A Recuerdo for My Nana on Día de los Muertos

Querida Nana,

The United States wasn’t ready for you. It didn’t deserve you.

“Naná, why is it bad to speak Spanish? I got in trouble at school last week.”

“Mi niña, it’s not a bad thing, in fact it’s beautiful. We were discouraged from learning English back then. Now we’re shamed for loving our culture and forced to choose sides. The secret is: There aren’t sides, you have the beauty of being both.”

I could never thank you enough for everything you did for me. You knew how to heal and nurture my young Chicanx spirit when ESL classes attempted to strip away my cultural pride. You knew exactly what to do because they also attempted to break your spirit.

Nana, you loved to read. You wanted so desperately to learn about anything you could get your hands on. However, as a young brown woman working the fields, you were never allowed. Schools refused to teach you and your children. But racist laws didn’t stand a chance against your resilience. You were a lifelong learner whose tenacity continues to inspire us today.

Nana, I can only now understand and appreciate the burden you carried of preparing your children to be warriors in a system that wasn’t made for them. You encouraged us to pursue our wildest endeavors. You showed me how to dream unapologetically.

Nana, as my biggest and most unconditional supporter, I can never thank you enough for believing in me. I know you couldn’t be here to watch me grow up and I was devastated to have to go through life without you. But I learned how to keeping listening to your wisdom even though you weren’t physically here to share it.

I know how much education meant to you. I dedicate my degree to the fruits of your sacrifice.  Your sacrifice of traveling to an unwelcoming land, constantly moving to follow crops, and fighting for the safety of your family, amounted to generations of Valenzuela’s claiming the spaces you were denied access to.

I couldn’t have done it without you. Just know that when my name was called, you crossed the stage right there with me. I dedicate my degree and all my future success to you, Nana. We made it; we claimed our space at UCLA.

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Desiree Martinez

Desiree Martinez

Desiree Martinez is a proud native from South Central Los Angeles and a first generation college graduate from UCLA. Upon experiencing the lack of representation of students of color at UCLA, she began to advocate for education reform in order to fight for the empty seats in higher education that her classmates didn't have the opportunity to fill. Desiree is heavily involved in combating educational inequity in her community. As a member of Students For Education Reform, she gained exposure to grassroots organizing. Her experiences in her community propelled her to work in social justice education advocacy work. Her goal is to one day work for the CA Department of Education to improve the quality of education for all students.

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