"Exhibiting You" - Story

My Political Life

By: Agxibel Barajas
Submitted: 10/02/2008

As a result of socioeconomic disadvantages in his native land, my grandfather migrated to the United States in 1942 as a Bracero worker. Shortly thereafter, my parents joined him in their search for the opportunities that their own government failed to provide.

Unfortunately, financial circumstances forced my father to quit high school, and limited my mother to an incomplete elementary school education. Their lack of formal education condemned my parents to over twenty-five years of agricultural labor; but it did not prevent them from knowing what was important in life, or from observing the cruel effects of socioeconomic disadvantages. Given the reasons for having migrated to the United States, my grandfather and parents were not about to sit around and be spectators or willing victims of socioeconomic disadvantages.

As agricultural workers, my family's main means for expression was through the United Farm Workers. My grandfather and father were firm believers in, and followers of, Cesar Chavez. Throughout my childhood, my grandfather and father took us (my brothers and me) to union meetings, protests, etc. I remember spending long hours at union meetings where the union leaders negotiated contracts with local farmers.

I remember attending protests where I walked for hours, brandishing a red flag emblazoned with an eagle. My grandfather and father realized the need for change; the need to be heard. They were not spectators waiting for change to happen by itself or waiting for others to take action. They actively worked to bring about change.

My grandfather and father made their work for change a family affair. Oftentimes, union functions took the place of family time. My grandfather and father had to make many personal sacrifices. Those sacrifices came in the form of absences from the family, missed work, reduced wages, etc. My family taught me not to settle for the ill effects of social and economic inequities. They made me more acutely aware of the urgency for change. Most importantly, they taught me not to wait for change to occur but to assume the mantle of change.

With such an enriched childhood, it was only natural for me to continue the work of my grandfather and father. By age sixteen I was old enough to analyze, evaluate and appreciate their beliefs and efforts. My first moment of full enlightenment came when I walked the streets on behalf of our local candidate for State Assembly. These grass roots efforts to inform our community gave me the opportunity to interact with community members I would not otherwise have met. I had the opportunity to listen to their comments, concerns, problems, criticisms, etc. I also witnessed the substandard, often primitive, housing conditions within the community. Slowly I began to completely disassociate myself from personal wounds to my pride and to focus on the appalling issues that confronted my community.

I was outraged by the fact that no one was moved to do anything to rectify these deplorable conditions. Even worse, no one seemed to notice or care. I wanted to go out and change the world. Unfortunately, as is often the case, there were many barriers standing in my way; barriers that ranged from ill-intended people to pure ignorance. Perhaps I was too idealistic at that time. I wanted to change the world single-handedly and overnight, an irrational and impossible task. Time and experience have taught me that action speaks louder than words. They have also taught me that helping to improve the life of one person can cause a ripple effect throughout the community.

I soon found that fomenting change often generates stiff opposition. I also encountered many unexpected obstacles in the form of incompetent and self-serving political leaders, poorly qualified civic officials, inept and detached school officials, ill-prepared and uncaring teachers, etc. Thanks to the role models provided by my grandfather and father, who devoted their entire lives to initiating change, I remained undaunted. They were wise men who knew that they could not change the world overnight or on their own. Most importantly, they were fully aware of the fact that they might not see immediate results emerge from their efforts. They sought to create change for the benefit of future generations; a future that was incarnated by my brothers and me. They labored to create changes that would afford for us a better, more promising future.

I had taken the first step: recognizing the urgency for change. The second step was to acknowledge that significant changes require time and communal effort. It doesn't matter how big the change may be. What matters is to set the wheels of change in motion and to produce some ripple effects. When one helps to enhance the growth potentials, talents and opportunities for even one single person that change engenders a new force for communal gains. Thoughts of this nature have helped me to crystallize my own sense of purpose and identity as a catalyst for change and an enabler for others.

One of my choices for creating change involves my more active participation in our political system. We must all vote; but we must also help to place in office individuals who not only share our beliefs and perceptions but who are highly competent and also sensitive to the hopes and needs of others.

During my first experience as a sixteen year old volunteer in a State Assembly campaign I met an individual whose beliefs and perceptions I shared. He, too, had realized the dire needs for change in our community, and the need for more aggressive leadership. His commitment to change led to my commitment to his beliefs and to my personal loyalty to him. Forward time by six years and that same individual is now running for State Assembly. Fresh out of college . . . I could have taken up a job on Wall Street or a job in any major city across the country. I did not. I chose instead to return to my community and to help my friend to create change by working in his campaign. Because he appears to be an instrument for change my work with him helps to satisfy my own commitment to change.

In the course of my campaign work I have become increasingly aware of my own previously untapped reservoir of cognitive powers and analytical skills. These revelations buttress my sense of identity as a catalyst and enabler. They also reinforce my own sensibilities to the pressing need for greater balance in our political leadership. Real and enduring change demands that the voices, knowledge, practicality and perceptions of women be given weight at least equal to that accorded to men. In my opinion it is virtually impossible to fully interpret and comprehend the needs of families and communities (and nations) without the balance that only women can offer.

These are not matters of sexism or preference so long as we also insist that female candidates for office be held to equally high standards for competence and intellectual preparation. One cannot ignore the fact that a great many other countries around the world fare quite well with women at the helm. Nor can one ignore the fact that an increasing number of states freely elect women as their governors.

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