This Hispanic Heritage Month, Barbara Marquez honors her mother Florence, who passed away of Alzheimer’s in January 2018, and follows her example as a voice for change by becoming an Alzheimer’s Association advocate in her honor.
I often reflect on the time I spent with my mother, Florence Marmolejo Marquez, during the final days of her 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s. It was through tears that I made a promise to her: I would fight with all my strength to combat this disease to help protect future generations. In the true spirit of my mother, I knew it was possible. “Sí Se Puede!” = “Yes, It Can Be Done!”
My Mama, My Inspiration
As part of a migrant farmworker family, both my mother and my father, Deacon Phillip Marquez, were supporters of the United Farmworkers of America movement, marching alongside Cesar Chavez, the American labor leader and Latino American civil rights activist. “Sí Se Puede!” is an inspiring phrase that became synonymous with their fight for fair wages and better working conditions.
Mama continued to represent the underrepresented later in her life, serving as an elected school board trustee in a racially and ethnically diverse school district to help ensure that all children were well-educated in a language that they understood, and as president of a development corporation, where she helped create affordable housing in East San Jose. For all these efforts and her many years of volunteerism, she received the Legislative Woman of the Year Award by the California State Senate in 2000.
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Mama taught me how critical it is for people impacted by an issue to tell their own stories. Knowing that Alzheimer’s disease impacts Latinos at a rate 1.5 times greater than the general population, and having lost Mama to the disease, I became an advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association in 2018.
Just five days after Mama died, I testified at the California Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care, accompanied by my sister Rebecca. Together we held up a photo of Mama to show legislators the face of a proud Californian who lived and died with Alzheimer’s disease. Since that day, I have testified before the state Senate Health Committee, Senate Human Services Committee and the Senate Sub-Budget Committee. Not a natural public speaker, each time I am asked to testify, the same set of fears come upon me. But I carry Mama’s spirit, knowing that we sometimes need to step out of our comfort zone to find the inner strength to get the job done. “Sí Se Puede!”
Over the past 20 months, I’ve taken my efforts even further. I joined the board of Northern California and Northern Nevada Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association (serving on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Policy Committee); I serve as the Ambassador for Congressman Ami Bera (CA 07); I very proudly presented at the Annual Alzheimer’s Latino Conference in my hometown of San Jose; and I volunteer at local Walk to End Alzheimer’s events, talking to people about the need for congressional support for additional research funding. I also encourage people to sign up for TrialMatch in order to find out more about clinical trials in their area.
It’s important for advocates to feel knowledgeable about the issues at hand and to be able to speak about the actions the public can take today. The Alzheimer’s Association provides help and support to prepare advocates, and the Advocacy Forum (in Washington, D.C.) and my State Advocacy Day (in Sacramento) are both wonderful opportunities to fine-tune one’s advocacy skills. I have left each of these events feeling inspired and more energized to meet the challenges ahead.
I implore you to become an advocate through your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter and I look forward to hearing you tell your story as we work together to create a world without Alzheimer’s. “Sí Se Puede!”
Walk to End Alzheimer's
Photo 1: Barbara's mother, Florence; Photo 2: Florence with her Legislative Woman of the Year award (2000); Photo 3: Barbara and her family in their personalized "Go with the Flo" T-shirts for Walk to End Alzheimer's