Meet Ireri Unzueta, "Salud" New Routes Leader
Nadia Sol Ireri Unzueta Carrasco is 22 years old, and since she began participating with SALUD she has received a bachelors degree in Gender and Women Studies with the University of Illinois at Chicago. Last summer she did not participate with SALUD because she spent several months hitchhiking, traveling, and volunteering around the country. She became involved in SALUD because she believes it is important to explore as a community the factors that affect our lives - personal, political, and socio-economic - in order to better understand eachother and our lives collectively. Le gustaria mandarle un saludo a su familia (aquí y en Mexico) y a las familias de arte y realidad!
SALUD has allowed me to bring together all of the things that i want to work in as part of my life and actually put them into practice. I can bring together teaching, performance, and developing curriculum around immigration and health, through promoting conversations that attempt to create better understandings of where different people are coming from and experience sharing, as well as dispelling miss information around these topics. I have also gotten a chance to work with an amazing group of people that are interested in doing similar work to myself, and have had conversations around topics like sexuality, sex, identity, immigration, mental health, etc that do not happen as often or as informed as with this group. We inform ourselves before or after these conversations since we end up wanting to incorporate these conversations into the dialogues we want to create. In these conversations i practice my arguments' clarity and hear perspectives that i might not otherwise have thought about. Being in SALUD lets me assert my self better as an immigrant and create the kinds of conversations i think are needed if we are somehow going to work better as a society.
After SALUD, I have better arguments for defending the immigrant communities when people try to make their case for why they are iffy about immigration reform or supporting undocumented immigrants and i sort of have a main argument about how everybody moves, understanding why, and how we contribute to where we live to the growth of the community and should have full rights (i've been having a lot of these conversation with my friends lately). Besides arguments another thing that came out of working on SALUD was the resources we had to look for while doing research, like websites with policies, news and reports around immigration , sex health education stuff. I continue to use these to look things up and make sure i am updated on what is going on.
I think we helped to informed people about health and immigration and actually got people to think about what we were saying and come up with some new realization and understanding of some of the things we were talking about. In one workshop one of the participants didn't know that part of the US had once been Mexico. Another time, after doing some of the sex/health workshop we had one person come up to us concerned that he'd had non-oral sex with his girlfriend using a condom for oral sex, i just said that she should make sure the sugar in it had not given her an infection and to only used flavor condoms for oral sex.
In terms of my family i think it has been part of the process for my parents to talk to me about sexuality. We have sort of had snippets of conversations but it can be really awkward and if we had not done a workshop that directly had us talk with our parents about sex i'm not sure that conversation would have happened, though it probably still needs to expand. I think that while we did SALUD we learned a lot from each other and changed our minds about some set ideas we had had before. I remember we had some intense conversations about sexuality, sexual identity and why it was important to include it within our characters, how gender roles affect our lives, and ended up convincing each other of how to be more inclusive in our conversations. I definitely saw a change in us.
I've been looking forward to working on this project since two years ago when i heard that we could come and work on it again. Working on issues around health and immigration are two things that i want to continue to do through out my life, particularly in ways that help create the type of conversations that can foster understanding between people. For the coordinator position: I am good at doing things on time and keeping a schedule, though flexibility is important in a project with a lot of people. I tend to keep things organized to make whatever project i'm working on smoother. I think that input from all participants is important and should be one of the main ways groups work together, this input is something i actively try to foster in whatever group i'm in. I'm really exited about this project and know that i will work really hard collectively to do the best that we can.
Read more about Ireri Unzueta:
1. If you are an immigrant, tell us what it means to be an immigrant in America. If you are not an immigrant, tell us how the immigrant issue touches you on personal level.
Well, as someone not born in the U.S. i resent the appropriation of the word 'America' to refer to the U.S. But apart from that, being an immigrant means having a multiplicity of traditions and ideas to draw from (both from those of my own culture as well as those of the cultures that are in the country); but it also means restricting my expressions to only one language when i think my other language much better express what i want to say. It means having a family i do not know and am forgetting quickly, since visiting them has not been a viable option. It means knowing what everyone should theoretically have access to, like adequate shelter, food, education (both secondary and higher level education), to traveling, and knowing that the access to these things is limited to not just me, but to other people who lack resources for a variety of reasons like discrimination and unequal distribution of many things; not just in this country but also where i come from and many other places.
Being an immigrant means seeing this inequality in my face every time i watch TV, or go to school. Being an immigrant means realizing that i do not have nor do i wish to have one country to which i pledge alliance. That i can connect with people based on ideas, not nationalities; though this i can do as well. It means being different, but a difference i embrace.
2. For better or for worse how can or how does media (TV, movies, radio, news stories) make a difference in immigrants' lives?
Well, there are reactionary programs and shows which spread fear and lies about immigrants, like that we are a menace and are taking people's jobs. They play on real insecurities people have, and fuel hate. There has been a rise in hate crimes against Latinos, and i think this is the manifestation of those fears. This in turn makes life not easy for people who are immigrants or who were born here but are seen as immigrants by other people. But there are also programs that dispel these lies. Programs that report on raids, and on what people are doing to organize against these and for the rights of immigrants as people.
These news sources, for me, provide hope as well as useful information. Hope is really important because sometimes the feeling of loneliness that comes from not being able to visit relatives, or friends outside the country, or that is heightened by the hate speech promoted by sensationalist media, gets really overwhelming. Hope that there are other people not giving up, not giving in, is crucial to continuing to fuel my own energy towards looking for ways to change the injustices i see around me. Plus sometimes the media that does report on what people are doing to fight for immigrant rights allows me to learn about strategies some people have decided to take, and about arguments they are making, which come in very handy when i am constructing a framework from which to build my approach to what is going on.
3. Tell us about an interesting or wise practice from another culture that you wish Americans would adopt.
Like i had said, ‘America' and ‘Americans' for me are terms that refer to a very broad group of people: all those that live and consider themselves part of the cultures and societies that exist in the continent of America. I do not want to make generalizations even about the people who live in one country, or one city, or one neighborhood; all these people might come from a variety of backgrounds and so what it means for them to be ‘American' could very well differ a lot. Having said this, i will mention that sometimes i think there is a tendency among people in the U.S. to be very individualistic. I partly think it comes from the discourse of self sufficiency and independence i come across a lot in popular ideas, like the whole ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps' thing. I realize that this mentality is not unique to the U.S. and that not everyone in the U.S. thinks this way and many realize the falsity this statement can bring- since it ignores all the social, economic and political structures that make certain people more vulnerable to discrimination and lack of resources, and thereby more vulnerable to bad health, poverty and even violence (many times perpetrated by the institutions that hold up these structures).
This mentality of individual success allows for society as a whole to look away from the problems that are creating and deepening these injustices. To that end, i think everyone would benefit from a collective mentality where we really looked at how policies and ideologies affect people's everyday lives. A mentality where we take care of each other, which means dismantling stereotypes and ideas that prevent us from relating to each other on the basis of our common humanity; the basis of our common struggle to not just survive, but to live out our lives as we please.
4. How could immigrant health and well-being be improved in your city or in the United States?
To improve immigrant health we need to improve access to good quality health care for everyone and make sure that no one is left out. We need to have cheaper (free) good (well supplied) clinics with staff who not only speak the languages of the community they serve but also have cultural competency, meaning they understand where the people are coming from (their cultures). We need to have a transportation system that is affordable for all, possibly free, that can get people to these services. We need to have a higher minimum wage that actually covers all the expenses the people need to make, like buying food, clothes, school materials, paying for school, paying the rent, all that stuff. A higher wage would allow people to not have to stress out so much about work, sometimes even having two or more jobs, and would let them spend more time with family and friends, or on working on something they want to do, which in turn will have a positive effect on their mental health.
We need to have fair labor practices in place, which include the right to not be poisoned by your work environment, and we need to fight against discrimination in the workplace. We also need to create greener spaces, which help with pollution, were kids can play, and more after school activities were they can go and relate to one another, help each other, and bring the community closer together. We also need to fight against racist and xenophobic programs and media by making sure to counter their arguments and show how false they really are, and collectively come up with our own arguments, facts and media where we define ourselves and our communities. These are just some suggestions, but i want to stress that many of the things i mentioned do not just apply to improvements for immigrants, many of these things would create improvements for all those marginalized by society in some form or another, so that really the changes that need to happen are not all that different, because what we want as humans is not all that different. It's just that sometimes people forget to include each other, or are under the harmful belief that excluding someone will protect in some way what they are trying to gain.
5. Tell us something about your background that led you to become the person youare today. What is your greatest motivation/motivator?
The three most influential people in my life are my sister, my mom and my dad. When we came to the United States my parents tried really to keep our family together. We did a lot of activities together, like eating dinner, going out to parks, swimming, etc. That was my family. And then there were times outside of my family were i felt exclusion. When we first arrived i went to this summer camp at one of the city parks and was faced with the situation that some kids didn't want to talk to me because i did not speak English. Maybe they didn't know Spanish, but as a seven year old i was sure it was because they did not want to speak Spanish, not that they could not.
For a really long time i really resented those kids. The more i was in situations where people were excluded the stronger my resolve to make sure that did not happen when i was around. I am not big in confrontation, so what i ended up doing was going over to that person and just getting to know them. Playing with them, etc. They deserved friendship and respect like anyone else. From this model of making sure everyone is included is where i derive my sense of community building. Family really is important, not just the family you are born into, but the family you build. You give each other support and resources. Laugh together. Listen. Sometimes help out when stuff is not so good. I see it as a critical part of being social animals, or being human, so almost everything I do is geared towards building communities were we can foster each other's growth. Communities were violence towards others is not an option, where we value each other's ideas but can also feel confident to challenge them; communities that dispel myths about one another. It's kind of what i've been working on, and it's what helps to keep me going.
Watch and Listen
New Research & Recommendations
This report (PDF 3.8MB) offers guidance for community organizations and those who fund social change in how best to harness the power of local media-making for community health improvement. Spanish-language version is now available. Una versión en español de este informe esta en la web.