11/26/2013 06:16 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2014

How to Tell Your Abuela That Your Job Is to Keep People Out of Prison for Using Drugs

If you are a first generation U.S.-born Mexicano like me, you have probably come to realize that there are three things in this world Abuela does not tolerate: missing one of her telenovelas, missing out on some good chisme, and missing the opportunity to send amalcriado, desgraciado, pendejo (misbehaved person) to go to la chingada. Who is a malcriado, desgraciado, pendejo to Abuela? It varies by the hour, but you can definitely count on drug use guaranteeing a one way ticket to la chingada.

I am not sure Abuela would understand that the war on drugs is really a war on raza. I imagine her chanclaspringing into action in one hand and busting out the rosary in the other. But don't get me wrong, Abuela has been moved before. She was with me on gay marriage, mostly because she was a huge fan of weddings, and she was with me on immigration reform, of course. But drug policy reform is probably out of Abuela's comfort zone, especially with three alcoholic tios in and out of jail for all sorts ofpendejadas, including drug possession.

I can hear it now: "Mijo, what the hell are you doing?! Marijuana is bad. Drugs are bad. You use, you lose. Just say no. Don't be a fool, stay in school." Abuela loved Nancy Reagan.

Could an Abuela be persuaded?

Would she be moved by the fact that in 2011 43,327 people were deported for non-violent drug offenses? That 47,800 Latinos were in la cárcel this year, separated from their families for non-violent drug offenses? How about the fact that Latinos and African Americans are far more likely to be criminalized for drug law violations than whites even though rates of use are comparable across racial and ethnic lines? Abuela hates racism! She must be on board, right?

What if I followed up by telling her that marijuana is an herb like the yerba buena she grows in the yard? What if I asked her how she would feel if la policiatried to take away her tea, or even worse, tried to send her back to the pueblo she hadn't seen in nearly 70 years because of it? Would any of this make sense?

I am not sure, but I can imagine ending our conversation by saying that she had raised me right, and that I was doing exactly what she had taught me to do: work to make communities safer and stronger so that others would have the opportunities to fight for a better life. And that right now, stopping the war on drugs was the best way I knew to honor her and all the hardships she had endured to raise me. Sadly, Abuela passed away earlier this year before I had the chance to tell her about my new job, but I get the feeling that in the end she would be proud of me and say, "Hechale ganas, mijo! Si Se Puede!"

Jeronimo Saldaña is a first generation Chicano working on the Movement Building Team at the Drug Policy Alliance.