Though they have felt like outsiders at times, Allen Pino and Catalina Pedroza—who are both pursuing careers as educators—feel a strong sense of loyalty to Wyoming. For WPR's "Belonging" series, they sat down to discuss racial identity and how Wyoming stereotypes can be at odds with a vision of a state full of potential.
Allen Pino: I remember being in kindergarten and kids were like, "Oh, you're Mexican." They very clearly labeled that to me and I'm like, "Oh, I am Mexican. Yeah sure." But there's always been that going through my life in Wyoming, which is understandable because there's not a lot of people of color in the state of Wyoming.
Catalina Pedroza: Yeah it's really hard because we are the minority.
AP: But it becomes a little problematic because people thought I was supposed to be as Mexican as possible. I never went to a quinceañera. [Struggling to pronounce the word].
CP: A quinceañera?
AP: Yeah. Clearly. [Laughing]. But that's what people thought who I was from Wyoming at least. At times I don't feel like I belong in Wyoming. But then I do feel like I belong way home because I identify with the state.
CP: It's like you're not American enough to be American or not Mexican to be Mexican. And so we kind of live this in the middle.
So why stay in Wyoming?
AP: I think living in Wyoming is wonderful. Went to Casper College then to the University of Wyoming. I was a communication major and so I was constantly thinking about am I going to live in Wyoming or not live in Wyoming.
I love Wyoming.
I love the atmosphere. It's not a big town or a big city or anything like that. It's very small but if I want to have a career that's I guess larger than a Wyoming life it would automatically take me outside of the state and eventually what ended up winning out was the side of me that's like I care about my family too much and I love Wyoming so much. But on the career path, that's where things didn't work out and so now I'm changing and trying to do education. What about you?
CP: I mean I found my place in education. I just graduated from the University of Wyoming in elementary education. And so I want to give back.
Wyoming as a whole, there's a lot of opportunities here. That's why I wanted to say in Wyoming. It's just it's a beautiful full-of-opportunity kind of state. Going from a couple of different school systems, um I don't really remember Georgia but Texas and the moving to Evanston, I had such a wonderful educational career. Especially moving to Cheyenne, to East High School. I just bloomed and flourished. This district, in particular, I don't know other Wyoming districts, puts a lot of money into kids traveling outside the state to experience different things. And I can't say that a lot of school districts in America do that can.
AP: So this kind of extends to like the Wyoming identity. This is a part of the Wyoming identity that makes me most upset. We're both coaching the speech and debate team and so we get the opportunity to work with a lot of students but when they go to the national level they potentially have this idea of, "I'm from Wyoming. I'm not supposed to win this. The kid from New York. The kid from California. The kid from Florida is supposed to win this. How is a kid like me from Wyoming supposed to win this?".
And I think that even extends in all aspects of the younger generation coming from Wyoming. I don't think there's any truth to it. So you just talked about the resources at our disposal. Those are resources people from other states don't get.
AP: And like it makes me so mad because it's this like weird self-fulfilling prophecy that we have created that, "I'm from Wyoming I'm not going to be amazing."
The Wyoming identity may be in transition right now but it's definitely coming at a conflict of do we stay this very small state getting the opportunity to be in a town where you know everyone, or do we start let's build let's grow and let's start changing the identity of Wyoming. Any thoughts?
CP: I don't know. A lot of Wyoming's identity is tied to the oil fields and the boom and bust of this economic position that we're in. I mean my father moved to Evanston for an oil position and so he's been working in the oil fields for a very long time and then he lost his job. And so I've seen that disparity of like, "what do I do now? And like my whole life was that oilfield and where do I go? I have all this experience in oil. Do I move?".
A lot of people have these conversations. And so is that going away from the boom and bust system? Is that going into a city and finding, I don't know, a higher paying job? As Wyoming like what are they doing to keep jobs here? Or what are people looking for when they come to the Wyoming life?
AP: Wyoming life is like people around the U.S. and even the world they think about cowboys and they think about Yellowstone.
CP: Yeah [laughter]
AP: And so then like 18 and 24, it's like do you want to be a cowboy or do you want to go to Yellowstone?
CP: Well when I think of 18 to 24-year-olds I think of technology. I think of a growing industry and green energy. That creates jobs. We could be setting the example of what every state could be doing because we're very small.