What do you envision for the youth of your city?
In these interviews, Adrian, Karen, and Anahi respond to these questions.
Interview Transcript and Research
Keywords: self empowerment, visualizing change, agency, resilience, self realization, healing, DIY punk
Karen: I think of Bristol St, like that street is very iconic. If we’re protesting out there, there’s protests, there’s Mexico game, they go out there with their flags, just cheering on. I still go to the swap meet at Bristol; that street, definitely I know people that are always out there, street vendors everywhere. Whenever I see a paletero, like that just reminds me, I’m at home. But Bristol St. is definitely a street that’s iconic here. And El Toro, too. Like the saying, "If you don’t know El Toro, you don’t know Santa Ana." It’s exactly what it means.
Adrian: So I think the vision I have for the city and its youth would be incorporating cultural heritage and artistic development into just everyday life from infancy to adulthood because, at least in my interpretation and my view, Mexican culture specifically is so fundamentally––art, music, dance, is so fundamentally ingrained into the DNA of our culture, and it extends into how we interact with our community, how we interact with one another.
Visualizing Change: School-to-Prison Pipeline
Anahi: I know it has targeted a lot of people, my friends and my family’s friends and kids is kind of the gang problem that’s going on. I think if that were to be taken away, there would be a significant increase in joy, happiness, and just safety overall, and not just physical safety of walking down the street and being afraid. But for the youth, it’s important for them not to be involved in that and fall into this system. A lot of stories have been heard about [school-to-]prison pipelines: You start in a gang in school, and then you get kicked out of school, or like schools don’t take it seriously, so they’re not helping you, and eventually you get put in prison, and it’s just a whole system; if you were just to take away the gangs, there’s hope that that wouldn’t happen, and we could create happy youth, happy communities, basically.
“This systemic problem of over-criminalization and over-punishment does not begin in the juvenile justice system. For many youth with learning disabilities.. the over-criminalization and over-punishment begins in their own school.
“The school-to-prison pipeline – fashioned together by a myriad of agencies under the same paradigm of punitive punishment – is something that is real to many parents and youth in Orange County, especially for youth and parents of color.”
"Many schools in Orange County don’t know how to help students…, instead of developing the capacity to properly serve students with different needs, most schools push these students out into continuation schools…, frequently suspended for “willful defiance." (Medina, 2015).
Visualizing Change: Mental Health
Karen: We gotta go to our schools and see who is teaching these students, like I wanna go to the root of it all and actually would want to know what the youth would like…As children, as youth, we do need guidance, and if teachers and counselors aren’t helping us, we’re gonna be struggling in succeeding in the future.
"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).
“'We can always do more, but I think we’re seeing a more proactive, less reactive, approach.' That shift is a critical first step forward, says Theresa Nguyen, and is indicative of many schools and communities beginning to think about mental health early. 'We’re seeing progress that hopefully will continue. 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).
Visualizing Change: Arts Education
Adrian: More ease of access to the arts, because I know it’s not…unless it’s something truly culturally significant, like ballet folklorico or learning how to play an instrument for a band or things like that, it’s not as heavily pushed or emphasized in our community. So if I had the opportunity and the ability to do so, I would push for easier access to arts education and arts in general.
by Elena Marquez
The city of Santa Ana has failed to provide the kind of support (compare to youth investment in Irvine) that its young residents want. The schools of Santa Ana are also contributing to the negative portrayal of youth in the city, as it has contributed to the school to prison pipeline by over-criminalizing and over-punishing latino boys (Medina, Voice of OC). This lack of investment in youth development has fostered a sense of resilience and responsibility on the part of students, as the problems they see around them-violence, lack of opportunity, and under-resourced schools- stand in stark contrast to the community’s own sense of vibrancy. As youths look around their city they are able to identify for themselves the kind of change they want to see in their community, despite its leaders often failing to create opportunities for effective change.
By relying on the cultural strengths of the city, such as its vibrancy of language, sense of community, and thriving arts scene, many are able to define the city in their own terms in an effort to create the kind of vision needed to expand the positive aspects and transform their city into a space where everyone feels safe and valued.
Self-determination is a fundamental belief of a democratic society, and the prioritization of policing over youth development has forced the youth to create their own spaces to explore and assert their identities in Santa Ana. One key aspect of this is through the identification of the negative perceptions that have been thrust upon the youth of the city. Students outline the ways teachers and others have confined the city to depictions of gang violence, or similarly narrow-minded and harmful stereotypes. Many youth of Santa Ana have recognized their role in ensuring this is a thriving community is a piece of a whole, believing that their own success is dependent on the success of all. Reflecting on the tension inherent in having pride for a city that has not given them the same level of care, students want more for themselves and their community, identifying a clear need for more resources in the arts, in education, and in mental health support. These needs come from their experiences where each of these resources was severely lacking in their own lives, and reveal the ways in which the city failings have further pushed the youth to creatively cultivate their own paths.
Despite feeling unsupported by their city and its institutions, the youth of Santa Ana remain committed to what they see as strengths of their city--the iconic nature of Bristol Street, the Mexican culture, the strength of community--and they want to see more celebration of these key aspects of their community’s heritage. By focusing on the key aspects of their city’s identity, they are able to determine what comes next for their community from an asset-oriented perspective, and build upon the strengths that already exist. Many organizations in Santa Ana have begun this process, such as El Centro Cultural which offers many different arts-based classes or the Downtown Santa Ana art walk, which celebrates artists in Santa Ana each first Saturday of the month. While community groups are rising up to fill the space needed to define the city on their own terms, youth are still actively seeking additional ways to make their own realities more visible and reflected in the policies which shape their lives.