Building Community from the Ground Up

Building Community from the Ground Up by Jazmin Gonzalez, 2015 RRASC Intern

Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas molded me into the person I am today — it drastically shaped my view of the world and my activism in the reproductive justice, environmental justice, and civil rights movements. Growing up on the border gives you a unique life experience and perspective, and has profoundly shaped my identity—as a Xicana, as a Tejana, as a feminist. Growing up in the Valley, you have to learn about a multitude of issues because it is your everyday reality. 

Once I learned what reproductive justice meant, I knew I had found the perfect word to describe what I had always intended my activism to be. And through my activist work in the Rio Grande Valley, I was able to learn first hand how all of the issues I care about intersect with one another. Developing this connection through real life experiences has been crucial to my development as a reproductive justice activist, and provided me with clear direction for my political work.

I am sure my activism is going to continue to change and grow — it even changed this summer during my RRASC internship, when I worked with a Latin@ reproductive justice focused non-profit, the Colorado Organization for Latin@ Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). I am always trying to grow and become a better, more effective activist, and my RRASC internship helped me do that. I strongly believe that I can organize more effectively. In particular, I am able to reach and provide access to people who want to get involved in protesting, block walking, or flying for the first time. The best way to get people in the Rio Grande Valley involved in their communities is to teach them that in order to have healthy womxn and families we need to come together at the intersections and build our community from the ground up. 

My current work in the Rio Grande Valley intentionally revolves around education and environmental justice. I presently work with an organization called the DREAM Home, which is an organization that provides free supportive housing to student DREAMers. We also do work in the community facilitating DACA workshops with local high school students. As the lead organizer, I also do work attempting to keep tuition rates low at my university. Learning the obstacles some of my friends had to go through just to go to college really forced me to check my privilege as a “citizen” and learn how unfair it is that my journey is so much easier just because I was born fifteen miles north of the border. I do this work because education should be accessible to every person regardless of citizenship status, and the Rio Grande Valley has a lot of folks who were brought to the U.S. as children. They should be able to attain a college degree in the country they grew up in without being forced to accrue hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Further, the DREAMers are people who, more likely than not, will have a positive impact on our community. 

In addition to my educational work, I have been organizing with the local anti-LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) initiative. We frequently protest LNG companies when they hold informational “community” sessions, and reach out to our legislators and local city officials to call for their opposition of this dangerous work. The LNG companies are targeting our community because we have many low income folks of color who would be willing to take the small amounts of money companies are offering in order to exploit the rights to their land. These corporations target us because they believe that we are easy to take advantage of and are unable to organize effectively. Clearly they are wrong! We have gotten council members on South Padre Island, Los Fresnos, Port Isabel, and Laguna Madre to publicly take a stand saying they oppose LNG in their communities. This organizing has taught me how to explain the connections between environmental justice, reproductive justice, and the overall health of our communities. 

Honestly, I love that I am able and have the time to be involved in my community. I truly care about the Rio Grande Valley and want to give back to it in the best way I know how, through reproductive justice activism.