Meet Maria Ramirez
Maria Ramirez is a 4th generation member of her decoto community. She is Chicana as well as Puerto Rican. Her Puerto Rican side of the family immigrated to California from Hawaii because of the agricultural jobs they could work due to their prior history working on plantations in Hawaii. She was class of 1965 at James Logan High School just a few years after it opened. Maria has a long history of community involvement starting from when she was just a young girl. She followed within her mothers footsteps and started getting involved within her community. Maria grew up watching the Civil Rights Movement, Chicano Movement, 3rd World Strike, and other major events on TV which educated her about the reality of the current world. In her later years, Maria birthed a beautiful baby girl who was born with down syndrome. She knew it wouldn’t be easy but raising her children in her community was essential for her. She recalls many doctors telling her to send her to get help as she would never have a normal life but in desperate times she knew she would turn to her community and her culture. With support from family and friends she continued to raise a happy daughter and gave her a great life even though it wasn’t always easy.
I considered Maria to be my mentor as soon as I took on this project because of prior connections I had with her throught Aztec Dance. Maria is among the few people who’s family’s have lived in the community for generations so I felt like she was fitting for this project. She knows what this community once was so she knows the importance of saving the farm. I recognize her history with the community as well as her history advocating for change on a larger scale. She is very active within the community and definitely someone I could turn to for support.
Describe your experience making community change
One of Maria’s first experiences helping the community was by making the local community college, Chabot College open to all students. Chabot was segregated between Blacks and Browns at its opening in 1967. Maria among many other students fought to open up Chabot College and help start recruiting Chicanos into higher education. Many Chicano students were often told they weren’t “college material”, they weren’t “ready” for college, or that they “wouldn’t make it.” Back in High School Maria recalls James Logan High School also being segregated where the brown boys would be put in woodshop and white student would be put in college prep classes. Additionally, Maria also participated in High School walk outs during the 60s to fight for better education. She recalls immigrant students being tested for English and placed into Special Education classes as well as them being penalized with physical force for speaking Spanish. Later on, Maria organized during the 3rd World Strike taking place among University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State College. These students of color were fighting for access to inclusive education as well as challenging the Eurocenctric lens on education which pushed forward the fight for Ethnic Studies. Maria described it as everyone coming together and joining the fight against the main oppressor.
Why is it important to save the farm?
Considering the history of Union City it has always been mostly farmland. That is why Ramirez Farm being the last farmland in the Union City and Fremont Area is so important. Many argue that it’s just a cornfield but Maria argues that we value the wrong things. Farmland and open space have so much to offer and enrich our lives but it’s simply that over time we have lost our appreciation toward these spaces. People nowadays don’t value natural things. Apart from that we have to look into who this highway extension and housing will benefit because it will not be our communities. This new housing will not be for us and the highway also will not be for us. It is all for the people passing through everyday on their way to their jobs in Silicon Valley and for the people who can afford the expensive housing. Ramirez Farm and everything it has to offer this community is worth more than a highway extension and housing not meant for us.
what can the community do to help?
The community can educate themselves and others on the issue as this information is often not the most accessible to the public. If the community utilizes their voices and pushes back then together we have a chance to preserve the farm. Additionally, we can visit the farm and also attend city meetings. We must show our support and push back from the plans to build this highway extension.
Summary & Reflection
My biggest takeaway from this interview was that Maria such a strong woman that has helped out her community in times of need. Hearing her story has inspired me to do the same and advocate for change as well as to inspire the youth to do the same. There is a lot we can learn from our elders and Maria has definitely been a big mentor of mine even outside of this project. One of the things she taught me was that if we want to see change we have to go out there and make the change. That is my plan for this project and for many more to come. I met her the summer before I started High School during my rite of passage as a Xilonen Corn Maiden of 2019 and she has taught me so much about how we are all connected and one. I think that with Maria’s help in addition to support from Liz the Union City Bart Director we can help preserve the farm. Together we can educate the community and I feel like us coming together will also help reunite the decoto community that was once so close. I am definitely privileged to have such an empowering woman like her in my life and I will take advantage of this and follow within her footsteps.