Young, Hispanic and silent no more: Meet SVHS student Jacquelyn Torres
From third to eighth grade, Jacquelyn Torres was silent.
But on March 24, none of the almost 2,000 people gathered for the March for Our Lives event at the Santa Rosa Courthouse Square, would have guessed that Torres, who’d lived much of her childhood in a self-imposed silence, had been voted “Shyest Student” at Sonoma Valley High School her freshman year.
Because on that day, she spoke as boldly and passionately as any marcher in the country.
“I have to say that I am not sad. I am infuriated,” Torres told the crowd. “(I’m) infuriated because of the capable lives that were stolen in Florida; infuriated because of these shootings becoming normalized; infuriated because of students being scared to go to school.”
She vowed: “I will not be silent; I will not continue to hold the fury that boils in my veins; I will not wait until more lives are stolen; I will not be silent and neither should you.”
The SVHS junior was not only a speaker but a co-organizer of the event – as a junior member of the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, a group whose members engage in human rights issues within Sonoma County.
“It was way more than what I expected,” Torres said of the turnout. “The fact that the youth were finally being heard, that was empowering.”
Torres’s accomplishments stem beyond her Saturday appearance. She has been interning with Rep. Mike Thompson for the past seven months, working in his Santa Rosa office.
Her involvement in politics and activism at such a young age has to do with her aspirations to be a U.S. Senator.
“If you look at the representation of senators, there is very little representation of Hispanics,” said Torres, who is also vice president of the SVHS Dragones Latinxs club. “That’s sad because the problems that Hispanics face are not being talked about.”
This year Torres finds herself either alone or with only one other Hispanic student in any of her three AP classes. After observing the lack of Hispanics in her advanced coursework, Torres created an education and achievement ad hoc committee and surveyed 158 SVHS students about their education. Her findings confirmed a lack of communication between students and teachers.
With this data, Torres created an Education Gap for Latino Students report, which she presented to Socorro Shiels, top candidate to be the next district superintendent, at an Education Forum on March 29.
“There is so much potential being lost,” Torres said. “I just want to try to change how the whole system is working for education.”
A part of this change includes the special education department. Torres herself was a special-ed student from fourth grade to freshman year, a time when, due to her shyness, she decided to stop talking almost entirely – everywhere but home. After being discouraged from taking AP classes, she left special ed.
“I think there is a flaw in the program, because they are not letting students take courses or challenging them,” Torres said. “I am really passionate about politics and education. It is what drives me because I’ve been in the position of being in special education and there not being a lot of opportunities.”
Torres is involved in many additional clubs on campus, including the Gay/Straight Alliance, Mock Trial, the Lady Dragons varsity golf team and serving as vice president for the Model United Nations. She is disappointed her friends aren’t comfortable joining clubs because they feel the clubs lack representation of Hispanics.
“I feel like we should have more diverse students in leadership positions and that will encourage others to join, because they will be like , ‘Oh, people that look like me!’” Torres said. “There is not a lot of interest in politics among young Hispanics and that’s really sad.”
Torres is also the student representative on Sonoma Valley’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) committee, a three-year funding plan aimed at school improvement, and she hopes that her participation will provide a valuable student perspective.
“(My) free time is usually spent on my extracurricular activities because that is my way of fun… that’s what makes me happy,” Torres said.
After high school she hopes to become a political science major at an Ivy League college. She has already been acquiring college credits at Santa Rosa Junior College and UCLA, and she is enrolled in an eight-credit, seven- week Harvard University summer program.
“It’s my dream school so that’s why I’m doing the program. So in case I don’t get accepted at least I will have the experience of going there and taking courses,” Torres said.
Torres is inspired by her parents and their journey to Sonoma from Michoacán, Mexico. She gives much of the credit for her accomplishments to them.
Torres highlights the “misconception” that her parents have pressured her to achieve so much. “(People) are not used to seeing a Hispanic, who is first generation, going and surpassing other students despite all the obstacles,” she said.