My father was an immigrant from Ecuador and my mother is an immigrant from Mexico. My father came from a very poor background and was orphaned at a very young age along with his sisters. The local catholic boarding school took pity on the children and offered to help by taking my father in to their all boys boarding school where he remained for several years. He came to this country in his early 20’s looking for opportunity. My mother immigrated here from a poverty stricken town in Mexico where the huts they called home were made of rusty corrugated metal and you were lucky if you had a door to protect you or if you found a section under the rusty roof where water didn’t pour through on rainy days. Mom too immigrated to the United States in her 20’s.
Although we were raised within our hispanic culture we were always taught to love and respect our country. The country both of my parents fled to in search of safety and opportunity.I grew up in a low income community in Los Angeles with my brothers and sisters. Dad always raised us to be independent, stand up for what we believe in and protect those who cannot protect themselves.
Growing up in a low income community, we did not have many options for an education. Those of us who were not able to afford private school, were stuck in the local public schools which were rating at a 3-4. Graduating from a low rating high school did not prepare me for college so I decided to start working instead. I became a mom early on and worked harder in order to offer my children better opportunities than I had.
When my husband and I married 20 years ago, we decided to raise our children here in Huntington Beach due to its safe, suburban, Family friendly-environment. Our children attended Harbour View Elementary and I immediately noticed the disparity between an education here in HB and the education in the Los Angeles schools I attended. I watched my children thrive in our community and I developed a deep sense of appreciation for the safety, protection and opportunity Huntington Beach offered my family.
As my children grew older and more independent of me, I wanted to use some of my free time to give back to my community. I applied to be a member of the Measure R bond oversight committee for the Ocean View School District. I was then asked to join the Measure Q bond oversight committee for the Huntington Beach City School District and I agreed. A few months after joining the oversight committees, I was given the opportunity to join the Huntington Beach Finance Commission, I accepted and was appointed. I am currently still a Finance Commissioner for Huntington Beach.
Shortly after I joined the oversight committees, I started becoming more involved in school matters and found some troubling material that was being brought into our schools. I started researching and attending presentations until I was finally able to track down the reason this material was brought into our schools to an Assembly Bill passed in 2016, AB329. I began advocating for the removal of the troubling material both locally and in Sacramento. During this fight to remove the sexually graphic material from our public schools, I addressed the California Department of Education, the Instruction Quality Commission and legislators in Senate hearings. Participating in those meetings opened my eyes to the utter lack of representation us parents, community members and constituents actually have. The only voices that mattered were those there to represent special interest groups and unions.
After my disappointment in Sacramento and the realization that Sacramento did not see us parents as relevant, I started to approach individual school districts to advocate for the removal of these materials at a local level. the vast majority of district board members and administration had no idea the curriculums they adopted included harmful information for our youth. My frustration with this lack of oversight is what led me to run for a seat on the board of Ocean View School District. Although I did not win the seat, I remained engaged both locally and in Sacramento where I’m proud to say our persistence as a united front was finally enough convinced the State Department of Education to remove several offensive and sexually graphic officially recommended books. These actions protected thousands of families from material that was not age appropriate.
As a Finance Commissioner for Huntington Beach, I became familiar with the present and future financial challenges we are facing. The massive hit we have taken on sales taxes and tourism revenue due to the pandemic started to become more worrisome as these closures have been prolonged. We will not see the full financial impact for several months which is why we have to get ahead of this. With these challenges coming our way, residents need strong representation and a clear and open line of communication. I would like to be that representative, the person who represents the voice of the residents and not special interests which is why I decided to run for City Council.
I am forever grateful for everything Huntington Beach has offered our family. Huntington Beach gave us opportunities we could only dream of in the town I grew up. I would like to preserve our city so others may be able enjoy these opportunities and have a safe place to raise their families. Serving our city as a council member is the least I can do to pay it forward.
Gracey Van Der Mark
Paid for by Gracey Van Der Mark for Huntington Beach City Council 2020 FPPC#1429977