Latinx Flint NEWS

Meet Victoria Arteaga: Somos Latinx

By Alondra Rosas Ornelas | Latinx Flint Media

“To graduate and to know that I can go out and do things, that’s very empowering. To have that in your hand and know that nobody can take this away from me and I can do something with this, that’s really empowering.”                -Victoria Arteaga

This news article is also available in: Español (Spanish) English

FLINT, Michigan – Somos Latinx serves to highlight and connect community members in Flint & Genesee County.  Recognizing the experiences of families and individuals in our community reveals the complex experience of Latinx Life in the United States and in our local community. Somos Latinx drives civic engagement and awareness, such as the 2020 Census.

The following is a conversation between Latinx Flint Media and Victoria Artega: 

Where are you from? 

I am from Flint. Both of my parents were born in the U.S. in Texas. My mother was raised in Texas near the border and her parents were from Mexico. My father’s parents were from Mexico near Nuevo Loredo and he was raised there. So he lived his life in Mexico until World War II. He joined the navy and that was the first time he came to the United States. 

Did you ever feel different growing up in Flint? 

I think most of the time you don’t think about whether you are different or not because you are in your place and you don’t think that you are different because you are who you are, you are always that way. I have experienced things that have made me distrustful of the larger community. I’ve had times when people wouldn’t want to have physical contact with me, which was hard. I still remember that before I was married my husband and I went to a restaurant and they would not wait on us. It was shocking to me that somebody would do something that blatant, that was hard. I still do see it, but most of the time I feel like we just see how to fit to our community and we adjust to that. 

Did you attend university? 

Yes, I went to college. I’ve always loved school, so I kept going. I think that’s one of the problems in our community. People of color do not live in that environment where they have the expectation that you are going to go to university, that you are going to do something with your life. I think my parents felt like it was enough if I graduated high school, it was enough if we got a job and they didn’t see more or they didn’t expect more the way other communities do. So, I didn’t go to college until my late 20’s and I remember working months and saving up money enough for a term of school and I would just do school and work and not see anybody or do anything else, it was just work and school. I saved up money and went to school when I could. I have a bachelor’s degree in applied science and then I went back because I was working for general motors and I got laid off and they paid for us to go to school, but it had to be something useful. I went back to school and I wound up with a degree in foreign language because my Spanish wasn’t really that good, so I wanted to communicate better in my community. I worked for General Motors as an electrician, so I did a lot of computer science and math classes. I got my license and then I had to retire early, so I went back to school. I got a degree in law and went from there. 

Bridging language & cultural barriers para una comunidad saludable!

What motivated you to earn your degree? 

I think there’s this need to be self-sufficient, this need to be able to take care of yourself and take care of your family. I think a lot of it was my desire to be able to help in my community. My mom and dad were very involved in the Latino community. My dad marched with Cesar Chavez. They were so active and so busy. My mom used to do everything for the ladies that came to Michigan. She would drive them around, she would take them to the store. I remember her cutting kids’ hair. She would do everything she could for her new friends that came here. So, I was raised with the idea that you are supposed to help the people that come after you or the people that you encounter that have problems. 

Where do you work? 

I am retired, but I am the volunteer staff attorney at the International Fair Center, it is in downtown Flint. We do immigration services and translation services. The director is Arabic, so he brings in a lot of the Arabic community and I get the Latino community that comes in.

What drives you to help the community? 

 I’d go back to my parents, that it was instilled in me that if you don’t help other people, then what is your value? If you want some self-worth you need to do something with yourself. And I feel if I am not doing anything, I question, what am I doing? Why am I even here? It’s just how I was raised. 

What has been one of the happiest moments of your life? 

To graduate and to know that I can go out and do things, that’s very empowering. To have that in your hand and know that nobody can take this away from me and I can do something with this, that’s really empowering. I think since I got my law degree, I met a young man who was undocumented and we interviewed and we spent two or three hours talking and I said, “You know what? I think you are a citizen. I think that through your grandparents, you are a citizen.” 

He said, “No, I am undocumented.” 

And we argued about it and we laughed. He came back a year later and we had the same discussion and he laughed. He came back a year later with his mom and his mom said,” Well we brought all of this stuff, we can go through this.” And we spent another year going through all his things and sending it in and they accepted him. He would not have been able to apply to be a citizen because he had too many things going on that he would never have been given a green card. So, they sent him his passport and all of his things. And it felt good to tell someone that you are safe now and no one can take it from you.

Why do you believe it is important to respond to the 2020 Census? 

We have to be counted. I know we get federal dollars for the community if we are counted. And if we aren’t counted, we are going to lose out on services and funds. They are not going to see how big this community is, and that’s important. 

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