Exploring Latinx Identity with Elizabeth from Ojos Del Sur

I got the chance to chat with Elizabeth Baires, the person behind the instagram account Ojos Del Sur. Initially born as a travel blog, Ojos Del Sur has become a platform that explores Latinx identity. Elizabeth is based in the DMV area. She is interested and involved in matters related to the immigrant Latinx community. She has worked for CARA project in the past and is currently involved with United We Dream.

We met up at the Portrait Gallery in DC and had a very relaxed conversation. In this short interview we touched upon issues surrounding identity.

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Elizabeth Baires. I was born here in the United States but my mother was born in Ecuador and my father in El Salvador. I studied Spanish with a dual degree in Global Affairs concentrating in Latin American Studies. I’m interested in progressing people of color here in the United States – mainly in policy, trying to get people of color active in our political system. I think this is the best way to improve our way of living and supply us with a deeper access to beneficial resources for our communities.

When we first met and we were emailing back and forth you mentioned that earlier in your life you had struggled with accepting your roots. Can you tell us a little bit about how you were able to overcome this and come to terms with yourself? 

That was a big struggle for me. A lot of people have asked me this question and I feel as though they are expecting me to explain this big moment when it all changed, but that's not how it went. It was a process. I was very privileged to go to a day care and elementary school in an upper middle class community. There were very little folks of color. Most of my peers were ignorant to any form of cultural competency and spoke of us in an ignorant manner. Negative stereotypes of Blacks and Latinos were consistently fed to me. So that's why I think a big part of me was ashamed of who I was cause I was like “fuck, that's what they think of me and that's what they think of my people, so I obviously can’t identify with that.”

In middle school, my family and I moved to a community with a large percentage of people of color. Here, I began to integrate myself into different spaces with various types of people, Latinos included. That's where it all started. Simultaneously, my parents planned trips for us to go visit their home countries during the summer. I hold those trips so close to my heart – I was exposed to a new way of living: the generosity, the love, the way they treat each other; so many things about our culture that are so much better than U.S. culture. It was like a competition in my head. There were two sides of me: the U.S. side and the Latino side.

I was born here, it’s an identity I just can’t take away. However, my Latino culture holds so much weight. So much of me makes sense now that I’ve taken time to explore my origins and my people’s history –I don't know, it was just a process. It took fucking work, it took a lot of mental and emotional work --- and I’m still working. I think a lot of people can identify with that process, though. The inner personal struggle of having to be multifaceted. Wherever you go, you never fit. You just have to make your own mold.

I wanted to talk about your IG account Ojos Del Sur. Can you tell us what's the purpose of the account?

This is a really difficult question because the mission of this page has been everywhere since we began. Ojos Del Sur started out as a travel blog for my best friend and I while we adventured through different countries in South America. I just post stuff that I think people would find interesting and dope in relation to Latino culture based off of the stuff we were discovering. Since our return, I've been really trying to identify what Latino culture is here in the United States, in additional to intersectional issues as well. I focus a lot on my experience as a woman of color, because it's my favorite identity to explore. 

As you mentioned earlier, you recently also had the opportunity to travel around Latin America. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

We started in Colombia. Then Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala and El Salvador. Colombia had a lot of really beautiful art and culture. Bogota was dope! The culture there is phenomenal. Medellin was very nice. They have a teleferico where you can see the entire city. I’ve always really enjoyed Cuenca, Ecuador. It’s just this low-key city in the mountains of Ecuador. Guatemala had so many cool volcanoes. Just seeing them is one thing but when you’re at the top of any of them ---- what a fucking sight. They call it the “eterna primavera” because the weather is always bomb. Machu Picchu was great, obviously. But, I really liked that in Lima there was always shit going on. You go to the park on Sunday and there were mad people just dancing cumbia with a boom box. And we were like “What!? What is this?” No tienen pena. Everyone’s just there, and life’s a party. And there’s art everywhere and the food is all over the place.

Do you have any projects for 2016?

I’ve been working with United We Dream and Dreamers of Virginia to start a Know Your Rights campaign to assist in educating my own community of Prince William County about local policy. Lastly, just studying for my GRE’s and working on personal essays for graduate school applications. I hope to begin my Masters in Public Policy by Fall 2017. That’s all for now. 

"This is my mom in Quito, Ecuador - she was abandoned by her parents when she was 2 months old on the streets of Quito. She grew up an orphan, and eventually came to the United States. This was the first time she took me back to her birth city and this is a pic I took of her. I just thought it was kinda sweet."  - Elizabeth

"This is my mom in Quito, Ecuador - she was abandoned by her parents when she was 2 months old on the streets of Quito. She grew up an orphan, and eventually came to the United States. This was the first time she took me back to her birth city and this is a pic I took of her. I just thought it was kinda sweet." - Elizabeth

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