Melany De La Cruz Viesca
Associate Director of Asian American Studies at UCLA
Los Angeles, CA
Can you explain your identity?
I am a child of immigrant parents who came from the Philippines on teacher and agriculture visas. I grew up in a rural working class town called Hollister that is known for its apricots and its walnuts. I remember being around five years old and working in apricot orchards, my dad would pick the apricots, my mom would cut them and I would be the one taking the pits out of them so they could be placed on trays to dry. My mom is famous for her apricot bars. They were at every party we had but I remember being jealous of my friends that didn’t have to wake up at 5am during their Summer vacation to work on various apricot orchards. We grew up in a Mexican neighborhood and I attended public schools all throughout my education. In high school, I was a beneficiary of an affirmative action program, some type of educational opportunity program. A Latino man from UC Berkeley would visit me every quarter to make sure that I was meeting my a-g requirements. He provided me with application fee waivers so when it came time to apply for college, I was really thankful for those support structures. I was strongly encouraged and supported to seek a higher education by my parents. During the day, my mom worked at Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical McCormick Selph which manufactured advanced controlled pyrotechnic components and systems for the aerospace industry and automotive safety products for use in connection with airbags and seat belt safety systems.
At night, she would work in the San Benito Foods Tomato cannery and on the weekends, she would work at Casa de Fruta making chocolates. I grew up with my Filipino family speaking ilocano and very little English. My next door neighbor and caretaker Mema would only speak to me in Spanish. As a result, I struggled with writing in English, but I learned to fully understand ilocano and spanish. When I went to UC San Diego, I declared as a pre-med major, but quickly that idea did not pan out because I fell in love with Ethnic Studies and learning about communities of color. I ended up double majoring in Ethnic Studies and Urban Planning. Then I went to grad school at UCLA in Urban Planning. Once at UCLA, I found a mentor in Professor Paul Ong and began learning a lot about and doing research on closing the racial wealth gap. This has informed the work I do today in addressing and finding solutions to close the racial and women’s wealth divides.