As a Latina-Middle Eastern-American millennial, scientist, MBA, and former musician, Jamie Tijerina ’05 is deeply thoughtful about macro-social justice issues around access to resources including education and health care, technology, and the arts. She sees people who struggle; she relates, and she wants to help. Whether it’s finding a resource or addressing systemic issues around equity, she’s found a way through local politics to make an impact.
“Somebody has to do it. But who is that ‘somebody’? I look left, I look right—and I have to step up,” she says.
Tijerina works full time at Caltech in a cell biology lab. Since moving back to LA in 2015 (after college and grad school at Drexel and working at UPenn and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), she has put her considerable intellect in the service of Northeast Los Angeles (NELA) and the Eastside, where she grew up and now lives. She recently ran for LA City Council, pointing out her strengths as a scientist, nonprofit leader, and community advocate.
Tijerina has been a delegate to the California Democratic party and is currently a Budget Advocate for the NELA region, an appointee to the Proposition K Regional Volunteer Neighborhood Oversight Committee for the Central Region, a Board Member for Art in the Park Los Angeles, and is President of the Highland Park Heritage Trust.
Tijerina has knocked on doors, authored papers, attended meetings, sent postcards, run digital communications for all kinds of organizations.
She created NELEARN, a community forum addressing the intersecting issues of citizenship, tenants’ rights, and student loans. Contacting other Neighborhood Councils, she advocated for Los Angeles to become a Sanctuary City, and the City Council adopted a resolution to that effect in February 2019. She wanted an ordinance, and now has her sights set on federal immigration reform and support of the LA Justice Fund. “Just getting one person to think what’s possible—you’re doing your job,” she says of her range of community work, which also includes affordable housing advocacy, increasing budgets for parks, and recognizing the buildings on Figueroa Street that birthed the Chicano Artist Collective as LA-designated Historic-Cultural Monuments.
COVID-19 brought to light equity issues Tijerina has worked on for years, including broadband internet access and the requirement to attend community meetings in person. Her work on a 2015 proposal for municipal broadband throughout LA finally bore fruit as many recreation centers got robust WiFi connections and helped both students and adults with crucial connectivity for remote work.
As community meetings went online, more people could attend, resulting in greater efficiency and efficacy. “I can see people downtown without driving and paying for parking. People can show up for hearings virtually, not missing as much wages or family time. We can get actual work in meetings done, and our outreach is sometimes more successful,” she says.
“Remote proceedings have allowed more working people to be involved. Improved access to community meetings was something that I had been working on for some time, and this pandemic forced action.”
Tijerina hopes the online trend continues for reasons of equity, inclusivity and “time, our most valuable resource.” Meanwhile, she is reassessing her pre-pandemic schedule and enjoys the gift of time for herself, trying to stay healthy, cooking meals at home, reading more, dreaming about finding time for music. “I enjoy and care about too many things, perhaps. The saying goes that you can’t pour from an empty cup, and I want to ensure that I can continue showing up in the world and contributing as best I can,” she says. “The next frontier is balance!”
This article has been edited since its original publication. The printed article misstated the date of Tijerina's return to Los Angeles. It was five years ago in 2015. It also misstated the name of the street in Highland Park. It is Figueroa Street, not Figueroa Boulevard.