By Ester Portillo, Field Director, Our Fair Share Coalition Inland Empire
At 17 years old, Rafael was the youngest canvasser/phoner recruited by the coalition. He lived in Fontana, in a mobile park with his mother and two younger sisters. On Rafael’s first day working with us, after his mother dropped him off, he was really nervous. But, during our break he began connecting with others and then started serenading us, playing an acoustic guitar belonging to another team member. I remember how calm Rafael would be on the phone with anti-immigrant voters who angrily responded to our immigration question: “Should we deport migrants or legalize them?” After he would complete the call, his anger would show, and he would turn and relate to me what the caller had said about immigrants. Rafael’s mother is an immigrant widow who is on permanent disability trying to make ends meet.
Rafael loved door-to-door canvassing. In the Inland Empire, the temperatures easily reach the 90s in June, but Rafael preferred door-to-door canvassing over phoning in an air conditioned office. He even turned out his best friend for volunteer canvassing days! He was a really reliable canvasser; on Election Day, he began the day at 6am. Rafael couldn’t wait for the November election. At Rafael’s funeral, his mother told me how much he enjoyed working with the Coalition and walking precincts in Fontana. Rafael was the only person working in his family at the time, due to his mother’s permanent disability; his father had passed six months prior. When I told his mom that her son had done a wonderful job with the Our Fair Share Coalition and that we were definitely planning on calling him back for November, she began to cry.
The community has lost a young warrior for justice far too early, but we know that Rafael already had energetically planted a seed in his community. The Coalition will continue to nurture that seed so that a garden of justice flourishes in Fontana and the rest of the Inland Empire, in Rafael’s memory.