Foundation for Change Honors Local “Changemakers”
Baza, Clark-Alfaro, Environmental Health Coalition Receive Awards
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
PHOTO, L to R: Larry Baza, John Fanestil, Victor Clark-Alfaro, Diane Takvorian
The San Diego Foundation for Change held its annual “Changemaker Celebration” Sunday, September 26 on the Prado patio in Balboa Park. Part outdoor picnic, part bazaar of social-change organizations, part fundraiser and part short commemoration, the event was an example of a new style of event for grassroots community foundations, abandoning the formal atmosphere and high overhead of a traditional banquet and giving individuals from various organizations and backgrounds ample opportunities to mix.
Since the Foundation’s current executive director, John Fanestil, took office two years ago, the Foundation has made cross-border activities its primary focus. “One out of every three San Diego households speaks a language other than English,” he explained. “Six hundred thousand San Diegans are eligible to vote but are not registered, and another 150,000 are eligible for naturalization as U.S. citizens but haven’t done so. These demographics are going to change the political and social dynamics of San Diego.”
According to the program for the event, the Foundation’s grants fit into three broad goals: Democracy for All, Health for All and Equality for All. The group’s first honoree was Larry Baza, native San Diegan of Mexican and Chamorro (Guamanian) heritage who for over a quarter-century has been active in San Diego’s arts and philanthropic communities. Baza is also an openly Gay man who currently serves as president of the predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club and sits on the executive board of Honor PAC, a statewide advocacy group for Latino/a Queers. He’s also a member of the City of San Diego’s Commission for Arts and Culture and the Latino Services Advisory Council of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center.
Baza made a short speech in which he acknowledged his partner, Tom Noel, who made a rare public appearance at his side. “Write another check,” Baza said. “Make monthly contributions. It’s the work of human beings.”
The second honoree, Victor Clark-Alfaro, was acknowledged for founding the Bi-National Center for Human Rights in Tijuana in 1987 and running it ever since. Though he’s bilingual, he chose to make his presentation in Spanish, with Fanestil interpreting. His group works on behalf of Tijuana’s most marginalized communities, including indigenous street vendors, migrants from other parts of Mexico, sex workers (many of them Transgender) and Queers in general. He’s written two books on the Mixtecs, one of Mexico’s indigenous communities, and their role in the San Diego-Tijuana border community.
“I feel very privileged to be here,” Clark-Alfaro said. “It’s a great favor after dedicating ourselves to this work for years. Recognitions like this are important, but the most fundamental purpose is change in the lives of the people we seek to transform. I decided to dedicate myself to the groups in Tijuana society who had no one to speak for them. This has great satisfactions, and also great risks. It’s work some people simply don’t understand, because one dedicates oneself to others. But for me it hasn’t been a labor, but an adventure I have undertaken with enthusiasm. For that reason, I thank the San Diego Foundation for Change for honoring me.”
The third honoree, under Health for All, was the Environmental Health Coalition and its longtime director, Diane Takvorian. Since the award was for the entire organization and not just Takvorian individually, she brought up all the members of her group in attendance. She spoke briefly about the issue of environmental justice: the ways communities of color and less affluent areas in general often get singled out for the highest-polluting industries and dumps.
“In southeast San Diego and Tijuana, we have people with toxic symptoms and high cancer rates” from the ways their neighborhoods have been subjected to pollutants, including heavy diesel fumes from the trucks that are routed through them. “These people are literally putting their lives on the line to keep diesel trucks out of their neighborhoods,” she explained. “The Foundation for Change has really helped the Environmental Health Coalition organize communities to achieve justice.”
In his closing remarks, Fanestil promoted some of the Foundation’s other efforts. “Tomorrow morning you’ll find on our Web site a report on our efforts to promote census participation this year and ensure that historically underrepresented communities are counted,” he said. “In 2011 these results will be released. We believe they will show population growth among people of color in San Diego and more development of San Diego and Tijuana as a binational region. We’re looking forward to a sequence of activities, including holding elected officials responsible for redistricting and increasing the participation of San Diegans who aren’t historically represented in politics. There are eligible citizens who need to be naturalized, eligible people who need to be registered, and voters who need to be educated. We are all in this together. We thank you for your continuing support.
For more information on the San Diego Foundation for Change, please visit their Web site at www.foundation4change.org