Q&A: Young Activist and Poet Says Art Crosses All Borders

By Alondra Jimenez

Editor’s Note: Erika Castellanos, 22, is the youth coordinator and event coordinator for Raices Cultura, an art-based organization that provides a safe space for local youth in the Eastern Coachella Valley. Castellanos, a Mecca resident, has helped Raices Cultura host events like their open mic nights and most recently, the organization showcased art installations at the 2017 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Coachella Unincorporated youth reporter, Alondra Jimenez sat down with Castellanos to find out what inspires her art and community activism.

How did you first become involved in your community?

In high school, I was in this club called ‘’FIRME,’’ it stood for Film Inquiry Research Media Education and we started off doing documentaries within our communities. We used to call them ‘’Barrio-mentaries.’’ After that I started to learn about other nonprofits that helped the community such as BHC (Building Healthy Communities). Then someone came by FIRME one time and they said that there was this research project going on in the community to find out how many places there were for youth, like recreational places. I started thinking about how there’s not really that many spaces for youth and that would be a cool research project to do. So I got on board with YPAR (Youth Participatory Action Research) right here at Raices.

Through the first YPAR, I came in as one of the first youth in Raices. I transitioned from volunteer to employee, and from youth to adult. It feels kind of like an accomplishment, you know, like you actually see how you work for something and how much you care about something, and eventually it pays off.

(Image: Alondra Jimenez/Coachella Unincorporated)

Why is art an important part of creating social change?

Art is a form of expression. So with art, you can show things rather than saying it. Like a cartoon, you know, they draw little cartoons that are a form of saying something. That’s more of a visual aspect but there are different types of art. For example, I do poetry. So my art is for people to think about what I say and to share my personal experience. I think art is different. It crosses all borders.

How do you balance being a young mom and being so active in your community?

It’s really hard and then trying to balance everything out, is really hard. I also go to school right now so it’s my second semester back in school. I want to be a teacher and I’m studying early childhood education. Do I want [the world] to be a better place for my daughter? Yes, I do. But it has to also come from her. I never want her to stop being happy. After the election I looked at her and said, ‘Coraline, you could be anything, even president.’ And I’m going to make her believe she can be anything that she wants.

(Image: Alondra Jimenez/ Coachella Unincorporated)

What’s the best part of being apart of Raices?

All the experiences we get to have. I think [Raices] helps you connect with people and those people see you more as an adult. When I was in high school a lot of adults wouldn’t take me seriously, but when I started joining Raices they started looking at me like an adult, a young adult, so I would have more credibility in what I would say. I liked traveling with these people. [Raices] offered opportunities to travel so I went to Sacramento already, twice, when I was in high school.

Why should be people involved with Raices?

I think Raices serves as a platform for people to get connected and also to start being more engaged in their community. Every two weeks we have an open mic night and those nights have gotten a lot of people involved. Now we want to lead more conscious conversations to start engaging people in conversations that promote creative thinking. Ideally, I see more people and more youth coming in and doing the same thing that I do. I see getting more people getting involved in the community and in more projects.

I think it’s important for youth to get engaged in spaces like Raices, Coachella Unincorporated and BHC because we all create that platform for people, for youth, to share their voice because they are our next leaders.

About the Author:

Alondra Jimenez was born and raised in Coachella. She volunteers with three local organizations in her free time. In high school, she was part of yearbook and journalism. She hopes to gain experience and knowledge she can implement in her future. She also strongly believes in civic engagement and helping amplify the voices of minority communities. Alondra hopes to spread awareness about issues facing her community. View her author page here.

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