Click below to listen to the interview recording
Date: June 21st, 2022
Location: Teresa’s Home, Wenatchee, WA
Interviewer: Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez
Interviewee: Teresa Bendito-Zepeda
Summary: Teresa Bendito-Zepeda was born in Wenatchee, Washington on February 7th, 1987, though her parents are originally from Puebla, Mexico. As the child of agricultural workers, Bendito-Zepeda discusses helping pick fruit with her family as a young child and worrying about their housing displacement due to the closure of two mobile home parks she lived in. Bendito-Zepeda discusses the various jobs she’s worked in and expands on how her role as a community organizer for the Trust for Public Land started her advocacy work in what would become Parque Padrinos. As a co-founder of Parque Padrinos, Bendito-Zepeda practices the values taught by her family to engage the community to be involved in parked stewardship, programming, and community unity.
Bendito-Zepeda discusses the importance of representation at different levels in order to create the longevity of a project and eliminate misconceptions and stereotypes of the Latino community. The programming at Methow Park, such as Dia de los Muertos, are a way to continue traditions to future generations in order to connect with ancestors. Bendito-Zepeda discusses ways that youth can get involved in community organizing and the importance of understanding the diversity of the Latino community and their experiences at different levels.
Interview Transcript Below
Acronyms: GV= Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez; BZ= Teresa Bendito-Zepeda; TB: Teresa’s Mother, Teresa Bendito
GV: So the day is Tuesday, June 21st, 2022 my name is Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez I am the interviewer with Teresa Bendito, here in with Wenatchee, Washington in her home, and Teresa, can you please state your name, date of birth, and where were you where you were born?
BZ: Yes, my name is Teresa Bendito-Zepeda, my date of birth is February 7th, 1987 and I was born in Wenatchee, WA.
GV: Thank you, what brought your family or your ancestors to the North Central Washington area?
BZ: My parents immigrated from Puebla, Mexico over 25 years ago they originally came to to the Wenatchee valley because of other family members who had already lived here or in this general area and that had mentioned to them about all of the job opportunities the immense amount of agg [agriculture] industry available for them to work. That’s what brought my family here, when my when my mother saw the natural resources of Wenatchee she fell in love with the with them and decided that no matter what would happen she wanted her children to grow up in in this, in this stable community. In one place like Wenatchee.
GV: Do you know what year your family came?
BZ: Can I get help?
BZ: 1984, yeah.
GV: What has been your path here in the valley since your family arrived?
BZ: So it’s… at the very beginning my parents came to live with family members, in like in their living room. Actually, to a home here in South Wenatchee. There was lots of family already living under one roof but it was- it was what was available and it was a place where they felt safe being with family members, for them not knowing any English and for them for them being in a new country. So they came to stay with family, eventually moved to different housing around the Wenatchee valley. Renting a couple of rooms more in like, South Wenatchee. As their family grew they continued to like look for different housing I would say a big part of my history here in Wenatchee revolves around our housing and the places where we lived…because we lived as a young girl I remember living in a basement, apartments, mobile homes anywhere that like my parents could afford. And there were many times that we moved I can recall at least six and six different times in like about a span of about 15 years because of being pushed-basically pushed out of certain places.
BZ: In two different places where two different places where my parents had bought and mobile homes. Those trailer that those mobile home parks had been closed and with that, the people were displaced right and so that happened in East Wenatchee. I can’t remember the exact year…
TM: The Valley Mall Parkway
BZ: The Valley Mall Parkway Mobile Home Park as well as the 9th St Mobile Home Park. So, I remember growing up in really, and having like new neighbors and new places to live at but also remember that fear of not knowing where I was going to live next. The fear of, will my parents be able to afford rent and in that time period when we were living at the 9th St mobile Home Park, a fear of just what was gonna happen next. So that has really been a big part of my family history here and even though my parents faced hardships in finding a roof to put it over our heads, my siblings heads. They were really strong will in the fact that they wanted us to stay in the Wenatchee valley because they could have decided at any point you know this is getting too expensive, or this is getting too hard to find a place, let’s move elsewhere, right.
BZ: But if anything they said this is where we really want our children to stay grow up, get to know the people in the community here … So, I would say that was a really big part as well as people who stepped in at those lowest of lows. That helped with like the first first month’s rent at apartments that physically helped us, like the last couple days before we could live at the 9th St trailer Home Park. Pack our things and get them in trucks. That has really shaped not only like us and what we now advocate for but also the way we review this valley as well.
GV: What kind of industries did your family, or you, work in?
BZ: So, my parents worked right when they arrived to Wenatchee they started off working in the in the tree fruit, so from picking apples or picking cherries. I remember as a young little girl I would go with my with my older siblings with them in the summer months and for the cherry harvest. My parents would work, sometimes we would help them with picking the lower the cherries on the lower branches but I mostly remember using those the yellow and orange bins and flipping them over and that’s where we would put our cereal, play games on there. Those are like the memories I have of a lot of these orchards and towns.
BZ: Eventually my parents worked in in the warehouses. My mom then opened up her cleaning business to be able to work different hours and be able to take care of us, take us, to school go to our school events and things like that. My father continued working in the in the warehouses and in Wenatchee and in the Wenatchee area, I believe he ended up working at all of them at one point, at different times. Until he eventually started working at a at a local store here called AG Supply, this is when I first saw him be able to have a job that he felt that he could take part of his skills that he had from back home in Mexico of being a salesman, of being a vendedor, and using that here now but with- at a different store but that those skills of like being a businessman, selling things, a salesman. That’s the first time I saw him being able to connect those things being here.
GV: What about yourself? What have you worked in?
BZ: My first job was actually in cherry season. I worked only one full season and a half a working the cherries at a warehouse in town and that was really hard labor that I appreciate it in a different way afterwards. After that I did an internship with the a Douglas County Land Services as a planner in as an intern for the planning department and that helped me understand a little bit more about our local governments as well as helped me…I did some translating and interpreting of documents and other things there. Afterwards I’ve interned- I I’ve had a history of internships. I interned at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) for a couple of months and interned at a consulting firm for a nonprofits and I worked as a server at a local restaurant while I was paying for college. As I was a college student. Now I’ve finished my studies and I’m a tax accountant at Moss Adams.
GV: What has your schooling been like in Wenatchee area and when you left it?
BZ: I graduated from Wenatchee High School in 2015 and then I went directly to Eastern Washington university and I completed a year there, I decided to stay in Wenatchee afterwards and have a better idea of what I wanted to study and so I did an additional year and a half here at the Wenatchee Valley College. I finished with my associates degree and then transferred to Central Washington University, the Business School. I went to- I took classes there twice a week but I continued living in Wenatchee because I had already started as a community organizer with the Trust for Public Land on a project here in Wenatchee which was a park renovation. And so I continue to live and work here in Wenatchee but I commuted a few times a week to school to continue going to school while I continue to do work that was important to me in the community.
GV: How have you seen or have you seen the ways in which your family were used top- in regards to values or traditional aspects, that have been reflective in how you do community work?
BZ: Yes I think that is what the reason why I do any of this community work and it’s because I recognize that all of these experiences have shaped me to the person that I am but I want to be able to be there for others who may be going through similar experiences or do what we can together to avoid for families to go through similar experiences. And so I see in all the ways that the community came together to like help my family in those difficult times, I want to be able to basically give back and I have different ways that I can give back… that those people may have been able to help us economically I know that I have other skills and abilities privileges that I have to be able to use those two to like support others and to see in the ways that I can be basically someone who can fill in like those gaps. Part of the work that I didn’t talk about was work that I did from 2018 up till about-till now, that has looked differently in this time period. But I started off as a community organizer paid through the Trust for Public Land to do am couple hours a week of community engagement, community outreach here in when Wenatchee to make sure that neighbors in South Wenatchee helped create that vision for park renovation here, of Methow Park. That really changed from what I thought- who would be of gathering input and focusing just on that end result to then what has shifted and what I’ve now involved with as well is the creation of Parques Padrinos which is a park stewardship group that has the responsibility and the commitment of taking care of the park after the renovation but also programming it so that families around the neighborhood can enjoy it and confirm it to continue to be accessible to everyone. And so that we can also build that community part to this so I definitely think that my history, everything we’ve gone through, has really helped in just reinforcing the kind of support that I want to provide to others, that we received as well.
GV: Why was it important for you to make sure that your community had a say in the park renovations?
BZ: It was important to me because I know that when we are a part of creating change of a ay process it has more lasting impact. The outcomes are really determined by those who either are most impacted, those who are part of, and so that can also take shape there’s always a lot of talk about community and community outcomes but those are- they should be guided by those who are going to be using the spaces and s,o that’s why it was really important for neighbors who live across the street, who were already using the park, or who weren’t using it but new why they weren’t using it, for them to be a part of and so that we can also remove and eliminate as much of the of the misconceptions or the um …what are they called the… this won’t be included right? When you called when people no what do they call I’m blanking on the word but-
GV: I don’t know how to pause it [laughs]
BZ: It’s OK! When like they’ll say like, that that all Latinos are really loud and things like that what do they call it?
GV: Like misconceptions or stereotypes?
BZ: Stereotypes! That a lot of the- that’s the word OK, so that we can also like eliminate as many stereotypes that are out there and the voices we really highlight the voices, experiences, of those who live here and who may not have had an opportunity to be engaged before or they had already lost trust in local governments or organizations to follow through with initiatives.
GV: Is this neighborhood predominantly Latino or-?
BZ: Yes it is, I don’t have the exact percentage but it is, and it is the densest neighborhood in the in Wenatchee because the majority of the people who live here come live in multi-family housing and so there’s about 4200 people who live within a 10 minute walk.
GV: So, when I follow the Parque Padrinos Facebook page I noticed that there’s been, you know, a lot of community events. There was Dia de Los Muertos during COVID, I saw that baile folklorico practices there as well…what are traditional aspects of your culture that you find important?
BZ: I think the festivities and the celebrations are really important because they are a way, not only for people who for people to…like remember those times in their native countries that many for immigration reasons, can’t go back and haven’t been back for years. And so it helps bring a little bit of that piece here, and makes them feel more welcomed and at peace but also for the generation like myself who grew up in this valley and that didn’t live in other countries yet. To continue to have those traditions to be alive, and to remember them, to remember our ancestors through that because we haven’t- some of us like myself, didn’t even get the chance to meet a lot of them because of that- because of mixed status of family and immigration.
GV: Are there any traditional practices or values that are passed on within your own family that you look forward to passing down?
BZ: My family celebrates Dia de los Muertos in a very special way I remember since I was very at, a very young age, remember having altares is at my house and that was really the only way I knew of many of my family members. That is one tradition that through these different festivities like through Parques Padrinos, or the ones in our community, that I love to support to be able to make sure that other people can either make that a part of their up their tradition but also for myself to be able to pass that on to the next generations as well.
GV: Obviously you’re someone who is very involved in the community, so is your family, what hopes do you have for the community in the future?
BZ: My hope is for more youth to feel… valued and cared for here, to a point that they also don’t feel that… that they need to go to different places to be able to have an impact in this world. So that they can really see the value that they bring to our community and that they can do that from a really young age as well, that they can see themselves in positions of leadership within government, within organizations. Specifically for our Latino, Latinx youth and children that they see themselves represented in a lot of spaces where we haven’t seen representation of our diverse community. That’s part of it, but then also that those people with mixed status or who were undocumented, that they continue to feel- that they feel valued and included as a part of our community because I do know of many folks who don’t- who have that… there’s that disconnect right now and so that’s something that I hope that through community events through different representation and more diverse representation in our valley that we can continue to get to a point.
GV: What do you think is a barrier- what barriers are people facing currently to not- so that, that is not something that’s happening right now?
BZ: I think that people need to give…or in a way that makes more sense. I think if our community can be more focused on executing an equitable like initiatives we can really get there with that being said of recognizing that that just starting that with everyone has a different path and experiences that make it more or less difficult for them to even be at a specific place. So I feel that with understanding that I would also say that for people in these positions, of leadership, to create help create spaces for new leaders for younger leaders for diverse leaders to allow those spaces to be to be filled because there are many capable people in our community who I feel would be ready to take on some of those up positions, those responsibilities. But if we also don’t have the- if they don’t have the support or that space it makes it makes it very difficult or it gets… it’ll just take longer. I think that if we can continue to support equitable initiatives we will get there sooner.
GV: Thank you. You talked about your community goals, but do you have any goals for yourself for the future?
BZ: I saw that question last night.
BZ: I would like to actually, just as a goal, I would like to continue to be able to afford to live here. You know with just the prices of the housing market, of all the expenses it takes, the cost of living has just increased dramatically and so look, my goal would just be to continue to also be able to afford to live here to continue to help in the ways that I that are that are best fit for me that are most fit with like my skills and abilities that is what I would strive for but I think what would make me really happy would be to see the space having diverse voices in these spaces where I feel that I would also be able to take a step back and actually not be in as many board meetings or it just meetings in general. and that there are that I do see more of those equitable ways of gathering peoples voices and opinions in in projects.
GV: Since you grew up in this area and you continue to live here, what are the biggest changes that you’ve seen from your childhood to now in regards to the Latino community or what hasn’t changed?
BZ: Well I would say that that well, one that I definitely know of is that there are new places here in town that I can see myself partly represented in for example the park, Methow Park, that was newly renovated with those cultural aspects of papel picado that go around the fencing where I see within that papel picado; people who are working in AG [agriculture], like there are people little figures that are on little ladders they’re working in agriculture things that I remember seeing my parents do. Work that I did at one point as well. As well as a kiosko, where I know that like that’s traditionally where festivities happen and soccer. Those are some of those tangible changes that I’ve seen but the intangible ones that I’ve seen are that there are more organizations that are lead by Latinos, Latinx people in our community. I know that CAFE has grown drastically in the last year, that Parque Padrinos now exists as well, that Team Naturaleza also has a focus of taking folks to explore the natural resources in our community. As well as just seeing that growth of those Latino owned businesses, I think that those are things that may not be as tangible but are just as important in building community and for people fostering a sense of belonging.
GV: So with your work that you’ve done, I’ve seen you’ve been involved with a lot of organizations like Parque Padrinos which you’re a co-founder of, CAFÉ, Northwest Immigrants Rights Project, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Trust for Public Land. You’re very busy [Laughs] What would you say to a young Latino looking to get involved with community organizing or community work, but doesn’t know how the start?
BA: Good question, I would say that they are probably already doing a lot of that work up in their day-to-day. That they already have a lot of important skills of communication, of networking, a lot of those skills that we may have and used on our day-to-day with our families or at our maybe at places of worship. Things like that that they already have all the skills necessary and they’re probably already doing that work. So then it would just be of like finding what they are most passionate for to be able to be connected. That there are already lots of organizations here locally that are doing this work but if there is something that they are most proud of and that they have a passion for, that they themselves can create it. Because they have so much power, really. We hold so much power individually and especially when we start to get together there’s even more power. So they can… they can really make a difference I feel it. Just letting them know that they can make a difference whether it’s something in their neighborhood or at a community wide level, it’ll make an impact and as long as it makes an impact in one- for one person for one family. I feel like that’s worth it.
GV: What is something that you would like the community to know about Latinos in Wenatchee?
BZ: I would like the community to know that that the Latino and Latinx community is incredibly diverse and that in order to really understand, to begin to understand the experience of and the histories of Latinos in in our valley and what we’re doing now it requires of talking to multiple. Because there’s that intersection of the history, their religious beliefs, and so that is primarily what I hope for people to know. And to focus less on the voice of one or two, as the one that shares and that knows everything about us because at the end of the day we all are diverse, are all very different. We have experiences and our histories that really shape our beliefs, our values.
GV: With that in mind, is there anything that you would like to share with the museum on how they can better serve and share with the community?
BZ: I think that this here is a great start on how they how the museum can better represent the histories of this valley, of making sure that there is someone who speaks the language who can, who is of the community, to be able to tap into all of these pockets of people who have shaped the histories. And especially those who may not be billboards or in magazines already but that are each and everyday contributing to the livelihood of the people who live here. I think that continuing to see that representation in these spaces and exhibits, something that has people of different backgrounds to say, I wanna go there because I can see myself where you can see people like my parents up there as well as that leadership of who is the lead of these places and even the ability to have that language accessibility is very different for someone in a leadership position to be able to give a message and then that message will may not even be interpreted to or translated to our other to our whole community who is monolingual. Even then other people who Spanish maybe their second language, so I would definitely say that language accessibility can really improve drastically but I feel that that can also come from that representation of the people who are there as well. They can make those also those decisions and allocate resources, funding, to these initiatives.
GV: Thank you so much, I think that’s a good note to end this on. Thank you for your time today and for the work that you’ve done with the community.
BZ: Thank you so much.
[End of Interview]
Interview Length : [00:33:24]
Transcribed by: Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez on June 25th, 2022