Yazmin García Rico

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Yazmin García Rico is Director of Latinx and Hispanic Policy and Strategy at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS). She recounts her activism during her tenure in college, helping Latinx youth navigate college enrollment and her outreach efforts to connect farmworker communities with healthcare and other resources. Thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, Yazmin was able to continue helping farmworkers after college in various positions, and also earn a Master’s degree in social work at UNC-Chapel Hill. Yazmin expresses deep regret at her father’s passing from COVID-19 at a time before vaccines or treatments were available. She subsequently joined NC DHHS in her current role to coordinate vaccine distributions and address disparities in the pandemic’s impact on the state’s Latinx population. Yazmin’s journey is marked both by her own determination and the determination of others in her network to help open doors for her. In that vein, Yazmin emphasizes the need for support systems that can help uplift Latinx youth and address underrepresentation across state leadership.



Daniel Velásquez: I'm Daniel Velasquez. Today is April 21st, 2023. I'm here today with Yazmin García Rico, who is Director of Latinx and Hispanic Policy and Strategy at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Yazmin, thank you so much for sitting with me today for your oral history.
Yazmin García Rico: Thank you so much for having me.
DV: Okay, Yazmin, let's get started with some basic information. Could you tell me about your personal background? Where were you born and raised and any early life experiences that you would like to share?
YGR: Yeah, so a little bit about myself. I was born in Orizaba, Veracruz, Mexico, which is, Veracruz is in the Gulf Coast, and I was there for the first few years of my life. Some of the experiences that are the most memorable are really the times that I spent with my grandparents who were very crucial in my upbringing. I really enjoyed spending time in their house, eating the food that my grandma used to make, and I am just really grateful for the time that I had with them. They both passed away when I was in the US, so I didn't get a chance to see them in the last couple years of their lives or last few years of their lives. So, it's something that I really cherish a lot. And I also remember a lot the train, for some reason, because the train was a very, sort of, central part of my life. My dad used to work for the railroad company of Mexico and so we used to travel in the train to see family. I could hear the train from my house, from my grandparents’ house, and so I think for me that reminds me even here now as an adult every time I hear the train I think of home, I think of my dad and really what I think he wanted us to learn from him which is work ethic and dedication to, you know, to whatever you're passionate about. So, Mexico, when I think of, you know, childhood, I think of Mexico. I think about my culture and in a completely different life in a way because everyone around me looked like me. And I think that really shaped me in a way that may be different for other people that don't have that same experience.
DV: Thank you. What brought you to the United States, and to North Carolina, specifically?
YGR: So, I think definitely it was to seek a better life, to have a little bit more stability financially and more opportunities in terms of an education. I remember thinking about maybe one day I'll grow up and I'll be able to work for the government, which was crazy to think about as a child. So, when it actually happened was it like, oh, you know, I did think that I probably was around 13, 12 when I had that idea. One of the ideas crossed my mind, I think I was like--. I watched a lot of movies and American shows and, I don't know what I watched at that moment but I remember thinking about growing up and doing a job that served in government, in that capacity. So that's the initial reason why I ended up in the United States, not really knowing the complexity and the, you know, challenges and how life would be. I only had movies as a, you know, baseline of what the United States was.
DV: Tell us about your education and any other formative experiences here in North Carolina. I know that you've held many internships and have been involved in various volunteer positions. And you probably have gained some leadership experience along the way, so tell us about all that.
YGR: Yeah, so this is for me a long journey. [Laughter]
DV: Okay.
YGR: For me, being able to get an education really has been a path that has taken a long time. I got to the US when I was about 13 years old and I started eighth grade. So the first couple years were really trying to get a sense of the school, the language, the culture. I had no idea what Thanksgiving was, Halloween, just different things that are the normal here that I didn't have awareness of. So I had to learn a lot about just the culture in the South too, if you add that layer. So, education was something that I was always interested in. I don't think it was ever a question for me if I was going to go to college. At that point I just didn't know how, but I knew I wanted to go to college. And so going through high school I think that was really when I developed a little bit more in my understanding of English and I still tried to grasp a sense of what everyone around me already knew and that I was trying to, you know, catch up with. I only knew about one school, one college, and that's because a friend of mine in high school who was three years older, I was a freshman he was a senior, he was also from Veracruz. He took the same classes that I was taking. He took French. He had the same math teachers, and he went to college. He was also undocumented at the time, so I just thought of like, okay, if he can do it and he has pretty much the same path, I can do it too. And so, I only applied to one college, which was Guilford College. And I applied there because my friend was there. He gave me a tour himself. He took me around. And, you know, thinking back, it's crazy because that was a time where not everyone had a computer. Everything was done, you had to print your application, you had to mail it, you had to call and see if they received it. You know, it was back in the day and so applying just to one college was really hard for me. It was you just felt this is an extensive, you know, sort of process getting those letters of recommendation, putting everything together to submit it to the school. And I was really grateful to have--there were two, three teachers in high school that were very supportive. My math teacher, I remember she encouraged me to take more challenging classes, like statistics. And if it wasn't for people like her that challenged me to take college prep classes and continue to push myself, I don't know that I would have had that support system that gave me the letters of recommendation and that sort of re-assured that I could do it, that I was capable. My English teacher, Mr. Ringwalt, he also went to Guilford, so he was knowledgeable with the college. He gave me that letter of recommendation. And so that was definitely--. Those years are really fun to think about because I would not--. I'm a shy person overall, but not knowing the language well can add a little pressure in terms of being nervous to speak. And so, I remember in the classroom I would never raise my hand to speak up, but I knew all the answers because I was studying really hard at home. And so, I remember one of my teachers from world history, he started telling everyone in the class that I got a hundred, it was like a hundred questions. And it was one of the final tests and I got them all right and he was telling everybody, how come just me who doesn't speak ever in class and who's still learning English, has every question right and a lot of you know the language and you still don't get it? So that was like, okay, thank you. But also, that you don't have to, you know, showcase me in front of everyone. So, I think he was fun.
DV: He was proud.
YGR: He was proud. He was highlighting, how dare you not do well. [Laughter]. And Yazmin, you know, who you know--. Everyone knew I was still learning English. I was not comfortable speaking up. The classes where I did the best were, like math--. Because I feel when I came to the U.S. my math, my level of knowledge in math was more advanced than everyone else, so for two, three years I was just, you know, going with the flow. I was not learning something new. I knew all the concepts and I knew how to do it because back in Mexico there were no calculators. Here you were given a calculator, literally was in the desk. And so I just knew how to do everything without relying, you know, on a device
DV: Wow.
YGR: So those were the classes where I--. Strategically I think it was helpful because I had friends who were Latino who, they were not good at math, but they spoke English. And so, I would be like, let me show you and help you but you help me in other classes so that's how I navigated eighth and ninth grade, I think. Just kind of exchanging the skill sets because for a lot of eighth grade--. I don't know how I passed ninth grade because I honestly didn't know anything but math. Somehow I ended up in high school and that's where I really dedicated a lot of time to watching movies and trying to learn English and really pushing myself to understand even if I wasn't able to speak fluently. So high school was definitely fun. I mean, challenges, you know, that age, that time, it's hard, bullying and stuff like that, but I feel like for me I was really focused on just trying to understand and trying to learn and trying to do well. And I think it was around, probably eleventh grade when I started to be more conscious of the barriers that I was going to be confronted with. Because I knew I wanted to go to college, I didn't know that it was going to be hard in terms of my immigration status being one of those barriers. That's when I started to hear a lot about out-of-state tuition for public universities for people who didn't have documents, and also not being able to obtain my driver's license. I went to the driver's ed class and by the end when I got my certificate is when that changed in North Carolina.
DV: Oh wow.
YGR: So, I was not able to get my driver's ed even though I went to the course just because by the time I finished is when things shifted.
DV: The rules changed.
YGR: And then there were other, sort of, institutions of higher education that were switching their policies of who could come to school. And maybe you could register but if someone else wanted to be in the class you would be kicked out and you would still have to pay out-of-state tuition or you would just not be welcome. So it was a lot of just--. It was hard. It was just hard to kind of think about where would I go. And so, meeting my friend who went to Guilford sort of opened up that one opportunity for me to think about, you know, he did it, I'm going to do it too. And somehow I made it to Guilford College. There was a program there called Bonner Scholars Program that provided scholarship support for low-income students that were interested in doing service, community service and service learning.
DV: What was the name of the program?
YGR: Bonner Scholars Program. And it's a national program, but not every school has it. That program at Guilford at the time was a four-year program where you started as a freshman and took a class and did service hours during the semester, did internship experiences during the summer, and all as a part of a cohort with your class, but also connecting to other Bonners from other classes. And I think for me, thinking back, I mean I've been aware of this for a long time that I was definitely one of--. A fortunate student that got that opportunity because not many students like myself at the time and even still now were able to have that opportunity. I think it was a combination of knowing certain people, like the program, that I got admitted to the school, my grades I guess, but also my dad helped me a lot because he was in Mexico, and he would support me financially as much as he could to be able to pay tuition.
DV: Wow.
YGR: So, the difference was that if I was to go to a public institution, I would have paid out-of-state tuition that can be like two, three times as much as the regular tuition. In Guilford College, being a private school, you get charged the same. You might not get as much help, but at least it's not more money than what you know already that you're going to get charged. And with the scholarships, we were able to piece it together. And Guilford was definitely, again, one of those shaping experiences for me because since I got to the school, I had a group of people that came along that I know had shared values in a way or shared goals of giving back to the community. And it was really cool because it was people from all over the world, from all over the United States but also all over the world. And getting to see how we're different, but we have very similar experiences, was really nice. I remember one of the trips we took which was our first-year experience summer trip, and we went to a Native American reservation for a couple weeks. And so, at that point I was undocumented, so I didn't have a driver's license. I didn't have anything but my Mexican passport and so I called my dad, and I told him that there's this trip that falls in my birthday and that I wanted to go and that, you know, there were risks because I would be flying. And he told me do you want to go, and I said yes. He's like, well, do it. So, I went on that trip pretty nervous because, I mean, I had a little fear of what could happen but thankfully everything went well. And I spent two weeks in that reservation. Some of my peers, I had peers from like Kenya and peers from different parts of Middle Eastern just like Europe and then U.S. So it was really neat to be in that space and get to know even more, like a diverse group. And I remember they asked us if we wanted to stay at a cabin or in one of the teepees. And a lot of us being international, what you would consider an international student or not an American student, we were like, we're not sleeping in the teepee. It's like, we've been there, you know, we've been already in conditions that may not be the most desirable, so we're like, no.
DV: We want to be comfortable.
YGR: Yes, we want to be comfortable. And so that was really funny to see that you just share experiences or just thinking with other peers that were trying to be more comfortable, not suffer more than we need to.
DV: What was the destination?
YGR: That was Montana.
DV: Okay.
YGR: So we were in Montana in a Native American reservation. We arrived to Billings and then drove out and everyone there in that reservation was really nice to me and to another Mexican student because we look alike. When I got to the reservation I was like, oh, is this--. It looked like people could be, you know, I could have been in Mexico because we look alike. And so, I definitely saw that treatment in a better way towards us and we got to cook for them pozole, also tacos, tacos dorados with buffalo meat. It was an interesting mix and just a really cool experience, and all that to say that, that program really shaped me because it kind of got us out of our comfort zone, got us to learn a lot about other cultures and about ways of connecting because we're people and finding those commonalities. That week when we were there, we didn't know that Obama was going to be at the reservation.
DV: Oh wow
YGR: This was when he was running for his campaign, the first time. And there were no phones, no clocks, nothing. We were like no technology, no TV. We were disconnected in the reservation, and we were told one morning after breakfast, get ready, we're going to go to this event. So, we got ready and left and it was Obama who was visiting the reservation and that was really neat. One of those really cool experiences. And then get to see him, you know, actually become president--. But going back to Bonner Scholars Program and Guilford College, I was highly involved in different activities that related to the Latino community, more specifically Latino youth or Latino students. I ran an after-school tutoring program called Latino Impact, and we went to McLeansville to a middle school and did tutoring of students. So I would have volunteers come with me and we helped with their homework. It was sixth graders for the most part, sixth, seventh, eighth graders. And then once a year, I helped to co-found a conference for Latino students called Soy Un Lider. So my fall semester, my first fall semester at Guilford, we co-founded a conference with a friend that went to high school with me. He was a senior, I was a freshman, and so he had this idea and sort of brought me on board to help co-found this one-day conference. And then he graduated, and so I felt I needed to keep it going. And we brought--.We started by bringing 150 to 200 students. And then it just grew from there every fall. And they had the experience of visiting the college, eating in the cafeteria, going to workshops, and the whole point was sharing with them information, resources that would help them to get to college, and hopefully not struggle as much as we did in not knowing what was even available or what options we had, and that was very geared towards undocumented and first-generation Latino students. And those experiences I feel like, it really gave me the ability to think through what is in our reach to push for change, what resources we have, and make the most with what you have. Because we were just, you know, college students. We would visit high schools and just talk to the administration and be like, we want to invite students. So little by little, we grew those relationships. We got school systems to provide their bus, the transportation for students to get to the conference. It was on a Saturday. We got funding from the school to pay for the breakfast and to give them gear, so it was just really cool to kind of give back in that sense. Even if it was one day, even if it was, you know, just a tiny piece of information. It was nice to see that hopefully they will hear something today that will have an impact in them. And I think for me the most favorite memory of that conference every year was coming into the cafeteria when they were eating lunch and just to see how many Latinos were in that space. And to see other students from campus walking in and just being like, who are these people? This is not the norm, right? A lot of us were one student who identifies Latino in the classroom; and so to be able to have that many people on campus and to see themselves there, but also to see other people acknowledge their presence, those are the moments that I live for in a way.
DV: So, you started it with your friend freshman year and then you continued it, until?
YGR: I continued every year until I graduated and it's still happening.
DV: Wow.
YGR: Like everything that, you know, they have up and downs in terms of leadership and support from school with administration change. And so that results in more resources or less resources that go into the conference, but it's still happening.
DV: That’s great.
YGR: And that just, you know, sort of uplifts my spirit because I know that at that moment we were focused on the Latino students. There are other students who also need that same support, like international students, refugees, asylees. And Greensboro has a large population of--. A really diverse population. So they also broadened a little bit the confidence to make sure that they were doing outreach to those students as well. So it is still happening, and it is one of those things that keeps me really close with the school, knowing that even after 10 plus years, it is still a need and there's still people who are willing to do that work. And other couple things that Guilford was, at that moment, the Latino club on campus was Hispanos Unidos de Guilford. And, you know, there's different ways that people identify themselves, so I use Latino a lot, Latina, Latinx, Hispanic. At that moment in time, from 2007 to 2011, Hispanic was the word that most people used. So, the club was Hispanos Unidos de Guilford. And we did a lot of activities throughout the year, celebrated Farm Work Awareness Week, celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month. I also was seen as an international student to Guilford because of my application. So I also did a little bit of the international club. So, I don't know, it felt like it was a small campus and had a lot of resources. And it gave me the ability to do different things and connect with different groups of students and bring them all together in a way. And so that was inspiring for me to see that, okay, people follow me. For some reason, people volunteer to help me. And it's what we need, right? We need groups of people who are excited about something. And for me, that was really energizing. And that conference, the Soy Un Lider Conference, is like I'm a leader. And sometimes, a lot of times, even students, even adults, we doubt ourselves of our abilities to do something. And I think for me, that learning lesson there was like, you might be the one leading or pushing but you need a group of people because one person cannot do it alone. And in leadership also looks different in a way. I might be a quiet leader right, but you can still do things in front of people, behind the scenes. So that's something that I really learned at that moment, and I try to remind myself because sometimes it's still hard. You know, imposter syndrome comes back, and you try to question, am I in the right place? Do I belong? Can I do this? So just thinking about that younger Yazmin who was able to do something, and people believed. And it had an impact. It helps me to move through. And you asked about internships.
DV: Right.
YGR: I did two internships that I recall more clearly. My first internship was at Student Action with Farmworkers and that was, again, an internship that my friend did. So, I was like he did it I'm going to go and do it. And he was--.
DV: The same friend?
YGR: Same friend
DV: Wow
YGR: Same friend. And so, he told me about the internship. As a Bonner Scholar, we were supposed to do an internship. And so, I worked in a clinic of Piedmont Health Services in Prospect Hill as a farm worker, outreach worker, doing outreach to farm worker camps. And so, we visited farms or like camps, we call it camps, which is the housing where farm workers live. It might be a trailer; it might be a big building that looks like a warehouse. And it can vary from like 3, 4, 5, 10 farm workers to like 150 or more farm workers. A lot of them come from Mexico and through the H-2A visa , and work in the fields for a time frame and go back home. And so, we would bring to them information around health, health education, we would take their blood pressure and talk to them about diabetes. And just trying to provide information and resources to them, connect them to the clinic if they needed an appointment, if they needed medicine. And that really, that internship is something that I feel really shaped me again because even if I grew up in Alamance County, I had no idea that just 40, 20, 30 minutes away there are farms and there's farm workers. And that a lot of them are actually from my home country and that looked like they could have been my dad, my grandpa, my granddad, or one of my siblings, or someone I know. And just to see the disparity in terms of access to healthcare, resources, and a lot of injustices that may happen because of their job. The different power dynamics that come into play. And that really got me into the sort of farm worker justice movement here
DV: It galvanized you.
YGR: Yes. In North Carolina.
DV: So this internship is happening while you're in college?
YGR: Summer yeah, a whole summer. So, during college I was doing the tutoring, I was doing the club on campus, and I was doing also the conference once a year. During the summer we had an internship, and it was--. This first one was a Student Action with Farmworkers, and this summer internship is called Into the Fields. And so it brings students from North Carolina and farmworker students from other parts of the country like Idaho, California, Texas, where there's other farm worker populations that at that time were bigger, and that--. Either it could be children of farm workers or even children that worked as farm workers at some point. So it was a really cool space because a lot of--. To be part of the internship, you had to speak Spanish. And so even those that were not Latino, like they spoke Spanish and liked the culture, and it was like a cohort, you know. Sort of a program where there's retreats, there's trainings, there is just different types of activities that help you feel more comfortable with who you are. And I think one of the things for me, too, is I didn't have a problem with being who I am because that's who I am. I grew up in Mexico, so I feel very grounded on my language and my culture, but I know other people who grow up here sometimes have a challenge because it's like, at home it's one culture and outside it's another culture so you're trying to grapple with who you are and what's okay because of the pressure. So I really got to see other students who were at the beginning a little shy to speak Spanish, or a little shy to say where they were coming from, or a little shy to dance, you know, bachata salsa whatever and then by the end they were this is who I am and like--.
DV: Embracing it.
YGR: Yeah, embracing their culture. So I loved being part of that experience and to also learn it's okay to be who I am in terms of the context of being an immigrant and having you know English as my second language, having an accent, like those things I think that those were the things that I got from the experience as well. And that having this bicultural, bilingual experience and a skill set also can contribute in different ways in the workplace, because at the end of the day we were increasing capacity for organizations that were doing this outreach. And this was at the time where there were no smartphones, so we would do outreach based on a map. We would pull a big map and then try to find the street where the camp was and then drive around the country and then try to figure out where this house is. And there would be notes like, you know, look at the tree in this intersection. A lot of farmworker housing is not like a regular housing that you can see from the road. It might be a dirt road that you have to go. And then, you know, it's kind of hidden from communities. So it's really crazy to think now that we just put something on the GPS, and it tells us, sometimes even shows you a picture of what it looks like, but back in the day, it was really pairing up with one more student, intern, or the supervisor and driving with them and figure out where the housing was. So I learned a lot and got to network a lot through that internship. I feel that led me to my second internship the following summer, which was at American Friends Service Committee, AFSC, which is a Quaker organization. And at the time it was based in Greensboro. And the director at the time of the immigrant rights program, she was also SAFista. And we call SAFista anyone who has done any SAF program, any Student Action with Farmworkers program. So she was a SAFista from back in the day, leading this program in immigrant rights and I applied for an internship there and got to learn more about the immigrant rights space like the advocacy happening at the time in general, advocacy for issues that we still face today like immigration reform, humane immigration reform, driver's license, tuition equity, all those issues that are still present. And I got to learn and be in the space and support those efforts during that summer. And that person, that director, really became one of the people, too, that became part of my support system. And I think that is what I'm really grateful for; that all throughout my journey I have found those people. Like I mentioned in high school, teachers, in my internships and in the different spaces that I was part of finding people that are going to be there for you no matter, you know, how you move in life through other spaces. She's been one of those people that has been job references for me, you know, one of those people that I call and try to ask at different points for her thoughts and feedback and that got to know me more during that time of my life. So those are the main internships that I think really took me in terms of helping me to develop my resume per se. So, by the time that I graduated, I had a lot of things. Like, I was, not just--.
DV: You were just busy.
YGR: I was busy, not just participating, but I was leading on campus and also participating in the internships. And I think that I'm grateful for that. I don't regret it. But looking back, I know that I was overcommitted. And I guess the weight that I was carrying, it was like, if I don't do it, who will do it because there were not a lot of Latino students on campus at the time. It was only a few of us. It was like three Mexican students, different classes, you know, Puerto Ricans, a couple. Some people that were adopted from Latin America and were trying to connect with their, you know, culture of the country where they were born, but there were not a lot of Latino students, so it just felt like I was trying to do it all.
DV: You felt like it was your responsibility, then?
YGR: Yes, yes, because I knew, and I was very aware that a lot of students that went to high school with me didn't make it to college. And it wasn't because they didn't want to, it was because it was not easy, or it was because they were discouraged very early on because they were told there is not going to be a way for you to do it even if you have documents. That's what really is really crazy, and I know it's still happening. If your family hasn't gone through higher ed, and if you're a person of color, if you're Latino, if you're a child of immigrants, a lot of times this system and people around it still kind of, don't see that in you or don't encourage that in you. Or even worse, like discourage you and tell you that's not an option. I know, I went to my counselor in high school, and they didn't know how to help me. There's no supports in many places still, or not enough for students. So, I definitely felt like I wanted to give back and that's why Soy Un Lider Conference focused on Alamance County, Guilford County, and Forsyth because it was sort of my hometown and surrounding counties where the conference took place. And that really sort of pushed me to do so much, which I think helped me in my professional sort of career path. But my senior year was really stressful because I was trying to graduate, fulfill my requirements. I was a business--. I was a French and business, sort of French major. Business was supposed to be my second major, but I ended up having to graduate. I think I ended up graduating with two minors in business and one more thing I don't even remember, oh my gosh. I had completed three minors, but they don't let you graduate with three minors. I had major in French and three minors in business related but I had to pick two, so I think it was business and business law. And the reason was, I was short one class to finish my major in business. But at that point I was like, I'm done, I don't need to, I didn't have the money, I didn't have the energy to come back and finish one more class to complete that business double, to have a double major. So, I was like, I'll just graduate. And I think it was just, I was so over committed and tired because I was also, towards the end, I tried to find ways to work to earn a little money so that I could still sort of be okay, because every year tuition goes up. And so, by the time I started I think it was like 10K a semester, no, 15K a semester. By the time I finished, it was way higher than that. So it was a lot of, sort of, pressure, and I was just ready to graduate. When I graduated I was still undocumented, so that year was hard, 2011 to 2012, because I had a degree and it was sort of--. I found myself in a place where a lot of people had sort of questioned, before, what are you going to do when you graduate and you still don't have documents to work. I heard that a lot during my time in college and that was hard because it's like you want to be motivated, you want to keep pushing, you want to show that you're doing the most with the opportunity, but that’s a real question that I tried to ignore because I didn't want to lose sight of my goal which was to graduate. And it was hard to kind of keep going that year just trying to figure out what am I going to do, and I knew that maybe I needed to go back to Mexico if I couldn't work here. And that's why I was going for business and French in college, because I wanted something that could maybe help me if I had to go back to my home country or end up going to a different country. I couldn't graduate with anthropology or sociology because my family would have been like what are you going to do with that, you know. What do you do with that degree in another country like Mexico. So, it was 2012, the summer of 2012 when President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and that was the light that I was waiting for. That was the moment that I was preparing for. And so, I didn't doubt enrolling into the program as soon as it was an option. I remember I heard about it, I was so excited, started putting all my documents together, thinking through what they would be asking for. And as soon as the day came to be able to apply and submit an application, I was one of those first ones that I know of in my circle of friends. And I know a lot of people were fearful because, I mean, you know we don't trust the government a lot of times for various reasons, and so people were really fearful of coming forward. And then you know not knowing what really could happen once you did that. But I just felt like what am I going to lose, I don't have anything to loose. And so I applied, and I was going through that process, waiting to hear back, going to do my biometrics, my fingerprints and all that. And then I saw this job that opened up at the Student Action with Farmworkers, which was the first internship, the first organization that I interned for. And so, I was like, I'm going to apply. And so, I applied, and the position was National Organizer. And so I was going through the application process and waiting to hear back about DACA. And I went to two or three interviews, and I got a call on a Friday saying that I got the job and I was so happy. And I wanted to say yes but I still didn't have my work permit, so I asked for a couple days to think about it but I know I didn't have anything to think about. I wanted a job. I just wasn't ready.
DV: Were you giving yourself time to get those permits, maybe?
YGR: Yeah. And so, in that call I was like, oh yes, can I think about it and get back to you next week? And that weekend I got my work permit. It just felt like it was meant to be and everything lined up. So I got my work permit, I started working that December at Student Action with Farmworkers leading up to 2013. And that really opened up the doors for me in so many ways. Having DACA, being able to use--. Because a lot of jobs they don't ask you--. I mean they say preference in a degree on this, right? But they're looking at the education level, like bachelor's degree, master's degree, or whatever. And so, I had the degree, I had the experience, and I wanted to be able to do something, get a job that I was passionate about. And so DACA opened up that for me. And this organization means a lot to me because it was the first organization that opened the doors to give me an internship knowing my situation. Because I've always been pretty open about, you know, my situation and who I am, so it meant a lot for me that that was my first job. And I was there for about three, four years working in different roles as a national organizer, coordinating National Farmworker Awareness Week, doing a lot of the alumni engagement. Later became director of the youth program, so working with youth, farmworker youth, and really networking and connecting and supporting a lot of that farmworker advocacy movement in the state to improve the working and living conditions of the population. And during that time, it was towards my last year and a half working there, that I realized that I wanted to go back to school. And it was a combination of, started looking at people around me. Well, I knew I wanted to go back to school, but I didn't know for what. Because at that point, I only knew my one friend. [Laughter]. Going back to my one friend that had gone to Guilford from my high school, he went and did his MBA. And so, I knew that there was Master’s in business administration, but I was like, ah, I knew I did business in college, but that's not where my heart is. And so that was not what I wanted to do. I didn't know many people personally, you know friends, close friends or family that had a Master’s, but I started looking at everyone around me and trying to figure out what their degree was. People that I looked up to in the work. This was before LinkedIn. You couldn't just you know figure out what people's journey was. I started meeting with people for coffee. I ended up meeting with 15 or more social workers. And they were all doing different work, in farmworker-related, immigrant rights-related, just different type of work. And I was like, I want to be a social worker, because they're all doing work that I would love to be able to do, positions that I would love to have. And that's one of the reasons why I chose social work. And the other one is because I was working with the farmworker youth, and it was really working with them, their families, their siblings, their networks, because they would connect. They would know that there was a need, and they would refer people to me to try to find support and resources for them or just hear them out. And a lot of those concerns and just things that people were going through were really heavy and I didn't know how to deal with that. I couldn't go home and not think about it, or I couldn't get frustrated that there was nothing else that could be done to help them and so I knew that social work would give me a little bit more of that training on to figure out how you even help, and how do you respond, what's your role. How to push systems and how to continue to advocate for people in different ways, and that's when I ended up going to the school social work at UNC. That was a whole different journey. A whole different journey because I had been out of school for years. I still, I was DACAmented, as they say, and still had to pay out-of-state tuition if I wanted to go back to school. And it felt selfish to want to go back to school when there were a lot of people still that hadn't had the opportunity to even go to a community college or a college or university for a four-year degree, and I wanted more. So that kind of, I think I put those ideas on myself but it was just hard to kind of want more. And it was my support system, it was people around me that encouraged me to not give up and to find a way. And I met--. I had someone on Facebook that I thought it was the Facebook of this person that worked in the same building as me, and I did a lot of presentations and supported a class that happened for university students. So my support was really around farmworker information, presentations, and farmworker education for those students. So I had this person on Facebook, I thought it was this professor, but it really was that he shared that Facebook page with his wife. So it was the kids' Facebook page, and they both used it. They shared pictures of their children. So I posted something that like--. He knew that I wanted to go to school. I posted that I was trying to go to school, trying to find resources, scholarships and all that. And he connected me with his wife and said: I think you really want to talk to my wife, you should meet. She's also a social worker. And she wants to help you. And I didn't know that this whole time she had been--. She knew who I was because of Facebook, and so I met with her a weekend in this office, in her office, and we came up with a plan on how I was going to be able to go to grad school.
DV: Wow.
YGR: Like, who I needed to reach out to at the school, how I was going to try to pull in enough funding. And I walked away from her office with this big sheet of paper with everything on it and I really went on that path. I ended up having to fundraise for my education because there were not many scholarships for students like me. The ones that were available I applied out of the school, and I didn't get those. Very competitive national scholarships. And people like her and others connected me with people at the School of Social Work. Everyone at the School of Social Work knew that I was coming, who I was. There had seen emails about me, people advocating for me to be thought of for a scholarship support. It could be a little embarrassing. [Laughter]. You know, because people were like, this is just me and this is everything she's done, and she would be amazing, and these are the challenges that she has. So I think for me the most difficult part was to try to fundraise. And the moments that really were like--. That brought me a lot of joy. And just what surprised me a lot is people that didn't know me that supported me. Like people in my network spoke highly of me to their network and I got checks from people that I had never met. And some people didn't want me--. They wanted to be anonymous, they didn't need me to contact them and thank them and I was like I want to thank you, I want to know who you are. And people from my community, people from the community where I grew up also supported that.
DV: In Mexico?
YGR: Here.
DV: Oh, here.
YGR: Here in Alamance County. And so, to me it meant people believe in me, people are cheering for me, supporting me. And so I just went all in and fundraised for my whole grad school cost, and went into grad school trying to be the best student ever. Like read everything and do everything. I got to be an RA all throughout both years and the summer and learn from different professors. It was really one of those, again, life-changing experiences, because I never thought I would be able to be there. Even with DACA, even with a driver's license and a social security number, it's still a place that is not that accessible to DACAmented and undocumented students. So it felt surreal. And also hard because you're one of a few Latino students. There was, not that I knew of, any other student that was in the same situation that I was. And it's an institution at the end of the day, so there's things that could be better. We're always, as students, we're always challenging the system. We're always questioning, especially at the School of Social Work where in the code of ethics it's like social justice is one of those things that, you know, we care about. So it was interesting because I was sort of part of the advocacy but also working for professors and being an RA for the assistant dean, and you know. [Laughter]. Pushing here, but also this is my research assistantship and this is how I'm able to be in school. Because I was working for the school so that they could help me with my tuition, with part of the tuition, at least not pay out-of-state tuition, but pay it sort of the mid-level point through the funding that the research assistantship came with. So it was an incredible experience and I was able to do a couple internships there at the Hispanic Family Center through Catholic Charities in Raleigh. And then my final internship was an internship that I found on my own. It wasn't one listed. The list of internships, there was nothing that really spoke to me. And so I went to try to find an organization that had a social worker that could supervise me and that had the work that I wanted to do. And so I reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union who had two social workers. I knew one of them and I ended up being an intern there. And that's when DACA was rescinded. So it was when the Trump administration was trying to get rid of DACA and it was very fearful because DACA is what had opened the doors for me, it was the way that I could work for the school and finish grad school. And so I was in the middle trying to keep organizations informed, like support on that end, trying to support the advocacy efforts and be part of that work again, now as a grad student. Very nerve-wracking too because I felt like, I don't know, I just--. You just put ideas on yourself. I was--. The expectations are high on how I'm supposed to, you know, do the work because now I'm in grad school. I just felt it was I have to do my best and even better than, you know, two years ago because I'm a grad student and I put a lot of pressure on myself at that time. And I was able graduate from the School of Social Work and land on my first job. I applied for different things that felt sort of comparable, like going back to the farmworker space. I tried to get into philanthropy which didn't work at the time. I was seen as very young, not a lot of experience on that sort of area. And then I ended up being sort of recruited or encouraged to apply for a position at the hospital in town. And it was working under the supervision of the person that was really crucial in helping me come up with a plan on how I was going to get to grad school. That woman that I mentioned that brought me to her office, that I knew her husband, and so also social worker. And I ended up applying for jobs. I got a job in farmworker health and I declined that job and ended up coming to work for the hospital. And I actually, I don't know, it's full circle in a way because I got to work in the community where I grew up, got to learn, got to meet more people. And understand the dynamics that happen in the county between non-profits, hospital, health department, things that work, things that could be better, contributing in the ways that I could to make spaces more welcoming of Latinos. Or try to bring a little bit more awareness of why you might not be seeing Latinos and how you could improve in your outreach. And having the supervisor I had was an amazing experience because she was a leader that tried to uplift and to give you the tools you needed to do what needed to be done. And it was a little crazy when she said that she wasn't in the office much because she was covering a broader region and that she was going to give me her office. And I was like, what?! The office where I first met her to come up with a plan on how I was going to get to grad school. That's what it meant to me. I was like, the office with three windows, I'm getting that office? So that just felt like, oh my god, full circle. I can't believe that two years ago, two and a half years ago, I was sitting in this office not knowing that I was going to be able to go to grad school and not knowing that I was going to be able to, you know, move on in my career thanks to having a master's degree.
DV: Wow.
YGR: And that work in the hospital was really rewarding, was really hard, too, because it was coming--. It was putting me out of my comfort zone not being in the immigrant rights space, farmworker advocacy space where everyone is aware of the community needs or trying to serve or have that shared goal. It was more of just different people, right, with different jobs, serving the broader community, very mainstream in a way, where there were little to no Latinos in the spaces where I was moving. And so that was hard to navigate, but also rewarding to see little by little sort of the impact of just my presence or a comment or a question or my--. Or giving input. We were able to do a lot of programming to grow the programming for the Latino population in Alamance County, connect people to resources that were available for free or little cost like mammogram, you know, just information on pre-diabetes, like connecting people to different resources. And that's when the pandemic hit. And that's when we all shut down in terms of showing up to the office. And my supervisor being very supportive allowed me to do the work that I thought was needed, which was to support with basic needs to the community because people were staying home, losing their jobs or not being able to work, like not having food. It was just really like a chaos. And so I worked closely with the Dream Center in Burlington. Past Lisa had this idea of doing a food giveaway and trying to find meals and give it out to the community. And it was literally her family, my husband and I, and one more couple on the first day. And they bought food, they found funding, and I came up with ways to improve our system. I supported that day. We had cars coming through one end of the building going all around and we had a tent we were giving out the food it was very, like, the first day was a mess. It was good but it was like we were just trying to improve, and we served, I don't know if the first day we served like 120 families. I don't know, a crazy number of just cars that came by and we just gave them food and you know trying to have PPE on us and protect ourselves and protect others but give food. And that just grew and grew and grew and every week we were giving more and more food. So many people came along to help after that first day, we had nonprofits showing up, Elon University leadership, people from the city of Burlington, the mayor was out there, former mayor was there giving out food. And just different people came and helped and it just grew from giving this full menu that people can choose from American and Latino food and diapers and fruit and getting donations and giving out masks and giving out, you know, what we could. And it was definitely like--. Thursday was the day where even people that didn't know what was going on they would see the lines of cars and would come and get in line. They were like we don't know what's happening, but everybody's coming so we want to come and see. And it had a huge impact on nonprofits and organizations who had heard about Latinos, who had heard about the Dream Center, but really didn't come close yet, so they got to see the community and that was impactful too because a lot of times people may ask where are the Latinos, right? They're not coming, and we're here, we're part of the community. They're just busy working jobs that sometimes are not visible and they're keeping to themselves because it's what's comfortable and it's what feels safe. And the Dream Center became that sort of place that a lot of people start to recognize the habit trust in the community that was in the, in the part of town where we needed resources the most. And so, it was really neat to be able to give back during those times that were really difficult. That was before testing. Then testing came around and we coordinated, I helped to coordinate in the county different places for testing. We were going to the places in the community where we could see the higher rates or where we wouldn't, we didn't see rates because we also thought people were not being tested there. In rural parts of the county, different parts of the county, and it was free testing for anyone that wanted it in a drive-thru sort of way in collaboration with the health department. And so I was in that time when I got a call that my dad was feeling, was ill, was not doing well in Mexico, and had to go back to Mexico. And he had gotten COVID, it was July, and he didn't make it. So that was really hard because I was here, you know in the response and trying to provide what I could to the community and then my dad was home, not feeling well, not telling us for some days because, my dad. And I got to Mexico and by the time I got there he was at a hospital, and I was not able to go in. I was not able to see him. And that just was so hard for my family and for myself. And a lot to kind of deal with and process in that sort of very scary way of you not being able to be there for your loved one, you not being able to even do the proper traditional way of a funeral. Or doing the things that we usually would do for the people we love. And so that 2020 was definitely a rough year for me and then coming back to--. Having to come back and go back to work and still processing that for a long time. And my husband was running for office, too, at that time, so it was a lot to kind of grieve for my dad, be strong for family, and support my husband as he was running his first campaign for office. And that fall is when, I was supposed to become a citizen in March, but it happened that the pandemic got here and everything got shut down, so it got pushed to October, and I was able to become a citizen in October. And that was sort of, one of the first sort of big painful moments because it was one of the first few life milestones that I wasn't able to call my dad and tell him. And I remember that being really hard just because it's a moment that I should be happy but it was, you know--. When he, when someone you love is no longer a part of your life, it's really hard to kind of figure out the thing that I would do is not something that I can do anymore. But I guess the little happiness or the little sort of moment that brought comfort was knowing that, I feel like I know that he's with me, you know, in different ways now and that he would be happy for me. And also, that same day, because of the pandemic, it was very weird citizenship ceremony where it was three of us in this huge room and nobody else could come into the building. They asked the questions. They did my interview, my final interview, and then right away put us in this room for the oath. So I did everything in one day instead of doing two parts as usually the process would be, and then I got out of there and drove directly to early voting. It was the last day of early voting, and so I registered to vote during early voting before it closed, and I voted for my husband. And I was like, I cannot believe that this is happening and then drive straight to the library to request my passport because I was like, there's no going back, they can't take this away from me. I'm going to do everything I need to do--.
DV: Yeah, you made it.
YGR: To get this, you know, to get to this point. So it was a full day of, you know, just--. I feel like I was running, before anybody changed their mind, to do what I needed to do. So 2020 was definitely bittersweet in many ways, for many of us, but definitely very high highs and very low lows. And then that fall I got a call from a friend that said, do you want to do the work that you're doing at the county level but at the state? And I was like, no, I got enough with my county. There's plenty of work to do here and I'm doing all I can. And I was like, still doing the work with the hospital, canvassing. Well we were starting to do lid drops, not canvassing, that fall, and just juggling everything and grieving. And it was probably a month later that I saw the job description for the job that I have now and I fell in love with it because it was the focus on the Latino community, it was really working at a systems level. It felt that every part of my journey was leading me to this job, from a personal, to a professional, to an educational experience. And so, I put my name in the hat. I applied, went through three interviews and was waiting to hear back and left to Mexico to see family. It was probably between November and December. I think it was like November, December.
DV: Still 2020?
YGR: In 2020. November December of 2020. I applied around September, October and then it was November, December, I was in Mexico riding a taxi with my husband. An old taxi, it was an old car, you could hear the engine, one of those cars. And so, I got a call from who would be my supervisor and I was in this car and the engine you could hear the eeeeh, and I was like this is embarrassing but I have to talk to her. So my husband try to tell the taxi driver to pull to the side because literally the sound was horrible and so he pulled over. And then she gave me the job offer and she said that, you know, congratulations you got the job. Gave me a little bit of information and said that I could review the documents that were coming to my email and then get back to them. And so that moment is very memorable because I was in Mexico, you know, the place where I was born, the city where I was born. And then getting to--. I'm getting to hear that I got a job working in the government in this place that I went to for better life and better opportunities, in a taxi with this horrible noise. And so that was really the moment that, you know, sort of shaped what was to come for the next two-plus years now. Came back, started working in January and it was really hard for many months working about 15 hours every day non-stop, no weekends, no evenings. Really being part of that early, since the very early stage of vaccine distribution, COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the state and prevention work. And having the weight of knowing that the Latino population was disproportionately impacted by COVID, and knowing that farmworkers were impacted, that meat-processing plant workers were impacted, just frontline workers who for the most part were Latino, were impacted and trying to do all I could to be part of that response. So it was a lot.
DV: What had happened with your dad, did you have that in your mind also when you went through that work?
YGR: Yes, yes and I was trying, you know, had a lot of--. I did seek therapy that didn't work. Didn't work, the therapist that I found was not a good fit and I was like, I'm wasting my time and I didn't have time to look for another therapist, but I had friends and people that were there for me. I know that it's hard, when you have a friend that is going through that you sometimes don't know how to act, you don't know what to say, you don't know how to support. But I did have people that were there for me and talked to me, you know, said: why are you doing this? Are you doing this for your dad? Also, don't feel like you have to sacrifice or like--. Not sacrifice yourself, but put yourself in a place where it's also painful because it's a reminder, right? And so I thought it through, and I know that part of me was trying to prevent the suffering of other families, and I do all I can to be part of that response because I know it was real. A lot of people were like, COVID is not real. And I was like, COVID is real. COVID is the reason why my dad is no longer here. And I think for me it was a part of giving back and trying to alleviate the situation as much as possible, or contribute to or control the pandemic, or prevent the spread. But also because I think this is my life's work. I never think about, in my path, in my career, it's never been about a position and a title, it's been about the work. What about this role will speak to me and will make a difference to the community that I care about? And that is sort of what drives me. And that's what really drove me to this job, looking at the job description and the possibilities, knowing that it was going to be really, really hard, knowing that I was going to end up working within an institution that was being held accountable by the advocacy groups that I was part of in previous roles. So it was a lot of--. It was really hard emotionally to navigate that because now I'm part of the system, right? And so being that bridge builder but also at times taking it all, and trying to help with solutions. But at the end of the day, now I'm the face or I became the face during those moments of what was not right, or what could be better and needed to be better with the same people that I was colleagues, you know, for a long time in the movement. So that was a hard shift and trying to--. I knew that I am here to improve the strategies, the initiatives, to make sure that we have a lens of the community, to look at policies and interventions and ways that we can be better. In that moment, it was specific to COVID-19, but also kind of showing people, feeling that I had to show people that I'm still me and I'm still here for the right reasons, even though I'm not part of the outside advocacy. So that was shift, it was the first time that I found myself in that sort of dynamic scenario. And it's been a really rewarding experience. It's been hard. It's been an adjustment, learning how government works. And it's also, for me, I'm really grateful to have been part of that team that was part of COVID-19 response at the state level because I saw that everybody was working nonstop and giving their all. And they had been there since the beginning, like the prior year when I was at the county level. So, the county-level work was hard physically because we were doing the food distribution, mentally, emotionally, but it was not the level of pressure at the state that I came to in 2021, and that I had to kind of, to do that work. And I think the other thing that has been rewarding there is to try to shape my job because it was the first time that this position was created, so there was not before anybody in this role. So try to establish myself and show people that I'm about collaboration, I'm about improving the work together. It is a system, it's huge. There's different things that could be better and trying to focus on what can we actually accomplish in the time that we have. And also I've gotten to work with students who are getting their Master’s of Social Work so now I get to, by this point I've had three students, supervised three students, that are becoming social workers who are Latina, who are bicultural with different life experiences, who have been in North Carolina, either were born here, grew up here, have been here for some time. And so that feels to me that is a part--. I've identified that that is a part that is important to me. Even if it's middle school, which is our ( ) age, high school, youth, just making sure that we're still working on that pipeline. Because this work is hard, and we need more people. I don't know why I'm getting emotional.
DV: It's okay.
YGR: I think it's--. What feels heavy a lot of times is that one person cannot change everything and many people are that one person in their space. And it's not fair to them, to the community, to the people. That we need more representation and I think that's what this pandemic really--. I hope that it's the lesson learned for everyone around that we can't wait for a global pandemic to realize that we're not representing the communities that we serve, that we don't have that representation for many systematic reasons, but also it's not the fault of people. From the education system to immigration system, to different systems at play that are not letting people move on to opportunities and be in those spaces. And from policies and practices that come into play, you know, who is being hired, who's given a chance, who's given a scholarship, looking at population, like do we have enough people at the table to be part of the solutions, to serve, so that people feel comfortable. I think that is the work ahead of ourselves. Right now, as we're coming out of this pandemic and everything is kind of going back to normal: not losing sight of what we learned, what was hard, and what we need to continue to implement that was done during COVID in, some shape or form, and continue to make it better. So I think that's what's on my mind a lot these days. Because I tell people, I did feel the pressure of people saying, oh you're the Latina doing all this work, but I'm like, I don't speak for all the Latino population. The Latino population is not monolithic. It's very diverse in so many ways. And I bring perspectives, I bring information, I bring research, I inform. And also, it should be more than one person. All throughout organizations, it should be that way, that people are either aware, knowledgeable, or they are representing the demographics that North Carolina is now. Because it's not like when I first went to high school, that I was the only Latina, you know, in my classroom. Now looking at Alamance County and seeing different schools that have sometimes even 40% Latino, and I could not dream of that when I was growing up. That was something that I didn't experience, right? So we need to make sure that we are setting those infrastructures in place to support the population, especially because--. I mean, I think North Carolina has grew a lot over the last 20 years in terms of demographics in the Latino population and our Latino population right now is still relatively young, but we're going to age and those systems need to be in place to be able to support the community. And so, this pandemic could have been worse in terms of death rates if we had been an older population. And we're not done confronting health disparities, chronic illnesses and everything that's to come.
DV: So that's what's on your mind for now in your current role?
YGR: Yes.
DV: So, considering all of these experiences, Yazmin, what would you say were the main factors that helped you along the way, that shaped the leadership that you have exhibited and continue to exhibit in your role?
YGR: I would say, I don't know. This is a hard one because I think there's definitely people, there's things that I've mentioned, like the people that have been part of my support system. The opportunities that I got that I know that not many people in my time, that share similar experiences, had. I think that, I don't know the word in English, sometimes this one goes away, but like, soy necia. I get into an idea, like I get like--. I think about this is what I want to do, and I just go for it. No matter if people are telling me, you're crazy, that's not doable, why, that's too much this, too much that, I just focus and go and do it. And in a way, I think it can be bad in different ways, you know. But in this case, just setting my mind to something has helped me, even when things were hard. And really having that support system: being family, being friends, being my husband, who believe in me and continue to encourage me and push me to do what I need to do, has been important. And we all have, you know, ups and downs, like there's definitely times and days where it's hard and I think about the why, right? I think about how I started, where I am, where were the possibilities. Knowing that the possibilities are endless, and we just have to keep pushing and that's something that I tell other young people. You never know, you can't just give up because you never know the opportunities that will come later and that's what happened for me. I went to school, to college not knowing that DACA was going to be a thing. And then I got DACA and then I pushed to try to go to grad school not knowing that I was actually going to be able to finish. And I never thought I would be able to become a citizen so you never know the path but you only do, you can only do what's in your control and that's what sort of keeps pushing me. I'm not able to fix everything but what's in my reach, I'll try to do. And it's the people that I've had, the motivation, the sacrifices of my family like my grandparents. For many, many years, my grandparents were in my mind a lot because I know sort of the challenges that they faced, the humble beginnings that they had, how they did all they could for their children. Now, with everything that I've gone through, my dad is on my mind a lot because I know how hard he worked, how much he supported me, how much he cared. His own way he showed us that he loved us. He was not very--.
DV: Affectionate.
YGR: Affectionate, but he showed us in his own ways, and he worked really hard. He was well respected in his job. Dedicated. For him, his job was like life, which sometimes can be bad, and I try to walk myself back when I am getting to that sort of mindset. There's more to life than just work. There’re other things. But I think for me, my job is also sort of my way of being a productive member of society and giving back and making--. Doing my best to make things a little better if even if it's in a small way. That's what sort of drives me. People that I love that I look up to or that were an important part of my life, and of course my mother, who is, who has been an amazing force for me. Yeah, just like thinking about people who have been there for me and what I can do for others. I think that's sort of what has helped me along the way. And I do want to believe that there's a God that has looked out for me because I would not be here in many ways. Just being an immigrant, you know, going through different experiences, something could have happened to me at different parts of my life to derail me from the path. Or to not even be alive, you know. Different kinds of ways. So, I am definitely grateful for that. And what motivates me a lot too, is that I'm not the only one. This is my story and is unique. But there's many stories like mine, and now we're getting to see more and more and more of that. And that really motivates me because during the time that I was sort of growing up and going to college and stuff like that, people would not talk about their experience or they would protect it, which it's so understandable. But now we have more and more people talking about it, bringing awareness, and pushing and advocating, and we're still in the same spot. DACA has been challenged. You know, new people, people who are coming of age cannot apply for DACA even if they qualify. There are no new applications that are being received. So we're not in a better place, even if many, many years have passed. Out of state tuition is still, you know, an issue. Access to driver's license for people is still an issue, immigration reform. So we are not where we need to be, but there's more people coming in and being part of that fight, and that is very motivating.
DV: Speaking of motivation and to conclude our interview, and you've already mentioned a little bit about future leaders, but thinking of all of your experiences, what advice would you give future Latino leaders so that perhaps you're not the only one in the space?
YGR: I think I would highlight unity and common goals. Like I mentioned, the Latino population, Latinx Hispanic population is very diverse in many ways. Immigration experience or, you know, maybe growing up here, generationally, too. We're so diverse. And I think what I would sort of highlight for leaders is the importance of working together and the importance of supporting each other and also the understanding that leadership looks different. And we need all kinds of leadership, and we need all kinds of strategies and advocacy, because I really see this as an ecosystem where different things are happening, and they build on each other and they help each other. And as the leadership grows and as the movement continues to, sort of, expand, I think as a community we got to work together and respect each other and make space for different voices. And I'm thinking very specific about the younger sort of age groups, that we all were young at one point, and we all thought that we could change the world at one point. And we need those mindsets because it is tiring. This journey is tiring. Someone texted me: the struggle is forever, after something happened and now it's like, yes, it's so real, the struggle is forever. We have to take care of each other. We have to take care of ourselves. We have to respect the different ways that people go about strategizing and, you know, fighting maybe within the system, maybe outside of the system, maybe in different ways, but we're not the enemy. Each other, we're not the enemy. We're just trying to move, work alone, and so I think it's important for us to keep that in mind and bring others along into the different spaces. If you have the opportunity to support other people, what better way than to, you know, take advantage of that? And also, if you have been in the space for a long time, hear from other voices and hear about what they're saying and make room in the space that you are to, like, have those people sit at the table. Because I feel that's something definitely that I have seen a lot in our state in terms of dynamics that happen, and that is not really doing us any good. It's actually taking away from the work that should be done. And just to not give up. I mean, I feel everyone's experience and everyone's journey is valid. We need to just sort of embrace each other. That is sort of what I feel I learned at Guilford when I was in the Hispanos Unidos de Guilford. We came together and we were all different, Latinos with different experiences from different walks of life, different countries, and just reassuring: yes, you are here, and you matter, and you are Latino no matter what. Who can, like, nobody can question that. No matter if you speak Spanish or not, no matter if you know how to salsa or not. There is no checklist of this is who you are as a Latino, and this is what makes you a leader. We all have different types of ways that we identify ourselves, different ways that we connect to our culture, different ways that we bring leadership to spaces. And I think because sometimes being the only one, or one of the only ones, that imposter syndrome can come, no matter how long you've been in the work, it’s really helpful when you have that support system and that little group or that person that understands you and supports you. And you can be that to someone else. And I think sharing our experiences and sharing the struggles can also help because you never know who can identify with you and who will hear that and make an impact. Just like my one friend [laughter] who I have followed all throughout. We're actually neighbors right now. We live really around the corner.
DV: Wow.
YGR: But one, one person--. I learned this recently. I spoke at a women's march when Women's March was a thing. I forgot what year, but I spoke at a women's march and there was someone in the audience that what I said resonated with her. Also undocumented, with similar experiences, trying to figure out how to make it to higher education. I was at grad school at the time. And recently she attended a conference and talked to someone else I know. And the question was, what was a time or who was someone that inspired you or something? And she talked about me, and she said, I went to these Women's March, and I heard this speaker that shared different things that I connected with, and that resonated with me. And my friend knew that I spoke to that, in that march, and so she was like, was this her? [Laughter]. And, and, you know, it's like, what?! That was years ago. And I was so scared to speak up and I was so scared to share my story. No matter how open I have been it's always, you know, nerve wracking in front of hundreds of people. And knowing that I said something that this young person was impacted by, and now she is incredible. She is an incredible advocate, doing a lot of advocacies and lobbying at the state level for immigrant rights. I'm inspired by her. But it's just funny to see how we have different points, and you never know when you say something, that person might be needing to hear those words. And she connected with that. So I wanted to cry when that was like, what? She, you know, Women's March--. And she's doing this incredible work and something I said inspired her to keep going. So I think that would be my one last sort of advice to others. You never know who you're impacting, so make sure that you're sharing your experiences with others.
DV: Well, thank you very much for sharing your journey and your story with us today. And your wisdom. Thank you very much.
YGR: Thank you.


Transcribers: Sofia Godoy & Daniel Velásquez
Interview Date: 2023 April 21
Date of Transcription: 2023 July 25. Revisions: 2023 31 August