This year marks the 30th anniversary of the San Benito County League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Youth Council formation. BenitoLink asked several past LULAC members to tell about how the organization impacted them.
Making a career out of helping others has been Lydia Zendejas’ focus from a young age, whether it was volunteering with different organizations after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake or in higher education. Now an administrator at the Jack Baskin School of Engineering at UC-Santa Cruz, Zendejas serves as a strategic initiatives staff fellow.
Zendejas, 47, always looked to be involved in something when she attended San Benito High School. That didn’t include the Associated Student Body, however; she said she felt that was not her place partly because there weren’t a lot of Latinx students involved in the organization. It was then that she began to be more socially aware of how Mexicans were treated in Hollister, so she wanted to be involved in a different way.
“It was something that I saw in the community and it was something I definitely felt at the high school,” Zendejas said.
She jumped at the opportunity when she heard several students were looking to start a youth council with the League of United Latin Americans Citizens (LULAC).
“I just remember it was easy,” she said. “It was all of us getting together and understanding what LULAC was about. It was about civic engagement and understanding how you can have an influence in your community, no matter how old or young you were.”
Zendejas said it was also easier because the group of about six members had similar goals, such as wanting to go to college and helping others along the way.
“It doesn’t surprise me that a lot of the people that helped start it are doing really well and doing things in their own community,” Zendejas said.
That is what LULAC emphasizes to its members: the power of a community. Zendejas said LULAC boosts members’ confidence in themselves and their abilities to change the world by simply believing in them.
LULAC was more than a place where she engaged with people of similar backgrounds to help her find her voice and be active in the community; it was also an organization that pushed her out of her comfort zone in questioning people in positions of authority.
At a scholarship ceremony, Zendejas remembers Mickie Luna, LULAC member and former Hollister council member, challenging her to come back to Hollister and help the community.
“I don’t know if I’ve lived up to that challenge, but I’m doing it elsewhere,” said Zendejas, who lives in Santa Cruz.
While attending UC-San Diego, Zendejas decided she wanted to become a psychologist. She soon realised, however, that it was not her true calling. She failed her first psychology class, which left her to discover another path she would enjoy. She switched to UCSD’s Thurgood Marshall College, which focuses on cultural responsiveness, social equity and civil justice, according to its website.
“There they make you take ethnic studies, so I took an ethnic studies course, and I fell in love,” Zendejas said. “It’s kind of like a mix of sociology and ethnography. That was definitely for me.”
With Zendejas finding her passion and applying it as she did with LULAC, she now aims to do the same for young adults finding their way in the world. She wants students to understand that nobody succeeds without help.
“Everyone has to ask for help at one point,” Zendejas said. “I don’t care who they are.”