SAN DIEGO — Activist Christian Ramirez’s cross-border journey began when he and his family moved to San Ysidro, California from Tijuana, Mexico when he was eight years old.
During a recent conversation at a park near his Sherman Heights, San Diego home, Ramirez offered a look into his life and how his perspective on issues and values were shaped in part by constant trips across the border, zig zagging between the two cultures with his parents.
But even in a new country, Ramirez said his parents pushed for Spanish to be spoken at home at all times. English was for school and life outside the family.
“My parents insisted on this,” Ramirez said. “My whole family, we are the traditional border family … That instilled in me the sense of valuing my language, my heritage and I think it was our continuous movement between Tijuana and San Diego that allowed me to understand that my community was not just on this side of the border, that it was truly a binational community and we were truly a binational family.”
Ramirez admitted life in the beginning — especially in school — was difficult, feeling like an outsider because of his Mexican roots.
“Back then, you had to assimilate,” Ramirez said. “You had to drop your language, drop your surname, drop your accent and try to be as white as possible.”
Ramirez went on to graduate from San Diego State University and has been a community activist since 1994, fighting for people’s rights and a rightful place in our society. He admits Latinos have come a long way.
“We are assimilating to a reality of, we are bilingual, we speak Spanglish and we can go to Tijuana and feel at home there or we can go to San Diego and feel at home at the same time,” Ramirez said. “And just beginning to embrace that and love that, it’s a love that hasn’t gone away.”
Ramirez described how he and other Latinos are more accepted now, in spite of ongoing obstacles when facing housing shortages, discrimination, racist rhetoric from highest levels of government, the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of health care and employment opportunities.
He says every day, Latinos become more and more ingrained in the culture of not only California, but all of the United States. He emphasized contributions made by Mexican Americans and other Latinos who have given all they’ve got for this country.
“Latinos have always contributed, whether it’s in the fields feeding us, and there were those Latinos who died courageously in the battlefields of Omaha Beach or Pearl Harbor or Vietnam or Iraq — you name it, we’ve been there,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez wants people to know that he and other Latinos will always be there.
“We’re not going away,” Ramirez said.