Becoming an Activist – The Feminist Wire

Becoming an Activist

By Lizeth Lopez

Butterflies flutter around me as I feel the soft winds playing with my hair, the scent of spring flowers blooming surround me, as I drift away into dreams of the woman I will one day become. I feel much older than the five year-old kid suddenly trying to understand why my dad is angry and yelling at my mom again. I think he’s angry because my mother is helping my brother, Lizandro, with homework. My dad is shouting, he is calling my brother names, he thinks only stupid kids need help with homework. My father stares as he announces there is no point in trying to help a kid as dumb as Lizandro.

I am only five but somewhere deep inside, even I know my father is wrong. My brother tries to explain to my dad that if he doesn’t complete his homework, he will get in trouble in school and because my dad is under the influence of alcohol, yet again, he thinks my brother is talking back and slaps him. My mom tries to defend my brother; my sister and I don’t know what to do. I feel powerless, afraid, and begin to cry. My father begins to hit my mom, again. I feel a sharp pain in my chest, I can’t breath, my heart is beating so fast I am afraid it will explode. This is the first time I am acutely aware of the crippling panic attacks triggered by the violence in my home. These panic attacks are how I would learn to cope with violence in my home.

By the time I was a nine, sixteen year-old Lizandro felt the responsibility to defend us from my father’s violence, alcohol, and drug addictions. Lizandro swam across the Rio Grande all by himself, hoping to save enough money to send for us. A year later he brought my mother, sister, and me to Los Estados Unidos. By the time I entered school on this side of the border, I was ten years old. Since I didn’t know a word of English, I was told to report to Mrs. Wakimora’s first grade class every morning. I’ve always been a tall girl and this was never more apparent than when I had to sit next to the five-year-olds in Mrs. Wakimora’s class. It was a bit awkward at first, but those first graders were never made fun of and they were actually a very nice group of kids. Together we all learned our ABC’s, how to pronounce and spell the days of the week, how to count, and later in the year how to read in English. Thanks to the kindness and patience of Mrs. Wakimora, by the time I reached middle school I would be able to join my own peers in regular English classes.

Sometime in middle school, my mom decided to take my dad back into our home. My dad promised to be different and since we were in a new country, my mom hoped things would be different. Things actually became worse. During one particularly violent assault on my mom, I pulled her away from him and barricaded us in a room. I told my dad he was not allowed to touch her anymore. The next day I reported him at school. My father continues to be verbally abusive but has not touched any of us since that day.

At school, I was placed in the regular track and at a place like Gardena High School, that means that most of my teachers don’t care about their students as much as the teachers who teach honors or AP classes.I came to feel it was pointless to care if my own teachers didn’t believe in me. Then I met Dr. Hutchinson and she changed my world. Dr. Hutchinson teaches youth activism by using the contributions of women of color in history. She encourages young women to look past what the media says we can do and become strong powerful leaders. She is very smart, and if she believes in me then I better believe in me too. When I met her I didn’t want to go to college because I never had anybody tell me I could do that. Even today, my Dad and brother keep telling me I‘m not smart enough to go to college, but I know that’s not true now.

Dr. Hutchinson has inspired me to pursue a PhD and to do the kind of work she does at my school. When I enroll in college this fall, I will major in Spanish and then pursue a Ph.D. in Chicano Studies. Even though I am still in high school, I already consider myself an activist. This past year, I co-founded the AB-540 Crew to help undocumented students like me become community leaders. Sometimes I worry about how I will pay for my college education when I live with my brother who is having a hard time supporting his wife, children, our mom and dad, sister, and me.

Lucky for me, I have always been a very positive person and I know that if I have survived all that has happened in my short life, I will find a way to achieve my dreams.


Lizeth Lopez is a senior at Gardena High School and a member of the Women’s Leadership Project and the AB540 student club.