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The Self-ish Latina Podcast: Season 2, Ep. 004: Janeli Saucedo

So what’s exciting to me in this work is when I have a chance to work with someone who’s ready to take action. That to me is the ultimate opportunity to make an impact and also, not only on that person but on the world that they want to impact, that’s what jazzes me up. One human being can be affected, but then that human being is going to affect a whole group of people. So if you’re listening to this podcast and you’re hearing weird squeaking that is my dog cookie, who barks her face off if I leave her alone, so she’s in the office with us today.

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Janeli: I met Denise three years ago when I was trying to prove my career self to me, in that I could do this big event on my own, I didn’t need anyone, and she was the keynote speaker at a conference for Latino students who received a scholarship, and it was a time in my life where I was really grappling and figuring out what I wanted to do that was going to be self-fulfilling. When I met her and latched on for my dear life.

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Denise: [Janeli] Really made an imprint on my heart and about a year or two years after that I was invited to do my second TED talk and immediately knew that I wanted to include her in it.

TED Talk: In the very beginning of this tour I found myself in San Antonio Texas and I met a young woman who impressed me so much. So we’re eating our dinner having conversation getting to know each other and she looks at me and says Denise I have something to tell you I want to tell you my story which includes a secret.

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Janeli: I just sort of drop it on here like hey I’m HIV positive, and I have a son with autism, and everything that I had just been holding onto for so long and I just sort of unpacked it, I didn’t even unpack it, I just dropped it all on her. And she carried it so well, and respected me so much, and honored my truth, and I felt like she empowered me to stand in my truth.

Denise: I will never forget that when she called me and asked me will you be my mentor.

Janeli: I just ask her to be my mentor. And that was because she told me, she’s said, “you know you have to share the story. You have to share your story you share with the world,” and I was already ready to do it, I just I think I needed someone else who didn’t know me to validate that for me and she did.

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Denise: And then that set off I would say about once a month calls and every once in a while she would text me and ask me if I could talk, and it got to the point where even if she called me I would 100% of the time pick up the phone because she had so much respect for my time. And also the things that she needed were so precious to me. Also because I enjoyed believing in her like I enjoyed seeing what my belief in her gave her because she actually took action on the things that I that I coached her on. She’s coming to me with real problems like from a person that was committed to their transformation.

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Janeli: I wanted people to stop being scared of people living with HIV. I knew that you know it was honestly keeping me up at night not necessarily my status but wanting to share it. You know the idea of wanting to share and wanting to be an advocate was keeping me up at night. The first part is getting family to that place. Getting them to the edge of the cliff and saying we jump, we’re a collective right? In regards to just me and my family, it’s like I didn’t allow myself to jump without their permission, and what I realized though was that I had been kind of talking about doing it for so long I think it kind of wore them down at a certain point it was like you know what, I don’t need your permission I’m just gonna do it.

So I had talked to my family about coming out and being an advocate, I had already had a blog called The Esposa Experience where I talked about my misadventures in trying to be the perfect esposa, which I am not, but I thought okay well I’ll use that. I already had this platform, I’ll just keep going. And I had all my friends supporting me, but I just had my husband who was a little bit scared. He’s total opposite of me, he’s shy, reluctant, and I had to make sure he was on board because it’s not just my status it’s his status, it’s our status. Then he realized especially under this administration just how much fear mongering goes on, we’re not contributing to the solution we’re contributing to the problem by being quiet and caving under this fear and under the stigma.

So once he was on board, I was like OK all systems go, and then my dad says, “well wait, what do you mean like you’re gonna put it on Facebook?” And I’m like oh yeah I’m going to put it on Facebook and everywhere else – the interwebs – it’s everywhere. Then he just kind of froze up and I’m like dad you’re the same dad who told me a year ago that you read a book about it, and he’s like, “well I just didn’t think you were going to go that far.” I’m [thinking] like Facebook far, or what? So then I kind of had to realize that I’m going to do it whether you like it or not, because then I think maybe at that point I was like repressed rebellion, and I was just like I was going to do it.

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Denise: To me it was very inspiring that I’ve never known anyone with HIV to my awareness. I was so impressed with her candor and her confidence and also when she shares her occupation with wanting to kind of be an advocate to me spoke volumes of her you know? Here someone has every reason just to be pissed off and just to walk around like a jerk and be a jerk, but she is concerned with how can I save a community. How can I make an impact on a community like that’s what’s keeping her up at night.

So you know when we first started this project in the very first year we imagined all these amazing things happening and we’re like, “..and then we’re gonna have a movie, and a podcast, and maybe we’ll even do a retreat and people will fly in from everywhere.” I didn’t even know these women when we were dreaming so big, I had no idea who they were. Seeing Janeli, I like seeing this woman it feels like family. It feels like I’m greeting my primas you know? All of all of us had been in a Facebook group for well over a year and we’d been communicating with each other, I’m going to say for at least two years, every week or so there will be some kind of communication.

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Janeli: The idea was brought up by Brenda to do a girls trip and that idea of a girls trip went in to Denise’s head and Denise being Denise like turned it into something like huge and great about our Latinadad and identity and so that’s why we’re here. So we were invited to come and I think that we all have this love and respect for Denise that when she says to do something we just kind of do it. You know like we’ve got to trust and we know it’s for a good reason because we we know that she’ll handle whatever we’re getting into because I don’t know what I’m getting into and that’s a really new space for me too especially as a control freak. But I know that that we’re gonna be okay cause it’s kind of at the helm of Denise and you guys. So yeah I’m excited, we’re going to go up to Breckenridge I think that’s how you say it? Somewhere up in like the Alps for me. I’m kind of excited to get my like Elsa-Frozen Let it go on because it’s all snowing and I’m really excited about that.

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Denise: So here’s what’s funny about this, I don’t drive like I have a freaking depth perception problem that is very real and I signed up and I was so happy to get this car from Toyota, but then I found out I had to drive it you know. I was super nervous just because I typically don’t drive. And so here I am driving this car with all these beautiful souls in it all the way up there some I’m like gripping the steering wheel.

We were just happy to be in it, we were just so happy to be together and talking, and I think Janeli was in the front seat and she was like my navigator – handing me my water – and the most fun I’ve had in a really long time. Because how many times do women ever make time for each other to get together with intention like with so much anticipation and so much confidence that we’re gonna have such a great time? It wasn’t just like facials and peddies, it was gonna be great food, great music, great company in a beautiful environment and sparking the conversations that are my favorite to have, which are about identity and Latinidad and really where everyone’s at in their own journey with it.

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The Retreat: We Came to Get REAL.

Janeli: What really got me too was, I’m not a mom, I’m not an employee, I’m not the wife, daughter, or sister I am me and as liberating as it is it’s also really scary right. Even though I’ve been I’ve been finding her and I’ve been doing the work you know this is where the rubber meets the road. Like you said, this is a test. Okay like you’ve slowly, in hour increments every Tuesday for your “therapist” [coaching calls] you’ve been meeting Janeli, but now you’re here; no distractions, no time out, no appointments coming in so you don’t have the therapist rushing you out the door, I don’t have to get back to work, I don’t have that, It’s just me.

I got really emotional when you told me about the signs of anxiety and depression and for me anxiety and depression already took so much time away from my kids. I was in bed, stuck, I could not move, could not move for a whole year. I was in bed and I talk about it on my Instagram how I would just give my kids my phone and they took pictures of me, and it’s so sad because it’s literally just me laying down in bed. And my mom who always thought my mental health was a joke, you know when I came out to her about my cutting myself as a teenager, she called me stupid you know, but she didn’t understand she just didn’t understand you know she doesn’t that from. My dad’s side of the family this is and actual thing, and she gets it now, thank God. She came to me and she said you know it’s not that your kids need you, it’s that you need you.

So for me to be away from them, and now that I’m better and I feel better when I’m away from them I just want to run home. I feel like I was not there my kids would be crying and I just couldn’t get myself out of bed to go see what was wrong. My husband did so much and so now the roles are reversed, now he is experiencing depression for the first time in his life with the death of his father just a few months ago, so I’m being there for him but then I’m just like I’m not there for him, I’m here. But he understands, he understands this is the process and he understands that I was a little worse off than he was and I need a lot more work. So that’s really that kind of it for me like why I feel I need to run away and just go home because I just feel like time is of the essence right now with my children being so young and having had so much time robbed of them and then.

Brenda: Yeah you need to be there for them, but you also need to have your cup filled.

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Denise: Hearing Janeli talk about depression and anxiety being thieves – first of all just at this point in the retreat you know there are different levels that we’re speaking on – just by her sharing so candidly it just brought the entire room to a completely different level. And it’s important. Especially when we’re talking about issues of mental health.

Here’s the thing, not enough attention is being paid to our young Latinas specifically when I talk about that I say teenage-aged Latinas. And I get to interface with them sometimes as teenagers but most times as adults, as mothers, as friends, as participants, audience members, interviewees, and time and time and time again I hear about their lives and the things that have happened that have shaped them to the women that they are and the things they grapple with are often in this realm.

It’s time to start making room for these conversations and that’s really the mission of the project is to create space for these conversations to happen. Because like I said I don’t know the answers but I do know this when people have a chance to get these things off their chests, and when other people are listening have a chance to say me too or I know how you feel firsthand, healing happens and it’s really only from that point that anything can be created. But until we heal, we can’t create. And I’m really committed to both.

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Denise: I definitely wanted to make sure that we had some kind of formal part of the day so we can kind of congregate, even though it’s like we’ve been doing your work and having the conversations but also doing it in a formal way so that we can kind of move through stuff and really hear where we’re with each other.

I had great certainty that it was going to be magical because anything, any conversation about this is magical especially like a thoughtful conversation and all these women were smart critical thinkers that examine things from a place of curiosity. And so coming from their magic is certain to happen.

Using it as a verbal weapon it’s like actually no you’re not. You’re not a Taino Indian you know. Some people identify as Taino, well guess what? You’re not. We are the colonizer. We are both. And there isn’t anybody innocent in this. We had an amazing conversation with Larissa at that Japanese restaurant and she went back and back and back into history and all of time and she was talking about the Babylonians like just how the world history is about colonizing and there’s no one innocent in that conversation.

Brenda: And that is being utilized again, to keep us apart and stuck.

Denise: But is it being utilized to keep us stuck? I mean or are we just empowering it to keep us stuck? I feel you just said both like that conversation moves through it. I feel like people use it as a way to stay angry and they make themselves something different than what they are. We’re children born of trauma. But I don’t know that we’re being robbed of that. I agree about the systems in place, but we’re also free will. Brenda said, which was I think one of my favorite quotes so far is, “it was not out of reach I was out of my comfort zone,” and I think it’s so out of the culture’s comfort zone to believe that we’re still the victims. And it’s out of our comfort zone to ponder like what if we’re not, and how could we turn the tables? Honestly that’s why I believe Trump is President, because if we were organized and we stopped believing this lie there were victims we could have made sure that didn’t happen, but it did.

Janeli: I just really quick, cause it’s so profound what you guys are talking about, and I agree with you. I get that, I’m still like man this isn’t going to keep us down and I want to get mad about it, and so I’m like yes we’re smart enough to restrategize things. [Because] I think like in Mexico, the Mexicans driving out conquistadores their Pueblos, literally driving them out right. We have that in us, and it’s not just Mexicans I’m sure Puerto Ricans, everyone’s got it you know. So we have that resistance in us to do that and I think we’re doing it and I just think that we are a culture in grief and the grief has stages right. How many, what seven stages of grief? And we’re kind of going through them and we’re each going through them in different places and different times. because then our own lives contribute to either taking us back or not. But I think, I hope that we’re getting to a place because of this. I don’t hope I know. We’re getting to a place.

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Janeli’s Candid Interview Post-Retreat

Janeli: So what that is, is we have to come to the realization that we are all, number one Latinos / Hispanics, I prefer Latinos, Latinx, whatever what have you, we’re all from the same family in a sense and that family is as bred of trauma. Because you have these completely happy, indigenous, beautiful cultures that were happening and then you had Europeans come in and take over, and enslave, and rape, and destroy, and all of these things and were from the rapes came people trying to just live and figured okay if I can’t beat em I’ll join them and so they married Conquistadores. And they created families. And what does that mean that my father was just this mad rapist?

These generations of all this trauma that keeps and continues and continues. And then we immigrate and then we’re trying to identify here and we’re not good enough here ,we’re not good enough there. We’re not good enough here because we’re not truly indigenous to the land and it’s just complex. So as a culture, because that’s what happened that’s how we beat it, that’s how Spanish is in all of those countries. It’s because the Conquistadores came and they just Island hopped and just raged and ravaged and all these things. But look what came of it, we do have this huge extended family you know you have these terrible things you have great food really that came of it. At the same time you have merengue where you had slaves, enslaved men and women who were chained up and so that all they could do was just boom boom boom they could just move right together and that’s where the merengue came from.

All these beautiful things that came from trauma, but then it’s like yes but they were enslaved. And so it’s kind of this entire really deep and sad process that I think you go through with grief where you have those several different layers or stages of grief. And I don’t know what stage we’re all in collectively and I think they were all in different stages. And that’s probably new I think for a long time we were all stuck in that very primal stage and now we’re kind of like figuring things out. And some people may be more ahead of us and so we. Us Back here might be more resentful of those who were ahead of us.

I was telling Denise before she started talking about how the world doesn’t owe us respect for our culture. When someone asks you what you are, my initial reaction is to get angry at that and be like but I’m Mexican-American and you know like brown and proud and view that they need to know and they need to accept it. But at the same time do they really owe me that? They really don’t. As long as I know it I don’t need to prove it to anyone. I know who I am I know it’s my birth certificate to know who abuelita is I know who my Papa Pe Pe is you know I know them, I don’t have to prove it to anyone else but I feel like I do for whatever reason. And so she’s further along in the process than I am and I think as a culture until we kind of really identify and realize look we come from trauma, we are traumatized people, and we cannot keep doing this to ourselves.

We’re continuing trauma whether that’s through violence, whether that’s through discrimination, whether that’s through misogyny whether through homophobia, whether that’s through whatever it is, those are just continuations of trauma that we can break. You know I have a good friend Maxim Mangano who talks about that Latinos can really be the bridge builders for the world because we derive, we are blond hair blue eyed and black and everything in between. And if we can just collectively come together and realize we’re familia and we can do it then we can help heal the world!

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Denise: There’s new conversations and then there’s the same old conversations. And I believe that there are some conversations that I cannot wait until they’re retired and off to the old folks home and there’s some new brand new fresh interesting conversations that I believe can move the needle.

One of the things that has sprouted from this work is that the quality of the conversations I get to have and inspire are really rich, really substantive, and they’re addicting because they’re new! They’re not the same old thing which is that colonizer-colonizee conversation to me, which is kind of a tired conversation into something different and new, which is called like could we as a culture be in the stages of grief? And to me that’s new because it’s a way to examine where we’re at as a group of people, and a way to explain where different members of the collective culture are at.

Really the hope is that we will evolve into something new, something productive, and something that can actually change and affect things for somebody else versus just being focused on ourselves and our own pain and what’s been done to us. I can use as context or this framework to understand it and also understand myself and really the direction of the project and the way that I want to steer the ship is in the direction of an evolution. Really standing for people and being able to evolve out of the anger so we can get to the next phase and the next stage and the next stage and begin to really affect change because you cannot affect change when you’re pissed. I don’t care what anyone says.

There’s a meme out there that says if you’re not super pissed then you’re not paying attention. And I don’t know about that. I don’t know I am paying attention and I’m not pissed like and certain things have happened to me for fuck’s sake. I was kicked out of an uber just for having made this movie and and having a conversation. There’s stuff to be pissed about and I’m also not saying that people don’t have a right to be pissed. The ability to take action isn’t going to be sourced by a place of anger. It’s going to be sourced from a place of hope.

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Getting Deep @ the Retreat

Denise: People that hashtag unapologetic don’t even really understand what that means. Guess what unapologetic is? When I decide that the world doesn’t owe it to me, I owe it to me. And then I do the work to give it to myself. Then I get to walk in unapologetically just like Theresa. She does the work, she says it and she does it, and she benefits. Nobody else gets to walk around with the confidence that this woman has because she’s worked herself.

We have to fill our own cup, and FYI this weekend is the cup. My cup gets filled and my cup was so filled last night I couldn’t even get handle it. This is an example of filling our cup. This is what that looks like is it, it’s extremely curated. And you know thanks for acknowledging my confidence but Janeli, you have no idea how much you have added to my life.

It’s so easy to see past anyone’s, I am going to say limitations, because your strength and your awesomeness is so bright to me like you are so you’re so special to me. I know my ideas are really out there [they’re] crazy, counter-culture.

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Denise: This is the end of Part One about the retreat that we had in the mountains in Breckenridge Colorado. But really what it was about was the extraordinary conversations that happen and the incredible women that have come into my life as a result of following my dream. Coming up in Part Two, you’re going to have a chance to meet my friend Brenda, an extraordinary woman from Brooklyn New York who added so much to the conversation.

Brenda: What I really wanted to say was thanks to Denise, because this was my idea initially, and it was not supposed to look like this. I was like oh let’s just get together for a week that would be really great! And then it turned into all of this.

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Denise: Let us know what you think about this podcast by sliding into our DM’s on IG at Project Eñye.

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It took me 17 years to pursue my dream but it doesn’t have to take you that long. As a matter of fact, I can help you shorten that timeframe down significantly so that you can begin living your dream life. The Eñye Dream Accelerator is a six week coaching program designed for ambitious Latinas who are ready to take action on your biggest dream so that you can finally live the life that you imagined.

Let me tell you, the women in this cohort are killing it. If you are ready to jump, ladies now is the time! Take the quiz now!

Our next cohort for The Eñye Dream Accelerator starts in just a few weeks, so don’t forget to jump on the waitlist  now. Thanks for listening and join us next time on The Self-ish Latina Podcast.

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