ANDY - January 15th, 2020
Nancy: I am sitting across the table from Andy. Andy: Andrea Valdes Valdes. Two last names. Um , my mom calls me Andrea when she’s angry.
Nancy: And could you state your pronouns, Andy: For sure. So, my pronouns are she/her and I lived in Mexico until I was 16. Then, my dad works for this motor company called Nemak, and they were like, ‘Hey, we want you to move to Detroit, Michigan, so that you can develop like this whole new area.’ And my dad was like, ’ oh, what if I don’t want to?’ And they’re like, 'oh, if you don’t want to you’re fired. So you kind of don’t have a choice.’ And my dad was just like 'right, guess we’re moving to Michigan.’ Nancy: What year is this? Andy: So that is 2013. So on July 8, we arrived in Michigan, and we just started our lives in the United States, which was really scary. I did know English beforehand. I was in a bilingual school. But my English was definitely not a good American English. It was very heavily accented. I made a lot of grammatical errors. I was having a really hard time listening to what people were saying. Especially in school and the Michigan accent, they mumble everything. Nancy: Really? Andy: Yeah, they’re just like, I’m like, excuse me. What are you saying? And they’d play movies. I always had to be like, 'Hey, can you turn on closed captioning? I don’t know what’s going on.’ Then I moved to Minnesota for school in 2016. Summer of 2016. Nancy: And have you returned back home? Andy: To Mexico? A couple times. I returned in 2014, '15, and then '17. But I haven’t been back since. I know I should go back because I have family there, but we’ve never been really that close before. Nancy: Like extended family? Andy: Yeah, like my, my grandparents and my cousins and my uncles and stuff like that. But we were never really that close. So I don’t feel that urgency to go back and like reconnect, which might be kind of sad, but it’s just the reality.
Nancy: Okay, talking about Mexico. So let’s talk about borders. And how it can change the definition of home? Can you describe what a world without borders would be like for a person of Mexican descent? What would the world be like for you, if there were no borders? This is 2020. January 15, 2020.
Andy: So, like political borders like geographical or just like any kind of border?
Nancy: Okay, I love that you asked me what that means because borders are a social construct.
Nancy: And typically their function is to establish territory and distinction, and difference, but it also can confine and restrict and make people immobile and disempowered. So thinking, kind of queering of the definition of borders are in a world where the Mexican-US border doesn’t exist anymore. We’re just the northern hemisphere. What would that be like for someone like you right now?
"I'M FROM MICHIGAN," AND THEY'RE LIKE, "OH, REALLY? WHERE ARE YOU REALLY FROM?"
"I FEEL LIKE IF I DIDN'T HAVE TO GO THROUGH CUSTOMS AND HAVE TO DO ALL THIS SECURITY THING TO JUST GO BACK TO VISIT FAMILY I FEEL LIKE I WOULD DO IT MORE OFTEN. LIKE I WOULDN'T FEEL THAT WALL."
Andy: think that first of all, I would have less fear. There’s always that fear of : What if we get sent back? What if something happens and, I have a green card now, but what if something happens and it gets revoked and I have to go back to my hometown? And I’m not able to come back up or even just that distinction of like “Oh yeah, I’m from Mexico. I’m not from this country,” is always alienating in every sense of the word. It just feels like a very punctuated difference between me and other people that are originally from the US, or even from this state. Like, the state borders are also like, “Oh, where are you from?” “I’m from Michigan,” and they’re like “Oh, really? Where are you really from?” Like, I don’t know. You look like you might not like me if I told you that I’m from Mexico, you know? So that would be number one: less fear. I would also be able to move more freely. I feel like if I didn’t have to go through customs and have to do all this security thing to just go back to visit family I feel like I would do it more often. Like I wouldn’t feel that wall.
Nancy: Its not even like a real wall
Andy: It’s not even like a real wall !
Nancy: At least not yet. Right? We’re gonna revisit that. Just kind of backpedal a little bit. How do you identify and describe all the things that describe you?
Andy: So I identify in the easiest terms, Mexican graphic designer, bisexual. But like, I also have been, especially lately, I’ve been really questioning who I am, and how I describe myself. I have this constant feeling of imitating what I think I am. You know, when you’re looking in a mirror and you’re doing these movements, and the mirror does them back, and they’re reflected directly, and you’re just like, Man, that’s me. But it’s not me. It’s a reflection. And that’s just how I feel lately. Like, I’m just a reflection of myself.
Nancy: Can you talk a little more about that ?
Andy: Sure. I mean, it’s mostly like this weird feeling. I mean, I also have very severe bipolar disorder. And I’ve had it since I was in like sixth grade. It went untreated for easily five years. So I feel like that entire experience just really affected my growth as a person, especially since I was a teenager. And I didn’t know what was going on. And I didn’t have my family’s support. So right now I just feel like it’s this pretending, especially since I feel at the same time really separate from every community that I think myself as part of. So I don’t feel like I’m part of the Mexican community, because I moved when I was 16. And like, my level of Spanish is not the same as the level of Spanish of my friends from Mexico. Like, my vocabulary is not the same, but also here, I also don’t feel like I’m part of the American community. And it’s just this like, trying to grasp at what I am while hiding behind the mirror.
Nancy: Okay. One, thank you. That was like thank you for being vulnerable and just being open because I feel like that talks about like how we construct our identity as Americans, people who are becoming American as immigrants creating home here. Would you consider that a formal definition of queer? Like how you see yourself project yourself?
Andy: It could be, I had never heard of the word queer before I moved to the US. It’s not something that is talked about in Mexico, it’s very taboo. I think it’s become better over the years. But I didn’t grow up knowing that word. I don’t really relate to it as I feel other people do. I guess that that could be a definition for just this like, reflection of who we are and how we present ourselves to the world, while at the same time feeling this otherness.
Nancy: That feeling of otherness, what is a kind of the opposite feeling?
Andy: Community I guess. So for me, community, you’re not the exact same as everyone else, but it’s like your notes in a song. So the note by itself, it just fades out and that’s it. Like, maybe you played la La and then it’s just ah, it’s gone. But when you’re notes in a song, all the notes are different, but they’re kind of they mixed together to create something complete that resonates later and can be repeated and repeated, and it always has a different meaning, while at the same time it retains what it originally was, you know?
"COMMUNITY I GUESS. SO FOR ME, COMMUNITY, YOU'RE NOT THE EXACT SAME AS EVERYONE ELSE, BUT IT'S LIKE YOUR NOTES IN A SONG. SO THE NOTE BY ITSELF, IT JUST FAKES OUT AND THAT'S IT. LIKE, MAYBE YOU PLAYED LA LA AND IT'S JUST AH, IT'S GONE. BUT WHEN YOU'RE NOTES IN A SONG, ALL THE NOTES ARE DIFFERENT, BUT THEY'RE KIND OF THEY MIXED TOGETHER TO CREATE SOMETHING COMPLETE THAT RESONATES LATER AND CAN BE REPEATED AND REPEATED, AND IT ALWAYS HAS A DIFFERENT MEANING, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME IT RETAINS WHAT IT ORIGINALLY WAS, YOU KNOW?"
Nancy: You’re talking about the definition of community which is what I’m trying to understand from immigrants what is what is home? Is it something that is constructed is it something that you arrived to? Is it something that you were raised in? You dream of? And manifest, sort of thing. So the question I was going to ask is, you know, talk about what brought you and your family away from home and what has kept you here. And just a little more about like your definition of community.
Andy: So I don’t have a definition for home either. I think it’s more of a feeling as well. Like, I think a lot in metaphors. I like to write so I feel like home for me, it’s like, you know, when it snows at night and the sky is kind of pink and everything’s super quiet and it’s just really beautiful. You have this sense of peace and tranquility. I feel like that’s what home feels to me. And it’s not always, place it’s more like a set of people. So I could call home, a community by itself. So sometimes, say, I’m with two of my friends. And we’re just sitting down, just breathing. Together, and there’s this rhythm to our breaths that starts to create this community song. Even if we’re just three people, I get that pink sky snow kind of feeling. at the same time, for more concrete definition, I feel like it’s just where you feel at peace regardless of the objects around you. Through winter break, I’ve been actually thinking about where’s home for me, because my parents and my siblings are in Michigan. But I have friends here in Minneapolis, and I have friends in Monterrey, Mexico. And at a certain point, there’s a couple years in which I called Mexico still my home, while Michigan felt like this temporal place. And then I started feeling like Michigan was my home. My family’s here, I feel at peace, I know where everything is. But, this winter break when I went 'home’, home in quotation marks, I don’t know anymore. I didn’t feel that peace anymore. And I didn’t feel that recognition. And I kept thinking, I want to go home. Like even without realizing that I was saying “I want to go home.” And I thought of Minneapolis as my home, my place of dwelling and my place of thinking and my place of being in a rhythm with other people.
"YOU KNOW, WHEN IT SNOWS AT NIGHT AND THE SKY IS KIND OF PINK AND EVERYTHING'S SUPER QUITE AND IT'S JUST REALLY BEAUTIFUL. YOU HAVE THIS SENSE OF PEACE AND TRANQUILITY. I FEEL LIKE THAT'S WHAT HOME FEELS TO ME. AND IT'S NOT ALWAYS A PLACE, IT'S MORE LIKE A SET OF PEOPLE. SO I COULD CALL HOME, A COMMUNITY BY ITSELF. SO SOMETIMES, SAY, I'M WITH TWO OF MY FRIENDS, AND WE'RE JUST SITTING DOWN, JUST BREATHING TOGETHER. AND THERE'S THIS RHYTHM TO OUR BREATHS THAT STAT TO CREATE THIS COMMUNITY SONG. EVEN IF WE'RE JUST THREE POEPLE, I GET THAT PINK SKY SNOW KIND OF FEELING."
"AND I THOUGH OF MINNEAPOLIS AS MY HOME, MY PLACE OF DWELLING AND MY PLACE OF THINKING AND MY PLACE OF BEING IN A RYTHM WITH OTHER PEOPLE."
Nancy: So maybe could you talk about what essentially keeps us from home? What prevents people from being safe in the world, or prevents people from being home with their families or living lives back home? And just kind of speak to the Neo-colonial relationship that current American immigration policy is so married to, which is the systems and elements that drive people away from their homes?
Andy: Yeah. I think four main things, or at least, I think it’s three actually. Two of them are kind of the same. Politics slash wars, work and opportunities. So as much as one might want to go back, maybe you have to stay because you need to send money to your family, which is kind of what we do as well. We send some money to my grandparents and stuff. There’s also just war, war politics, like the situation in Mexico is not ideal. There’s a lot of people dying. There’s a lot of femicide, a lot of women are just being raped and killed all over the country. There’s the drug war. There are certain cars that people don’t use in Mexico, because they’re related to drug wars and people in cartels, like if you see someone in a certain vehicle. It’s just a really scary situation. And there’s a lot of discrimination even amongst Mexicans if you’re darker skinned in Mexico even though we’re all , related to indigenous people and European people we’re all like this makes. There’s like a lot of factors that just keep people away. But I digress. These issues that the US has just meddled with, and has made worse , I don’t feel like we would have this drug problem if the US wasn’t fueling so much of the war by selling weapons, or like even just fueling the demand for drugs. It’s just like, That’s it. It’s not just my country’s fault. There’s a lot of other things at play that I feel are just ridiculous. I don’t know. Nancy: Thank you. So, we’re gonna pivot from this dark place that we’ve been in for the last 30 minutes. Andy: That sounds good.
Nancy: Um, joy. What gives you joy ?
Andy: Sometimes that’s really hard for me to think about. And sometimes when we’re feeling joyful, we don’t really realize why that is. For me, it’s definitely my two best friends. Like just being with them just makes me feel the serenity and this happiness that I’m like, man, I forgot that this is how it feels to be content, and to feel joyful, to feel like you’re at a good place. Especially since The winter of 2018 beginning of 2019. I was like, really, really dark place and I felt like I forgot how it feels to be joyful. And I’ve been trying to relearn it. And lately, it’s been like really simple things like maybe I cook spaghetti and it’s perfectly al dente and I’m like, oh my gosh. Or my cat will look at me and she’ll just do this really cute noises like, Hi. She just sounds like *brr* and she’ll like flop on her back and just like show me her belly and she’s like, 'please pet me I love you’. And that just brings me joy, or the act of sitting down at a coffee shop with someone and just having this feeling of everything is all right, and there’s nothing wrong with the world. We’re just here, drinking a shot of espresso talking and just having a relaxing time watching, like the cars go by outside. It’s just so, so beautiful to me. So it’s mostly like the little moments of like spending time with people.
Nancy: The inbetween.
Andy: Yeah, there’s like, a really beautiful word for it in Japanese, it’s Ma. And it like, literally means gap. So the space between things. And it refers to , those moments of quiet and reflection. And, you know, to go back to music, the spaces between the notes that help you get the song together. And then those like little sighs that you give out when you’re just like *sigh* relaxed and that quiet after the sigh, like those little moments are what bring me joy.
Nancy: You defined community already, Why do you think people need community?
Andy: I think in one sentence it would be because the single note fades out and just ceases to exist and we can’t just be single notes for our entire lives we need that accompaniment and those spaces and those other sounds and rhythms to make us whole and complete. And it helps us grow as people become more empathetic. Which is a lot of what we need right now empathy. And when you are interacting with others, and seeing what their issues are, how they live their life, what they’re affected by, even if it’s very similar to you, or if it’s completely different from what you experience that just helps us grow. And I think it makes the world a better place.
"BECAUSE THE SINGLE NOT FADES OUT AND JUST CEASES TO EXIST AND WE CAN'T JUST BE SINGLE NOTES FOR OUR ENTIRE LIVES WE NEED THAT ACCOMPANIMENT AND THOSE SPACES AND THOSE OTHER SOUNDS AND RHYTHMS TO MAKE USE WHOLE AND COMPLETE."
Nancy: Finally, the hardest question and like the second to last. How do you define Queer? Andy: I honestly don’t know. Yeah, I just don’t know because i i’d , I don’t know if I’ve ever , really, really identified with the word queer. Cuz I didn’t really know about it. Nancy: Do you identify as queer? Andy: I don’t know if I identify as queer. I know I’m not straight. So I guess queer would be like an appropriate word since I don’t really have a hard definition for myself. So I think it’s just like, kind of like fluid, you’re not exactly all set and bound by something. You are boundless sort of like, a riverbed that keeps expanding and shoving away rocks and stuff. And then maybe some grass grows on the side and then the riverbed spreads again and then it shrinks, and it’s been raining. It’s just this like, fluid motion that keeps opening up and closing and opening. That’s what I feel it is. Nancy: So with that, point of view, how could that expand people’s idea of immigration in America particularly around this concept of belonging? Of home, of borders, If people could just queer their perspectives around citizenship, gender or sexuality or race? Yeah. How could that kind of create a wider riverbed for everyone to flow through? Andy: Yeah. It’s always like a mindset that people have that needs to change. And it’s always really hard to change on people that are really set in their ways. just thinking about how, as you said before, borders can change. And that means that , the definition of borders itself is a fluid definition. There’s like many of them. There’s many borders, borders can be also geographical as well. And maybe there’s a mountain and that divides the state. And I feel like having that fluid aspect to it, and not thinking of yourself as just being like, oh I am just from this place. I do not belong here is harmful, and thinking of places as just places and not as like, a place that has space, and not as a place that’s like, we only go here to shower, wash your hands and do other body necessities. No, like, maybe you’re not just thinking of it as a bathroom, maybe it’s a whole room, and you can like read books there and stuff. And having that like, openness to what a place can be. And what a place can stand for, I think is what we need to like, define ourselves without defining what we are, you know?
Like, I know that, for example, like Day of the Dead is like super popular in the United States. And a lot of people feel like that’s just something that people that are not Mexican shouldn’t celebrate. But I think that to like, give a small example like it’s just such a beautiful holiday that is not even based on, a certain type of religion. It’s just as like honoring your dead type of thing. Like, you don’t have to be from Mexico to celebrate it. I think it’s more of an open thing. And just having this sort of like, openness to identity, and to culture where we share what we’re doing, and we share what we think is just liberating. And I think that’s what also a world without borders would be like. Just like enriching Yeah.
Nancy: Final, final question. This is about policy and also just really about transforming mindset and attitude around home, belonging, and how we identify, how we share ourselves and how We expect people to If you can address the most influential public figures and decision makers in the state. What would you say about improving the standards of people like yourself here and elsewhere?
Andy: Yeah. I think this one might be the hardest one. I sometimes feel like there’s nothing really that can be done. Other than try to change people’s mindsets and how they view the world. So it would be more of having a conversation and having this campaign of not exactly campaign but like something similar to that, of the experiences of people and just having people see what other living, feeling, experiencing people are living day to day. And I feel like for improving the conditions there’s just a lot of hate in policy I think.
Andy: Like, I don’t understand how people can just treat others the way that they do. And I feel like if I could send this huge message to the entire world, and just have them have this moment of like, enlightenment of like, Oh, this is what I’ve been doing. And this is what other people are feeling. So I feel like just keep pushing for this understanding between others, is what I feel would be best. I know that there’s people that are always going to oppose change, just because they’re comfortable where they are. They’re like, Oh, it doesn’t affect me. But I feel like people need to realize that it does. That it affects.
Nancy: Okay. Thank you so much. This is an amazing, amazing way to end this conversation series.