Maggie Negrete

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Please explain what you do for living.

I am a teaching artist and arts administrator. A teaching artist is a working artist that chooses to share their practice with students. My primary disciplines are illustration and typography, but I also work in visual poetry and have an interactive installation, the Apothecary of Esoteric Panacea. Currently, I work for the Brashear Association as the Education Coordinator, developing enrichment opportunities for the youth of South Pittsburgh, in particular, the young children of Allentown through our Allentown Learning Engagement Center. In the past, I held a position at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council with a focus around events, social media, design and organizing teaching artist initiatives. If I'm not at home drawing or work, I can usually be found at community meetings, organizing the Pittsburgh Zine Fair or supporting my friends who are artists and musicians.

How important in your identity is being Latino?

My Latina identity was something that I had to intentionally develop, especially in the past 15 years. Because of my parents' divorce, I grew up in a very white suburban rural community in SWPA, away from my Mexican relations in the eastern part of PA. My mother is Italian and Irish so I spent a lot of time around a pasta pot as a child. She taught me to be proud of my heritage and encouraged me to spend time with my Tio Carlos, the Negrete family historian, and to learn whatever I could about Mexican culture despite not having other Latinx people around. In college, I majored in Latin American Studies and had the opportunity to live in Cusco, Peru and Xalapa, Mexico. It was only recently that I began to feel comfortable calling myself Latina because I always felt too white, like I hadn't had a real Latinx experience and therefore was only masquerading as Mexican. But then, I realized that this logic is basically a form of internalized oppression. Am I not proud of my Mexican family? Am I not in solidarity with struggles of Latinx people? If my heritage, this identity ends with my generation, am I not disregarding my family, those that struggled to come to the US and those that remain in Mexico? One of my cousins is coming to Pitt next year and didn't feel comfortable going to the Hispanic students meet-up. I'm going to do whatever I can to change his mind and honor our grandfather.

Is there something that you particularly value of your nationality or being Latino?

My last name is important to me. My Tio Carlos has traced our family back to southern Italy, with the assumption that we were actually black North Africans that immigrated. There is a narrative of movement and adaptation in our family name that inspires me. It is also a litmus test for people around me. Most people that I encounter have zero idea how to pronounce my name or assume it is more French than Spanish. But when I am in a Latinx community, there is a song to its pronunciation and a usual question, "como jorge?" When I was living in Mexico and Peru, being an actual relation of Jorge Negrete (great-grandfather's first cousin) immediately gave me acceptance in other's eyes and perhaps, helped me feel like I belonged too. Several people actually called their grandmothers to tell them.

Have you been treated differently because of being Latino (in the workplace, in public settings…etc.)?

One of my cousins on my Irish grandfather's side married a Border Patrol officer. There is often a point during any family function when he remembers that I am Mexican. He usually gets quiet and nervously looks at his wife. The first time it happened, he was joking about how he learned in training to say "tomato" to people illegally crossing the border. He kept repeating it over and over laughing, "tomato! tomato!" My heart was racing, "You realize that you are actually saying 'Te mato' - 'I will kill you''?" I think I cried later on that evening.