Humans of the Border: Gaby Zavala

Good selfies, good organizing, and not-so-good love

ACLU of Texas’ HUMANS OF THE BORDER series about people and life in the Rio Grande Valley.

Facebook is who I am. Really. Why do put so many selfies on my page? Well, I don’t have a partner, someone to always tell me, “You’re beautiful.” Selfies build up my self-esteem.

I have yet to figure out my interaction with men. When they first meet me they love that I’m independent and can hold it down. They work really hard to get me. But once they have me they feel … what’s the word?…emasculated.

These days I’m an organizer for LUPE, La Union del Pueblo Entero. It was founded by César Chavez. The activist thing makes the man thing harder because I’ve dedicated myself to the community, and that makes men feel jealous. But, hey! Activism is who I am. I sweat it. I bleed it. It even comes out when I socialize over a few drinks. Some people get annoyed and say, “Gaby, don’t you ever quit?”

It began in 2002, when I was 19. I started doing reproductive-healthcare home visits for Planned Parenthood. It was me and some older promotoras — community-educator women, and we would all bundle up in one car and go out to neighborhoods, the colonias. The first time was scary. The dogs — we’d run but have our pants bitten by little Chihuahuas! And we’d knock on doors. Women would answer: “Si mija, ¡éntrale!” By the time we’d leave the colonia we’d be completely filled up on coffee and sweet bread.

The reproductive health visits with these women would quickly turn into a lot of chisme — gossip — about what was happening in their families. “I have all these problems,” they’d say, and I was just a kid, talking to older women about things I didn’t completely understand.

They would give me a lot of consejos — advice. About being married. About controlling husbands.

A lot don’t go to the doctor because they don’t have insurance. They’re poor. Many are undocumented. And today my work feels different from when I was 19 because I understand now why they don’t have access to healthcare. Before, I was in college. “Why don’t they get their exams?” I’d say to myself. Now, I’ve been out of work. I’m a single mother with a child to support. I can empathize. And they know that I know. They don’t think I’m just some student.

Activist men around here? Some are gorgeous! But they’re outnumbered by activist women. Probably because women here are looking for an outlet for all this passion, and the organizations give them the power and authority to do that.

All of me goes on Facebook. Just like those people in bands who put up their music and concert dates to represent themselves. I post political stuff but I also talk about how some men who are jerks get all the attention, the praise. Whereas, I don’t.

I start in the morning as soon as I get up. Yeah, I spend all day on Facebook.

I had a long thread going once about my issues with men. One of my friends posted a comment. She called herself an Alpha female and said I’m an Alpha female, too.

I think she’s right, and a lot of it has to do with my activism. It goes so far back that today I guess have an imaginary selfie: Me, surrounded by my invisible colonia ladies.