Above: Sandra Ramirez, right, attends a Restorative Justice team meeting hosted by the Schools Action Team, a part of the Building Healthy Communities Eastern Coachella Valley’s School initiative. (Image: Provided by Sandra Ramirez)
By Paulina Rojas
COACHELLA, Calif. – Sandra Ramirez’ path to becoming a community organizer began a few years ago, after her son fell and injured his elbow at school. She got a call from the school two hours later, and by the time she arrived he was in terrible pain and in need of medical attention.
That experience convinced the mother of four that she needed to get involved.
“A lot of people spend their time watching soap operas and gossiping, might as well take that time to make a difference in the community,” Ramirez said in Spanish.
Born in Mexico, Ramirez first came to the United States in 1995. Like a lot of immigrant parents, she wasn’t sure how to engage in public affairs, or even if she could. Then, about three years ago, Ramirez was introduced to the Council of Mexican Federations (COFEM), a non-profit organization based in Los Angeles that works to empower immigrant communities in the eastern Coachella Valley (ECV).
“Before getting involved in COFEM, I did not know that parents had the right to go to the school board to voice their concerns,” Ramirez said. “They gave me a tool that made me feel like my children and I are important.”
Ramirez signed up to join the Schools Action Team, part of the wider Building Healthy Communities (BHC) initiative that aims to improve health outcomes by empowering community members to identify and mobilize around social determinants of health. The team consists of community members and representatives from community organizations based in the ECV.
Ramirez, who has long dark hair that skims her waist, she speaks with a calm confidence that instantly commands attention.
“I really liked that there was a space where a lot of different organizations were working together to help bring change to the schools,” she said. “Sometimes I put a lot of hours into it but I don’t complain because I believe that the children are worth it.”
Today Ramirez is co-chair of the team, helping plan meeting agendas and facilitate activities, including the launch of a Restorative Justice pilot program at Bobby Duke Middle School. Restorative justice is currently the Schools Action Team biggest campaign.
Ramirez’s positive energy and commitment is very much felt and appreciated by those who work alongside her.
“She does not shy away because of obstacles, no matter how big or small,” said COFEM program assistant Leoda Valenzuela. “I truly admire her public speaking ability and her willingness to participate in projects, meetings, events, interviews — you name it.”
Ramirez said that she is thankful for the support of her husband, who often stays at home with the boys so she can attend meetings and events. He never discourages her from attending, she added.
Being involved has also helped Ramirez better understand the difference between Latinos raised in the United States and others, like herself, who grew up outside the country. She said that understanding has helped her take a different parenting approach with her four sons.
She gives as an example doing chores around the house. When she was young, she says chores were expected. But instead of demanding her sons to do them, she has now turned it into a family activity.
“It has helped me a lot as a person,” she said.
Ramirez would like to see more parents get involved. She said that getting that done is difficult, however, as many are reluctant because they do not want to be perceived as being overly aggressive or asking for too much.
Ramirez also said that many don’t feel as though they have the right to speak up for themselves.
“A lot of people feel like they are not deserving of more, especially the ones that have come from countries where there are not as many resources available,” she said. “A lot of them tell me ‘what else could we ask for?’ It takes a lot of work to change that kind of mentality and we end up shortchanging ourselves.”
About the author:
Paulina Rojas joined Coachella Uninc. as a beat reporter in February 2016 after working as a city reporter in the eastern Coachella Valley for more than a year. Although born and raised in New York City, Paulina feels right at home in the eastern Coachella Valley. She loves the warmth of the people and buying fresh bread from her favorite bakery in downtown Coachella. Paulina is a graduate of the University of Houston, and her work has appeared in The Las Vegas Review – Journal, The Houston Chronicle, HelloGiggles and Vivala. View her author page here.