Rubén Castilla Herrera was the first interview conducted for ¡Dímelo, Columbus! We met in September, the week following the Tyre King shooting. He has long been involved with many social justice issues in Columbus, Ohio – advocating for the Black Lives Matter movement, for migrant workers, immigrant rights, and refugees. Our conversation focused on the importance of recognition and understanding as well as the power of difference.
In the second grade, Castilla Herrera moved from Seguin, Texas to the Pacific Northwest. Oregon drew his family north with the promise of work in its verdant fields, specifically Castilla Herrera remembers picking broccoli. He recalls how sharpened knives used to harvest pierced and nicked his hands, and how one’s body pruned after countless hours spent wearing rubber coveralls and clothes saturated with moisture.
Castilla Herrera completed college in Salem, Oregon at Willamette University. He moved to Delaware, Ohio to attend the Methodist Theological School nearly twenty years ago. Now, Castilla Herrera resides on the West Side of Columbus where he remains active in community organizing. These excerpts from our conversation beg for awareness of the hands providing the goods we consume.
“Food is a constant reminder:”
🎧 Listen (3:37)
“I was born in Texas, I was a migrant farmworker… We left Texas when I was seven, I was in the second grade… We stayed as migrant farmworkers in Oregon, the Willamette Valley there, it’s rich in farm products… I think it was an adventure for me, because I was a kid, right? So mountains and snow and clear water.”
“Food is a constant reminder. A couple days ago we had some friends over and he brought a broccoli and we were gonna put it in the oven… As I was cutting it, I told him ‘I used to pick broccoli when I was a kid, it was the worst job because it grew as a big plant and you had to have this knife that you’d sometimes get cut with… and then the leaves… The leaves hold water… You would get wet, when your hands wrinkle, that’s the way your body would be at the end of the day…’ So I get reminded a lot, especially with those products that are picked, but most products are picked… So anytime I go grocery shopping or eat, I always ask myself ‘I wonder who picked this?'”
The three parts of Latino identity – culture, faith, family:
🎧 Listen (5:37)
“I think Hispanics, Latinos, there’s three things that we’re based on – or our identity [is based on]. One is our culture. And that could be language, certainly food. The other is our faith, you know historically they say Christian or Catholic, but not all. But of faith, and the last one would be family or familia, no?”
“When I came here, I was looking for somewhere to buy what I was used to eating. I thought surely, I’ll drive to Columbus and I’ll hear people or find a Mexican restaurant or hear people [speaking Spanish]… This was in ’87 and there was nothing.”
Making a Columbus community:
🎧 Listen (1:53)
“The city of Columbus has this logo now that’s ‘us;’ like Columb-‘us.’ If you double click on that Columb-‘us,’ it’s not only what you see, what that logo’s really about the development of people in restaurants and having a good time, [but it’s also] about the refugees and immigrants… It’s a fine low concept, but I would like people to double click on that ‘us’ and really see what we’re about and the struggles we have still… When we start seeing that authentically, not just from the top down, that’s when we become a community.”
Unless otherwise noted, all photos and text are copyrighted to Leticia Wiggins. Music for introduction & interlude by The Original Soundtrack (thanks, guys!).