Editor’s Note: To celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, Kern Sol News is highlighting notable Hispanic leaders in Kern County who are working to create positive change in their community.
Gema Perez was born in San Julian, Jalisco Mexico in 1965. She is the fifth one out of nine children with four sisters and five brothers.
“My father had a ranch where he had cattle and that’s what we lived on, from the milk, he milked and sold and although we only had one pair of shoes, we never lacked food on our table,” said Executive Director of the Greenfield Walking Group, Gema Perez.
Perez explained that she had a very humble, but very happy childhood; she got married and due to the economic stability and in search of a better future, her husband, her eldest daughter, and herself emigrated to the United States 28 years ago.
Perez stated that this country has given her and her family the opportunity to have a more economically stable life where her daughters have prepared themselves for a better future. Gema has had the opportunity to grow as a human being and to be able to contribute to the country. The opportunities have given her the satisfaction of moving forward until God and the circumstances allow her to.
“I am the executive director of the Greenfield Walking Group and as such I organize, and participate in events and projects that we have and I want to highlight some of them in broad strokes: free Zumba in Stiern Park, Rexland Acres Park, and Greenfield Park to improve health and at the same time ask for improvements and we chose these parks because of the fear of the community to use them due to crime gangs, vandalism, lack of lights, garbage, loose dogs, and lack of sidewalks,” Perez stated.
Perez explained that she organizes with the community and the Bakersfield Police Department and Sheriff’s Department and organizes cleanups for the county and in the city. She also volunteers for different activities and organizations that ask her for help.
Perez also works with the youth by teaching them to advocate for improvements in their community, parks, schools, and she also encourages the youth to participate in the City Council and Board of Supervisors Meetings; she also encourages the youth who make decisions to come where youth and community members create a closer relationship to work together and find solutions to the problems and needs that affect the community.
Greenfield Walking Group has a community garden in conjunction with the City of Bakersfield (Keep Bakersfield Beautiful) where families grow their own fruits and vegetables and where community members and other community organizations such as the Dolores Huerta Foundation volunteer to make cleanings.
The Greenfield Walking Group started in 2006 with a small group of women. In 2012 the Greenfield Walking Group became a non-profit organization and currently there are more than 100 members between adults, youth and children who form and collaborate with the organization. On a side note, Perez explained that her job is voluntary; neither herself nor the people who are a part of the Greenfield Walking Group have a salary. They all work from their hearts.
“It inspires me to see the needs that exist in the community, it inspires me when I see the results,” Perez said.
Perez also gets inspired by the will and great hearts of the people in the community and she is happy when she sees the responses the community gives her by showing their interest and support for demands.
“This organization is very important, personally, it reflects my desire when I was young, when I finished my high school in a small town and the lack of resources coming from a very humble family, prevented me from traveling to the city”, Perez said.
Perez explained that not having enough money for her to attend a university, filled her up with deep sadness and that’s when she said to herself, “I will never be able to do something important that impacts me or others.”
She believes this will exceed her expectations and fill her up with satisfaction to be able to do something for others. Neither the need for money or her limitations (her immigration status, and her limited English) have been a barrier for Perez to feel useful and help others.
In her free time, she likes to be a housewife and on Sundays her family goes for a hike to see new places, but she also loves watching movies at the theater or at home.
“I really like being with my family, being at home or going out with them,” said Perez.
Perez also enjoys going out with her friends, whether they are acquaintances from her family or members of the organization. She likes small parties or group activities like how to do Zumba and staying afterwards to talk a little or chat with people who go to the garden. She loves all these people and sees them as her family.