Rohnny Vallarta, 18

Born and raised in San Jose, Rohnny Vallarta has been writing and performing poetry for the past four years. She aims for an approachable style and wants the reader to connect to her internal monologue. Vallarta utilizes the written word to discover and work through uncertainties in her own life and come to new realizations. Vallarta often repeats her grandmother’s wise words to herself: never take no as an answer, and everything you want in life is possible no matter how many people tell you no. She has performed at the 2017 San Jose City Council meeting, sung the national anthem for the flag-raising on Cesar Chavez Day outside of city hall, participated in the 2016 and 2017 Brave New Voices International Poetry slam festivals, and performed for the 2014 Create TV Awards with MACLA, a community focused contemporary arts incubator grounded in the Chicano/Latino experience.

After being homeless and living out of a car for two years with her family, Vallarta highlights the misconceptions of homelessness and advocates against blaming the individual. She says that homelessness and mental illness are often comorbid, with many in the homeless population suffering from mental illness. Vallarta is determined to educate the public in understanding why someone is homeless by examining the factors and issues that lead to homelessness. She recommends an increase in programs that provide homeless individuals not only with a physical home, but with a space where they can seek physical and mental help, without the constant worry of being approached by police on the street and the frustration of finding their next meal. Vallarta is careful to point out that while the public may not see these centers as a solution to the overall homeless population, one must remember they make a life changing difference for the individuals who do seek help.

Vallarta has received academic achievement awards for the last two years at Foothill High School and plans on pursuing a career in teaching and interpreting sign language for the deaf.