schools. I learned their stories and why they joined the fight which made me feel comfortable when I emceed and spoke in front of them because I knew we were all fighting together even if we came from many different backgrounds.

Candy Lara speaking at Youth Press Conference. Photo credit: Yvonne Rodriguez

 

Speaking in front of 200 people seemed like a task I would never accomplish, much less volunteer to do. I am barely capable of speaking in front of a class, but when the opportunity came up to co-emcee at Free Our Dreams I took the chance and was very excited. This year was my first time attending Free Our Dreams and I had such a big role assigned, especially when it came to introducing state Senator Holly J. Mitchell. Nevertheless, I felt very capable of doing great things. Usually when I speak in front of people I get really nervous but this time I wasn’t nervous at all which frightened me a little but that’s the confidence I gained over the weekend after the energy gave me courage for the legislative visits.

During the meetings with elected officials, I was very nervous but I was also hopeful that my story would persuade them to vote for protecting immigrant students and keeping I.C.E. off of school campuses or at least see the implications of bills such as AB 699, the Educational Equity and Protection for Immigrant Students bill. The first visit with Assemblymember Ed Chau went very well. He liked our personal stories, said he would stand with us on SB 607 (Ending Suspensions for Willful Defiance), and told us to keep up the good work we were doing.

Candy Lara and students with Assemblymember Ed Chau.

 

The second legislative with Assemblymember Travis Allen’s staff scared me the most but also gave me a shining moment of pride. As we walked into the the office and sat down I noticed a lot of support for Trump depicted on products such as a mug and a bottle of liquor. This frightened me because I was speaking on immigration and the ties it has to my family, which I was going to uncover through the words: “I am the daughter of an immigrant.” When my turn came to share my story my heart started beating faster but when I said that sentence I said it loud and clear, albeit I might have stuttered when I tried to say it the first time. In that moment I wanted to yell those words over and over again. I am proud of where I come from and I was not going to allow myself to be scared away from sharing my story by someone who has different views than I do.

Candy Lara (far left) and her Posse posing for a photo.

 

I have the right to live in a nation where I’m not afraid of speaking about my family’s past. #Cali4All means to me that I can share my story, talk about my roots, express my culture without fear of being discriminated. In this California everyone regardless of race, sex, gender, income, disability etc. would feel safe, be able to express themselves, and be free from the chains that society continues to condemn us to simply because of the black and brown skin we have inherited during centuries of fighting for what we deserve to have: basic human rights. To continue the fight we have to make sure our voices are heard by continuing to share our stories with legislators to make them see how these bills affect us and pass the ones we need to build a #Cali4All. We must continue to fight. As Assata Shakur said, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

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