WATSONVILLE—Yocelyn Gonzalez, a senior at Pajaro Valley High School, shadowed outgoing Watsonville Mayor Francisco “Paco” Estrada and recently seated Mayor Rebecca Garcia on Wednesday after winning the Mayor for the Day essay contest earlier this month.
Gonzalez followed the two leaders from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., learning the ins and outs of the mayor’s day-to-day schedule. She was interviewed by this publication, sat in on a meeting with City Manager Matt Huffaker, attended a Housing Authority meeting with Garcia and finished off her day by meeting Pajaro Valley Unified School District Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez and the district’s trustees at a school board meeting.
She also chatted with local activist Steve Trujillo, who represented a concerned citizen, and learned the process of how the city determines grant opportunities at Ecology Action, a local nonprofit.
“We wanted to give her a full look at what it’s like to hold the office,” Estrada said.
Gonzalez beat out other students from P.V., Watsonville High School, Pacific Coast Charter School and New School for the honor.
PVUSD trustee Jennifer Schacher thought of the competition during a restless night at home last month.
“I’m one of those people that sometimes can’t sleep,” she said. “This just came to my mind.”
Schacher said she hopes Gonzalez is now inspired to become more involved in her community, and that she has a better understanding of the hard decisions and even tougher work it takes to make positive change.
“I think it’s important to include [young people] in the conversations and decisions that we make,” said Schacher, who hopes to make the competition a yearly occurrence. “They can spur some real positive change if we listen to them.”
In her one-page essay, Gonzalez wrote about the time she volunteers with the Watsonville Wetlands Watch, how she spoke to Watsonville’s City Council to help pass the recent bans on flavored tobacco, e-cigarettes and vaping products, and also laid out what she would change if she were mayor. One thing she would change: placing blue emergency light stations at various spots around the city to keep citizens safe.
“You could be walking alone, maybe you have your phone, but what if it just dies? This would keep people safe,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez also suggested the city work with farmers to build shaded areas at various fields around Watsonville to help keep farmworkers cool during their breaks on hot summer days.
That idea, she said, came to her while spending a summer picking berries alongside her father, Cuauhtemo. She said her father, an immigrant from San Juan Cosala, Jalisco, Mexico who works in landscaping, took her to the fields to show her the brutal work that awaits if she does not follow through on her education.
“My dad took me so that I can have that experience and know that education is the only way out,” she said. “I was born here so I really have to take advantage of my opportunity.”
She is doing just that.
Gonzalez learned she had won the competition while exiting her SAT exam at Watsonville High. Her father and mother, Alejandra, surprised her with the news.
“They started crying and then I started crying,” she said. “We were all so happy.”
Gonzalez said she hopes to become a veterinarian or do something else in the medical field. Her dream schools include Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz.