Luciana Corrales was born in Chula Vista. Her mother came over from Tijuana to give birth in order to ensure that Luciana would be an American citizen. Luciana then lived the next eight years of her life in Tijuana. Her mother, too, was a native of Tijuana. She also was a single mom who found an excellent job with the telephone company. “In Tijuana we used to live in Infonavit. It’s a housing that’s affordable for people who work for the gas and electric companies.”
Then at the age of eight, Luciana’s mother remarried and brought Luciana to live in Morena Valley near Riverside. She became part of a blended family and was thrown into an English language school. Learning English for Luciana, even at the age of eight, was difficult. “I remember from my ESL classes, they would take me to a separate classroom and they would just throw me into English regular for the different subjects, but I couldn’t understand a word that they were saying. And then they would put me in this little room with Kindergarten books.”
When Luciana graduated high school, she immediately returned to her Tijuana. This is where she had close family, in particular her mother’s two sisters. Although living in Mexico, she commuted back and forth across the border to get her associates degree and also for different jobs.
In 1998, she married a native-born Tijuanese. He, too, had spent some years living in El Cajon, having a binational experience like so many in this region. By 2000 and 2001, they had two boys and they had planned to always live in Tijuana. However, September 2001 changed everything. The border waits became severe and Luciana decided to move to the U.S., but she wanted to be as close to her culture as possible. She chose San Ysidro because it was a walkable community and a place where she could easily go back and forth between the border, take the bus to the pedestrian crossing or take the trolley to downtown San Diego.
At first, her sons went to Smythe preschool and then she enrolled them in Mt. Carmel Catholic Church. The boys received first communion there, something very important to her and her husband. Then the recession hit. Her husband, who had received his green card and then became a U.S. Citizen, was a building inspector for the City of San Diego. He received a letter saying that he was going to be laid off. It was a life-changing moment. Many of their friends had already been hit by the recession, losing their jobs and even their homes. Although her husband got lucky and never completely lost his employment, they switched their sons to the San Ysidro Public School District. Luciana’s friends thought she was crazy. They told her that her boys would get on drugs soon enough and they would never be properly educated. That’s when Luciana said that she would fight to make the public schools in her own community better. That was 2010.
“The public system has to work. There’s the rumor that they say students in San Ysidro don’t learn. It has to be false and I need to prove that because this is the community I choose to live in and the boys need to be successful here.” Willow Elementary, a school located a stone’s throw from the U.S.-Mexico border, had just been newly built. Her boys began to attend Willow and Luciana offered to volunteer filing for the secretary, then she joined Willow’s School Site Council. She also volunteered to be on the English Language Learner Advisory Committee (formed whenever there are more than 21 English language learners in a school). Soon she was invited to attend the district committee for English language learners.
“That’s why I’m so passionate about the English Language learners here in San Ysidro and their opportunities because I experienced that myself.”
In 2013 Luciana became a Community Engagement Coordinator for the San Ysidro Walks and Wheels to School, a program that collaborates with the San Diego Bicycle Coalition, Circulate San Diego, the City of San Diego and the San Ysidro School District. For a time she was also a trustee on the San Ysidro School Board. “We, as women, we bring children to this world. We face many different challenges, all of us at different stages. We see the schools as a gateway for the success of our children. We need to have leadership that meets the expectations of the new generation, especially leadership from Latina women.”
Luciana continues to live in San Ysidro and cross the border into Tijuana frequently for family, friends and entertainment.
(First published in www.southbaycompass.com on May 5, 2015)