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Minerva Zayas

Click below for the interview recording

Interview Information

Date: June 23rd, 2022

Location: Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center

Interviewer: Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez

Interviewee: Minerva Zayas

Language: English

Summary: Minerva Zayas was born November 27th, 1992 in Riverside California. Zaya’s family moved from Guerrero, Mexico to California and were able to benefit from the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of the 1980s. Zayas’ family then moved to Washington to work in agriculture in the early 90s. When she was ten, Zayas’ family moved to East Wenatchee where she later became involved in Eastmont High School’s M.E.Ch.A.1 club. Zayas noticed that the school was very segregated but felt supported through M.E.Ch.A. to pursue a higher education. As an adult, Zayas worked cherry and apple season in agriculture before pursuing a higher education at Eastern Washington University.

Zayas discusses how she searched for community while a student at Eastern and eventually came to identify as a queer Latinx person. Zayas goes on to state the importance of Wenatchee Pride in a religious area but also expressed the need for a Latino or person of color centered queer organization.

After graduating with her bachelors, Minerva Zayas pursued a Masters in Women and Gender Studies at Oregon State University and returned to the Wenatchee area during the pandemic. Zayas described her struggle to find employment despite a background in mental health services in education before eventually joining Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington.

Zayas speaks on the importance of retaining language and culture to avoid assimilation as well as passing down new tradition to future generations. Zaya’s hopes for the future of the Wenatchee community center around the ideas of creating more intersectional movements and amplifying voices such as those of agricultural workers. When reflecting back on her childhood in the Wenatchee area she states that there were more resources in comparison to surrounding cities.

Additional Notes:
1 M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Atzlan) is a national student group that has its roots in the Chicano Movement of the 60s. High schools with large Latino populations tend to have chapters though the chapters are most active and have national voting privilege at the college level. At the high school level the focus is on promoting community involvement and higher education.

Interview Transcript Below

Acronyms: GV= Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez; MZ= Minerva Zayas

GV:      Is June 23rd 2022 my name is Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez I am the interviewer here with Minerva Zayas at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center. This is for the diversity in local history oral history project for collecting Latinx community stories. Minerva can you please tell me your full name, date of birth, and where you were born?

MZ:      Yes, so my name is Minerva Zayas and my date of birth is 11/27/ 92. I was born in Riverside, CA.

GV:      And what brought you and your families ancestors in North Central Washington area?

MZ:      So my mom had originally moved from Mexico she’s originally from Guerrero, Mexico. so she moved from Guerrero with my uncles and they kind of came to California in the 80s, after that they ended up moving up to Washington state. I was born in California so I’d say maybe within a year – two, my mom and my uncle ended up moving up to Washington state and kind of settling here. My uncle you know kind of grew up here he was you know, my parents are, my mom, my uncle, are immigrants from you know Mexico so my uncle was able to become a citizen or a resident through the amnesty in the 80s so I think we had originally happened was that my uncle came to visit first then went back caught my aunt my mom and my aunt’s and then they moved back up here and we’ve been in Wenatchee ever since. Me and my four siblings grew up here were not all from we didn’t all get raised in Wenatchee, or we weren’t all born here, but some of my brothers were so yeah I’ve been living here ever since and my mom and my uncle and a few other family members now all live here too.

GV:      Do you know what made them decide to come up to Wenatchee from California?

MZ:   I’d have to say more opportunities more than anything I know that there was like agriculture here and I think that that was the main force was just more opportunities to work more agricultural opportunities which is what my uncle and my mom all were doing in the early 90s do you know about like what year your family came to the area all I’d have to say 1990 90 to 93 I know some of my uncles wives family lived here and they’re originally from Los Alamos so then my uncle did live in FL oh for a little bit in the early 90s and I want to say it was like 93 when they ended up moving to Washington or to Wenatchee

GV:   What has been your path here in the valley since you or your family has arrived like what was school like or just what industries did you guys work?

MZ:   Growing up we actually moved around a lot we had kind of a big family my mom had her husband and us five kids so we were a family of seven my mom and my step dad and my family all have worked in agriculture my mom has always sorted apples or sorted cherries during the cherry season. She’s worked at a lot of different warehouses that pack fruit here in Wenatchee, so that’s mainly what my parents and my family have done and growing up that’s kind of what we did as we got old enough to work. We also worked in agriculture so we worked the cherry season there was a time when I worked the apple season as well during college. I went to Columbia Elementary which is up the street and that was a great place we kind of grew up in this rural area, I’m not rural but I guess you’d say now that it’s not as nice as other parts of Wenatchee which is more downtown I feel like the higher you get up in the mountains it’s more… you could just tell that people maybe have more money or more wealth. We moved around a lot, I had a lot of different schools because the cost of living even then was still really high and my mom and my stepdad tried buying a house too and that wasn’t necessarily something that worked out because of the lack of access to language and education around home buying. So we had to move around a lot, we lived in Wenatchee for up until I was maybe 10 or 11 and then we moved to East Wenatchee so we had to kind of start over with school districts again, so we lived in East Wenatchee ever since. Let’s see, so growing up and going to different schools was hard because I felt like I always had to adjust to a new school or a new set of kids or teachers so when I moved to East to Wenatchee that was a little bit- when we had a little bit more stability. I went to Grant Elementary and it was the first year they had built Clovis Point Intermediate School so I went there for middle school and then the junior high and then I graduated from Eastmont High School. That was kind of where we’ve been and I know once I was in my earlier 20s my mom did end up living in Wenatchee again for a few years but even… even though it’s the same town it still feels different. I feel like in East Wenatchee there’s- it’s a little bit more calm in the sense of like the community. Obviously crime and stuff happens everywhere but I think there’s just like this like unsaid understanding that East Wenatchee is like a little better. You know, air quotes, better than Wenatchee but it was- it’s still the same. At least that’s what I think.

GV:     What year did she graduate high school?

MZ:    I graduated in 2011.

GV:     Do you think that your identity as a Latina/ Latino/ Latine person was impacted by…effected how your education occurred?

MZ:    Yes, so interestingly enough, when I was in school in Wenatchee, I felt like Wenatchee had a lot more opportunities for like, bilingual learners. I actually was taught to read Spanish and English first, and then English. Or I was taught to read and write Spanish and then I learned English. So there was this program that taught all the students that you know had like, bilingual background, the language which I thought was really neat and then when I moved to East Wenatchee that wasn’t really something that they continued doing. In East Wenatchee I know there was a lot less, Latinos even though I know when I choose predominantly like it’s pretty good mix of half and half. There’s still seemed to be more like white people in East Wenatchee then appeared to be in Wenatchee.

Growing up in east Wenatchee and going to school at Eastmont High School you could definitely tell the differences in social economic class. You see like high school students, majority of them were white, that had a nice cars or could afford to pay like the nice parking inside of the school or were a part of all the sports and events. And then everybody was kind of very cliquey, so you had like, the preppy white people and then you had like the Mexicans then you had like all the separate groups. And there was some like, you know some of us would hang out together but a lot of the times it felt very segregated. But I still felt like there was a big- a strong sense of community in high school I was a part of M.E.Ch.A and a part of like the environmental club and I think there was a little bit of crossover there but M.E.Ch.A. really helped me to learn about college and we took a lot of trips to visit different schools. We did community work and I feel like that really got me in touch with other members of our community and other Latinos in our school.

GV:     What has your higher education been like?

MZ:    So higher education, was definitely interesting. So I went after high school I decided I wanted to leave Wenatchee and learn more and M.E.Ch.A. kind of helped because I wanted to go to college and there was a big group of us that were like, this is what we’re doing so out of our class and that were in M.E.Ch.A. I’d say almost ten of us decided to go to college which was kind of big at the time because that’s all that we’d been working for.

So I went to Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington and I got my bachelors in Woman Studies and Psychology with a minor in Spanish. Going Eastern Washington was interesting, it was different. It felt at first… I remember feeling like there wasn’t a lot of Latinos and that felt very different because growing up in Wenatchee you go to every corner and there’s a Mexican restaurant and really delicious food and it seemed like I had to search for that more when I lived in Cheney.  So I really valued and cherished when I came across cultural events or other folks that are also Latinos or Latinx and identified that way. But going to Eastern really helped me understand myself, my identity as Latinx queer person, and really learn things that I wasn’t exposed to in Wenatchee.

MZ:    Nowadays, we have Wenatchee Pride, which is really like a safe space when I was in Wenatchee I didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk to about those things. I was raised Catholic so my family was strictly Catholic and that’s all that we did you know Wenatchee’s also very religious there’s a lot of people here that are you know follow those congregations. But it just didn’t seem like those thoughts I was having was something I could actually talk about or even say out loud or I didn’t even think I had the language for it until I learned more when I went to college.

GV:     As a queer Latina what has seeing that, Wenatchee Pride, become mean to you?

MZ:    So Wenatchee Pride now, looking back and knowing that there’s a safe space for folks to talk about these things, of course now in 2022 LGBTQ folks and communities are more known, more supported as they are or were in like maybe 2011. It’s great to see that. It’s great to see that there is a group of folks that support queer folks. However I would love to see more of like an organization that’s like queer Latinos. I still think that it’s still very… I don’t know what the word is, like centered in like white ideology. I think there’s still maybe some folks in our communities that maybe don’t, aren’t as open about their sexuality because of the fear of what their parents might think or the ideas of like Catholicism that we grew up in. Or Christianity. And you know a lot of folks here, if they move to Wenatchee, maybe they’re the first in their family to go to college or experience these different things. So it’s not always easy to talk to your parents about those things.

MZ:    I think now being visible in my identity and who I am, I hope that it can help others other folks feel that it’s OK and talk- be able to have those productive conversations… if they can with their parents. I do hope we could see more of like people of color coalition here that’s fearless because I think that there’s also a lot of other entities that are more like overpowering over those voices, if that makes sense.

GV:     Yeah it does. Can you talk a little bit about the work that you’ve done that while you’re- you know, during your time in Wenatchee or what you’re currently doing?

MZ:    Currently, I have been living in Wenatchee for three years after I was done with grad school. I did go to Oregon State University and I got my masters in Women and Gender studies and after that I moved to Wenatchee and I actually had a hard time finding a job. I think a big part of it was my credentials, being very vocal about who I am. I don’t know if maybe some companies don’t necessarily want that kind of representation in their organizations. I’ve applied to several jobs here here of different kinds of organizations, even at the college and I didn’t get any call back which- I thought I was a great candidate. It was kind of rough to find a job here and not just that it was during COVID. A lot of my background is in mental health and in education, so I’ve done a lot of work with in group homes out of Wenatchee, worked with at risk youth, I’ve done a lot of like crisis prevention with teenagers that were suicidal. A lot of my experience also is like education so I’ve done tutoring for students of all ages I’ve teached- also I’ve done teaching for like grad students or college students, like college freshmen and teaching for younger kids like elementary kids. So I’ve had to adapt to my teaching style a lot.

MZ:    Currently, aside from that now I am working at Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. I’ve only been working with the organization for almost three months so it’s been really refreshing to be in a position where my credentials and my expertise is valued which I felt like wasn’t something I was going to find in Wenatchee. Like I said, I have applied to so many different jobs and it was just been a struggle and I almost thought am I going to have to look elsewhere out of the out of this out of this town, so finding a place like Planned Parenthood has been like the greatest blessing because I’ve been able to be my true authentic self. We also reach out to our communities about reproductive justice in Spanish so I think that’s been the most rewarding so far is knowing that I could use my skills and everything I’ve learned and talk about what Planned Parenthood offers to our communities to where it’s accessible for them.

GV:     So clearly you speak Spanish

MZ:    Yes.

GV:     So has retaining the language been important to you?

MZ:    Definitely, so interestingly enough when I lived in Corvallis, Oregon, which is a very you know…Oregon is kind of very white there’s [not] a lot of people of color there in Corvallis where in Oregon State University was I only had like one other Latinx friend that was actually from Spokane that I new previously. So they’re the only ones that I spoke Spanish with so I felt like I lost a lot of my language and then not just that, I would either talk to my friend in Spanish or if I talk to my mom on the phone that was the only times I felt like I spoke Spanish. So retaining the language even after that, and moving back to Wenatchee and using more of that, it felt like I didn’t even know how to speak Spanish sometimes.

MZ:    Now I think retaining the language and learning all these things that I know from my work at Planned Parenthood and learning all those things in Spanish and having more conversations in Spanish has been really I’d say like fruitful for me because I’m trying to be more intentional about how I say things or how it’s more accessible for folks because we also know that proper Spanish isn’t also as accessible for some folks in our community. So really been trying to like read more Spanish literature and preserve my language.

GV:     Since that has been something that you’re intentionally trying to keep are there other traditional aspects of your culture that you find important to you or that you wish you could pass down?

MZ:    Definitely, I’d have to say I want to really keep alive my mom’s traditions. My mom I feel like has also assimilated to culture, the culture here in the United States. A lot of the things that she does that are different from maybe my ancestors or my aunts and uncles are that she’s not somebody that’s very religious, she’s someone that’s more spiritual she always suggested us that if we wanted to learn more about God we don’t have to go to a Catholic Church. We can go to any church if we want and my aunts got upset about that so I want to continue to do that, offer teachings of all religions and if I ever have kids or a family like kind of continue that.

MZ:    I think another really important thing that’s important to me is our food, our language. I feel like we are such a communal culture that that’s how we come together with food, with music, with language so I really want to continue to keep that alive for future generations. Whether it’s my niece or nephew or my kids of my own one day, I really just don’t want that to get lost in assimilating to the American culture.

GV:     Is there any particular foods that like feel like family to you or feel like what you would want to pass on when you think about keeping those tradition?

MZ:    Totally, so I’d have to say like foods like enchiladas and pozole and arroz y frijoles, which are like staples, and tortillas or caldo de res. You know, and then it’s also me making my own versions of that. My mom makes a lot of like calabazas, tomatoes onions and cilantro, but I’ve kind of made my own and I add garbanzo beans in them and I add like [indecipherable 0:20:44] sauce in it and I put mushrooms. So it’s like my version of it but I guess it still really represents me now. Which I feel like there’s so many different ways of cooking and doing things.

GV:     So of course the tradition but also what you’ve added to it.

MZ:    Exactly, so wanting to keep- preserve all those things and wanting to keep culture celebrations alive like Christmas and being really intentional about Dia de los Muertos and keeping those traditions alive too.

GV:     Thank you.

MZ:    Yeah!

GV:     Do you have any goals or hopes for yourself or for the community in the future?

MZ:    Definitely, as someone that I didn’t see myself as coming back to Wenatchee, now that I’m here, and I have the privilege of being in this role, I really would love to see more intersectional work happen here. Where maybe it’s something bigger than just a Facebook chat. Where I want it to be more like a group where it’s an actual space for folks to be in, where people of color’s voices are amplified because I feel like there’s a lot of leaders in this town that want to elevate voices of others but don’t know how, or stumble across not amplifying the voices that actually need to be at the table. So I want to create something that, whether that’s a group or a space, where folks can feel like they can share their experiences and not be afraid.

GV:     Thank you, I hope to see that in the future too.

MZ:    Right! [Laughter]

GV:     What is something that you would like the community to know about Latinos in Wenatchee?

MZ:    I’d have to say that I want our community to know that we are much more than just taking up space and not in the way that we think taking up space. I think a lot of people that live in this town don’t understand our struggles, or understand what we have to go through every day. Some of us more than others, of course, and I’m speaking on behalf of agricultural workers, on behalf of folks that are undocumented, on behalf of folks that don’t have access to language, or may not know that these resources exist in our valley. We have so much to offer so it’s being able to be willing to be open to difference and listen to those stories, and find ways to support our community members. You know if there’s ever issues going on in our community, I feel like we find a way to come together, and I know there is some folks here doing amazing work in our community but more than anything, like they say in Spanish I like like we “no los damos por vencidos” you know, this is our community.

MZ:    One thing I love about Wenatchee is that we have a sign that says welcome, bienvenidos, and that feels welcoming even though I know some folks were mad about that and it’s like but we do so much for our community. If it weren’t for all of our Latinos here, maybe the packing sheds wouldn’t even be running, you know, because who wants who is going to be doing that work if it’s not our hard working people. So we’re more than just a brown person, we have so much more to offer, so I think that’s what I would want our community- other community members to know. Yeah.

GV:     You expressed a desire in your goals for the future, for organizations to be more intersectional or work to be more intersectional. When thinking of things like the museum and preserving you know the history of the community, how can we better serve and share with the community in an intersectional way?

MZ:    Oh that’s a great question I would say that really being intentional about maybe who’s on your board of committees, or who are your staff members, is there that representation in this space because a part of it sounds like you know the museum for example like in a general sense, is to preserve culture, preserve what is in the area, so being really intentional about holding maybe you know open forums or workshops or having those open spaces for those identities to be shared and for those experiences to be shared that’s welcoming. Maybe meeting people where they’re at, because I think like I said, a lot of it has to do with lack of access or resources or even knowledge or not knowing how to ask the right questions, especially if you’re the only one. So I do believe that the museum has so much potential to incorporate those voices because it is a big part of our city, big part of this town and surrounding areas. So really being intentional about who’s reaching out to Latinos in Wenatchee. You most likely would want that to be a Latinx identified person that can cross those barriers and boundaries. Where it feels comfortable where the person you’re talking to maybe looks like you or speaks the same language as you which is huge.

MZ:    I definitely think that our voices need to be heard in the Museum, of all backgrounds of all social levels, of all types of occupations because we all do so much and we all have a lot to offer and say about our experiences here. I’m very in the middle about Wenatchee, it’s a love hate relationship but I also love this valley because there’s… I feel like when something hits the fan, our community does come together and it’s not just Latinx people, it’s everybody. So I do think that’s one beautiful thing to see here that when something happens everyone comes together.

GV:     it’s very united.

MZ:    Yes!

GV:     In a way I haven’t seen in other places.

MZ:    Yeah which I’m really like really surprised like I know we have a lot of like counter people here that don’t support… some of our movements here but there’s also a lot of great allies that they’re the ones that I feel like makes me have hope for this town in the future is because if it weren’t for them helping, you know amplify these voices or these experiences, giving folks that opportunity that makes a big difference.

GV:     So as someone who has left and come back to Wenatchee area how has your perspective changed of Wenatchee from when you were growing up to now as an adult?

MZ:    That’s a great question, so I’d have to say that growing up I felt like Wenatchee was a great place. I loved it here, I think as a kid there was a lot of resources. Now I think about it, my mom she had five kids so we would sometimes go to food banks. We knew where those were, my mom took us to the YMCA we were able to utilize some of our resources here, we’d go to the city pool, there was a lot of programs for kids here growing up. We had the Public Library so my mom would take us to the Public Library to hang out. I’m very grateful for that, that we had access to these different things. Maybe some areas don’t so I think I really liked growing up here once I became a teenager and learned more about how this town operates, I was ready to leave and like always had like a bittersweet feeling about it but I wanted to go learn more than what was in this valley. I wanted to explore the world and learn new things, that was kind of my mindset. So when I left it was like very liberating because I felt like there was a lot of people or ideologies in this town kind of floating of… we need to stay here and you need to create a family and you may get a job and have kids and I mean it’s kind of traditional in some ways in some towns, small towns.

MZ:    So now as an adult I have some feelings similar feelings but I think now I have a much better world view and understanding of what’s happening on a social and systemic level, like who’s running the town, whose voices are being heard, whose voices aren’t being heard, why. I have a kind of a better understanding as to why things are the way they are here but I feel like now I have more knowledge more experience to offer and just more understanding. Now I’m somebody that can contribute to that change of raising their voices for Latinos here. I definitely have similar but different views on Wenatchee now if that makes sense. I also think that I hear folks in other communities that are a lot smaller surrounding cities like Brewster, Mattawa, Moses Lake, you know Quincy even…and I feel like hearing other students as students perspectives in other areas, it didn’t seem like it was like it Wenatchee. So I know there’s like a certain level of privilege we had here too, with having these resources accessibility to different things, a lot of help and support from the community. So it’s also very interesting to see that, kind of understand that now as an adult like this isn’t we are also very privileged in this area because of all the support or what community members do provide.

GV:     Community members like yourself.

MZ:    Like myself [Laughter].

GV:     Wenatchee is very lucky to have you back here

MZ:    Oh thank you.

GV:     I have a lot of respect for you-

MZ:    I appreciate that.

GV:     I’m happy I got this opportunity to interview for you interview you for this project because I feel like you have a good perspective of what it’s been like to be Latino, Latina in Wenatchee.  So thank you so much for your time today I look forward to talking to you again.

MZ:    Thank you so much, appreciate it.

[Ender of Interview]

Interview length: 35:45

Transcribed by: Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez on June 27th, 2022