Following the landmark passage of California Assembly Bill 331 mandating statewide implementation of ethnic studies courses, notable student leaders and activists met together to celebrate the culmination of a yearslong campaign and focus on the tasks ahead. Notable student leaders like previous state board student members Gema Quetzal and Brenna Pangelinan were joined by the leaders of student organizations Generation Up, Diversify our Narrative, March For Our Lives California, legendary activists like Dolores Huerta, and state government officials Jose Medina, Shirley Weber, Lorena Gonzalez, and Tony Thurmond. State Assemblymember Medina (the creator of AB331) spoke first about his history in ethnic studies activism and the road ahead.
“As most of you know, it’s been a long road to get the bill to the governor, to the governor’s desk. I’d say 50 years that we’ve been pushing for ethnic studies. As a high school teacher in the city of riverside that I represent, I saw the need for what you are pushing for. I saw the need for students; I saw the need for yourselves to see yourselves in the curriculum. And what a difference it makes in students’ lives when they can see themselves and be part of what they are studying.”
Medina emphasized the importance of Ethnic Studies curriculum in high school classes at an equal level to math, science, and other core class subjects; the speakers on the call unanimously nodded or assented at this statement in support of diverse curriculums. Nearly every student included including speakers and attendees shared support in the zoom chat or by cheering after Medina’s speech, and the hashtag #letmedinasleep (in reference to his tireless activism) started to trend on civics-focused government panels. Leaders such as Michelle Alas (a State Board of Education student finalist) and Lorena Gonzalez (the head of the Legislative Latino Caucus) encouraged youth to harness their excitement and call the Governor’s office nonstop. Following student speeches, Dolores Huerta shared her goal for peace and respect through ethnic studies.
“Having ethnic studies as a mandatory requirement in our high schools will be a big step to start ending the racism in our society because we know the consequences of racism in our society is so deadly and so devastating. We have seen this when somebody travels hundreds of miles to kill Mexicans in El Paso, or kill African Americans in a church, or to kill jews in a synagogue, or to kill Muslims because they’re Muslims. We have to end this hatred in our society and this ethnic studies is a big step to do that so we can start to promote love, respect, compassion, and not hate.”
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of students from GENup and DON have organized their peers and lobbied their state legislators in support of AB331 and associated campaigns to pass ethnic studies in high schools and college. California students from Generation Up and Diversify our Narrative sent over three thousand calls and emails to state senators and state assembly members, and a petition aimed at the California Senate Appropriations committee received over twenty-five thousand signatures. Following this enormous response from students, the state legislature and governor overwhelmingly supported AB1460 (expanding ethnic studies in California state universities) and AB331 (supporting high school ethnic studies). The palpable excitement expressed in Tuesday’s rally demonstrated students’ satisfaction in their successful campaign. In the next few weeks, AB331 will be sent to the Governor’s desk and signed by Governor Newsom. Student leaders from GENup will be calling and lobbying the governor’s office to advocate for the implementation of Ethnic Studies ahead of the governor’s signing deadline in the last week of September. If you or a friend wants to get involved in the campaign for ethnic studies, please visit generationup.net/save-ethnic-studies. To see a digital copy of the rally, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNRPKAk76zs.