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Meet Rony Eduardo Castellanos Raymundo

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rony Eduardo Castellanos Raymundo.

Hi Rony Eduardo, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I use He/Él/They/Elle pronous and this is my story.

I remember holding my mother’s hands in the middle of February 2007 as I made the choice to leave Guatemala at 15 years old. The promise of “safety” is something I vividly remember being shared with me as I began the journey. I knew there was no way back when I was dropped off at the van that took us to the Mexican border. My story is more than the days that I spent lost in the desert in Calexico, CA, and more than feeling unsafe with my own father.

When I arrived in the United States, I felt very isolated and with no sense of community. I slowly began to feel comfortable speaking English as I was often made fun of not only for my accent but my Central American accent. I quickly learned the term “Undocumented” and I finally started to see more Queer people in my life. I was very afraid of truly sharing with my father about my queer identity. As I became more comfortable with learning English, I started to see myself in spaces that I never thought I would be. I have a complex relationship with my father. I am thankful for his support to assist me with my first semester of college back in the fall of 2010 at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). To cope with my father’s machismo and the fear of him finding out about my queerness, I started to sign-up for late classes so I would be out of the house all day and not see him. Unfortunately, I was made to come out in the fall of 2010 after the thanksgiving week. My greatest fear in life had become true – my father knew I was gay.

As a Guatemalan, Queer, Non-binary, Formerly Undocumented, and First-generation professional, I have now more control of my narrative and my experiences. It was through my mentors, teachers, professors, and my chosen family that I was able to finish my undergraduate degree. After being forced to come out, I began attending community college for six years because I had to work full-time to sustain myself. I successfully transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara in the Fall of 2016 when the 45th president was elected and the lives of so many marginalized groups were hypersurvilled and vulnerable. I never thought that I would complete my college degree or let alone learn English. I remember that my inspiration is my family as they still live in Guatemala. Family separation is real and has affected my mental health tremendously. I sought the mentorship of professors, former teachers, friends, and a new community as I found a new purpose to keep going – supporting Students of Color in higher education with incredible intersectional identities as they similar to me are traveling in the journeys where they have experienced homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, racism, and many other forms of discrimination.

After my journey at UC Santa Barbara, I decided to apply for graduate study in order to increase my chances of a better job to continue to support my family financially. After completing a Master’s in Education at UCLA, I remember feeling like I had arrived where I was meant to be but for eight years, I was chasing the dream of obtaining a college degree. It didn’t feel as sweet as I thought it would. However, I did not give up. My mental health suffered so much because I was working excessively to ensure that I would finish my degrees. I had to reach out for support to guide my mental health care and continue to have the tenacity to survive and hopefully thrive.

I was blessed to have been brought at California State University, Dominguez Hills as the founding Director of the Latina/o/x/e Cultural Resource Center (LCRC) or La Casita as the new nickname our students have given to our cultural space. The purpose of La Casita is to be able to create a brave space where students feel welcomed, seen, and supported. Building a culturally affirming space for our students has not been easy. But it is the student’s drive, joy, and motivation that inspires me to continue to provide services, programs and resources that can uplift and affirm their identities. I was hired during the height of the pandemic and my mental health was very unstable. As I began creating the virtual and moving into creating a physical space for our students, I remember feeling a sense of healing. A healing energy that is guided by community care, a healing energy that sees us and humanizes us and moves us to living rather than surviving. Mentorship has been a key component of my success. Because when I succeed and fail, I know my community is behind me.

As I write this piece, I think of the 15-year-old Rony who was so afraid at the time to make a big decision to change his life. I want to thank my 15-year-old self for holding space for me because in the moments where I have felt so much fear, he has been there for me.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
The biggest challenge has been being able to embrace me fully. In 2010, there was no California Dream Act to support Undocumented Students but there was AB540. AB540 is a law that allows students in CA to in-state tuition costs but no financial support. This is why it took me six years to finish community college and two more to finish my undergraduate degree. A total of eight years where I was very hard on myself for not finishing quicker.

Consequently, I have had to sit with myself in spaces where I have been very uncomfortable to confront my insecurities. Realizing that I can be Queer, First-Generation, Latinx, a formerly Undocumented, and a former transfer student have been some of the real struggles. Sometimes, I get very lonely. My mother, sisters, and niece live in Guatemala. I remember when I did not have the privilege of traveling that I found out my sister was pregnant and that I was going to become a tío (uncle). I often dream of the day where I am able to reunite with my family.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I currently work as the Interim Program Director for the Latina/o/x/e Cultural Resource Center (LCRC) or La Casita at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH).

I am developing a Resource Center for Latina/o/x/e Students. Students of Color need professionals who believe in their assets and the cultural wealth they bring to the college campus. CSUDH is a very special place because we have students from all walks of life; First-year Students, Transfer Students, Non-traditional Students, Queer and Trans Students, and students who deserve services that humanize their experiences. I am able to develop a culturally affirming curriculum to bring services, programs, and resources that can support our students’ journeys beyond the college campus.

I am very proud that I am able to implement my lived experiences to provide a space that I wish I would have had when I was in my educational journey and beyond that because I have understood from first-hand experiences that folks who do not hold a college degree also providing amazing resources and knowledge to our communities. In my work, I create avenues of community where students, faculty, staff, and community members can come together to celebrate each other and dream of new ways of living. I am proud of being a Queer, Non-binary, Guatemalan, First-Generation Professional of Color.

What sort of changes are you expecting over the next 5-10 years?
I dream of becoming a professor and teaching Gender and Sexuality Studies, writing my story, and supporting Queer and Trans communities back in Guatemala. I would like to build upon existing and develop new research where I can study the experiences of Queer and Trans Central Americans in the United States.

I would love to be able to write a memoir and share more details about my story. I would also love to film and/or direct a documentary about Queer and Trans Undocumented Central Americans in the US. I love to daydream of resting and continuing to support Black, Brown, Queer and Trans Communities in our fight for liberation.

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