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.
Elizabeth Martinez grew up in Arvin to farmworker parents who planted a seed in her that grew into a desire to help her community in any way she could.
Martinez is the founder and Executive Director of Comunidades Aliadas Tomando Acción, an organization geared toward helping the community find the resources they need for personal and professional development, leadership, and preventative illness education.
“One of my dreams and goals was to establish an organization where the community could be part of and feel welcome, respected, and valued. It was not easy, but I did it,” said Martinez.
Born in Mexico and raised in Arvin, Martinez developed an understanding of the need for places like her organization. She recalled translating paperwork for her parents, who didn’t know English, while barely knowing English herself. She spoke about how much she learned from her parents about life and stated they are her inspiration.
“My parents are my inspiration when it comes to work. My dad has worked in agriculture most of his life, and he taught me the importance of working hard, being responsible, and getting the work done,” said Martinez. “Then, from my mom, who is a very nice religious lady, I learned to be respectful, humble, compassionate, and a good person.”
Along with her parents, Martinez said her sons motivate her to keep going every day.
“I wake up saying okay, Elizabeth, you got this. There’s no time for pain, there’s no time for laziness; your kids are watching,” said Martinez.
Her parents and experiences growing up motivated her to pour back into the community she grew up in.
“Accomplishing this was very significant for me because I can identify myself with the residents. Growing up, I was learning English. I was also translating for my parents, who don’t speak English,” said Martinez when speaking about her relatability to the community she serves. “I grew up in a low-income community, and I understand the struggles and the needs of the community.”
While she is grateful to be able to help her community now, she stated that sometimes she wishes her parents had something like this.
“Sometimes I think back, and I wish there were organizations like Comunidades Aliadas Tomando Acción supporting my parents back then. All of those people who seek and need resources,” said Martinez.
At Comunidades Aliadas Tomando Acción Martinez stated that they will get people the resources they need no matter what it is.
“If we don’t have funding, we still do the work. We don’t see that as a barrier because we know the need. Say we don’t get funding for domestic violence, but if somebody needs those services, we will make sure we connect them to the right people that will help them through that. So, we will never turn anyone away,” said Martinez.
The sense of compassion she learned from her mother is carried outside of her own organization; her time is still dedicated to the community. She is also the Program and Education Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association. When she is not working, she volunteers at different organizations such as the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, the Arvin Chamber of Commerce, and others. With work, volunteering, and being a mother, she said that she is busy Monday through Sunday.
“It is very important for me to donate time, collaborate, learn from others, and be involved in the community more than anything. It’s great because that way, you know the resources, and you can help others who might not know where to go,” said Martinez.
She spoke about some of the ‘aha’ moments she’s had at work that made her think that’s what it is all about. One was when she could get someone involved in also helping the community. She spoke about a farmworker who told her how happy he was to be involved.
“He tells me, Elizabeth, you know, before you started inviting me to be part of Comunidades Aliadas Tomando Acción, I used to think a little negative about all this. I used to think, oh, that’s just a waste of time,” recounted Martinez from the conversation. “He goes, now that I’m involved and you have motivated me to give back to the community, it’s just so rewarding. I never thought that someone like me, a farmworker who doesn’t speak English, would be able to help the community in different ways.”
She remembered that being a very touching moment, and one other time, she mentioned being able to connect someone with a recourse. A woman at a vaccine clinic was able to learn about an organization in Bakersfield that helps families with children with special needs, and her baby had Down Syndrome.
“You’re making that connection with this agency that’s in Bakersfield and this lady that’s in Arvin. She had no idea about the services, and she needs the services,” said Martinez
Along with all of her work, Martinez is also in school. She graduated in 2021 with an associate’s degree in early childhood and family studies and is now working towards her bachelor’s in human development and child adolescent studies.
One reason she went back to school was because she has years of experience but no degree, which a lot of jobs require. She mentioned a story from one of her old jobs where she had the most experience and was the only one without a degree. She stated that one person told her not to feel bad about not having one.
“I was like, no, I don’t feel bad, not at all. I feel happy, you know why,” said Martinez, recalling the moment. “Because here I am, I don’t have a degree, but I have so many years of experience, and all these young ladies that have graduated from Berkeley, Cal State Fresno, come to me for advice. They come to me to help them do their work in the community. I am very happy to help, but someday, I will have a degree.”
Now, Martinez is set to graduate with her bachelor’s degree in the winter. She was inspired to go back to school for her children. When her son graduated high school, he told her he didn’t want to go to college, so she chose to go to show that everyone can.
“I’m gonna register for college, and if I can do it, I’m an old lady, an older lady, with so many responsibilities. If I could do it, anybody could do it,” said Martinez. “I want to be that role model. I want the young people, I want my sisters, the neighbors, the younger generation to say, ‘Okay, if that old lady can go to college and do her job, her hours, the kids, so can I.”
When Martinez does have free time, she enjoys gardening and having movie nights with her kids. She said she also teaches her kids to garden because they need to know how to grow their own food.
“It keeps me grounded to never forget where I come from,” said Martinez.
Some of the things she likes to plant are chiles, eggplants, tomatoes, and zucchini. Farmworkers also bring her grapes, and she makes her own raisins.
Through all of her work and desire to inspire others is a love for the people in her community.
“I love the people. I like to talk. I consider myself a friendly person, and I love how our community is. Everybody knows each other. I know my neighbors; there’s a lot of family and friends,” said Martinez. “It’s just the people that I love.”