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Changemakers

Inspiring immigrant youth to act for equity

‘If, as immigrants, we are not able to participate in this democratic process of voting, it sets a path to us being attacked.’

Lizeth Calderon remembers sitting in their dorm room on election night 2016, watching the results come in with friends. As an immigrant from Michoacán, a state in western Mexico, Calderon, who uses the pronouns they/them, felt threatened.

“I knew my community wasn’t safe,” Calderon says. “I remember thinking — if, as immigrants, we are not able to participate in this democratic process of voting, it sets a path to us being attacked.”

Just a few years later, Calderon joined staff at Power California, an organization with a focus on empowering young people of color to participate in democracy, as the Central Valley organizer. Central Valley is where Sacramento, the state capital sits, in addition to cities like Bakersfield, Redding, Stockton, and Fresno.

“I knew that if my vote and millions of others were included, there would be a shift in the constituent base, and our electeds would have to pay attention to the needs of the immigrant community,” they say.

Through door-knocking and phone-banking, Calderon worked to get young people in the Central Valley preregistered to vote and organized them to fight for city funding for job training and other policies that directly affected them. They also helped residents to vote in school board elections, a place where local election laws allow underage and undocumented to participate.

“[There are] long-term effects of voter suppression that folks feel in their communities,” says Calderon, who wants to give residents hope, to imbue them with the sense that they can fight for a “democracy for the people.”

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They say young people’s wildest dreams are possible in our lifetime: “The hope and the resilience of our young folks continuing to be involved and healing through a lot of traumas, it gives me hope that we’re able to do that as a society.”

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