Two summers ago, I was feeling anxious, nervous and scared. But it was more than the usual sadness about another summer coming to an end; I was about to begin my freshman year at a fancy prep school outside my community—not to mention my comfort zone.
I have lived in the city of Coachella my entire life. The great majority of the population is Hispanic, and many families who live here don’t have access to adequate living conditions, health care or even healthy food. In the near vicinity are thousands of acres of farmland where many people, including my own grandfather, work every day in order to support their families.
Up until last year, I attended elementary and middle school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, just outside of Coachella, in the city of Indio. Even though OLPH is a Catholic school, things like exotic family vacations or fancy computers never mattered to me and my classmates. Catching the latest episode of our favorite television shows was far more important.
But in eighth-grade, my friends and I started talking about high school. I decided I really wanted to go to Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, a private Jesuit school; however, I did not have high hopes. Seeing my parents struggle with tuition at OLPH, attending Xavier did not seem realistic. Yet I filled out my application and anxiously waited every day for a response. I was thrilled when I was accepted and awarded financial aid.
During the summer of 2011, there was one thing that never left my mind: Why am I leaving the Latino Eastern Coachella Valley for the glitz and glamour of Palm Desert? Palm Desert is an affluent community, and I feared I would never fit in.
During my first weeks of school, I realized my fears were coming true: I did not fit in. I never had most of the things I wanted in life, so I figured everyone must be just like me. I’ve only been out of state once in my entire life, and here, kids were talking about their lavish summer trips to the East Coast and Europe. I had only seen MacBooks and other Apple products on television, and here, kids had all of them at their fingertips.
But I was smart enough to realize that their MacBooks and European trips did not make my new classmates better than me. David Allan Coe once said, “All men are created equal; it is only men themselves who place themselves above equality.”
And then, I came across an opportunity that was only for youth from the Eastern Coachella Valley: I was offered a chance to be a reporter for a news website (which now also has a brand-new print version). I would be able to cover events in my community and improve my writing and photography skills. I filled out my application and was eventually hired by Coachella Unincorporated in January 2012.
The reporting I knew from television is different than the reporting I am doing now. Contrary to popular belief, journalism is not only flash photography and-breaking news headlines. For us, it is being the voice of the voiceless, and shedding light on the struggles that our community goes through every day. Writing for change is what I consider myself to be doing, hoping that someone will listen to our voices and that together we can resolve these issues for the betterment of my community.
In the end, I finished my freshman year with outstanding grades and was elected to student government. I am now a sophomore, a locker higher and a year wiser. I plan to continue my writing career for as long as I can. I plan to further my education in college as well.
In the end, I found the answer I was looking for. I leave my rural community every morning for Xavier College Prep, in the wealthy community of Palm Desert, for one thing: opportunity. An opportunity to better myself in this world. An opportunity to leave my mark in this world. An opportunity to change my life, the lives of others, and to change the community I call home for the better.
Coachella Unincorporated is a youth media startup in the East Coachella Valley, funded by the Building Healthy Communities Initiative of the California Endowment and operated by New America Media in San Francisco. The purpose is to report on issues in the community that can bring about change. “Coachella Unincorporated” refers to the region youth journalists cover, but also to the unincorporated communities of the Eastern Valley with the idea to “incorporate” the East Valley into the mainstream Coachella Valley mindset. For more information, visit coachellaunincorporated.org.