Rapid Change, Growing Disparities, and Early Organizing Efforts for Educational Justice in San Jose

During the early 2000s, the city of San Jose was experiencing rapidly growing educational, economic, and racial inequities due to the exponential growth of the technology industry.

San Jose had long been home to an economically and ethnically diverse population, including the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam, and an immigrant population that composed 70% of the city’s residents (Californians for Justice, 2021). However, San Jose was changing quickly, and mimicking wider patterns of disparity that were negatively impacting the most marginalized. Between 2000 and 2012, median home values in San Jose rose 46% and median rent rose 28%; however, median income rose only 16% and the divide between top earners and middle- and lower- income households widened dramatically. Housing burden in the city was unequally distributed by race/ethnicity: 30% of Latino households and 24% of Black households experienced severe housing burden (with 50% or more of their income going to housing costs), compared to 16% of white households (City of San Jose, 2020). Among public school students, the percentage qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch in the San Jose Unified School District rose steadily from 40% in 2004-05 to 46% in 2011-12 (California Department of Education, 2012).

Alongside these growing socioeconomic and material disparities, California was also emerging from a highly consequential anti-immigrant period that had produced a legacy of educational policies and practices that continued to negatively impact the educational experiences of youth of color. Less than a decade before, California Proposition 187 passed with 58.93% of the votes, prohibiting undocumented immigrants from using public healthcare, schools, and social services and requiring state and local agencies to report suspected undocumented immigrants to state and federal authorities. Two years later, in 1996, California Proposition 209, called the California Civil Rights Initiative, ended most public affirmative action programs in California. Building on previous policies, partisan ideological forces, and rising conservative anti-immigrant rhetoric, California Proposition 227 (Ballotopedia, 1998) was passed in 1998, requiring English instruction in public schools and ending bilingual educational programs across the state.

As these disparities, injustices, and attacks on the most marginalized expanded across the state, groups, movements, and communities committed to resisting, fighting, and working towards just and equitable schools and communities began to proliferate. One of these organizations was Californians for Justice.