Jean Carolyn Guerrero (born March 31, 1988) is an investigative journalist, author, essayist, columnist and former foreign correspondent. She is the author of Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir and Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda. Her essay "My Father Says He's a 'Targeted Individual.' Maybe We All Are" was selected for The Best American Essays anthology of 2019.
- when I was a kid. I grew up in San Diego, on the border with Tijuana, with a Mexican dad and a Puerto Rican mom. Spanish was my first language. But I went to a private Episcopalian elementary school, where it was against the rules to speak Spanish. You know, the teachers referred to me as Jean Guerrero. And if we were caught speaking Spanish, we had to stay in detention and we had to write, I will not speak Spanish, I will not speak Spanish a hundred times. This was during a period of intense anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant hate in California. And, you know, I wanted to please the teachers. I knew how much my mom was sacrificing for me to go to that school. She - at that point, my parents had split up. And she was a single mom. There was a struggle for her. And I just - I wanted to do well in school. And so I internalized, you know, the teacher's disdain for Spanish. I internalized this idea of my language, my parents' language as being delinquent. And I mostly renounced Spanish. And I adopted that identity as Jean Guerrero.
- she came from Puerto Rico, where they also have, you know, this English language supremacy, like, decades of U.S. colonial policies that cast English as a superior language. You know, this was a school where a majority of the kids were Mexican American or children of immigrants. And they, you know, the mostly white teachers, they wanted us to learn English as quickly as possible. So the parents at the time thought that this was a good thing, that it would result in us, you know, being bilingual and knowing English faster. But what happened is, like, this ended up in many cases supplanting our native language.
- This internalized English language supremacy, like, what it did was like it created, like, a real - I don't know - like, this almost, like, self-hatred, where I didn't understand what had happened until many years later, when I was reading the Mexican author Reyna Granda, who writes about subtractive bilingualism and how, you know, this practice of forcing children to stop speaking their native language and to see it as something bad also causes children to internalize this disdain, you know, the dominant white culture's disdain for their own culture and their own selves. And for me, what that did is it created a lot of self-destructive behavior where I was, you know, cutting my wrists as a teenager. I was, you know, binge drinking, drug abuse, a lot of self-destructive behavior. And then also, my mother, when she would make mistakes in English, you know, I would correct her. And I would say really, you know, monstrous things like learn English. And this is something that, you know, I look back on with, like, an immense amount of pain. And it wasn't something that I was able to fully confront until I saw Reyna Grande talking about this - internalizing this disdain for her mother.
- A major turning point for me was in high school, when I came across Luis Alberto Urrea's book "The Devil's Highway" about a group of Mexican men who die trying to cross the militarized border. That book has a lot of Spanglish in it. And it was the first time that I realized that the voices of people like my mother and people like my father could be made into art. And that book inspired me to pursue a career as a journalist in Mexico, which is the first time that I began to refer to myself as Jean Guerrero for the first time since I was a kid. But when I came back to the U.S., you know, I started my career as a - in public radio. And I remember asking myself when I was signing off of stories, like, do I want to refer to myself as Jean Guerrero or as Jean Guerrero? And ultimately, I chose the Anglicized version because I - there was some feeling in me that I was going to be judged by my mostly white managers as trying to be provocative or something if I claimed Jean Guerrero. So I again, I reverted to this Anglicized pronunciation and didn't think much about how I was pronouncing my name for many years as I was, you know, covering the impact of the Trump administration's immigration policies, you know, covering white nationalism, the rise of white nationalism. I wrote a book about Stephen Miller, Trump's senior adviser. But then I began to receive a lot of hate mail that was directed at me based on my family, based on my background, you know, people sending me racial slurs about my Mexican-ness, people telling me that I should be deported, really ugly stuff that was rooted in my identity as a Mexican and Puerto Rican woman. And that, for me, was a huge turning point where I decided, you know, I want to say my name correctly now. I want these people snarling at me to, you know, shrivel at the sound of my name, Jean Guerrero. Like, that is who I am. And I want to show that I am proud of it.
- I had received some hatred before, but it was nothing compared to what came after my book was - my book about Stephen Miller was published, where people were sending me racial slurs, telling me that I should be deported to Mexico, you know, very much attacking my family and, like, who - where I come from. And so that is what made me all of a sudden want to say my name correctly here in the United States.
- there is a very strong feeling that's attached to saying my name the way that it's meant to be said. You know, like, I feel embodied. I feel, like, deeply rooted in my ancestors and my mother's sacrifices for me, my abuelita. My grandmother, you know I feel them inside of me. Like, I feel different when I say my name.
- There's many valid and powerful ways to show pride in our cultures and where we come from.
- I think that what needs to change is just this idea that we have of someone, you know, when somebody teaches us how to say their name, we shouldn't see it as a burden. And I think we often do see it as a burden, but we should see it as a gift. I think it's a beautiful gift to learn how to say somebody's name.
- I’ve been following one family that, a father had his one year-old baby taken away from him months ago and just [a week ago] he was reunited finally, after eight months in detention. So I followed that story. We put out the story of their reunification but it’s like the struggle for the family is nowhere near over. The little boy is severely traumatized because he was kept in a tender age facility that has since closed for more than a thousand abuses ranging from inappropriate sexual contact between staff and the children to harsh punishment. It’s incredible, so I’ve been following the reunification of families, in particular this one family that has been so traumatized. I don’t know if you saw the question about “where are the girls,” because the government was conducting tours of child migrant shelters but nowhere were the girls visible. So I found one the girls’ shelter in San Diego and I put out a story on that and now I’m finding another one and it’s just never ending. It’s just crazy.
- I always knew that I wanted to be a writer but to me when I was a child and as a teenager as well, the idea of aspiring to be an author of books, always seemed kind of unobtainable. And I thought that a more practical and realistic way of going about eventually writing books was to start out in journalism, in large part because I knew it was going to give me real-world experience and so I was able to see what was happening in the world in our current age. It would give me valuable perspective to inform my writing of books in the future.
- I felt like exploring Mexico was a way of exploring my father, myself, and my roots.
- The stories that always interested me were about people and how people were being affected by industry. So like human rights violations at the hands of U.S. and Canadian mining companies, things like that I found myself not being able to explore as much as I wanted to.
- To be able to cover immigration and really focus on the human stories because of the fact that [KPBS] is an NPR and PBS affiliate, we’re public radio so I’m able to cover really whatever I want. The stories that speak the most to me are the human stories.
- I feel like like this whole notion of crossing borders appeals to me because curiosity is basically, no one is curious unless they admit that they don’t know something. You will not explore beyond your world unless your recognize that there lies more beyond your world worth exploring.
- I think that my book is relevant to the current, you know, alternative-facts-post-truth situation that we're seeing, not only because of the way that my father as a character plays into this whole discussion, but also because I feel like one of the reasons that we fall into these echo chambers and stop listening to one another is because we think that we have to have all of the answers. And we think that the answers are simpler than they really are. And so what I discovered through the writing of the book was that, wow, OK, so multiple explanations can be true to some extent. And I think that, in that sense, this discovery that I went through in the book can sort of inform and help people sort of let go of this obsession with having just one answer.
- One thing that hasn't really been discussed in this whole debate on family separations, which I've been following, is there's a family separation practice that predates the Trump administration. It's been going on for years, and it continues to go on. And it's basically this tendency for Homeland Security to prioritize women and children for release on parole while locking up the fathers in detention.
- So, for example, if a family comes to the border and ask for asylum, often the women and children will be released on parole, and the father will be locked up in detention. And, to me, as someone who experienced personally the trauma of having an absent father, it's very bizarre and ironic to me that we are sort of as a society painting men and fathers as irrelevant to families because I've really found that to not be true.