local insights

From Chavez Ravine to Dodgertown

The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the National League Division Title for the first time in 29 years, only to lose to the Houston Astros in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series.

Without doubt, one of the largest part of the Dodgers’ fan base is the Latinx community, specifically the Mexican-American community in Los Angeles that has supported the “Doyers.” However, many baseball fans are unfamiliar with the story of Chavez Ravine. Chavez Ravine is the name of the “L” shaped canyon on which the Dodger Stadium is built on. Residents of Chavez Ravine were promised new housing in exchange for selling their homes.

The Battle of Chavez Ravine spanned over ten years in which occupants of the area, predominantly Mexican-Americans, refused to sell their homes when Walter O’Malley, owner of the organization, moved the Brooklyn Dodgers from NY to LA.

O’Malley, who signed the first African-American MLB player Jackie Robinson, enlisted the help of then-Mayor of Los Angeles Norris Poulson, to first label the area as ‘eminent domain’ only for the city to hand it over to the Dodgers. However, residents of the area did not give easily.

The fight lasted for approximately 10 years, from 1951 to 1961. Images of the arrest and evictions of Chavez Ravine residents display the ongoing battles between the residents and police officers. Thousands of Mexican American families lost their homes as a result. The theater group Culture Clash created the play “Chavez ravine: An LA Revival” to generate awareness of the history behind the Ravine.

Locked entrance to Dodger Stadium’s parking lot, Scott Avenue and North Boylston Street on Nov. 4, 2017. Photo credit: Amara Higuera Hopping

Today, the area is no longer referred to as Chavez Ravine. As of June 6, 2009, the United States Post Office officially changed the name of Chavez Ravine to Dodgertown, which literally erased Chavez Ravine off the map.

Struggles like that of Chavez Ravine are not over. Today, Latinx and Black families in Inglewood face gentrification and high rent prices due to the Rams and possibly Clippers moving their organizations. While many city officials and supporters of the stadium say the Rams moving to LA will benefit Inglewood residents through the influx of visitors and taxes commissioned during the games, it is important to ask: how did the Dodger Stadium help Chavez Ravine residents?

Supporters claim it will provide jobs and support the local economy. But with property values rising, homeowners and renters are forced to move out and make space for new developments in Inglewood, as it did in Chavez Ravine.

The issue of stadiums built at the expense of residents in not a case unique to LA. With the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Brazil, thousands of Brazilians were forced out of their homes. The expansion left the country in a large amount of debt, and stadiums that no longer are utilized. With the possibility of the 2024 or 2028 Olympics being held here in LA, residents should be concerned about further expansion of projects that can displace the local community.

As the Dodgers finish a successful 2017 season, it’s important to remember the history behind Chavez Ravine. Land stolen twice, first from the Tongva people that were indigenous to LA and then from Mexican-Americans in Chavez Ravine, now serves as a battlefield for one of the most important franchises in the Major Leagues.

The Heart of El Sereno


Sandwiched between the Here and Now and Mundo’s Furniture Upholstery, lies Eastside Café, an autonomous organization founded 15 years ago in the city of El Sereno. Eastside Café’s heart beats not solely for monetary profit but to internally serve those who seek to dedicate themselves to providing services for the community and those who are affected by the gifts that are extended to them. These services however, are often forgotten by those who have little knowledge of the role that community centers play in our society. Thus, the space becomes a simple normality in our everyday lives.

In witnessing the spirit of Eastside Café  through a benefit show held on May 12th, it is apparent that the space maintains a strong and endearing support system. Collectives anywhere from Jiu Jitsu, English, art, and writing classes are offered altruistically to those who do not have the monetary means to afford them. Inspired by the Zapatista uprising, the co-founders understand the necessity in unifying the community against the marginalizing forces that hinder their wellbeing, more specifically gentrifiers who actively uproot long standing families and small businesses.

Since Eastside Café’s principles were founded upon the Zapatista uprising, co-founder Roberto Flores visualizes how communities are able to take control of their own destiny. “If every community did that then we could link up with communities that are doing the same and help each other out…that is a form, a process, a method, and a direction for liberation. If every community does this it is a way of liberating….and we’re suggesting a residential approach, all races in the community.”

Eastside Café like most community-based organizations of Los Angeles faced serious threats of eradication due to an unfair business deal conducted between a gentrifier and the property owner. Only given ten days to raise the funds to purchase the property from the gentrifier, Eastside Café banded together to reclaim the property for all that they know it is worth. Through contributions via GoFundMe–also known as “people power money”– lenders and investors such as Aloe Blacc and his partner Maya Jupiter, along with partnerships with autonomous organizations, the collective was able to enter escrow.

The status of being a poorer community had little to do with their ability in achieving this great feat. Their wealth appeared in their persistence and the love they pour out into establishing community links and indispensable relationships with people. The collective aims to be autonomous because as co-founder Angela Flores says, “[It’s] the only thing we have…not to be dependent on outside sources. We work within members, and immediate community. We share resources.”

Our livelihood and the resources we share are greatly based on the relationships we make, the deep connections we maintain, and the way in which we can extend our talents and abilities to those who will thrive by taking part in them. Rather than holding their skills hostage, Eastside Café’s collective leaders offer their time and efforts for the good of the public because by uplifting one person that person may uplift another. In a sort of domino affect individuals are coming together, united in support for one another through true forms of altruism and a love for others whether known on a personal level or those they have yet to meet. These actions largely comprise the pillars for community building in which individuals’ skills and talents are exchanged and friendships are made.

In a society where it appears that individuals are in a race to the finish line, where people step on heads to get ahead, utilizing others for their one-sided opportunistic gain, it is clear that an autonomous community center’s agenda is motivated by watching their brothers and sisters improve themselves. Here, one is exposed to humanity’s beauty where individuals lift each other when in need, or are interested in learning from one another.

Thereby, Eastside Café’s collectives represent free access to this sort of self-improvement, where knowledge is not limited to one’s socioeconomic status and the opportunities it allows, but rather open to people from all walks of life, status, and background. “It’s important to have dialogue,” says Angela Flores. “It’s hard to come across things that are free and it’s contagious when you are giving.”

Yet, many factors–the more prominent being gentrification–threaten the greater sense of community building and instead turn neighborhoods such as El Sereno into instruments of commercialization. In the case of Eastside Café, the gentrifier was in the works of converting the property into a strip mall sustained by profit rather than donations.

By taking a stand to gentrifiers and now future owners of their own property, Eastside Café reveals that they have a voice and a say in El Sereno’s destiny as a community and are not subject to the authority of the elite and the powerful. Power comes not from verbal dictation but from an inner confidence in voicing what we demand and expect for our future lives and our future communities.

Indeed the collectives that Eastside Café offer are life inspiring programs that encourage individuals to feel in charge of themselves and what they offer to all those they come in contact with. By denying Eastside Café their existence, it inhibits their voice from being ignited and thus, gentrification does more than just reconstruct the city landscape and the demographic of its city dwellers.

Gentrification’s ramifications silence the community’s voice and demeans the less powerful of their ability to protect themselves and claim a space of their own. “You don’t try to create something different,” says collective organizer for Corazón Del Pueblo, Xochitl Palomera. “You create something that is usable, something that is multifunctional. You don’t just come in as an outside developer, tear this down, and say ‘Hmmm what am I going to build?’ Instead you listen to the people. And look what the people have built already…this is an entire community that you are tearing down.”

Thereby, Eastside Café’s victory in finally raising the sufficient funds is telling of the community’s strength. In claiming a space for themselves Eastside Café salvaged what could have been seen as the death of the community and a sterilization of El Sereno’s spirit.

At last the community can see past what once existed as a single meeting space. Now they can see where East Los Angeles reaches the Zapatistas they look to as inspiration in Chiapas, México. The “caracoles” (organizing centers) that breathed life into the Zapatistas social movement are now finding their way into the heart of El Sereno one step and one social justice victory at a time, by the help of organizations such as Eastside Café.

Organization and meeting spots are stretching to Eastside Café’s own backyard where Caltrans’ bungalows now stand abandoned and calling to the community. They’re waiting to be occupied by individuals who crave deep human interaction, participation, and organization.

Here Eastside Café stands ready and preparing blueprints to claim what will be an extension of the small space that once was under threat. Now they’re envisioning a kitchen, a conference room, a digital media room, and an art culture space that will touch the heart of El Sereno and beyond.

“We’re on the homestretch,” states Angela Flores. “We have a vision of a caracol where the community can get together and participate…a sort of urban caracol.”

Their great victory could not have been lead by solely one individual, proving that human relationships are indispensable. We rely on each other for help. We rely on each other for moral, intellectual, and social support. Essentially we rely on each other for greatness, which is what Eastside Café portrays in all of their efforts.

We are here united in struggle to save our history and the bonds we have created with each other. It’s a sort of “relationship with tomorrow,” states bungalows collective member José Prado. “Anyone that wants to be here can be here…the community in El Sereno is largely Latino…but not just. It’s about community building and thinking about new terms to understand ourselves and challenging the borders that have divided us. You’ll see folks that the world doesn’t see as Latino or Latina but here they are.”

We will go down with the ship, whether it be gentrification, displacement, or eradication if need be and we will rise in greatness together for what we believe in, giving back to all those that have walked with us in our journey. This is community. This is a love for one another. This is a true altruistic spirit that cannot be destroyed no matter how many buildings a gentrifier aims to buy. Most importantly, this strength, love, and compassion is the heart of these self-sustained communities we admire, just like that of El Sereno.  


QUETZALCOATL: Aztlan Profundo and Our Spiritual Connection To Abya Yala (XINACHTLI SERIES)

The Mother Earth runs deep through your soul.

Aztlán Underground, “Lost Souls” (1995)

In our Indigenous understanding of belonging, and our attempt to build our Xican@/x Nation, Aztlan—which we understand as the united states’ southwest—is a symbol for our deep spiritual ties on Abya Yala, Cemanahuac, or Turtle Island—we are connected here and to the people.

As Gente de Maíz, we emerged here on the lands which have been washed over by the great veil of the western world, of domination. They—the settler, the colonizer—would have us believe that our people, who continue to persevere with ancestral resiliency under their oppressive frameworks, are not Natives to these lands. Being displaced from our homelands after conquest, colonialism, and neoliberalism, now in the united states, Aztlan tells us different: we do have a connection to these lands.

The settler in power would have us believe we are “mestizo”; that, because of “mestizaje,” we are no longer Indigenous; this is our demise and subjection to destructive colonial thinking and structures.

Con fuerza, I actively work towards dismantling this problematic notion, which seeks to suppress and repress the very roots to these lands which our ancestors traversed: that, because of de-Indigenization, we have no claim to what our ancestors have struggled to survive and pass on. We have a right to reclaim our Indigeneity.

Our history in this hemisphere is foundational in positioning the narratives of Native People in regards to invasive settlers: we come to center an Indigenous perspective and experience of knowing, being, and acting—of their stories, songs, and ceremonies. We must address how we came to be and how power has worked through nation-states on this continent.

When we speak of what settler colonization has done to this hemisphere—destroying land, water, air, people and our body, mind, and spirit —we begin to recognize the damage brought by european settlers, which continues today. The glorification of globalization, of hyper-capitalism, of neoliberalism, and of the hegemony of the western world on these lands is to legitimize the values of imperialism and erasure of Indigenous people.

Our current and contemporary society has been structured by racializations based on whiteness and white supremacy: colorism becomes the rule in the United States—all Communities of Color are subject to racism and discrimination based by the intersectionalities of identity, i.e. documentation, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and so on.

These systems of hegemony have allowed our own people—Gente de Maíz—to be relegated to the margins of society and to be told that these are not our lands: they say we are not Indigenous. The processes of dominance shape the narrative to fit their existence, their power, and their investment to be white.


As I come toward my spiritual awakening,

I seek to understand the Four Directions,

The sacred Nahui Ollin.

I open my mind to Ometeotl:

The representation of dualities on Mother Earth,

Of the sacred cosmos,

The creating energies of the Universe.

I learn to pray to Tonantzin,

To dig my hands under the Red soil

And cultivate these lands with Maíz

In preparation of another seven generations.

Centeotzintli: the history of our people

Told in stories that we were created

7,000 years ago.

This is our story:

Non kuahuitl centli in tlalnepantla.

When I open my spirit to Aztlan,

In ixtli, in yollotl,

With all my relations,

I find my roots from a rootless existence.

In Lak’ech becomes my connection to all my

Gente de Maíz,

Grounding my lost soul to these lands of Abya Yala.

So I continue to grow

Under the guidance of




Xipe Totec;

Lead by the direction of Panche Be,

I seek the truth in my roots.

As a Xicano it is my responsibility

To uncover for my familia

De la Raza,

Aztlan profundo.

It is that deep


Searching for reconnection.

As we all come to this


Of our lives,

We will one day chant with our cuicatl:

Xicana Tiahui!


To reclaim Aztlan is to recognize a unity for our people, which extends to la Raza diaspora under the illegitimate border of the nation-state of the United States. This also means our connection to the Indigenous struggle here in the U.S., thus bridging our struggles of all Indigenous Nations of this hemisphere.

The realization that these struggles are our duty to act upon and speak out on is needed in our collective movement toward liberation. As de-Indigenized people, we have also been met with oppositions which situate our existence as nothing more than what nation-state powers have given us: a nationality based and established by colonial powers.

Our Xican@/x people who recognize their positionality and take action to establish themselves on these lands already understand themselves as Indigenous. To reclaim Aztlan and connect again to la tierra de nuestros antepasados is a grounding of Indigeneity.

Thus we must start to conceptualize our Xican@/x Nation, not based on normative configurations of what some have defined as essentialist and associated with the nation-states of México or the United States, but one which acknowledges pan-Indigeneity across this hemisphere.

This is the work I propose by articulating what Aztlan profundo means in our collective memory and present lives, which will identify our spiritual roots to Abya Yala.

The time to understand and discuss our sovereignty as a people must come soon. To align to nation-state identities, thus providing colonialism the energy to sustain itself, we continue to be left with colonial institutional powers defining who we are. Working toward reforming colonial legacies, i.e. believing these structures of oppression can be mended, is a struggle which has persisted for too long. Our cultural and political destinies are subsumed by these types of movements, and the liberation of our people is out of the scope in reformist politics.

(Re)Indigenizing our communities, to educate our Raza on the potential for community-building as a Xican@/x people, allows us to begin this process of creating and determining what Aztlan means to us.

Our familias possess a knowledge that is able to culminate into something beautiful. Our spiritual connection to Abya Yala gives us the hope we need. Our Nation building, not to be confused as representing a nation-state, but our Indigenous Nation, will consist of a heterogenous Raza who embrace themselves as Xican@/x.

What we focus here are the teachings of Quetzalcoatl. We must dig in our memory and identity in which we share, one which we can reflect and define with purpose and meaning: this is one I embrace with [email protected]/x.

It is our responsibility as a conscious and learning people to orient ourselves toward a spiritual awakening rooted in these lands, and to begin those processes of decolonization.

Understanding Aztlan profundo, we start here to set our eyes on our Indigeneity, our history, and our conocimiento.

Author’s note: I have lower-cased certain words, such as proper nouns, as a political acknowledgement of power in language. This is evident in my choosing to lower-case words such as “european” and “united states” for their historical and contemporary oppressive structures and actions. I have chosen to capitalize instead words which have been relegated to not being propers, such as “Native,” “Indigenous,” and “Raza.” This was to recognize , again, the power of language by reversing what was superior and inferior, disrupting those dynamics in the way we write words. I also italicized specific words to highlight their significance and to stress their importance.

The Ladder of Hope Through the Eyes of an Immigrant

It’s easy to vocalize our artistic ideas but it’s even harder to make these ideas become a reality, no matter how large-scale they may be. Therefore, I crave to hear those stories of struggle, like that of Crescendo screenwriter/director Alonso Alvarez-Barreda-in which one is not driven by success or appearances but rather their own will to inspire others.

One might say that the American Dream is dead, but I’d like to believe that whether you are an immigrant or a struggling artist, life hands us opportunities to rise above. We are handed gifts and talents that people are waiting to witness and if by grace they do, our messages should be used in a way that ignites our fellow brothers and sisters in solidarity.

Thus, Alvarez-Barreda extends to us an invitation to cruise with him on his imaginative journey full of emotional highs and lows, realistic characters, and inspiring stories of hope that leave us pondering at the film’s close.

We are led into a world of cinematographic perspective that many directors don’t typically experiment with and we can’t help but feel that the characters were more than mere actors fulfilling their role.

Alvarez-Barreda’s characters come alive because his stories encapsulate the human experience and every feeling of sadness, joy, and pain that we have ever felt in our lifetime. Rather than leave us to dwell in the emotional turmoil that each character comes to face in his films, we realize that with every pain comes beauty, growth, and wisdom.

When looking at his work and the projects he has created one tends to overlook the taxing process required in writing and directing.

Alvarez-Barreda, as well as countless others, were not handed the opportunities on a silver platter, nor did they idly wait for the opportunities to arise. They were forced to create a new path for themselves, however scary it might have been.

Therefore, rather than take two film school rejections as an answer, Alvarez-Barreda decided to leave his hometown of Tampico, Mexico for Los Angeles, California. It was here where he would shadow his long-term mentor, Alejandro Monteverde, who later inspired various short films and projects.

Alvarez-Barreda recounts his experience and life’s unexpected pathway.

“I did try to pursue a film career in Mexico. I applied to two film schools at the time and I got rejected…I wasn’t accepted, I didn’t pass the test. It was clear to me that I had to do something. I had to try elsewhere. And life and circumstances led me to meet somebody who became my mentor and gave me the opportunity to come to the United States. After a film I did that was successful in the film festivals the opportunity arose to come to the United States which was [still] a dream of mine,” he said.

His dream of pursuing film in the United States eventually flourished into several years of dedication, persistence, and faith. For how can one pursue “passion projects” without practicing these very core qualities? One’s ideas would fall short, which is what makes a storyteller such as Alvarez-Barreda so inspiring. He actively took risks and with perpetual reminders that he had bills to pay and projects to pursue, he was put to the test and forced to survive.

“When I first got here I was basically living on people’s couches for a couple years, taking little jobs here and there. I came here with a tourist visa originally so I couldn’t apply for regular jobs…that was hard. I had to most of the time find investors from Mexico who were willing to support me or fund me for X amount of time…committing to them and turning in scripts for my projects that they were supporting so that was kind of like the key that helped me survive otherwise I don’t know what I would have done,” says Alvarez-Barreda.

As an immigrant, the constant flow of emotions that surround one become difficult to combat. What if your bills aren’t paid on time? What is happening at work and how long will I have my job for? What if they deport me? How much longer will I be able to work in California? And most importantly, who will catch me if I fall?

Everything can crumble in a matter of minutes, yet what still looms in the back of one’s mind is “I must continue on with my passion.”

While it may seem to one that is losing hope that their career might not follow in the direction that they wanted, Alvarez-Barreda remembers to tell himself that more than ever today minorities have access to opportunities in the field.

They are given opportunities to shine a light on their non-white perspective and experiences and for that now is a “great time to be Mexican.” It’s a time to use diversity to our advantage because “the industry is receiving a lot of heat for always hiring white Americans,” says Alvarez-Barreda.

With the rise of Mexican filmmakers such as Alejandro González Iñárritu, and with the ever more diversifying film industry, the American audience is ready for diversity in the theater and we are ready to experience stories told from the eyes of those from another part of the world.

As Alvarez-Barreda reinforces, our backgrounds and experiences are essential in shaping our individual mindsets.

“Being Mexican/Latino is my essence, it’s who I am. I feel like one, my experiences growing up and coming from a different country are perceived by a different brain-a different mentality, a different lens if you will. So that obviously gives you a different voice, something that’s new, a different perspective on the way you tell your stories. That’s always great because I have a different pool of ideas and emotions to tap into,” he says.

His intuitiveness allows him to understand human struggles and how they affect others like himself. It is these themes that he wishes to portray in his films.

Rather than fill our minds with negativity, it is essential that instead we expose ourselves to the messages of positivity and uplifting scenarios that encourage us to thrive in a world that is not always on our side.

We are an impactful and astonishing species and it’s that very idea that Alvarez-Barreda strives to lace through his films.

“[My] messages are useful. I like to tell stories that help people relate to one another, to be more human. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no tragedy or drama, life is exactly that, but it’s how you react to that. It’s how you choose to move forward. So a lot of the stuff I write is the harshness of life and difficult situations. I write characters that somehow find a way out of it through hope and perseverance and believing that there is goodness in people…that everything with worth in this life requires sacrifice,” says Alvarez Barreda.

For this reason, healthy messages are evermore necessary in a society where negativity and aggression often overpower. It’s a matter of what messages we invest our energy into and how we truly reflect on what those messages mean to us all.

Universal messages are more often than not the most personal messages and for that Alvarez-Barreda’s films are highly relatable and emotionally driven.

By communicating with the audience through his films he assures us that although taxing at times, our life circumstances are not always permanent. “It’s okay to go through things in life” he says. “But you have the opportunity to change the outcome of your life…the human spirit is probably the most amazing thing in the world…it is unbreakable. [My] stories celebrate the triumph of the human spirit,” says Alvarez-Barreda.

Alvarez-Barreda, despite viewing the world through a lens marked by struggle, maintains his resilience. As an artist, I find this both hopeful and comforting.

With our artistic mediums, regardless of how idealistic they may sound, we will continue to push forward with our passions because it is our messages that reach the hearts of others.

Forget the acclaim, the fortune, and the recognition because, as Alvarez-Barreda says, “what we define as an accomplishment is a rather loose concept.”

“How do you measure an accomplishment?” he asks. “Is it the one that you get told that people like the most? Or is it the one that has more technical quality? Film is a statement…we make films to share with somebody, to share with an audience. Through true story telling we can find commonalities and realize again that we are humans…that we are powerful, and that we have the chance to change our lives.”

Nuestro Éxito

“Mi hija Libni,” my tía says before she pauses to measure the significance of what she is about to say next. As tears well in the pools of her eyes, she finishes her thought in an amazed quiver, “es una graduada de Maestría.”

Friday, May 5th was a monumental day for my family. My cousin, Libni Banya Cortez, 25, graduated with a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Vanguard University, making her the first in our family to achieve this level of education.

The last few Sundays leading up to this milestone, my abuelita, tías, and mamá spent hours in conversation, deciding how we were going to celebrate such an event (by the way, they decided on tacos, aguas frescas, pastel, and naturally, a piñata).

Libni—aided by my sister and I via iMessage—went on a hunt for the dress she would forever remember as her graduation dress and, perhaps more importantly, for the perfect pair of heels in which she would walk across that long-awaited stage.

Geovanna Medel, Libni Cortez, and Rachel Medel posing with flowers for an affectionate sisters/cousin picture. Photo by: Manuel Cortez

My mamá purchased round-trip airplane tickets to fly my sister in from UC Davis and phoned me numerous times to ask what day and time I would return home and if I had bought a new dress yet.

I felt the extent of their celebratory preparations—and what it meant to all of them to be making such preparations—from UCLA, where I am roughly fifty miles away from Libni and my family.

However, years before the rest of us could negotiate on food and company and outfits and songs, there was a more imperative decision that had to be made and preparatory measures that had to be taken: Libni had to decide she was going to enroll in and complete graduate school. That decision alone took three years to realize.

As a first-generation Mexican-American aspiring to earn her Master’s degree, Libni pursued a diploma only six percent of Mexican-Americans in the United States are successful in obtaining.

When asked about the challenges of graduate school, Libni answers that her university and field of study are both predominantly Anglo, which was in itself a navigational complication. In spite of this, she adds, her greatest difficulty was actually getting to graduate school.

She elaborates, saying, “I did not have people to turn to when I had questions about the application program because no one I knew had done it before. I had to do most of the research myself so I waited one and a half years to apply to graduate school.”

Despite all the obstacles that preceded and followed her admission into Vanguard University, Libni’s personal and academic resilience reaped a newfound source of pride in our family.

Libni’s mamá, Rosalba Cervantes, is exceptionally proud of her only daughter. When asked what it means to her to witness Libni receive her graduate degree, my tía answers, “Ni podría verbalizar el significado tan profundo.” Still, she attempts. “Significa la redención de mis sueños truncados en México. Crucé la frontera cuando tenía veintiún años. Me trajeron mis hijos que aún no tenía pero que yo quería que tuvieran un futuro mejor que yo. Esto es el éxito de una madre que no tuvo la oportunidad en su país.”

Her mother’s lack of opportunity in her home country and sacrifice as an immigrant were present in Libni’s gratitudinal reflection on her own accomplishment. When asked what it means to her to obtain this degree, she says, “It is very emotional. When I was growing up, my mom would always tell me of opportunities she did not have so this degree is dedicated to her.”

My tía does not have a Master’s degree to dedicate to Libni but she does have her truth to offer: “Me gustaría decirle algo a Banya. Hija, eres mi orgullo. Tú eres mi éxito. Me representas a mí y a mi familia y todo lo que no pudimos hacer. Yo siempre he querido que seas mejor que yo y ya lo has logrado. Me alegra saber que tu calidad de vida será mejor que la mía. Eres mi éxito, mi único éxito.”

In our lifetimes, we will experience moments that will forever change the narrative of the generations to follow.

In one of their own moments, our mamás crossed the border through the desert together. As I witness my cousin cross that stage toward her Master’s hood and diploma, in light blue heels and a unique cap that reads “Sanar y Amar,” I realize Libni is living a moment of her own.

I imagine the borders—I mean barriers—she is shattering. They are called limitations, ignorance, mental illness, statistics, and stigmas. She is a brown revolution and I fathom this is what promise looks like.

Libni Cortez holding flowers and smiling for a post-Master’s degree picture in her cap, gown, and hood. Photo by: Rachel Medel

As I watch my family gather around tables full of tacos and rizas, I realize this is the first of infinite graduate celebrations I will get to attend for my own flesh and blood. These celebrations will continue long after we are gone because Libni has paved a way for our family where there was not one before.

Libni, thank you for sharing your éxito with us. Our narratives are forever changed because of it. Wherever you may take this degree, I know it will be blessed for this is your calling and you have prepared well for it. Felicidades, prima.

Note from Libni: I would like to tell other students of color something I wish I carried going into graduate school. Do not feel insecure about the way you look or speak. We are often put down for our cultures so we grow a sense of shame in our skin, accents, and the communities we come from. Know that we can do things just as well as others, if not better, even with less opportunities and resources because we know both worlds. I am proud to be Mexican and speak Spanish; I can reach twice the amount of people because of it. I want everyone to be empowered because confidence in yourself can open doors for you and take you places you cannot imagine.

Growing Up Brown


The color of dirt. The color of the mud that falls after a hard rain. The color of an old rusty object. The color of that unwanted crayon you used to leave in your coloring box. To put quite bluntly, the color of waste. Although harsh sounding in its depiction, I could find no other way to describe my own sentiments towards the color and the way I once perceived the hue of my skin. Is it permanent? Absolutely. Did I like it? Absolutely not. But must I accept the color I have been granted? I must and I am.

The process of accepting my skin color has been and still is difficult. I still feel a slight tinge of anxiety every time I walk outside and into the sun. I became obsessed with shielding my skin and in turn developed an unhealthy relationship with the great yellow beast. It’s just now that I’m beginning to gear my thoughts in a more positive direction.

I’m beginning to tell myself that walking amongst the sunny pavements is healthy and that jumping from shady spot to shady spot while wearing a jacket in 80-degree weather is not.

I’m starting to tell myself that lying on a towel at the beach is supposed to be fun, and that trying to fade my skin with lemon juice is not.

I’m trying to tell myself that I would be lying to the world and to myself if I lightened my skin in the editing room than if I presented my true skin color in a photograph.

Yet, despite the fact that a wide range of skin colors surrounds us I can’t help but think of the magazines I pass in the supermarket. Page after page, model after model I often feel like I’m missing out on something.

I feel like I can’t see my skin color amongst the models on the page. Where are my brown skinned women? I am certain that there are many beautiful brown skinned models however, to this day I still see few to none.

Instead, it is preferred to apply a fake tan rather than showcase naturally brown-skinned women. After years of flipping through pages of light-skinned models I developed the sense that dark was considered inferior.

It had to be inferior if it wasn’t included amongst the magazines and popular Latin American novelas. To think how many millions of dollars are spent on the fashion industry and selling a look that is desirable, I concluded that brown was ugly and although untrue, white was right.

I continued to feel trapped. Trapped in skin that I couldn’t change. Trapped in my old habits of running from the sun and sweating through my jackets.

“Aren’t you hot Natalia?”

“No I’m okay. I actually feel normal.”

I was trapped by the lies I told myself and those around me. I was trapped but what I thought people wanted to see. I was trapped by what I thought was the “right” color skin. I was trapped in my own mind that didn’t let me break free from the magazines I thought held beauty’s truth and the world’s universal beauty narrative.

I was trapped, until a dear friend questioned me.

“But why Natalia? Why do you believe this?”

After being ceaselessly asked why, I was finally emotionally and mentally exhausted.

There was no longer a reason to believe in the inferiority of dark skin. It was a perceived notion I had conjured up based on history and the little presence of brown skin in the media. An idea that once seemed unchanging was suddenly something that could be changed.

I took charge of deciding what was true and what was false and the idea that “white is right” most certainly is not true. It’s a falsification that advertisements try to sell us and I’m no longer buying it.

I’m not advocating for the idea that colorism doesn’t exist. It certainly does yet I believe that it doesn’t have to be this way. We can change this concept by changing the narrative that is attached to the color.

Brown is not the unwanted color. Brown is the color of our indigenous ancestors. These are the same ancestors that have contributed the beauty of their highly complex cultures to the various Latin American cultures we know today.

Brown is the color of a sugary sweet chocolate bar that we crave after something salty to eat.

Brown is the color of the wood that comprises our musical instruments.

Brown is the color of the soil of the Earth, which gives life to the plants and the trees that fill our lungs with oxygen.

Brown is the base of all things beautiful and sweet and for that brown is the color I want to see on me.

Hold not your strength from me dear sun for I will run beneath your rays so I may test my strength and show my brown people that I’m not ashamed of who we are.

I’m brown year-round and I’m proud to be brown.

Who Was Cesar Chávez?

Header photo by John W. Schulze.

Growing up in San Jose in northern California, I was surrounded by the Cesar Chávez Library, Cesar Chávez Elementary School, Plaza de Cesar Chávez, and the Cesar E. Chávez Community Action Center.

Everywhere I went, there was either a street or a building named after Chávez. Although I did not know who Chávez was, I always enjoyed “Cesar Chávez Day,” because that meant we had no school on the day after my birthday.

I assumed Cesar Chávez Day was recognized and honored everywhere, but I’ve recently come to learn that it is not a holiday celebrated in other states, or even other cities in California.

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Cesar Chavez Elementary School in San Jose, California. Photo by Alondra Castanon.

It was not until I took a Chicano Studies course at UCLA that I learned about his impact in the Chicanx community. As I head home for spring break, I would like to remember Cesar Chávez.

Cesar Estrada Chávez was a Mexican American man born in Yuma, Arizona on March 31, 1927 (Cesar Chávez day is March 31). He married his high school sweetheart, Helen Fabela Chávez,  and settled down in San Jose, California in 1939. The couple had a total of eight kids together, five daughters and three sons.

In San Jose he became friends with Father Donald McDonnell who influenced him to learn and read about Ghandi and St. Francis. This ultimately influenced Chávez to become a firm believer in nonviolent acts of resistance such as marching, protesting, and hunger strikes.

Chávez worked in the fields with his parents until the year 1952, until he became a part of the Community Service Organization.

Some consider him to be the face of the Chicano Movement because of his committed activism for undocumented farm workers, the civil rights movement, and the progression and equality of the Latino community until the year of 1976. He founded the National Farm Workers Association along with Dolores Huerta in 1962.

Kylee Carranza, a pre-med first year student of Bakersfield, California said she knew who Cesar Chávez was and was aware that he was part of the resistance movement for laborers. However, in Bakersfield, California, Carranza notes, Cesar Chávez day is not a school holiday. Since being at UCLA, Carranza has learned more about the “other important figures in the Latino community, the various civil rights movements and their policies.”

Chávez was an incredibly inspiring and hardworking man, it seems unjust that his history and activism is not implemented into curriculums in every school in the country, not just those of California. However, one can rest assured the field of Chicano Studies is giving Chávez the recognition he so rightfully deserves.

Here are some famous Cesar Chávez quotes to motivate you to do and be better:

“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.”

“You are never strong enough that you don’t need help.”

“There is no such thing as defeat in non-violence.”

“Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students. What better books can there be than the book of humanity?”

“We need to help students and parents cherish and preserve the ethnic and cultural diversity that nourishes and strengthens this community – and this nation.”

“The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people.”

Cesar Chávez passed away on April 23, 1993 in San Luis, Arizona. He was buried in the National Chavez Center in California on April 29, 1993.

Transitioning from a Big Household to College

I went from living in a big, noisy Mexican household of eight people, to living in a tiny, quiet room with two other people. I felt out of place, like a fish out of water, for a few weeks after my transition.

My hometown is San Jose, a city within the Bay Area. My home is five hours away on a good day, but sometimes it takes six or seven hours to get there with traffic. Some would say I stayed close to home, and though it is true I can go home fairly easily, it still feels like I’m an incredibly long way from home.

The hardest thing for me was waking up the first couple of days and not hearing the familiar voices. Not hearing my two nieces yelling at the top of their lungs, my brothers happily playing on the PlayStation, my mom and dad making breakfast, our two dogs barking and running around.

I woke up and heard voices that were so new to me it’s as if I almost drowned them out.

I believe family dynamics plays a big role in how difficult or easy a college freshman’s transition is.

What seems like a big move to me, may not seem like a far distance to others. Not every family is the same and while my family is a tight knit, huge family, other students may come from a household of only two or three.

Thankfully, for me, being apart from my family gets easier as the months go by. The first couple of months were the hardest because I did not see my parents for most of fall quarter, but now that I’m busier and more involved on campus, time seems to be flying by quicker and before I know it, it seems as if I am packing up for a weekend back home.

Julianna Swilley, a first year pre psychology major, says she adjusted to college life fairly well, making her transition easier than she thought.

“Not having my mom around was hard because back at home it was just me and her, and being here alone was hard for me,” Swilley states. Swilley believes her family was close, having breakfast together on Sundays and weekly dinner gatherings with her aunts and grandparents, but her transition was easy, something she believes to be “contradicting.”

On the other hand, Paige Mesias, a first year business economics major, said her experience as a college freshman has gotten a bit more challenging. Mesias comes from a large family of seven. Although she believes her first quarter was an easy transition, she now finds herself missing her family more than last quarter. The hardest part for Mesias is not being able to talk to her parents daily. Mesias believes that family dynamics play a role in how difficult or easy a college student’s transition is because an independent person will miss their family a little less than someone who had a close relationship with them.

Whether we come from a small family of two or a big, extended family, it seems that the transition to college affects every freshman differently.

As much as we wanted to tell ourselves that we would be fine without our parents, let’s face it, we miss them just as much as they miss us.

Who are Film’s Addicts, Maids, and Gardeners?

While watching films and television, I’m often reminded of my youth and the days when I seriously considered acting as a career. It seemed as if drilling myself in classes and auditions would suffice but the fact that always loomed above me was my Colombian identity and my non-ambiguous look. My acting coach never failed to remind me that my acting destiny lied in rolls such as maids, newly arrived immigrants, or exotic female figures.

“It’s the reality,” he told me. “It’s what the public will expect of you right off the bat.”

However, I thoroughly question if this is a reality.

It may be an Anglo American’s perception of reality, but for millions of other Latinos like myself, it is simply a stereotype. A stereotype that continues to transcend onto the screens that lie before us when purchasing a ticket to that Oscar film or wasting several hours binge watching an enthralling television series. Thus, a rather intense feeling of discouragement and frustration falls upon me in paying an approximately $12.00 entrance fee when Latinos like us are continuously misrepresented.

It’s clear to me and the Latino community that not all Latinos are outlandishly comedic, law-breaking vagabonds, nor individuals that are destined to toil in the fields, tend to one’s housework, or sustain your next drug fix.

Rather than solely relying on my perspective in what I claim is the unfair truth within media stereotypes, I realize that there must be a larger representative voice within American society. It’s not solely Latinos that are conscious of our misrepresentation but rather other minorities that bear witness to the stereotypes that plague our screens. Being that minorities are subject to misrepresentation on the part of their respective communities be it Asian or African American, they are able to comprehend the over exaggerated portrayals of Latinos on screen.  “It is not necessarily holistic,” stated Emma Halanaka, a fourth year Biology major at University California Los Angeles. “I feel like I can relate to other races/minorities that we view negatively.”

It is undeniable that Latinos have made strides in achieving substantial roles in film and television such as Sofia Vergara from Modern Family and Benicio del Toro — who most recently stars in Sicario, thus revealing an increasing inclusivity of others who are not the ethnic majority in film/television. It shows that the media recognizes minority communities and are creating a space for us on a screen that was once dominantly Anglo centered. And while we acknowledge that we are more accepted today than years prior, Latino actors have yet to rise to the same caliber that we regard America’s star players.

This is not to say that Latinos are not as capable, but rather that Hollywood’s whiteness generates more material that revolves around “white life”, thus requiring white actors, and diminishing the opportunities available for talent worthy Latinos.

There are a plethora of Latinos that deserve to be applauded for the talented individuals that they are yet they are obligated to take a back seat and accept the limited spectrum of characters allotted to them. We are thus subject to watching actors that don’t necessarily reflect who we are in a way that we can relate to. It is true that there are Latinos that are criminals and Latinos that are our maids-like there are criminals and house workers who are White, Black, and Asian- but not all Latinos take on these rolls in society.

We are doctors and we are engineers. We are architects and we are artists. We contribute just as much to the beauty that makes our society go round as our Anglo neighbors. And it is who we are as well as our skills and talents that deserve to be put on blast for the public to see because it is conducive of true American society and culture.

We are not just one people but rather a body of individuals that have come from different walks of life, different backgrounds, and different cultures. We walk amongst the streets of Los Angeles all the way to the streets of Queens, and the streets of Miami. We contribute to the various new flavors that color our pallets and we offer something new and fruitful to the majority that might be unfamiliar with us. We are aware of our presence amongst the ethnic majority and it is this presence precisely that must be reflected before us on our screens because I can guarantee that we are here to stay and called to be heard. Yet, with the large population of Latinos that reside in the United States we have yet to see true stories of these individuals and substantial, accurate roles by way of the media.

“The entertainment industry is a business,” expressed Josh Zuniga, a fourth year sociology major.  “The entertainment industry cares less about art.”

The media does care less about art and more apparently about filling the theaters’ seats. The idea of making a quick dollar with little regard for accurate portrayals or quality storylines overrules a Latino’s reality. It is through these inaccurate portrayals that further propel stereotypes outside of the theater and reside in the minds of those who are ignorant to our truth.

We want to be able to enter a movie theater, watch a Latino actor, and think to ourselves, “Wow, what a great performance. I’m proud to be Latino and I’m proud that this individual reflects who we are in an accurate manner.”

We want to be comfortable walking out in public knowing that most of our American counterparts recognize the depth behind our cultures and peoples, and that we are beyond the stereotype that Hollywood tries to sell to us.

Who we are cannot be bought and if our representation can be, I want my $12.00 adult admission to go further than the seat in the theater. I want it to travel all the way to Colombia, to Cuba, and circle back around to Mexico. I want it to travel to the ears of our ancestors so that they may feel pride that we are being represented for the beauty and truth that we are. I can taste our time coming soon but the seed grows from honest hands, and it’s those honest hands that must plant it within the soil that is Hollywood.


“Xicana/o encounters with diverse Native knowledge allowed Xicanas/os to arrive (or continue to be in process of arriving) to their own sacred bundles and places of knowledge. When Xicanas/os came to these traditions, memory was opened up for Indigenous people; memory can be the most powerful building block. The revival of Indigenous identity proliferated amongst the youth in the Chicano community and represented a spirit and a return to spiritual ways. A community that was once told that they did not belong was now claiming a place on this continent.”

Jennie “Quiahuicoatl Meztli” Luna

This is a testimonio of my identity politics, to my critical consciousness, and to my own struggle(s)—which has been very difficult considering my privilege and what that means and looks like. Being a white-cis-passing, heterosexual, de-Indigenized Xicano male has been an interesting picture for my own identity and experiences. As a Raza student, McNair Scholar, La Gente writer, Mechista, and—what I would like to believe—an activist for agitating, destabilizing, and deconstructing european (westernized) knowledge, institutions, and ideology, my journey to this foundation and position speaks to my navigation in higher education.

As I first entered the colonial academic institution of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as a transfer student, I was working under a completely different type of framework as a young self-identified Mexicano. As a punk kid in South Gate in the outskirts of South East Los Angeles who worked very hard at Los Angeles Southwest College (LASC) motivated by a desire to subvert the academy, I was a radical—but not entirely. I had books on Marxist thinkers; I delved into the fiery pits of anarchist theory and practice; I looked toward a poststructuralist way of philosophy, theory, and paradigm—which meant reading thinkers like Foucault, Deleuze, and Derrida. As you can see, I worked under a very european and westernized framework, which did not recognize nor nuance my positionality as a Mexicano in United States society.

I didn’t know nor understand the Raza struggle entirely at LASC, which was a predominately Black and Brown college. When I took the only course on Mexican-American history, I began my introduction and acknowledgement to my Raza’s historical (and contemporary) struggle for liberation and self-determination—I was opened up to new, but always mine, epistemologies and groundings.

But this was only a small taste; it was one I wouldn’t feel completely until UCLA.

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Author Kristian Vasquez, right, at San Diego’s Chicano Park.

What caused a spark in my Spirit and made me excited at the time was the student organization Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA), which I learned about in the Mexican-American history class from watching the documentary Chicano! History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. I slowly started to identify simply as a Chicano; at the time, I understood this identity to be an extension of being Mexicano. Upon transferring into UCLA, I knew I had to learn and understand who I was, but my journey toward a cohesive but complex identity would only be complicated further.

To put things into perspective: as I attended MEChA’s Transfer Raza Day (TRD) yield event, I was amazed at the community of Raza students on campus. Hosted by Monica Hurtado and Braulio Valaguez, these two individuals led a motivated committee of other Raza students and successfully put together a memorable day. Although I arrived late, receiving an award from Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) the morning of, I still enjoyed the day and was blown away from the keynote speaker José González, a Tucson, Arizona educator who advocated for Ethnic Studies. He opened my eyes to many things concerning my culture, my people, and what education meant for our Gente. One of my takeaways was the idea of blossoming Browness, or asserting your Browness and your culture so much that people are forced to see it; my own identity was renegotiated after this day.

Because I was an Academic Advancement Program (AAP) student, I was able to attend their Transfer Summer Program (TSP) in 2016. As a part of the Chicana/o cohort, I was exposed to many new people with ancestral and community knowledges, and my classes challenged me to think and be critical on a level I was never exposed to. This came with radical reconceptions, re-articulations, and reconstructions of the knowledge base I drew from, adopting a more solid Chicanx epistemology and framework. I was more exposed to things I never experienced growing up, and to have this little family for what it was at the time was beautiful.

As I navigated UCLA, I found myself becoming more and more involved. I joined MEChA de UCLA and would later be voted into the position of Chicana/o Studies Co-Coordinator with my fellow Mechista and Compañera, Maritza Geronimo. I enjoyed the knowledge I would build with my Compañerxs at MEChA meetings and through the direct knowledges of my fellow Mechistas.

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Kristian Vasquez and Compañera Maritza Geronimo.

Through much exposure and deliberate discovery, I was able to begin a coherent idea of Chicanismo and what that meant today. With my Compañera Maritza, I was able to have critical discourse and conversation of these topics. We started our journey to defining what it meant to us: we looked at Chicana/o authors and close read their works, almost like studying Mexica codices. And I knew this political ideology wasn’t something rooted in Mexicanidad, but understanding pan-Indigeneity. It transcended and transgressed borders and nations; Chicanismo, or rather Xicanisma, would stress this importance.

Navigating through Campbell hall, studying in the Young Research Library, and finding comfort in the Student Activities Center at UCLA, I would face a very active student role. And the activist part of that role entailed me working toward self-determination and liberation of my Raza community. This also meant challenges I was perhaps not completely ready for. But I had the support of my fellow Mechistas and a student-initiated retention project by MEChA (Calmecac) to keep me moving forward.

Although only being at UCLA for a summer integration-program and completing a very rigorous and difficult Fall quarter, I had developed my own identity in a strong, but incomplete, sense. Here is a poem I wrote, which was a part of the zine project of my Intro Chicana/o Studies course, titled “La Muerte: Para Mis Antepasados de Anahuac/México”:

I AM THE PRODUCT OF COLONIALISM. As such, my voice speaks from passion, de la muerte: the living.

I walk on colonized lands—of precious, beautiful lands disrupted by the product of the white man’s capitalist mode of production. I breathe the air from machines that spit smoke, polluting the only tierra we call home. My lungs are made from modernity, from progress.

I don’t know the language of my ancestors, and I struggle to use and talk my colonizers lengua—so reluctant to speak what dominated, to speak what ordered genocide, to speak what erased what would be my culture.

I see Aztlán as a metaphor for redemption, of retribution, of wanting a spiritual home. Somewhere in what is considered México, my history, my family, my Raza, they were killed, tortured, callously conquered and told they were not human: they needed to be put straight. This is historical fact and it is painful.

I walk the streets of South Gate, my hometown, a once dominantly white community. I feel the presence of a memory, of a people not from my own blood, but people who ate from these lands, who worshiped these lands, and now we occupy—not by choice, but by legacies of colonialisms.

I was criticized once for claiming hecho en México, as if what is now California didn’t once belong to México—of course this being after the first wave of colonization by the Spanish conquistadores.

La Muerte: they survive in my blood, masked by the color of my white skin: a constant reminder that I’m in a colonized body, in a raped body, in a tortured, ambivalent body. My browness, my indigeneity, lives only through my veins, mi alma.

I once screamed in community college: Yo soy Chicano! The fucking political remains! Resistance lives in my blood! Revolution runs through my tongue! And those days were met with a silence from my own family, my friends.

Para la muerte: I see you, feel you, want to learn more from you.

And just like this piece, they live in fragments inside me, in history, in memory. But I will live for them: to remember and to resist—to fight in my life for their memory, for those still here, and those lost forever in the cosmos.

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Kristian Vasquez at San Diego’s Chicano Park.

In the poem above, I express an understanding of myself as a Native individual who, through colonialism, was subject to an erasure of an Indigenous past. It wasn’t until I discovered a very important Indigenous scholar who opened my eyes to a new understanding of this way of knowing. Being introduced to Dr. Jennie Luna’s work, by the Chair of MEChA de UCLA, Natalia Toscano, I was able to read and reflect on what she terms Xicana Indígena. This identity and term recognizes the need and imperative toward reclaiming Indigenismo through political and critical consciousness, as it is said in Nahuatl, not spanish, challenging constructions of language. It is also defined as being a Native to these lands and being a diaspora people coming into the United States, and those who stayed during conquest, the events of 1848 (the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo). It is a radical but necessary evolution of what Chicano was built on.

Xicana Indígena is also female-centered, highlighting female energies within our spirituality; it seeks to understand women and spirituality, looking for a return to dual-dualities outside of the european framework of binaries. As a collective identity, it is a radical reconfiguration of the initial identity of Chicano. This precious knowledge came to me as a radical restructuring of ideas and practices.

But the work of recognizing this term, its advocates, and its development is minimal. So we take on the spanish renditions of Xicano/a/@/x. I say I am Xicano, but being part of the Xicana Indígena people is something to be raised into our Raza collective consciousness. We must recognize our Indigeneity from wherever our Raza comes from in this hemisphere, including: El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, and beyond.

The future is Indigenous, and when we acknowledge how close our communities really are, the process of consciousness will be pushed forward. The path toward Xicana Indígena is an opening to a new and expanded notion of what our veteranos y veteranas of the Chicano Movement set in motion. We are agents of change; to revolutionize our political identity is to recognize our processes of liberation. As a new generation it is our job to decolonize spaces which do not recognize us, and this starts with reading, having discourse, and searching through what UCLA scholar Maylei Blackwell termed “retrofitted memory,” in her book ¡Chicana Power! Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement. Our revolution will be guided by our spiritual reclamation.

Identity as a complicated, complex, and nuanced experience can be opened up by introducing new concepts and experiences. As a series, I will locate those critical resources for mi Gente to start thinking about these important conversations.

Let my testimonio be the start: this is the Xinachtli series.



Author’s note: I chose not to capitalize “european” nor “spanish” because of power dynamics situated by westernized doctrines of language construction. In effect, I am contesting their power over capitalization, capitalizing instead words like: “Native,” “Indígena,” and “Raza.”