Above: Olvera, left, poses with her grandmother, middle, and her mother at the Cesar Chavez celebration.
By Kaitlyn Olvera
Images via Kaitlyn Olvera
Editor’s Note: This year, We’Ced is committed to uplifting the work and leadership of people of color in our community via a multi-part campaign, #LeadingMerced. This series grew out of a simple question posed to our youth cohort: Who inspires you?
We will begin releasing profiles written by our youth reporters, and other youth leaders, that highlight people who inspire them. We hope to change the narrative around what leadership looks like in Merced, and elevate powerful untold stories of community members.
During the Cesar Chavez celebration in Merced, I was able to recognize my grandmother, Cecilia Mendoza, as an outstanding leader in our community. Having served as the Co-Chair of the event, I presented the award, a special recognition on behalf of the Cesar Chavez Planning Committee.
To see the smile on her face and her eyes watering was an incredible experience. I had never chaired an event before, and although I was extremely nervous, I was glad to be the person sharing that special moment with her.
I felt very honored. The love and respect I have for my grandmother is undeniable. She is the person I most look up to.
My grandma emigrated from Mexico to California during the 70s. She worked as a farm worker throughout the Central Valley. Through anecdotes, I know she made a lot of sacrifices for her family in order to provide for her loved ones. She also joined the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) where she met and worked along side of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.
When farm workers were organizing and boycotting, many of them were detained and incarcerated, including my grandma. The fight for farm worker rights, better pay, and humane working conditions was not easy. My grandma endured a lot of pain and suffering.
Fortunately, all their hard work paid off. The UFW and farm workers made a lot of strides in the farm worker movement and helped establish protections for future generations. My grandmother has always been very proud of this work. So much that she continues to fight for others as an activist in our community till this day.
Honoring my grandmother made me feel like I did something good for Merced. Our elders, specifically elder women, don’t often get the recognition they deserve. Merced has a rich history of organizing and I am glad my grandmother is part of that history.
This was a stepping stone, not only for Merced, but for myself. I hope we can continue to honor individuals who have worked very hard to make our city a better place.
For the first time in my life, I also feel like I have a voice as a youth leader. I was very empowered that day. I got the opportunity to chair an event while at the same time commemorating one of the most important people in my life. I plan to continue using my voice as a tool to help other young people in my community, but especially, to one day be just like my grandma.
Kaitlyn Olvera, is a 14-year-old freshman at Merced High School and youth leader with Faith in the Valley, Merced (formerly known as MOP). Her favorite hobbies are spending time with her family and being involved in her community. She credits her leadership development to her mentor, Crissy Gallardo, who has taught her to be more comfortable with herself and take ownership of who she is. Kaitlyn’s ultimate goal is to become an activist just like her grandmother.