Adolfo Briceño

Basic Interview Metadata

Interview Text and Audio


Adolfo Briceño is Program Manager of Human Relations and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the City of Winston-Salem. He shares his early life experience in Mérida, Mexico, where he was born and educated. Having studied economics, he grew disillusioned with the field while working as a mortgage analyst at a Cancún bank and switched careers to become a journalist for El Diario de Yucatán. During his tenure there, Adolfo was approached with a job opportunity by Qué Pasa, a North Carolina-based newsletter serving the state’s Spanish-speaking community. After five years at Qué Pasa, he again switched careers to work in fair housing investigation and landlord-tenant mediation for the City of Winston-Salem. Though his duties have expanded, he still works in this role today. Adolfo shares several stories from his time as a journalist, including his coverage of deportation, and imparts his thoughts on discrimination in the US drawn from his experiences in local government.



Daniel Velásquez: Okay, I am Daniel Velásquez. I'm here with Adolfo Briceño, who is Program Manager of Human Relations and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the City of Winston-Salem. Today is May 26th of 2023, and we are conducting this via Zoom. Adolfo, thank you so much for being with us today and for sharing your story.
Adolfo Briceño: My pleasure, Daniel. My pleasure.
DV: Okay, Adolfo, to get started, could you tell me about your personal background, where you were born and raised, any early life experiences that you want to share?
AB: Yeah, sure. I was born in Mérida, Yucatán in Mexico. This is on the Yucatán Peninsula. I was born according to my birth certificate, right. Neither of us has a memory of that event, that momentous event, right, but my birth certificate says that I was born on the sixth of June 1972 in Mérida, Yucatán, which has been the, it is still, it has been traditional in the state capital of Yucatán. So, I was born there. My father has my same name. You know, in our countries, we, so he's Adolfo Enrique Briceño Acosta. That's my father's name. My mother's is Jader Lisbeth Medina Cano. Those were my parents. My father was always like a public employee. He worked for several state and federal agencies in Yucatán or in Mexico. And my mother was a teacher, schoolteacher, I think elementary school teacher. But she quit completely when I was born. I'm a twin brother, so I have a twin that he still lives in the Yucatán. My mother tragically passed away when I was five years old. It was a car accident. We were all in the vehicle, by the way. And so, I have very little memories of her, unfortunately. I don't know, growing up in Yucatán was always a very--. I never knew that, but Yucatán has, it's kind of isolated, you know, it's a peninsula, so it juts out into the sea. And because of that, we've always, it was always difficult access. I mean, I remember at some point--well I don't remember this, right--but I know that, that the connections, the highways that join Yucatán and with the rest of the country are fairly new. I'm talking about 1970s when they started. The, maybe the international airport started in 1969. So, this created, this kind of isolation created something of a unique perspective, a unique cultural identity for those people that live in Yucatán. We have a distinct accent from the rest of the Mexicans. We say things that only are said in Yucatán for the most part. And Yucatán, because of that isolation, used to look more into Cuba, and that's why I think that's why we have some, we have some words and expressions and sayings that are more from Cuba and the Caribbean than of Yucatán, I mean, the rest of Mexico. And I think that also plays into this unique identity that we have, people from Yucatán. I lived there all my life in Mérida until I was about thirty-six years old. Well, in reality, I lived four years in Cancun, too. Cancun is also in the Yucatán Peninsula, but in a neighboring state, but it's more or less the same thing, you know. So, I really didn't have any other experience until I came to the United States here in North Carolina, in Winston-Salem. And I have stayed here the whole time. So, my whole U.S. experience is Winston-Salem, here in North Carolina.
DV: Before you came to Winston-Salem, you were educated in Mexico, and you worked there for a while, correct?
AB: Yes, of course. I mean, I lived there. I went to the university, the state university in Yucatán, which is called the Autonomous, the Yucatán Autonomous University. I think that would be the correct translation. La Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán. It was also a very respected academic institution because people from neighboring states would come to study to Yucatán. So, I studied there and I had a Bachelor in economics. That's what I ended up studying. And upon graduation, right out of college, let's say, I started working for a bank. And that's my Cancun experience. It was a national bank called Banamex. Even when I was still working for Banamex, it was bought by the Citi Group. And I think they're still part of the Citi Group. So, I worked there four years as a mortgage analyst. That was my official title. And after that, I was kind of disillusioned. How do you say that, of the banking experience--.
DV: Disillusioned?
AB: Right, so, I started, I decided to take a completely different direction and I went to work for a newspaper. And that decision was very--. It's interesting how things happen because that decision in the end brought me to the United States, I think. I work for a newspaper in Yucatán called El Diario de Yucatán. It's one of the oldest newspapers in the Yucatán and very respected, too, because at the start of the paper, several, what do you call it, goons from the regime tried to destroy the paper. This was early 1900s, but they destroyed the presses. Goons, thugs--.
DV: This was during the Porfiriato period?
AB: Yeah by the regime, went inside the paper and destroyed the printing presses twice in five or six years, I don't know. The editor of that newspaper, in 1926, he was murdered inside the newspaper. Those were interesting times of political upheaval in Yucatán and in Mexico in general. And because of that, the paper had, until this day, has a lot of, what's the word, a lot of sway, you know, with the population. I'm looking for a different word. But I couldn't find it.
DV: Influence, perhaps?
AB: Influence, we could say influence. It was a different word what I was looking for, but you get my meaning. It's one of the leading newspapers in readership in the Yucatán. And I worked for them for about four years, another four years. And while I was working there, it was interesting how all these things happened. I knew--. I was, you know, new, relatively new, two or three years working into the paper. And a very experienced reporter called in sick that day, and they sent me to one of the offices. It was a press conference for one of the conservative parties in Mexico, PAN, El Partido de Acción Nacional, if you are familiar with it. At the end of that conference, the, how to say this, it's not the marketing, let's say the press guy from the state party approached me and said, I think I know you. Now, when I was still in college, I had a very, very brief stint of two or three months, perhaps six months, working at a different local newspaper and I was just trying to pay the bills, you know, or to have a little bit of money as I was a student. But I didn't like the, I mean, it really was taking me, taking a lot of time from my studying so I quit. So anyway, from that experience, he remembered me, this guy, and said, did you want to go to the United States to work? Sure, what do I have to do? He gave me a business card. And that business card was from the Executive Director of Qué Pasa, which at the time was Francisco Cámara. I've never met Francisco in my life, but Francisco was from Yucatán, from Mérida. And this guy tells me, yeah, he’s, my friend. He called me yesterday. He's looking for a reporter, but he needs someone that speaks English. You speak English, don't you? Yeah, I speak English. Okay, call him. He gave me a business card. Don't you think that's fate? It's a very interesting, interesting coincidence, you call it, whatever you want to call it. It's almost fate. Now, I did not call the guy immediately, to be completely honest with you. I called him like a year later.
DV: Wow.
AB: Yeah, but he, I explained the whole thing that I just explained to you, and I told him, do you still think I can work from there? And he says, look, I really don't need someone there, but I might in the future. Why don't you come here? And I did. I came there five days, and I worked, you know, he just wanted to see where I was with writing. And I left, and he said, okay, thank you very much, and they paid everything. They paid my stay, they paid the ticket plane. All I had to pay during this time was my meals. And he said, well, thank you. We'll call you. And I knew there was no promise at all to--.
DV: You went back home.
AB: I went back home, yeah, I did. And then about six months into the experience, after that, I texted him and said, hey, something happened, do you think there's still a chance? And I think he had completely forgotten about me. And he said something in the email. You know something? This is funny. But my reporter just told me yesterday that he's quitting. Yeah, yeah, let's do it. Come in, and it happened.
DV: Wow.
AB: I was very lucky how I came here because they sponsored me a work visa. And I arrived here in Winston-Salem in November. The fourth or sixth of November, I cannot remember now the date.
DV: What year?
AB: 2006.
DV: So, had you been looking to come to the United States or what was really behind you reaching out to them?
AB: I thought it was going to be a good opportunity and I knew that I would get paid more than I was going to pay there so I was pretty much the story so yeah it was interesting.
DV: Was it difficult to leave family behind?
AB: Well, I was single at the time. So, I never, that was the easy part. If I had been married and with children, probably would have been a little bit more problematic. But I was single. I mean, there was nothing really holding me there, except, you know, the friends that I left and lifelong friends and I'm still in contact with them, right. But it's different, you know, when you live in a different country.
DV: What about your twin brother?
AB: He's still there. He's still working there in Mérida. He's still there. He's still there. And my family, everybody's there still. The only one that's here, of the immediate family, let's say, it's me. I'm the only one that came here. So that's the story.
DV: Do you go back often? Do you miss it?
AB: I don't know. Of course, I miss it a lot. I miss the people that are left there, and I miss the food. And yeah, of course, I should be going, I hope, at the end of this year. And it's going to be the first time I go since 2015, so.
DV: Wow.
AB: It's been a while since the last time I was there, yeah.
DV: Wow.
AB: But I think I'm hoping I will be able to go this time.
DV: How was it after you started living here in 2006 and working here?
AB: Well, it was, I--. It was interesting, but I did not know that Qué Pasa was, well, I knew because I had been, they tested me right at the start of that year. But I knew--. I thought Qué Pasa was a newspaper because I think that's how they advertised themselves, Qué Pasa newspaper. But it was not a newspaper, it was a weekly magazine. So, I was hoping, or I thought that when I was here, I was going to be working, you know, in a newspaper when you work every day in a newspaper, you know how that is. But in a magazine, weekly magazine is a little bit more laid back because you don't have to come out tomorrow, right. So, that was better, I guess, in a sense you can, you really have the sense that you're having a little bit of a life. Whereas if you're in a newspaper working every day and you every day have to produce and produce and produce, I mean your whole life really revolves around that. In the weekly magazine it's the same thing, but you know that the cycle is a little bit more extended. So that was different. And of course, the things that you find here, I never knew snow. I experienced snow here. What else? I really spoke English a lot, I think, enough to have a communication with people. But I discovered that my accent was awful. Still, we all have an accent, right. I think this accent is never going to go away. But I think it's a lot better than what it was. In such a way that I think people understand a little bit better what I'm trying to say. So that was different too. I don't know. The food before was different.
DV: What about working for Qué Pasa? You worked there for about five years, right?
AB: Five years. About five years.
DV: Do you have any highlights or anecdotes you'd like to share?
AB: Let me think. It's been so long now. I did that for so many years, five, that even today I have some people that remember me from those years and will tell me, hi, hello, this is me. You remember me? No, I'm sorry, ma'am or sir, I don't. And apparently, I did a story about them in those years, but I really can't remember. When you're doing that, it's like, I'm going to give you an analogy: Peter and I, in this movie called The Bonfire of the Vanities, if you have never seen that movie, watch it, it's really good, it's with Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis. In this movie, Bruce Willis is a reporter. And Tom Hanks is a financier, disgraced financier, and Bruce Willis is doing a story about him. And when they finally meet, Tom Hanks says, why are you doing this to me? And Bruce Willis says something like, doing this to you, not doing anything to you, you're just dinner. Tomorrow I will not remember what I ate. So that's the analogy that I can give you about those stories. This is just breakfast and dinner. Two or three years from now we will not remember. And of course, it's awful to say it that way, but it is kind of true because you don't have a choice. You have to keep producing stories. And once you produce a story, you forget it and you go to the next one. That's more or less the cycle of reporting.
DV: And you meet so many people over so many years.
AB: I'm pretty sure it was a lot of people over the years, in those years, the stories that stuck with me were about those people that were deported, for instance. Those were very, very interesting stories. There was a woman that I interviewed in Greensboro, and I think all her, I think she had lived in the United States for years, probably when she was a little girl, I really don't remember now. But I mean, she started, you know the story, they started here, the elementary, middle, high school, everything, but she was undocumented. And she was caught somehow, she was even married to an American, and they were trying to, I don't know, arrange her situation and something happened. They discover her situation, and she was arrested and sent to an immigration detention center. I don't know if she was deported or not. I think she was not. I think she was able to pay the bond to her family and she was released and that's when I interviewed her somehow. I don't know how I got in touch with her, but anyway, what I remember about this woman is that she told me that she was shackled, like from the neck, the, you know, the wrist and the ankles, and that's how they would transfer her to, went to her immigration hearing or whatever. Shackled, in chains, she felt awful. And I'm like, she was saying I'm not a criminal, I'm not, but anyway, those immigration stories really stick with you. There was another story that I did of, this was a waiter in Greensboro. Well, I didn't interview him because he was actually deported. He was Mexican, but I talked to some of his buddies, and he's saying, of course he was undocumented, right, but he went to a park in Greensboro after hours, after he left the restaurant, I don't know what time it was. You know, it was dark at night. But it is those parks in Greensboro that says, there's a sign, I went to the park myself, you know, and there's a sign that says that you cannot enter after when it's dark. But he didn't know any better and he was just walking, he just was trying to clear his mind for whatever, he was just walking in the park. And I don't know, there were houses right in front of the park and all around the park there were houses. It was like a residential neighborhood and probably somebody called the police. And the police came, and they asked him. He spoke very little English. He didn't have an ID with him. He was arrested. And it was in those days where, in those Bush years where the 287g, I don't know if you remember that law where the sheriff's department was forced to, I think they were forced into collaboration with immigration authorities--.
AB: With ICE, right. And he ended up being deported, this young man. And of course, the people, his friends, the ones that I talked to. So, he was deported because he was walking in the park. That's one of the stories that I had. I'm pretty sure that there are many, many more there that I don't remember now. But those immigration stories were always big, big, big, every time I was there.
DV: Was the readership of Qué Pasa mostly Hispanic folks in Winston-Salem?
AB: I would assume so. It was...
DV: Was it published in English?
AB: No, it was in Spanish. It was completely in Spanish. That makes sense. If you haven't seen it, the Qué Pasa is still published till this day. But they have, you know, they have shrunk. It's not what it used to be. When I started working for Qué Pasa, I remember the owner, Mr. Isasi, if he was, if he sees this, I hope he remembers. But when I, when he hired me, he told me something along the lines that we're going to be big, we're going to be growing all around the East Coast, we're going to be the name in Spanish for people to try to reach the Hispanic community. He had big plans, big ambitious plans. But the newspaper business, you know, has been shrinking and shrinking and shrinking because of social media and because of the internet. And I'm not, I think it was I never really have a plan to get into the new digital age. I think very few, actually very few traditional media have a plan to transition successfully. I mean, reading newspapers was so common, you know, it was such a powerful means. I remember my grandfather, God bless his soul, reading, he had subscription to two different newspapers in Mariana, local newspapers. And he would read them all. Getting the paper, reading the paper every day was like, you know, part of your routine. It was, it's incredible how that has changed over the years. So, anyway, so, Qué Pasa was published in Spanish, still is published in Spanish, but it's not what it used to be. It's much smaller. It has probably, I mean, half the number of employees that it used to have. I'm not sure if they have radio, because that was also a good one to punch. They had the newspaper and also radio. It was AM radio. But they also had another means of--. Anyway.
DV: Well, how do you feel about that time? Before we move on to what you did after. Do you feel proud that you shared all those stories, and if you can share them.
AB: Yeah, of course. Of course. I think we; I hope we accomplished something. And it is important what we do because I was there, you know. I think they have a reporter now. It's a young woman. She interviewed me recently, two or three weeks ago. And I don't know, I feel like, I don't know what's her arrangement with the paper, but having somebody on the ground, it's very, very important because sometimes that's the only way that they will learn how things are happening locally that affect specifically the Hispanic community. I'm going to give you an example of what I'm trying to talk about. It was a year ago, no, I think it was two years ago. Here in Winston-Salem, there was a huge fire. It was a fertilizer plant that caught fire. And the fertilizer, they have a lot of fertilizer, you know, in their warehouses. And that fertilizer plant started in the 1940s, and at the time it was, you know, way outside the city, but now there are houses all around that factory, that plant. So, when it caught fire, there was a very big, I mean, very real possibility of the plant exploding and blowing up everything around it, several, probably several miles around it. I mean, I don't know how many, but it was a real possibility that this would explode and cause massive damage, not only to the plant, but the houses around it. There was one mile, if you live one mile around the plant, you were ordered to evacuate. I mean, that's how this was a real issue and a really big concern. And because of that evacuation thing, people, you know, police officers and firefighters were knocking on people's doors, and apparently there was some, a communication issue, a communication problem with the Hispanics that live there. And I am, I was told, I mean, I haven't heard this firsthand, but I was told that many Hispanics that only speak Spanish or very little English only found out about this fire when they saw it in Univision, which is in Miami. So, that is the importance of having a local media that is read, that is widely circulated, so that these things of people don't have to, you know, rely on it. I think Qué Pasa was one of those media, but I think it has fallen a little bit into, it is not, Qué Pasa is not what it used to be, I don't think, when I was there. But it's not only Qué Pasa's problem, right. It's also a little bit of the decline in general of newspapers. And I don't think they have quite found out the way to transition. I think very, actually very few newspapers have actually been able to transition successfully from traditional newspapers into the digital media, right.
DV: I understand. And then how did you transition from being a reporter for five years here, much longer in Mexico, to working for the City of Winston-Salem?
AB: Well, I found about this opportunity by chance also, but being a reporter facilitated this because the person that was here was a young man, very, very, a fine young man called Carlos, Carlos Bocanegra. He's the son of a very, also a very esteemed pastor here in Winston-Salem. His church was actually in Kernersville. But anyway, I was just looking for stories, you know, and sometimes you don't have nothing, absolutely nothing, all you have to do is call, cold calling the sources that in the past of new stories for you. So, I think it was January of that year, 2011, when I was, and it was January because, and you know January, the first days of the year, the first two weeks of the year are terrible for the news cycle because there's really nothing going on, right. Everybody's on vacation, everybody's returning and kind of transitioning into--. So I called him and said, hey, you have something that I don't know, is there something that you guys are doing that I need to know, to print about? And he told me something like, well, I'm moving out. You are? Yeah, I'm going to this position is going to be vacant. Oh, really? So that's how I knew the position was vacant because I was really not looking, right.
DV: And what was the position?
AB: The position was human relations analyst. It's the same position that I have now. It is just that after so many years of being here, and the department grew too from the Human Relations, and now it's Human Relations slash Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. So, we grew from five people to twelve. So, because of that, I was given the opportunity to be a program manager. So, I'm like, it's a little bit of a supervisory responsibility. But it's basically the same position, although then, I mean, I'm still doing the same things that I always did, which is landlord-tenant mediation. And now it's fair housing complaints. But now I have that added responsibility. I am responsible for the language access coordinators. So anyway, so that's how I found out about this opportunity. And I asked Carlos, if I were to be interested, what do I need to do? Do I have to apply and everything? And I did. And they interviewed me, and I ended up being selected for the position. And that was twelve years ago, in 2011. So, that's the story of how I am here.
DV: Wow, time flies.
AB: Yeah.
DV: Tell us some highlights about your twelve years in the City of Winston-Salem.
AB: Sure.
DV: I think some of the highlights could be, when it comes to Fair Housing Discrimination Commission. Remember that these complaints are supposed to be confidential, right. But I think one of the first cases I had was a massive case. It was a trailer home place. And the majority, I mean, probably 95 or 90% plus of the campus were Hispanics, for the most part Mexican. And they had a problem with the water, the way it was being billed, because they were getting their water billed monthly, not bi-monthly, like if you have your water here from the city of Winston-Salem. It's actually called Forsyth County slash Winston-Salem Utilities, something like that. Anyway, you are billed bimonthly. But in this case, you are billed, in the case of the these trailer homes, they were billed monthly. And some of the bills that they were receiving were $600, $400, even $200. And you're talking about twelve years ago. So, it was something. And they – we received – because of that issue with the water, we received something like thirty-two complaints from that place. So that was an interesting case.
DV: So, you mediated that.
AB: In some cases, there was no, nothing really there. Because in some cases, the allegation was that the white people that lived in the building were not paying water at all, and that was not the truth. They were paying water, but they were not paying as much as them. Some of them we were able to mediate, you know, they received some type of reimbursement of some kind. And some of them were causes, as we say in the business, meaning that I thought there was something there that could account for a discriminatory action. That was my very first case. Over the years, what other cases I could mention? An interesting one that I had was of a woman that said that she had a disability. And even the slightest of smells, it was too much for her to bear. She could not, I mean, there's a disability with the senses, with your sense of smell. And she said that somebody was smoking, in a non-smoking area. And she thought it was her neighbors, but there were seventeen different apartments in the building, and they were all connected. So that was a, it was very difficult to say, defend definitively. She had cameras and some people were out. Some people, she clearly saw people smoking, you know, would go in and they were smoking, they would throw-in a non-smoking area. So, that was a difficult case. But in the end, I said that I didn't think there was something there that could account for discriminatory action regarding that with them. Anyway, the interesting thing of this job is that I had to learn really everything in here and I had to learn also the history. I call it the racialized history of the United States and it's something that they don't, the United States in general don't openly broadcast, right, but that was the racialized history of the United States, how the segregation was something that happened in this country. And it was real, and it was in your face, and it was ugly. And I did not know that, you know, until I came here to study that. And it's part of the history of what we do now, right. All those, all that history, especially with housing. I had to learn that. I mean, some people that have lived here, you know, live through it, you know, and they were in segregated housing. They were in segregated schools. Even hospitals were segregated. I mean, everything was ruled truly. I mean, that was how it used to be. It is not now like that anymore. The discrimination is not in your face. It's not ugly. It's not, you know, it's not obvious. But I sometimes feel that discrimination is a little bit like, I don't know, viruses in your computer. That's what I think. Just because you haven't had an infection in two years, that doesn't mean it's never going to happen ever. You still have to keep your guard against it. And the way it happens, it can change. I always tell people that in Facebook, I had a famous case, that was two or three years ago, probably more than that, but before the pandemic. The National Fair Housing Alliance is a big, big fair housing organization in the United States based in Washington, realized that if you were an advertiser on Facebook, you could choose who could see your information, probably who could see your ads, right. So, they could choose if you liked, and I'm thinking of the actual things that happened in that case, you could choose the people that like Telemundo Deportes. You didn't want them to see your ad. You could click that and block them. In another category that they were blocking, that you could block, was those who were US veterans. If you had a house for rent, you could block them too. I don't want veterans from seeing my commercial, my ad. You have to pay, right, for every one of those restrictions, but you could, you know, laser focus, let's say, your ad. And the National Fair Housing Alliance thought that that was, that could be discriminatory, right, because if you block people that have, that have liked Telemundo Deportes, what, who do you think likes Telemundo Deportes? Somebody that probably looks like you and me, right? And they thought that was discriminatory. And of course, if you block those people that say that they are veterans of the U.S. Army, why are you doing that? I think because they don't want to see somebody that appears on a wheelchair on their property, right, or somebody that has PTSD, right. And anyway, if Facebook eventually paid the Fair Housing National Fair Housing Alliance two or three million a year, I'm sorry, two or three million dollars, perhaps five. I don't know. You can watch this online, this is not privileged information, it's public now and it's online. But this is just to say that these things, even though discrimination is not ugly in your face anymore, or in the law, it still can find ways to happen. And we have to keep ourselves, keep our guards [up] against it.
DV: In your mediatory role for the city, have you had to, have you encountered a lot of that discrimination and have you had to address it?
AB: I have never encountered somebody that acknowledges or admits to me openly, yes, I deny that housing because he's Black or because he's Hispanic. Every time, in every single one of my investigations that I have entered, they say, “no, I'm not a racist. I'm not, no, this is awful. This is terrible. This is a mistake. And I'm the victim.” I've never had ever in twelve years, nobody has admitted to me, yes, I did it because I don't want, and you put in the blank. I don't want Black people in my property, or I don't want Hispanics in my property. I don't want Asians in my property, or I don't want people that use wheelchairs in my property. No one has ever said that to me, if that's what you're wondering. So, you have to dig, you really have to investigate, and you have to try to find that evidence that you need if you want to close the case, right. And of course, if you cannot find any evidence, you're going to say, sorry, I have had some cases, especially with Hispanics, it's interesting being how our people that belong to our culture, for the most part, they say, nah, no, don't get me involved, I don't want, no, no, I'm not going to participate. Some witnesses, I think at least I had two cases in the past where I thought this was leaning towards a discriminatory action, but the witnesses were like, no, I'm not going to do it, I'm sorry. I’m not going to court. I don't know, I'm, I mean, that's sometimes the attitude that I find from Hispanics. They don't, just don't want to do it, even if they have documents already. Sometimes, I think in one case, this lady was a citizen, but it's the same thing. I mean, look, I just got my citizenship. I really don't want to mess with this. I'm sorry, I mean, and the other lady was a legal resident, and she told me, this was two different cases, of course, and she told me something like, look, I'm going to ask my husband, let's see what you think, and I'll get back in touch with you.
DV: Do you think there's some distrust of power structures, local governments that kind of prevents folks from wanting to come forward?
AB: I don't know. That is always like a, I think it's a stereotype. I think the reality, or the reason is more complicated than that. But I think in general, if you're a foreigner and Hispanic, that's probably what you're going to choose to do. Look, I'm sorry, thank you, no. But if you were born here in the United States, I think those are the Hispanics that have, they don't have that fear whatsoever. They are more willing to engage in activism, I think. It's not, this is also a stereotype, right I’m pretty sure there are some foreigners and probably some undocumented individuals that are really active and they will go where trouble is and will try to, you know, do their best to address what they believe is an unjust situation. But I think in my experience, that is how you can tell, right, if they're a foreigner, if they were born outside the United States and are here working, even if they have documents, they're going to say, no, thank you, but no. I'll find ways, or we'll find ways to deal with this, but no. But it's different if, with the children that are already born here. They are the ones, I think, that are already active, that embrace activism because they don't have that fear of, they're going to kick me out, right. I think that is, I could summarize my experience that way.
DV: Okay. Are there any other experiences you want to share?
AB: I think those are the ones with mediation cases that also we could go on, you know, in twelve years.
DV: So, what were some challenges that you felt like followed you or you had to navigate through? Were there any large challenges that you had to overcome?
AB: Probably the challenges have been, first, since we did not grow up with this system, we have to learn the system, how it works. In our countries, I don't think there are housing authorities, for instance, right, where people receive vouchers to pay for rent. That's something that's an American thing almost completely, right. So, that was where I had to learn that, and I had to navigate that thing. And I mean, and even the discrimination part, I mean, I'm pretty sure in our countries, there are no discrimination laws like the ones that we have here in the United States. So, it's, the challenge has always been the system, learning the system and learning how the system works because you cannot rely on your experience, and you cannot rely on your memory of how it was when you were growing up. You don't have that, so you have to-- that's one of the challenges that I have. And another challenge, of course, is the language. Sometimes people, even to this day, will claim or complain that they can't really understand me. They were like, what? What do you say? Can you please repeat that to me? Speak louder or slower because I can't understand what you're saying. It doesn't happen often, but still happens and that is frustrating when people tell you that. I'm going to tell you also two experiences. There was one time when I was, I mean I just grabbed the phone, and I said my name and my position because that's what you're supposed to do when you pick up the phone. And this woman said, the first thing she said is, can I talk to an American? Like that. And another time it was an individual, it was a guy that said, I don't know why the City of Winston-Salem hires people that can't speak English. And, wow, he hangs up the phone on me.
DV: Wow.
AB: Yeah, so that's another challenge. The language can be challenging, even though I feel like now, I think I feel like I'm okay and I can understand them. Even when you find people that have this very thick Southern accent, that could be, that used to be such a challenge, just try to understand them. But now it's okay. I think I'm much better than that. And in reality, since I have not lived in any other part of the United States, it's not a challenge either because that's the various accented English that I hear is the southern accent. And, you know, you're much, much more used to hear it now than after all these years.
DV: Okay. Now, back on those challenges, how did you square them away in your head? How do you think about them? You navigated through, I would say, some discrimination for your accent. So did you just say, okay, we just move on? Or did you address that in any other way.
AB: There's no-- it's part of the things that you have to brush off. You cannot hang on to it and you cannot, you know, stay with it. I mean, it is really no point, and it could be toxic. So, it's okay. I mean, it's water under the bridge, as they say here, it came and go, and you keep on going. There is no way you will find perhaps those attitudes every now and then, but for the most part I think, I really believe the United States is a very progressive nation in that sense and of course we cannot say every single American is that way. There's not such thing, right, but I think the United States is, like in many other fields, is at the forefront of these social issues. It's not perfect. Probably it will never be perfect. But they are trying, and that's what you trying to keep all these things in perspective. A few individuals will challenge your notions of what I just told you, right. And they're going to be backwards and they're going to be ignorant in many ways. But you cannot really, the totality of the actions of the United States of America leads you to think into a different direction, even though it is not uniform, and it is not equal. Progress, it will never be equal and uniform for every single one of the individuals, right. But we just have to keep chugging at it. In various circles, I have said this, in 1538, something like that, there was a Spanish bishop that wrote a letter saying that the natives of the Americas were slaves, in a way, in so much way, a natura. That's the expression he wrote. I mean, so they are there for the taking, right. The natives are there for us, just like the plants and just like the animals are in the land. They were just part of the same possibility. Now, fast forward that three hundred years and we have the Civil War in the United States, right. And then one hundred years after that, we still, we get the, in 1968, the Fair Housing Act, three years before in 1965, the Voting Rights Act. So, what I always say to people is, I mean, why, I mean, this is a train that has been going on like this for four hundred years. What makes you think that it's going to completely stop and we're going to dismantle this in fifty. I mean this is something that's going to take probably centuries probably our grandchildren will start seeing the fruits of this labor it's not going to stop in a generation or two this is something that is ingrained in our psyches and so that's the perspective that I try to tell people. Some people say no this is never going to change. And I'm like well perhaps it's not going to change in our lifetimes, but this will change eventually. Somebody else said well we're probably going to have, we will need an exogenous event to make us, yeah, probably the rise of the machines is going to make us, you know, a terminator type of event that will tell, yeah, let's unite. I don't care, yeah, you're Muslim, you're Black, I don't care, look at, what the machines are doing to us. I hope we never see that world, right. It will be apocalyptic. But I tend to think that that vision is probably right. There's going to be an exogenous event that will make us see the foolishness of this separation of humanity, right, of this categorization of humanity into level of worthiness based on your external appearance. There was probably a time when that was perhaps necessary, but we eventually, it is all going to be superfluous, is going to be unnecessary, is going to be ridiculous, right. Eventually, I think it's going to be like that. I don't think it's going to happen in the next 50 years, but it will happen. I firmly believe that.
DV: With that positive thoughts, not the rise of the machines part [laughter], with those positive thoughts and bringing it back to your experience, what would you say were some factors that have helped you along the way in your life and career?
AB: But it is true that if you have a work ethic, a hard work ethic, the results will be there. And I think that is the basis and foundation for everything you do. I've always said that yes, sometimes relationships are important or matter, but they only matter if you have something to show. And if you have results, to back it up, it's easier to have someone to vouch for you and to make a recommendation. I always think that it starts with you and the work that you do and your perspective. And you have to take responsibility of your actions for everything you cannot be blaming other people for what happens to you maybe it is the truth that in some cases other people may be to blame for one or two events in your life, but in general you need to take control, I hope I am answering your question that is my philosophy, my, I mean, it starts like that. Sadly, I'm seeing some people, you know, online and on social media that says that it is a lie, that if you work hard, you're never going to get anywhere because everything is already decided by the elites and the white people of this nation or something like that. And I truly and completely disagree with that. You need to work hard. And if you do, positive results will take place in your life, even if those positive results are not the ones that you imagined in the first place or of a lesser magnitude that you were expecting, but they will happen. I mean, and if you have, I think that philosophy is actually dangerous. The thing that, no, it doesn't matter what, how much you do, you're never going to get out of your bog or your, whatever situation is that you're in. I think it's a dangerous attitude and anyway, that's what I think. I hope I have answered your question.
DV: Yeah. Thank you. Well, to conclude, what do you hope for the future? Be it for your own personal life or professional life or for your community?
AB: In my personal life, I hope I still have a job in twenty years. Hopefully it's going to be--.
DV: Before the machines take your job right.
AB: Yeah, either this job or a better paid job than the one that I have. I hope there's still a social security net by the time I retire. I certainly hope that. About the community, I think eventually the community will grow. Here in North Carolina, there are already a lot of Hispanics that were born in this land. And they will come to be, you know, leaders in their own community. And not only in the Hispanic community, but they will be leaders, period, of all the community. I think that's going to happen. And I hope that at some point when we think about Hispanics, we don't think it under that slant of poverty and disadvantage and disenfranchisement. And when we think of Hispanics, we're going to be a true engine of the society. We will not need, you know, society's pity to get along. Not to get along, to move along, I hope that eventually that's how it's going to be. And we will not need intermediaries, right, to reach the society as a whole. We will not need a spokesperson or somebody that speaks for us. And we will be able to, you know, to just be just like every other community here that doesn't need special dispensations to, I think that's how eventually it's going to be. Because I think most of what we are here to do is working, right? And that's what we came here for, to work and to build a solid and stable future for our children and our families in general. And eventually, I think it will happen, and we will come to be very mature, like in other parts of the United States, right. In Florida and in California and Texas, where there is no more any dissonance, right. It's not either Hispanic or American, you know, and you can be, you will be able to be American even though you're Hispanic and there will not be this bifurcated perception of you eventually that will come to pass and that will, and it will be naturally embraced by society as a whole, I think, and I hope that's what the future will bring to us all.
DV: Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and your experiences with us, Adolfo.
AB: Sure, absolutely, my pleasure. I hope it is my contribution to this wonderful project that you guys are doing.
DV: Thank you, and see you next time.


Transcribers: Sofia Godoy & Daniel Velásquez
Interview Date: 2023 May 26
Date of Transcription: 2023 August 7 / Revisions: 2023 October 19