Clever Hybrids Podcast with GabyV

S4E6: The Border Crossed Us | PJ Sainz, Chicano Author, Journalist, and Translator | Hijo de Sinaloa

Episode Summary

PJ Sainz, a Chicano author, helps us destroy the category boxes that create stereotypes and gives us an up-close view of the diversity within the Latino community. Join us as we learn that even when one group makes up the majority, they're not all the same.

Episode Notes

Pablo (PJ) Sainz, a Chicano author, helps us destroy the category boxes that create stereotypes and gives us an up-close view of the diversity within the Latino community. Join us as we learn that even when one group makes up the majority, they're not all the same.


Follow PJ on LinkedIn

Buy PJ's books on Amazon

Check out BREAK IT ALL: The History of Rock in Latin America on Netflix


Hearing other people's stories is the best way to learn the principles you need to navigate an international world that is multilingual and multicultural. Learn from Clever Hybrids around the world to become one. 

Find more info on our website:

Get started!

Follow Clever Hybrids for helpful tips and clips from our podcast on Social Media!

LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube

Episode Transcription

GabyV: Hey everyone. So today we are here with Chicano journalist and educational translator, Pablo Sainz Ferretti Garibaldi. It's a long name.

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Yes. So I use my paternal last name. Some of you may know in Latin America, we use our maternal last names and my maternal last name it's a hyphenated one. So it's a combined last name. So two in one. So instead of having just two last names, I have three, which makes it really long.

But here in the US, I usually just go by either my paternal last name or just one of the maternal last names. I don't usually use the three of them because they don't fit in most forms,

GabyV: Be like 'Error! Error!' 

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Or it will be like chopped.

GabyV: Yeah. But it definitely shows a lot about your heritage. Like you have an Italia shirt on right now, and that's not just because you like Italy. You have some Italian background in your family. So tell us some about that.

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Through my mom's side I grew up in an Italian Mexican family in Sinaloa. It's one of the most diverse states in Mexico and it's in the Northern part of Mexico. So you have the Greeks. You have the Italians. You have the Jewish. You have the Chinese. You have the the French. Remember Cinco de Mayo? They tried to invade Mexico through Sinaloa and a lot of the French stayed. And then we have a really strong indigenous presence as well. It's not as accepted as let's say the states in the Southern part of Mexico, like Oaxaca and Chiapas. Our indigenous heritage is not as highlighted, although there's been like a Renaissance of being proud of being Yoreme which is the nation that used to be there when the Spaniards arrived.

GabyV: Well, I'm happy to hear that. It's always nice be able to get back to not only the European roots, but the indigenous roots. 

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Yes and I actually did one of those popular DNA tests that tell you your ethnic backgrounds and it wasn't surprising that 5% of it is different parts of Africa. I don't know if we're still saying it, but I, I remember growing up in LA the phrase melting pot for the U S was really popular. I don't know if that's still accepted because if it is I'm definitely a walking melting pot.

GabyV: Yeah you got a lot of stuff going on already a multicultural in Sinaloa, must've been a lot of fun. But did you have any culture shock when you moved to LA when you were 11? 

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: It was really hard because in Sinaloa, I was part of the majority. I was part of the majority. My family blended in really well. We're from a small city on the coast. My dad, he was already a US citizen by birth and so the immigration part wasn't hard at all. We were blessed. I was a US citizen by birth, but the culture part that- that was really hard. And even though I moved to a part of LA... when you say LA, we usually refer to LA county because it's a bunch of cities in LA county. So I moved to a city called Huntington park and I refer to it as the most Mexicans part of LA. Even [more] Mexican than east LA, because east LA is more like third, fourth, even fifth generation and families that've been there for more than a hundred years. But Huntington Park is the, like usually the first stop for Mexican immigrants. It was really funny because it was probably like 95% Latino and of that 95%, probably like around 90% Mexican. On my block was like the last pocket of Cuban exiles. My neighbors were some of the first Cubans to flee like right before or right after the Cuban revolution. So it was really interesting growing up.

GabyV: Now, as you said, it's a very Latino city already, but did you encounter any discrimination when you went to school or everything was pretty much ok?

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Discrimination within... within our community, within the Latino community. It wasn't much of about ethnicity, but it was mostly language 'cause I was still learning English when I moved. And it took me probably about a year to be completely bilingual. It was hard. They used to make fun of my accent.

After a few years, probably when I was in high school, I didn't care anymore. But it was basically that type of discrimination where they would make fun of the newcomers... of the newcomers.

The way that I responded to that is that I had the Italian background and... I always grew up hearing Italian. So if they started making fun of my English, I would respond in Italian and then that would shut them up.

GabyV: 'Oh, yeah, you don't understand that? Che cosa?' (both laugh)

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Yeah, so just to recap, from Sinaloa to LA was difficult in the sense of of being an immigrant, just leaving home behind. That part was hard even though my immediate family was in LA and I had a part of my extended family also in LA, I was a preteen. It's a difficult time as it is, and moving to a new country at that age made it worse. 

GabyV: Yeah, it's good. You kept on trying. Then you finally got comfortable in LA. Why did you decide to move from LA to San Diego?

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: I knew I wanted to be a writer since a little boy. When I went to college to Santa Barbara, I moved too. Santa Barbara is like a two hour drive north from LA. But if you're familiar with Santa Barbara, it's beautiful. It's a colonial city but it's really quiet. It's really calm. 

At that point I knew I wanted to be a journalist and so I wanted action. I didn't want to move back to LA. So San Diego was the next choice for me, because not only is there like a vibrant Latino community, but we have the border.

During my 20 year career as a journalist, I was able to cover stories, not only in San Diego, but also across the border in Tijuana in Baja California. So it was vibrant. It was... there was something going on and I was a cultural journalist. So my main focus were the arts.

So I moved to San Diego, when Tijuana was leaving an arts Renaissance in the early 2000s. So it was the perfect timing to be a journalist and better yet to be a Latino journalist So I was able to interview painters and muralists and singers and writers and filmmakers.

That not only helped me as a journalist, but also helped me as a Chicano writer. It just opened so many doors and I'm very grateful for that experience.

GabyV: Yeah, it's amazing. How much of the Chicano culture spills over that border. There's still a lot of cross cultural germination of ideas happening.

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Yes. And I'm so close to the border right now. I'm working from my office at the school district. If I step outside my office, outside the building, I can see Tijuana. So I can see like a panoramic view of Tijuana. So we're that close. One of our schools is probably like a two block walk from the border. 

GabyV: Yeah, that's super close. what type of families are usually in the San Ysidro district? As you mentioned, it's so close Mexico, is it usually first-generation or who are the people that you're usually assisting?

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Even though we might assume that most of them are first-generation, we get a lot of families that moved to San Diego because usually one of the parents was deported. And we get families from all over the country who one of the parents was deported and so they move to Tijuana. And the children, and usually the mother is the one who stay here in San Diego and they cross over to Tijuana to visit the dad over the weekends.

And since the San Ysidro is the closest part of San Diego to Mexico, we get a lot of those families. That enriches our schools, how our children are exposed to all sorts of family situations and some of them are first-generation like you mentioned, and then you have also families who have been here in San Ysidro or in the San Diego area for decades.

So it's very diverse as well, even though it's mostly Mexican families it's not homogeneous as a lot of people assume.

Most of our families are from either Baja California, Sonora, Sinaloa. But in San Diego, as you may know, it's a military town and so we have a lot of Puerto Rican families. We have a lot of Filipino families and in our school district, we have a couple of schools that are a lot of military families.

So that even adds to the way our students are growing up and I love that. I love how diverse Southern San Diego is. Even though a lot of people think it's not, but once you live here, you can see it and you can feel it and you live it.

GabyV: That's amazing. But how did you become a translator and interpreter, especially with such a focus on education? What type of training did you need? 

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi:After a 20 year career as a journalist, journalism, just the whole industry in general, especially for a print journalist the options started to change and the whole reality of journalism changed. And so I had to adapt.

Something funny is that a lot of interpreters have that background of being, especially here in the US, a lot of us remember being our family interpreter. Interpreting for my mom 'cause even though she's lived in LA for more than 30 years, she doesn't... she's not fluent in English at all but as a good Italian Mexican, my mom can talk to anyone, she can make herself understood just with their hands.

In college, I majored in journalism and in Latin American literature. I did this whole series of courses in translation and interpreting. So I had that background. Even as a journalist, I used to translate my own work either to English or to Spanish, depending on what language I wrote the article originally.

So when the whole industry I would say collapsed, and it changed, that's when I became an educational translator and interpreter, and had the training already and I had the love for education. So it was a good fit for me.

So I used to write a lot about Latino education and the educational gap in Latino community. It was a good position for me and this is my fifth school year. I see it as an extension of my work as a writer and as a journalist. To be a good translator, I believe you have to be a good writer... first.

GabyV: Yeah, that's an interesting perspective. Now you mentioned a few times, Chicano, the cross culture, cross border pollination that's happening and even though we don't learn about it as much in school, as we should, most of the Southwest of the States was Spanish before it the United States for hundreds of years. And then it was indigenous territory for thousands of years before that. So how does all of that blend together to be Chicano? What does Chicano mean?

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: It depends on who you ask, you're going to get a different definition. Just the most basic definition is Chicano is a person of Mexican origin in the US, but I will take it even further than that. It's a perspective, being aware of what you just mentioned being aware that there's a strong indigenous and african and Asian root, not only the European root, and celebrating that and being proud of it, that your ancestors came from all over the world. I know a lot of Chicanos, like to say that we didn't cross the border, but the border crossed us.

And It's different from calling yourself Latino or Latinx or Hispanic which is a term I don't use at all. Chicano is it's a mentality. Empathize with the less fortunate and with people who are struggling and with people who are discriminated [against]. And that I believe for me, it creates a bridge to other cultures especially to people of color or people who are just discriminated against any group of people who are discriminated against. It creates empathy. 

GabyV: Yeah, that's a good way to put it. Even in history, these underrepresented and groups that have been discriminated against usually work together. For example, during the Irish potato famine, in the 1800s, a lot of people who didn't have much money themselves, Mexicans, African-Americans indigenous peoples, they made donations to try and help the people who were starving in the potato famine because the government wasn't helping them. And they knew how that felt.

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Yes, and I feel that more than skin color that history of underrepresentation unites us. I feel that there's more that connects to us than divides us. 

And even when I say Latino we have the Afro-Latino population, which is also very important. As a journalist, I wrote a lot about Afro Mexicans and how it's the forgotten root many times. But as I said, just like in Sinaloa, there's a Renaissance of learning about our indigenous past. In Mexico, there's like a Afro Mexican Renaissance as well, where we're celebrating being of African origins as well.

GabyV: Yeah, it's wonderful to hear about all these things going on. So people don't forget all of the pieces. You have to have all the pieces of the puzzle.

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Yes. 

GabyV: That's wonderful. And you just released a book. Yes. It was February. You released your latest book Ponle Play, which is if I'm understanding it, it's a compilation of a lot of the interviews you did with people who were in this Renaissance movement, the musicians, the artists.

Why did you decide to make it a book versus displaying it at another way?

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: I'm just old school. I love opening a book and smelling it and just the smell and touching it and feeling it. Even though it's also available as an ebook, I prefer the printed version and And at heart, I'm a writer and so I write. It's a collection of articles and interviews with not only the Artists who are part of this Renaissance, but also pillars of Latino music all over Latin America and Spain.

So I have Rock en Español, and I have Banda Sinaloense, I have Cuban music. Most well known, like throughout the world that I interviewed that are included in the book are Julio Iglesias, for example, or I also have Shakira. I have Alejandro Sanz from Spain. So it's very diverse and I made it diverse on purpose.

The title is Ponle Play. So it's basically 'push play'. And that's how we translate. Anything in between you can mention in Latino music, you're going to find it, except for reggaeton I'm not a fan.

GabyV: Okay, definitely get one of those. It's available on Amazon. So I'll put a link in the show notes about that.

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Thank you. Thank you, Gaby.

GabyV: Yeah. It was like, Ooh, that sounds so interesting. So a nerd. I like that type of stuff.

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Oh, yes. And Latinos, when you think of Latin America, when you think of Spain, the first thing you... one of the first things you think is music and how diverse our music is and how powerful it is.

GabyV: Yeah, which they just had something come out on Netflix that's been sitting in my queue for so long. Maybe you saw it already. It's 'Break it all - the History of Rock in Latin America'. Have you seen it yet. 

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Oh yes, yes I saw it.

So a lot of the people who are in that documentary I've interviewed and some of them are included in the book. I think they did a really good job of documenting the history of from rock and roll all the way to Chicano or Latin rock in the US. I thought it was a good documentary.

But when we say Latin music here in the US it's an umbrella term, but when you look at Latino music. It's just so diverse. You have from mariachi and norteño in Mexico to tango in Argentina to cumbia in Colombia bossa nova in Brazil. 

That's why I became an arts and entertainment journalist because of music. Even though I'm not a musician myself, I just love music and especially Latino music.

GabyV: Now I have something to binge watch and read this winter.

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: I'm glad, Gaby.

GabyV: Wow Yeah, that's awesome. You mentioned this too, a few times Pablo. I'll end with this one because a lot of people give me different answers on this one. How would you describe the difference between bilingual and fluent?

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: I don't feel comfortable working in Italian. I just say I'm bilingual because I completely feel comfortable working at a professional level in English and Spanish. 

So fluent is understanding it and making yourself understood. Being bilingual is when you get all the nuances of the language and you have the cultural background of both languages and that makes a big difference. Even though I'm fluent in Italian. I like to say that I speak itañol which is like a mix of Spanish and Italian.

, I never heard anyone use that before. So I coined it myself to apply it to myself. 

Being fluent in a language, it doesn't necessarily make you comfortable using it on a daily basis or much less at work, like in my case.

When I started dreaming in English, when I started just thinking in English more than thinking in Spanish and it happened. And now I don't remember not being bilingual. I cannot remember it. When the language is really part of your daily life not so much speaking it but the way you see the world, the way you dream the world and the way you just think in the language and it's just part of you. don't think in Italian. I can use it, but English and Spanish are my mother tongues now. 

GabyV: Everybody, this is Pablo Sainz Ferretti-Garibaldi. He is a educational translator and interpreter, a journalist who's written 11 books people. So how can we get in touch with you Pablo, if we want to buy your books to talk to you online, where can we find you?

Pablo Sainz Garibaldi: Yes. You can look me up on LinkedIn under Pablo Sainz Ferretti and also you can visit my Amazon page, And there, you can find my most recent books, which by the way, I'm an indie author. So seven of those 11 books have been published through Amazon and it's really cool to be an indie author and have the control of how you want to present your writing. It's a great experience. 

Can I say a few words? Gracias Gaby por invitarme. Tú tambien eres imigrante. Tú tambien fuiste de Estados Unidos a Europa y eres un ejemplo. Eres un ejemplo y gracias por lo que estas haciendo por dar voz a las personas que no encajamos. Que no encajamos en una caja. Gracias por romper esterotipos y por romper barerras. Yo aprendo de ti. No, thank you, Gabby. You're doing a lot.


 Thank you Pablo. That feels nice. I feel good now.