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Nov 9 - Dec 31, 2023

SPOTLIGHT: Monterey County Tolerance and Acceptance Fund

Talking Points
A family responds to a hateful act at their doorstep by starting a fund for Difficult conversations.
By Marielle Argueza

When Erica Padilla-Chavez and her family opened the door of their Soledad home one day last summer, there in plain view was a giant Trump flag draped over some kind of animal cage. If they themselves were Trump supporters, perhaps they wouldn’t have thought anything of it. If the owner of the cage and the flag had instead expressed their views through a lawn sign, again, maybe they would have brushed it off.

But discrimination is a strange thing. To know what it is, it has to be rooted in your lived experience of being treated unfairly because of things you cannot change about yourself, like identity or familial background. And for Padilla-Chavez, that lived experience came partly from working to increase the well-being of low-income, mostly Latino families as executive director of Pajaro Valley Student Assistance.

So when she saw the flag on the cage, the message wasn’t just a political one. It was full of hate because she knew who President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies affected—children in cages, migrant and Latino families.

“The thing is, this happens all the time,” she says. “I can tell you that in my family, discrimination makes us feel unsafe. In this case, we felt unsafe in our own neighborhood.”

But the difference between this instance versus others is that Padilla-Chavez and her husband, Alejandro Chavez—who also serves on Soledad City Council—have the tools to prevent these acts in the first place. They decided, as a family, to create the Monterey County Tolerance and Acceptance Fund, a pool of money kept at the Community Foundation for Monterey County, that they would use to bankroll initiatives by nonprofits to foster conversations across all backgrounds, political views, races, socio-economic statuses and other labels that segregate us. “And it really took off,” Padilla-Chavez says. “People we didn’t even know across the county donated to it.”

The idea is to make sure that diversity and inclusion are prioritized as conversation topics and continuously talked about across Monterey County. Once enough has been raised, the fund will solicit proposals.

“That’s what’s been missing in many communities,” says Padilla-Chavez. “Creating safe spaces and activities where we can engage in civil discourse, so we can see how connected we actually are.”

This kind of safe space and face-to-face interaction is what she says was missing when she saw the flag, the cage and all that they symbolized.

“My son told me he was actually glad it happened to us,” Padilla-Chavez says. “I thought about it. If it were any other family, this would just keep happening and they’d always feel unsafe.”

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