“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

“Paso a paso,” my Mom happily said as we stared at my first Kindergarten report card, the first step towards our theory that education would be the way up and out of poverty.

“Paso a paso,” my Dad quietly reminded us, as we stepped into a Los Angeles courthouse to defend ourselves against the landlord intent on evicting tenants amidst a wave of neighborhood gentrification.

“Pasito a pasito,” my Mom and I gently murmured to my Dad, as he drifted in and out of consciousness, fighting for his life for a month in the Cardiac ICU after a major heart attack.

One step at a time has always been my family’s mantra, a daily reminder that each action influences the next choice available to you. Growing up in a hard-working, predominantly immigrant community in east LA, that mantra seeps through my community’s bones, through generations of migrant farmworkers, first-generation college graduates, and families pushing through the barriers of financial and information poverty.

As I move back to my hometown after years of pushing past those barriers, I am struck at how every step has led me back to the starting point. The same path, but with options that were never there before. I pledge to help others break their own internal and external barriers, so that they can have the kinds of choices that our ancestors could only dream of.

— Nayely Martinez