When Zuleima Flores-Abid was a 17-year-old high school senior in Stockton, her mother was deported to México.
The traumatic family experience in 2011 led Flores-Abid to work to improve and break the stigma of mental health of her community.
Flores-Abid, who currently works as program manager at the National Alliance on Mental Illness California office in Stockton, was recognized on May 6 with the 18th annual Latino Spirit Awards from the Latino Legislative Caucus for achievement in public service during an Assembly floor ceremony at the state Capitol.
“It feels very unreal,” said Flores-Abid of the recognition, adding that growing up in Stockton, if someone had told her when she was 5 years old that she would be honored at the state Capitol, she would have responded “I don’t see myself being honored today.”
Every year, the caucus honors Latinos/as in categories that range from business and entertainment, to public service and human rights. Many of the honorees are pioneers in their respective fields and have overcome tremendous obstacles to become role models and community leaders.
Flores-Abid – a rising star in the movement for gender and social justice in the Stockton region – said “the reason I am here is because of the community that helped me to have the strength, more than anything, the vision to bring about the change that we have seen so far.”
Flores-Abid said her work is not done and there is still much more to do. She works to engage and mobilize diverse populations across California to break stigma surrounding mental health and become advocates and teachers for their families and their local communities.
And she is working hard to break the stigma of mental health.
“When you talk about diabetes, it’s very normal, but when you talk about mental illness people don’t know how to talk about it,” said Flores-Abid who experienced mental illness first hand.
“For me specifically, seeing the separation of my mom, experiencing deportation and the effects of that on my family had left for me understand what mental health is, and what does depression looks like, and know that at some point I do need help from that experience.”
Flores-Abid, who was born in the United States, said sometimes in the Latino community there is the talk about being strong and not getting support.
“But at the same time that has affected me and my community at large because when we don’t seek services, we are affecting our bodies, our communities at large,” she said, adding that her mother’s deportation came unexpectedly and had big effects in her family.
“It brought up to me and my brothers’ depression. It affected the way we went about going to school, interacting with people, because nobody prepares for deportation back in 2011 when this happened,” she said, adding that her mother, who is in Veracruz, México, has not been able to return to the U.S.
“Right now, we are looking for ways to get her back to her own county. She has lived here for almost 20 plus years before the deportation,” said Flores-Abid who has been able to go see her mom every year in México.
For Flores-Abid the year her mother was deported was one of the toughest years of her life.
While her classmates were preparing for prom or their senior project, Flores-Abid was worried about how to get to school safely or go grocery shopping for her family,
“I had to pretty much grownup faster than my peers,” she said, adding that since she was the first one in her family to go to college, she didn’t have a map of how to do things from financial aid to applying to colleges.
“It was really difficult,” she said, but thanks to mentors at school she was able to figure things out to eventually go to UC Santa Bárbara and major in political science.
Flores-Abid said she wanted to study political science to be able to understand how the government works and why it continues to affect families like hers.
Flores-Abid dedicated her award to her grandmother, who was the rock of her family when her mother was deported and “for helping me push through probably one of the most difficult times of my life.”
In 2016, Flores-Abid founded the Stockton Younger Women’s Task Force (YWTF) with the vision to empower and uplift the diverse voices of young women, providing the tools and resources needed to act on issues that are the most relevant to them.
As the group’s chapter director, she has worked on shifting the paradigm for women’s rights, gender equality in education, healthcare, local government, and voter participation. With the keen vision to build solidarity and unity among community members, Flores-Abid, YWTF, and other local organizations collaborated to bring the first-ever Women’s March to Stockton on Jan. 19.
“Right now,” the 26-year-old community advocate is “very focus on making sure I give as much back to the community that help me get where I am today.
2019 Latino Spirit Award recipients
▪ Advocacy & Entertainment: Comedian/actress Cristela Alonzo
▪ Business & Philanthropy: DEL Records founder Ángel del Villar
▪ Academia: Albert M. Camarillo, founder of the field of Mexican American history and Chicano studies
▪ Education & Media: Dr. Carlos E. Cortés, scholar of race and ethnicity and 2009 NAACP Image Award winner
▪ Business & Philanthropy: Dorene C. Domínguez, chairwoman and CEO of Vanir Group of Companies, Inc.
▪ Dynamic Youth: Anthony González, actor and musician
▪ Philanthropy: California Community Foundation president/CEO Antonia Hernández
▪ In memorium: Reginaldo Francisco del Valle, a 19th-century state senator who was instrumental in forming the predecessor to UCLA