By Zainab Iqbal
Published: April 18th, 2019
Carlos Jesus Calzadilla-Palacio’s name is a mouthful. And so are his achievements. He is a 21-year-old activist and organizer. He was born in Spain to Cuban parents and then moved to Miami when he was just six months old. He wanted to become a professional soccer player and was well on his way to fulfilling that dream. But then, he heard of Bernie Sanders and turned his work to making a change instead. When he’s not speaking his heart, he’s playing video games. If he could have one meal for the rest of his life, it would be rice and beans. And he’s running for USG president.
Calzadilla-Palacio is a Political Science major and a Puerto Rican and Latinx Study minor. As an activist, he realized that as important as it is to learn how to make change on the ground, it is also very important to be educated on how change really happens. One of the biggest changes in his family came when his parents took him and moved to a whole new country.
“When I was born, my mom told me she cried. She cried because I was born in a free and democratic country,” he said. “For me, democracy, equality, and the freedom to express one’s self is something that is very important to me.”
Like many immigrants, Calzadilla-Palacio’s family came to America for a better life. It was very difficult to be in Cuba because of economic reasons, but also because there were limits to freedom of speech and political freedom. Though Spain was better, the country also had its own share of problems. Calzadilla-Palacio understands that if he didn’t grow up in America, he wouldn’t be the person he is today.
“I have a lot more opportunity to achieve things and dream more than I ever could,” he said. “That wouldn’t happen if I were living in Cuba or Spain.”
Like many Cubans who come to the US, Calzadilla-Palacio’s family moved to Miami, Florida. He lived there until he was nine. He then moved to Jacksonville. His parents are teachers, and were teachers at the time. But then, the market crashed in 2009. Both his mom and dad lost their jobs and they moved to Central Florida.
“That is a part of what shapes how I view the world,” he said. “The fact that the wealthy and powerful were able to destroy the lives of millions of people. That’s when I realized we live in an unjust and unfair world, where there are a few people that have so much and so many people that have so little. We need to change that.”
After finishing high school, he moved to Spain for a bit to pursue his lifelong dream of playing soccer professionally. He played with a professional team and trained with professional players. When he came back home in 2016, he tried out for a small team in Maryland. He got accepted. But, then there was Bernie Sanders.
“I had been following Bernie’s campaign since I was in Spain. I was inspired by his message,” he said. “I was inspired by so many young people really wanting real change.”
So, he attended a Bernie rally and fell in love. He realized that he wanted to do more than just play soccer. He wanted to use his platform to fight for social change, against poverty, against war. He turned down the Maryland offer and joined Sanders’ campaign.
When it was time for college, he decided to come to New York and attend Long Island University-Brooklyn. On his first day of school, he was met with hundreds of professors locked out of the campus because of failed negotiations for their union contracts.
“I realized the moment we were in,” Calzadilla-Palacio said. “We had to fight back. I didn’t go to class. I went outside. I marched on the picket line with professors.”
Soon enough, he transferred to Brooklyn College. He fell in love with its physical campus, its diversity, and its history of students organizing. It was also pretty affordable. And just a few months ago, he decided to run for USG president.
“I realized that were in a critical moment in CUNY and Brooklyn College. This is much larger than just a student government election,” he said. “I think the student government election will set the tone to what will happen in our campus to fighting back against tuition increases and crumbling infrastructure.”
He said running for student government is the best way he can currently help that struggle, and he realizes that it is much larger than just one person.
“Everyone is flawed. One thing I want to work on is to make sure that everyone who is a part of the movement has their names mentioned,” he said. “When I do the work, I do it because of the change I want to make, and having my name on it is not my objective. But I do understand that it’s important for others to be given credit.”
He believes his best quality is being able to communicate. He thinks that is especially an important quality to have in a president; someone that “can speak truth to power and also speak truth to the powerless,” he said.
In five years, Calzadilla-Palacio sees himself continuing to fight for the liberation of oppressed people. And maybe running for office one day.
“I will continue fighting against injustice,” he said. “I will continue because we have a very dangerous force that’s gained a lot of power, which is white supremacy. It’s not an option for me and my community to stay silent. Ever.”