Araceli Esparza helps fellow Wisconsin Latinas find and raise up their voices
Esparza hosts the "Midwest Mujeres" podcast
Araceli Esparza has a Midwestern accent. That might be surprising to people who are quick to make assumptions about her as a Latina. Born and raised in Madison and the daughter of migrant farm workers in Guanajuato, Mexico, Esparza says her identity is defined by her unique upbringing and experiences.
Through her work as the bilingual communications director at Community Shares Wisconsin and her roles as a poet, a children’s book author and a podcaster, Esparza addresses her own intersectionality and that of other Midwestern Latinas. She is also the founder of Wisconsin Mujer, a diversity-focused consulting agency, and host of the “Midwest Mujeres” podcast. Esparza’s mission through all her roles is to explore and fight against the isolation that many Midwestern Latinas face. She is a storyteller like her grandmother, and through her outlets, she hopes to amplify the voices of “unsung heroes.” Here is an edited Q&A with Esparza.
Can you explain intersectionality and how you address it in your work?
I always imagine there is a Latina growing up who doesn’t know her culture; she is growing up in Cobb, Wisconsin, or any tiny town, and she listens to our podcast. Maybe she is so embedded in Wisconsin rural life that she doesn’t even know how to heat up a tortilla or how to make a green salsa – but that’s OK. Those little things don’t define you. You can still find your culture. And we can define what it means to be a Latina in this country. This type of message is central. For me it’s breaking the isolation for Latinas in Wisconsin and the Midwest. I grew up in a community where I’ve had to legitimize my birth by saying my name over and over again and say that I was born and raised in the U.S. For Midwestern Mujeres, it is important to find media and literature reflective of who they are and where they are.
You wrote a poem titled “Wild Wheat of Stoughton Road.” Can you tell us about it?
That poem is about crossing Stoughton Road and talking about that as a metaphor for crossing the border of Laredo, Texas, which I did many times as a young child. The borderlands that shift between two nations – it is powerful. You can choose not to pay attention, or you can choose to pay attention.
Are your children’s books based on the stories of your own children?
My son inspires my political activism and my daughter inspires my children’s books. I was a single mom for eight years, and being a single parent informed a lot of my observations in the world. I’m trying to make the world better for them. For my daughter, her love of the land is embodied in my work. And for my son, his love for creativity is embodied in my work. His love has a lot to do with the innovation and ingenuity that my family had to display and harvest and cultivate in the U.S. The ingenuity to thrive and raise up from, “I’m barely making it” to “I’m making it for six months in a row.” For young, brown millennials, I hope I just make it easier for them to be seen.
Excerpt from Araceli Esparza’s poem “Wild Wheat of Stoughton Road”
Tall side fences remind me of the long fences of Laredo.
Of the never-ending cement groove that houses El Rio Bravo.
I cross safely to the blue box store.
If only every poor road was like this one.
Where one worries of distracted drivers and not sharpshooters.
Yes, lots of cars and people cross this road. Some brown, yellow, white and black.
All in a rush, to buy bread.
Mackenzie Krumme is a Madison writer and a former Madison Magazine intern.
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