For me, the fight against poverty is personal. Although I was fortunate enough to be born to a family that could provide for my siblings and me, my peers in Arvin and Bakersfield, CA were not as fortunate. Through my parents’ hard work and sweat, I grew up with enough food on the table, obtained the opportunity to attend a first-class public university, and dedicated myself to paying it forward to nuestra comunidad.
According to the World Health Organization, poverty is a strong determinant of a range of issues, including health, and leads to a diminished quality of life. California has a poverty rate of 23.8%, and as the presence of Latinos grows in California, the effects of such deep poverty on education, health care, and nourishment have become increasingly clear. Though the nation has been slowly recovering from the setbacks of the recent economic recession, it is evident that many still struggle with the damage it caused. Prior to the recession, more white than Hispanic children lived in poverty; now 37.3% of Latino children in the U.S. are in poverty compared to 30.5% of white children.
Future economic opportunity is directly impacted by rising hunger and poverty rates. Many Latinos are disproportionately affected by poverty and would benefit from the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP) and California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids (CalWorks) programs. Additionally, many would benefit from bills such as Assembly Bill 2345 (Gonzalez), introduced this year, which would ensure all eligible families who meet income requirements enroll in CalWorks and CFAP. A bill like AB 2345 would ease some of the stress of living in poverty that often has lasting detrimental effects on the development and life of a child.
Reflecting back, I never quite took into consideration how many of my peers qualified for free or reduced meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Now however, I’ve realized that a high influx of K-12 students are eligible and enrolled in NSLP programs in participating school districts across the country. In fact, Latinos often participate at higher rates than other ethnic groups, demonstrating the need for these programs.
Some schools are taking these actions a step further by providing free and reduced lunches to every student. One school within the Josephine County school district, for instance, will provide free meals to every student, bringing forth the efforts of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act that seeks to alleviate hunger and improve child nutrition. School feeding programs and bills like AB 2345, which the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC) co-sponsored, are essential to ensure children have the food, support, and resources they need to remain healthy and driven.
While growing up, witnessing how poverty created hardships for those around me was despairing, however I believe that it was a hidden blessing for me. It forced me to learn the power of hard work and to truly gain a sense of what ganas means. It taught me that en la vida, la pobredad solo es un paso patras, pero con amor y ganas, sobrepasas el mal ambiente de la vida y triunfas con dos pasos pa’lante.
Though my time with LCHC is limited, I have already been given so much momentum. LCHC cultivates the dreams and warmth of the Latino community by influencing and using existing assets, such as our people, culture, and environment, to create lasting solutions for change. I joined LCHC because this is where it starts – this is where I hold myself accountable to give back, to share what I learn, to empower others, but most importantly, to explore the numerous ways that we can improve environments for Latino families across California.