Where did you grow up?
“I grew up in the western suburbs. I’ve lived here my entire life. I’ve been in the same house for 16 years.
My parents are Jehovah’s witnesses. My brother and I were both born into it. We didn’t know anything else. So, it was pretty strict growing up. I wasn’t allowed to have friends that weren’t Jehovah’s witnesses. It was stressful.
There were little things I couldn’t do. They don’t celebrate birthdays. One time, in kindergarten, we were celebrating a birthday in the classroom and I came home from school with a cupcake and my mom was like, freaking out about it. They don’t celebrate anything, basically.
They really go into it. If it wasn’t brought here by a God (Jehovah), then they don’t celebrate it. He didn’t say to.
When I think back, there was never something that I was following. It was more to please my parents. I always thought, ‘What else?’ My classmates did something else. I wanted to know what they were doing. Even if it was just like, Christmas dinners, I wanted to know what that was like.
They understood my interest in knowing what else was out there. They never told me not to do it, but they never said it was OK. When I was in high school, I had a really good teacher who told me, ‘Live the way you want to live.’
When I was in eighth grade, my brother came out to me. He told me before our parents. I think since then, I started questioning everything.
They don’t believe in heaven or hell. They believe in a paradise. You can be resurrected and you can spend eternity in paradise – if you follow Jehovah’s way. I always thought, ‘What’s the point in me being there with my parents if my brother can’t be there?’
You’re not supposed to date anyone outside of the religion. I’ve never been baptized. You are baptized when you’re older, when you say you want to be. I’m dating someone who’s a Buddhist. We’ve been together for a while and my parents see that he’s a good person, so I think they’re starting to change. It’s still unnerving to want to tell them things and I’m like, ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea.’
What do you necessarily believe in?
“I don’t think I need a certain thing to call my own. To believe in something higher. Realizing I wasn’t a Jehovah’s witness. I thought about Buddhism. I thought about Judaism. I never felt like I needed that. I never felt like I needed something.
I think one of the good things about Jehovah’s witnesses is that they don’t believe in heaven or hell. When you die, you die. It’s like you’re sleeping. You don’t feel anything. You don’t haunt anyone. There’s nothing like that.
I think that’s very consoling. For me, for an afterlife, I think it would be cool if there was a possibility that you could go on and do something else. I don’t need that thought in my mind. If I’m just sleeping forever, that’s fine. I love naps anyway. If there’s something that helps you go to sleep at night and something that helps you wake up in the morning, that’s your call.”
Have you done a lot of traveling outside of Chicago?
“Not really. My parents are Mexican. They’re immigrants, so we would go there almost every summer. My mom, the first time she crossed the river, she was 14. She crossed a total of three or four times and she got caught the other times.
Then, she met my dad over here at work. At a factory. My dad had come here legally because of the Bracero Program. Mexicans would come over here and work their way up to citizenship and pass it on to their family.
I don’t know how my mom did it without something really bad happening to her. She wasn’t raped or anything. I think today, there’s no way that would happen. She would not be here if she tried to do that today.
I think it’s just going to be more and more difficult. Thank god she got citizenship through my dad and the rest of the family got citizenship through her because now, that takes years and years if you’re going to do a formal request.
I think [the American dream] exists still, but you come here and it falls apart. You think you can come here and get a job and make money to support your family, but paying for anything is hard. Even kids who are born here, even with a college education, it’s not easy. Minimum wage sucks. My brother has a degree from Yale and he is still having trouble finding a job.”
How is Mexico different culturally from the United States?
“My best friend, her and her family went on a cruise to Mexico. Some touristy town. They were like, ‘It was so dirty. The houses were painted bright pink and bright blue.’
I’m like, ‘Yeah, but that’s where my parents grew up. I think that’s so pretty.’
I haven’t been there in years, probably since I was 12.
My parents are from the mountain areas, like northern Mexico. Everyone knows each other and talks to each other. I’ve lived in my house for 16 years and there are still neighbors who ignore me when I walk outside. I’ll wave and then act like I wasn’t waving because they won’t say, ‘Hi.’
I really like Chicago, but I definitely want to travel. My major is anthropology, the study of people; study of cultures. With anthropology, I think traveling is pretty important.
How would you define culture?
“Culture is the way in which people in a certain region live and interact. One of the coolest things about archaeology especially, is how much we can tell from people’s trash. They research pieces of poop and they can tell what they ate and their diet and what they sustained off of. How these people lived, possibly how they died.
I think there’s a lot you can learn from ancient cultures to help you today. I grew up watching The Mummy and was into ancient Egypt and stuff like that. I really like ancient Chinese culture.
In this one Asian art class, we learned about the first emperor of China. Where he’s buried, it’s massive. He was buried with warriors. Each one has a different face and looks totally different. It’s a massive army and he has a room of acrobats to keep him entertained in the afterlife.
Death culture is really cool to me. There’s so much to be uncovered but at the same time, we can’t uncover all of it without destroying it.”
What do you think has repeated historically throughout cultures?
“I would have never thought what is happening today could have happened with the administration. I guess I have a really closed-off view because I grew up in America. For people to be scared for their lives in America, today, is terrifying.
My boyfriend doesn’t understand protest or rebellion. He’s like, ‘You’re not going to make a difference. This is the way it is. He’s your president. You can’t change that.’
Then, I think about slaves that rebelled in Haiti and how it was a total free nation after that. I guess the trend of privilege and being a different color means something everywhere. I would hope that it wouldn’t always be a problem.
I think if you are not acting in a form of rebellion, then you have some kind of privilege to not be angry about it. If you’re angry and you show you’re angry – peaceful, not peaceful – but if you’re just sitting around and being OK with what’s happening, you’re not going to change anything.
I think telling us or the people that ‘You can’t change it’ is discouraging. I was reading an article yesterday in Teen Vogue and one of the quotes was, ‘I think to tell young teenage girls “Go focus on your lipstick” is irresponsible. You have to tell them to stand up for what you believe is right.’
I think if you’re not going to do something to change it, if you’re comfortable sitting in the background, that’s you. But, I’m not going to sit here and be comfortable with what’s happening.
What am I going to tell my kids? ‘Oh, I just sat around. I didn’t go to these things. I didn’t say, “This is wrong.”‘ If this was the time of the Nazis, what would you say to your kids?
My mom, she’s a cashier at a restaurant. I worry about what people think they can get away with. Even before, people would be rude to her because she has an accent or they would straight-up say, ‘I don’t want her taking my order. She’s not going to understand me.’ She’s been in this country longer than she’s been in Mexico. She went to school here. She would never go back to Mexico.
What is the environment like working at Starbucks?
At my store, I’m the only non-white person. It was kind of cool because they’re really accepting. I started working at this other place but I didn’t feel accepted. Starbucks was a totally different environment.
This other place paid more and was full-time but I went back to Starbucks because it didn’t feel right. Some customers know I’m Mexican and they feel comfortable talking to me in Spanish.
Personally, I’ve never had something happen to me. People don’t know what I am. But, for someone like my mom, who is a darker skin tone than me and has an accent, they know she wasn’t born here. Maybe she doesn’t have the knowledge or strength to confront someone when they’re being rude to her, but I wouldn’t let someone get away with that.
We know what we’re there for [at Starbucks]. The whole idea of, ‘Yeah, this is a coffee place.’ But, at the same time, we want to know your name. That’s the most basic way to get to know someone.
I’ve worked at other stores and it’s been more uptight. Like, they just want to get you in and out. Here, everybody knows everybody. Everyone talks to one another. Sure, there’s store drama or whatever but it’s a very different, open environment. I think when you work somewhere you’re not comfortable at, you know it. It’s a gut feeling. But at Starbucks, I never felt like that.
It’s weird when you walk into a place and you see people that look like you cleaning on the floor or behind the counter. That’s just how it felt. Plus, I’m Mexican-American, so there’s certain vocabulary that’s lost on me.
You want to try to talk to these people, but you feel like you’re going to sound dumb. They’ll just be like, ‘Oh, she’s some American girl.’ It’s a weird in-between of, ‘You’re Mexican, but you’re American, but you’re not enough of each.'”