The poet, entrepreneur and self-described storyteller Araceli Esparza said it can feel isolating to be Chicana or Latina and living in the Midwest. For some, that isolation comes from living in disproportionately white communities. For others, it comes from not seeing your people represented in the media — or from seeing representations laden with stereotypes.
Others may feel isolation because they don’t feel connected to their heritage, said Esparza.
“There are are second- or third-generation (Americans) who are like, 'I just eat Taco Bell,'” she said. “You may not even know how to make a tortilla. And that’s OK.”
Esparza hopes her new podcast, Midwest Mujeres, will help those women feel less isolated by sharing their stories, and exposing them to stories of other mujeres (Spanish for "women") who have a similar identity.
Esparza, who also works as the communications director for Community Shares, has already released six episodes of the show, which is produced by the popular local comedian Dina Nina Martinez. Each episode features Esparza having a chat for forty minutes to an hour in Spanglish with a “Midwest Mujer,” covering topics from religion to food to travel.
On one recent show, Esparza talks with MaDee Lopez, a DJ at 93.1 Jamz. Lopez tells stories from her career in music, a path that took her from Columbia College to hip-hop studios in Chicago where she got to meet the likes of Timbaland and Rihanna. Lopez tells Esparza that early on in her career especially, she always found herself getting "tested" by men skeptical of her musical savvy.
“It’s probably because I was Latina and cute. They were intimidated,” she says.
On another episode, Nicole Sandoval, president of the Latino Professional Association, talks about her experiences growing up in Middleton, and a college semester she spent abroad in Germany, where she says she met others who, like her, had Bolivian heritage.
“I have a picture where I have a van full of Bolivians, and a Bolivian flag and all these things. I’m on the other side of the world, and my community is here. It was amazing,” she said.
Esparza said that the women who have been on so far have all been from the Madison area, something she soon hopes to change. She also said that she tries to avoid booking women who are public figures, or well-known in the community. She wants to be the focus to be on everyday people, something of a “Get to know your local Latina.”
Right now, she said that the majority of her listener base is white. She said that's a good thing — the show is an opportunity for people to learn about the culture of others in the community.
However, the ultimate goal is to get “mujeres” around the Midwest to listen, and to help build a sense of family through the intersectional identity, even among those who haven’t always felt a strong connection to a Latina or Chicana heritage.
“It’s OK you don’t know Spanish,” said Esparza. “It’s OK that you don’t know every nuance there is to being Peruvian.”
She said that through the building of that community of listeners, mujeres can learn new “survival techniques” to help combat feelings of isolation. Those techniques can range from things from prayer, to the making of food.
She also suggested that the show is implicitly political: By forging tighter bonds among Latinas and Chicanas, she hopes to bring her people feel more empowered to speak out.
“Sometimes we feel like we don’t have to power or time to protest, or to fund movements,” she said.
In the meantime, Esparza said she wants to raise some money to travel the state and gather stories from mujeres outside of the immediate area. After all, she said, those mujeres are some of the ones who need the show the most.
“I do it for those kids out in Racine, Wisconsin. I do it for the Latinos out of Superior. I do it for people out of La Crosse, Bayfield — where they’re the one brown child in a whole middle school,” she said.
Esparza’s plan was to also launch a companion online magazine to complement the podcast. She said she’s dropped that side of the project after it proved too time-consuming.