GUILLERMO ESTRADA RIVERA
Updated: May 7, 2019
"In a class at Naropa, a class about identity, they told me that people with accents are seen as ignorant people, especially Spanish accents ."
Good evening, my name is Guillermo Estrada. I work with Foothills United Way, with Pine Street Church, with Boulder County. With many organizations, trying to form an initiative that’s called Suma Latina, which is an initiative that tries to help the community to find a meeting point. In order to spread the information about all these events that celebrate the efforts of Marta, Carmen, of all of you, all the collective efforts and to find a meeting point.
To talk about my story – I came here 6 years ago. I am white and in Puerto Rico they make fun of that; they say “My boy, the sun is free.” When I came here they said “No, you are of color.” And I was like “What does that mean?” And they spoke a lot about discrimination and everything and told me why I had to be afraid, why I had to act a certain way. And I, ignorant in the end, tried to fit in. But in a class at Naropa, a class about identity, they told me that people with accents are seen as ignorant people, especially Spanish accents. And everyone started talking about that and they cornered me and I exploded. But I had to stay calm here, right? I’m here without family, friends, resources. That brought me to being in a cocoon, in a box. Alone. Isolated for years. I said to myself “If I can be alone, quiet, and act stupid so that they don’t bother me, I’ll pass as white. But in that experience I realized that – I had many experiences where my roommates consciously or unconsciously took advantage of me. I had a roommate that threatened me with a knife. I had experiences where I had to look for food in the streets.
They have been intense experiences. Coming from being white in my native land to being someone with identities that I didn’t know about. One survives, one has to keep moving forward, and currently it is not easy either. I work 60 to 80 hours a week. But I continue, what I want to contribute with this work is of a spiritual character – solidarity, values. It’s a little hippie, but yes, that’s what I studied in Naropa. And I think my intention – this started after so many years of solitude. They gave me one of those teas that connect you to the universe, but I didn’t see the universe. What I saw was solitude, sadness, pain. To the point where I think, “is that what is inside of us?” I don’t want others to think that they need to continue through that path.
My story isn’t special. Many of us are feeling this. And what I want is to create a space. Create a space so that our efforts may keep moving forward. Celebrate what we can offer as a community. Things like this. How can we continue to have more events? How can we form more initiatives to create respect, solidarity, to keep the stories alive? Stories are very important in my family. My grandparents were coffee growers. We’ve always been humble people. If you want me to speak about my credentials – two bachelor degrees, three languages, a master’s degree. But with all that, one gets here and “you are of color. You have to clean. You have to go to the streets. You have to work in the kitchen.” And they are stories that hurt when you don’t have your mother, your family here. They are all over there, proud that you are here. It’s intense. That’s why I always say that you all are my family, you are my extended family. And I want for us to continue with this, that we keep moving forward because we are, like Ricardo Garcia said at a meeting, we are one. Thank you very much.
Translated into English by Martín Better.