Our team at Tennessee United does not work FOR the community, it IS the community. We are essential workers and students, parents and grandparents, global migrants and locals, alike. Although our individual accomplishments are many, we are more than a list of accolades to please foundations and win awards. We are humans. Our lives depend on this work. We are brave because we have to be. We laugh and we cry. We get tired. Please, take the time to read our bios, to recognize us and to recognize yourself. We are all in this fight together.
When I think of México, I miss the freedom of my pueblo. If I could return to La Piedad, I would walk the streets like before, visit with my friends, go to the plaza and eat golosinas in the shade. I am proud to provide for myself. I am proud to have raised three responsible children on my own. I am afraid that in the end, I will never become a citizen.
Although I’m an optimist, I struggle every day with depression. Coffee and podcasts help me get up in the morning. I like to read about mindfulness and mental wellbeing. On Sunday mornings, my three grandkids and my miniature poodle join me in bed. We play happy music loudly when we clean the house.
Like so many migrant mothers, I am a domestic worker. My livelihood depends not only on my tireless work, but on the confidence of those who invite me into their homes. While many Chattanoogans know and trust me as an employee, I want them to know and trust me too as a member of their community. As a migrant and as a mother. As an organizer. I want them to know that we all have a role in creating change in our city.
My favorite flower is the tulip. Not only for its beauty, but for its fragility; it has no thorns, and so it is vulnerable to the world. The flowers are the best part of my landscaping work.
I grew up in Malacatán, in the state of San Marcos, Guatemala. I miss the days I would spend with my friends, before we were prisoners to technology. Now, it is through technology that I can reconnect with them, and we can laugh together over stories from our youth. My memories of Guatemala are not all good. When I was nine years old, I lost my mother. I still search for her in the foods she used to make, but they are never quite the same. I have been in the U.S. for seven years now. I love the mountains here. I love the way people care for animals, the way they rescue cats or feed wild birds. I am saddened by the way people treat each other. I have experienced discrimination, had to prove my worth as a migrant, as a worker, and as a human. I have also seen that people can change, and that racism can be overcome.
I am so proud of the things that I have accomplished, the things everyone said I could not do. I am a catechist in the church. I play guitar in a mariachi. I have new clothes and food to eat, and a community around me working together to make change in our lives. Chattanooga is my home now. Like the flowers I plant, I have taken root.
I was born in Chiapas, México, but raised mostly in the U.S. by my Puerto Rican mother. I eat mole rojo and arroz con gandules. I like to cook, but not with people in the kitchen. My husband took me to see Reik live, and it was the highlight of my life. I came to the U.S. when I was four, but didn’t understand what it meant to be undocumented until I needed a passport to visit México as a teen. Now I am a permanent resident, with a 1-year-old daughter who is an American citizen. Motherhood is so full of worry: about her health, her development, the media she consumes and the person she is going to be. I am raising her to be independent. I need her to understand how privileged she is to have been born here. We watch Moana twice every single day. I also care for my special needs sister. Nothing warms my heart like when she and my daughter wake up with messy hair and big, well-rested smiles, even if I haven’t slept all night.
SELENA CHÁVEZ DE PEÑA
I will beat you at UNO and then take a nap. I listen to
lo-fi beats while I work, I like autobiographies and sci-fi movies, and I am my parents’ legacy. While they struggled as Colombian migrant workers in the U.S. South, I was teased by elementary classmates for my accent. My childhood lists of English vocabulary are a testament to both my shame and my determination. During COVID, I finished my Master’s degree in Human Rights in London, and remain on lockdown here in the U.K. My mom’s daily videos of my bulldog (La Gordita!) help me cope with my anxiety, and I can’t wait to see my family. In Chattanooga, I worked as a teacher, a community organizer, and an interpreter. Building on that experience, I now work supporting social enterprises in the Arab World as a means of eliminating donor dependency. On this intersectional journey, my personal growth intertwines with community-building from TN to Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. No “under-privileged” community needs me to be their voice. Instead, I will remind you this: they have their own voice, and you better listen closely.
I am a woman of mixed identity. It used to plague me (sometimes still does) but now I soak in all the versions of myself and let them lead me together. I feel my ancestral, warrior blood guide me through the surprise of every new moment, just as it led me out of the orphanage in Khorramabad, Iran and into the loving embrace of my mother’s contagious laugh and my father’s stern focus. I am the independence of a daughter of divorce, the resilience of an anxious, unorthodox woman, and the privilege of a U.S. citizen. I’m currently binging Hannah Montana with my best friend Heather. My baby Basil has covered me in cat scratches and sometimes I smell like my fish Speedy. I do puzzles while crying about the loneliness of existence and blast my music while dancing in the car, filled with the love and energy of everyone who has ever walked this earth. I am inspired every day by the people I work with and play with, the people who show me the kind of person I want to be. I am determined to use my potential for good, for change, for what I believe in.
VIRIDIANA OYUKI MARÍN
Hey, whaddup, I’m Viri. If I could take a break for a few minutes, I would probably sit down with my watercolors. Until then, find me: upcycling vintage clothing, making graphics for Tennessee United, working on Chattanooga’s community fridge, uplifting all women, and—most often and most importantly—hanging out with my baby. I love being a mom. I was born in Puebla, México, and came to Texas when I was two. I lived an undocumented experience until I was fourteen. If you spent your school vacations cleaning houses and selling tamales with your mamá, I see you. If you are carrying childhood trauma, I want to normalize therapy. If you are a parent, trying your best to raise a really good human but terrified that it won’t be enough, well, let me know when you figure that one out. I live for my community work. I cook my abuela’s recipes to feel closer to my family. I will always advocate for survivors of abuse, for the migrant community, and for the preservation of our planet. Check your privilege, engage in the struggle for the right reasons, and always be kind. Mucho amor.
ALONDRA MARÍA GOMEZ-NUÑEZ
I am a Méxicana from Michoacán. I love to read young adult novels and I am terrified of taking tests. I was told I would never get into college with an 18 ACT, and so I did. Now, midway through my Honors degree, it turns out I don’t really jive with colonial forms of education. You may already know me as the token DACA recipient in Chattanooga, but I’m so over the Dreamer “good immigrant” narrative. I was a ballerina, then a medical assistant, and now I am a community organizer. I take comfort in my chihuahua’s kisses, even though his breath is stinky.
As an undocumented, queer, woman of color, I carry a great many fears. Fear of deportation, fear that I am an imposter, fear of powerful and hateful men who don’t value my existence. I find bravery in the others in my community who face those same fears, and the belief that together we will overcome them. I am tired of life in the shadows. I am determined to live free.
JARED ALLEN STEIMAN
I was born and raised in Chattanooga. I am a poet, an educator, a mechanic, and an organizer. I am proud of my mother, I am always grieving for my father, and I am inspired by my three younger siblings. I grew up largely ignorant of the systems that oppressed my neighbors and privileged my family. When I was sixteen, my girlfriend told me she was undocumented, and I naively assured her that we would figure it out. The girl I made that promise to grew up and made me her husband, her family became my family, and I am keeping that promise. I have learned so much and have so much left to learn. Yup, I am white, and before you ask: I am not here to save anyone. I am following the lead of powerful migrant women, and together we will topple white supremacy, we will end U.S. nationalism, and we will overturn the patriarchy.