Latinx Heritage Month: Joel Rubio

Berkeley Public Health: What is your role here at Berkeley Public Health and how long have you worked here?

Joel Rubio: After working in various public health settings, such as a hospital, clinic, and school-based health center, I am now a Bilingual Public Education Specialist (PES) for the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Occupational Health Program (LOHP). As a PES and an employee of the School of Public Health, one of my main responsibilities is to improve the population health of our diverse community, especially the immigrant and high-risk worker populations. Whether I am working with labor unions, workers, or the government, I always make sure that I respect the concerns of the targeted population. Furthermore, I assist in researching and assessing educational needs and interests by creating new materials, planning events, conducting outreach in Spanish and English, managing independent projects, and providing support to program coordinators. At the moment, I have been working within Berkeley Public Health for almost two years. Furthermore, I am currently a graduate student at Berkeley Public Health where I aim to earn my MPH in Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health.

BPH: What does Latinx Heritage Month mean to you?

Rubio: As a Latinx/e U.S.-born student with Mexican-born parents, I felt a disconnection with my parent’s culture growing up. Growing up, I felt neither American nor Latinx/e, as if I did not belong anywhere nor was bound to any culture. I believe the best way to describe this feeling is Gloria Anzaldúa’s interpretation of “mestizaje” (i.e., a combination and transformation of my cultures).

Throughout my school-aged years, I was further conflicted on what it meant to be Latinx/e and what it meant to me. I was taught American history through a white male-dominated perspective, despite U.S. history having complicated roots embedded with Latinx/e heritage. For Instance, where was the history that discussed the power relations and social relations that shaped Latinx/e communities in the U.S.?

It was until I took one of my most influential courses at UC Berkeley as an undergraduate majoring in Chicano Studies. It was thanks to Chicano Studies 150B, History of the Southwest: Mexican-United States War to Present, taught by professor Dr. Pablo Gonzalez, that I began to understand the meaning of my Latinx/e heritage. I analyzed texts ranging from poems, anecdotes, and textbooks written from various perspectives representing the Latinx/e community in the U.S., such as the feminist, LGBTQ+, and incarcerated communities. These texts were also known as hidden transcripts: Narratives, stories, and archives that have been and continue to be ignored, silenced, and destroyed.

Therefore, Latinx/e Heritage Month means to me shedding light on these hidden narratives from communities that are often left out of the conversation, specifically those from Latinx/e populations. It is also during this time that we celebrate, recognize, and honor the Latinx/e communities and our ancestors that have shaped the U.S. as we know it today.

BPH: How do you celebrate your heritage?

Rubio: Whether I am painting, playing music, dancing, or cooking, I believe I embrace and celebrate my heritage in many forms. For instance, cooking a recipe passed down from my family can be one form of celebration. However, I believe sharing the recipe or plate with others is a true celebration of the heritage. More specifically, the diversity, equity, and inclusion of our different cultures.

Furthermore, every year I celebrate my heritage and ancestry by creating an altar or ofrenda to remind myself to keep grounded and connected. By gathering meaningful objects (i.e., my spouse and abuelita’s sombrero de la Chola paceña), we can create our own sacred safe space. It is this practice that serves as an affirmation and reminder to keep a connection with my ancestors, stay resilient, and continue paving the way for future generations.

Photographs that Rubio provided to create our photo illustration:

Salteña 

It is a popular and common dish from Bolivia. They are similar to empanadas but have distinct differences. For instance, they are juicy and savory, filled with a mixture of sweet and slightly spicy flavors. They are also typically filled with a variety of meats (i.e., beef, chicken) and may have eggs, potatoes, raisins, or olives.

Altar

Attached is a small altar that I have created. Included is a painting depicting Frida Kahlo, specifically from Disney’s Pixar film Coco. I also have to give credit to the original concept artist, Nacho Moya (a Latinx/e artist based in Gilroy, California), and my spouse who inspired me to paint. Next, is my spouse and abuelita’s sombrero de la Chola paceña (bowler hat used by indigenous women in Bolivia). This piece of memorabilia keeps us connected to our ancestors, those who have kept us safe from harm and guided us. Finally, there is a small doll of an alpaca/llama to cherish and celebrate the native animal of Bolivia. Not only are they majestic creatures, but are crucial to Bolivian culture and have fostered a harmonious relationship with the people.

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