I am a Leader: Fátima Ramirez

yli is My Story

I sometimes joke that Coachella is more than just a festival. The truth is that it’s a vibrant community with strong familial roots not unlike those of the town I was born in – La Piedad in Michoacán, México. I came to the States when I was 7 years old and have lived here ever since, in a town called Mecca just east of Coachella. I know “Mecca” has a lot of significance as an Arabic city. Perhaps it got this name because it of its location in the desert and the dates that are farmed here. 

In high school, I started writing for Coachella Uninc. The program was in its beginning stages and I worked mostly on reporting pieces, which I really liked. I had a mentor who was instrumental in my growing love of journalism. This person had gone to school for journalism and was doing it for a living. The experience was empowering and it opened my eyes to the possibility of doing journalism as a career. 

I went to college in Flagstaff, Arizona to study journalism, but came back after two years. I realized that I had had an idealized version of journalism. My mentor had been really good at supporting our cohort of youth. But when I got to college, all my professors were older white males and they were old-fashioned. These professors weren’t open to the person I was, and I couldn’t relate to them in a personal way. I missed having a role model who looked like me, who was from the same place. I began to wonder if this was the place for me. I didn’t see myself in this environment and feared that in order to succeed I had to emulate someone that wasn’t truly me.  

I became disillusioned and decided to come home. For a little while, I didn’t know what I was going to do and I felt lost. Then, I took an internship working on a political campaign for local congressman in 2016 – a vital year for politics. It was fulfilling to be part of a movement, something that was about more than just me. It ended in disappointment, though, when Trump was elected president. 

Like many people, I was a bit depressed after that. I felt like my vision of the world had been distorted. A man who spewed hate and racism had been elected, which seemed to reveal the truth about how many people across the country perceive me as a Latina, a woman, an immigrant. I participated in the women’s march shortly after the election, and it was an important reminder that not everyone feels that way. The experience inspired me toward activism, to search for ways to get involved in my community, and that took me back to Coachella Uninc.

Going to college did give me some perspective on my community. My town is located in an unincorporated area and is rife with environmental and health problems – I wrote about these extensively in Saving the Salton Sea. Local and statewide decision-makers have, at most, offered short term fixes that don’t go nearly far enough to protect the health of locals or our environment. There is also a deep economic divide between the communities in the valley. Palm springs is full of spas and nice hotels. As you travel east, the lawns become less manicured, the wide, well-paved roads trickle down dirt, and there is no public transportation. 

The differences are striking, but when you’re living in it, you don’t see it – they’re just everyday parts of life. But moving to a new environment for college was eye-opening. The college I attended was primarily white, and there were some wealthy areas in the city that highlighted the differences with my community back home. It made me wonder why I had not grown up with the same access to parks and community spaces or even something as simple as adequate infrastructure. With classes about racism and socio-economic differences, I came to see myself as part of a disenfranchised group. 

Now that I’m older, I feel like Coachella Uninc. is a viable way for me to affect change in my community by highlighting these problems and finding ways to fix them. Telling stories is really powerful. As a journalist, I help others to see their stories – not just as something that happens to them – but as something that has value. The interaction itself can be so therapeutic – people feel so seen when they have a chance to tell their stories to someone who wants to listen, who is curious and asks questions. Creating that space for someone else feels really good to me.

I feel like I’m getting to know my valley, my city, that I’m strengthening bonds with others in my community in ways I wasn’t able to before. When someone tells you their story and you tell them yours, you realize how familiar the storyline is. You simply don’t know how similar another story is to your own until you sit down and talk about it.

My current position is as a social media intern. I manage the Instagram accounts for our two programs, Coachella Uninc and ¡Que Madre! I also co-facilitate all of our youth program meetings – we have a really great group of 30 young people who come to every meeting. I haven’t been writing as much as I used to – that has taken a backseat as I work on highlighting their stories. I love seeing how resilient the youth are. They are aware of problems in way I wasn’t when I was their age. They are activists, and it’s exciting to see their energy and enthusiasm for telling stories and making a difference. 

When the internship is completed in January, I’m planning to move to New York for a couple of months. I went on a solo trip there earlier this year – it’s something I have always wanted to do and I fell in love with the city. Everything is there! I met this guy on my trip who summed it up: “If you can’t find it in New York, it doesn’t exist,” he told me. I’ve never been in a scenario where everything is accessible – movies, shows, food. I love it here in my hometown, but it’s small and lacks access to different cultures and experiences. 

I’m applying to some social media jobs to explore while I’m there, but it’s more of a life experience. It just feels like the right time – if I don’t do it now, I might never do it. I also feel like I owe it to the women who don’t have the opportunity. In a different circumstance, I would still be in México. It would have been a different life, not one that I would want. I don’t think the life experiences that have shaped me would have happened in Mexico – I would probably be an entirely different person. I feel so lucky for the opportunities I’ve had because I could very easily be stuck in a refugee camp. There are a million girls who are just as smart as I am, who have the same dreams, who want the same things out of life as I do, but are being held hostage at the border. They are no less deserving but, by sheer luck, I have the opportunity. 

I think about all of my female ancestors – how much they had to sacrifice for our family. At times sacrifice almost seems integral to our gender and I have directly benefited from those sacrifices. I feel a lot of guilt sometimes – who am I to have all of these opportunities? It’s hard to turn that guilt around and commit to live a life that honors that. I wish everyone had the same chance as I do and I hope in some small way one day I can provide those opportunities for someone else.