Meet the team: Jose Juan Lara

This week, we feature JJ Lara, national trainer for Esperanza United

Where are you from?

I’m a native Tejano living in Austin, originally from Brownsville, Texas, which is the southernmost tip of the state neighboring Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico.

Where do you feel most at home?

I feel most at home in my parents’ house. Every time I visit, I’m shifted back to my childhood, especially when my parents still refer to me as el niño. I suppose it’s true that I’ll never stop being a child in their eyes and that’s fine by me.

What inspires you, professionally and personally?

Fundamentally, my parents, since they continue to teach me that kindness is a strength and karma. My parents are never hesitant to help whether the person is a family member, a neighbor or a stranger. They have instilled their different approach to life problems. From my father, I learn patience is advocacy, and from my mother, I learn to find the wisdom of faith. I’m also surrounded by friends who safely hold space when I need moments of silence, laughter, and confrontation when I’m being a little melodramatic. And, of course, the many women who have allowed me to be witness to their humanity. Together these lessons have become the guiding principles in this work.

In terms of your work for the National Latin@ Network, what are your areas of expertise or what areas are particularly interesting to you?

One of areas that inform my advocacy is making sure the Latin@ diaspora includes the gender diverse experience. Often, conversations on gender based violence immediately assume a heteronormative tone, which excludes many community members that don’t ‘fit’ this binary. In turn, this dangerous assumption supports the promotion of violence within the Latin@ culture against family members who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender. This is counter to the family unity Latin@s have been characterized as one of our positive cultural traits. As Suzanne Pharr eloquently stated homophobia is a weapon of sexism, and until as a community we mindfully surface this connection when discussing gender based violence many of us will continue to be targeted from within our communities.

Share one thing you have learned, big or small, doing your work.

[I have learned that] Life is too wonderful and that I need to challenge myself to graciously embrace the drama of it all. This lesson became evident at the beginning of this year when my former executive director, Andrea Sloan, passed away after battling cancer for seven years. Throughout this ordeal, Andi never stopped smiling and never showed signs of defeat. Needless to say, I was very fortunate to have worked with her and shared great conversations about “saving” the world and will miss her calling me a rock star. Yet, somehow I know Andi still watches over me because here I am joining the National Latin@ Network and embrace this as one of those wonderful moments of life.

What do you do to relax, de-stress or recharge your batteries?

On my off time I like to keep in simple…friends, food and science fiction movies.

Why have you chosen to do this kind of work?

Generally, it’s a vocation doing this work and helping feels natural in the process. There’s also been tremendous critical analysis of what ‘helping’ means after doing this for sixteen years and, honestly, it continues to be the challenge. I also find this to be motivating. I’ve been fortunate to have found a path that resonates with who I am as a person and parents who cultivate the sense of urgency to help others. I could try to get more philosophical on this question but at the end I’m where I need to be and do.

What is your favorite food?

This is going to sound cliché but my favorite food is anything my mother makes, which ranges from tacos, chiles rellenos, tamales and everything in between. Nothing can replace the comfort of a home cooked meal hecho con amor.

What is your favorite book?

I don’t have a favorite book but I do like a good superhero novel. Yes, I confess I’m a comic book geek, and believe it or not, this genre can offer thought provoking story lines. For example, Hero, by Perry Moore, is about a young man dealing with the legacy of coming from a famous superhero family and negotiating whether to come out as gay. I think I like this genre because I can suspend reality for a few moments and remain connected to the child whose only worries were to get good grades, eat vegetables and go to church every Sunday. Those were the days.