Indigenous activist at Dominican University completes his studies

Christina Garcia stands for a photo at Dominican University in San Rafael, California on Friday, May 10, 2024. She will be among the graduates at Saturday’s commencement ceremonies. (Alan Dep/Marin independent magazine)

While growing up in Sonoma and Marin counties, Christina Garcia earned a reputation as something of a troublemaker. Garcia said she often questions traditional stories about Thanksgiving and indigenous people.

“All of our history is relevant and important to what it means in the future,” said Garcia, a Pomo heritage San Rafael resident. “There is a way to move forward as a whole to acknowledge what happened and restore some of that access and restore some of the cultural revitalization efforts, make it right.”

Christina Garcia walks through the campus of Dominican University in San Rafael, California on Friday, May 10, 2024.  She will be among the graduates at Saturday's commencement ceremonies.  (Alan Dep/Marin independent magazine)
Christina Garcia walks through the campus of Dominican University in San Rafael, California on Friday, May 10, 2024. She will be among the graduates at Saturday’s commencement ceremonies. (Alan Dep/Marin independent magazine)

Garcia, a mother of four who has worked as an indigenous advocate across the state, was expected to be one of about 300 students graduating Saturday from the Dominican University of California in San Rafael.

“It’s pretty indescribable that finishing college and all the things I originally do seemed very out of reach,” says Garcia, 35. “I had to work twice as hard, if not harder, than other people who weren’t from Indigenous backgrounds or women of color. To me, this degree shows that no matter your circumstances, if you have perseverance and apply for resources, you can achieve anything that comes your way.”

Garcia attended Terra Linda High School, earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts from the College of Marin and transferred to the Dominican Republic in 2022. She is the first recipient of the Maria Copa Indigenous Scholarship, named for a Coast Miwok elder born in the mid-20th century. -19th century in Marin County.

Sarah Gardner, a spokesperson for Dominican, said Garcia’s participation in the adult training program allowed her to achieve her educational goals while raising a family and making an impact as an advocate.

“Learning at Dominican is – by design – connected to meaningful real-world experiences,” Gardner said. “Christina has made an impact through her advocacy work in Sacramento and her leadership in supporting Native American success through community engagement and collaboration.”

Garcia has worked with the Miller Creek School District to develop a land acknowledgment, advocated for families receiving child care subsidies in Sacramento and helped organize the Marin Powwow, a celebration of native cultures, featuring the Marin American Indian Alliance.

Christina Garcia stands for a photo at Dominican University in San Rafael, California on Friday, May 10, 2024. She will be among the graduates at Saturday's commencement ceremonies.  (Alan Dep/Marin independent magazine)
Christina Garcia stands for a photo at Dominican University in San Rafael, California on Friday, May 10, 2024. She will be among the graduates at Saturday’s commencement ceremonies. (Alan Dep/Marin independent magazine)

LeeAnn Bartolini, a professor of psychology at the school, recommended that Garcia work on the ground with the nonprofit Parent Voices to advocate for a state law that would limit the fees low-income families must pay to qualify for childcare subsidies.

“Christina is committed to social justice and uses psychology to give back to the communities she identifies with, and she uses her lived experiences and the struggles she has faced to make the world a better place,” Bartolini said.

Trelasa Baratta, a member of the Middletown Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, worked with Garcia in February during an educational workshop for Native teachers and students. Baratta said Garcia was a powerful advocate who has great potential to advance Indigenous education and public policy efforts.

“This is pretty monumental for any Native person to graduate from a four-year college. We don’t take it lightly,” said Baratta, who lives in Cotati. “That is a very important role in being able to build a bridge between indigenous and non-indigenous communities, to help elevate the voices of indigenous people within the education field.”

Garcia, a psychology major, plans to pursue a doctorate, but is focused on employment and future advocacy.

“I feel like psychology touches everything in life,” Garcia said. “It was big enough that wherever I go: public policy, education, diversity, equity and inclusivity. It was something to build on.”

She said she hopes her degree can inspire others.

“I see more and more examples of children who are open to discovery, changing systems rooted in the past, and doing something that makes them feel good about themselves and their history,” she said. “I want to continue to lean into allyship and learn how to actually do that – to let people around me know that it’s okay to have those uncomfortable conversations.”

Christina Garcia walks through the campus of Dominican University in San Rafael, California on Friday, May 10, 2024.  She will be among the graduates at Saturday's commencement ceremonies.  (Alan Dep/Marin independent magazine)
Christina Garcia walks through the campus of Dominican University in San Rafael, California on Friday, May 10, 2024. She will be among the graduates at Saturday’s commencement ceremonies. (Alan Dep/Marin independent magazine)