Health Justice Coordinator, Trans Queer Pueblo
Crystal Zaragoza is an advocate of health justice at Trans Queer Pueblo. Working to provide resources and access to health care for community members, Zaragoza emphasizes the importance of combining traditional and cultural healing with standard health care, so that people can heal physically and emotionally, in an inclusive way. It's this merging that makes her insightful of the future of health care for LGBTQ+ and migrant communities of color. Moreover, Zaragoza is able to combine the personal with the public, her own experiences with community work. From home remedies used in her Mexican household and her journey for self-care, to the lack of access to health care subjected to her own family, Zaragoza finds that her work connects to her identity and roots. Through her informed perspective and activism are honesty and inspiration.
Tell us about yourself. what made you decide to pursue a career in health justice? what is health justice and why should we as womxn of color know about it?
I am a queer woman, daughter of Mexican immigrants. Most of my life, my parents used home remedies to heal my sisters and me from illnesses, scrapes, bruises, etc. I also watched my parents struggle through health concerns due to the lack of access to health care. Seeing them word endless days in cotton, tomato, cucumber, etc. fields and how that affected their health has always been a part of who I am. Their hard work, sacrifices, and dedication to ensuring we had what they didn't have also been something that motivates me to fight for racial, social, economic, gender, and LGBTQ+ justice.
I became involved with health justice work because I felt the need for an expansion of services. I went years trying to figure out what was going on with my reproductive health, and many different doctors. I struggled with finding a doctor who would listen to my symptoms and not tell me that I needed to lose weight, eat less tortillas, or try to put me on medication that has nothing to do with what was actually wrong. After 6 years, I found a doctor and she truly listened to me. That's when I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis. That was only 2 years ago. And 2 years ago is when I came to Trans Queer Pueblo. I started as a member, then became a Promotor@ (community health worker) putting forums together about menstrual health narratives for queer/gender nonconforming/trans bodies, and ended up becoming their Health Justice Coordinator working towards accessible health and wellbeing resources for LGBTQ+ undocumented/migrant communities of color.
Health justice is ensuring that all communities have access to health services that serve them. Also understanding that health is a lot more than just the physical body. It's not about putting a bandage on a laceration or an ointment on a burn or a prescription from big pharma that will eventually damage another organ. It's healing from within. Healing mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. Our roots and ancestry are also a huge part of healing. Womxn of color, especially, need to connect with our roots and where we came from. Using healing practices our mothers and grandmothers used, embracing every bit of yourself and allowing ourselves to exist. Exist freely. We deserve doctors who listen to us and not just call us fat. We need providers who understand gender and sexual identities. We need doctors to not treat us like we aren't important. As people of color, we need to continue existing in these spaces and challenging the westernized and medicalized version of health care.
elaborate on trans queer pueblo and your work at the organization. what do you like most working there?
Trans Queer Pueblo is an autonomous LGBTQ+ migrant community of color that works wherever we find our people, creating cycles of mutual support that cultivate leadership to generate the community power that will liberate our bodies and minds from systems of oppression toward justice for all people.
The work that I do at Trans Queer Pueblo is pretty much what I mentioned about health justice. Ensuring that all of our communities have access to health care and access to resources for their wellbeing that doesn't depend on government funds. In 2004, through prop 200, access to public services was taken away from undocumented folks. With those public services came losing access to affordable health care. Trans Queer Pueblo's Health Justice project runs an autonomous clinic that is funded privately and doesn't depend on government funds, so regardless of laws changing, we still have our clinic. Furthermore, we are creating networks of traditional healers who are influenced and practice healing from all kinds of cultural backgrounds to ensure our community focuses on healing, not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
My favorite part about my job is working with community members. And healing together from intergenerational trauma, violence, and systems that have oppressed us in multiple ways. Taking it all one day at a time. One conversation at a time. As well as working with community and believing in the power they each carry to transform society and reach liberation.
You're based in arizona. what is the political and social atmosphere for trans and queer immigrant communities of color? we heard about trans queer pueblo's inclusive pride march that took place this year, how did that go?
We live in a hostile state. A lot of the anti-immigrant and homophobic legislation is started and "tested" out here. It's amazing that we are doing the work we are doing in a state like Arizona. We have one of the deadliest detention centers in Arizona, Eloy Detention Center, and our Liberation Coordinator has done an amazing job organizing people in and out of detention centers to actively work towards liberation. Phoenix PD was the second deadliest police department of 2017. This year, in June, they doubled the amount of murders from last year. The resiliency and motivation of our people to fight for our collective liberation is amazing and beautiful, all at once.
"After a year of trying to convince Phoenix Pride Board that trans, queer, and gender non-conforming people of color deserve an LGBTQ Pride where we can be safe from the police and the corporations that fund our deportation, we are saying goodbye." - Trans Queer Pueblo.
So basically, it didn't go well. We created a zine explaining our demands and asking community to join us in the creation of a new Pride. That is all inclusive, intersectional, and has trans women of color at the forefront.
Arizona is one of the most contentious states of the u.s. It is directly at the front lines of the border crisis with a history of strong anti-immigrant legislation under sheriff arpaio. what are the stories that keep you grounded through your restorative justice work?
All stories. I love stories, I love listening to stories, I love learning about people. I remember asking my father, mother, and grandmother so many questions about their life growing up and lived experiences.
As weird as this may sound, stories of heartache, trauma, and overcoming obstacles are some of my favorite. They remind me to appreciate everything that I have and am working towards. They remind me that my parents are humans who have lived through so much and carry their pain their mothers and fathers have handed down. Even though we don't see eye to eye, remembering their stories and learning about the sacrifices they have made and dreams they left behind definitely keep me grounded. My mother didn't give birth to her daughters, she gave birth to hundreds of years of trauma and pain.
I was raised by one of my sisters. So hearing her stories growing up, through her perspective, also keeps me grounded. The sacrifices she made to make sure I was taken care of, the amount of times she put up with my 99 questions, and all of the love she poured into making sure I was okay amazes me every time I hear stories of her lived experience.
I come from a line of powerful, strong, and badass womxn.
What does self-care look like for you and how do you make sure you're not burning out?
This is a very hard question. LOL. As a Health Justice Coordinator...ideally I would have an amazing self-care routine, but that is the hardest thing for me to do. "Self-care" has always been on and off. Recently, I became so overwhelmed with stress, forgot about self-care, and overwhelmed with life that I ended up getting sick two weeks ago. I finally got a little better and am able to eat food again, and that was the biggest reality check. Taking care of myself is vital and important, yet the hardest thing to do.
Buuuut...I am focusing on eating regularly, taking days off as days off from everything, crafting more, and healing using curanderismo. Learning more about my roots and practicing traditional healing methods my people have used for hundreds of years. Not just for physical health, but also healing from sexual abuse I have gone through.
What is one thing you would like to share with others about your culture?
I would like to share the fooood! And not Mexican food you find at white-washed restaurants. But the traditional food. One of my favorites is nopales. You can add nopales to anything. My mother always made home-cooked meals, and stuck to very traditional foods from Michoacán (that's where she and my father are from). Chile is also a staple, and we say this a lot at home, "si no hay chile ¡no comemos a gusto!" Which means, "if there is no chile, we don't eat comfortable!" I guess that is the closest translation, lol. Food is also a connection to a lot of traditions Mexico has. If we're sick, food. If we are mourning, food. If we are happy, food. If we are celebrating life/death, food. To honor those before us, food. If want to show our love or our cariño, food. We need to heal, food.
What projects are you or trans queer pueblo currently working on and how can we support or get involved?
Oh my goodness! The list is endless.lol. We have a total of 8 projects. Every project has different events and things they are working on. Our projects are:
JoliPoliticAZ (Queer Politics AZ)
Art & Activism
I think the biggest project as an organization is creating a new Pride for 2019!