Meet Maria Grijalva
I am a dreamer and a doer, a business owner and non-profit founder, a policy expert and community advocate. My successes have been possible because of the educational opportunities I have had, and which, at times, I have had to fight to access. As Yolo County Board of Education Trustee, I will apply my tenacity, resourcefulness, and collaborative spirit to ensure that our educational system serves the common good.
My Beginnings at the Border
I was born in Houston, Texas. Like many Mexican-American families, the generations of my family straddle the U.S.-Mexico border. As a child, I attended school in Harlingen, Texas, where my mother worked as an RN at the local hospital. My three older sisters and I spent weekends and summers with our grandmother in Matamoros, Mexico, while our mother, a single mom, worked to provide for us.
Being raised on both sides of the border taught me lessons in building bridges, finding points of connection across divisions, and seeing the world from multiple perspectives. And, at an early age, I witnessed the realities of inequalities and discovered the power each of us has to confront injustice. I learned to advocate for my community from my mother, who fought to have the first Latino doctor hired at Valley Baptist Hospital.
Pursuing Educational Opportunities
At the age of 25, as a single mother of three young children, I traveled to Sacramento envisioning a better future for myself and my family. I realized this vision through hard work, perseverance, and the benefits of public education and social services. I attended Sacramento City College before transferring to Sacramento State, where I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Then I continued at Sacramento State and completed nearly all the requirements for the Educational Administration & Policy Studies Master’s Program.
As I pursued my education, I encountered challenges and injustices. A young mother on welfare, I was confronted with the attitudes of those who thought my dreams were unrealistic and did not expect me to succeed. Each year, my welfare caseworker scolded me, because welfare recipients were expected to attend short-term vocational training, rather than pursuing longer-term degrees. While at Sacramento State, I experienced discrimination and harassment from an apartment manager who did not want a single Latina mother living in on-campus housing. Despite these challenges, I persisted, fighting for my right to an education (and my landlord regretted discriminating against me after I educated myself on landlord-tenant law and won a case against her).
Serving the Common Good
Beyond educating and advocating for myself, I used my challenges as opportunities to empower others, build community, and work for the common good. I used the legal knowledge I gained through challenging my landlord to assist others. I filed restraining orders, divorce papers, and insurance claims for the other residents of my apartment complex. I found myself spending a lot of time at the Courthouse, and while I was there, I ended up providing help to Spanish speakers who were struggling with legal paperwork. I remember assisting one woman who was in tears because her landlord was evicting her, and she couldn’t understand the document she had to file in response. One of my proudest moments, years later, was helping an undocumented woman avoid foreclosure on her newly purchased home.
I also became an advocate for inclusivity and representation in higher education. At Sacramento State, I became involved with the student group Mecha, which pushed the Psychology department to hire people of color. Along with a group of other women, I co-founded a study support group for Latinas, for which I was awarded the Multi-Cultural Center’s Service to Other Students award. And I gave back to the education system through becoming a regular volunteer in my children’s preschool and elementary schools.
My education and legal experience helped me to earn a job at the DMV, where I eventually worked in the Legal Affairs Division writing regulations. My state service provided another path through which I advocated for the underserved. At the DMV, I co-founded the Hispanic/Latino Employee Association and served as the unofficial steward of the SEIU 1000, despite the anti-union pressures in our office.
While I ended up retiring after ten years due to chronic pain stemming from a car accident, I later founded the nonprofit Latino Information and Resource Center and continued advocacy work with the DMV. Through this organization, I pushed the DMV to create a Spanish audio version of the training manual, which enables monolingual, illiterate Spanish speakers to study for their driver’s license exams. Our advocacy work also succeeded in making the process for obtaining driver’s licenses more accessible for undocumented California residents. I later founded a company, Grijalva Enterprises Corporation, which provides translation and advocacy services (oftentimes pro bono).
Since moving to the Broderick neighborhood of West Sacramento in 2009, I have been a fierce advocate for youth, particularly Latino youth unfairly targeted by the gang injunction. With the community group Broderick is a Community, Not a Gang, I have spoken out at City Council meetings, built connections with politicians and policy makers, and taken to the streets, all to ensure that our youth have access to opportunities to succeed.
I am currently collaborating with government officials and nonprofit agencies to provide resources and educational and recreational opportunities for youth in the gang injunction areas.
Despite the challenges in our community, I have great hope for our future, and, with the support of my community, I am ready to stand up, take action, and make dreams a reality.
Thank you for your interest. I want to hear from you! Your input is valuable. If you don't hear back from me within 48 hrs, feel free to phone me directly at 916 647 2759