My name is Esmeralda Cortez Rosales. I’m 21, and a student at UC Berkeley. Four years ago, when I was applying to colleges, the personal statement on my applications began like this:
The beat of his heart went into silence, but his mother’s heart broke into screams. The only place where she’ll see her son is in her dreams. She falls to her knees begging for someone to tell her that it’s a lie. That it isn’t her son that’s being buried. She wants to squeeze her son for the last time.
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I was in 5th grade when my brother, Hernan Cortez, was shot a few blocks from my house and steps away from the East Oakland high school I later graduated from. He was only 18 when he died.
When I got to high school, I wasn’t always politically active, but I was passionate about making my community safer. One day, my friend invited me to go to a program called IGNITE, which helps young women own their political power. After a few meetings, I began to realize that the personal is political — that I could make my community safer by getting involved in local politics.
I moved 15 miles away from East Oakland when I got accepted to attend UC Berkeley, but I was still close enough to apply to Oakland’s Youth Advisory Commission, and I was sworn in last year. Now I work on things like advising the city council on policy issues affecting youth, like gun violence. I’m young, but I have political power.
So, this weekend, I’ve decided to travel across the country to Washington D.C. to participate in the historic March for Our Lives. I’m nervous — I’ve only flown maybe five times in my life, and this issue is so personal to me — but I feel empowered to say, “Not one more!” Check in here throughout the weekend to see what my experience is like.
Friday, March 23
Today I’m flying from California to New York, where I’ll meet up with some other young people on a bus headed for D.C. I didn’t have room to bring any signs or anything, but I brought extra battery packs for my phone, because I’m sure I’ll be on social media a lot.
The only thing I’ve been feeling is nervousness. I want the march to be loud, passionate, and inclusive. From what’s been portrayed on social media, it seems like the conversation has centered around white people, and there’s been a lot of criticism that black and brown people from Chicago or from Oakland, like me, won’t be represented. So I hope, when I get there, there’s an array of types of people, and that it’s not just a white movement, but a white, black, and brown movement. I hope there’s an attempt to hear everyone’s voices.
I’m excited to meet people and hear other perspectives of why they’re there. I think it will be an environment where people are willing to talk about it and share. I’m not hesitant to tell other people why I’m there, and to talk about my brother. I talk about it with my work on the youth commission at home, and tend to get different reactions — I get some “Oh, I’m so sorry for you”s and I really hate that. I love when people say, “Thank you for sharing.”
But I think a lot of people at the march will have personal experience with gun violence. At least that’s the case in Oakland. People get killed in Oakland so often that it doesn’t even make the news anymore. I know a lot of people who know people who have been shot. In 8th grade, my best friend’s brother was killed. I think thats when I started to realize it’s not just me, and that’s why I wanted to join the commission. But that’s the problem — so many people of my generation have directly experienced this. And that’s why this movement is important.
Esmeralda’s story of her journey to the March For Our Lives will continue to be updated throughout the weekend.