Des Moines Oral History Project

Interviewee: Madeline Cano

Interviewer: Caroline Hempleman

Date: November 3, 2017


Caroline: So just to start off, you’re Madeline Cano

Madeline: Cano

C: Cano? Is the last name, ok.

M: Four letters, very hard, everyone says it wrong so it’s okay [laughter]

C: [laughter]. I’ll try to make a point to say it right. Uh, so okay, Can you tell me just a little bit about yourself? Where you grew up.

M: Mhm, yeah um, I’m 27. I am not an Iowa native, I grew up in Illinois, Plano, which when I was growing up was a smaller town, probably about a couple thousand people. Fairly larger like Mexican and Puerto Rican population. Um, because there was a very large molding company there, um, and farming community. So it’s, Plano’s probably like an hour west of Chicago, off of 88 so if you’re trying to like figure out where it is. Uh it’s hard to not say like, “ah Chicago suburb” cause technically it’s really not, but no one knows where anything thing is in Illinois.

C: Yeah…once you get outside of Chicago.

M: Yeah, you’re like, “Okay, whatever!” [laughter] you’re northern Illinois, southern Illinois, and that’s pretty much it.

C: Yeah [laughter].

M: Uhh yeah so lived there my whole life. I went to, was raised Catholic and I would consider myself a recovering Catholic, I don’t practice anymore. Um, but I would say that a lot of that…I went to Catholic school, and private school, and high school and stuff. So I would say a lot of that somewhat influenced like my moral compass, essentially. So that had somewhat of an impact on why I do what I do. Umm, and really got into, like growing up I was super disconnected with my, like Latino roots, and so reflecting on it now, I realize that all the things that I’ve done, through middle school, high school, etc. kind of was like gearing for that sort of cultural emptiness I was feeling. Um, where, whether it was like I had a very big passion for like learning languages, and you know, just felt very connected to then and then kind of moving on to living abroad and you know I majored in college in Spanish and international business so it’s like all those things kind of come together and you’re like oh actually we’re just trying to connect with your roots actually.

C: Yeah.

M: So that’s kind of a brief sort of summary. I, um, am the oldest of three. My brother and sister are…uhhh…will be 23 and 22, so I had a good run, a couple of years, of being the only child, [laughter]. And I think that shows sometimes [laughter]. Uh, parents are still together, they’ve been together since high school. Um, yeah what else. I live next door to my grandparents, on my mom’s side. My dad’s side really disconnected until recently. Um, that reconnection was a lot of my pushing for. Um, so..

C: So why did you want to reconnect with them?

M: I mean it was part of that, just like where do I come from sort of stuff, and you know like I think just it’s my dad’s side and I think there was a lot of like you know like personal things that happened that that you know he doesn’t talk about that sort of stuff, but trying to reconnect and like have that family bond that I have with my mom’s side, but also kind of like figuring out where, I mean it was a lot of like where do I come from, like how did we get here? Obviously, we, someone came here from, from Mexico, so like what, what is that? How did that happen? So that really started it, like in college and stuff and sort have has now, it’s a lot better now, which is nice.

C: So, is it your dad’s side that’s from Mexico?

M: uh huh.yeah…yeah

C: okay.

M: Yeah so, I, growing up like definitely was super disconnected from that side of the family was really interesting because it was…so in…if you look at…and maybe when you talk to other people, about their family immigration stories, typically the first generation that comes here is very much like, assimilate. Assimilate, assimilate, assimilate. And so then second generation is really there’s a disconnect, and third generation is the, hey why, why is that? So that’s, I think, the situation where it was my grandparents were very much like, we speak English at home, you know, and so my dad looks very dark and people will come up to him and just speak Spanish to him, and he doesn’t know Spanish, right. And so, but then there’s me, and I’m like, well that’s why, why don’t we, why are we like that? Why is that different, so it’s just interesting to look back at generations of how assimilation um in all aspects of immigration is very much a huge part of it, and so you think about society today and the things that come out of Trump’s mouth, about like, “well you need to learn English” that’s, they’re, well I mean it really is a family main goal when they’re coming here, it’s like let’s be as much as a part of this as we can and assimilate. So it’s just interesting to see that sort of shifted over the generations. Um, yeah so..

C: So, when did your parents, your grandparents, sorry. When did they come?

M: Uh, so my great grandparents came, this was back in like, my great grandpa came from, they lived in a small town, um, in, well my great grandma’s from somewhere else, but my great grandpa is from Salamanca um in Mexico. And um, he came here when he was super young, like young adult, like our age, in like the early 1920s. And he was here, um, they didn’t have like visas or anything, he was here undocumented.

C: Yeah..

M: Umm, at some point, like in the 30’s, he ended up being able to get a green card essentially, but he came to Rock Island working on the Rock Island Railroad Company, um so it’s interesting, like I, I didn’t really get to know him super well, cause he was, I was really, he was super old when I was younger. It was kind of crazy to see it, I mean he was like bent over at a 90 degree angle, because he literally spent his entire life like building a railroad, right. So like nailing in those posts.

C: Wow

M: His entire life. So yeah, that was interesting. And my grandma did not have the same green card that my grandfather has. So she was back and forth a lot. Had kids here and back in Mexico. So I have like aunts that you know were undocumented when they were brought here, were forced to go back wait with the rest of the family and come legally. Obviously, during like the 40s it was a lot easier, because the process, it wasn’t as backed up as it is now, but my my grandfather, he was born here, so he was born a U.S. citizen. Um, but strict rules in our house again. It’s like yeah, ok we speak Spanish, but everywhere else you go it’s English only and that’s just how it is. And also like extremely Catholic, and like my grandma would go to church like every single day, she didn’t work though, but she raised the klds, and it was a huge family, of like almost a dozen. [laughter]. So living in, you know they lived in Iowa City, um, so yeah that’s, that’s how that sort of came to be. And I think that’s also like the connection to Iowa. Um, they lived here for awhile and I still have some great aunts and some great uncles that live here, that are super old and [laughter]! Um, but yeah just interesting sort of the, again, like that also the cultural dynamics as well as like the gender dynamics. In like, Mexican cultures, still similar, so it’s interesting to see how that, somewhat, has not shifted and even when you come across the border, you, you bring that with you.

C: Right.

M: So, that’s interesting, and then eventually they got citizenship, but that was like years later, right? So, they lived here undocumented on and off, my grandma was undocumented I think longer, while my grandpa had a green card. And then eventually were able to obtain citizenship, but that just sort of shows you how the process has changed so much, and also to how kind of exploitative the visa process is. Where there’s not a pathway to citizenship, it’s well we’ll dangle it in front of you like a carrot and just you keep working, you keep working and you keep paying taxes, but you’ll never actually get there. So I think back then, I know in the 50s when they’re able to obtain an actual citizenship so much easier than it is now. Um, But again, that was different times of labor, so it’s just interesting to see how that has shifted. (8:33)

C: Yeah

M: So, that’s always something I find interesting with my work anyway, so.

C: Um, sure because it ties in pretty well with the stuff that you’re doing now.

M: Totally. Well cause you have this narrative right, on one side of the argument it’s I’m not opposed to immigrants, I just want them to come the right way. And that comes from a place of guilt and also a place of ignorance where I genuinely think that people on the immigration issue, it’s so complicated and complex that they just don’t know enough about the topic but there’s also that guilty sense because you connect as humans and so of course no one wants to send people back to violence. It’s like well just do it the right way, there’s a process and rules. Everyone loves a good set of rules. Um and like do it the right way, but no one understands that the right way takes decades. And sometimes people don’t have decades to do that. So, I think that’s sort of the situation you’re coming from. You know when my great-grandparents were coming here it was a different time. Violence was not the issue. Um, it was just economic and better opportunities for your family, and that was a normal thing. You know, you had people coming from Europe as well at the same time, for the same reasons. So, it was just a different time, whereas now I think there’s a lot  more influence of our politics on international policy and economic policy as well as you know violence, that we have, our government has somewhat helped with. Um, and so that’s also, it’s all strategic. So, uh, a big part of my work too is, working with these affected communities, but also educating white communities on the complexity of this topic and trying to bring people, like humanize the issue instead of talking about it up here. Like let’s put a face on it and realize that you’re a person. So, that’s like the biggest thing.

C: Do you think that, do you notice a lot of similarities with uh, like people’s immigration stories today, or if they’re more different from the ones that…

M: I mean, it all roots in the same thing of family, right?

C: Yeah. (10:44)

M: I mean that’s the biggest thing, and I that no matter what, because it was very encumber some Latino culture, and if you’re comparing, you know even any immigrant or refugee story, it’s about putting your family first. And I think, beyond even just immigrants, citizens, American citizens can connect with that as well. Right, if you’re in the same situation, of course you’re going to put your family first. And so that’s a lot of what we really try to talk about, is like connecting to that aspect of it. So I would say similar, the issues are similar, the stories are similar, you know, everyone has their own individual experiences, but I think the theme is that they want better for their families, you know that’s where it comes from.

C: Do you, do you do a lot of work with that here? Trying to prioritize families and such?

M: For sure. It’s uh, so we at CCI, don’t directly work with uh assisting people with the immigration process, and their papers, things like that. Um, there’s other organizations that uh, cause you really need legal expertise to really go through that process. So there’s a lot of other great organizations that have that, that we refer people to. On our terms it’s connecting all of the other issues, so I focus a lot on worker’s rights, because the labor situation is heavily dependent on immigrant and refugee workers, and it has been like that for a long time. I think that again, people don’t think about where your food comes from, or how does it get packaged or how does this little thing come to, you know, how can these things come to be. It doesn’t just come from amazon, it’s magically at your door, like someone made it. Uh, and so if it’s made in the US, you can probably guess it’s made by immigrants. Um, so trying to raise awareness on that, but also when there are uh issues of people being exploited, uh discriminated against, you know, helping people, coaching people, to realize their own power. Because I think a lot of time people will come in through the door and they want you to solve their problems, and that’s not what I do. I mean most of the time it’s like I’m in the background, but I’m developing them as leaders to resolve their own problems, because when, I think, and I physically work more with

Latinos, when they come here, you know, whether it’s, their undocumented, or you could have a mixed status family, um it’s very much of let’s stay under the radar and so, other people know this and exploit it, and so it’s a matter of kind of building up that self confidence of, ‘no you have rights here’

C: Mhm

M: And you have worth, and recognizing that worth and trying to get them to not just think about their own self interest. But like there’s other people in your workplace that are facing this, how can we all work together and how can you build camaraderie so that you’re a stronger unit. It’s kind of teaching people how to be a union without having a union, essentially.

C: Okay.

M: Uh, that’s kind of how I explain it, Because really, you think of the about some, like the workplace structure, it’s like a pyramid, right? So the workers, the majority is on the bottom. And then you have typically one or two people that are like management, you outnumber management.

C: Yeah

M: And so, if they cannot operate without you, so if you collectively decide that you don’t want something, or something’s wrong and you want to change it, you have the power to change it. It’s just going to take some risks. Uh and so that’s again, getting people on the same page of willing to understand what the risks are why it’s important to take that risk. So it’s just teaching them how to organize, essentially. Uh, which can be complicated [laughter].

C: Oh, I’m sure. yeah, hard, probably hard to get people all on the same page and willing to take the risk.

M: In general, like it doesn’t matter like what it is, and sometimes with like which barriers is an issue, um, but any, on any issue it’s getting people to agree on like a strategy around the same page is always difficult, but you know, we’ve had a lot of success. I mean you can look around the room and there’s like photos of all sorts of different wins and different campaigns that have happened. Like this one right behind you, with the wage staff. You know folks will come in and be like, ‘hey you know, this job is not paying me’ and typically it’s usually a group of people that are not being paid, uh and that’s easier for us to resolve than if it’s like one person from a construction contractor. That’s super hard to get, go after because they’re contracted work. But if it’s something like, you know, people who all work for the same cleaning company or work for the same post office or whatever it is, it’s easier to go after that and you can utilize public pressure, media, to kind of lift that stuff up. So that’s all kind of a lot of what we do. (15:40) A lot about just getting justice people.

C: So you end up doing more uh reaching out to people or do people come to you because of a problem?

M: I never go looking for a problem

C: Ok

M: So it’s, uh, so in terms of community outreach, yes we do community outreach just on sort of education issues, or when it come to like policy and doing some of that at the state capital. But when it comes to actual issues when it comes to you know grassroots in the community, people just walk in the door and are like you know I have this issue, this person’s not paying me. Or I was like racially profiled by the police, you know etc etc. So it just depends, no day here is normal. [laughter]

C: Oh, I’m sure [laughter]. I’m sure.

M: I love when people ask, “what do you?” It’s like well how do I describe this. So yeah, it makes for a fun work environment, it also makes for kind of an exhausting work environment, it’s kind of heavy. So uh, self care. we were talking earlier  about taking vacations.

C: Mhm.

M: you know sometimes you really need it. But also, i mean I told myself when I graduated school, I kind of laid out just some guidelines for myself of yeah…like requirements. So i didn’t want, not like a normal 9-5 but I just didn’t want a pencil pusher job.

C: yeah.

M: I had a lot of friends that graduating school and just worked for Nationwide or go work for whoever, whatever it is. where it’s like not meaningless work, but sort of like you know you’re just like…

C: Sort of mundane?

M: Yeah! very mundane, and I didn’t want that. I wanted my life to have meaning, you know you wanna, and it’s like obviously those jobs are necessary, but also I want to know that I’m going to work everyday and the things that I’m doing are impacting and I can see the results or like I know that I’m doing something good. Which comes with that moral compass of that Catholic guilt. [laughter]

C: [laughter]

M: That darn Catholic guilt! uh yeah, but it’s just like I think back about when i reconnected with my dad’s dad, my grandfather, and like talking about all this stuff. It was  really interesting to hear about how he grew up and all the struggles and all that. and it just kind of puts into perspective that I might not be suffering directly, but someone suffered for me to get here and it would be really just, i don’t know, it’s just insensitive for me to like, privileged really, to go through life thinking like, ‘ugh everything’s all great’ and it’s like no, you know someone in your family struggled to get you to where you are , and so it’s a pay it forward. Really.

C: Yeah, I like the pay it forward.

M: It is! Cause there’s other families that are still going through this stuff and I’m not gonna fix everything you know, but if there’s like some way that I can use like the skills that I’ve developed my education, and whatever in actual talents I may have, to help someone a little bit in life, that’s worth it.

C: So, would you say that your grandpa was your biggest motivator in doing that? Or…

M: I think so, or just like family in general.

C: Yeah

M: I mean, like work ethic is just something like, you know on my mom’s side, you know we had a small family business. And like being a part of that, you know, and sort of seeing the difference in how small businesses, family businesses is run vs like a corporation. Because eventually we were bought out by a very large corporation that bought out all the family businesses, all the small businesses in the Midwest, so, now they’re just a monopoly. Um, so just interesting you know there’s that aspect. And you know, connecting that with the work here obviously, you know, our slogan here is, you know, “people plan it before profits and polluters” So, it’s, everything relates back to that aspect of privatization and profits should not be a priority. The people need to come first, so it’s interesting kind of connecting both sides of like my mom’s side and my dad’s side to like what I do now, because it’s like a nice happy medium [laughter]. And connecting to I think sometimes the immigrant community. There’s so much going on in their lives, that it’s hard to see the big picture. Right, like uh my boss isn’t paying me and now I have to make rent and you know etc etc etc. Which is important and you must address that issue. At the same time, look at the bigger issue in that this company that’s not paying you is making millions of dollars every year and they’re saying they can’t afford to give you a raise or give you health insurance or whatever it is. It’s B.S.

C: Hhm.

M: (20:45) So, it’s also trying to connect people right. Because, beyond, once we resolve their issue, you want them to stay involved. Because guess what? There’s gonna be tomorrow, there’s gonna be a whole other group of people that need the same help, and so it’s about building that community and that support system for people, so that’s always again a big struggle right? Because it’s like once my problem’s been fixed, why do I want to stay involved?

C: Yeah.

M: So sometimes, people don’t stay involved, sometimes they do, it just depends on the person, but that’s the biggest goal, is like keeping people engaged in the work, you know.

C: That makes sense.

M: Yeah, for sure.

C: Um, you said that you kind of got like thrown into this job…

M: Uh-huh [laughter].

C: By coincidence, but I mean obviously, it’s working out for you, you’re enjoying it, but uh was there, was there any part of you that thought this is what you wanted to end up doing?

M: No idea, no. I had no idea this was even a thing. [laughter] Which is kind of funny, and i think, I think that honestly that’s really how most people get into organizing, is by chance.

C: Yeah

M: Like something happens in your life, where it really ticks you off, and you’re like, ‘man how do I fix that?’ and then you sort of just fall into organizing and um it’s really like community support, which is cool. Like the relationships you build, like CCI is, I would say the powerhouse in Iowa that does organizing, but we’re connected nationally to a bunch of different groups. and That, whenever we are able to get together, I just feel so, it’s kind of crazy when you get in a room with organizers cause you just feel like everyone’s brains are moving and so it’s really exciting cause you’re like ‘we should do this’ and ‘we could do that’ and so it’s fun to get together and like think about strategy because yeah with things locally, I think local stuff is the most important, but at the same time we have this big national stuff that has to get done, and so how are we all on the same page when it comes to moving, like my local campaign is the same local campaign in Wisconsin, Illinois, California. Like, we’re moving these things so that we can finally get to the top and knock some things out. And also good people in office that should be in office. That’s an end goal [laughter], always.

C: So, do you do a lot of political stuff then?

M: I would say our work is fairly intertwined, like politically.

C: Okay.

M: Um, and that is always difficult for some people, because some people are always like I don’t want to be involved in politics. And I used to be like that, I used to be one of those people that like I don’t know, I just, and that’s from a place of privilege that I can just say, ‘well I’m not really impacted a whole lot, so I don’t see it directly in front of me, therefore I can ignore it.

C: Mhm

M: Rose-colored glasses. And that’s how I lived my life for awhile, kind of until really I got into college and you know and had more exposure to different friend groups essentially. And was like, ‘wow this is really fucked up, like why’ and then it’s sort of like, ‘why have i never, I mean maybe I have seen this but I just said I didn’t care about it’ Um, and I think a lot of people are kind of like that, and it’s not anything people should feel bad about, I don’t think. Cause I don’t think quilting people into doing something is the way to get people to do something. But a lot of it is like hey wake up. A lot of our work is like wake up this is what’s happening around you, and trying to connect these small issues. Local everyday problems that you’re having to big picture stuff, to simplify it, is a huge part of our work. So I think everything that we do is related to something political because policy impacts your life. I mean recently, we were working on trying to make Des Moines a welcoming city, and that really is like pushing city officials to be more cognizant of the suffering that immigrants go through. I mean, our population here is, we have a huge diverse population. There’s over 100 languages spoken in this city, but yet what does the city lift up. Oh my God, come live in these amazing luxury apartments, or look at where the development happens and, so you see who’s in and who’s out. And so, it’s those kinds of things where connecting the immigrant community and getting them more engaged civically is really important, because you mean, you look at the population and it’s like why are there only, in the entire state of Iowa like five or six elected Latinos? On school board or city councils, not even the legislature, there’s not one. And so, it’s just kind of bogus because they make up the biggest populations in terms of minorities in Iowa. We’re a pretty white state, but they make up like 6 or 7 % of the population, that’s huge. And there’s not one legislator that represents them? There’s one city council person west liberty, I mean that’s nuts. So it’s trying to connect people beyond just  staying in their own community. Like, Hey you can do good and we should be taking these positions. (25:52)

C: Do you think that when you do work with individuals here, um I know that sometimes you said some of them will leave and not come back and then some of them will remain engaged. Do you think that that um those that do remain engaged, is that helpful, do they want to get more involved in policy and all that ?

M: Hm, yeah. I think the people that stay engaged see the big picture. We call it a world view. We have an intersectionality, which is like a big white person word [laughter]. Uh, but it is, everything’s connected, so I think the people that stick around see that. You know and it’s like ok great my issue was resolved, everyone goes through problems, but I think them being connected is also very helpful to pull in other people. Right, that’s also how we rely on. Because don’t know me and so they don’t trust me formatted. So a lot of it’s relationship building, and so it’s like, ‘hey who do you know’ should I, a lot of what I do is I sit down and have one on ones with people, just talking with people and making that connection um, just about life. Like tell me about yourself, half the time when i go on one on ones I’m just listening to them, like do this essentially, like tell me your life story over lunch or coffee or something or whatever it is.

C: [laughter] yeah, right!

M: Um, and so it’s just connecting people all over, you know it’s people power essentially is what it is, because a lot of what society is about is like divide and conquer, and individualism and you have to remember that you can’t do anything alone.

C: Yeah

M: And so I think it’s super important, and it’s always hard, when we’ve had to transition away from, you know I pointed back at the wage theft work. Um, we’ve somewhat transitioned away from that because it was a lot of like service based where people would just come and say, ‘I want my money back’. And we, what good is it if I’m calling your employer and saying, ‘hey you’re not paying this person’ they don’t know me.

C: yeah,

M: Right, right, what’s more powerful is like, oh you and all your coworkers got together and went into their office and refused to leave the office until your paychecks were cleared. You know, that’s more powerful than if some random woman called and saying, ‘hey you should pay these people’ [laughter]. But that, that to me, but again it’s a fear thing. So, building that community, building that trust it’s a part of it. It’s a slow road.

C: I’m sure

M: Nothing happens overnight. I don’t think I’ve ever had a campaign that  has been less than 2 months, I mean it’s a long  time just to get a little bit, and that’s a big part of what deters people, is like why does it take so long. It’s like well…or people are like, ‘I want a lawyer’ and I’m thinking, you’re gonna spend a bunch of money on a lawyer and it’s gonna take years for you to resolve this issue, or how about we try something different where you aren’t spending a ton of money. And, where you’re also building your relationships, networking, and resolving your issue. And still probably a couple months or longer, but it’s not gonna take certainly 2 or 3 years and you’re not relying on a corrupt court system to help you.

C: Uh-huh. So, you were just talking about the divide and conquer individualist…

M: Uh-huh.

C: of the United States. And I know you went to Spain for awhile and you work with immigrants. Do you think that they find it challenging when they arrive here and it’s such an individualistic culture that..?

M: Kinda, I mean like…

C: Does that throw them off at all?

M: I think that, what I’ve noticed just about immigrant groups in general is that when you come to a new space, and I did this when I went to Spain, and you find people that are like you and you kind of collect yourselves. And I knew this before going there, and so it was like ok I’m not going live with all the English speaking people, when I go to look at an apartment I’m gonna live with non-English speaking people so I’m also forced to like acclimate and you know explore and understand things, but in general I think, you know, especially with like refugees. The way the immigrant process is set up, at least with refugees for sure is that you must live with a like relative and or friend or someone who’s connected to your family for x amount of time. So you either have to live with them or you have to live across the street essentially. So they already like segregate you through that process, the same with immigration if you sponsor someone whatever it is. Or when you come here, typically when you come here it’s like, ‘well my cousin’s there’

C: Yeah.

M: So, a lot of people kind of self-segregate a little bit because it’s part of their comfort. And so trying to bridge the gaps between different cultures and different populations is super hard. Um, so I’m not sure if necessarily individualism aspect has an impact. Definitely self-interest, always. You know, whenever you’re in some sort of struggle of course you are going to put yourself first. You’re like I gotta worry about me and mine

C: Yeah.

M: And that’s normal I think for any person, especially when it’s like a fight or flight kind of thing, that’s normal. But at the same time too there’s a lot of self segregation where and I’ve noticed this more so now that immigration and customs enforcement is more prevalent and active in taking people, disappearing people and deporting them. Uh, in terms of responding to that I think you see a lot of, within the Latina community at least, relying on themselves and not really wanting outside help and that is a little bit detrimental I think. Right, because you’re putting all this pressure on your own community. It’s like, ‘well we can do it, we can check ourselves and we don’t need anyone else.’ It’s that pride…

C: yeah.

M: that comes with it, but at the same time it’s a problem, because you’re limiting your resources, you’re burning out your people and you’re also like putting yourselves at risk when you could, this is a perfect opportunity for you to rely on those white allies that really like should be doing more and also exercise their privilege as citizens to do more. I don’t think undocumented people, for the longest time, you know there’s sometimes where you should be leading the charge, there’s other times where, you know, protect yourself and let someone else come in and help a little bit.

C: Yeah, yeah.

M: So that you can take a break, because it’s exhausting. And that’s my encounter at least with DACA recipients. And with Drake, I mean I’m sure you know a lot about just, they’ve been, your, the school’s been really good about everything with DACA, and a lot of my friends went to Drake who have DACA and so um, that’s a population I for sure see the most stressed out.

C: Yeah, it’s hard to get people to ask for help.

M: I mean, it’s just in general. I mean I’m the same way of just like, you wanna, not feel accomplished but your like, I could do it.

C: Yeah

M: And I think just societally like asking for help is always seen as a weakness.

C: yeah, especially in our society.

M: Mhm, for sure.

C: Yeah.

M: So, the individual aspect thing is interesting, I see that more in terms of politically you’re able to divide people that way, uh, through the individual but also into different groups. Sometimes like identity politics can be really dangerous.

C: Okay.

M: So, you want to have that identity, right, but you also want to but you also can’t get caught, so caught up. It’s a fine line between getting caught up in it, um to the point where you’re pushing out people that really could be helping you.

C: Mhm

M: So you have to know like when to slow your roll a little bit. [laughter]

C: Yeah, it’s a hard, hard thing to figure out where to draw that line. Interesting. Uh, when you were in Spain, I know it’s like different when, you knew you were there temporarily…

M: yeah.

C: and that’s obviously much different than being an immigrant, but do you think that your experience while you were there is helpful to the work that you do now?

M: I think so, um, now, the interesting thing is, just seeing the way that a different government handles a visa process. Right?

C: yeah.

M: I was, I applied for a program that was government sponsored in which I had a visa that had a very strict deadline. And within that program, I know people that extended their deadline, that you can extend the deadline, or went over it. When you go over it, I mean it’s, they will find you. It’s not like you can just kinda hang out, which is different than here where it’s very lackadaisical. Most people don’t cross the border in the United States, like people aren’t just like flooding over the gate, and like crawling through rivers and stuff, that’s not. I’m sure there’s some people that, I know people that have walked through the desert and done the whole thing. (35:18) Had the coyotes take them over, that’s not the majority of people though, most people just overstay their visas. And the bureaucracy is so backed up that people don’t follow through. That was not how it was when I was there. It was very clear that like you better, this is your end date and you have a grace period of like 2 weeks to like if you want to travel or like whatever you’re doing, but then you need to be back in your country, that’s how it is.

C: Yeah.

M: Um, and if you were planning on traveling you had to notify the government, I mean they were very, they were up to speed on all of their things. Now, bureaucracy can get in the way of a lot of things,that was something that was not you know, they were able to do. And so I just kind of thought about it in terms of, you know, let’s say I was to overstay my visa. What would I do for work? How would I support myself? And that’s something that I reflect on here, because I think that’s how you see the way labor is here.

C: Yeah.

M: Because there are people that know, you’re in a vulnerable spot, you don’t have a social security number or I-tin? and so I can take advantage of you because you’re desperate and you need this job, so I can pay you minimum wage or less and get away with it. So, that’s where I try to connect the policy aspect to it because this is about government needing to work better. And working for people, um so it was interesting cause I definitely like reflected on that of like, ‘man, what would I do?’ if I did stay here, and you know I had friends that like did that, and the only options really that you had was uh you could work for cash and tutor, so I did that just on the side of like hey, I’d charge like 10 euros and hours to like teach English essentially. Um and do English classes, you can get a company to um try and sponsor you potentially, or you could work like work for cash like at a restaurant. That’s really like those are the options, that’s kinda really it. So, it’s a lot of like off the books stuff, which is dangerous. But, also in a country that has more access to health care than us. That was my first exposure to universal health care.

C: mhm, yeah.

M: Which was nuts [laughter].  It was crazy that I, I, technically an immigrant, right? Came to that country under a visa, had just an insurance card, they just said, ‘here ya go it’s good for everything’ Legit, was good for everything, I never paid anything, and I got sick several times. Like at one point I went to Morocco and got like insanely, like a bad parasite, like insanely sick. Where I just was like, it was bad. Nope, i never saw a bill, ever. It was like I went to a place they saw doctors and specialists, free. 100% and that’s for someone who is on a visa. So, it’s just crazy to think about even people here who are citizens, like, uh sorry this doctor’s booked up for a month and a half because your insurance is only covered by this person. So, it’s just interesting to see the differences and the priorities of different, uh governments, and connecting that and thinking about that aspect too. Because obviously, like Central American is so different too than like an immigrant coming from Eastern Europe or Asia or whatever it is. So, understanding the cultural differences is a huge aspect of all this stuff too, so, it’s a lot.

C: Yeah, yeah, do you think exposure to different cultures helps?

M: Yes, 100%. Because you have to, even in with just working within just Latino community, you have to understand there’s so many different subcultures. Right? And you have to understand that there’s stereotypes that El Salvadorians have about, you know, Mexicans or Puerto Ricans have about Cubans or whatever, and you have to understand that because you can’t just bring brown people to the table and say, ‘let’s work together’ because if you don’t understand culturally anything about, or even personally anything about any of those people, even neighborhoods, that’s that’s an issue. And it all plays into effect and I think sometimes that’s a big issue that I have with like advocacy organizations sometimes, because um, it’s not as easy as just going and finding someone and saying, ‘hey can you come and tell your story?’ and it’s like no, you can’t exploit people like that [laughter]

C: Yeah.

M: You can’t just, and you know it’s well meaning white people that do it. they have the best intentions, but the best intentions don’t have the best results. So, it’s um a lot goes into thinking about this sort of stuff. (40:02)

C: Yeah, and..

M: And being sensitive.

C: Yeah, for sure. When you’re working with people who, um, do have stereotypes and pre-conceived notions about the other people that are in the room, how do, how do you deal with that?

M: We kind of have to have a conversation.

C: Yeah.

M: Like a group conversation

C: Yeah, so like how do you improve like cultural competency with other people, Because it’s one thing to work on yourself, but when you’re working with others (40:28)

M: We have a good example of that, um my co-worker, uh she runs the racial justice project, which mainly focuses on black issues within like law enforcement

C: Ok

M: When we first started talking about it, it was bringing together, you know, like people in the black community, people in the Latino community. Because what we both were seeing, was they’re facing the same racial profiling, the same issue, but it ended up kind of being like, ‘I’m more oppressed than you’ that kind of a competition, like my experience is different than your experience, and so it was a lot of, it it’s still a struggle. I mean  it’s been a couple years and it’s still really hard. for the most part, again, building the relationships with individuals has been helpful, because it’s, it’s started off with a group of people that don’t really know each other, and so you’re just going to generalize about another population, everyone does it.

C: Yeah

M: A lot of it was like, let’s have group conversation, and let’s connect. I mean, your story might be more similar to my story than you’d think. And so, it took, it’s a lot of effort, like it’s a lot of work to do that sort of stuff, an it’s a lot of uncomfortable conversations. But I think that, being uncomfortable is good.

C: Yeah.

M: Cause you have to, you’re never going to grow if you don’t get out of your own skin. There were some people that like removed themselves from the group, that like couldn’t get past it, and were like, ‘no, I don’t want to work with this community, I want to help my community. It’s like ok, I mean that’s that’s the struggle of organizing in general, and working with different populations is sure you have this idea of like wouldn’t it be grand if we could all just get together, but that’s how people in power stay in power. It’s divide and conquer, I mean we all have the same oppressor, but are we all working together? No- and that’s beyond even communities of color. I mean you could look at any issue, you could look at an environmental issue, you could look at a labor issue. Any issue you could be looking at, yes the end goal is the same to divide, to knock out that top person that’s oppressing everyone, but it’s getting everyone to work together at the bottom that’s really always hard.

C: Yeah I’m sure [laughter].

C: Um, let’s see…um I don’t think we ever actually touched on what you studied while you were in college.

M: Mmm, yeah um.

C: I know that’s kind of backtracking a little bit, but I’ve realized I was curious.

M: We kind of, well, we kind of thought this was how this would go right?, we’ll just go down a bunch of gravel roads and we did.

C: Yes, [laughter]

M: Um, but that’s how these things go, I think. (43.28) Um, so I studied Spanish, and international studies. In international studies I specifically focused on uh regionally, Latin American. Um, so a lot of public health, economic policy, neoliberalism, like all of, essentially just like what was our, the US influence on that region specifically.

C: Okay

M: And again that had to deal with, I wanna know, like why, why, why didn’t my grandparents just stay where they were at? Why did they come here? Um, and so that too also was a huge connection of, I mean there was one class, and I will remember for the rest of my life, great class, it was Public Health in Mexico, and the influence that Rockeffler and the CocaCola company had on Mexico completely transformed the entire country in the way that their physical health is. In that, like I’m very prone to diabetes because of my Mexican heritage because of CocaCola.

C: How interesting

M: Because Coke and buying CocaCola is cheaper than water.

C: Yeah…

M: Water is scare there and it’s, I mean I could drink a whole pack of cokes before I buy a bottle of water. So it’s just interesting to see how like corporations can completely transform an entire country. And someone’s like genetic make up is nuts, I mean it’s just crazy. And so like, like that connects right. You end up making these connections and you have these Aha! moments and so that’s, and I also went to the University of Iowa, which I think was a fairly liberal minded school, um so in terms of exposure to ideas, I would not say that I was very much exposed to a lot of conservatism. Um, and the courses I chose to take, again was a lot of uh, most of my teachers were from Spain, which was interesting. Talking about like Latin America studies, but they’re from Spain.

C: Spain, yeah…

M: So they themselves were not even really from…I think I had a teacher from like Colombia, but for the most part I did not have a teacher from like Mexico or El Salvador. It was either like 2 South America countries or Spain. So, just interesting, again to look at the privilege of that complex, because typically people in Spain are more educated than people, that you think about in Central America. Um, so interesting to look at that too. I think that shaped a lot of it, um, I think academia is a good outlet something, but also [laughter] you can get caught up in…you know.

C: [laughter] yeah.

M: Again, we’re up here, talking about things instead of

C: On the ground level

M: Mhm. But again, that all results back to like family stuff, where it’s like I was so, just looking for, for that piece that was missing?

C: Do you think that you filled that piece through your, like college and your education experience, or connecting with your family again, or …

M: I think it all went back to wanting to connect to my family, and that’s still a work in progress. Yeah, cause its like, yeah it’s just a work in progress, and it’s almost sort of frustrating for me because it’s almost like too little, too late. Like my grandparents are super old, and so it’s also like connecting to my dad’s siblings a little bit on that regard. So I’ve connected a lot with my uncle, my dad’s brother, like a ton. And that’s really, that’s yeah it’s a family thing really. And it all comes back to that really, like that family connection and feeling fulfilled. Uh, cause really in life, like what do you have? That’s what you have; you know, is like your family. You know, if you even have that, or yourself. Right? And so I think that was a big, and not to say like my main, I grew up with like my mom’s family and like they’re wonderful. We’re extremely close, but that extreme closeness, we did not have that with my dad’s side. And so it was like why? Why not? And like culturally I’m kind of irritated that we missed out on so much awesome shit. [laughter]

C: [laughter] yeah.

M: Cause’ it’s like I have a good relationships with a couple of like families that I’ve worked with here, and it’s just like ugh man, Like I miss going to my Great Aunt Molly’s and like making tamales together and like doing that sort of stuff. So it’s, it’s just that aspect that I miss culturally.

C: Yeah, do you think your siblings have similar, or it didn’t bother them at all?

M: They’re just so different than I am. I mean, I think that I am, I am the bridge in that they have taken more of an interest

C: Okay yeah!

M: And I’ve always been much of like, I want something I go get it. My brother and sister are not like that at all, not to say that they’re you know, they’re successful in their own right, but they’re just so different. (48:34) Um, and it’s more of an I’m gonna wait for you to come to me kind of a thing, whereas I’m more like no, I’m gonna do this now, like I want it and I don’t want to wait for it to come to me, I’m going to do it now.

C: Yeah.

M: So, we’ll get to the same place eventually, but I will get there first [laughter].

C: [laughter].

M: So yeah, so that’s been like interesting, I think like, you know my brother more so than other aspects, in terms of like language. You know, my dad and my brother both have like taken up speaking, trying to learn Spanish.

C: Mhm

M: Um, and that aspect of it, and I think when I was in Spain and had my family come, it was pulling teeth to get them to visit, which I was like, come on what the hell? So it was like come and visit, let me show you some cool stuff, and it was cool to see like, when we were there, just his like demeanor change, which was cool.

C: In a good way?

M: In a good way, yeah. Cause, again I don’t think you realize what’s missing from you until you have, until you feel that connection and you’re kinda like you just feel that connection and you’re like, ‘huh this feels normal’

C: Huh, that’s neat.

M: Which yeah, it’s really like, it’s nice. And so it’s like I wish that, I wish that my brother and sister would maybe have that, you know moment. But I don’t think it’s as big of a like missing, maybe a missing piece for them as it was for me. I don’t really know what it is; we never really talked in depth about it.

C: Yeah

M: Um, so I don’t necessarily know if it bothers them a whole ton. I mean to me it doesn’t seem like it does, um but I definitely like I think that me, through pursuing some things has been more eye opening for them, of like huh. Makes them think, which is good. I mean if I can do that that’s a win.

C: Yeah, it’s taking steps and growing their interest. That’s good.

M: Totally, mhm. Yeah I think so. And it’s just interesting to see like, I don’t know how to best describe this, like on my mom’s side, in terms of comparing generations of when they come over. Similar time periods, from like Germany to my other side from Mexico. So it’s like why is there really not so much of a cultural, I guess connection to those roots, versus like when you look at Mexican families, Latino families in general, tend to have more of a bring their culture with them.

C: Yeah, yeah.

M: Right, you know it’s like, I don’t know, I’m trying to even just think of like some things that like would be considered part of my German heritage that we still do. Which really is not a lot.

C: Yeah, there’s really not a ton.

M: You know, like the farming aspect maybe.

C: And it’s the same time period?

M: More or less, yeah. So it’s kinda of like, what’s that disconnect?

Yeah, that’s interesting. And I, that’s probably a question that I probably will always have, cause it’s just like you know I’ll ask my grandpa on my dad’s side and kinda like mm.[laughter] I don’t know this is just kinda the way we are, and it’s, you know.

C: Yeah, yeah,

M: So it’s interesting to compare uh, and I just wonder if it’s like a white and people of color thing. I don’t really know, you know, I don’t know. Like I don’t, like it’s interesting to see (52:06) cause like I have other friends that are from like Cambodia or India and their families are also very still in depth, in touch with their culture and then I have other friends and it’s like they’re Scottish but they don’t really do a whole bunch of stuff related to that. So it’s interesting to think about where people are coming from and like what traditions they bring over, or if, or is the United States more traditionally European based, like do we have more connection with European roots that we don’t necessarily see it as. Right, so things to think about! [laughter]

C: Right yeah, if you ever find an answer on that, let me know! I, I never have!

M: [laughter]. These are things I think about at night!

C: Yeah, it’s pretty weird. I don’t know, part of me thinks maybe it’s just the assimilation aspect of, especially during that time period in the early 20th century it’s like ok, you’ve gotta figure out how to assimilate now, but…

M: Uh-huh, but I always wonder too is like, do other people feel this like yearning, this need, like I have this empty space and I need to fill it. You know?

C: Yeah

M: Cause like, so it’s interesting, my boyfriend recently went through the whole ancestry thing, and like you know, went through the whole spiel and was like cool, and like they give you some names and you kinda, and then you can kinda go from there and he like called a bunch of historical societies, it’s interesting what you can find out through going through that of like oh man, like they…It’s so that that sort of stuff is like maybe people took the time, just figuring that stuff out. Cause I think knowing where you came from is super important and it clearly has an impact whether you know it or not on what you do or what you’re doing in your life.

C: mhm, yeah.

M: So it’s just interesting to reflect on that sort of stuff.

C: Yeah

M: And for some people it’s important and for some people it’s not. For me, it’s like a driving force for other people I think it’s just a…nothing

C: Fun facts about where I’m from..

M: Sure, it’s like ‘oh neat anyway, moving on to whatever else is going to be next.’

C: It’s weird how for some people it’s so much more important than for others.

M: Yeah, it just depends on the person, so yeah, I don’t know. Anything else that you want to pry at [laughter].

C: Oh gosh, I don’t know. Well, we’ve been talking for awhile so if we do want to move on. Well, is there anything else you wanna kinda close up, what else would you want to talk about next time we meet?

M: Uh, I don’t know, I mean it could be like, we talked a lot about the past, we could be talking about the future at some point.

C: Yeah!

M: Of like, where this is all going, that’s always fun to talk about, hypotheticals! Who knows! It’d be cool to also kinda reflect on, I mean this is oral history, so it’s interesting to, let’s see if I come back in 10 years and listen to this and see if I am right. [laughter].

C: That’s true! See how far you get.

M: [laughter], Yeah, hopefully I achieve what I set out to, I suppose.

C: Yeah, we can do that.

M: Sounds good.

C: Okay, yeah well then, let’s plan on talking about the future.

M: Sounds good. So hopefully this was not, hopefully this was interesting.


Transcript: Interview 2