INSPIRING OTHERS BY SHARING Her Truth, Her Story, Her Community’s Reality: A Portrait of Lupita Gonz

Although I was Lupita González’s study abroad advisor leading up to her semester in Puebla, Mexico, our journey full of endless coffee breaks, vivid conversations about the complexity of an identity in movement and shared struggles of belonging started when she came back to the United States and applied for an internship in the Office of Education Abroad, where I work. Seeing one of my favorite places in the world through her eyes and hearing about the depth of her experience created our strong and invisible bond from the first moment she stepped into my office, ready to take on her internship and learn. Ironically, though I am Lupita’s supervisor, I feel like she has taught me so much, and I have grown through our friendship. As a Film and Media studies major, Lupita seeks to use film to tell important stories about her experience and her community’s resilience, and she is often behind the camera in the capacity of a director and an interviewer — giving others the platform to tell their stories. I am so excited to get to shift the focus and share a glimpse of her inspiring journey with you. Get ready to meet one of my favorite people and to learn about what I call her “identity in movement” and her inspiring work!

Can you tell us a bit about your background? What are some of your favorite memories?

I was born in Oklahoma City, but I have spent most of my life in Norman. I went to middle school and high school here, and I transferred to OU from UCO. I am now a senior about to graduate with a Film and Media Studies degree, with a minor in Latin American Studies.

I have two sisters and both of my parents are first-generation Mexican immigrants. My mom is from Aguascalientes — her family is from a little pueblo called El Zapote — and my dad’s family is from Mexico City. Family plays such a huge role in my culture. The biggest highlight of my upbringing in the States was getting to spend holidays and birthday parties with so many people to love on. There are so many of us. My youngest uncle actually just had a baby — and there is such a wide generational range in our family.

My favorite memories are scattered through all my family Christmas gatherings. We could never all fit in the same house; there was never enough room. We would take turns having gatherings at different houses but sometimes we would also rent out spaces for all of us to be together. A few Christmases ago, it was one of the first times when we all came together, including my grandparents and cousins from Aguascalientes. To be honest, although I have a large family and we are all over the place — when people ask where my family is from, Aguascalientes is my default. When I think of family, I think of Aguascalientes.

Why such a strong connection to Aguascalientes?

I went to Aguascalientes to spend Christmas with my family for what I would call the “first time” two years ago. I lived in Mexico for a year when I was one year old, but it’s something I’ve only known through pictures and stories. My mom says I’ve always been very curious as a child and that hasn’t changed — I spent my Christmas break in Mexico with my eyes wide open, constantly asking questions. Getting to hear my family’s history and learning about our past through my grandparents’ stories, seeing the house my mom grew up in and just being there for that snippet of time was incredible.

When I came back, my mom was surprised and overjoyed by how much I’ve fallen for this country and these people — utterly, completely head over heels. I felt like I had fallen in love, but with a place. I can’t believe how close this place has been the whole time — just a flight away — and I went through phases of being mad and upset that I was “kept away” from it for so long, and then understanding how difficult it must have been for my parents to be away from Mexico for so many years and how complex their decision-making process had to be.

Studying abroad in Puebla for a semester really got me thinking about first-generation immigrants who haven’t been to Mexico in a long time. My mom got to follow my journey on social media and would often jokingly comment, “has conocido más Mexico que yo” [you’ve seen more of Mexico than I did]. All I could think of is I wish you would have been here with me. I wanted all first-generation immigrants to be able to go visit what they had called home for so long. The reality is, many don’t have an opportunity to do that. My mom’s world was centered around her pueblo before leaving Mexico, how is it fair that I get to see so much more?

You mention your study abroad trip to Puebla, Mexico. How was this trip different from Aguascalientes and how important was it for you?

Before I went to Puebla, the only image of Mexico I had was the one of Aguascalientes. That’s what I knew. I didn’t know much about Puebla before going there — I just knew I had to be back in Mexico. Being in Puebla was transformative in many ways, as I got to see more of the country I so deeply fell in love with; traveling helped me understand more, connect more. Puebla taught me a lot about myself; it put a magnifying glass on my identity and made me question things I thought I knew. In the beginning, I had an obsession with wanting to mimic everything I saw, to prove I’m Mexican enough, to speak Spanish “perfectly” — but Puebla is where I came to understand English was just as much of my first language as Spanish was. They coexist in who I am. Beginning to come to terms with my identity in a more wholesome way was an integral part of my experience in Mexico.

This being said, what does being a second-generation Latina in the United States mean to you?

I am so grateful for the order in which the events in my life have unfolded — including my trips to Aguascalientes and Puebla, and then my return to the United States. My perspective has changed so much. I never want to make anyone feel like they are not tnough, that’s what I’ve been doing to myself for a long time. I’ve gone through so many phases and now, I am so proud of my identity and all itscomplexity — I want to celebrate it in all its diversity, including what it means to me and others.

To me, it is such a beautiful thing to be able to experience two cultures simultaneously and to have such a strong connection to Mexico through the people who raised me and through the trips I’ve had recently. However, looking back; the most challenging aspect was growing up in a space where my Mexican identity and culture were for the most part restricted to my household. Where you grow up really does make a difference. I grew up in a predominantly white and affluent suburb of Oklahoma and I often wonder: how would things be different had I grown up surrounded by a very vibrant Latinx community? Maybe I would’ve spoken Spanish more at school; maybe I’d have more friends that spoke it. Maybe I would have had more friends who looked like me.

I feel like I never had the whole picture of the culture I admire and love so much, I had snippets of it — through growing up Catholic and going to Catholic mass in Spanish for 18 years, for example. I grew up eating traditional food at home my mom cooked pozole, menudo, enchiladas. Our trips to the mercados, quinceañeras and weddings where I would stay up until late with my family all these are so important. Still, I often found myself envying my cousins in Mexico for having a holistic cultural experience. Growing up, as I mentioned, I have had such a hard time proving to myself that I’m enough.

This has begun to change after Aguascalientes and Puebla, and I want to let go of that feeling, which is what I am trying to help others do, too — through film in general and through a current project I’m working on. I want everyone involved in this project to take an important thing away with them: it’s okay to let go of the feeling that you constantly need to prove yourself. I want everyone who identifies as a Latin@ in this country to know that you don’t have to prove that you are Latin@ enough. You inherently are, because it’s a part of who you are. It takes a lot of work to internalize and undo this, and I still struggle with it at times.

When you refer to your current project, you are talking about your forthcoming documentary short film to be screened at the next LatinArte showcase. What is LatinArte and what is your film about?

LatinArte is a student organization aiming to create a platform for Latin@ student artists to showcase their artwork to the university community. That work can be poetry, painting, in my case, film, and beyond. The theme of this semester’s showcase has to do with borders and the idea that art is borderless.

The idea of borders and “the wall” is so current and has an urgent impact on people like me. I am sure a lot of people who are second-generation Latin@s are related to somebody who has had contact with ICE. Just thinking about this causes so much unease — thinking about the journey of our loved ones and the symbolism behind “the wall.” This wall is not about national security. So much more comes with it: all the violent, xenophobic and racist rhetoric. I am really looking forward to seeing how everybody’s different mediums come together to illustrate this. There are so many talented people in our organization.

From the very beginning, I wanted my movie contribution to focus on the experiences of Latin@s who immigrated here, and people like me who are products of this migration. I feel like that’s a truth that I can speak to — it’s something that I’ve lived. The central question that drives my film is: “What would this country look like if this wall was a reality and if my parents, their parents, your parents hadn’t immigrated here?” I thought of all the good that we have brought here. I started thinking of everybody I knew, friends and family, that have contributed to this community, and I felt the need to show them off, to show how vibrant and resilient my community — the Latin@ community in the United States — truly is.

You asked me earlier about what it was like growing up here, and I thought of all the things we wouldn’t have in Oklahoma City. We wouldn’t have taquerias, restaurants, the Capitol Hill District. We wouldn’t have first generation Latin@s. A lot of first-generation immigrants come here and take up physically demanding jobs — so many of our parents have done this. I am deeply hurt and affected by all the dehumanization and lack of respect for these people. They work so hard. As for my generation, we tend to grow up in spaces where we are being told that physically demanding labor is “the lowest of the low” and not dignified, and we have to continually unlearn the shame we are taught to feel. I am so proud of what our parents have done and what they continue to do. When I think of how this country would look without us — it all comes back to them. I want to tell their stories.

I also want to tell the stories of my friends who are artists, scholars, dancers, college students — who are so creative and ambitious. You wouldn’t have us if this wall was a reality, and I want to show you our faces, to show off all we do, to humanize our stories. This humanization also means restoring complexity to our stories as much as possible in this short time — touching on important issues in our community like the struggle with language and the search for a sense of belonging. It’s a matter of celebrating our dualistic, hybrid, multifaceted experiences, and at the same time recognizing our differences.

You do such important work, all while being a full-time student. That being said, what helps you recharge and what do you like to do in your free time?

I love solitude. I think it’s really important to spend time with yourself. Music and time spent outside play such an important role for me. I think the space really matters. If I’m resting in my room, I’m surrounded by my textbooks and all the little reminders of how busy I am. Whether it’s walking my dog, reading or treating myself to a lavender latte in order to recharge, I love doing these things on my own.