Our Civic Duty

Our Civic Duty

I grew up with a strong sense of social justice and civic duty.  As a young Latina, I understood from an early age that standing up for my rights was something I would do my entire life.  I wasn’t going to sit around and wait for someone else to fight for me.

My mom set a great example. I distinctly remember her being actively engaged in campaigns for the local Community College District Board of Governors. She was an Executive Secretary at San Jose City College.  She cared about the governance of the College.  She knew the decisions of the board of trustees had a great impact on the college’s employees, its students, and the community.  She couldn’t afford to make big campaign contributions like some, but she walked precincts, made phone calls and put her energy behind the candidates she supported. I asked my dad about it the other day.  He said she used to make him go knock on doors with her.  He couldn’t say no.  He supported her in everything that was important to her.

Seeing my mom involved in the political process at a young age had a strong influence on my career path and is one of the reasons I am such a passionate advocate today. Like my mom, I am highly engaged in the issues of the day and I fight for the causes I support.  Voting is one important way we have to make our voice heard – a way to stand up for what we believe in and to be counted!

I am keenly aware that not everyone gets involved the way I do, and many Americans take a much more passive role in the political process and choose not to participate. They think their vote doesn’t matter. It is unfortunate that they make this choice and leave the decision-making process in the hands of others.

My concern is for the people who want to vote but can’t – people who have been disenfranchised by a complicated and opaque process that is at best unwelcoming to the uninitiated.  All across the country there are headlines about processes that are causing the exclusion of voters – particularly Black and Latino voters.  These draconian barriers, such as the absurdly strict voter identification laws being adopted in some states, are a stain on our democratic process and an unfortunate violation of people’s civil rights.

Thankfully, California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla has taken significant steps to make the voting process easier and more welcoming to all Californians.  We are fortunate to live in a state where our leaders are seeking to make the process more accessible, and where significant barriers to voting have been removed.

First, Secretary Padilla has championed a new online voter registration process. Californians are no longer relegated to filling out a voter registration form on a clip board in front of their local grocery store. Instead, you can visit www.registertovote.ca.gov to register. All you need are the last four digits of your social security number and your driver’s license number.  You can complete the process in a matter of minutes.

Second, Secretary Padilla supported a new vote-by-mail law that allows your vote to be counted if your mail-in ballot is post-marked on or before Election Day. This is a change from past elections when mail-in ballots had a different deadline than traditional in-person voting, resulting in tens of thousands of ballots being thrown out. Now, everyone has the same deadline to vote – Election Day.

Third is the new Motor Voter law – only the second of its kind in the country.  This progressive law will register to vote every eligible California citizen who goes to a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office to get a driver’s license or renew one. Sponsored by Secretary Padilla and jointly authored by Assemblymembers Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), Luis Alejo (D-Salinas), and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), the bill was signed into law in 2015 and is being rolled out now by the DMV. According to a press release published upon its passage, the new Motor Voter law will help the 6.6 million Californians who are eligible to vote but are not registered. In its first year of operation, experts’ forecast that we will add two million new voters to the election rolls. Many of these new voters come from low-income families, are young, Latino/people of color.

Secretary Padilla has shown tremendous leadership by advancing the voting rights of millions of Californians.  I greatly admire his commitment to the people of our great state, especially those who are most likely to be marginalized by the process.

One of the things I am very pleased about is the efforts of my own constituency -community health centers- and the leadership role they are playing in getting their communities registered to vote. Health centers have a long history of civic engagement that has been bolstered by federal requirements to offer voter registration when we enroll our patients into the Medi-Cal and Covered California Programs. Additionally, and in partnership with Community Health Vote and NonProfit Vote, CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates continues to support voter registration drives in community health centers this year.  Our efforts include a campaign launching on National Voter Registration Day and runs through the last day to register before the general election (Sept. 27-Oct. 24).  Through this campaign we hope to register thousands of voters who will advance the issues important to our communities.

Approximately two-thirds of the six million health center patients are eligible to vote based on their age.  While some of our patients lack citizenship and are not eligible, many more are.  Health centers are uniquely positioned to support efforts to increase not only voter registration but also voter turnout. Health centers are familiar and trusted sources of care in their communities, and they also provide additional supportive services, education, and outreach to their patients – often in a language other than English.

These are all exciting innovations that empower disenfranchised communities like those I have dedicated my life to serving. Unlike other states, California is breaking down barriers to voting so that everyone has the opportunity to have their voice heard.  Community health centers are stepping up and doing their part to support the community’s right to vote.

We cannot afford to be silent and we must participate in the democratic process if we want our issues to be heard. Like my mom, we have to stand up and do our part to advance the causes of justice that are so important to our community. We have to engage – we have to fight – we have to vote!

It is our civic duty.

Honoring my dad and all of California’s farmworkers today

Honoring my dad and all of California’s farmworkers today

I am attending the San Benito Health Foundation (SBHF) open house today in Hollister to celebrate the great work our migrant health centers do in their communities.  I am so pleased to be joined by my parents, Alcario and Carmen Castellano.  It is also a homecoming of sorts, as Hollister is the town my father grew up in.  My dad was born in Artesia, New Mexico and his family headed west when he was nine years old to join other family members in the Central Valley.  After spending time as a migrant worker in San Joaquin County, his family settled in Hollister in 1945 where they continued to work in the fields. 

My father picked cotton, apricots, prunes, tomatoes and garlic alongside his siblings and parents during his youth. Later, he joined the armed services and then worked in other industries including aerospace, ultimately retiring from Safeway in San Jose.  He went on to win the lottery and established the Castellano Family Foundation which supports non-profits serving the Latino community of Santa Clara County.  My dad has been very successful in his life due to his hard work and dedication to his family and community.  I believe he was greatly influenced by the years he spent working on the farms of San Benito County.  It’s not often that I get back to the area, but when I do, I can’t help but think of my father, his heritage, and his roots.

My dad has told me stories about what a hard life it was back then for farmworkers.  He recalls there were no social services for the farmworkers or their families whatsoever.  There was no health care, no social support services, terrible housing and awful work conditions.  While conditions are still very difficult for farmworkers, organizations such as the San Benito Health Foundation have brought very critical health care services to these communities.  I am extremely honored to represent migrant health centers in California, as they have a tremendous positive impact on the lives of agricultural workers throughout the state.

The open house at SBHF, part of a weeklong celebration of National Health Center Week, highlighted the important work our health centers do in the communities they serve. This event in particular celebrated the work of San Benito Health Foundation as a migrant health center – a vital part of our agricultural system in the state. In California, there are 340 migrant health center sites providing care the state’s migrant agricultural population, many of whom are undocumented immigrants. In fact, as many as 38 percent of the 2.6 million undocumented residents of California work in agriculture. Migrant health centers play a vital role in agricultural workers’ health since these workers experience higher incidences of work-related injuries as well as respiratory problems, musculoskeletal ailments, eye problems, hypertension, diabetes, and pesticide-related illnesses. The state’s recent drought has only exacerbated these health issues. Combined with low wages and limited time off, these workers endure tremendous hardship.

Community health centers provide care to anyone in the communities they serve – no matter their immigration or insurance status. They were born out of a need to provide primary and preventative care to our underserved populations, a mission they are committed to and uphold each and every day. In California, our community health centers serve nearly 500,000 migrant workers and their families each year. Migrant health centers, including SBHF, coordinate care for agricultural workers and their families, who often migrate throughout California as they follow the growing season and help cultivate crops nearly year-round. These migrant health centers understand the challenges of frequent moves and adapt to provide the preventative and primary health care these families need. The centers also provide dental, pharmacy, behavioral health, outreach, and support services specifically tailored to these migrant communities. Without our migrant health centers, the health of our agricultural community would worsen until injuries and illnesses became so severe that they would require the costly services of an emergency department.

Agriculture continues to be one of California’s largest economic drivers. According to the California Department of Farm and Agriculture, more than a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts were grown and harvested here. Given the vital role agriculture plays in our state’s economy, the health of agricultural workers is critical. Our migrant health center program is an important investment, both in the sustainability of our state’s economy and our nation’s food supply. It keeps patients healthy and healthcare costs down by treating illnesses and injuries early, before they become debilitating, thus preventing costly emergency room care. Delivering high quality, affordable health care to California’s agricultural workers benefits all Californians by reducing healthcare costs and improving health outcomes.

As the President and CEO of the California Primary Care Association, and as the daughter of a former farmworker who spent his youth on the fields of San Benito county, it was such a pleasure to be a part of the San Benito Health Foundation celebration today, especially with my father by my side.  It was an opportunity to pay tribute to the health center, its leadership, its patient population, and all farmworkers who are making a tremendous contribution to our great state.  And, it was an opportunity to honor and appreciate my dad and his example of what can be accomplished when you don’t forget where you came from.

Diversity Is Our Mission

Diversity Is Our Mission

At our most recent Castellano Family Foundation meeting, the Trustees – myself; my mother, Carmen Castellano; my sister, Maria West; and my brother, Armando Castellano, all voted to include the values of diversity, equity and inclusion into our overall mission.  In addition to supporting grantees in the areas of education, art and leadership, our mission now also states that we will, “Use our leadership and leverage to promote social equity, inclusion, and diversity for Latinos and other people of color.”  I am extremely proud of the fact that our Foundation has taken the opportunity to build on the legacy of diversity my family has embodied through the example set by my parents, Carmen and Alcario Castellano.

From a young age, I remember how important diversity issues were to my parents, something they instilled in me and my siblings very early on. I remember vividly when my parents urged the elementary school leadership to hire a minority educator at the school I attended in San Jose, which had an all-white faculty.  I also recall my father pushing the San Jose Mercury News to include a Latino journalist on their editorial board, feeling that our voice was missing from weighing in on important issues within the community.  My mom started the Latino Education Association at San Jose City College and was a member of the College’s original Affirmative Action Advisory Council. My parents always led by example and that is why it is so important for our Foundation to ensure these values – diversity, equity and inclusion – remain at the forefront of our mission.

As children, we were taught to love and value our culture. During that time, my sister and I were Ballet Folklorico dancers with Los Mestizos de San Jose and Los Lupenos de San Jose.  It was a great gift from my parents to have us understand our rich and diverse Mexican heritage through Mexican folk dancing. Through the art of dance we learned about both inclusion and diversity – telling stories of our rich cultural heritage through dance and promoting our culture in the broader community.  My parents exemplified these values themselves, volunteering for organizations that promoted diversity and fostered our cultural heritage. I remember my father, working with the San Jose GI Forum to showcase Latino culture through the annual Cinco de Mayo and 16th of September parades and art shows. These events were important to the community and to my family, building a strong and diverse culture within San Jose, and being proud of our Mexican heritage.

The commitment to the Latino community and Latino diversity has rubbed off on me and my siblings.  My brother founded Quinteto Latino, a unique wind quintet that plays chamber music from composers from Latin America and spreads this music to schools and to the greater community.  I have focused my career on advancing Latino and multi-cultural health issues as the founder of the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC) and as CEO of the California Primary Care Association (CPCA) for the past 19 years.  My sister has been a leader in keeping ballet Folklorico alive in San Jose as a board member of Los Lupenos de San Jose and now, the Cashion Cultural Legacy organization.  Our family’s commitment to diversity continues to be strong and is being passed down to future generations through the work that we do.

When my parents started the Castellano Family Foundation in 2001 after my dad won the lottery, they felt it was important to advance the issue of diversity – both in the organizations they supported and in the broader arena of philanthropy. Our Foundation funds community-based organizations in Santa Clara County which serve the Latino community in the areas of art and culture, education and leadership.  In order to be eligible to apply for funding, an organization’s board of directors must reflect the population served. My mom has also served as a spokesperson for this issue of diversity in philanthropy – both concerning the importance of having diverse boards and staffs at Foundations and concerning the issue of funding to Latino community-based organizations.  She travelled the country attending philanthropy-related conferences, where she and my dad had the opportunity to promote diversity via their role of heading a unique Latino family Foundation focused on supporting the Latino community.  I tagged along to these events over the years and was disappointed to see firsthand the lack of diversity that existed in the world of philanthropy. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the past 15 years.

According to a recent report from the D5 coalition, the percentage of CEOs and program officers in Foundations who are people of color has flat-lined over the past five years.  It is clear that the voluntary measures in place to move more people of color into philanthropy are falling short and more needs to be done. A recent survey of its members by the Council on Foundations (COF) regarding diversity in philanthropy found a “backwards ladder of opportunity” in that white men still seem to be excelling faster than minorities and women, of which both groups are trending downwards.  It is most unfortunate that philanthropy as a whole is not adequately practicing the value of advancing diversity.

I hope this will change, and we at the Castellano Family Foundation are committed to pushing the issue forward. An article in the April issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly looked at the COF survey results and stated that the “lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in philanthropy enlargens the understanding gap between philanthropy and the communities meant to be final beneficiaries.” Thus, without representation, many issues important to minority communities are being overlooked, programs and organizations remain underfunded, Foundation staff and leadership do not reflect the diverse populations served, and diversity and inclusion are pushed farther down the ladder of important issues.

Which is why I am so proud of the Trustees of the Castellano Family Foundation and the commitment that they have made to make diversity a priority not only for our organization, but to also promote the need for other organizations to embrace this value. The legacy of diversity and inclusion that started with my parents so many years ago is now being carried forward by their children and will continue to drive the organization for years to come – because it is our mission.

For updates on the Castellano Family Foundation and what we’re doing in the community, follow us on Facebook!

Ensuring Opportunities for the Future

Ensuring Opportunities for the Future

June is an exciting time of year. It marks the end of the school year for our youth. For many, vacation and family time lies ahead. It also signals a time of new beginnings for those graduating from high school, college or a university. I recently had the pleasure of attending two high school graduations – one for my nephew and one for my sister-in-law. It was a reminder of youthful exuberance and the sheer energy that radiates from the students about to embark on a future full of opportunities. The experience brought back memories of my own high school graduation and the optimism and hope I had for my own future – one I felt was filled with promise and full of possibilities.

As a young Latina graduating from high school almost 35 years ago, I remember believing that I could be anything I set my mind to. At the time, I was determined to go to law school and become a civil rights attorney. I felt fully prepared to focus on my higher education and take advantage of all it had to offer in order to build a future for myself, and ultimately work towards a better future for the Latino community. I think many young people today feel the same as I did back then. Unfortunately for today’s Latino graduates, far too many are not fully prepared to seize available post-graduation opportunities and many are not choosing to seek a higher education or get training in those fields with the greatest job prospects.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) fields continue to drive innovation and provide more jobs than companies can fill – especially here in California. Success in STEM-related areas of study can lead to increased job opportunities in two leading growth sectors – medicine and technology. It is unfortunate that our Latino students are not entering into STEM-related fields in the numbers proportionate to their representation within the state’s overall population. Yet medicine and technology are two areas that show tremendous job growth projections and high earnings potential.

According to a recent Addeco report, approximately 271,000 graduates a year earn a degree within a STEM field, but there are currently 277,000 job vacancies (at all levels) in STEM fields – and the gap is only predicted to grow. In terms of medicine, California is predicted to need an estimated 8,243 additional primary care physicians by 2030. Yet, Latinos continue to lag even farther behind other minorities in getting STEM degrees. In fact, in 2013, Latinos represented only nine percent of total STEM degree and certificate recipients. Even at that low rate, according to a 2014 USA Today study, universities graduate Latino computer science students at twice the rate that leading tech companies hire them. Current data also shows that Latinos make up less than five percent of the technology workforce in Silicon Valley and only five percent of physicians in the state. These percentages are vastly lower than the state’s population makeup, of which Latinos account for nearly 40%.

This is simply unacceptable. We need to do more. We need to get young people involved in STEM programs early on in their education so that they start getting the training they need, build an interest in the field, and become aware of the opportunities associated with STEM-related careers. We can’t fault students who don’t seek degrees in fields they know nothing about or feel are out of their reach. Their education needs to start at a young age to truly instill the necessary knowledge, self-esteem, confidence and perseverance to know that anything really is possible. We also need to do more to ensure that those that do graduate with a STEM degree are actually pursuing and being hired for careers in the medical and technology fields.

I’m often reminded about how lucky I was to have parents that instilled in me the importance of education and the drive to do anything I put my mind to. It’s the reason I am where I am today. But there are many young people, young Latinos especially, that do not receive a primary and secondary education which prepares them adequately to pursue a higher education in STEM. This is why I am so proud that the Castellano Family Foundation is taking this issue seriously and continues to provide grant funding to local programs in Santa Clara County dedicated to STEM.

These programs include the José Valdés Math Institute, which offers both middle-school and high-school students a unique, math-intensive program over 7 weeks each summer; the Mesa Schools Program at SJSU, which assists students with college and career exploration workshops and site visits to expose students to college and STEM careers; and the Joseph George Elementary School STEM Workshop, which provides 25-30 Latino students with hands-on math and science experiences, tutoring, and mentoring to promote their academic success and college readiness. These programs are essential because they are empowering our young Latino population early, are getting them interested in STEM, and providing them with skills needed to pursue a STEM career path.

We need to do more to help all of our young people succeed. It is important for all of us to be involved, ensuring our young people have access to every opportunity. The technology, innovation, and healthcare sectors are fueling both economic and job growth in the United States and California and it is estimated there will be a need for an additional one million STEM professionals by 2022. Our young Latinos should be poised to seize these opportunities and fill many of these positions. But this won’t happen unless there is an even greater investment in our Latino youth.

That work starts today and includes all of us – nonprofits, foundations, educational systems and programs, local businesses and elected officials. Ultimately, the community must come together to ensure that all our young Latino graduates have the opportunity to participate in a job market within leading growth sectors of our economy. After all, with the demographic trends in California, our Latino youth are our future. Affording them the opportunity to flourish in STEM-related fields will help the state economically, will help ensure a more diverse workforce in the state, and will ultimately improve the lives of all Californians.

Stand Up and Be Counted

Stand Up and Be Counted

I first learned about making my voice heard as a young girl growing up in San Jose, California. I vividly recall hopscotching in front of a sign my parents put on our front lawn that read, “Save Our Schools: Vote NO on Prop 13.” While I didn’t know exactly what Prop 13 was, I had an idea what “Save Our Schools” meant.  And I knew that my education was important to my parents.  I figured out that they had something to say about the future of California’s educational system, and through voting, they were going to stand up, be counted, and have their voices heard.

In the mid-80’s as I was entering college, I remember reading about the Latino community being portrayed as “the sleeping giant.”  I was intrigued.  The media was acknowledging the growth of the Latino population in California, and they were noting the potentially immense political power of this community.  Also noted was a tremendous barrier for the Latino community in realizing this power themselves which was the  overall lack of Latinos standing up to be counted at election time. Low voter registration and turnout rates were cited as evidence that this demographic behemoth had not realized its full potential at the polls.

After I completed law school and joined the Law Office of Public Advocates, Inc., the anti-immigrant ballot initiative, Proposition 187, which sought to end education, health and social services for undocumented immigrants, passed.  As a result of the passage, it appeared to me, “the sleeping giant” had awakened.  I remember seeing the increase in voter registration and voter turnout at the polls by Latinos in our state in reaction to that draconian initiative – an increase dubbed, “the Prop 187 effect.”

Fast forward 20 years and we still haven’t fully awakened the sleeping giant.  Each year, millions of eligible voters forgo their right to vote by either not registering to vote in time, or by simply not casting a ballot. In 2012, the last time our nation had a non-incumbent Presidential election, nearly 1 in 4 eligible Americans were not registered to vote. Of those eligible and registered, only 55 percent actually voted.  In that same election, only 48 percent of eligible Hispanic voters turned out to vote, down from nearly 50 percent in 2008. This needs to change. Especially this year, when our electorate will be more ethnically diverse than ever before and the anti-immigrant agenda is center stage at the national level.

Recent data from the Pew Research Center indicates that nearly one-in-three (31%) of eligible voters on Election Day 2016 will be Hispanic, black, Asian or another racial or ethnic minority, up 2 percent from 29% in 2012. This is great news, but the more important component is getting everyone to show up and actually vote. The Pew research also showed that there is a relatively lower turnout rate among Hispanic voters. In fact, in the 2012 presidential election, 64% of non-Hispanic white eligible voters cast ballots, while the voter turnout rate was only 48% among Hispanics.

In California, many analysts are predicting a huge voter turnout in California’s upcoming Primary Election on June 7, with early voting by mail having already started. So far, more than 850,000 residents have updated their information or registered to vote in 2016 – that is an impressive number.  According to Pew, it is estimated that approximately 28 percent of California eligible voters are Hispanic, the third largest Hispanic statewide eligible voter share nationally.  There has been a doubling of registration growth among Latinos since January 1, 2016.  This year, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) projects the nationwide Hispanic voter turnout to be 13.1 million voters, up from 11.2 million in 2012. And let’s not forget that millennials will account for nearly half (44%) of the record 27.3 million of eligible Hispanic voters projected for 2016 – a share greater than any other racial or ethnic voting group.

If we don’t participate in the electoral process, we are missing a huge opportunity to make our voices heard.  We need to encourage those within our community to register and make it a priority to actually get out and vote (or send in an absentee ballot by mail). Beyond the Presidential candidates, there are a number of local, state, and federal representatives up for re-election this year, as well as propositions – all of which will have an impact on every one of us.

When we DO exercise our right to vote, the impact of having Latinos in positions of power is palpable. Thanks to Latino leaders in the state legislature, bold new initiatives are advancing. Just this week, a new law went into effect that provides health care coverage for all children, regardless of immigration status.

This presidential election will be critical for setting the tone for the Latino and immigrant community into the future.  We will have the opportunity to see whether or not “the sleeping giant” has finally awakened to realize its full potential.

I’m urging all eligible voters, regardless of race, gender, party preference, etc., to register to vote before the May 23, 2016, registration deadline in order to vote in the June 7, 2016, Primary Election. You can register to vote online by clicking here (www.registertovote.ca.gov). Learn more about Primary Election and what will be on the ballot by clicking here (http://voterguide.sos.ca.gov/).

Voting is one of the most important mechanism for Latinos and all Americans to make their voices heard.  See you at the polls!

The Importance of Advocacy

The Importance of Advocacy

One of the things I love most about my job is that it involves advocacy. Advocacy at the state and national level on behalf of community health centers and the nearly 6 million patients they serve each year. Advocacy and supporting the mission of community health centers is what the California Primary Care Association (CPCA) was built on and continues to play a strong role in our day to day work. Over the past 20 years we have accomplished a tremendous amount, in large part because we have come together and been united as a single voice in Sacramento and in Washington, DC. IMG_6968

That voice is most pronounced during our annual lobby day at the State Capitol, where for more than two decades California’s community clinics and health centers have descended the halls to speak with their legislative leaders about issues important to them and their communities. Health center staff and patients are able to share their stories and advocate for and against important legislation and budget issues. Over the years CPCA has sponsored many pieces of legislation which assisted California health centers in their growth, expansion, and financial viability.

This week, once again, more than 300 health center staff, providers, and patients will take part in our annual Day at the Capital activities, but with a new and exciting feature. California health centers will be advocating under CPCA’s new affiliate organization, CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates. They will be moving forward a substantial legislative agenda aimed at advancing community health centers in California and addressing their workforce needs under this new entity.

CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates is an independent 501(c)(4) social welfare organization that was recently created by the California Primary Care Association to support our statewide advocacy efforts. The CPCA Board voted to create CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates in January of 2016 and the organization was incorporated later that month. This new entity will have more flexibility and the capability to advocate in new and exciting ways. It also affords community health centers an additional opportunity to unify and to create a distinct voice in the Capital.

CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates is committed to promoting healthy people and healthy communities by strengthening California’s system of more than 1,000 community health centers. United in single voice, CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates will advance the core values of community health centers to the benefit of their patients and communities.

I continue to love what I do because advocacy continues to be at the heart of why CPCA exists. I am excited to be a part of this new and exciting time within the organization, when we are making bold decisions and daring steps forward into the future.