My colleagues on the Community Alliance Editorial Board said, “Interview Cindy Quiralte; you’ll be impressed.” I had never heard of her, but I said okay, and she said okay—and guess what—I’m impressed.
On meeting Cindy, it is immediately evident that here is a young woman who is idealistic, serious, motivated… and vivacious. Within just a couple years of her political awakening (see below), she has taken on major responsibility in several organizations, including her recent election as the first Latina president of the Fresno City College (FCC) student body.
She has dreams, but also a clear understanding of the concrete steps needed to realize them, and a commitment to the grind of organizing needed to recruit movement workers and build alliances.
Cindy attributes her newfound purposiveness to a Chicano/Latino Politics class she took last year under the tutelage of Matthew Espinoza-Watson. She was especially engaged by presentations given on Cesar Chavez Day by Gilbert Padilla and Umberto Garza.
“I was familiar with the legendary history of the United Farmworkers, but in truth, I had no idea about the struggle involved and the difficulty of establishing a movement based on nonviolence. Here were two men who had lived it, and whose work continued beyond the farmworker culture into the urban barrios. My parents had been farmworkers once, but we live in the city now and when our speakers challenged us to take up the work of educating and empowering people right where we live, I was stirred. Something told me that this was work I needed to do.”
Cindy began her journey with small steps. She found a few friends who had been similarly moved, and they revived a MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) chapter on campus. The new organization set about learning “movement history” beyond the anecdotal stories of family members. One of their first actions was to bring Padilla and Garza back to campus.
“We began to realize how ‘asleep’ we had been… and so many of our acquaintances still are. We began to focus on education and political awakening.”
Cindy’s research led her to the Puente Project, which is a writing-based project aiming at preparing Latino students for the transition to four-year colleges. (She is now the Central Valley chair.) She also began working with MAPA (Mexican American Political Association) on issues related to the electoral redistricting. Moreover, she has brought FCC’s MEChA group into partnership with the Young Boys of Many Colors program housed at the Chicano Youth Center.
The work of reviving MEChA has had its share of resistance, from both administrators (concerned mainly with budgetary matters and not eager for new issues to crop up) and fellow students either focused on individual achievement or nervous around boat-rockers—especially women.
I asked about her family’s response. Cindy said, “They are very supportive of me personally, but a little confused by my priorities. They ask when I’m planning to get married and have children. They’re glad to see me passionate and happy, but if I say I’m a feminist, they’re not sure what I mean.”
Starting off with little knowledge of how to organize, the “three of us” who began the new MEChA chapter have learned quickly the nuts-and-bolts of recruiting in classrooms, tabling and holding non-political events (like Day of the Dead programs) to attract people through their cultural identity.
They’ve carefully chosen which issues to focus on, like the campus budget. “We had a contingent of 30 at the hearings, calling for the use of reserves instead of fee increases. We were heard, but not listened to… yet.”
In the process, they joined forces with other campus groups like the Pan-African Student Union. Other issues on MEChA’s agenda are the low percentage of Latino graduates and transfers and the paucity of women in leadership positions on campus.
For her growth to political awareness and confidence, Cindy gives special credit to faculty advisers Espionoza-Watson and Art Amrao, to “comrade” Mia Barrazo and to community leaders like Rey Leon and the members of the Brown Berets.
Although she hopes to attend UC Berkeley when she graduates from FCC, her heart is in the Valley. “I want to see the Central Valley seen as a respected worthwhile place to live. I want to help my community overcome its fear of speaking up for fair treatment. But I know these are goals we have to work toward together. Accomplishments rely on organizations.”
Cindy may be contacted at 209-233-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Name: Cindy Quiralte
Religious Affiliation: Catholic
Political Affiliation: Registered Democrat (but looking)
Most Frequented Places: The Tower, FCC
Motto: “Be the change you want to see”; “Each one, teach one”
Inspirations: Dolores Huerta, Joaquin Murrieta
Non-Political Interests: Running, reading, writing poetry
Unexpected Pleasure: Mixed martial arts