Santa Clara County Board of Education member honored by CARAS

Claudia Rossi champions the needs of local children

Morgan Hill Life June 3, 2017

The first time Mario Banuelos saw the community activism of Claudia Rossi was May 2010 at a packed Britton Middle School Auditorium. The Morgan Hill Unified School District held a special board meeting concerning a Cinco de Mayo incident at Live Oak High School that received national attention. Several boys wore American flag-themed T-shirts and were disciplined by the principal, inciting protests.

Following the passionate discussion by many speakers, Rossi, Banuelos recalls, stood in front of the board members and made a plea for the community to find common ground and focus on what really mattered — the students.
“After listening to the adults speak here tonight, we really have to focus on the education of our children,” she had said.

The Cinco de Mayo controversy prompted Rossi to step into politics. That summer, she filed to run for the MHUSD school board. That November, she won the race. After the election, she co-founded Project Roadmap, an organization that gives support to high school students who are the first generation in their families to seek a higher education at universities and colleges. Project Roadmap has put on seven annual youth and parent conferences over the years, bringing in inspiring speakers and providing training on how to navigate the process of applying for college.

“It’s just amazing to see these kids learn how to go to college, and some of them are graduating from college,” Banuelos said.

In 2014, Rossi decided to run for the Santa Clara County Board of Education. She won that race, too, and now serves as a trustee representing the South Valley region.

Rossi’s passion for young people and her involvement in helping students find their way to college served as a factor for her receiving the 2017 Community Champions in Government Award, presented to her by Banuelos at a breakfast held May 5 at downtown Gilroy’s Old City Hall Restaurant spotlighting the work of local activists.

The annual event is a fundraiser organized by CARAS (Community Agency for Resources, Advocacy and Services) to bring together leaders in government, business, social work and education who work for the underserved. Other 2017 Community Champions are:

Legacy: Eleanor Villarreal, Rebekah Children’s advocate; Education: Patricia Mondragon, principal South Valley Middle School; Community: Gemma Abels, president of the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers; Youth: Edwin Lopez, student at South Valley Middle School; Business: CRESCO, equipment rental in Gilroy; and Nonprofit: Latino Family Fund de Gilroy.

In receiving her award, Rossi described the experience of her family living in America as immigrants: “When I was seven, I woke up to a conversation in the living room that my father and my mother were having. I got up from my bed and snuck under a piece of furniture so I could eavesdrop on my father and mother’s 3 a.m. conversation. My father was urging my mom to move back to Ecuador — and he said to her, ‘We are not wanted here.’ And he pleaded with her, ‘Please, please, can we go back to South America.’

“He faced a lot of racism and a lot of discrimination,” she continued. “A man who has that much pride found that very hard to take. It’s so debilitating every day that he would endure so many indignities. My mother, on the other hand, said, ‘No we are staying. If we have to crawl on our belly, we are staying because someday our children will be wanted here. They will contribute to their country and they will be proud and walk with their head held high.’ And these were the words of a woman who was making less than minimum wage as a seamstress. She was paid by the piece. She would be sent pieces of clothes that she would sew. I would fall asleep to the hum of her sewing machine every night, past midnight.”
Rossi’s mother, Aurora Rossi, who also attended the Community Champions breakfast, stepped on a chair so that all in the room could see her, receiving laughter and applause.

“She saw the dreams of her children,” Rossi continued. “My sister went on to get a doctorate in education. I became a registered nurse. And today as I am honored by CARAS, an organization that looks into all faces of those who are raceless, and takes up a cause to speak truth to power every single day through advocacy, I want to thank CARAS and let you know that I am particularly honored to be recognized. And today as I receive this award, I am reminded of that 3 a.m. conversation that I eavesdropped on. And want to thank you, mom, for persevering and enduring what you did so that your children would one day have the opportunity to walk with pride in themselves. Thank you for everything you did.”