The Hidden Latinx Stories We Don’t Hear, with Julissa Natzely Acre Raya

Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Brittany: Hey, y’all it’s Brittany. One of the things that mattered most to me, when I knew I was gonna become a mom was not passing on my bad habits. I mean like, yeah. I want him to make the bed every morning because I certainly do not, but it’s beyond chores for me. There are traits I’ve had to unlearn in short order because I need him to be better than me.

My biggest Achilles heel is people pleasing. I think I’ve told you all that before, right now, through lots of therapy and coaching I know that people pleasing is actually, for me, a trauma response based on loss. After my dad died when I was 12, I subconsciously thought that making people happy would keep them around.

And that way I wouldn’t have to lose anyone else that I loved. It kept me entirely too long in what turned out to be some emotionally and narcissistically, abusive relationships. Ones that never got physical, but most certainly left their mark. And yet perhaps the most persistent, most narcissistic relationship I’ve been in my whole life is my relationship to whiteness. 

It was the social default that told me I was never good enough, never desirable enough, or intelligent enough or accomplished enough. And the social pressure to assimilate to its attributes had me second guessing myself and shirking my culture in far too many instances. Too often, the people I was pleasing had no interest in ensuring I was my best Blackself, just that I was palatable for them. But best believe I’ve been on that unlearning journey for a good minute now.

And my son. He’s gonna grow up more free than I ever did. We are UNDISTRACTED.

On the show today, I’m talking to Julissa Natzely Arce Raya, a Latina author and activist who lived undocumented in the U.S. for 15 years. She worked her way up the ladder on Wall Street only to find that the American dream wasn’t all that was cracked up to be.

Julissa Natzely Arce Raya:. And the reason I’ve worked so hard was to have that financial stability. And here I was, and I had it and I still couldn’t get on a plane and go see my dad because the immigration laws of this country are so backwards. And I think that that was the start of me really questioning what is this for? And maybe it’s a lie that if you work hard, you can have everything that you want.

Brittany: That’s coming up. But first it’s the news.

So employers who want to use religious beliefs to deny their employees healthcare, they got another win last week. We’ve been down this road before, and it’s usually a company who doesn’t wanna pay for their employees birth control or abortion care. But this time a conservative sued because he didn’t want to provide his employees with HIV-prevention drugs. The treatment in question is called PrEP, which is short for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis. 

News Anchor: HIV prevention drugs taken daily shown to reduce the risk of getting HIV by 99 percent. 

Brittany: In other words, these drugs save people’s lives. And let’s talk about which people. By the end of 2019, an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States had HIV. And the disease hits communities of color the hardest. Black people account for close to half of all HIV diagnoses, Black women account for the majority of new HIV diagnoses amongst women in the U.S.. Yeah, I don’t know which part of the Bible it was where Jesus says no, no, no, please turn away the sick.

I don’t feel like healing them. This is literally the antithesis of who this entire religion was named after. And it sends the message that people in positions of power are just free to use the government to deploy their own personal agenda on people who have less power. Because be clear, this is not a religious agenda. It’s not what Jesus would do. It’s what you would do. And it sucks.

Now, you’ve probably been hearing about the ongoing water contamination crisis in Jackson, Mississippi of late.  Last week, the city restored its water pressure to normal levels, but with an advisory still in effect. It says folks still have to boil water before using it. 

Now you’ve seen those brown water videos. I don’t know how you can boil water that looks like coffee and turn it back into water again. But you also might not have heard about some of the other water crises happening in the country due to neglected infrastructure, environmental racism, and climate change. One of those crises is uncanny similar to Jackson and it’s happening right now, right up the street from me in Baltimore, Maryland. 

City officials have been insisting that residents boil their water after E. coli was discovered in a West Baltimore sample over two weeks ago. Investigators have yet to identify the root cause of the crisis, but until the city is able to nail down a cause, affected residents will be boiling their drinking water.

Baltimore and Jackson may not be neighbors, but they have one thing in common that cannot be understated. They are majority Black cities. The pattern of water crises is undeniable and very much not new. Before Baltimore and Jackson, we saw it in Flint, Michigan, another city with the majority Black population.

These failures in infrastructure and public health continuously hit the same kind of vulnerable communities. So say it with me everybody, safe drinking water is a racial justice issue. As our climate crisis escalates, we are only gonna see more water safety issues arise. And if we don’t treat resource inequity and racism with the utmost urgency, our communities will continue to be the most impacted. 

Now I just wanna end this news run down by congratulating the multi-talented, forever iconic. Ms. Sheryl Lee Ralph who won her very first Emmy on Monday for her betrayal of the beautiful, elegant, always wise, always resourceful kindergarten teacher, Barbara Howard in the ABC series “Abbott Elementary”. Ralph’s Ms. Howard character is the beating heart of that entire show. And it’s absolutely no shock that she had the speech of the night.

Sheryl Lee Ralph: Lord.

Brittany: A lot of people are just learning who Ms. Sheryl Lee Ralph is for the first time and they might view this as a win for an up and comer on the scene. But the thing is Sheryl Lee been Ralph. Okay. 

She has been around and for a whole lot of Black people she’s been center stage since the 70s. My mama’s generation loved her as Deena Jones in the original cast “Dreamgirls” on Broadway, a role for which she was nominated for a Tony.

I, of course, loved her as Dee Mitchell, that’s Brandy’s mama on “Moesha”. Okay. I mean, we could go on and on. This woman is a legend, Broadway, television, film. She was even in Denzel’s debut, “The Mighty Quinn”. Okay. Singing, dancing, doing the damn thing. Sheryl Lee Ralph is an example of why we need to reframe the Hollywood narrative because recognizing a veteran as a breakout star, when white audiences finally discover them, that’s honestly embarrassing for the entire industry.

We need to honor a legend like Sheryl Lee Ralph, say her whole name, as a legend. Her Emmy is a great start, but let’s keep those flowers coming. And Sheryl Lee Ralph, thank you for warming our screens, our hearts, and making us laugh for all of these decades. Your triumphs are so deeply deserved. We love you.

Coming up, I’ll be talking to Julissa Natzely Arce Raya, author of “You sound like a white girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation’,’ right after this short break.

And we are back. My guest today is someone I’ve been wanting to talk to for a long time. She’s a friend and we’ve shared many stages together. Julissa Natzely Arce Raya is the creator of the web series “La Historia Uncovered” and the author of several books about her experience as an undocumented Mexican immigrant growing up in the U.S.

So to celebrate really, to complicate, Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins today, we wanted to talk to Julissa about the untold stories of Latinos in the United States. 

I imagine that you may have some complicated feelings about so-called Hispanic Heritage Month

Julissa: Yeah, it’s a little bit of a love, hate relationship, right?

Because to me, I like Latinos, even the words that we use, right? Like Hispanic Heritage Month, like I prefer to use now Latino Heritage Month, Latinx Heritage Month. And, you know, I feel like we matter like every day of the year. But there certainly is sort of like this emphasis in this 30-day period that starts September 15th through October 15th. 

There’s an emphasis on our community and everybody wants to work with us and everybody wants to pay attention to us. I’m sure, you know, other communities that have their own month feel that. Right? And my whole thing is. If we matter on October 15th, then on October 16th, we should be just as important and people should wanna work with us just as much, if not more.

Right? Like, like I’m getting so many requests to speak and I’m really grateful for all those opportunities. And at the same time, I think, I am now fully committed for Hispanic Heritage Month. I can’t take any more requests, but like I’m available, you know, October 18th, I’m available November 1st. 

Brittany: Like the rest of the year.

Julissa: Yeah, what’s up?

Brittany: You know, I always had this running joke with my friends, especially before COVID, when people would ask me to come speak a lot. I would say that pretty much all of the money that I made speaking would come between MLK Day and the end of Women’s History Month, because of course, sandwiched in between there is Black History Month and it’s like the rest of the year I can do whatever.

Julissa: Right. Yeah. 

Brittany: And yet we wanna make sure that untold stories are being told obviously beyond Hispanic Heritage Month. But I do think that, you know, Being creatively subversive as it were to say, okay, I’m gonna take this attention that you’re giving and flip it. 

It’s something that you do incredibly well. You really unearth and amplify conversations, stories, histories that may be old hat to some folks, but brand new to others. And that certainly aren’t in mainstream spaces enough. I loved to talk about some of those stories with you, about some stories of Latine heritage that you’ve dug up and really found inspiration in.

I know one of them starts with people that we don’t normally talk about as freedom fighters, cheerleaders. 

Julissa: Yeah. 

Brittany: So tell me about the cheerleaders of Crystal City, Texas and what they won. Cuz I found this a very beautiful story. 

Julissa: I sort of decided a few years ago that if I was gonna participate in Latino Heritage Month and Hispanic Heritage Month that I wanted to do it on my own terms. And I wanted to use those 30 days as an opportunity to share so much of the history that I’ve learned over the past few years that so many of us don’t know. Because I think that there’s a real problem in the United States that people do not know who Latinos are. 

Joaquin Castro, Congressman from Texas says this all the time. And I also think the problem extends to us, you know, to ourselves, like we don’t know our own history in this country. And so it allows many people to treat us as though we are foreigners as though we are from someplace else, as though we belong someplace else. When in reality, you know, Spanish was spoken in the United States before English was spoken in the United States. 

Like we have roots in this country that go back to before this land was called the United States. And so there’s so many of these stories that I have unearthed uncovered for myself that I wanted to share with people. And one of those stories was the story of these cheerleaders in Crystal City, Texas in 1968, 1969, where.

Crystal city, Texas to give you some background it’s, at that time it was, it continues to be a very large Mexican-American population. At that time, the high school was 85% Mexican-American, and yet only one of the four cheerleaders could be Mexican-American. And it might not matter anywhere else in the country, but in Texas who holds the pompoms, who snaps the football, it’s a very clear indication of who is in charge.

And so the white people in the town very much wanted to hold onto that power, even though the demographics of the high school and of the talent were changing. And this group of 15, 17-year-old girls organized with the help of Chicano leaders. Just walkouts for 17 days. And the middle school joined in, the elementary school joined in, teachers from around neighboring towns came in to teach them so that they wouldn’t fall behind in their studies.

It was a real, real community effort. And they were able to overturn that rule as well as be able to have culturally appropriate instruction in their school. They used to get hit if they spoke Spanish in the classroom or in the hallways, like physically struck if they spoke Spanish. And so they also got rid of that.

And within two years, the city council and the school board became majority Latino. So the change that these young girls were able to enact in their town was incredible. And I wonder what it would have done to my confidence, to my psyche had I learned about that story when I was a teenager, because I was a cheerleader in middle school.

I was in the dance team in high school, but I wanted to be a cheerleader because I wanted to be all American, right. And the all American cheerleaders. That were ever portrayed on television shows in the movies were always white, were always blonde. And so my idea of what a cheerleader looks like was that, right.

And I wanted to be a cheerleader because I wanted to fit in. I wanted people to not question whether I was supposed to be here or not. And, you know, I feel like as inspired as I am by this story of what this woman accomplished, I’m also really sad that I’m not the only person that has never heard, that had never heard of that story.

And still today, this civil rights movement in Crystal City, Texas and in South Texas doesn’t make the textbooks. It doesn’t make history lessons. And I feel like we’re being robbed of this inspiration that could really help us feel grounded in this country. 

Brittany: And I would say that folks who are not Latino are being robbed of understanding of the beauty and complexity of diversity, right? I’m curious, once you learned that story, did it shift things for you?

Julissa: Yeah. I mean, I think that, you know, growing up, I always had this question and it was a very simple question, which was where were we? Because I would learn different history lessons in school, but they never talked about Mexicans. Right? 

It was like Mexicans didn’t exist in this country. And I knew that Mexicans had been in the United States because a large portion of what today is the United States had been Mexican land. And so I knew we had existed, but I kept having this question, like where were we when we landed on the moon?

You know, where were we when the Civil Rights movement was happening? Where were we when I don’t know, uh, X, Y and Z thing was happening. Right? And it wasn’t really, until I was an adult that I really went out and started finding the answer to this question. Like where were we? And it certainly has shifted my perception so much about my place in this country about my community’s place in this country.

It has really empowered me to say I don’t belong someplace else. And even though I wasn’t born here, this is still my country. And so many people in the Latino community have never been immigrants, many times we think of Latinos and immigrants as though they’re synonymous. In my case, yes, I am both a Mexican immigrant and an American Latina, but many Latinos have never been immigrants.

You know, their families have never left. Like I have friends in Texas whose family appear in the first census of Texas when it was a Republic. And yet they still have to answer the question, but where are you from from.

Brittany: That double question, right? Yeah. 

Julissa: And it’s like, it’s never enough to say I’m from Brownsville, Texas.

You always have to answer like, but where are your parents from? But where are your grandparents from, you know. And so learning all of this history has really changed my perspective of, again, like how I see my place in this country. 

Brittany: Okay. There’s another piece of Latino history that you talked about that I wanna hit on, the Brown Berets and the Brown Berets came out of the Chicano movement in the 1960s and in their struggle for liberation, they were running clinics and newspapers, fighting police violence, talking about inequality and education and health and jobs.

They were really a similar organization to the Black Panthers, but we hear so much less bout them. Can you talk a little bit about the connection and solidarity between the Berets and the Panthers? 

Julissa: One of the things that really stood out to me was the ways in which the Brown Berets worked with the Black Panthers and how they were really supportive of each other’s movement in really respectful, beautiful ways. And that there was a strength in us fighting together. And I think because we don’t know that history, we sort of think that we’ve been at odds with each other’s communities. You know, from the beginning and certainly there has been friction between communities of color.

And I very much put that at the foot of white supremacy convincing us that we are each other’s enemies. And because what happens when we fight each other is we’re just strengthening white supremacy. And I think that it’s intentional, that so much of this history has been lost because then we don’t have examples to look back on to say, yes, there is fiction, but let me point you to these instances where we did come together. 

Brittany: It is deeply intentional to require marginalized people to remain in competition with one another. Right? To convince us that whatever power we can seize, we have to hoard to make sure that the person next to me never has access to it.

Are there specific ways, uh, that you think that kind of inter community solidarity, especially racially could help us make more traction on certain issues right now? 

Julissa: You know, I think a lot about the Black Lives Matter movement and especially like, around police violence. Right? And I’ve written about this, how moved to action I was by the Black community and how we really owe the Black community everything when it comes to any progress or any attention that has been placed in police violence. You know, there was this one specific case in Los Angeles, his name was Andres Waldado and he was an 18-year-old Salvadorian kid who on June 18th was shot in the back by police and was killed. 

And, you know, I don’t know what specifically it was about Andres, I think maybe it was, you know, the first picture I saw in him, of him online just really reminded me of my nephews and of my brother. He was kind of really growing into his body, you know? And it just, it really hit me so hard and I went down this sort of journey of not just learning everything I could about his case, but of learning about what does police violence look like in Latino neighborhoods, starting with Los Angeles, right? 

And in Los Angeles where I live, 50% of the people that are killed by police are Latino. After Andre was killed, I started going to Black Lives Matters protests in downtown LA. you know, the weekly ones that weren’t necessarily getting the cameras and the news stories. And I started going every week and it was a really painful, but very beautiful thing to see how the Black community was holding space for Latinos to come up for the families of Latinos who’ve been killed by police to come up and say the names of their loved ones and to sink together and to chant together.

You know, I was really sad when this happened, because I also saw so much of the racism that still exists in my community, right? And people sort of coming up with, like Latino Lives Matters. And I was like, oh no, no, like that is not what we’re gonna do. Like that is not it. And then, but then explaining to people why that is racist. Why we should not be doing that, why that’s akin to people saying all lives matter. Right? And sort of like that education that it’s gonna take for people to understand that. And so policing is one issue that is very clear to me that we can really work on it together without decentering Black people in that conversation. 

Because, you know, even when I say 50% of the people killed in LA county are Latinos. But Black people are still just disproportionately killed in Los Angeles. Right? Something like four times the population. And so all of these things can be true. And I think that there’s enough space for us to talk about all of these things, without it being one or the other.

Brittany: Absolutely. I think that both and mentality is what builds powerful coalitions. I’m also thinking about gun violence. That is something that uniquely, unfortunately links our communities. We followed up the massacre at Tops grocery store in Buffalo with the massacre in Uvalde. And especially as we talk about Texas, I’m thinking about Uvalde. I’m thinking about El Paso. 

I’m thinking about this governor’s race. I’m thinking about the fact that gun violence, gun control is at the top of a lot of voters’ minds, period, but especially in Texas. And especially in Black and brown communities. I’m curious what is on your mind and heart about those communities right now, as they face the aftermath and try to not only put the pieces back together of their lives, but also try to chart a path forward that will better guarantee this does not happen again and again and again, like it has been. 

Julissa: Yeah. Well, you know El Paso and Uvalde both happened in heavily Mexican, Mexican-American neighborhoods. They were different in that El Paso, Texas was a terrorist attack that was perpetrated because, you know, as the shooter wrote in a manifesto, he wanted to quote, kill as many Mexicans as possible.

And Uvalde it’s still not really quite known what the motives were, but in either way what I wanna make sure that doesn’t happen is one to your point that it doesn’t happen again. And secondly, that it’s not forgotten. Because with El Paso on the one year anniversary of one of the worst mass shootings in this country. On the one year anniversary, not a single major U.S. newspaper ran a front page story, commemorating, remembering the people who died in El Paso. 

I just felt like it was so easily forgotten that people moved on so quickly because they didn’t value the lives that were lost. I think so often the country moves on and it especially can move on so much more easily when the people who died are Black and brown. 

Brittany: Right. Because you don’t have to mourn with people that you don’t see as fully human. I wanna get back a little bit to what we were talking about in the beginning, because I think so much of your own process of self discovery and learning your history you’ve been really transparent about in terms of understanding the consequences of assimilation culture and you wrestling yourself out of that.

Julissa: Yeah. In my book, I talk about it in three ways. I talk about sort of like the lies of assimilation, those being the lie of whiteness, the lie of English and the lie of success. You know, when it comes to the lie of success, I think for a lot of us who have come from, like lower income families who are the first in our families to go to college, we sort of fall into this trap of professionalism just being another word for assimilation. 

You know, and like companies saying, yes, we wanna be diverse. We wanna be inclusive, but you have to show up in this very specific way in order to actually find success in those companies. Right? Like I worked at Goldman Sachs and on Wall Street for 10 years before I became a writer and I.

Let me tell you, like, I could not show up as my full self when I was in those environments. Right? I very much had to.

Brittany: Wearing a lot of J.Crew.

Julissa: Brooks brothers. Yeah. And I just think that it shows up in this sort of thinking that you have to act white, that you have to sound like a white girl in order for people to take you seriously and the problem is that. Like I did find that to be true. You know, like when I talked a certain way, I felt like people took me more seriously than like when my accent came out, for example. Right? And so those are just like the realities of things. But I think that things aren’t going to change until we change them, right?

Until we push back and we say wearing my big hoop earrings and my red lipstick as AOC does now is professional. In Latino communities, assimilation also shows up very much in yearning proximity to whiteness. Like I think that so much of what’s happening in south Texas, especially with more and more Latinos voting Republican has a lot to do with assimilation.

And when wanting to seek proximity to whiteness in the way that we vote and it all comes down to wanting to belong in this country, wanting this country to see us as though we are part of it. And because, you know, all of these very heavy things that we’ve talked about, I love being Mexican. There’s so much joy and happiness and light that is in my culture. That is in my being. And I wanna celebrate that. I want everybody to know how amazing it is to be Mexican, to be Latina. 

Brittany: Yeah. That you actually don’t have to go and seek that approval externally. That everything you need can be found in the place where you stand. 

Julissa: Yep.Exactly. 

Brittany: I love that in a lot of ways on paper. Right? And, and you’ve written some about this. You are kind of this poster child for a very normative idea of the American dream. You, you went to college, you speak English fluently. Like you say, you worked on Wall Street as an executive. You checked all of the boxes that America tells you to check.

So you more than most people then know the cost of that version of the American dream, you know, what gets sacrificed and what gets lost. Was there a moment when you came face to face with just how costly it was? And what you did, were you, were you willing to pay it? 

Julissa: I definitely have paid a very high price for this sort of illusion of the American dream. And that probably was the beginning of this journey that I’ve been on to be honest, which is when my dad was sick and he was living in Mexico and I was living in the us and I was still undocumented at the time. I didn’t have papers. And so if I left to go see him I wasn’t gonna be able to come back or I was gonna have to like, actually cross the border to come back, which then means I was gonna basically become ineligible to like fix my status because of current laws if I crossed illegally.

And so in those hours of agonizing about what to do, my dad passed away and I never got to see him alive again. And I remember being in my apartment in this high rise building in Manhattan with all this money in my bank account, and I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t get on a plane and go see my dad.

And there had, there was a point in my life where maybe the reason I wasn’t gonna be able to get on a plane was because I didn’t have the money right? By this last minute plane ticket and the reason my family came and the reason I’ve worked so hard was to have that financial stability. And here I was, and I had it.

And I still couldn’t get on a plane and go see my dad because the immigration laws of this country are so backwards and are so broken. And I think that that was the start of me really questioning what is all this for? And maybe it’s a lie that if you work hard, you can have everything that you want.

And if you just work hard enough, you can have the American dream because it’s not true. There’s so many obstacles and so many barriers and so many laws that actually make it impossible for so many people. 

Brittany: Yeah. I appreciate your generosity in sharing that with us, cuz I know it can’t be easy to continue to have to dig from that well, and you know, cuz we’ve talked about this. I lost my dad too. 

Julissa: Yeah.

Brittany: Revisiting that is always a particular pain, especially when it comes with these additional discoveries. 

Julissa: Yeah. 

Brittany: As a Black woman who is descended of enslaved Africans. This is the only home generations of my family have ever known because they built this country.

And yet in different spaces and places I have discovered times that I paid way too high a cost. 

Julissa: Yeah. 

Brittany: For approval and assimilation with a culture that never was fully going to accept me. And that did not have to give what I truly needed. 

That in and of itself can be a thing that has to be mourned, right? Because you are letting go of a version, a picture, a vision of yourself that you realized was built on sand. And yet there’s so much freedom on the other side, right?

Julissa: There really is like, I have never been happier. It was definitely a struggle because in order to reject assimilation I also had to come to terms in the ways in which I helped advance white supremacy in the past.

I had to come to terms with the ways in which I’ve upheld the patriarchy in the past. Like, I feel lighter, you know, like I feel like this load that I had been carrying on my shoulders has been taken off because I am now walking without seeking the approval of, like you said a society, a culture that never wanted me to begin with. You know. 

They just wanted our land and that’s it. Like literally during the Mexican-American war, President Polk wanted as much land with the least amount of Mexicans and that is why the border was drawn the way that it was drawn.

Brittany: This is why we learn our history. This is why we decolonize our minds. And this is why we recognize that that kind of personal liberation of letting go of assimilation culture is an essential part of communal liberation. 

Julissa: That’s right, right. 

Brittany: Part of the challenge of assimilation culture, especially for a lot of Latino youth is guilt and shame when it comes to language.

Trying to figure out how much or how little Spanish to speak, where you can speak it, with whom you can speak it. And it’s this double bind, right? You preserve your identity, but you also are in a position to be targeted for racism. How do you navigate that particular difficulty or challenge as a young person? 

Julissa: Well, I mean, as a young person, I feel like I handled it completely wrong which was like, forget my Spanish. Like, I am only gonna speak English and. you know, I’m gonna pretend like I don’t speak in Spanish when people are speaking Spanish to me. I was 11 when I came to live in the U.S. and so this is sort of like an 11-year-old girl trying not to get made fun of at school for having an accent or for not speaking English.

You know, I think over time I’ve realized just how important it is to me to hold onto my Spanish, because like my mom only speaks Spanish. So just to be able to communicate with my mom, like I have to speak the language. And one of the things that I, you know, that I write about in my book is that English not only separates us from our mother tongue, it cuts the umbilical cord to our mothers.

In the 1920s schools in Texas and California, 80% of schools were segregated by Mexican schools and white schools. And the determining factor many times was it was English that was used as the excuse.You know, they would say these kids don’t know how to speak English, therefore they have to go to a different school.

Of course, what courts found is that, you know, it was many times based on the student’s last name, not on their ability to speak English or not. But so English has been really dangerous for us and not speaking English specifically, but it’s a complicated relationship because then, you know, then you go to Mexico and then people there sort of wanna make fun of my Spanish or wanna correct my grammar or because I’m not conjugating a verb correctly.

And so then that also sort of makes you wanna hide and just be like, well, I’m not even gonna try because it’s very difficult to actually be completely fluent in both languages. You know, I feel like one always suffers. I see it in myself. Like when I come back from Mexico and I’ve been speaking Spanish for two weeks, like my accent comes out more, you know, now I don’t care, but there was a point in time that it did, you know, it would really bother me.

So yeah, it’s complicated, but I do really hope. And I do think that there is a lot of Latinos nowadays who are taking it upon themselves to learn Spanish again. And also understanding that Spanish is not the only language that is spoken in Latin America. There are still many indigenous languages.

And as we know, Spanish is also a colonizer’s language. Right?

Brittany: And there it is. 

Julissa: We didn’t speak Spanish. We spoke Zapotec and Nawat and so many of those languages have been lost. And our connection to our roots have been lost because I don’t know, you know, colonization has completely erased any roots of me being able to say I was part of this specific tribe.

I don’t know. I have no idea whether I was, you know, Mayan or Aztec. It’s all very complicated. And I think our identity as Latinos is complicated for those very same reasons. 

Brittany: You know, before I let you go, I wanna ask you about a current piece of policy. You spent 15 years living in the U.S. undocumented. So I imagine that you have been closely following the Biden Administration’s recently published rule to codify DACA and to protect that program from lawsuits. Do you think that that move is going to be enough to keep undocumented children and young adults safe? I mean, what’s really the next step, because like you said, at the very beginning of this conversation, this country has convoluted arcane frustrating plain old wrong immigration policy. 

Julissa: Codifying DACA is not enough. I mean, we knew that DACA was not enough. It certainly gave a lot of young people an opportunity to work in the country legally to feel protected from deportation. And of course, all of that went out the window, you know, the moment that Trump became president. And people’s lives have been dependent on court decision after court decision after court decision and the DACA program has been obliterated. 

I mean, right now, It is still open for people to renew their DACA, so someone who already has DACA they can renew it. They can get another two-year permit, but anybody who is now of age to apply to DACA, because you have to be 15 years old to apply to DACA.

No new applications are being accepted. You know, there is all of these high school-age kids who have to live in fear of deportation who might not have access to things like a driver’s license, might not be able to go to college depending on the loss of their state. And so just DACA by itself protects a very narrow amount of people. I mean, you know, in Spanish, like I would say like Biden needs to grow some cojones and like actually do something. 

And that’s true of like Democrats, you know, like how many times have Latinos shown up for Democrats to get them elected on the promises of immigration reform? And, you know, I was able to fix my immigration status because my husband’s American citizen and I was able to fix my status through that.

And also because I came here on a visa. Had I crossed the border illegally, I may still be undocumented. And I think about all the millions of people who still have not had any relief. Who were children when the Dream Act was introduced and when different immigration proposals were introduced, who now are adults who now have children of their own, who have had entire lives waiting and waiting and waiting for politicians to have the same courage that they have putting their bodies and their lives on the line fighting for their rights.

Brittany: Well, I think that we can leave it right there because that is a very clear and profound call to action for the folks that we elect to represent us. I’m so, so grateful to you for the work that you do, for the speaking, for the writing, for all the young people who will see a clearer and brighter pathway, and won’t ever have to endure that assimilation trap because they’ve got access to books like yours.

Julissa: Thank you, Brittany. 

Brittany: I appreciate you.

Julissa Natzely Arce Raya is the author of “My Underground American Dream” and “Someone Like Me”, which are both available in English and Spanish.

Somebody asked me this week what liberation looks like to me? I spent 14 years of my career working in education and my answer to that question was always the same. An African greeting asks, how are the children? And liberation in my book is always being able to truthfully answer the children are well.

Now that I’m a mom, I’m asking how is my child? How is the world he’s living in? Becoming a Black mama has everybody asking me, telling me really, that I have to prepare my son for the world he’ll be living in. Assimilation culture, that same supremacist concept that asked Julissa to shorten her name and shed her heritage wants me to mold my son into an acceptable version of a Black child for America’s consumption. 

And I’ve got a duty of course, to make sure that he is ready for the world. But if assimilation culture only asks if he’s ready for the world, liberation asks if the world is ready for him. If it’s ready to be a place that welcomes agency and autonomy, creativity, genius, and joy in skin, like his.

In skin like mine, in skin like Julissa’s. If liberation is nothing else, it is asking how is the world? And always being able to truthfully answer ready for all our children to thrive.

That’s it for today, but never for tomorrow. UNDISTRACTED is a production of The Meteor and Pineapple Street Studios. 

Our lead producer is Rachel Ward.

Our associate producer is Marialexa Kavenaugh.

Thanks also to Treasure Brooks, Hannis Brown, Raj Makhija, and Davy Sumner.

Our executive producers at The Meteor are Cindi Leive and myself, and our executive producers at Pineapple are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. 

You can follow me at @MsPackyetti on all social media and our team @TheMeteor.

Subscribe to UNDISTRACTED and rate and review us on Apple podcasts or most places you check out your favorite podcasts.

Thanks for listening, thanks for being, and thanks for doing.

I’m Brittany Packnett Cunningham. Let’s go get free.