Creciendo Juntos

Creciendo Juntos

LEARNING, LEADING AND GROWING TOGETHER.

For this month’s newsletter ‘Brillante Latinx’ feature, I was able to sit down with a local community organizer and a Graduate student of University of Virginia, Andrea Negrete. She’s well known for her local activism and organizing with ICE Out of Cville, Hands Off Maria Sanctuary, and more. I was able to sit down with one of the Graduate students of University of Virginia, Andrea Negrete. All the way from a small town in Washington, with a Bachelor and Master from University of Washington in Seattle, she found her path and journey here since moving to Charlottesville in 2015.

Andrea migrated to the U.S. at the age of three years old with her family from Mexico and has grown up in Mattawa in Washington. She attended University of Washington in Seattle to get her Bachelor Degree in Psychology and Masters in Education Policy. After working for a few years as a research coordinator, she made the decision to get her PhD. She took a week-long road trip to attend UVA.

“It was me, my mom, and one of my sisters, Marcela, who drove all the way together.” Andrea recounts her stories of arriving in Charlottesville, Virginia. “But half of the way, my dad and my other siblings also joined us so that we can make different stops at different places. It was kind of like a family caravan!”

I started off the interview by asking her what brought her to Charlottesville and how long has she been here.

“I chose to live here specifically for the psychology department [at UVA].” She began. She explains that she moved into Charlottesville with little to no information about the city and even of UVA (outside of the Psychology Department). “…Basically in the application process, you know, you do an interview… So, you [traditionally] fly out and check out the school. But again, it was really focused [on the interviews]. My time, when I came to visit in February 2015, was very focused on meeting my potential advisors and like meeting other people in the program.”

However, she was able to try Bodo’s Bagels, a local restaurant that is exclusive to Charlottesville. We laughed at how it was one of the small joys of being in Charlottesville.

After that, I asked “What sparked your inspiration and motivation in pursuing your current career? And has it always been the same goal? If not, what was the journey like?”

Andrea paused and answered, “I’ve always gravitated towards… some type of helping profession, right. So for me, going to college wasn’t just about me getting a degree… I was doing this with my parents, right, but I was also doing this for my community.” She explained. “So for me, I wanted the degree to be a reflection of that. And so, I always gravitated towards professions that I felt could help me contribute back.”

She moved on to further explain that psychology was one of the first majors that got her interests. She emphasized that her decisions also came from being a first-generation college student. “I didn’t know a whole lot about just different professions and different career tracks… The careers that I knew of were because of my interactions growing up.”

The professions she saw around her were limited to dentists, doctors, teachers and common one as such. It took her awhile to have a really good picture of different options that she can explore into.

“But one of the things,” She continued, “that sparked my interest was psychology. I also had an interest in health sciences…” Her interests in these majors comes from original interests in wanting to be a resource for anyone who was recovering from an injury. However, that soon started changing as soon as she got involved in advocacy in college. “I became more involved in efforts to increase access to higher education for First Gen Low-Income Students of Color.”

She gave the example of her previous university, University of Washington, being a predominately white institution. “So that means, the majority of the student body has historically [been white] and continues to be that way, you know, and that’s very intentional.”

These experiences sparked an interest in challenging Andrea’s thinking of creating changes in these social institutions and changing policy to better support youth of color.

For many first-generation and immigrant students of color, there are often many pressures to go to college. However, once in college, they end up being confronted with inequalities that exist in these institutions that no one prepared them for. As a result, this only adds up more stress for students of color.

“Right. It was through very specific initiatives and policies that created barriers for students of color to attend [and] we could also make very specific decisions to address those things and to change them.” Andrea finished.

This way of thinking is only emphasized by her experiences here in Charlottesville. Andrea has actively attended events in the community and on at UVA. So, I asked her how having lived in Charlottesville shaped her experiences as a Latinx individual.

“To be honest,” Andrea began. “I’ve become a lot more radical in my thinking since moving to Charlottesville… A lot of it is because of the other community activists and organizers that I’ve met through being involved in these different initiatives and learning from them.”

Andrea also pointed out that she moved into Charlottesville in 2015 has enabled her to experience historical moments; the election of Trump, the Summer of Hate, the global pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter uprising.

“In that context, I’ve been really [challenged] to push my thinking around social issues.” She continued. “For example, one concrete example was my stance on the police, you know, prior to moving to Charlottesville.”

Andrea explained that she was aware of the need to change law enforcement and policing back in Seattle. “I think I came to that analysis from more of a reformist perspective.” She admitted.

“And seeing [how] the police responded to the events surrounding the Summer of Hate was really a turning point in coming to realization that we needed way more than reform. I really started to take on more of an abolitionist perspective.” She said.

She finished off, “It’s been in a way hard to live in Charlottesville, to be a student. But at the same time, I think I’m really just thankful for the amazing community organizers that exist here and everything that I’ve definitely learned from them.”

This brought me to the following question, “How would you currently define yourself and the role you play within the Latinx community or in Charlottesville, in general?”

Andrea takes a moment to respond. “One of the things that I thought about in terms of when I first moved here- my approach was more of like ‘I am a new person here and I want to know who’s who…, and what’s going on.” She started off.

“I saw my role more as someone that really needed to, like, listen and learn from the community.” She emphasizes that whenever someone moves into a new community, the best thing to do is to know people and build relationships. “Okay, I have these skills or these interests, like, how can I best be of service? How could I fit in that?” She said to convey her point in how to be beneficial in a community you moved into. That was her approach originally when she moved in five years ago.

“I see myself as also part of the activist community here in Charlottesville.” She said.

As a trusted member of the organizing community in Charlottesville, Andrea has also taken initiative in doing a research project for her dissertation where she’s talking to young adult who are between the ages of 18 to 25 who have migrated to the U.S. from Latin America at some point in their life and currently live in central Virginia.

I asked her to go into more details behind the project and the goal of it.

“So, I’m having confidential interviews.” She clarified. “And so, during these conversations, I’m asking questions about their lives in central Virginia. Their experiences with discrimination, either experiencing it themselves or seeing it in their community, their views on immigration, race, identity, and other topics… One of the reasons I am focusing on eighteen to twenty-five years old is because this is a time when a lot of young people might have a lot of different life transitions.”

Andrea explained her decisions behind the age between eighteen and twenty-five; most individuals go through different types of rite of passage such as graduating high school or college, moving into their own places, marrying, creating a family, and more. “So, this project helps to tell their stories from their perspective about how they are navigating these life experiences in the context of an anti-immigration administration… how they live within this context, the way they’re resisting, the way they’re making contributions in their own community.”

This prompted me to ask her about her aim in what she plans to use this data for.

“I hope to turn these reports into publications to submit to journals that other researchers from all over the US can read and learn from. I consider myself an adolescent developer researcher.” She said. “… from what I’ve seen is that a lot of research can be used to inform programs and policies. But in a lot of ways, research has historically excluded young people of color.” She explained that people are making decisions based on research that can affect communities..

“I also hope to be able to write a report to provide to local organizations and have them use [her research project] in whatever ways they might find it helpful in their initiatives that they’re seeking to support.” She concluded.

As she explains her initiative and goals, I wondered how COVID-19 has impacted her research in general. “How has COVID-19 impacted the research process?”

At this question, she sighed and laughed a little. “Yeah… the governor issued this Stay-At-Home order and pretty quickly after… we also got the notification from the body at UVA that governs research and oversees research… They shut down all in-person research and we had to figure out how to readjust under a world where in-person contact was no longer allowed for good reason.”

Andrea started taking in-person interviews in the middle of January and had to transition into all phone interviews using Zoom. She also talked about how being quarantined had changed how information about the project had to be shared. “Before, I was making announcements in person, either in local churches or community events… that was really important to go out into the community, meet people in person and let them know who I am.”

After COVID-19, the way to spread information started to rely more on online and word of mouth.

As I was listening to how COVID-19 entirely shifted the process of the research, I became worried about how all this change impacted Andrea’s wellbeing. “How have you adjusted or cope with COVID-19?”

“It’s hard.” She stated. “It’s hard for everybody. And I think one thing I definitely acknowledge is that I do hold privileges-I have a job that has allowed me to work from home. And you know, as long as I know, I will continue to be able to do that through fall semester… I haven’t had to worry about job insecurity or those types of things. At the same time, I also live by myself and in the writing process for my dissertation combined with the pandemic, it’s pretty isolating.”

Andrea focused on the fact that she had to be really intentional about finding ways to cope with isolation and finding ways to stay connected. The pandemic made her rethink how to socialize in a responsible way and even navigate friendship. She even brought up how she initially was Zooming a lot but it became a fatigue for her.

“Taking the day, everything day by day. So, knowing that I can have a really good day and then the next day could just be really tough.” Andrea acknowledged. “I’m trying to be really kind to myself, even though I know I have specific deadlines. There’s no way I can be as productive as I was before, and so just letting go.”

Not only that, she mentioned that having a therapist she meets weekly has helped her a lot. “Having a therapist to work through… emotional highs and downs. I think those are kind of the key things for me.”

As we’re coming to the end of the interview, I wanted to make sure we left off on a light-hearted note, so I asked her what are her fun personal goals for the end of this year or following year.

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily fun, but a personal goal for next year is to become a Doctor.” Andrea laughed a bit. “To get my paper done and finish the year with my Doctoral degree.”

Interviewed by Elizabeth Valtierra

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