Young Leaders: Community Organizer Strives for Change in Central California

Young Leaders: Community Organizer Strives for Change in Central California

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Ed. Note: This profile is part of a series looking at young people in California's Central Valley who are making a difference in their communities.

Change and empowerment in the community of Kern County, Calif., are at the forefront of Lorena Lara’s focus.

Lara, 26, is the community organizer for Faith in Action where she works with local leaders and the community to make systematic changes in order to better health care for undocumented people.

“I focus specifically on health care access and immigration. Really looking to see how we can provide health care for the undocumented community,” Lara said.

Lara is especially passionate about her work because her family immigrated to the United States in 1996, when she was six. They came from Guanajuato, Mexico to Bakersfield.

“Like many families, my family was fleeing lack of opportunity, unsafe living conditions, unsafe community, and we all want our families to thrive, be healthy, and be safe. It’s one of the reasons why I continue doing the work that I do,” Lara said.

Her father was the first of her family to come to the United States to make a living doing farm work and other jobs. He eventually landed a job as a truck driver, which he has done ever since then.

Lara and the rest of her family followed her father over the border. Her mother cleaned houses, but her main job was taking care of the family. Lara has a brother, 18, and sister, 13, whom she helped take care of.

Being six years old when Lara came to the U.S., she had already had some schooling in Mexico.

“It was hard. It was very hard. Back in Mexico, I was very used to being the teacher’s pet. Coming here there was a language barrier and a learning barrier,” Lara explained.

She expanded on her transition to living in the U.S. by saying she felt isolated at times. Her mother was the youngest of 10 children, so Lara had a very large family in Mexico. She explained that when they got to the U.S., her family was no longer large, causing her to feel more isolated.

For Lara living with the ups and downs of being in an undocumented family and community has inspired her to create change. “I want to plant seeds of consciousness in my community. I feel like a lot of folks see injustices, but they say, ‘That sucks, there’s nothing I can do.’ So I want to change that mentality. Especially with marginalized communities who have been really oppressed in different ways,” she said.

Lara further explained that she wants the community to find the power that it has always had, and power can be found in unity.

“I really hope that my work brings together communities that haven’t worked together in the past,” said Lara.

When asked how she sees her future, Lara said, “I see myself continuing to work with community. I would want to continue helping people make the change. I feel like I will always keep doing this work one way or another.”