Despite holding a title that evokes chants and die-ins, Isaí Ambrosio — UC Santa Cruz’s new activist-in-residence — describes himself as a shy guy.
“Protests aren’t really my thing,” Ambrosio said to a class of sociology students on Friday. “They’re big and loud, and I’m not very big or loud.”
Since January, he’s taken on the monumental task of bridging the gap between UC Santa Cruz and the larger city community. Named the university’s inaugural “activist- in-residence,” Ambrosio acts as an ambassador between the students of UCSC and Santa Cruz County’s various community centers, food banks and workshop organizations.
Classroom visits are part of the job. Over the past eight weeks, Ambrosio has had hundreds of one-on-one meetings with students, and made six appearances as a guest lecturer. Last Friday, Professor Juan Pedroza hosted Ambrosio in his U.S. Latinx Identities class.
“We talked a lot about the benefits of having contact with different kinds of people and people from different backgrounds,” Pedroza said. “[Ambrosio] did a great job oftranslating lessons learned in the classroom to decisions that we have to make in our communities.”
Professor Sylvanna M. Falcón, director of the Resource Center for the Americas (RCA), created the activist- in-residence position last quarter. A research institute that studies the movements, culture and politics of Latin Americans, the RCA was looking for a way to link its scholarship with local concerns.
“We wanted somebody [with] a record of community engagement,” Falcón said. “Somebody that people on campus could connect with.”
Ambrosio fit the bill. Separate from the residency, he’s also the program director of the Davenport Resource Service Center (DRSC), one of six social programs run by the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County. Founded in 1977, the DRSC acts as a food bank, translation center and advice broker for hundreds of low-income families across the area.
In 2007, while studying English at Cabrillo College, Ambrosio worked at the Community Information Center for Migrant Assistance (CIMA). The organization, formed by members of four Santa Cruz and Watsonville-based churches, held weekend workshops to teach immigrant families the ropes of American life — how to fill out DMV forms, buy groceries and ace job interviews. Ambrosio said working for CIMA taught him about the close personal bonds that often form between volunteers and the people they serve.
“It was a faith-based organization, so people would arrive and open up about their problems very quickly,” Ambrosio said. “We were able to listen, develop relationships with them and offer our support from a place of friendship.”
In the upcoming weeks, Ambrosio, along with UCSC students Valery Mendoza-Martinez and Karla Reyes, are hosting a series of workshops geared toward immigrant mothers about the intricacies of raising children in California. Ambrosio held the first workshop at Casa Latina on Saturday. The next three will be held Saturday mornings at the DRSC.
“Based on everything I learn and see and [from] the university, [we’re] going to have a few workshops with families in Davenport,” Ambrosio said. “It’s a give and take.”
Ambrosio holds office hours at Casa Latina every Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.