We’re so excited to welcome Alex Villegas to the Caring Across Team as our new California Organizer! Alex brings a wealth of nonprofit experience in the health and food justice space, as well as personal experience caregiving for her mother. Read on to find out how Alex’s home and community life influenced her activism, and why she’s ready to change what caregiving looks like now.
What drew you to Caring Across, and what does our work mean to you?
I found Caring Across shortly after I became a caregiver for my mom last year. I really appreciate the racial justice and social justice lens that Caring Across brings to the work. At a time where I was looking for support and ways to make sense of everything I was experiencing in my transition into a caregiving role, I was looking for advocacy organizations that were doing work to improve the lives of caregivers, and improve caregiving in any way. That is how I first learned about Caring Across.
Last year, as my mom went through the medical system (hospitals and nursing facilities), I found that I didn’t necessarily know how to advocate for her, when I could advocate for her, or that I even could. I felt alone in my experience, having suddenly received a tremendous responsibility and shift in my life. Through Caring Across’s Caregiver Corners and other support groups I found online, I was able to see that I wasn’t alone with what I was going through and that others were also facing a lot of the same difficulties. It means a lot to know that our work is shifting the narrative about care and bringing it to the forefront of our politics, especially having seen my parents shoulder the pressures of caregiving for their mothers growing up and now experiencing it myself firsthand. I can’t imagine the same pressures being handed down to another generation without any significant change in the way our politics and culture value care.
What is your new role, and what are you most excited to dig in to?
I am an organizer for the California Care Campaign. I am most excited about building the statewide momentum to win! I’ve enjoyed meeting with leaders across the state and learning about the work they do in their communities. I’m looking forward to connecting with a lot of other organizations to find ways in which we can build something impactful together.
What kind of work have you done in the past?
I recently graduated with my MPH/MA prior to starting my role at Caring Across. As a graduate student, I focused a lot of my time studying public health issues of the US-Mexico border, frameworks of historical trauma among immigrant and Native communities, and foodways of Mexican immigrant and Indigenous communities. Prior to that, I was involved in food justice work and food education. I worked as a Programs Manager for Pie Ranch, which is an educational farm in Pescadero, California. I was also previously an organizer with Real Food Challenge (now known as Uprooted and Rising), which is a national organization working to transform food systems on college campuses.
What is your experience with care, and how did it bring you to do this work?
I grew up in an intergenerational household watching both of my parents care for their mothers full time while also juggling full time jobs. None of this would have been possible without the extra support of additional caregivers we hired to support our family during the day while my parents were working.
I remember my mother always telling my grandmother, “I’m going to do anything in my power to take care of you at home.” I guess you can say that value has been really internalized for me. We were able to care for my grandmothers in this house until their last breath. Now, about 20 years later my mother has experienced several neurological setbacks and brain trauma, and I’m now caring for her here in our same home alongside my stepfather and our home aide. I always promised my mom I would take care of her when the time came. I just didn’t see it happening so soon and so abruptly. Our lives changed just two days before the governor announced shelter in place, when we were then cut off from any emotional support of friends and extended community. it has all been life altering, like a rug pulled from beneath us.
We’re fortunate to have had the means to care for her at home and at the same time it’s still so much to manage day in and day out. Self care is important for caregivers, yes, and creating the environment that allows them to practice self care through policy and action is equally important.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I’ve found a lot of joy in starting a garden with my mom earlier this spring and watching the seedlings we planted grow. We have a wide variety of vegetables and fruit, including melons – some of which we started from seeds that I saved from produce we bought last year.