Digame: Julissa Arce Talks Celebrating Your Culture Instead of Assimilating

Digame is a monthly series featuring prominent Latinx leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, and public figures uplifting the community and making a difference

Julissa Arce Digame

Photo: Aly Honore

Digame is a monthly series featuring prominent Latinx leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, and public figures uplifting the community and making a difference.

Mexican American writer Julissa Arce is the best-selling author of My (Underground) American Dream and Someone Like Me. Arce was born in Guerrero, Mexico and traveled between San Antonio, Texas and Mexico until, at 14, she became undocumented. She went on to work at Goldman Sachs moving up from an intern to vice president before obtaining a green card in 2009. Her first two books are about her immigrant experience and now her third release, You Sound Like a White: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation, is about rejecting assimilation as a path toward belonging in the U.S. She’s also the co-founder of Ascend Educational Fund, a college scholarship and mentorship program for immigrant students regardless of status. She’s a vocal immigrant rights activist who uses her social platforms to advocate and inform on social and political issues.

Which Latina(s) have had the greatest impact on your life and why?

This might seem cheesy but truly the Latina that has had the greatest impact in my life is my mother. I learn from her every single day. Her tenacity and fire for life leaves me in awe. Besides my mom, there are so many Latina writers who have really paved the way so that I can write the books that I do. They are way too many to name, but I have to give a shout out to Reyna Grande, whose writing is impeccable, and who has helped me so much to grow as a writer.

If you could meet a Latina icon who is no longer alive, who would it be and why?

The women I would love to meet are the heroes of the Mexican revolution. The women who never became icons because their stories were never told. I think it would be amazing to be able to go back in time and preserve those stories and be able to tell them today.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My uncle once told me that to be successful you need two things: preparation and opportunity. The former is mostly up to you and so you should focus on doing everything you can to prepare so that when opportunities come your way you’re ready to take them.

If you could pursue a career in an industry other than your own, what would it be and why?

After writing, You Sound Like a White: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation, it’s clear to me that in another life I would have been a historian.

Who was the first person to believe in your dreams/goals?

I was the first person to believe in my dreams. As I said above my mom is my rockstar and she has also always believed in my dreams and encouraged me to pursue them.

What do you wish more people understood about what you do?

A little insight is that writing and editing the book, is only the start. Once the book is done then we as writers have to figure out how to get it into the hands of readers. I still can’t decide which is harder.

What motivates you?

Gaining representation and political power for the Latino community.

How did you end up on the professional path you’re on now?

This is such a long story – I wrote two books about it! Ha! But I think I was always meant to tell stories. It just took me a long time to get here.

What is your greatest professional achievement so far? Personal achievement?

Professional: Releasing my third and most honest and powerful book. Personal: The thing I am most proud of is taking a risk on me. I left a very cushy job in 2015 to purse my dream of becoming a writer, and while it was scary, I took the leap.

What is a goal you have that you haven’t accomplished yet and what are you doing to get closer to accomplishing it?

How to make my book available in multiple languages, in multiple countries, because these stories are universal.

What pop culture moment made you feel seen?

Gentefied! That show spoke to me.

How do you practice self care?

I practice yoga! And I enjoy a nice glass of wine.

Quick Fire:

Shoutout an Instagram account that could use more love and tell us why you’re a fan:

I recently started following LupitaReads (@lupita.reads) and I wish I had know about her a long time ago! For all book lovers out there, this is a great account to follow to discover more Latino/a/e writers.

Shoutout your favorite Latina owned business and why:

There are so many to name, Lil’ Libros (@lil_libros), RizosCurls (@rizoscurls), NailartFairy (@nailartfairy), Bella Doña (@belladonala)… But I have really gotten into makeup and ViveCosmetics (@vivecosmetics) has amazing products that really center and celebrate our community.

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