Seeing young activists in the news is becoming a recurring phenomenon in the United States. Our young people are showing up in numbers and demanding to have their voices heard by government officials who are almost always lacking their perspective. Our youth are showing us that there is power in their voices, and it’s in our best interest to start listening and supporting the causes they represent.
California is no outlier when it comes to the exceptional activism being displayed by young people across the country. More specifically, the same is true for California’s education political landscape with the recent appointment of Gema Quetzal Cardenas to the California Board of Education. Gema is a high school junior at Oakland’s Life Academy and has been involved in local education politics in her hometown of Oakland, California [you can read a blog that La Comadre published last year about Gema and her activism here]. As the student representative on the California State Board of Education, she will serve a one year term, beginning August 1st.
During Gema’s campaign for board, she stressed the importance of protecting the undocumented student community in California, a topic that is extremely personal to her as the daughter of immigrants and with close friends who are undocumented students. According to a recent study by Educators for Fair Consideration, there are approximately 1.1 million undocumented people under the age of 18 in the United States, and California is the state with the largest undocumented immigrant population. For undocumented students, the stress that comes with academics is just one of the many challenges faced in their daily lives. Undocumented students face many other challenges due to finances, access to health care and basic needs. Additionally, the current political climate in the United States is only adding to the torment these young people experience. Gema wants to make this cause the focus of her time on the Board of Education, this is admirable, and it seems fitting given the state of our country’s politics. At the age of 16, Gema understands the power of her role in that she is representing millions of students across all sectors of the state.
In a recent interview with EdSource regarding her appointment, Gema stated, “We all share a common goal and that is a quality education for all.”
Gema’s mindset around education policy matches that of education organizations around the state who are working tirelessly to achieve the “common goal” she mentioned in her interview. Gema stressed the importance of working alongside the adults in her new position to ensure that the change she envisions is created. She focused on the need for action towards education justice, not just the conversations that keep happening. Although Gema is one student in a body comprised of adults with the power to make tremendous decisions, her fierce dedication and unapologetic activism that she has demonstrated in her leadership to this day will ensure her voice is heard and that true representation is achieved.
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