Gabriela Aquije Quiroga: Future California Leader

gabrielaName: Gabriela Aquije Quiroga

GEAR UP 4 LA School: Belmont High School, 11th grade

Summer Program: CLYLP (Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project) – Los Angeles Institute

The word frightened and intimidated cannot do justice to how I felt on August 7th, 2015, the day the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project began. However, the sweaty hands, unstable legs, and accelerated heartbeat slowly faded away while I walked towards my new family, familia cuatro. The staff asked us “Who are you?” and we were to response as, “California’s Future Leaders!” However, we lacked of excitement, because we didn’t yet believe it.

We met Latinos who motivated us with personal stories of their struggles and taught us the importance of civic and political engagement. I loved that the program invited professionals from different fields to talk to us about their career paths and their degrees. I know that their advice will help us all in the very near future, when we are all choosing what career path to take. In the last couple of hours, CLYLP emphasized on how important it is to stay connected with the program and with each other. Although not everything at the conference was new to me, it had a greater impact because I was experiencing it as a young Latina leader.

We learned a great deal of our Chicano and Latino culture, but one of the most meaningful experiences came not from an organized event but the lady who made our delicious lunch. Her name was Caridad and without a high school or a college education, she taught us as much or more as the other speakers. Once she started talking, it seemed as if her words were coming out of my parents’ mouth: she was talking to us as if we were her children, as if she loved us without even knowing us. Her story was unfortunately like most Latino immigrants that come to the U.S. with hopes for a better future for their family, full of misfortunes and adversities. When Latino leaders talked to us, we learned what we could achieve because of what they had done. Caridad trusted us to make things better for people like her and our families.

CLYLP helped me believe in myself, believe in my peers, and believe in my community. It was the best and most eye-opening program I have ever experienced. I cannot think of a better way I could have spent that weekend. The last time the staff asked us “Who are you?” our answer could not have been any more enthusiastic. We were all certain and surely believed that we are “CALIFORNIA’S FUTURE LEADERS!”