The Salinas Valley has been afflicted with gang violence for decades, and today the issue is frequently met with feelings of cynicism and fear. Salinas’s agricultural-based economy attracts a large number of migrant workers who are often forced to separate for work. These fractured families can make children feel torn between cultures, isolated, and often lacking in direct supervision—ingredients that can easily lead youth to join a gang.
The Observer, the newsletter of the diocese of Monterey, reported that dozens attended the first abuelitas workshop—most of them who either knew a gang member or someone killed as a result of gang violence. Grandmothers frequently fill the space left by an absent parent, becoming primary caregivers and keeping families together.
“Women often provide knowledge of cultural identity,” Pineda says. “In the Latino community especially, grandmothers pass on to their children and grandchildren religious and cultural traditions.”
In preparing for the workshop, Pineda spoke with Santa Clara students from her courses. They told her that some powerful examples she had shared with them seemed to offer lessons here, too: stories of women who, in the face of intolerable oppression and violence, found creative ways to turn the tide. Among them: the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina—whose children were “disappeared” under the dictatorship between 1976-83.
In Salinas, Pineda asked her audience to find ways they can make who they are and what they believe in a force for greater good. The abuelitas drew inspiration from each other, brainstorming ways to set strong examples—be it leading a drug-free life, praying, encouraging involvement in sports and groups like Boy Scouts, or working to provide each child in the city with a library card and supporting reading. And they left with a stronger sense of affecting change within their community—with more gatherings planned.
So where did the idea of tapping the abuelitas originate? Bishop Garcia said he was inspired by conversations with prison inmates about the positive role that grandmothers played in their lives.
As for asking the abuelitas to step up, Pineda offers a counter to the old adage that you’re never too old to learn. “You’re never too old to educate someone,” she says. —EE