Search the Special Collections and Archives Portal

Ashley Vargas interview, October 30, 2018: transcript

Document

Information

Date
2018-10-30
Description

Interviewed by Laurents Banuelos. Elsa Lopez and Claytee White also participate in the questioning. Ashley Vargas, also know by her stage name Ms. Aye Vee is a Las Vegas native born and raised. She has received notoriety in the Las Vegas valley for her raw story telling and poetry. Vargas identifies as an Afro-Latina Puerto Rican. She spent her childhood growing up on the Eastside. She vividly remembers having to navigate several spaces in order to survive the rough neighbors she was in. Today, Vargas uses her poetry to communicate her experiences and set ups workshops to help cultivate young up and coming writers. Please note the following disclaimer: This interview contains language that some may find offensive.

Digital ID
OH_03506_book
Physical Identifier
OH-03506
Details
Citation

Vargas, Ashley Interview, 2018 October 30. OH-03506. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d16972r1n

Rights
This material is made available to facilitate private study, scholarship, or research. It may be protected by copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity rights, or other interests not owned by UNLV. Users are responsible for determining whether permissions are necessary from rights owners for any intended use and for obtaining all required permissions. Acknowledgement of the UNLV University Libraries is requested. For more information, please see the UNLV Special Collections policies on reproduction and use (https://www.library.unlv.edu/speccol/research_and_services/reproductions) or contact us at special.collections@unlv.edu
Standardized Rights Statement
Digital Provenance
Original archival records created digitally
Language

English

Format
application/pdf

i AN INTERVIEW WITH ASHLEY “MS. AYE VEE” VARGAS An Oral History Conducted by Laurents Bañuelos-Benitez Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ii ©Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2018 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV – University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Project Manager: Barbara Tabach Transcribers: Kristin Hicks, Maribel Estrada Calderón, Nathalie Martinez, Rodrigo Vazquez Editors and Project Assistants: Laurents Bañuelos-Benitez, Maribel Estrada Calderón, Monserrath Hernández, Elsa Lopez, Nathalie Martinez, Marcela Rodriquez-Campo, Rodrigo Vazquez iii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of a National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) Grant. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank University of Nevada Las Vegas for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews with permission of the narrator. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas iv PREFACE Ashley Manuela Vargas prefers to go by Ms. Aye Vee, a phonetic spelling of her initials. She was born and raised in Las Vegas and identifies as Afro-Latina Puerto Rican. Her family hails from New York City, but Ms. Aye Vee grew up on the east side of Las Vegas. Throughout her life, Ms. Aye Vee observed and navigated the intersectionality of being Latina and black in a country and society where those identities clash. From a young age she realized the prevalence of various issues in Latinx culture such as colorism, domestic violence, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], and gender norms. Her questions of identity and her experiences now influence her work as a poet and peace activist. Ms. Aye Vee has written poetry since she was a little girl, but it was not until she attended open mic nights that she began preforming her poems. She now competes at an elite level, has v published a book April Flowers, gives public speeches across Clark County, and mentors other young writers as they discover their voice. She also hosts slams and competitions across the valley and promotes peace through the Sacred Peace Walk. Ms. Aye Vee is part of the Battle Born Slam team and competes in national poetry competitions across the U.S. She has also moderated for the Las Vegas Book Festival, was featured in Sandstone and Silver: An anthropology of Nevada poets and on Clark County TV. Ms. Aye Vee is currently finishing her degree in creative writing and has a son, Miles Antonio Davis. vi TABLE OF CONTENTS Interview with Ashley “Ms. Aye Vee” Vargas October 30th, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada Conducted by Laurents Bañuelos-Benitez Preface…………………………………………………………………………………………..iv Talks about growing up on the east side of Las Vegas, identifying as Afro-Latina, dealing with the racial boundaries of American racial divides, colorism in the Latinx community, and explaining her Puerto Rican background to people from the West Coast. Elaborates on her Latinidad (Latinness), not growing up speaking Spanish, and dealing with Puerto Rican stereotypes………………………………………………………………………………………1-5 Explains her involvement in the Student Organization of Latinos, trying to address the colorism in the Latinx community, inclusivity in the black community, attending Las Vegas High School, her family’s history in New York City and the East Coast. Talks about her parents meeting in Las Vegas in the late 70s and her family’s military tradition………………………………….6-10 Mentions her mother’s previous marriage and her relocation to Las Vegas, the Puerto Rican community in city, Caribbean solidarity, Caribbean food in Las Vegas, Puerto Rican food and its preparation, and how Puerto Ricans are American and how U.S. culture influenced Puerto Rican culture………………………………………………………………………………………….1-15 Describes how her family celebrates the holidays, her grandparents’ passing away, domestic violence in Latinx community, and women’s gender’s role within their culture. Talks about her relationship with her grandmother, her grandparent’s complicated relationship, and her mother introducing her to feminism………………………………………………………………….16-20 Speaks on the women in life, her father’s absence, and the conversations with her grandmother. Talks about her father’s work as a Clark County School District teacher, the contradictory dynamic between him as a school coach and father, her father’s difficulty climbing up CCSD hierarchy because of his skin color, the Puerto Rican Council in Las Vegas, and her community activism……………………………………………………………………………………….21-25 Elaborates on her artistry as a writer and poet who addresses domestic violence, women’s oppression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD], and colorism. Talks about how she raises awareness of issues and taboos in the Latinx community through speaking engagements at schools, her sister’s abusive relationship with her husband, and doing open mic nights and poetry competitions. …………………………………………………………………………………26-30 vii Mentions being published and recites her poem ‘PTSD’. Talks about the Arts District, Poetry Promise Inc, Clark County poet laureate Vogue Robinson, Las Vegas going through an artistic renaissance, the Las Vegas LGBTQ community, 28th Street, growing up on the east side, and navigating the streets to survive………………………………………………………………………………………..31-35 Speaks on her son and the difficulties of protecting him, her favorite book Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, how she encourages people to write, and shares stories of her son. Talks about the difference of parenting at young age like her parents and grandparents did, compared to being 32, her book April Flowers, and the Persian proverb ‘He who wants a rose must respect the thorn’.………………………………………………………………………………………..36-42 Photos from Ms. Aye Vee’s Instagram account (2019). 1 This is Laurents Banuelos?Benitez. Today's date is October 30th, 2018. We are in the Reading Room in Special Collections and I am joined by... Elsa Lopez. Marcela Rodriguez?Campo. Claytee White. Barbara Tabach. Today we are interviewing Ashley Vargas, "Ms. Aye Vee." Ashley, can you go ahead and pronounce your name and how you spell it? Sure. My name is Ashley Manuela Vargas. That is A?S?H?L?E?Y. Middle name is M?A?N?U?E?L?A. And V?A?R?G?A?S. I perform as Ms. Aye Vee, which is M?S, period, A?Y?E, V?E?E. Thank you. I want to start at the beginning. I know you are a native listen Las Vegan, born and raised on the east side. Yes. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience? I feel like it's such a large experience because there is what it's like to grow up in Vegas and then what it's like to grow up on the east side of Las Vegas. First and foremost, the things that really pop into my head firstly when people are like, what's it like growing up on the east side, is predominately Latin. I would say that there is definitely racial divides. On the east side of Las Vegas there is definitely like these are the Latin neighborhoods, these are the black neighbor- hoods, and then there's little sprinkles of Caucasian families throughout. But it's really those two experiences. For me, because I identify as Afro Latina, which means that I come from a Latin background, I am Puerto Rican decent, both of my parents, but I visually look as if I'm African 2 American. Having that as my identity, there really was a lot of back and forth of me really have to get co?signs to be able to be in specific places. For instance, throughout my childhood there were times when I would go to my friends' homes, and I hung out with predominately Latin children, and their parents would ask them in Spanish right in front of me why you would bring a nigger to their house, in Spanish. Once they said that I was Puerto Rican, oh, okay, it was fine. This happened all the time. It wasn't like this one thing, no. All the time it happened. Just being able to see from a very early age that if you were black in any kind of way that you were not accepted, you were not allowed in certain places, and they really didn't necessarily want their children, my Latin friends, to be even associating with anybody that didn't look like them, didn't fit into their belief structure, I guess. For some reason that belief structure had a lot to do with the race of people that you're hanging out with. I never really understood that. There were definitely moments where it was difficult because I never really knew where I belong. My entire family, my mom and dad's side, came from New York City. In New York, it's prevalent, not just Puerto Ricans, but a wide variety of nationalities and races and this really beautiful melting pot. To hear the stories that my family had growing up, I just didn't have that experience. I would try to explain to people, first of all, what a Puerto Rican was, because on the West Coast they really don't know. I'd be like, "Oh, I'm Puerto Rican." And they'd be like, "Are you Mexican and black?" I would have to explain to them that these are geographically two separate places. Just because I'm saying that in Spanish to you does not mean that I'm Mexican. None of my family has any origins in Mexico or South America or anything like that whatsoever. To have to explain where the Caribbean is and that it's an island and then, furthermore, to even go into that I am an American, it was really interesting and these aren't lessons that my parents taught me how to navigate. 3 My mother is Puerto Rican, but she's very light, very, very light. She looks more European than anything. People would not guess that she was Puerto Rican. My father, he looks black. People wouldn't even guess that he's Latin. But they are both Puerto Rican. To have that dynamic—even when people would see my parents, it's like they wouldn't believe that I was Latin. I always had to prove my Latinness one way or another. I did not grow up speaking Spanish. My mom speaks no Spanish at all and I grew up with her. My father knows a little bit of Spanish. He learned it in school. Spanish was not something in my family that was spoken or even taught to the children. My grandparents knew Spanish and they really made a conscious decision growing up in New York that they did not want their children to be looked at like they were different. They did not want their children to not be able to get certain jobs because of accents. So they did not teach their kids Spanish whatsoever. Later on, of course, my grandmother regretted that decision. She said that if she would have known that it would have not hindered them, but helped them, helped them in the workforce, helped them in life being able to befriend all different groups of people, she wouldn't have made that decision. But in the time that my parents were born and the time that she was raised in, all you wanted to do was be as white as possible to be able to really acclimate to this country and be able to live this, quote?unquote, American dream that everybody talks about. From her perception you just could not do that and also be Latin. You had to make a choice. A West Coast girl just feeling very disconnected, I was lucky to have a family, especially my father's family, that I felt solid in their traditions. I had the family parties with the Latin music and learning how to dance salsa and cumbia and all these sorts of things, and how to cook all the Puerto Rican things. It was the only thing I couldn't do was speak Spanish. When I would have these conversations with people where I had to prove my Latinness, a lot of it was 4 educating them on stuff that they had no idea about and then them still being like, okay, so you know your history, you know your food, you know your culture, you know all this stuff, but you don't speak Spanish, so really you're just a fake Puerto Rican. That was also something that I got called all the time, was a fake Puerto Rican, all the time. "You don't look like Jennifer Lopez. You're not Puerto Rican." Stuff like that all the time. That's really the only Puerto Rican people know. Even saying something like Rosie Perez, which is somebody I looked up to as a child, that's still so disconnected from my generation for them to be able to be, oh, yes, Rosie Perez, because she's definitely more Afro Latina than Jennifer Lopez, for instance. But it's so disconnected, people don't know literally anything about what it means to be a Puerto Rican, which is obviously a sharp contrast to the experience on the East Coast. The East Coast is like, "Yes, we just went to that Puerto Rican restaurant yesterday," or, "That Puerto Rican parade, of course." But here it's like, "Oh, so you're Mexican and black." No matter what comes out of my mouth, I can go into this whole conversation about what a Puerto Rican is and how that all happened, and they still would be like, "Okay, so Mexican and black." At some point you're just like, "Yes, man, whatever, I don't know what else to say to you." Did you get to a point ever where you just stopped trying to explain it and just let it go, or was it you wanted to hold on to that identity so much that no matter how many times you knew what the answer at the end was going to be...? I feel like it's a little bit of both. Going through my adolescence and then going through pre?teens and then teens and my adult, there were definitely moments where I just didn't want the attention, and so I did get tired of having to engage in these conversations and just being made to feel less than; that no matter what I said, because I didn't look like Jennifer Lopez, there is no way that they're going to believe me, so why am I even going to have this conversation with 5 you? There were times when people would call me black and I would be, "Okay," or people would call me Latin and I'd be like, "Okay, whatever." You just get tired of constantly having to prove who you are and then that makes you question who you are. You're like, what I'm telling them, is this really true? I definitely, especially in my younger years, went back and forth with that because my favorite food was Puerto Rican food. As much as maybe in some way I wanted to disconnect, I never really did. It wasn't really a conscious effort, like, this is my culture; I'm not going to let it go, because I don't feel like I thought that way as a child. It was just like, okay, if you don't believe me, whatever. But definitely coming into teenage and high school especially, I definitely had much more of a firm footing in what I felt like it meant to be Latina. I started in late middle school, so seventh and eighth grade, to get involved with the student organization of Latinos. At that time, because I was in middle school and it's typically a high school organization and I think UNLV used to have it—I don't know if they still have—SOL. I think they got sucked into SODA if I'm not mistaken, so Student Office of Diversity; something along those lines. At the time when I was growing up it was its own thing. I would start to come to the events. My friends who were in high school would invite me to these events. It really kind of blew me away to be able to be around what I considered conscious, friendly, proud Latin people that it wasn't so much about being better than anybody else, but it was just like, this is who we are; this is what we want to celebrate; we come together and celebrate; we can go out into our community. That was really my first taste of any sort of community activism and doing things for the community, especially with SOL because we would go into the east side and clean up the streets and give out food to the homeless. These were my neighborhoods that I was going in and helping. 6 When I got into high school, right away as a freshman, I got right into SOL. I stayed in SOL all four years, I believe. I was secretary one year. I was historian one year. I stayed really active with them. I felt like I learned so much about just being Latin. Obviously, there were maybe only like two Afro Latinas, but we were still so proud of that, of being Cuban or being Puerto Rican or being Dominican. It was really the first time I felt like, okay, I do belong here; this is what I'm supposed to be doing; and just understanding that maybe it's not this malicious thing; people just really don't know better. My work through SOL really helped to even open my own mind to not have hatred for people that just don't get it and also to not let that be a reflection of me. It's not my fault you think I'm not Latin. There's nothing that I could do. Even as I've become an adult now, my big thing now is not just trying to spread awareness in the Latinx community, but even more so to talk about including the Afro Latino community. Colorism within the Latin community runs rampant and I feel like nobody talks about it. We talk about the things that go on especially in America, like African Americans and Latin Americans and there being in some areas even warring factions of gangs and things that are constantly going on. Even within this label of Latin or Spanish or Hispanic, it's across the board that the lighter you are, the better you are. It doesn't matter how much Spanish you speak. It doesn't matter if you were born in the country you're claiming. If you're not light, you're not right. It doesn't matter what you try to prove, the conversations I was trying to have with people. It really is just like, if you're dark, ugh; I can't really hang out with you; I don't really want to be seen with you; I don't know how that's going to affect my image. Or even being like, okay, you're not black enough to be able to talk about the suffrage and colorism of Afro Latinos. Now as an adult that's the conversation that I have; that now it's not that I'm not white enough to be listened to or explained, but now I'm not dark enough to even be able to talk about the colorism 7 that happens within my own community. Now I feel like through my poetry, especially, and any sort of speaking engagement, these are the things I talk about. I just had a conversation with a community activist who asked me if I would like to be involved in a meeting of a Thousand Black Women or something like is how they're framing it. I was like, "I would absolutely like to do that. Are you going to have any speakers that represent the Afro Latin community other than me?" They were like, "You're Afro Latina?" And I'm like, "Yes, I am; I'm Puerto Rican. Are you going to have anybody else that's going to do that? Because if we're going to talk about the black community, we're going to talk about the entire black community because it's not just the African Americans that are going through this struggle or that are going through this suffrage. The only way I feel like that we can move through this and grow through this as people is to come together and stop this dividing." It's always a dividing. Even within one label of people there's dividing. Two labels, okay, there is dividing. At some point we have to be like, no, dude. If we're going to be inclusive, we're going to be inclusive and representation matters. That person was, "Absolutely," and started talking to me about different Puerto Rican activists that they wanted to invite down from Washington, D.C. I'm like, "This is exactly the direction we need to go in. This is what I'm talking about." It's just these small conversations that are just including all of us, not just some of us. That's been really exciting of the journey and taking my experiences and really the colorism and racism I experienced throughout my entire childhood and really being able to bring awareness to folks that I really feel just don't know better. They just really don't know any kind of better. What high school did you attend? Las Vegas High. 8 In the new building? New building, yes. How did the teachers treat you? How do you feel like the teachers treated you? I felt like generally speaking the teachers were really nice to me. I was a good kid. I wasn't disruptive. My biggest issue was sleeping through first period. I'm not a morning person and I've never been. That was really the only issues I had. I was always a good student. I felt like in my younger years, in middle school, that's where I was a very rebellious preteen where those teachers might not have such nice things to say to me. But high school, I felt like I had it together. High school I felt like my head was on straight and I was able to excel in that way. Maybe it was just from the experiences that I had. Maybe I was just a little more mature, I think. Were there a lot of teachers of color at Las Vegas High during that time? I wouldn't say a lot, but definitely some. There definitely was representation, I would say, but predominately, yes, Caucasian teachers for sure. I want to talk a little bit about your parents. You said they came here from New York? Yes. Were they born in New York or did they emigrate from Puerto Rico? How did that transition come about? They both were born in New York. If we talk about my father's side first, my father was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens. His parents, my grandparents, were born and raised in Brooklyn. Their parents immigrated here. My great?grandparents immigrated. On my mother's side, her father emigrated here from Puerto Rico. My mother is half Puerto Rican, half Slavic. My grandmother is half Yugoslavian and half Austrian, which really could only happen in a city like New York. That's the only way. Of course, they met in a dance 9 club. Where else would they meet? But my mom was born in Manhattan. My grandfather was born in Puerto Rico and came here. My grandmother on my mom's side was first?generation American and her family emigrated through Ellis Island from Austria. But my mother, although she was born in New York, she was raised more in Connecticut and New Hampshire. She started to move around a lot as a preteen and ended up in Boston. When she was seventeen, eighteen, she ended up moving to Hawaii with one of her older sisters and stayed there for seven years and got married and had my two sisters with her first husband. They've had quite a journey. My dad, he grew up in the projects in New York. I come from a military family. My grandfather was a veteran in Vietnam. Once he joined the military, they were able to qualify for better projects in Queens as opposed to the rat?infested really rough living in Brooklyn, which I always thought that that was so ironic that, oh, you can move into a better project. It's still government housing and these are veterans. They didn't have a bunch of kids; it was only three of them, my father and my two aunts. But they moved from Brooklyn, which was a one?bedroom apartment with all five of them. Then when they moved to Queens, it was like, two bedrooms, what? My dad had the whole living room to himself? It was crazy. One bathroom, of course, which is just so laughable. I grew up on the West Coast, so that doesn't even make sense to me. One bathroom, what do you mean? Or just one bedroom. Just a completely different lifestyle. My dad played sports, especially baseball. That was his thing. He ended up getting drafted in the early eighties and actually played baseball for Puerto Rico. So he moved around a lot and finally settled in Las Vegas and that's where he met my mother. He met my mom three months after he moved here. They were together for almost ten years before that ended and he got remarried and became a Marine. A lot of military presence in my family. 10 Do you know what brought your parents to Las Vegas? It was really interesting because before my grandmother passed away, this is one of the last stories she told me. My grandfather had already come to Las Vegas. There was this—I don't know if you want to say rumor—it was just word of mouth that Las Vegas had endless jobs and you could come and the cost of living was low and the weather was great. There was no more snow. I don't know how they just decided they were going to do that. My grandpa moved and my grandmother was still in New York. Both of my aunts, one aunt was in the military, so she was gone, and another aunt had gone to college and she had a really great job and she was living in the city. My father graduated with a couple of masters. He's a teacher in secondary education. He was supposed to stay in New York with my aunt who lived in the city and they were just going to live and share an apartment. My grandma goes to him, "Okay, I'm leaving tomorrow to go live with your father in Las Vegas. Do you want to come?" My dad on a whim was just like, "You know what? Yes." They literally had three boxes that they snuck under a Greyhound, because you're only supposed to have one suitcase and they had three boxes and a suitcase. They took a bus from New York City to Las Vegas. He met my mother within three months of living here. What year was that? That my father came? It had to be late seventies because my brother was born in '83 and he had already been with my mom for five years or something like that before. I thought that was crazy. It was really funny because my grandmother did not approve of him dating my mom at all. My mom is five or six years older than my father and she already had two kids and had already been divorced. My dad is like right out of college, no kids. My grandma is like, "You don't know what you're jumping into. You're getting into a relationship with a grown woman with kids and a life 11 and you just graduated college and you're going to..." He was like twenty?three years old. They didn't listen, clearly. Here I am. I just thought that that was so funny. There was never really bad blood between my father's family and my mom. My mom and my dad, not so much. My family always had a lot of respect for my mother, which I think really helped me to have a lot of respect for my mother. My dad is a little crazy and I think that they knew that; that she did what she could. "We don't blame you for leaving him" kind of thing. My mother, a little similar in terms that my grandfather moved to Las Vegas. He loved to gamble. He wanted to get a good job. Also a military vet. He was like, why not? So he moved there and then my grandma moved there and then my mom and her first husband decided to move to Vegas with my two sisters. It really was just on a whim, just following. One family member went and they were like, it's good? Okay. Well, we're going to go, too. Why not? They ended up coming here. I felt like my mom get here maybe '73. My mom was early seventies when she moved here for the first time and she's been here ever since. She has no desire to live anywhere else. She's like, "Do they even have casinos anywhere else? Why would I move anywhere else?" She loves keno. That's how they got here. It's crazy, everybody just stayed. All of my immediate family relocated to Las Vegas one after another after another after another. Now everybody is here and we have a whole West Coast division of my family. In Las Vegas it's really interesting because there are not that many Puerto Ricans. These different organizations, like the Latin Chamber of Commerce and places like that, they know my family. My grandmother passed away five years ago. I went to the Puerto Rican Picnic, which happens Memorial Day weekend every year at the Clark County Government Center. The organizers know my family. I walked up. I think I was just saying hi to somebody. Somebody 12 right away was like, "You're Gladys' granddaughter, aren't you?" Yes, that's true. That's my grandmother. I don't know, I just felt so proud of that. Everybody just relocated here and really made Vegas their home. It seems like sometimes in Vegas it will be these things like, "You're Puerto Rican? Well, I'm Puerto Rican. What's up?" It's like this. I'm like, "Oh my God, we're long lost family in this crazy West Coast world." It's like that even with Cubans, Dominicans. It's like, "Oh my gosh, you're Caribbean? What's up? Man, no one knows nothing about Caribbeans out here." When you find other Caribbeans, it's a kinship that I think is really beautiful. You have that and the different restaurants. For me, I'll go to food festivals and I'll see different food vendors. But when I see a Puerto Rican food vendor or a Cuban food vendor and recently Dominican food, which is not prevalent in Las Vegas—you can definitely find Cuban food easy breezy. Puerto Rican food is trickling in; there's two restaurants, okay. But there's no Dominican food. There's no real Panamanian food. There's no food like that. I make it a point to be like, "I appreciate that you're here and that they're representing because it's important and we need you here." I feel like that's what you've got to do. You really have to at some point take responsibility to be an ambassador, and even if that just means saying hello and being friendly to people, you don't know how that shapes it. That booth, the food specifically, they were just there. They had the sign, but no one knew what these food things are. Of course, I knew right away and I come up and I talk to them. They felt a little discouraged. But I felt after I spoke to them and just gave them the lay of the land that people just aren't familiar or whatever, to me it felt like they felt more encouraged; that they're like, okay, this is why we're here; this is why we're doing this. They were at the Black Food Festival. I was like, "Yes, be here. You need to be here. You belong here." Stuff like that just gets me excited. 13 Speaking on food, I'm not familiar with Puerto Rican food, so could you please educate me? I feel like some of the staples are different rice dishes, so like arroz con gandules is basically Puerto Rican rice with pigeon peas. Although it sounds simple, the preparation of it is what gives it its flavor because even from the beginning of the rice, you don't just put water in the rice. You have to simmer pork and get the oils of the pork and then you add rice so that it can simmer. Then you add your own sofrito, which is its own basic concoction of herbs and spices that are very unique to Puerto Rican food. Then you put that in there and you've got to mix it. Then you add olives and then you add the pigeon peas. Then you let that cook. Even the bottom of the pan, because of the pork oil, tends to burn, but that's looked at as a delicacy. You want to be able to get that burned part. With your family, you're like, let me get it. That's the biggest one that people can try. Also, pernil, which is pork shoulder. It's a pork roast. That is probably one of the biggest delicacies that I would say. If you're having a birthday party or especially Christmas, Memorial Day, those big events, you're going to have pork. That's a staple when people are like, "Oh, I want Puerto Rican food," and they have any concept, even the smallest bit. They're like, the rice and the pork; I know these two things. Also with the pork, because you keep the skin on one side of it and you cut away a little bit and put seasonings underneath, it hardens like chicharróns, but it's fresh and that's a Puerto Rican thing. And that's also a thing that you fight over with your family, who gets it? You're like, "No, you can't take that piece; that's for your father." It's always those sorts of things. 14 A lot of fish, obviously. Bacalao is like a codfish salad that's really popular. You have avocado in there, maybe some shredded lettuce, lots of tomatoes, onions, peppers. That's really popular. My grandmother used to make pastelillos all the time, which are basically just Puerto Rican versions of turnovers. For me what was so special is I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my grandmother, which, oh my gosh, is some of the most cherished moments I have. She would make everything from scratch. It's like although we're making these pastelillos and they seem pretty simple, you just have your dough of tortilla size and you put what