Youth Herald: District 5 Councilmember Peter Ortiz Interview

Our District 5 Youth Advisory Council (or D5 YAC) held an interview with District 5 Councilmember Peter Ortiz. We're going to talk about some of the things we discussed. Before we start, let’s go over some of the Councilmembers' backstory. Peter Ortiz was born into a rough life, full of twists and turns. His father left him at the young age of 12, and he found himself entangled in gang life. Thankfully, friends and family were able to get him back on the right track. He taught himself philosophy as well as community advocacy, and is now, as we know him, the District 5 Councilmember. We as a D5 YAC are very thankful for the opportunity to interview him, and we hope you can be inspired by his story.

Peter Ortiz, who currently represents District 5 on the San Jose City Council, sat down with us to talk about his past gang experience and how it has affected him and the experience he has gained from those years. We also talked about some of his future plans to involve youth in our communities and how he plans to make San Jose a safer place for everyone. We first talked about his experience in gangs, and how it has prepared him for the future. He was in a gang from 12 up until he was 23. Being in a gang was like a double-sided coin: one day he would be partying, the next he could be shot at by a rival gang. In addition, he also saw kids cry because it would be the first time they would get a birthday cake or a present for Christmas, showing how these kids would grow up without any support at home, or how they couldn't have the time to really be kids as they had to be involved in gangs.

We talked more about the severity of the issue, seeing as many kids would be exposed to violence at a young age because of being in a gang.

I asked him for a few reasons on why teenagers and pre-teens would join a gang, and he responded that many kids would join because they were looking for a way to make money for their families, or they would see it as macho. He continued, what he learned was that being macho isn't about how tough you are, but about being able to provide for your family and having a job. I then asked about how this has prepared him for future experiences. He said that this has definitely prepared him as now he has a deeper understanding of our people, since he’s been in a similar spot as they have. Now he can sympathize with others when considering issues such as these.

My next question was what should we do about kids in gangs, and what should we do to keep kids out of them? Ortiz replied by saying that we should definitely have more education on gangs and how traumatizing/violent it is. We should also have more support for current and former members.

A lot of these questions would come back to education about gang violence and such, seeing as many kids aren't educated on how truly dangerous it is to be involved in a gang. We ended this part of the interview with hope that we can find solutions to this issue.

We moved away from this topic as I asked him about his ideas to involve youth in our community. He hopes to have cleanups for our local parks to make them look nicer and for them to be a nicer place for our youth to play around. He also would like to have a town hall/policy conference of sorts for high schoolers, maybe held in James Lick, so they could voice their opinions. Another thing is more representation for our Asian communities. Hopefully we can have something similar to the Mexican Heritage plaza, or have artists help make a mural to represent the culture.

As we end on a positive note, we would like to give a really special thanks to Peter Ortiz and Hanh-Giao Nguyen (Director of Community Relations) for taking this interview, and thanks to Andrew Lieu (San Jose District 5 Youth Commissioner) for making this interview possible. We know that the Councilmember has huge plans for the city, so it really means a lot to us for him taking the time to talk with us. We as the D5 YAC also have some large projects coming up, so we know just how busy one can get. The future of San Jose seems bright in the hands of the Councilmember, and we hope that he will make good changes, not only for our community, but for the whole city. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and to end off, please don't be afraid to make a positive change in your community, whether it be small or big.

The San José Youth Commission is the official youth advisory group to the mayor and city council. We represent all the youth and work to:

  • Empower youth to pursue their careers and encourage them to be civically engaged through local and city-wide events and initiatives.
  • Foster a safe, inclusive, and accessible space for youth in San Jose to express their passions and interest.
  • Provide equitable access and support to marginalized youth communities.
  • Promote awareness about various issues and opportunities to San Jose youth.
  • Advise and prompt City Council to act upon youth priorities and input.