This video is part of “Stepping Up,” a short video series featuring four impressive young people working for change in their communities and explaining what sparked them to action. Watch all four videos here.
For Walter Diaz, the message is in the music.
Amid heightened fears of federal immigration crackdowns that rattled undocumented communities after Donald Trump’s unexpected election victory last November, Diaz took action in the most effective way he knew how.
Then a senior at Lincoln High School in San Francisco, the 19-year-old immigrant from El Salvador started a Latino marching band with his classmates.
Throughout the school year, Diaz developed the sprawling band, leading it on occasional marches through the long hallways of his school, culminating with performances in the main courtyard. As they played Latin-tinged melodies, band members proudly donned flags of their native countries, held pro-immigrant placards and passed out fliers to fellow classmates about immigration resources and legal rights.
They’ve since gone on to march in other San Francisco schools and perform in several community festivals.
“We created the band as a club to share with people who are not familiar with our culture, with our music,” said Diaz. “To create a band was create strength among different nationalities and show that we are all humans.”
Diaz fled El Salvador when he was 17 after his family was threatened by a violent gang that his brother had once been involved with. He and his family traveled through Mexico and then tried crossing illegally into the U.S., but were apprehended by immigration officials. Diaz says that because of his tenuous situation, he was able to secure a visa, allowing him to settle in the U.S. as a legal resident.
But, he adds, “I am still not at ease since many others don’t have that opportunity. Many people are being deported. Many families are being separated.”
The marching band is Diaz’s unique form of activism, a way to celebrate and shine light on communities that are often relegated to the shadows. He’s since graduated from Lincoln High and gone on to attend community college but returns regularly to help lead the band he started.
To find Walter and the three other students in our Stepping Up series, we searched across the Bay Area for a diverse array of young activists representing different cities and different perspectives who had inspiring stories.
AND we want to hear from you! Let us know if you have a story to share. Are you a young person who’s passionate about a social or political issue and taken action? Or do you know some who fits that description? Submit your video, audio or written piece to KQED Education’s Fall Youth Media Challenge. Go here for submission guidelines.