When I walked into the Casa Zapata lounge for my first in-person speaking event, I already knew this would be one of the best events I would attend at Stanford. The room was buzzing with excitement, most of the seats were full except the one in the back corner that I managed to hang up, and a purple and green PowerPoint was projected on the TV with what was about to happen.
The evening brought together four young community organizers from Oakland – Dwayne Davis, Mica Smith-Dahl, Denilson Garibo and Natalie Gallegos – who appeared in the documentary “Homeroom”. The film discussed their struggles and the linchpins of their work, ranging from involving young people in the community, reallocating the Oakland Unified School District police budget for student needs, and participating in the Black protests. Lives Matter during the summer of 2020. There was a comfortable atmosphere with the audience all ears to listen to their experiences and perspectives. Every response the panelists gave deserved clicks, cheers and buzzes of agreement and satisfaction. At one point, Gallegos and Smith-Dahl looked at gentrification issues: rather than infiltrating areas like Oakland, we Stanford students should “reinvest in our own communities at home.”
Once the discussion was over – the students then took turns asking curious questions about the organization in their own communities – I left. It was dark outside, autumn was finally reaching Stanford with the amount of sun receding each day. The sky was crystal clear, the stars and rain clouds painting the world with the glow of a full moon, serving as a beacon for my return to my dormitory. The wheels spun when I unlocked my bike and started pedaling, and when cool air entered my system, I started to spiral as well.
Seven months. I’ve been on the Stanford campus for most of 2021, since March, and I haven’t been to my hometown, Stockton, Calif., For over a month at this time. I got used to the Stanford culture: of not knowing where buildings were to being human GPS, meeting people in person that I only saw on screens via Zoom calls, and promising new people to ” catch up and have lunch âand learn campus quirks and acronyms. (The last thing I discovered is the steam tunnels.) I found a new refuge here, with expected ups and downs, but overall a life changing experience.
Yetâ¦ this quarter is different. This is my first time in one of the many crowded conference rooms, the first time I have to ride a bike and face the circle of death when I go to class and can go for the first time in buildings other than dorms instead of just looking at the captivating architecture. First time for a lot of things. And now I have an unusual desire for my hometown that can only be described as one thing: homesickness.
My relationship with Stockton has been complex. Growing up, adults always told me that university would be the key to my success. It didn’t matter where I went or what I studied; as long as I had a degree, I could help those who couldn’t achieve greatness, help my family, and lastly, help myself.
Only there was this common story: I necessary leave. That if I stayed I couldn’t grow up and make a living. That if I stayed there, I would become like everyone else. That if I stayed there, I could never become anything other than what I am now. I would be stuck in a cycle of injury, trauma and poverty. Princess Vongchanh ’23, also from Stockton and who attended the same high school as me, introduced a behavioral term coined by Stockton Scholars called “brain drain” in another Daily article. Essentially, the brain drain involves the idea that “to be successful you have to leave town” and, “to maintain it, you have to continue to cultivate your success in another sphere”. College and success were intertwined for me and so it was almost fate that I ended up leaving. And that state of mind that filled every space I walked into in Stockton made me resent my house, despising everything in it.
High school arrived soon, and during my freshman year, amid the electoral chaos of 2016, there was a source of hope: Michael Tubbs ’12 was elected mayor. The years that followed were radically important, both for the community of Stockton and for myself; In addition to the launch of the Universal Basic Income, the SEED initiative and the documentary “Stockton on My Mind”, Tubbs also piloted Stockton Scholars, which I became involved with during my senior year. This is a scholarship, support and ambassador program for Stockton students, most of whom are first generation low income (FLI). Having the chance to meet many students from across the city as well as working on panels and events that I was passionate about made me discover a new love for my community. I felt like I finally had a voice. There was a sense of progress that grew and sparkled again, a rose defying the limits of concrete and finally blossomed.
Then the pandemic arrived. Three weeks of spring break turned into a year of staying home. With milestones like graduation, my 18th birthday, and college entry confined to my home, the 2020 election (with even more chaos) also took place. And Tubbs lost to Republican Kevin Lincoln. I watched helplessly, unable to vote in the mayoral race due to life within the county limits, as Tubbs received over 10,000 votes less than his opponent. And I was in disbelief when many voters based their perception of Tubbs on a campaign of disinformation and hate. My confusion quickly turned to anger: How can my community, a place that aspires to be better, avoid part of the solution? How dare we start to heal a wound, a wound that has been bleeding for generations, only to hurt it again?
Soon I was whisked away to Stanford during the spring term of my cold year, leaving my home, friends and family behind, hurt, confused, and felt. Stanford was nothing like Stockton. It was quiet at night, the audible crickets and bicycle gears contrasted with the loud Spanish holiday music, the screams of the tires of cars going too fast and the gunshots echoing in remote neighborhoods. The people were nice: I met those in my classes in real life, I interacted with upper class students who I worked with in clubs, I met new faces and I found a group in the safety of the walls of Burbank. Stanford, its campus and life kept out of the way for so long due to COVID-19, was finally in my possession, requiring only a turn of the doorknob on my dorm to bask in the area’s sun. from the bay and many opportunities. Spring 2021 was magical; the university experience that I had heard about for years was finally here, within reach. I never forgot Stockton, but it was so long ago. A different life. It didn’t seem so important.
Now, as I type this in my sophomore year, a crisis in my career at Stanford, I yearn for Stockton. I fled for those seven months and I miss it. I miss my community.
I miss the loud music, the ethnic food, the road I would take to go to school, La Superior and my Abuelo lodge. I miss my garden, I miss my pets: my German Shepherd, cats and turtles. I miss my dad’s barbecues, the corner of the couch and the light I used to read, the place on the kitchen table where I always did my homework and the neighborhood where I cycled. I miss the Stockton Scholars building, downtown cinema and going to the top of the parking lots to see a view of the harbor waterfront, the water of the Sierra Nevada mountains flowing through Stockton via the San Joaquin River and heading towards Mount Diablo, eventually reaching the Bay. I have been in four different dorms over the past seven months, living an almost nomadic lifestyle, and each has felt less at home. I miss the feeling of being at home and, in turn, realize that the communities you have created in the past are so important to take with you.
Recently, after recommendations from Stanford students, I listened to NPR’s “Invisibilia” podcast and all three episodes on 209Times, disinformation, the disappearance of mainstream local news, and the disappointment of the 2020 election. And dude , am I worried about my community. All the problems – rampant homelessness, poverty, gun violence – reaching almost every corner of the south and east, stay in Stockton when everyone leaves, from overseas suffering the seal to expelled students. The cycle of trauma, feeling speechless against the structures of life, the oppression and resentment that every Stocktonian harbors persists. This will continue until we, as a community, break the cycle and heal.
As a FLI student, there’s this pressure to be something big with the education I get, something larger than life, and to reinvent the world for the better because I can. While I cannot guarantee this, I can make a different promise: I will return to Stockton. I’m not a savior, the fairy godmother who’ll wave Stanford’s wand for money and wit and fix all the problems there, but I am and always will be a part of the community, a resilient and beautiful community. made up of so much love and potential. I’m a boomerang, thrown so far you think it’s long gone, out of sight enough to think it’s gone, but it still manages to find its way back into your palm. I promise you, I’ll be back.