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Mariana Lopez embraces civic engagement with passion

This article was first published July 31, 2018 on IECN

Canvassing in the scorching heat, knocking door-to-door, talking to residents to get pledge cards, and testifying during public hearings. Sounds extensive, doesn’t it? These sort of actions are typical for local volunteer, Mariana Lopez.

A recent 23-year-old graduate from the University of California at Irvine, Lopez triple-majored in international studies, sociology, and political science. She’s been a resident of Rubidoux for the majority of her life–a community she says she “wouldn’t leave at all.”

“You can empower and uplift your community when you truly understand the issues affecting people.”

Because of Lopez’s efforts, industry led efforts like Proposition 70 (Cap and Trade Vote Amendment) are being defeated at the ballot box. She was also Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice’s (CCAEJ) top signature getter in efforts to repeal Proposition 13. Lopez obtained 55 signatures, more than twice the number volunteers were asked to get.

CCAEJ Civic Engagement Director Italia Garcia notes that Lopez took “a lot of self-initiative” in the process, going above and beyond to attain signatures.

“Mariana really stands out among volunteers because she has great leadership skills and work ethics,” Garcia explains. “She really cares about making a change in her community.”

Civic engagement has always been an important aspect of Lopez’s life. She began volunteering at St. John’s Church, supporting her father’s weekly food pantry program. Interacting with others in the community, especially those from low-income backgrounds, motivated Lopez to dedicate herself to making a difference. While studying abroad in Barcelona, she organized students for a Sisters/Women’s march–where she became passionate for “advocating and uplifting everyone’s voices, especially those of women.”

“If you’re truly passionate about what it is you are supporting, I think that will be reflected when you’re communicating with people,” Lopez says about her experiences.

Shortly after returning from Barcelona, Lopez learned about a controversial incident at Rubidoux High School, in which various teachers made derogatory comments about students who chose to participate in the ‘Day Without Immigrants’ protest.

“I was so mad that teachers we looked up to could make racist comments and mock those who participated,” she said about the incident at her alma mater.

With the help of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Lopez learned how to “mobilize the community” in a manner that was non-violent, yet direct.

Through phone banking, Lopez contacted community members–urging them to attend and testify at public hearings to demand action against the teachers. Lopez also testified at one of these hearings, an experience she admitted was frightening for her.

“[My siblings and I] had a close relationship with one of those teachers…so for me it was really scary to go out and testify…but that didn’t hold me back,” she recalls.

In fact, Lopez is now helping lead an effort to bring further resources to undocumented students. The goal, she explained, is to have DREAM Resource Centers at all three Jurupa Unified School District high schools.

“To me, I know that the little action I’m taking will hopefully impact or motivate others to volunteer or help out in the community,” said Lopez. “It’s like voting. If you truly want to see a change within your community, go out and do something. Be relentless about it.”

Article written by Dania DeRamon, CCAEJ Communications Intern

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