STOCKTON, CA- Sixteen students from Santa Clara University (SCU) took a 257 mile stroll through the State of California for a class on Social Justice and the arts. They began in Ocean Beach on June 14th and their path took them through Stockton on June 19th — their destination Yosemite. Father Dean from St. Mary’s church connected with the fifteen students that made it to Stockton and he created a full itinerary of various educational opportunities in hopes that they learn about issues facing Stockton and the Central Valley.
“Father Dean is orchestrating everything,” said Assistant Professor and Director of the Dance and theatre Department at SCU, David Popalisky, who has been leading his students on this journey through California.
Beginning with shower at the InShape headquarters in downtown Stockton they walked to their first lesson in the port city — a lesson on local politics at City Hall with Mayor, Ann Johnston.
Johnston’s visit was brief but she was able to touch on one of the City’s and State’s biggest issue: water. The students talked about how they realized the importance of water as during their walk in a prior day temperatures reached 106º F degrees. The Mayor took the opportunity to remind them that, “In our area in particularly, water is a huge issue,” continuing that “It’s a big issue and most people don’t realize that we are surrounded by water here,” Father Dean highlighted that their path would take them along the water ways so that they can see one of Stockton’s gems, the Delta.
From there, the students walked through an Occupy Stockton encampment; they learned a few lessons of protest. The mother of James Rivera, who was killed at the age of 16 by allegedly police officers in the Stockton Police Department, shared her reason for joining Occupy Stockton.
“I don’t want other people to go through what I went through that day- to see my son torn by bullet holes,” she shared, “We want it to change, this town is corrupt we are coming together as a community… this is a small town. We shouldn’t have this much going on in Stockton.”
In the same park stood a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. and candidate for City Council, 6th District, Michael Tubbs stood beside the statue for a short message. Tubbs highlighted the importance of public service in the community, ”The problems are real,” said Tubbs, “It would be selfish of me to have such a great experience [referring to his opportunities to attend Stanford University] while my little brothers and sisters still hear gun shots at night.”
Stockton Unified School Board President, Sara Cazares talked about her experience as a, “working class Mexican from Stockton went 3,000 miles to Harvard,” she talked about being at Harvard in the early 80’s and how the potential of Stockton students inspired her to run for SUSD board in 2010.
Just across the street- at the statue dedicated to the Braceros was a lesson from a former farm worker and advocate for the United Farm Workers (UFW) . He talked about the struggles he had faced from farming during the 70’s and how the airplanes used to spray chemicals while working, and explained the intensity of their labor. Today he has fought leukemia, and lives with a paralyzed diaphragm from bending over for so many years.
Others from UFW reminded them of the deaths, such as the pregnant 17 year old, Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, who was denied water on the fields — she died from dehydration. However, the UFW sees a better future today for unionized farm workers, and in the next few months they say it will improve even more for some local workers. They asked for the walkers to remember the field workers and support them in the future. “If these workers were not working so hard every day we wouldn’t have anything to eat, it’s such as sad thing [the way the workers are treated] for something so essential.”
Sammy Nunez from Fathers and Families talked about crime statistics, poverty and youth empowerment as he joined them at the Bracero statue and walked them to his office Located at the Market and Sutter Street.
“You are here for Social Justice, it means equity, it means people are treated the same way,” reminding the students of the lessons they are here to learn. “You’re standing in the city that the fight for equity; is here, these are the front lines of equity.”
After leaving Fathers and Families of San Joaquin the students visited the Mexican Heritage Center and Gallery, which had a Classic Ballet for youth was taking place. Upon their arrival a buffet of traditional Mexican food brought in by volunteers and locals. The Mexican Heritage Center offered lessons of traditional Mexican food, culture and hospitality
“Nuestra Casa is Su Casa (Our house is your House), this is a center for the community,” said Gene Acevedo, President of the Mexican Heritage Center.
Popalisky noted that the journey’s goal is for students to learn first-hand about the challenges californian’s face across the state. “There is more to California when you interact with each community,” Popalisky noted. Before moving on, Diana Bustos, walker and Alumni of SCU shared her support in the flagship course, “this has been a wonderful journey, there is nothing negative coming out of this.”
From the Heritage Center, the students concluded their day at St. Mary’s church and walked to a labor camp in French Camp for an evening rest.