Alonzo Mendoza

Photography by  Diana Ascarrunz

Photography by Diana Ascarrunz

Tell us about yourself. Include where you’re from, what you do, how you’re thriving, and anything else everyone should know about you.

I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and have been living in Austin for five and a half years. When I first came to Austin, I had very little political and social awareness. When I started grad school at UT Austin, I accidentally became involved with a social justice student organization called United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS). By getting involved with activism through USAS and having many eye-opening conversations with politically active folks, I became politicized in a way that changed me forever. I learned how the systems in which humanity exists favor certain populations over others and how the uplifting of certain populations of people has been possible only through the subordination and exploitation of other populations’ labor, cultural, and sociopolitical power. Ever since I became ‘woke,’ I have dedicated my life and efforts to social justice activism. I have since then been involved with unions, community organizations, and most recently, with a national immigrant rights organization called United We Dream, to challenge systems of oppression and harness the power of the community that is constantly told it has no power. We each have so much power to transform this world, and if as many people were excited about activism as they are about watching the next Super Bowl or buying the next iPhone, this world would be so much different. Overall, I want to dedicate my life to working with the community to unleash the immense power that its members have to create a more socially conscious and just world.

How do you identify culturally?

I identify as a Mexican American with indigenous roots who is a member of the bisexual community. I speak, write, read, and dream in both Spanish and English.

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How does your cultural background inform your thinking and sense of being in the world? How has it informed past decisions, successes, failures? 

Coming from a family that identifies as Mexican American and speaks primarily Spanish, my language and culture have been challenged by U.S. society ever since I can remember. For many years of my childhood, I internalized that being Mexican American was not a desirable thing and I stopped speaking Spanish. I did this to fit into society until one day my abuelita told me to snap out of it and embrace my Mexican roots. It is thanks to this wake up call that I make an effort to speak as much Spanish as I can to show my culture, and I do so with much pride. Being from a conservative Latinx background kept me from realizing that I am bisexual and kept me from coming out of the closet for decades, and I will be sure to create cultural change in the Latinx community to be more open and accepting to people who are queer so that others don’t have to go through the self doubt and isolation that I went through for being myself.

What inspires you and who do you look up to?

People who put their community’s needs before their own and push them to make this world a more just place to live in are who inspire me the most. I always draw inspiration and energy from such people and they refuel my soul when I need it the most. I look up to my parents who have done so much for me and who love me immensely. My parents have taught me what the strongest type of love and compassion for humanity looks like and I try to emulate that in everything that I do.

What is your best piece of advice to anyone who may be struggling?

My best advice to someone who is struggling is that while struggling is painful, it will make us into stronger people as long as it doesn’t kill us. Everything in life happens for a reason and we can choose to let struggles bring us down or to turn those conflicts upside down and use them as experiences to show us how strong and resourceful we can be. Our proudest moments typically come from when we pick ourselves up from struggles, not from when we are riding comfortably in life.

What are your future goals and aspirations?

I want to continue building my community activism skills and bring those skills back to my hometown of El Paso. El Paso is a beautiful city that has so much potential to grow, and I want to be a part of that. I am thinking about running for office someday and am currently doing some soul searching as to how I can do so without compromising my activist ideals and beliefs. We’ll see what the future holds!

Share one thing people should know about the Latinx community?

One thing that people should know about the Latinx community is that we are driven by love and community and can’t be generalized into a box!

What is your favorite Latinx driven project and why is it your favorite?

My favorite Latinx project is Academia Cuauhtli, a Mexican American history and culture academy for 4th and 5th graders in Austin ISD. Academia Cuauhtli is a cultural revitalization project that teaches students about the history, contributions, and culture of Mexican Americans in a culturally relevant way that does not happen in mainstream educational systems. I really wish that I could have attended this academy as a child because I would’ve grown up with a more wholesome sense of my Mexican American identity! You can check out their Facebook page–“Cuauhtli Academy.” 

Where can people find you on the internet?

I can be found on Facebook as Alonzo Rene Mendoza Gil.

Latinx Voices is an online photo and interview series spotlighting Latinx peoples in our communities. We want to amplify those voices–reminding people that we are not only surviving, but thriving.