Agxibel and the Year 2024
When Agxibel Barajas, the daughter of farm workers, left home for college she never expected to end up in a White House Project 2024 documentary about female teenage leaders who had a shot at becoming the first woman president in 2024.
Life has been a series of surprises, adventures and choices for Agxibel, a gifted student whose immigrant parents wanted more for her and her two brothers than laboring in the hot desert sun. "I remember how important education has always been to my parents. They were supportive and always encouraged us. They wanted us to have a home where we could be in the same school, have our own rooms, be able to study and grow up with choices," Agxibel recalls.
Agxibel was 11 when Victor and Veronica Barajas joined CV Housing's Mutual Self Help home building program. The family lives today in the Coachella home they helped build with their own hands.
"We were not 16 yet and legally too young to help at the site," Agxibel recalls. "I remember my parents working all day and then building the house from 4 p.m. until dusk and on weekends. Eight or nine families would work on their homes at the same time.”
"I can't tell you what owning a home has meant to these families. None of them had anyone in the family who owned a home - no one to ask questions. CV Housing did such a great job of educating the families. CV Housing set up each family for long-term security. Parents didn't have any education about budgeting or the responsibilities of homeownership. CV Housing was there to provide general financial knowledge so they would be able to keep their homes."
Agxibel, who pulled down mostly A’s at Cahuilla Desert Academy and Coachella Valley High, was always more interested in issues about immigrant rights and justice than school.
"Until my freshman year in high school, I had no idea about going to college. My expectations were for junior college until I heard about USC. When I found out about the complete student loan package offered by the university, I knew USC was the school for me. The 2007 USC graduate majored in business administration and finance and earned her law degree at the University of Arizona in 2012. Her education also was made possible by annual CV Housing JFM Scholarships from 2003 through 2009. Her two older brothers, who also are college grads, received JFM Scholarships as well.
The gifted young woman, nicknamed Axi by her family, has already experienced many worlds beyond Coachella. But her heart and social conscience remain in the Coachella Valley.
The high powered financial milieu of New York was her oyster the summer of 2006 when she landed a Merrill Lynch internship that led to her role in the documentary: "what's your point, honey?" - a film by Amy Sewell and Susan Toffler. Sewell made the Oscar-nominated "Mad Hot Ballroom.”
The project was inspired by a little girl who toured the White House and noted all the portraits of presidents and not one was of a woman.
One of seven nationally-selected young women featured in the film, Agxibel was followed to her home environment by the Manhattan-based filmographers, who were stunned at how far her life was from the ones they lived in The Big Apple.
"When we went out into the fields of Coachella and felt the soil below us and in our fingers and touched the plants, it was an amazing experience," Sewell told the Press Enterprise at the time. "We realized how hard her parents worked."
The writer in Agxibel emerged in 2009 when her essay was accepted by another national project, focusing on women in leadership roles. Agxibel's essay and 34 others were published in the book: She's Out There! 35 Women Under 35 Who Aspire to Lead." The book focused on the year 2024 when all of the essayists would reach 35, the legal age to become president.
The recent law school graduate has taken time to test her passion for issues during her educational journey. While tutoring underprivileged students while studying at USC, Agxibel used her business and finance skills to work as executive director for a national student organization, called ALPHA, whose mission fits her desire to see more Latinos succeed professionally and learn to foster careers through networking.
Agxibel jumped into politics the old fashioned way - through campaign work. The Manuel Perez for State Assembly 2008 campaign was her focus for a year. She was in charge of communications, scheduled events, prepared the budgets, handled payroll and paid the bills.
At this pivotal point in her life, Agxibel is unsure she’ll ever become a candidate herself. Seeing politics up close, she thinks, at least for now, she would like to use her law degree to help her community behind the scenes.
"As an attorney, I would want to make legal help more affordable and accessible for low-income community members. Legal help is a luxury and it shouldn't be. It is a necessity and people should have access to it. I would like to help educate people about their rights and provide a basic education in common legal issues."
Agxibel's dream job is to set up a non-profit law foundation to help low-income people here in the Coachella Valley with the many legal issues they cannot afford to resolve.
There is also the practical side of a law degree facing many of her fellow 2012 law school grads. "I would love to stay in school forever but the interest rates on student loans make that impossible. Some job offers for new attorneys don't even cover the cost of loan repayment," she states.
While waiting for bar exam results, Agxibel is making up for lost time with her family.
"Law school was stressful and I missed my family, especially playing with my nieces and nephews. And, I missed my mom's cooking. She makes fantastic enchiladas”.
Whether Agxibel eventually establishes her non-profit law foundation or becomes more comfortable with the campaign trail, hers is a name to remember.
If Agxibel does enter politics on or before 2024, her campaign will have the extra task of teaching news commentators to pronounce her name with a silent "g."
Her original and memorable first name is her father's concoction. He combined the first names of two grandmothers and one great-grandmother for a one-of-a-kind result.
"He's the creative one in the family," Agxibel's laughs.