El Pueblo Unido: The Venezuelan Crisis

Photo by Blas Santander.

On May 7th, Lilian Tintori, the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, expressed to the public that her husband was alive and well, after being unable to visit him in military prison for over a month.

Lopez, isolated in jail and rumored to be in poor health, was informed by his wife about widespread anti-government demonstrations occurring in the country and urged for the continuation of the protests.

In 2014, Lopez was imprisoned after calling for civic action that would displace President Nicolas Maduro, who many believe has ruled Venezuela through oppressive tactics and an authoritarian rule similar to that of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

Today, thousands of Venezuelan protesters continue to express discontent with Maduro’s administration through silent marches, rallies for women and other forms of activism.

People of diverse backgrounds have taken to the streets to prolong the series of protests that began three years ago, initially triggered by harsh police response to student protests following an attempted rape on a university campus.

Primarily, Venezuelans are protesting the national government’s incompetence in responding to the deterioration of the country’s economy and its subsequent effect on the population.

While Venezuela has suffered through a recession and extreme inflation, its people have been forced to experience the shortages of basic products, like food and medicine. The National Survey of Living Condition even found that in 2016, about 74% of the Venezuelan population lost more than 18 pounds, likely due to lack of food and extreme hunger conditions.

The country’s most recent demonstrations are a response to a decision by the Supreme Court to strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its power, which would concentrate greater power in the Court and thus government loyalists working under Maduro.

Like with demonstrations in the past, recent protests have been met with violent retaliation from police units. The New York Times reports that throughout this year’s demonstrations, about 38 people have died at the hands of government defense forces.

While dozens of individuals have already been killed this year as a result of exacerbated conflict between Maduro’s administration and opposition forces, many predict that the Venezuelan crisis will continue to worsen without real electoral change and new leadership.

Through a worsening crisis, the continued drive of both activists and civilians that are committed to displace Maduro is the unfaltering force that may soon bring about the downfall of authoritarianism in Venezuela.

Indeed, as Lopez has voiced, “El pueblo no se cansa, la dictadura si.”

United opposition to the Venezuelan government may be the only promising means of establishing a government that truly serves the interests and wellbeing of all Venezuelans.

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.

1992 LA Riots: 25th Anniversary

Photo by: 5chw4r7z.


April 29th, 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles Riots.

Marked as one of the greatest civil disobedience events in U.S history, the 1992 Riots sparked national interest on police brutality.

In 1991, Rodney King was on parole for robbery when he led LAPD on a high speed pursuit.

Once the chase ended, police used excessive force to detain King. He soon became unconscious, yet a bystander was able to capture the brutal beating on camera.

The trial took place a year later. By that time, tension had built up on the black community’s shoulders.

A couple days after King’s assault was released to the public, Korean store owner Soon Ja Du shot 15 year old Latasha Harlins after suspecting that she was stealing.

When a year later all officers involved in the altercation were acquitted, it pushed the community over an edge. Additionally, Du was also found not guilty of Harlins’ death. The results of these two verdicts resulted in anger and uproar.

After three days of rioting in April of 1992, Los Angeles was left in ruins. Korean store owners who set up shop in South Central were the victims of looting. Hundreds were injured, and 53 people were killed.

The police were acquitted because, despite causing King permanent brain damage, they were simply “doing their job.”

Although the jury found Du guilty, the judge let her walk free because she was believed to be a model citizen prior to Harlin’s murder.

The victims were seen as the real criminals and the plaintiffs were given every right to defend themselves.

The media played the riots over and over, ultimately ignoring the cause of the riots.

Lessons should have been learned from the biggest uprising in U.S history, yet over the recent years, similar events constantly repeat. Just to name a few for example: Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and Eric Garner. The police officers involved in their deaths have not been indicted.

Today we have #BlackLivesMatter, an organization that speaks out against the injustices of police brutality.

All communities of color should stand alongside the black community and demand justice.The LA riots serve as a reminder that violent injustice will not be tolerated by our communities.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 7.23.43 PM

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.

Remembering Beloved UCLA Professor

While at UCLA, I took Professor Mark Sawyer’s course, “Black Experience in Latin America and Caribbean.” I still have the books we read in this class and I still have the slides he made for his lectures. This is one of the most valuable courses I ever took at UCLA and one of the most memorable. His class was interactive and he would incorporate music and popular culture into his curriculum, making the material a lot more relevant and easier to understand.

He also led the abroad program to Puerto Rico with Professor Cesar Ayala and I remember trying to convince people to sign up with me because the program kept getting cancelled due to low student enrollment.

I hope his contributions continue to receive the acknowledgement they deserve and that his legacy remains strong. May he rest in peace.


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.