Letter from a Young Rebelde (OPINION)

Nov 12, 2021
4:51 PM

Latino Rebels’ first logo

LAS VEGAS, Nevada — Last week I sent out a call on social media for writers, journalists, photographers and videographers looking to contribute to Latino Rebels. I either underestimated the site’s reach or the amount of underutilized Latino talent in the country, as my inbox quickly overflowed with Latinas and Latinos, young and old, writing me from all corners of the country and beyond, offering up their expertise and skills to the publication Julio Ricardo Varela launched just over 10 years ago.

I’ve responded to each email personally, intimately. My own experience has taught me the value of a close writer-editor relationship. Julio himself has been a mentor to me since I began scribbling for LR back in 2014, helping me refine my work as well as navigate the ever sprawling media landscape. I wouldn’t be the writer and journalist I am without him, and there’s no chance I would’ve become senior editor here were it not for our years of working together.

To take my new role lightly would be impossible, especially when I consider the time and energy that Julio and others have invested in this important little endeavor —not so little anymore— and when I receive letters like the one sent to me from a young Salvadoran immigrant hoping to become a Rebelde:

Hello Hector,

I hope this email finds you well. My name is Bryan Cienfuegos and I stumbled upon your Twitter post regarding your recruitment efforts for Latino Rebels. Amidst the political chaos and the uncertainty facing our immigrant communities, I’ve decided to put my foot forward and try to be a voice for those like myself who feel underrepresented, unheard, and mischaracterized. By sharing the stories and perspectives of our communities, we have a chance to uplift one another and bring about the change we desperately need. Discovering outlets like Latino Rebels has been empowering to the extent that I’m stepping out of my comfort zone and if I could provide that same inspiration to just one individual, that in itself will be a mission accomplished.


I am an immigrant. Like millions of others, I consider the United States home. I am also a recipient of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted to El Salvador after a severe earthquake ravished the country on January 13th, 2001. As a matter of fact, the only memory I have of El Salvador is of my sister and I running to safety to avoid falling debris. Another vivid memory I have of that period is waking up to the sound of a TV and seeing a skyscraper on fire. That turned out to be the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I share these two memories because they are emblematic of my immigrant experience and the life that would begin to take shape for me.

I loved America from day one. I remember being excited to pick out a Spiderman backpack from the swapmeet and even more excited about learning English. I would introduce myself as ‘Bree-ahn’ as I believed that to be the English pronunciation of my name. The language came easy to me, and immediately fell in love with learning. As I grew up, I continued to take my education seriously and always carried my parents’ sacrifices close to heart. I turned out to be a great student and ended up graduating high school with 5 perfect AP scores under my belt. Unfortunately, my TPS status began to play an integral role from that point on. Firstly, I didn’t qualify for student loans as a ‘non-resident alien,’ a term that haunts me to this day. College wouldn’t be an option for me as I could not afford it nor could my family. Secondly, I discovered that TPS was a relatively unknown subject and that the resources for people like myself were slim to none at the time. Through extensive research, I became knowledgeable on TPS and eventually would help my family file the application forms every re-registration period, avoiding costly attorney fees.

Since I did not attend college, I immediately entered the workforce. I worked several coffee shops and eventually found myself in luxury retail. Through these positions, the empty void remained in me and I felt as if I was wasting my potential. Like I mentioned, I have a passion for learning, particularly in the areas of civics, international affairs, current events, social sciences and history. As a matter of fact, Political Science would have been my degree of choice. Since voting was also not an option for me, I decided to participate in the political process in different ways. I’ve always believed in the power of education and to this day, I dedicate my time and efforts in helping my peers navigate the complexities of our political system. Here is where I really discovered the disconnect between the political process and our Latino communities, especially amongst working-class Latinos and those who continue to be displaced by gentrification. I decided to organize a phone-banking event in a friend’s East Los Angeles home in an effort to engage the community. It was lightly attended (and by lightly, I mean it was just my friend and me). At this point, I realized that these communities were being ignored. There was no outreach or investments from party apparatuses to bring them in. Even worse, the publications and news outlets they had access to were often limited to 30 minutes of Noticiero Univision.

Though I remained civically engaged, though I helped friends and community members in registering to vote, and even though my love for this country ensued, the 2016 election took place. The Trump administration revoked TPS and I was now in limbo. Furthermore, my own father was deported to El Salvador not before being in a detention center for almost a year. These events took an enormous toll on me and led me to spiral into a dark mental place. During this time, however, I discovered the National TPS Alliance, who deserve enormous credit for their advocacy of not only TPS rights but immigrant rights as a whole. I heard about RAICES, I got involved with CHIRLA events, and I discovered that helping my immigrant brothers and sisters helped me escape that dark hole. I then decided to quit retail and I began working for an immigration law firm as an intake specialist. Helping these people receive the legal counsel my father couldn’t get was an enormously rewarding experience. Though the course of my life since has been decided by court case after court case, my determination is stronger now than ever to bring these issues to the forefront and help a kid like my former self not feel alone, unheard, or scared for their futures.

Through this beautiful communal network that is slowly being built by Latino activists, creators, journalists, artists, writers, etc., our voices and stories are getting the spotlight they duly deserve. The era of underrepresentation is coming to a close, and I would love nothing more than to be part of this new age of Latino-made, Latino-owned media outlets. I don’t know what will happen with TPS nor do I know what destiny has in store for me, but what I do know is this:

1. I am a proud immigrant, and even though this country won’t consider me one yet, a proud American as well.

2. I want to be the change I want to see. I want to be that representation that we need.

3. I love to write. I take pride in my abilities to communicate and I feel most accomplished when I’m able to educate and provide resources to others.

4. Our Latino stories need to be shared and our immigrant resiliency needs a platform.

I have no college education, but what I do have is the grit and tenacity to be able to accomplish the goals I have in mind, and there is no bigger goal for me than being in a position where I can be of consequential help to my people. Should you be inclined to learn more about me and explore my technical skills, I’d be more than delighted to be in talks with you. On the contrary, should you come to the determination that I’m not fit, I’d at least take pleasure in having shared a part of my story with an organization that’s helping shape the rest of it.

Again, a sincere thank you to you and the rest of the Latino Rebels team for the work you guys are doing. Please send my regards to Pablo Manriquez, whose reporting on the immigration aspect of the reconciliation package has been a life-saving resource. Thank you for your time, Hector. I look forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards,
Bryan Cienfuegos

See what I mean? If it weren’t for this one outlet, a lot of things would be different in the Latino community. There would be a hole, a vacuum, something terribly lacking. It’s hard for us younger Latinos to imagine it today, having grown up with Latino Rebels already in existence —I was already 27 when it launched, but still, pretty young— but I’m sure older Latinos fully appreciate what this platform is, what it provides, what it promises to do for this generation of Latinos and those to come.

So to Bryan and all the other Latinos and Latinas who send letters either asking to contribute or simply sharing their appreciation for the work done here, you inspire us. You are the reason Julio launched Latino Rebels, and why I wanted to become senior editor —it wasn’t for the fame and money, or all the fun, I assure you.

Welcome to the crew, Bryan. Let’s get to work.


Hector Luis Alamo is the Senior Editor at Latino Rebels and hosts the Latin[ish] podcast. Twitter: @HectorLuisAlamo