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What makes Santa Ana special? How is Santa Ana perceived?

In these interviews, Adrian, Karen, and Anahi respond to these questions.

Interview Transcript and Research

Keywords: unity, solidarity/bonds, “family”, relationships, interconnection, wholeness

Negative things heard about Santa Ana

Adrian: I’ve heard people say negative things about it, like it’s dirty, it’s trashy, it looks run-down, even though it’s not, and again, it all depends on who you’re talking to, because people who’ve grown up here, people who have connections to it feel very passionately about it, and people who don’t have that don’t see the diamond in the rough that it is. Karen: Most of them say negative comments about Santa Ana. They have this negative, like, connotation to it. They think it’s just violence, a lot of gangs, and it’s just not a good place to live in. Which I can see why they think that, because that’s all they see in the news, right? They portray us to think of, not just Santa Ana really but other cities like Anaheim or Garden Grove that make it seem like it’s dangerous to live here, but in reality, I’ve never felt once, like, I wanted to leave here. Anahi: When I went to OCSA for the first time in seventh grade, it was a couple years before the 4th St Market was set up, so before that, the school kind of advertised that Santa Ana was very dangerous...It was kind of just spit out to you...It was always sent out in parent emails, don’t let your kids walk this way, don’t pick your kids up in this area or across the street, and it wasn’t until the 4th St. Market was kind of brought up and more gentrification started to happen that, you know what, maybe we can let our kids hang out there, it’s run by white people; go ahead and let them walk to this coffee house. 


Aspects of Santa Ana That Counter Deficit Narratives

Karen: There are a lot of streets and neighborhoods in Santa Ana where you just know everyone, everybody knows everyone, and everybody’s willing to help each other out, like if you need some food, go to a troquita, you don’t have to go out ten minutes, get your stuff and drive, everything is walking distance. That’s what makes it community, you know? You feel that love, like in that street. Everybody knows each other, so, definitely I would say that those are what most neighborhoods in Santa Ana [are].

Adrian: Because regardless of where you’re from culturally, Hispanic culture, it’s very much about family, about community, and there is an overarching, overwhelming sense of culture and community in all parts of Santa Ana.

Anahi: Santa Ana is a primarily Latino city, mostly Spanish speakers. I wanna say there’s a strong Mexican presence in particular out of all the Latinos, and I would 100% identify as Mexican, so to me this is a great reflection of who I am and who my family is.


City Investment in Youth

Karen: Most of the city budget goes to the police department, I don’t really see them investing too much in youth, or even the community. We don’t have that many parks here, so I don’t really think they do invest in that, cause if they would, it would show.​

Anahi: I know they’re trying to make a few parks in different areas, but I don’t think they put the youth first, of course. I mean, it took years for those parks to be built, it took years for the pools to be opened, so it’s not their main focus. I think it’s just, someone pushed for it or asked for it, and it just kind of happened because of that, not because they’re trying to put the youth first.

Karen: I would want more resources for us, not even academic resources, but resources for our mental health; we don’t really have enough of that. We struggle a lot on a daily basis and I feel like if we just had more resources and more help for us, we would succeed more in the future.​

©2016, National Association of School Psychologists.
"School mental health services are essential to creating and sustaining safe schools. Increased access to mental health services and supports in schools is vital to improving the physical and psychological safety of our students and schools, as well as academic performance and problem-solving skills.

"School mental health supports that encompass social–emotional learning, mental wellness, resilience, and positive connections between students and adults are essential to creating a school culture in which students feel safe and empowered to report safety concerns, which is proven to be among the most effective school safety strategies. Additionally, in the aftermath of a crisis, school-employed mental health professionals provide supports that facilitate a return to normalcy, are sustainable, and can help to identify and work with students with more intense or ongoing needs." (National Assn. of School Psychologists).

“Today, 50% of children with mental health problems receive no treatment at all. Expanding the child and adolescent mental and behavioral health workforce, as well as increasing cultural and linguistic competence, is critical for addressing the enormous unmet mental and behavioral health needs of infants, children, and adolescents." (Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine).

Regarding mental health, "We can’t wait until a student is at a crisis state. Like diabetes or cancer, you should never wait until stage 4 to intervene.'” (National Education Association Today, 2018).

Community: Analysis

by Jorge Rodriguez

Santa Ana is considered to be one of the youngest cities in the nation where over 30% of its residents are under the age of 18 (Santa Ana, California Population, 2018, June, 3). The city's historical approach to youth development and lack of resources have been heavily criticized by local activists, community members, and local organizations alike. Local organizations have exhausted resources in developing research briefs, data, and advocacy asking the city to focus on the youth disparities happening within Santa Ana. For youth experiencing a limited landscape of resources, has proved difficult to navigate the deficit lens by which youth are perceived. The lack of resources, and deficit-based approaches toward youth have a lasting effect on the quality of education, and development, experienced by youth (Valenzuela, 1999).

The stigma and deficit approach imposed on Santa Ana schools and youth is prevalent and evidenced across the county. Youth from the city of Santa Ana understand that their city’s approach to youth development and educational opportunities, when compared to the rest of Orange County, lack the resources, and intentionality they deserve. Similarly, the families of these youth also understand and feel the disparity and racism when comparing their experiences within the larger Orange County context. The City of Santa Ana is predominately Latinx, immigrant, and low income. The perceptions and assumptions that exist of the Santa Ana community are deficit based, attributing negative characteristics and stereotypes to those who reside and affiliate with the community (Lacayo, 2016).

Students from Santa Ana carry a heightened sense of awareness and social weight as they navigate the constant experiences, microaggressions, and racism associated with their identities and their city.

The UCLA Institute of American Cultures just recently published a report outlining segregation as fueled by racism in Orange County. In this report white residents were interviewed regarding their attitudes and perceptions toward Latinos. Lacayo (2016) states that the participants of the study “overwhelmingly characterized Latinos and African Americans as culturally deficient, problematic and inferior”, equally using descriptors such as trash, gangy, and third world (Lacayo, 2016). Lacayo further demonstrates that the white participants interviewed chose to live away from Latinos, saying “Most respondents admit that they made a conscious choice to live in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, and far away specifically from Latinos.” According to Gustavo Arellano, “illegal immigration” has become political code, justifying discrimination, demeaning attitudes, and segregation on Hispanic, Latinx, and immigrant communities (Carroll, 2016, September, 19; Lacayo, 2016; Arellano, 2008).

Equally, the City of Santa Ana is the 11th largest city in the state of California, classified as one of the most densely populated cities with 12,000 residents per square mile (Santa Ana, California Population, 2018, June, 3). Many low-income families in Santa Ana often share housing with multiple families to accommodate high rents and make up for the lack of affordable housing within the city (González, Sarmiento, & Urzua, 2012; Gonzalez, 2017). High and unfair renting practices exploit the economic vulnerability of low income, Latinx, and Mexican immigrant communities who reside in Santa Ana. Compared to the rest of Orange County, Santa Ana is one of the more affordable cities to live in, nonetheless, housing and property prices are still one of the highest in the nation (González, Sarmiento, & Urzua, 2012; Gonzalez, 2017). Of the 335,052 residents about 78% are Latinx of any race, while 10% are Asian, 9% White, 1% Black, and .2% Indigenous Native (Santa Ana, California Population, 2018, June, 3). The racial demographic of the city reflects a mostly immigrant, first generation, and low-income context that drastically contrasts with the larger Orange County.

Lastly, the City of Santa Ana turns over 53% of the city’s budget to the Santa Ana Police Department, where the rationale for such commitment to the Santa Ana Police Department is politically charged. Youth advocates of the city demand that they invest in positive youth programming rather than deficit-based measures that seek to control the Latinx, Immigrant, and youth populations of Santa Ana. In a study conducted by Resilience Orange County, a nonprofit for youth advocacy, Abraham Medina former Executive Director of the said organization, states, “The city’s future will depend on how well we invest and treat our youth and, unfortunately, the city is investing too much on punishment,” (Russo & Guerrero, 2017, March). Within the 2017-2018 fiscal year, the City of Santa Ana will spend 19.5 million on arresting youth while only 15.3 million will be spent on “positive youth development”, as referenced in the Resilience OC report.

Medina further states, “Our youth need investments in real safety, such as after school programs, community centers, and in data driven responses to youth behavior that are not the police department… Youth make-up one third of our city’s population, however, they are the least supported by the city,” (Russo & Guerrero, 2017, March).

Despite such a daunting backdrop surrounding the youth ad educational settings within Orange County, youth from Santa Ana still strive and take education into their own hands creating and seeking opportunities to prosper within their schools (Gomez, 2016, October 17). Santa Ana has a strong and dynamic youth presence, youth are active in many of the protests and campaigns concerning Rent Control, Housing Justice, Black Lives Matter, Equitable City Budgeting, Ethnic Studies, and Police Brutality (Pho, 2020, July 21). The youth of the city are present in political campaigns electing city officials into city council and the school board.

Two examples that stand out demonstrating the youths commitment to their city can be demonstrated by Alianza Chicana's Burrito Project and the water drops organized by Border Angels. Youth From the Santa Ana Community College student organization, Alianza Chicana, regularly schedule a weekend event to make and deliver burritos to the homeless community of Orange County. The youth wake up at 4 o'clock in the morning, gather at a local student's house to make a large number of burritos, and soon after sunrise, make their way around the city to distribute them.

Many of the youth from this organization also come from an immigrant background and resonate with stories experienced personally and or relayed by family members. Crossing the border in the hot desert sun is an experience many of the youth from Alianza Chicana empathize with. For the students of Alianza Chicana, crossing of the border is an experience central and close to their familial and communities reality. The student organization has volunteered with the Border Angels nonprofit for water drops, where water is placed at the border for those migrants searching for a more secure future.

Another Example highlighting the resilience and determination of the youth of Santa Ana can be seen in the work being organized by the local Ethnic Studies courses creating art and research depicting the history and context of Ethnic Studies within Orange County. Students from Santa Ana Valley High School create art expressions depicting history/herstory from a critical perspective. Such art can be seen exhibited at the Leatherby Libraries yearly at the Education and Ethnic Studies Summit at Chapman University (Karas, 2019, May 6; Wogahn, 2018, April 30). Equally Students from Santa Ana High School develop yearly Youth Participatory Action Research Projects (YPAR) focusing on social disparities, community needs, and youth agency. Such research projects have sparked dialogue for change within their local campuses, and equally are shared yearly at the Education and Ethnic Studies Summit at Chapman University (Rodriguez, Reed, & Garcia, 2020). Such work being developed by the youth of Santa Ana demonstrates their tenacity when owning their education.

One featured project demonstrating youths' ability to learn about the unspoken histories/herstories of Orange County is the Summer Enrichment Program called “The People's History of Orange County”. This summer program organized by the local Ethnic Studies teachers and the Santa Ana Unified School District allows for students to dive deep into the local historical, economic, social and political narratives of Orange County. This Ethnic Studies summer Enrichment program spent 3 weeks in an intensive seminar learning about the diverse set of stories, and narratives specific to Orange County. This past year the youth of this program developed historical tours open to the public about the history of the city. Such programming shows the dynamic and talented youth population of the city of Santa Ana (Kopetman, 2020, January 3).

Nonetheless, the deficit perception developed about the Latinx, immigrant youth of Orange County, does not accurately describe the power and determination of the youth. Still the youth of the city thrive and seek out the resources they need to flourish regardless of the City’s limitations. Critical teachers, and local grassroot organizations truly fill the gaps not being addressed by the city. Such educators, organizers, and grassroot organizations push against the limitations of their schools/city and take it upon themselves to create spaces for their youth. Their determination and brilliance have nourished Santa Ana youth in ways future generations will witness.

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