Yvette DeChavez

Photographs by  Diana Ascarrunz

Photographs 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 on the west side of San Antonio. My working-class parents busted their asses to provide for me and my three brothers. My parents both grew up in Albuquerque, NM, and married when they were 18. They were searching for an escape from their lives in Albuquerque, and I grew up hearing my parents’ stories of trauma, of pain passed down from one generation to the next. And because they made it out of Albuquerque, and because I was able to go to college—even though my parents never could—I thought for most of my life that we’d escaped the cycle of poverty and pain. That is, until my brother committed suicide a few years ago. It was then that I realized my mission in life: to dedicate every ounce of my energy to uplifting my community through education and mental health awareness.

Today, I am in my final semester of a PhD program at UT Austin, where I have taught Mexican American Lit and Culture and African American Lit and Culture. I invade spaces and institutions that were never meant for me, and I do so with pride. In addition to providing students with the tools to dismantle systems, my goal is to show my students that they belong in college, even though they might not feel that way when they look around and see mostly white students around them. When I’m not focused on school and teaching, I spend my time advocating for mental health awareness and social justice on social media. I speak my mind, and I am open about my own mental health struggles, because I believe in normalizing these issues. In addition to speaking out in favor of self-care, therapy, and other traditional forms of mental health support, I also address the need to return to the ancestors for help in healing the intergenerational trauma that plagues our community.

How do you identify culturally?

A Latinx bruja babe

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What inspires you and who do you look up to? 

I am inspired by the spirits of all the mujeres who came before me. I am baffled by the idea that I even made it into existence given everything these women faced. They are a guiding force in my life.

I am also inspired by my brother, Philip, who took his own life. Before doing so, he dedicate his life to mentoring Chicanx students and worked as a doctor in a women’s prison. He advocated for prisoners’ rights to proper healthcare.

Finally, I am inspired by all the writers who told me that I could be something big in this life: Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldúa, Audre Lorde, Junot Díaz, Ana Castillo, and the list goes on.

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

My culture is the driving force in my life. As I mentioned, I believe that many of us face intergenerational pain and trauma, and because I am aware of this, I can’t ignore it. Thus, this reality drives my decisions - I do my best to use my privileges for good and for the betterment of my community. But my knowledge of both personal pain and inherited pain also serves as a reminder to go easy on myself. I am alive, and I am doing pretty damn good considering. So I do my best to let things go.

When things go wrong, I call my mom. If she’s not available, I call my best friend. I also have a bevy of self care practices that I enlist when I’m feeling out of sorts: I exercise; I take care of my plants; I paint my nails; I take baths. And then there’s my art: I’m always writing, drawing, or making something. I think creative outlets are crucial to healing.

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

Talk to someone. The thing about my brother is that we never even knew he was in pain. When people hold things inside, it bubbles and brews and it’ll burst when you least expect it. Let that shit out. Talk to a friend or a counselor or a hotline - just get it out. If you have no one to talk to, channel that pain: write it down, or paint, or draw, or whatever creative outlet your prefer. Get that poison out of your body by channeling it into something good.

Future goals and aspirations?

A while back, I found a letter I wrote to myself as a senior in high school. It said, “I want to be an English professor and a writer.” I’m all grown up now, and I’ve accomplished the steps necessary to become an English professor. Now I’m ready to take on the next goal as a writer. When grad school finishes in a few months, I’ll be dedicating most of my energy to writing. All the stories my parents told me growing up need to be out there in the world. And my brother’s story is too important to keep to myself. I think it will serve as a healing process for both me and other Latinx people who have endured a legacy of trauma. People need to know they’re not alone, and I hope to show them that with my writing.

One thing people should know about the Latinx community?

We are fucking tough, man. We are resilient and dedicated fighters. We endure. We come from a people who refuse to be silenced, and our voices are only getting louder.

Your favorite Latinx owned business in Austin and why they are your favorite?

Somar ATX - these hermanas are making dope products that rep the community, and their shirts make me feel powerful.

Desert Flower Designers - Erica is one of the hardest working and most creative humans I know, and she’s also just FUN.

Poco a Poco - Becca works tirelessly to gather the coolest items made by Latinx artists and sells them all through her pop up shop. Plus, she’s so sweet and so dedicated to la causa.

Where can people find you on the internet?

I’m @duhvette on Instagram.

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.