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.
Rosa Lopez, a Senior Policy Advocate and Organizer at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, knew from a young age that she wanted to help her community and other communities around her. Through her work at the ACLU, Lopez has managed to do just that.
Lopez, who is the oldest of six siblings, was born in San Juan Mixtepec, Oaxaca México. She lived there until she was eight years old.
“My parents had traveled back and forth to California for work, but when the border security got tighter, in the mid-’80s my parents had to settle in Arvin. My sister and I stayed with my maternal grandmother in Mixtepec,” Lopez revealed.
Lopez recounted her life in Mixtepec, describing it as simple and peaceful. She stated that they didn’t have running water or electricity, but that she was always running around in the fields and climbing trees with her cousins and sister. It was until around 1987 that they moved from Mixtepec Oaxaca México to San Quintin, Baja California.
Lopez explained that the transition from México to the United States was difficult for various reasons. She and her sister didn’t speak Spanish or English and her brothers didn’t speak Mixteco-Alto, a language from their hometown. This made communication between them difficult until Lopez was able to learn English and Spanish. She also revealed that her parents felt like strangers to her and she didn’t like the food, making her adjustment even more challenging.
Despite these hardships, Lopez stated that her parents showed her and her siblings that they can be whatever they want and that they are resilient. She revealed that her parents have endured many challenges to give them a better life and that her family inspired her to build a better community for the next generation.
“Growing up in an indigenous, farm-worker community. I witnessed and experienced a lot of injustices,” Lopez commented. “Watching my parents work from sunrise to sunset for minimum wage, not challenging wage theft from their employers, and watching my community live in poverty pushed me to pursue a career that helps and advocates for the most vulnerable and underserved communities.”
Lopez reported that farmworkers earned low wages — leaving them unable to afford anything besides necessities for their families. Because she knew that her family would not be able to help her out with her college expenses, she got a job during her freshman year of college.
Lopez continued by explaining that, throughout high school, she always believed that she was going to become an attorney. So when she began her college education at the University of California Santa Cruz she started off as a pre-law student before she eventually switched her major and obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Latino Students and Politics.
Lopez admitted that the reason for this change in her major was one of her professors, Doctor Trujillo. She stated that Trujillo spoke with enthusiasm about the role of Latinos in the USA; he talked about the history and culture and how they had the power to change their situation.
Before joining the ACLU SoCal, Lopez worked as a Peace Corps volunteer fighting against injustice in the Haiti and Dominican Republic. She worked as a Career Pathway Specialist with the statewide John Muir Charter Schools, developing and managing career programs to re-engage young adults in education and on pathways to lifelong and sustainable careers.
“I’ve been privileged to work with and learn from different communities from my own indigenous community,” Lopez said.
Lopez began working with the ACLU SoCal in February 2018 and explained that she works with local organizations and impacted folks to implement policies that uphold constitutional rights. She also does policy advocacy, legislative advocacy, and community education, and organizes areas with issues so she can advance civil rights.
By taking a stand against a corrupt system at every juncture, Lopez has felt a sense of hope and accomplishment. She stated that she hasn’t eradicated poverty or changed the world, but she has always been proud of the accomplishments she has achieved with ACLU SoCal.
Lopez commented that the work she does is what makes her passionate. She has had the opportunity to work for people who’ve been wronged but they are motivated to change and create a better community for everyone.
“My parents, my grandmother, and my community inspire me to continue doing the work I do,” Lopez said.
Lopez explained that her community gives her hope. Her community has demonstrated that they are resilient and that the world can overcome any obstacles and challenges society throws at them.
When Lopez isn’t working, she enjoys traveling and trying new things with her seven-year-old daughter. When her daughter isn’t playing soccer, doing gymnastics, or doing other activities, Lopez and her daughter like being at home, watching movies, and trying new foods. They both also enjoy music, so they try and go out to musical events.