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Conversations with the Inspiring Valeria Contreras

Today we’d like to introduce you to Valeria Contreras.

Valeria, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My story started with my parents immigrating to Colorado from Durango, Mexico. My parents risked their lives and made countless sacrifices for my siblings and me to have access to education and other resources. Although I was born in Brush, Colorado, I’ve called Aurora my home for over 20 years. I love Aurora. Aurora is rich in the diversity of cultures, ethnicities, languages, music, and food. It is the home of creative and brilliant people.

After graduating from Hinkley High School I attended CU Boulder for undergrad majoring in Ethnic Studies. During undergrad is when I became engaged and invested in social justice and education. After graduating, I worked for Annunciation Catholic School. While I was teaching middle school language arts, I went back to CU Boulder for grad school to learn more about how to make systemic changes in schools. I earned an MA in Curriculum and Instruction. I dedicate both of my degrees to my parents.

Working as an organizer at RISE Colorado in Aurora, I supported families to navigate the public school system and organized alongside them to create systemic changes in APS. With a passion for supporting youth, I have also worked with Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism as an Instructor at Aurora West College Preparatory Academy. I worked with middle school and high school students in co-creating an identity building and social justice curriculum. I am currently the Advocacy Director at A+ Colorado where I build relationships with community partners. If they want support, I support their work in whichever way they need me.

Has it been a smooth road?
I want to acknowledge that I have many privileges that have enabled me to be where I am today. While being cognizant of my privileges, I have struggled. My biggest struggle that still affects me today is the deportation of my father. During my final year of undergrad, my father was stopped by a cop and taken into custody in an ICE detention center. My biggest fear had become my reality. My father was deported and did not see me walk at graduation to receive my undergraduate diploma. It was heartbreaking.

My parent’s decision to leave their home and live in the U.S. placed me on a path to attend college, and he wasn’t there to see me graduate. That has been the worst experience of my life and has been difficult for me and my family in so many ways. But, as always, and like the generations before me and my family, we persisted. If I had to describe my family in one word, it would be resilient.

I learned a lot about myself and the person I wanted to be because of that experience. It’s the reason why I chose to work in education. My advice to young women, especially young women of color, who are just starting their journey would be to heal. Heal if you need to. It is not easy work, but it is liberating.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
My work isn’t performative.

I believe I’m known for building strong relationships and community. I’m transparent with everyone who I have a relationship and partnership with.

Building community and relationships is part of my work as the Director of Advocacy at A+ Colorado. As an organization, we specialize in policy, research, data, and advocacy. Currently, I am interviewing the organizations that directly serve Colorado communities to highlight and center the work that they are doing during this pandemic. Those videos can be found on our social media platforms or YouTube. I also participate in district and state-wide coalitions with other wonderful organizations to work towards equitable education.

I believe in collaboration and the power of our communities.

Who do you look up to? How have they inspired you?
My inspiration is mi mami. My mother is complex. She’s resilient, stubborn, hardworking, extremely religious, and loving. I am not religious but I know I have all of these other wonderful qualities because of her. How could I not admire a woman who has done the opposite of what she was told to do by men? Although she was told not to further her education, she attended a technical school in Mexico. When she was told not to leave Mexico, she left. She was told she might never walk again. She walks. Mi mami is a chingona. That’s a word that’s being reclaimed by some mujeres, and it translates to badass, hard-working, resilient. I am chingona like my mother.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Valeria Contreras
Jennifer Contreras

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