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Today was my first day of service with City Year in its San José/Silicon Valley location. City Year is an education-focused organization dedicated to providing high-impact student, classroom and school-wide support to help students stay in school and on track to graduate high school. As a City Year AmeriCorps member, I will spend 11 months serving hands-on with students, supporting them both inside and outside of the classroom.

Registration day was your typical orientation but with a City Year spin. Besides the typical paperwork, a small portion of the day was spent hearing current City Year AmeriCorps member share personal statements for why they serve. I found their statements to be incredibly inspiring and it made me think of why I decided to serve.

I’ve always wondered why my community doesn’t excel when it comes to education. Why was I always one of the only Mexicans in my advanced classes? Why did it feel like I was supposed to fail? I spent my last two years of college exploring my Mexican identity, and I set on a path of liberation and decolonization. I became obsessed with learning what I wasn’t taught in my history classes. What I learned helped me understand why the legacy of old systems and current systems continue to disadvantage my community. The conquest and annexation of Mexican territory in 1848 brought with it a system of segregated schools, housing and employment discrimination. In other words, it created the opportunity for people of Mexican ancestry to become subject to white domination. Segregation and employment discrimination created a cycle of poverty that cannot be easily escaped. The effects of such a system can best be understood by looking at high school graduation rates. Only 45 percent of Mexican-Americans ages 25 and older have completed high school, a percentage below the U.S. average.

I am lucky to have been able to “defy the odds,” but it shouldn’t be this way. Everyone should be able to receive a quality education despite their race/ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or ability. But every year, more than 2,600 students in San José drop out of high school. A big number of them are of Mexican ancestry. That’s why I chose to come to San Jose. By serving with City Year, I believe I can help dismantle the system that has held my community back for so long.

I truly believe that most people want to live in a fair world. A world where the color of one’s skin or the place one was born does not dictate our success. It is in our hands to make our world better for the next generation. Everyone has the potential to make an impact and create ripples.

My name is Crismerly Santibañez and I proudly serve with City Year San José/Silicon Valley  because as a product of the communities we work in, I know first hand the lasting effect good role models can have. I serve because all students, no matter what they look like or where they come from, should receive the same quality of education. And I serve because I’ve seen what my people are capable of and we’re not done yet.

Give a year. Change the world #MakeBetterHappen

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