Karina Andalon emcees at The Hue Music and Arts Festival.

The first thing Karina Andalon wanted to be when she grew up was a professional singer. Her friends, she says, dissuaded her of that notion.

In my generation, that conversation would have gone like this:

Classmate: “What’d you do with the money?”

Car karaoke enthusiast: “What money?”

Classmate: “The money your parents gave you for singing lessons.”

OK, boomer. As much as I hate that phrase, we boomers were mean teens. We didn’t start the “mean girl” trope; it was even explored on Little House on the Prairie. (I’m talking to you, Nellie). Neither did we perfect it; that was Gen X (Mean Girls). But we did use our words to maim, shame and embarrass.

Anyway, back to Andalon, who is 22 and therefore part of Generation Z (aka a zoomer). Even as she relates the reality of her childhood dream, it is with a laugh of self-recognition. Generation Z is a very different animal.

A Stanford University study: They are pragmatic and value direct communication, authenticity and relevance.

Did her mom have a vision for her to be an activist when she drove from Mexicali, Mexico, to Indio for her wellness checkups and to give birth to Andalon? Who knows. We do know she wanted her daughter to have something she could never have: naturalized American citizenship, and a chance at what we call “the American dream.”

They couldn’t afford to live in Indio, so Mexicali was Andalon’s home until third grade, when the family of four moved to Compton and into a converted garage. It was cramped, so after Andalon graduated from sixth grade, they moved to Thermal, on the eastern edge of the Coachella Valley. It’s an unincorporated community rich with agriculture: citrus orchards, winter vegetables and date palms. Almost everyone there is Hispanic; most are foreign-born and economically disadvantaged.

Statistics like those would eventually motivate Andalon to get involved in her community. But when she was a 14-year-old girl in class listening to a youth organizer from Alianza—a nonprofit with a mission to “transform the socio-economic conditions of the Coachella Valley so that people in all communities have opportunities to prosper”—she was motivated by something else: pity. That poor guy pitched his heart out to the class, and no one signed up.

So she did. Victor Gonzalez became her mentor.

BBC.com: Research shows that Gen Z’s passion for change is revitalising the generations above them too, with the trickle-up effect hard to ignore. Globally, 52% of people of all generations believe teenagers and college-aged people influence how we create change.

As a student member of YO-C (Alianza’s Youth Organizing Council), Andalon advocated for and gave speeches promoting positive school climate (engagement, safety and environment), the Salton Sea (restoring and sustaining), and many other issues relevant to the eastern Coachella Valley.

“Canvassing to get the vote out was actually something we did through action,” Andalon says, distinguishing soapboxing from having grassroots “feet on the ground.” She recalls one man who, at the end of their conversation, promised her that not only would he vote; he would also encourage his friends and neighbors to do so as well.

For eight years, Andalon has been using her voice to uplift others, which more than qualifies her for badass status

With four years as part of YO-C, Andalon graduated from Desert Mirage High School. She spent one quarter at the University of California, Irvine, but the cost was oppressive. (A quick check on their website shows that a California resident would pay $16,522.86 per school year to attend.)

“I returned to College of the Desert and did my associate’s in psychology and political science, then transferred to UC Riverside and did my public policy major,” she says.

She graduated with a degree in public policy, with economic and urban/environmental policy concentrations, and how she’s back with Alianza as a full-time youth coordinator.

“I’ve come full circle,” Andalon says with a laugh.

And this is where we buckle up, because she’s accomplished a lot more than those degrees. She’s organized youth groups in counties across California with Líderes Campesinas. She’s on the AB 617 Community Steering Committee, a Coachella Valley clean air/environment initiative. She’s been part of a youth committee with Loma Linda University Health that reaches out to the eastern Coachella Valley to provide necessary health resources. With YO-C, she did everything from give speeches to emcee at The Hue music festival. She was part of a community task force that made suggestions to the county on how to disperse CARES Act funds. I could go on and on, really.

She recently got the materials to study for the LSAT, but she wants to make sure she spends her education money wisely, so she’s still thinking on it.

For eight years, Andalon has been using her voice to uplift others, which more than qualifies her for badass status—but she is also a girl zoomer, and that’s a new badass breed of human.

They are unified and unstoppable. They also don’t look on my generation fondly, and honestly? I’m kinda cringy about us, too. Our excesses created landfills full of fast fashion, and floating junk islands the size of Texas. Gen Z’s inheritance will be a family home badly in need of renovations. And socially? We’re a disaster. But Z has what Lou Grant called spunk; he hated spunk, but I’m here for it.

On social media, Z is vaunted as the “fuck around and find out” generation. It’s my new favorite reality show.

Kay Kudukis is a former lead singer in a disco cover band who then became a Gaslight girl, then an actress, and then the author of two produced and wildly unacclaimed plays—as well as one likely unseen...