Nora C. Melendez – DeAnza College

Nora C. Melendez – Student Interview ’24

Vasconcellos Institute for Democracy in Action (VIDA) – DeAnza College

We had the pleasure of interviewing Nora C. Melendez on their experience in our CYLC learn-and-earn career pathway at DeAnza College. Nora C. Melendez (she/they) was born in Mexico and spent their formative years growing up in California’s Silicon Valley. They are an artist and writer who had their first book published in February 2024. They hope to expand the lessons within the book to create workshops and classes.

In what ways did this fellowship experience contribute to your personal and professional growth, and how do you envision yourself applying the skills you have acquired into your local community?

The most valuable aspect (need) of the training for me, was the amount of respect (need fulfilled) I received. I had been brought up with the banking approach of learning. A lot of bullshit was deposited into my body and brain. Maybe that’s why I chose to be silent. 

I got a lot of different information at school. I was expected to learn and regurgitate these half-truths, tow the party line of the side that won. To enjoy the entertaining and good parts of the story. No one ever asked me what I thought, Asked how I felt about this or that. Even if they had, I wouldn’t have know what to even ask. And for a long time I understood that saying nothing was better than saying anything. Not that anyone asked. At DeAnza;

I woke up from a short nightmare. Freed my mind, my heart and soul when I was asked to be a part of the change. The teacher asked what I wanted to know. Instead of filling in the bubble and knowing what I was told. Respect for a student of any age is what I learned. No one had given me the respect before, and trust, in helping to write the lessons of my own learning. 

Tell us about a moment or accomplishment during your fellowship that you are particularly proud of. How did it contribute to the goals of the organization or project you were involved in?

There was an assignment on the different leadership types, assessing our own leadership style, getting feedback for clear insights toward future development. 

What are your plans for the future? In reflecting on your fellowship, what key lessons or insights did you gain, and how do you plan to apply these learning’s in your future endeavors or career path? For example, are you excited about starting a new job/career in your field, and or continuing school?

My plans include art, writing and the Melo Organization. After my first book was published in February 2024, I hope to expand the lessons within the book to create workshops and classes. A Kids Book About Democracy is the start of a global art, democracy and humanities project. This is all shaping into a future masters and phd. What I thought was so random before, after forty-seven years of learning, in hindsight was leading up to this. The fellowship at DeAnza and CLP helped me uncover, start my own voice. And clarify my future trajectory. 

Can you tell us how we did as an organization and partner at your school? What would you improve, what did you like, and what advice would you give to future participants? How can they maximize their learning and make the most of their hands-on opportunities within an organization?

I’d like to go back to become a mentor, if possible. To see the changes in place since I’ve been away. 

Can you share your social justice origin story? What drives you to do the work in creating social change in your local community?

My story took 47,000 tears and 47 years with one hundred more to go. Other people cry a million tears or more. Or die at a young age or old. But at 47 I have learned that the weight of carrying words inside, after a lifetime, gets heavier and the hole deeper as we go. Because silence, like time, needs nothing from us to do its work.

I was born in Mexico. Then I was brought to the US as a little five year old, I had no choice. I was a good kid, did what I was told. I was told to do many things and did the right thing for most. But I wasn’t supposed to ask any questions. Just learn and consume what I was sold. But I am also observant. I chose to listen and look. Be very quiet most of all. I couldn’t dare to be seen. I was undocumented. But I could dare to observe. Didn’t bother anybody, with my silent ways. Disappearing act for many many years, lost in my own headspace. Drowning with time on tap, to quench my silent complicity.

I was educated well. Under dollar signs and yields of dreams; in a little tiny slice of Silicon Valley. Was on my way to a nice home, a beautiful family and I had goals. I had been undocumented from age five through twenty. My teachers and parents told me I should work hard, study. So I did. Until I received my naturalized, reborn; US citizenship.

I was on my way until one crisp December morning in 2018. My partner, father of my three babies, was transferred to ICE after an arrest. He would have been released the next day, except he was undocumented. It was on the third of the month that our lives took a different turn.

For the next five years we worked to keep our family together. We’ve accomplished that so far, only with the help we accepted from others. Our minds were Democratized with the love and support from strangers. Now, our goal is to keep the movement going forward, forever.

What are some of the most pressing issues that need to be addressed in your local community and in society?

Weaving the practice of Democracy into our daily lives. So that our kids can learn the basics at home. Democracy is best maintained by those with a Democratic Mindset. The lessons start the minute a person is born. From then on, a kid is provided the quality of lessons the teachers have learned. And parents are the first and last teachers of their children. So we start the work first, within each home.

We need to heal each generation, and we can do it at once. Grownups, in order to parent better, need to also understand their own triggers. Because the trauma they dish to their kids, is the trauma the kids will regurgitate later.

The issues are many that enter a home. Because the world outside is built on only bare bones of the love we feel at home. So if the home is made of love, or not, depends on the people and level of care each individual received in the making of their bones. Did your grownup help heal or hurt you? La pregunta del millón. The million dollar question, but let’s not get distracted by that for-profit world.

Democracy means a different thing to me. It is not red, white or blue. But it is the color of liberty. Something in between right and wrong. A conversation waiting to happen. I have opened my eyes enough to know some things. So I picked up the pen, el pincel tambien, and a microphone. In learning to speak, to write again; I also learned (am learning) to listen.

Faviola Villanueva

San Bernardino Valley College Placement: Catholic Charities of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties