tomato soup with yasmin ruvalcaba saludado

I had a chance to sit down for a conversation over lunch with my friend yasmin ruvalcaba saludado, a passionate person whose aim is to help other people. moreover, she is, in her words, “going to do what it takes, whether that makes people mad or not”. read on, because this lady is wise and she wants you to know that you don’t have to move out of the way on the sidewalk.

r: what kinds of things are you thinking about right now?

Y: One of the things that I’ve kind of been thinking about is a passing down of trauma, in a way. So an inheritance of trauma. In the case of, well, in a personal example, how my mom’s border crossing and her having to leave family behind and come to this new world, obviously was a trauma for her, but also has created a trauma in the next generation. Whether it’s through this place of un-belonging…sometimes I don’t know where I belong more, whether it’s there or whether it’s here. Also the idea of not getting to spend time with [the rest of my family], and the trauma that comes along with that. And the idea of knowing that everything I do from here on out is because my mom had to endure this … I sometimes [put] off my own mental health, and my own stress. my way of reasoning is like, no no, I can do this because she did this stuff that was way harder…so I don’t know what exactly I want to do with that yet, whether it would just be a piece that I write, or a poem…the main idea for a title that I’m looking at would be “I inherited my mother’s trauma”. Instead of “I inherited her eyes”.

R: I think that’s really worthwhile. The way you’re framing it, the way you just said that when you’re dealing with something or you’re trying to process your own experiences there is that legacy of, well she did this. … I think that’s really powerful, looking to her…how do you take care of yourself in that kind of instance, how do you remind yourself of, or validate your own struggles or your own experiences, and use her experiences to make you stronger? how does that help you? I could see it being easy to get down on yourself, like “oh I got a bad grade on a test”, or something that might not be life-changing.

Y: yeah, especially my first and second years [in college], I was so bad when it came to getting bad grades. I would feel like not only did I let myself down, but there’s this idea of letting down so many other people. in the case of my family I am one of the first people to actually be pursuing a four year education, and you know you’re kind of raised that not only are you going to college for yourself but you’re going to college for your parents, for your aunts and uncles, and when you go home it’s very much ingrained in you. because everyone is so proud and asking how you’re doing. and especially those first two years I was like, how am I getting b’s and c’s, when I should be getting a’s like I used to be? like, I’m letting these people down. I would call my parents crying…it took me having to hear from [my parents] “it’s not your responsibility to make us proud. we are already proud of you…whatever happens we are already proud of everything you’ve accomplished” …and hearing that allowed me to give myself more space, and really start thinking that these c’s are nothing compared to what they’ve gone through, but these are still my struggles. before, college used to be the goal…now there are so many other things that I know I’m going to do that are going to help a lot of people, and from now on I need to start thinking about what’s going to make me proud of myself. it’s no longer about whether my parents are like “good job!”…it’s, “would I be happy looking back and thinking ‘did I do everything I could have?’” that’s the mentality I’m working with right now…and that’s been pushing me to do more theatre stuff that I want to do to.

r: so when you say helping other people, or what you want to do that would make you proud…what kinds of things would make you proud or are you interested in pursuing in that way?

y: one of the main things I want to work with right now is different immigration cases, and I’m trying to figure out how I want to do that. I know I want to help…create a better system for the people who are already in the system. one of the issues that’s going on [in every state] right now is that children –– and I’m actually writing the final project for one of my classes right now on this –– who come into the states seeking asylum are not guaranteed any legal representation. that means they immediately get deported, because you have to show this credibility of fear. and if you’re a seven-year-old child who doesn’t speak English and you’re terrified after this long journey...well it’s the idea of, yes, they’re not u.s. citizens, but they still have this right. so, back in [Washington state], this non-profit immigration law firm that I work for, they tried to pass a law through the courts, saying that this should be a requirement, but the courts were like, this is not our position to pass a law like this. either a child has to go through all the stages without representation and bring it to us again saying, this is why I need representation, which is just ridiculous. or they are like, oh the state is the next person to talk to that would be willing to help you, but, no, the state is the one who wants to kick them out, like that’s also ridiculous. and so they get denied….so I’m writing a performance piece about what it means for this child to be in this courtroom…[the performance, which hopefully will be brought to Washington, will] take place in middle school gyms or something. I want it to be on school grounds. schools are normally seen as places where children belong, they’re seen as safe spaces for children…but now we see videos of middle schoolers chanting “build the wall” as these latinx kids sit there like “what’s going to happen to us?”. schools are no longer the safe space. we’re going to advertise and hand out fliers that are kind of like a juror summons, called ‘spectator summons’. there would be no way to rsvp, because one of the things that I want, is no matter how many people show up, we are going to accommodate them. it’s also a commentary on immigration, that we are willing to make space for everyone who shows up.

r: that sounds like very important stuff to be thinking and talking about, and stuff I know very little about. I think that is in some ways part of the point. from what you’re talking about it sounds very accessible. that kind of education is powerful. I’m trying to think about what the connection is between this and inheriting your mother’s trauma, in terms of how these things have affected you. maybe that answer is obvious, but I’m just interested in hearing what you have to say about that.

[we pause for a moment for a tomato soup spill situation]

y: this idea of trauma, not just my mother’s trauma, but my need to do this takes in the trauma of any woman or anybody who’s had to cross the border and make this change…they’re leaving everything behind in a way. one of the things that hurts me when people talk about immigration is that they don’t realize how much people give up to be here. they have this idea that “oh they’re here to benefit off the system” and “they’re stealing these jobs” …[but leaving is] a hard choice to make…  there is so much loss associated with immigration, but we only focus on the gains…

r: my knowledge of this stuff has most recently been Syrian refugees, since I was in berlin a year ago. that’s my stronger point of reference, even though of course the experiences don’t totally map onto each other. I keep having this visual –– I don’t know why this is relevant, but I keep thinking about this: a photographer living in berlin came into my german class a month ago, and he’d kept in touch with and followed the narratives of three Syrian families coming into berlin. and he kept talking about the experiences of their children and how there’s that boat ride [across the Aegean sea], which is ultimately a short boat ride, but feels like the longest trip of your life. I just keep thinking about the family connection. the parents of one of these families kept their children up all day and all night before the boat ride, so that when they finally got on the boat the kids just fell asleep. because otherwise they were going to see the terror on everyone else’s faces and experience the traumas themselves.

y: they do it for family. my mom was actually pregnant with me when she crossed the border. she didn’t know! she was a month pregnant. I was actually made in mexico, which is a fun fact I like to drop sometimes.

r: wow. the fact at a month [into your mother’s pregnancy], that you were able to survive, testifies to her strength, physically, emotionally and otherwise.

y: doing theatre has been a luxury that I didn’t think I could do, because from the beginning my parents were like, theatre’s just a hobby. it’s not something you can do. a lot of first generation or minority students face this kind of thing, that your parents kind of expect you to become lawyers and doctors. they came here and they want you to do the best, and they don’t see theatre as something you can focus on or make a career out of. and going back to connections with my mother…my mom had to make the decision of not continuing her education after sixth grade, because she had to get a job…I feel now that my [doing theatre] is a way of giving her an opportunity to do so.

r: how do you take care of yourself the most?

y: what is really helpful is seeking out the culture that I don’t have [here at school]. when I’m here, I don’t speak Spanish, people aren’t listening to the music I listen to back home. and finding two or three people who I know have that same need for home, and just having a casual Friday night. where we sit down, make some hot chocolate abuelita, listen to some classic Mexican music, and talking in Spanish for the night…and if I don’t want to be around people, just watching a movie by myself every once in a while.

r: what movie did you last watch?

y: the two bad boyz movies. the watched the first, and then I was like, now I have to see the second.

r: oh my god. totally. do you try or how do you try to separate the obvious inner beauty and the obvious outer beauty that you have? should they be separated? is that something you even see a distinction between?

y: one of the things I always think about when thinking about fashion and the kind of clothes I use to express myself, is that I…wear a lot of flannels. everyone assumes it’s because I’m here in Massachusetts, where everyone wears flannels. but back home, my parents work in apple orchards, and I did too and we would wear flannels. and it became something I was embarrassed of. we would get out of work, and my parents might want to stop at a store, and I would immediately take off my bandana and my flannel, anything that represented field work. I was like twelve. and it just became this symbol of embarrassment. I didn’t want anyone to know I was working in the fields, even if half the population of [Prosser, Washington] does, because it’s an agricultrual area. I think getting away from that, I realized it shouldn’t be a sign of embarrassment. i realized it was something I need to be proud of. my parents have worked hard to get where they are, and all the work they do is hard work. I’m here because of this work that I did. so now, wearing flannels is a way to connect. and as you know sometimes I even wear bandanas. it’s a way to remember where I’m coming from. in a way it’s also an aesthetic but it’s a really important expression for me.

r: there is a power in finding identity in something you were once worried someone would judge you for, something that you were “told”, whatever that might mean, that you weren’t supposed to be proud of. just resisting that is an important strength to find. and what would you say to me or ask me, or anyone, in order to challenge me?

y: I think it’s important, despite being “ladies” and not being privileged in the patriarchy system, to recognize that there are different levels of privilege. whether that’s through race, class, education, everyone has levels of privilege. it’s important to recognize them and always question what is happening to other people with less privilege, and how you can help them.

r: thank you. i, especially since this election, have, yes, felt marginalized as a woman, but I know that there are countless ways that I’m not. something that is tricky about dealing with that, is that then I feel guilty for feeling marginalized as a woman, because I know all of the boxes that I do check, in terms of privilege. and I don’t want it to be perceived that I don’t, just because I’m concerned about my reproductive health. or the fact that we elected a potentially serial sex offender, or at least someone who talks about us in the unbearably heinous ways that our president-elect does. the fact that those scare me on a personal level, I feel guilty because I feel scared about things that don’t personally affect me, or my identities. that’s something I’m struggling with right now, that there are these layers of it. it’s easy to say I feel [marginalized or scared], it’s so easy to generalize it, when that’s not necessarily the right thing to do. that’s something I’m thinking about a lot, so I’m really glad that you said that. and I want to be able to support the people in my life. how do I make it clear that I know there are things that don’t affect me? which gets at the question, how do I be the right kind of ally? words mean so much, but they only mean so much. you have to act on them, and I want to know that I’m doing what I can be doing. do you want to add anything else?

y: I’ve been dealing with depression since junior year of highschool. and at the beginning it was something that was really hard to deal with, because in the Mexican or immigrant community, there’s a little bit of denial around mental health. it’s a “no it’s just a bad day” ideology. and it was nice when I got to school, when I was pointed to mental health resources here. and one thing I had to accept was that medication and seeking help on a larger level is not a sign of weakness. it is not that I’m not strong enough to be here or strong enough to be this person that I want to be. being able to overcome that was one of the most important things for me. so I want to say, don’t be afraid to seek out help. it’s actually a sign of strength, realizing that you need it.

r: and finally, tell me a joke.

y: what did the beatles say when they became vegetarians? lettuce be.

conversationsRose Miles