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.
Born to hardworking and supportive Mexican immigrant parents, Martin Gonzales, 29, learned the importance of education early in life. From his years at Southside School to San Benito High School, his mom was always involved in his education.
“Anytime any one of us stepped out of line, my mom was there at school ready to give us unas nalgadas [some spanking],” Gonzales said. “Or to give us the eye which we instantly knew ‘oh crap, we’re going to get it at home.’”
Gonzales was born and raised in Hollister with his two sisters, Reyna and Guadalupe. Reyna, the eldest and shyest of the bunch, introduced Gonzales as the “chatterbox” to the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in his freshman year of high school. He served in various roles in the organization, including Youth Council president.
Now in his role as curriculum manager at SMASH, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) education, Gonzales focuses on helping students get into and through college.
“Because the job market can be so competitive, an entry level position requires one to two years of experience,” Gonzales said. “So really making sure that our students, even once they graduate from college, are already ahead of the game because they have been working at these organizations since their first year of college.”
Growing up in a home of farmworkers where his parents Martin and Elvira put in long work days, Gonzales learned of the farmworker rights movement and Cesar Chavez through LULAC.
“It was really an educational opportunity for me to really learn about my roots, my history and kind of what I was living through at that moment,” Gonzales said. “It was the catalyst to the realization of both my politics and my social justice work that really informs. It’s at the center of why I do the work that I do.”
Gonzales and his siblings are no strangers to the intense labor that agriculture requires. During the summer breaks, and at times after school, the kids went to work with their parents to harvest onions, apricots and squash.
Along with the historical perspective, LULAC also provided Gonzales with a network of peers from other schools and programs such as Cal-SOAP that helped him achieve higher education. With the support of his parents and LULAC, Gonzales learned to advocate for his own as well as his peers’ education. It also gave him gratitude for the people who helped him along the way.
With success came a civic responsibility of paying it forward, Gonzales said. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in sociology and later a master’s degree in education administration and leadership, with an emphasis in student affairs, curriculum and instruction, and organizational leadership from the University of the Pacific.
Now at SMASH, which provides high school students with summer and year-long programs to prepare them for four-year institutions, Gonzales manages all curriculum. SMASH continues to support students after they enter college through internship opportunities and workshops.
Gonzales said his favorite curriculum deals with social-emotional competency because it revolves around leadership skills, empathy and emotional well-being. He said mental health problematic in the Latinx and other communities of color because parents aren’t typically equipped with the tools to help their children.
“I do a lot of that work that really gives them a sense of . . . identity, but also things that we don’t learn in the classroom that we’re expected to be able to manage in real life,” Gonzales said.