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How ‘El Protector’ inspires a bicultural, bilingual girl to become a CHP officer

CHP Officer Traci Gallian, left, joins Officer Graciella Santillan James outside the CHP headquarters in Fresno. James writes that she first wanted to become a CHP officer when a young girl.
CHP Officer Traci Gallian, left, joins Officer Graciella Santillan James outside the CHP headquarters in Fresno. James writes that she first wanted to become a CHP officer when a young girl.

Since 1987, the CHP has offered a traffic safety outreach program to the Hispanic community, known as El Protector. It emphasizes education through dialogue with the community, instead of focusing on enforcement measures. The focus is the use of a CHP officer of Hispanic ancestry who is bilingual and bicultural. This officer is designated as “El Protector.” To spread the message, the officer attends neighborhood/town hall meetings, educational functions and community forums.

I have had the pleasure to work alongside El Protector on many occasions as the community outreach officer and have found the interaction to be rewarding. El Protector takes a special kind of officer.

Today I am pleased to turn over this column to my partner and friend, Officer Graciella Santillan James:

I am Officer Graciela Santillan James, El Protector program coordinator for the CHP’s Central Sector. I am privileged and honored to represent not only a program, but an organization that takes pride in ensuring it provides a focus on one of its many pillars: service to California.

I wasn’t even out of elementary school and here I wanted to be El Protector, which would require me to become a CHP officer.

Graciella Santillan James

I remember as a child sitting at the foot of my mother’s kitchen table, taking in the aromas of a well-deserved meal after working in the fields all day. I was exhausted, covered in dirt and still hot from wearing layers of long-sleeve clothing to prevent the sun from burning my fragile body. I have vivid images of the worn and distraught tennis shoes I wore in order to be comfortable for the day’s work, as I walked up and down the cotton rows plowing away with my tool. It was then that my mother would constantly remind me of the importance of education. “Ustedes son nuestra unica esperanza, tienen que estudiar,” (“You are our only hope, you have to stay in school.”) She would say these things with such conviction. I was told, either I worked in the fields the rest of my life or I stayed in school, and believe me, I was staying in school! I looked over to where my father was falling asleep as he attempted to watch Spanish television. “El Protector, Protejiendo Su Familia, Protejiendo Su Futuro,” announced the commercial at the end with an authoritative tone as it displayed its logo alongside the CHP logo. A dream was born. I thought to myself, “I want to do that. I want to be El Protector.” I wasn’t even out of elementary school and here I wanted to be El Protector, which would require me to become a CHP officer. I didn’t even know where to start, but I knew I wanted to give back to my community. When you have a dream, as long as you work hard at it, it will come true.

When you have a dream, as long as you work hard at it, it will come true.

Graciella Santillan James

I started my career with the CHP in September 2003 with two things in my favor – I am bilingual and bicultural. I was ready to take on the world and was closer to my goals. The opportunity to become a CHP officer is one that is rewarding. Although, we have a reality of placing our lives at fates’ hands, nothing could keep me from representing the CHP. I became the El Protector I had aspired to become. Aside from having the best job in the world, I am completely involved with educating the Hispanic community. I am involved with many organizations: the Mexican Consulate, Univision, Telemundo, National Latino Peace Officers Association, Centro La Familia Advocacy Services, Fresno Concilio, Cesar Chavez Concilio, area radio stations, numerous schools, and countless other groups that provide a major component of an extension between the Hispanic community and the CHP.

I can’t be more proud to say my old distraught tennis shoes are now a shiny pair of boots, which I wear with pride when I put on my CHP uniform. To be the “face of the CHP for the Hispanic community” is remarkable. I still remember how hard I worked to become a CHP officer, and now I get to represent the Hispanic community while performing my job as El Protector.

Officer Traci Gallian can be reached at tgallian@chp.ca.gov. For more from the CHP Central Division, go to the division’s Facebook page.

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