transcript edited by Pierce Butler
This is the ninth in a continuing series of transcript excerpts from the collection of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida.
Community organizer Sonja Diaz was interviewed by Prof. Paul Ortiz [O] on June 3, 2010.
I am a third/fourth generation Chicana. My dad’s side of the family was born and raised in Southern California back to my great grandparents. My mom is sixth generation Tejana. My mother was a farm worker and my father grew up in East L.A., a construction worker with my grandpa. Both of my parents were the first in their families to go to college. My mom was active in the UFW and my father in the East L.A. Walkouts. I grew up in East L.A. in a family that was very socially conscious. Every weekend we’d go to an art event, a protest, a march. For instance, the César Chávez marches in East L.A.; protesting Prop. 187, to take away social services for undocumented people; Prop. 209 which ended affirmative action. We called it “Radio Fire activism” ‘cause my brother and I would get in our red Radio Fire and our parents would drag us along. So, activism was spurred through our family: my father, being an urban planner and advocating on behalf of urban communities of color; my mother, working in social services and for empowerment of blacks and Latinos. It just was natural at UC Santa Cruz to continue activism along racial/ethnic lines. So, definitely East Los Angeles, El Sereno, and my parents shaped who I am today. It gave me that community education that was so lacking in LAUSD public schools. They taught me in a way where I felt proud of not only being a Chicana, but also of where I grew up and of the people and community that supported me.
My mom started working the fields at age five. She talked about not having water, not having bathroom breaks, not getting paid. She told me about my grandpa, who was born in Mexico and didn’t have formal education, taking notes about all the hours that his compadres worked because they weren’t getting paid for everything.
On my dad’s end, both my grandparents were very vigilant that they went to Catholic schools. If you had more than three kids, after the third it was free, so it was a deal for them. But it was very racist and he would talk about discrimination based on skin, based on class. His counselors refused to give him a college application. And to this day, I look at that story as something—wow, you know—that’s what used to happen, but it’s still happening.