Daphne Ramirez: Youth at the Table

yli is My Story

A core belief of Youth Leadership Institute is that there can only be true justice and community change if those most affected are a part of decision-making. Young people must have a place “at the table” in order to make our communities places where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. It is yli’s job to run programs and trainings to make sure that young people are included at the table as often as possible so that youth voice will shape the future we are building together. 

Read Daphne Ramirez’s story below, and consider investing in youth at the table. Click here to contribute!

Daphne has long brown hair and brown eyes and is smiling into the camera.

I’ve lived all my life in Coachella. I haven’t gone out of this area – it is the only place that I know. I identify with the culture, the people. This place is full of Latinos, and the celebrations and festivals – Día de los Muertos, Cinco de Mayo, El Grito de México – feel like family reunions. 

I found out about Coachella Uninc. and ¡Que Madre! – yli’s youth media program – through my older sister. She was an intern. I was looking for some extra curricular programs to join and thought I’d give it a try. I needed some extra community service hours for my school, and was also interested in journalism and environmental justice. It’s been two years since I joined the programs and now nothing can stop me from doing it. I am currently a student at Coachella Valley High School who is interested in majoring in psychology, comparative literature and environmental studies. 

The first project I did with Coachella Uninc. was an article about how the Salton Sea affects nearby communities. I interviewed a resident of North Shore, an unincorporated community by the Salton Sea. There’s been a recent increase in cases of nosebleeds, asthma, and other breathing difficulties due to the contamination in the lake. With the help of Professor Ryan Sinclair from Loma Linda University’s School of Public Health, I used a balloon mapping technique and a drone to map out the Salton Sea. Using a before and after visual of its change over time, we were able to show how the Salton Sea has been shrinking. As the water shrinks, dust from the dry lake bed releases agricultural chemicals into the air, putting the lives of the people in the area at risk. The article was published in Coachella Uninc.’s youth-led magazine, Estamos Aquí. 

Two people standing on the end of the Salton Sea. They are holding strings attached to two large, square silver balloons.

I don’t think many people know about the dangers of the Salton Sea – and even if they do, they don’t realize that it will become even more dangerous in the future. In my interview, I tried to put the basics of the harm it is causing to warn people to be cautious. In the future, I’d love to expand this research and knowledge so I can continue to educate my people. After I graduate from college, I’d like to come back to my community, work for a nonprofit, and conduct my own research on the Salton Sea to bring more attention to it. When people don’t know about what’s happening, they aren’t able to do anything about it. 

Youth should have the privilege of having a voice, and we should be able to use that voice to interpret a situation and determine whether it’s bad or good, moral or immoral. We should have the right to give feedback on what’s happening to our community and to us. 

Lately, I’ve seen more youth access and communicate with each other via social media, which is playing a big part in spreading the word about community issues. When youth tell their stories and stand up for their beliefs on social media, it inspires other youth to use their platforms to share what’s on their minds. Because of this, I see more and more young people willing to be involved in programs and research. It seems like they’re motivated and determined to take action.

Still, there are times when we as young people are not taken seriously. Adults might even ask us for our opinions – they might seem to listen – but a lot of times they are not actually hearing us. It has to do with age. If we’re not the adequate age, we’re considered unwise or unfit to share our opinion. Our ideas are disregarded before they are even tried out. 

A young man in black t-shirt and beige shorts stands near a pop up tent. He is standing on a beach near the Salton Sea, and his holding two large silver balloons that are floating toward the camera.

Because of this, youth have a fear of being shut down. We feel like our ideas are not good enough,  especially if we’re from specific minority groups. I’ve had friends who said they didn’t want to speak up because they already knew the response they were going to get. It’s embarrassing to be told “no, you’re wrong,” so they’d rather stay quiet and let somebody else ask the questions. Before yli, I didn’t know that there were other youth-led groups where youth could express themselves. These programs are not publicized enough so we’re not aware of opportunities.

When I bring an idea to the table, I want it to be acknowledged and considered. I want to see more youth being represented in everything regarding politics. We’re not allowed to vote until we turn 18, but we should still have opportunities to share our opinions and insights on what’s going on. And I think that we should be able to vote on policies and laws that directly affect us, like when to reopen schools. The teachers and parents have been going back and forth about this, but no one has taken into consideration what the youth are feeling. Personally, I feel like going back to school is not just risking my own life, but the lives of my loved ones who are waiting at home for me. 

It is essential and fair to be able to vote on things that are going to directly affect us. We can’t get the best results if we don’t include the input of every age group. Young people need to continue to speak out – to claim our right to freedom of speech to speak our minds. If we take advantage of that right, we might inspire someone else to take action.