“I consider myself a voice,” responds Jacqueline Inda when I ask if the right way to describe her role is as a social justice advocate. “I’m a voice of resources who can pull things together.”
Jacqueline has been a community organizer for many years. “I have done a lot of damage for good,” she expresses. “I call it damage for it changes the status quo.”
Among her numerous successful crusades, she’s fought against gang injunction and led the fight for voting rights and district elections in Santa Barbara. “People in my community trust me,” she declares. “People know to come to me when they need help. I see a pattern when things need to be changed in a systemic way, to create equality, equity. You use political connections and resources. I like to strategize quickly. I don’t like to waste time. I understand that there is a process, but I don’t wait for the process to make change.”
Jacqueline is on the board of directors of the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee and on the steering committee of the Coalition Against Gun Violence. “I have many primary interests,” she admits. She was one of the founders of Santa Barbara Response Network (SBRN), a grassroots volunteer organization dedicated to supporting community members through traumatic experiences.
“In 2009, a series of gang violence incidents started a cluster of suicides among our local Latino youth,” Jacqueline explains. “We called different agencies so the community could respond.”
SBRN’s volunteers are trained in Psychological First Aid (PFA) to assist the community in finding their own resilience. “It’s always community-run,” she says. “We respond to crisis, like now with immigration.”
Jacqueline was born in Santa Barbara. “I grew up in an abusive home and ended up in foster care when I was 11 years old,” she shares. “When I turned 17, I emancipated from foster care.”
She later obtained her own foster care license for teens in the county. “In my way, I made space,” she reflects. “It’s my way to give back and, ever since, I’ve been doing that.”
She attended SBCC and UCSB Extension. “I started with the idea of focusing on business,” she explains, “but I needed an education that would give me the ability to help others.” She obtained her degree in drug and alcohol counseling, business administration, paralegal studies, and legal mediation. She’s still working on a degree in clinical psychology, and is currently finishing her required hours.
Jacqueline is also the visionary behind a brand new community center opening on the Eastside. The vacant church will be transformed into a wellness center for crisis counseling. There will be a resource center for community members who need basic needs. In the main hall, there will be church services on Sunday, and it could also be used for celebrations and festivals. Throughout the year, there will be workshops and community meetings. The site will also include six units of affordable senior housing, and perhaps much more.
“In the auxiliary of the church, I envision a children’s center with a commercial kitchen that would be used to help start small businesses and provide healthy cooking education for the Eastside,” says Jacqueline.
The funder for the project is Ed St. George, and it will be named the St. ALECCA Community Center, as ALLECA are the initials of St. George’s children. “I’m honored he gives me the opportunity to do these things,” says Jacqueline. “He’s the founder, and I’m leading the creation of it.”
“If I was born in any other city with my story, I wouldn’t have survived,” Jacqueline reflects. “I was blessed to be born in Santa Barbara, where I was surrounded by people who were willing to raise this child up. There are amazing people in this community. They care so much even when they’re on opposite sides of an issue.”
“I enjoy walking and building as I walk,” she tells me. “In the next six months, I would like the County of Santa Barbara to create a justice commission for migrants and the Latino community, like the civil rights commission. In order to create equity and equality, you need a voice for the entire county.”
Jacqueline Inda answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What do you like most about what you do?
When I was a baby, my grandmother would take naps during the day and I would feel safe that I was fine because she could hear my voice coming from wherever she placed me. She always said I loved to talk even when I made nothing but baby sounds. She said it was my gift.
When I was a young child, I lost that gift. I learned to be invisible. When I broke away from my abusive childhood, I found the gift of gab again. As a young adult I used my voice to share my story and help others. I then used my ability to speak to demand justice.
Now, in my adult life, I have found great peace in being present. I have found great gratitude in knowing that others don’t just hear me but listen to what I have to say. I have found great honor in having leaders and scholars use my words as guidance for a more equitable and equal community.
The thing I love most about what I do is living side-by-side with people who are honorable and kind, learning skills to innovate solution driven programs together, and striving to achieve equality where there is no equity in unison with others.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
The moments that fill me with happiness are the moments where I could sit back and watch others live life happily. Those moments fill me with gratitude. Especially when I have the privilege of having a little something to do with putting that event or moment together.
What is your greatest fear?
I have had great struggles with my health. My greatest fear is leaving this earth a bit sooner than I would like. But I find peace in living life as I have it. I find my joy in building opportunities for the greatness of others. I find my heart is full when I am most grateful for the life I still have and can still enjoy.
Who do you most admire?
This one is a hard question for me because I don’t just have one person. When I was a young child, people called me brave when I was actually just a scared, wilting human; attempting to find an end to trauma, either by death or new life. I was not born into a family that would guide me.
But my creator granted me many elders and angels to guide me on this earth in order to teach me about mindfulness, gratitude, resilience, compassion, and caring. I learned how to advocate fearlessly for justice from Joyce Dudley. I learned about nurturing your resources to help others without reaching for the limelight from Sra. Menchaca. I learned to trust from Mike McGrew; I learned to love without judgement from Linda Wood; I learned to work tirelessly from Toni Wellen; I learned to be compassionate from Jina Carvahlo; and learned to value my work as my life’s legacy from Leo Martinez and the true founders of La Casa.
I value each and every person for the story they have shared with me. My angels and elders have guided me as only birth family should. For this, I have many people I admire most.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I don’t like to be selfish, so an extravagance is usually anything I buy for myself that fills me with selfish joy, just for me. I got myself a tricycle. It is cool man! It even folds down to a smaller size. What I love most of all is throwing my child in the back basket and just cruising. She giggles at times. She watches the world go by. She waves at her friends. All of this, as I watch her be perfectly content in her world, on my bike.
What is your current state of mind?
Although I am eternally grateful for the life that has been set before me by my creator, I am also not content.
Today, our president commits terrorist acts against millions. With one tweet he can instill fear upon entire regions of colored people. He can cause wide-spread panic by purposefully utilizing fear to terrorize entire populations with false threats, in order to gain favor with a voting base and deflect from his inability to unite a nation.
We must remember that fear causes silence. Silence strips the souls of victims. Silence also allows others to dehumanize victims and build hateful divide, all so that terrorists could continue to cause harm against populations without being judged.
To break these patterns, we must humanize our pain by storytelling. It is the only way we can innovate solutions that would cause resilience in order to pave the way for our children to grow in a world of pride and mindfulness.
So although my heart is filled with gratefulness for the life I was given, I also have the innate instinct to unite and show our children that in this region we fight for humans and for the right to live without terrorism.
What is the quality you most like in people?
I was blessed by my creator to have found light by the teachings he instilled in the people doing his work for him here on this good earth. The quality I love most in people is the visceral kindness we all share for each other.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
People have a funny way of dehumanizing each other in order to judge others. What I dislike most about the actions of some people is their way of judgment toward. I find that most people that have fallen into a pattern of dehumanizing others do this without looking into the mirror to identify their own flaws.
I was given great words of wisdom by an elder of mine. I carry them with me everywhere I am faced with harsh judgement. You accept your friends with all of their flaws because they accept you with all of yours.
What do you most value in friends?
What I value most about my friends is having a family of choice. Having someone to lean on outside of judgement. Feeling proud of people when they grow to new heights. Having someone that trusts you to be the witness to their life’s story.
When I was a kid, I grew up with a bunch of boys. I was the girl that ran with the pack. I learned that boys chop it up, laugh, and explore in a genuine way. So when I think about what I value most about friendships I can simply say I value a genuine, childlike laugh.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I have no idea?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“This is because” or “this is why. ” I am a girl that comes from nothing. When I enter a world of scholars, I have to break past the preconceived notions people have of me. So I study and research in order to explain my position or advocate for others. I find that I explain a lot.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I was born with dyslexia. Therefore, the talent I would like to have is the ability to read and do numbers as easily as others. When I grow tired, my dyslexia hits all-time highs. So I have to be careful to not say things backward and get numbers right in my head.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
It would be my body’s health issues. Not because I can’t fight, but because it pains me deeply to see my children worry for me.
The interesting thing is that it was one of my children that taught me the value of living like a child. When my son was born, he was not supposed to make it. He lived his first two years in and out of UCLA. I learned then that children are not destroyed by illness they live in the moment. They see past their pain to share a laugh. They don’t ever medicate or dwell in what they didn’t achieve or how much time they have left. They just
Now he is in his 20s. He just lives. So do I. But I get the added bonus of feeling grateful for every moment lived.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
One of my great mentors in life was Matt Sanchez. He always said,”Jacqui, people will open doors for you.” Matt and others guided me. I listened and worked without first asking what was in it for me. They taught me to trust and do good for others because it is the right thing to do. My greatest achievement is learning how to trust in my creator, that the path set before me is to be done blindly and with faith.
Where would you most like to live?
I was blessed to be born in this great city. If I would have been born in another place, at another time, I probably would not have made it with my story. The beauty of this city is greater than its views. It is its people. I would not choose to be in any other place.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have a few things that were given or made for me out of gratitude for being there for someone else. I carry those with me. I carry a rosary given to me by a mother that lost her son to suicide. She gave it to me to thank me for helping her son when I did. I also carry rings with no value but many stories just as the gift she granted me.
Who makes you laugh the most?
I grew up as a bit of a tomboy. My closest childhood friends were boys. I learned that the genuine childhood laughs come from men. Because men in groups of other men just live and laugh like children. So, my boys make me laugh the hardest and purest, and always bring me back to chopping it up with childhood adventures.
What is your motto?
I live by the motto that I can open doors for people, but I can’t make them walk through them no matter how much they say they want and need it. I took Matt’s guiding words and made them my own to learn from. I have to remind myself that I am a helper, but I cannot do for others and take from them learning how to honor and value the hard work to get to their own goals.