Growing up and going to school, gun violence had almost become an everyday thing. It wasn’t uncommon to hear the various pops from the lethal weapons in the middle of the night while I’d try to sleep, wondering when they would hit my window.
At my school and in my communities, primarily the Latinx community, gun violence has been normalized, especially since we often live and attend school in lower-income neighborhoods.
When I found out about Students Demand Action, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to do something about it. I have been involved with SDA and the Everytown Survivor Network since I was part of their Summer Leadership Academy 2021 cohort and then started my own SDA chapter at Hollywood High School last year.
Showing my peers that we can do something about the gun violence we’ve experienced and seeing other Latinx kids empowered and inspired to use their voices to create change fuels me. Seeing myself on La Opinion and Univision especially touched my heart because I know that my family back in Guatemala can see the work we’re doing and the results we’ve achieved. My mother can share the reports with her friends, who can actually read and understand what’s happening, and educate themselves because it’s written in their own language.
Young Latinx voices are powerful. It’s important to have more of our voices in the gun violence prevention movement—because we know that this isn’t okay, and we can prevent these things from happening in the future. This month, I’m proud to use my voice and share my story with even more members of the Everytown and Students Demand Action community.
We’re all so different, and that makes up the beauty of the Latinx community. Even things that seem the same change from culture to culture. Like tamales! Tamales are made differently depending on where you come from. Mexican tamales are cooked in corn husks made of corn dough, typically with a small pocket of meat and sauce. In Guatemala, they’re cooked in banana leaves, and the “dough” is made of rice while the entire tamale is covered with sauce and meat. Depending on where you’re from, the simple dish can vary in many ways. Latinx Heritage Month is a time of celebration to embrace one another’s cultures and empower each other.
Regardless of how you’re celebrating, I hope you’ll take time to reflect on both the beauty of Latinx cultures and how this epidemic has impacted us.
Too many people say that one or two voices won’t make a difference, that we’re too young to know what we’re talking about or truly create any change. But look at everything we’ve achieved over the years in this movement. If that person hadn’t stepped up to use their voice, this monumental progress might not have been made. Even if changes don’t seem big to some, progress is progress, and another step forward is a step towards a future free from gun violence.
Ashley Castillo (she/her)
Students Demand Action volunteer leader from South Central Los Angeles, CA