The Year of the Woman of Color in Davis

Photo: Gloria Partida (right) talks with Melissa Moreno (front left) and Cindy Pickett (rear left) in front of the “Statement of Love” mural on the rear of the Odd Fellows building. Painting and Mosaic by Toni and Sarah Rizzo and arranged by Kate Mellon-Anibaba and dedicated this summer to ethnic and racial justice.

Back in June, when Gloria Partida became the first Latina elected to the Davis City Council, she not only won, but finished first and in two years will be the Mayor of Davis.

In acknowledging the “historic moment for the city of Davis,” she said upon being sworn in: ““Why does that matter?  It matters because democracy is about representation.  Everybody here on the dais brings their experiences and their realities into this space.  They are voices for the community.  The voices of women and color belong in this room.”

She added, “I think that my being elected says more about our community than it says about me.  We have always been innovative, we always pushed the envelope, we’ve always been creative, we’ve been a little quirky, but it’s who we are.  I’m really glad to be part of this process.”

Come November, Gloria Partida may not be alone.  Emerging for the fall elections are Cindy Pickett (DJUSD School Board) and Melissa Moreno (Yolo County Board of Education).  The Vanguard sat down with these three women and talked about what this means for a community, not generally known for its ethnic diversity.

Gloria Partida said, “This is a reflection of this being a big year for women.  It’s also a reflection of the national politics and people stepping forward from minority spaces – you’ve just seen the first transgender candidate running for governor (Vermont).”

Like others, she saw it as a local reflection of a national trend.  “The minorities, having been under attack from our current president, have really risen up,” she said.  “Not just in Davis in particular, but nationwide.”

At the same time, she sees this as a reflection that people of color are reaching a critical mass in our area – so there is a lot more representation.

Our recent look at the census bears that out.  In 2000, whites represented about 70 percent of the population in Davis.  By 2010, that number fell to 65 percent and, by 2020, some expect it to be as low as 60 percent.  The biggest increases are to the Asian and Latino populations.

Nevertheless, Gloria Partida is mindful that the Latino population in Davis remains small.  “It does say a lot of about Davis,” she said, echoing comments from June when she was sworn it.  “I said when I was elected, it says more about our community than it said about me.  I wasn’t going to get elected with 12 percent of the population.”

Each of these women have their own unique stories and hardships they overcame.  For Gloria Partida, she was born in Houston, and grew up in Los Angeles.  She was married and had kids at a really young age.  Separated very quickly and moved to Davis as a single mother with three kids.

Somehow she got her education with a degree in Zoology.  She has now lived in Davis since 1989.

On the campaign trail, there were a lot of people who questioned her ability.  “I can’t say that that was outwardly tied to my ethnicity as much people saw me as a social justice advocate and couldn’t see the connection to me wanting to be on council,” she said.

She likes to give people the benefit of the doubt, but did say “that’s the tricky thing about bias.”  She explained, “If a white person experiences a bad situation, they never wonder if it’s about their race.  If you are a person of color, doubt creeps in.

“That’s one of the unfortunate byproducts of bias,” she said.

At the same time, she believes that having women and people of color on the various elected bodies will strengthen them.

“It’s always about catching the equity in policies,” Ms. Partida explained.  “Because of who I am I’m much more sensitive to when something is going forward without sensitivity to people on the margins, much more able to catch things to make sure that they’re equitable.  That extends to things that people sometimes don’t realize are issues of equity.”

She cited economic development as a big issue for people of color.

“I feel that people who are not doing well are the ones most affected when things are not going well in the city.”

She added, “I would love to finally see people talk about the achievement gap and bring some energy around that issue.  I think that people have been very well-intentioned.  I think that it would add a lot for people who have actually lived the experiences and help kids that are experiencing the achievement gap.”

Melissa Moreno is the most recent announced candidate for office.  She is running for a seat on the County Board of Education that was vacated by Bill Owens.  She also faces likely the toughest competition this fall as she squares off against David Murphy, who was superintendent of DJUSD from 1998 to 2007.

For Dr. Moreno, a Professor of Ethnic Studies trained in education, sociology and women’s studies, “It’s about making connections across groups.  Figuring out how to continue the work that I’ve already been doing, but doing it within the context of an election.”

In her time since announcing, she has been reaching out to community members and getting to know more of them.

“So far I’ve had good support,” Dr. Moreno said.  “I feel the support in the five weeks so far.”

Moving to Davis was a bit of a culture shock for Melissa Moreno.  She grew up in the Central San Joaquin Valley and lived in primarily brown communities with a large Latino population and a few Punjabi Indian folks.  She noted that there was a divide between the owners and the children of agricultural workers.  The racial divide was very pronounced growing up.

She then came to UC Santa Cruz, which she said “gave me an opportunity to start working across groups.”  There she worked with some of the more prominent scholars in her field, including Dr. John Brown Childs, who had been the leader of the Students for Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and a full time sociology professor.

While at UC Santa Cruz she worked with others as a Kellogg  Fellow “to help undergraduate students like myself to build a bridge or connect to the local community.”  Working in Watsonville, she worked with the community at the YMCA to help facilitate girls’ self-images and empower them, working in after -school groups.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree at UC Santa Cruz, she went to a predominantly white university in Utah.  Later she came to UC Davis as a dissertation fellow and connected with Native American Studies faculty and Sociology Professor Carl Jorgensen.

While working at Woodland Community College, she was the target of a number of racial incidents.  She acknowledged that the incidents left her discouraged, but it was taking a sabbatical two years ago that helped to reenergize and reengage her.

While on sabbatical, she noted that the Monterey County Board of Supervisors had written a resolution “that was very impressive” and she wanted to see Yolo County create a similar resolution of inclusivity.

She started working on some drafts of what would become the Safe Yolo resolution.

She called it “a positive experience as a woman of color working with other leaders across groups in Davis.”

She found Supervisors Jim Provenza and Don Saylor – both of whom are former school board members during David Murphy’s tenure as superintendent and who are supporting her candidacy – to be very supportive of the resolution, helping to push it through to its passage by the Yolo County Board of Supervisors.

Noting the rise of women of color candidates, she reflected, “What I hope it means, I hope it means that people have come to realize that women of color have a history of tending, responding to issues of inequality and the attacks that whites and non-whites are feeling in this historical time period.”

She said, “People are feeling attacked and it’s across groups.  The way that we respond is to create and strengthen community bonds to try to create stronger safety nets for everybody.  If you tend to the most marginalized folks that ends up benefiting everybody.

“I hope it means that people who may think of women of color as a monolithic group are reading that there’s diversity even within that category,” she said.  Of Gloria Partida and Cindy Pickett, she added, “We have distinct histories – we are women of color, but we have distinct histories.”

She added, “While we’re tending to the marginalized people in our community – that means tending to everyone from the bottom up rather than the top down.”

Melissa Moreno concluded: “It’s not just that we’re women of color, but we’re women of color that have benefited from the civil right movements, access to education that helped us develop our leadership – now we use it to benefit our community and society as a whole.”

Cindy Pickett explained, “For me it’s about being the voice for families and communities that don’t typically feel that they have a voice.”

She explained that as she has gone about the process of being a candidate, families will contact her with concerns.  Because they may lack connections “they felt like they were being shut down,” and “they were way too intimidated to come (to the school board) themselves.”

She said that several of the public comments she has made in the last year have been speaking on behalf of groups of people who wanted an issue brought up, but were too intimidated to do it themselves.

Perhaps one issue that may catch people off guard is the issue of police officers coming to campus and with having donuts with the cops in the morning.  That would to many people seem like a benevolent attempt at community building on the part of the police – and that’s how it is intended.

But, as Cindy Pickett pointed out, “My reaction is different from someone who sees cops as allies and friends.”

Her experience at Birch Lane was there was a disconnect between what the site was seeing, what the PTA was seeing and what people in these disadvantaged groups saw.  Many people at Birch Lane questioned about why this was an issue.

“It feels like a fight to get people to understand that this will get a different impact for people of color,” she said.  And at the meetings, “unless someone is at the table (who can articulate it), no one is able to raise these issues.”

She explained, “I want to be the person raising my hand every time a discussion happens and make sure we are not having these discussions in a vacuum.  That’s what I see happening in the future.”

For her, “This is not about diversity for diversity’s sake.”  She added, “Being diverse doesn’t make you any less good or competent in evaluating a budget.”  But there are issues which she believes need to be raised that benefit from a different perspective.

Cindy Pickett comes from a different background than either  Gloria Partida or Melissa Moreno.  Her parents met in the Philippines, where her father, an African American, was stationed and her mother was born and raised in a family of 11 children.

She earned her bachelor’s at Stanford, with her PhD at Ohio State in Social Psychology.

She is an Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at UC Davis and Associate Vice-Provost of Faculty Equity and Inclusion at UC Davis.

Cindy Pickett believes there is a lot of support for having a more diverse school board and city council.  “Davis is more progressive than a lot of communities,” she explained.  “There is a desire for change – real change.”

She explained it is not just a change in demographic diversity, but “how people deep down approach issues.”

She said, “I am committed to policies that are going to create the change that people are looking for.”

For a lot of issues facing the school district, race and gender do not come into play, she said.  “People just want their money spent well.  That’s the message I’m getting.  People are wanting money to go to the classroom, not to pay people at the district office.”

But there are other critical issues that she wants to address as well.

She wanted to look at the new dashboard results at the suspension rate for Africans Americans in the district.

“It kills me every time I see those numbers,” she said.  “A lot of people were surprised this was happening in Davis. It looks like rest of the state.  There is confusion – why is this happening in the schools?”

There is also the Achievement Gap.  “How are we addressing that?  How are particular LCAP [Local Control and Accountability Plan] funds being used to address that?”

She noted that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) studies show that women and girls drop out of STEM programs starting at age 11.

Finally, there are school climate concerns.  She said that where there have been “We All Belong Forums” she is not sure there was ever a lot of next steps.  She called race and racism an “uncomfortable conversation” that acknowledges “racism exists,” we need to “own that” and part of students growing up is that they need to “recognize their own biases and racism.”  She said that “actions and behaviors have certain consequences.”

Cindy Pickett also sees this as a national movement.

“Nationally we have seen more women of color,” she said.  “I am feeling like the community is supportive of it.”

Her attitude: “If you’re not going to do it, who is going to do it?”

She said, “You have to have the courage to lose.”  The willingness to put yourselves out there and “if you lose, you lose.  It’s about moving the needle and still having an impact.”

She added, “Women of color end up being strong women, the challenges that we faced in the past, our history of fighting, this becomes the next fight.”

In June, Davis showed the ability of a woman of color to get elected to public office.  Now more candidates are lining up to take their turn.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Alan Miller

    “I think that my being elected says more about our community than it says about me . . . “

    “I said when I was elected, it says more about our community than it said about me . . . “

    It says more about the community than it does about her, and that bears repeating.

  2. Alan Miller

    “If a white person experiences a bad situation, they never wonder if it’s about their race.”

    As I shared a few months ago, I was riding my bicycle guided by Google Maps and was directed through a neighborhood in Oakland that was clearly near 100% black.  A kid on a bike rode right at me near a head-on collision, and at the last second flipped on a speed-bump to the right, never having made eye contact with me.  A few minutes later, I stopped at a stop sign and car passed inches from me, and the driver swung his door open and hung out on the door while moving and swore at me.

    In those two bad situations, I wondered if it was about my – #ahem# – “race”.

    I anticipate ‘now you know how ____ feel’.   No I don’t, and not the point.

        1. Alan Miller

          > Still another point is the frequency and severity of occurrences…

          How is a religious leader calling for one’s entire people to be exterminated . . . is that of sufficient ‘severity‘ for you?  That happened in Davis, to a people who some may, via casual visual cue, label simply as ‘white’.

          . . . still happening.

        2. Tia Will

          Do you suppose anyone casually passing you on the street would know that you are Jewish? It is a different matter knowing someone is black. Kind of hard to hide unless very light. I am not sure we are talking about the same phenomena let alone different locations.

        3. Alan Miller

          Of course it’s not the same phenomenon, and of course people casually passing on the streets wouldn’t peg a Jew by sight.  I’m not sure your point, as I was talking about a religious leader who called for the extinction of all Jews.  How is it that is OK in Davis?  Imagine if any religious leader had called for the extinction of any other group.  Would everyone just be “ok” with life going on as it has?

          As for people not knowing one is Jewish, it creates another phenomenon that ‘identifiable’ groups don’t get — the spouting of the anti-Semitic idiot.  I’ve had this happen personally on several occasions  — some idiot just starts spouting anti-Jewish rhetoric, because they are too stupid to realize there could be — and is — a Jew within earshot.  If it’s just idiocy and a dumb-ass, literally low IQ dominating over hate, I’ve shaken my head and let it pass, but once — it was a clear shave-head hater.  I did not let it pass.

  3. Alan Miller

    If you are a person of color, doubt creeps in.

    That point I agree with as worded.  There are so many publicized situations that may have been racially motivated, and zillions more that are everyday occurrences.  As often reported in ‘publication a la leftie’, they obviously ARE racially motivated.  I know many people who think that way, and it is destructive to be so certain.  That ‘doubt creeps in’ –> that I get, that is clearly true, and that is something we all can acknowledge as stated.  Well put.

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