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Alexandra Zepeda
Barista at Joe Coffee Company — The Bronx, NY

I am a queer first-generation Salvadoran American immigrant from The Bronx. My mom sent me over there as a kid, then brought me back to The Bronx when I was a little older. I’ma be real with you—I don’t know why the fuck people move to New York. I will never understand that. Because this city is a fucking beast, and this shit will break you. A lot of us growing up here, we’re so fuckin’ resilient. People come to this city and they expect this magical thing, and then they get broken down, and then they be trying to change shit, but not for the right reasons. I don’t get this whole 'magic of New York' shit.

I have no other choice but to be this strong person because of what I’ve seen my mom go through.

What’s my family like? Loud. A lot of my family is still back in El Salvador. I wasn’t really raised with my dad’s family at all, but my mom befriended a lot of Central Americans here in New York, and when I was growing up she had a lot of friends from Honduras. All those ladies and my mom, they’re just these strong, boss-ass women who did whatever the fuck they needed to do for their kids because the men in their lives were shit. My experience growing up was that your mom does everything. Your mom is your mom and your dad, your best friend, your provider, everything. So I kinda feel like, based on the way I was raised, I have no other choice but to be this strong person because of what I’ve seen my mom go through.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done was to move away from my mom and my sister. Because you grow up so family-centered and then you don’t know how to let that go. And this is gonna sound mad corny but my little sister is the most influential person in my life, because you have to set an example for your younger siblings. You have to be on your best behavior like you have to be on your shit 100%. So everything I do, I have to think about how it’s going to reflect off of me and how my choices are going to help her make better choices. Whenever I try to think about making moves, I think about how it would inspire her to do better or to see her own potential.

Be resilient in your shit, own it, walk like you got it.

The main thing I try to instill in my sister is confidence—confidence in everything that you do. Even if you don’t got it, walk like you got it. Because you gotta command that shit, you have to take control of that, and then people are gonna come to you like flies to the light. Fake it ‘til you make it, that’s the line, right? It’s the same thing. My mom didn’t know shit of English, and she faked it ‘til she made it. She just became a citizen like three weeks ago, still doesn’t know English and it’s lit. Be resilient in your shit, own it, walk like you got it. That’s the biggest thing I learned from all those ladies being in my life. 

If I could have a magic wand and change just one thing about this industry it would be like, BAM, make it accessible.

My ultimate dream would be to make the coffee industry more accessible for people of color. Access to coffee and community should be one and the same, and we’re trying to build an approachable community in this industry. But sometimes I look at the coffee industry like a caste system, because that is what it feels like. If you’re not white, or you’re not in a company that really puts a focus on education, and you’re wanting to learn more? You’re kinda fucked. Then it’s up to you to make up that difference, and it’s hard to tell where to start. So if I could have a magic wand and change just one thing about this industry in general it would be like, BAM, make it accessible.

I’ve always said this, but if I could make a difference in at least one family growing coffee anywhere in the world, especially if it’s back home in El Salvador, to me that shit is A1. You know, half the time these people they don’t even taste their own coffee. So that’s an ultimate goal that I have as a coffee professional—going to a farm to help them up their quality, or to act as a translator for them or help them better their product somehow. I have that dream but don’t have a map on how to do it. I’m working on blueprints for myself because, especially now with climate change, as an industry we’ve gotta come up with some shit.