Rachel Crooks

Photography by  Diana Ascarrunz

Photography by Diana Ascarrunz

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

I’m a somewhat recent college graduate from Jacksonville, Florida, and I work as a paralegal at a defense firm here in Austin. In the past year, I have been preparing to go to law school, which has taken up most of my free time. When I’m not working, I am an advocate against sexual assault, and I volunteer at immigration legal clinics and/or support a local deportation defense team. For fun, I do pilates, cook vegetarian meals, and watch a lot of Netflix.

How do you identify culturally?

I define myself as Afro-Latina because my father is Jamaican and my mother is Mexican. It’s extremely likely that I have significant indigenous ancestry, but that’s hard to pinpoint since it was something seen as negative in my family.

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What inspires you and who do you look up to?

I’m really inspired by the music of Ana Tijoux, Calle 13, and Radiohead, and love their songs, in order of artist/group, “Antipatriarca,” “El Aguante,” and “Jigsaw Falling Into Place.”

Saying that Frida Kahlo is someone I look up to sounds extremely cliché, but when I first learned about her I was enraptured: I sympathized with her physical and emotional pain, and loved her independence and radical politics, the fact that she hated European intellectuals and celebrated indigenous contributions to culture, and the psychological aspects to her self-portraits. One of my favorite paintings by her is “The Two Fridas” because of its exploration of two sides of her identity, which I relate to. As a history major, I tend to look up a lot to famous women throughout history and another one of my favorites is another artist: Artemisia Gentileschi, a 17th century Italian woman who took her rapist to court and included him in some of her paintings like “Judith Slaying Holofernes.”

How has your Latinx background informed your decisions, successes, failures? What do you do when things go wrong?

Growing up, I felt out of touch with my Latinx heritage, and I ended up studying Latin American history in college to the point that it led to a degree. A lot of people asked me if I felt more “Black” versus “Latinx,” which was a bit insulting, and also confused me about whether the two identities were compatible. This led me to research on Afro-Latinx and the issues they face in Latin America. It also made me turn to another minority group in Latin America, namely the various indigenous groups throughout the region. This research became my life for a couple of years, which made me more willing to travel abroad by myself and seriously commit to pursuing a career in law.

As for dealing with life when things go wrong, I generally eat a lot of chocolate and start pacing. It depends on what has gone wrong, but normally I bounce back quickly.

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Your best piece of advice for anyone who’s struggling?

If you’re struggling, tell someone. It’s an important part of taking care of oneself to realize when you need to be vulnerable and reach out for help. I know that a lot of people, myself included sometimes, don’t like sharing why we’re struggling or when we’re struggling because we don’t want to be “too much” for someone, we believe our problem or issue is insignificant, or we’re concerned about some other judgment. Chances are there are people who care if you’re struggling and would be interested in trying to help you in any way possible.

Future goals and aspirations?

Near future: I want to practice law. I’m mostly interested in human rights within Latin America, or law focused on fostering entrepreneurship by women, particularly from marginalized communities.

Distant future: I want to run a WOC-run law firm and to mentor aspiring lawyers of color from a young age.

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One thing people should know about the Latinx community?

We’re not all mestizo/a and Spanish-speaking. Because of media, I think people tend to forget that Latinx are complex human beings that don’t all look or think the same. That sounds accusatory and reductive, but for the most part, Latinx are invisible or silent in U.S. media, and portrayals of Latinx have been extremely simple and frankly insulting. Acknowledging that Latinx are diverse can hopefully also address the racism among Latinx people and the importance of celebrating our differences.

What are your favorite Latinx owned businesses in Austin? Why are they your favorites?

The first two that come to mind are Somar ATX and Austin Skincare Company, both of which are run by amazing, Latina millennials. I wish I knew of more Latinx owned businesses but they all seem to be far from where I live.

Where can people find you on the internet?

I was featured on this cool site called Babes Who Hustle, otherwise I’m kinda incognito. Sometimes I submit to St. Sucia’s zine, but that’s technically offline.

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.