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Neighbor Spotlight – Zahary Torres – August 2020

by Lee Gutowski

Zashary Torres is a young Riverwester
who has lived here since she was three.
She turned 23 this July, when we sat
for a “socially-distanced” interview in her
back yard. “Yep! I’ve lived here for 20 years.
I consider myself a hard core Riverwester,”
she agreed as we started our chat.
Zashary (who goes by “Zashy” or
“Zash”) has boundless energy, and many
projects in the works to concentrate that
energy on. A student at UWM, she’s also
juggling two jobs, one of which will drop
from full-time to 30ish hours a week when
she starts the fall semester. Global Management
is her current field of study.
Zashy’s parents met in New Orleans,
where she was born. Her mother, from
Honduras, and her father, from Illinois,
decided to move north to settle in Milwaukee
– specifically Riverwest, where they had
friends and family nearby.
Importance of language
Her first language is Spanish. “Mom
always preferred that we spoke Spanish at
home. It’s not that we weren’t allowed to
speak English – she just didn’t want us to
lose our language,” Zashy explains. (The
“us” she refers to here includes Zash and
her sister, Rosie.) “At first, I had a harder
time in school, with my ESL classes,” she
explained. “I attended bilingual schools
since grade school at Fratney Escuela, then
middle school at Lincoln Center for the
Arts. I even took Spanish classes in high
school (Milwaukee High School of the
Arts). My parents wanted to ensure that I
actually learned the language and became
fluent. And I’m so thankful they did, because
I’ve had so many doors open to me
since I speak Spanish.”
One door that was opened lead to her
current job at Ragir Consulting’s interpreting
arm, where she does anything from
helping schedule interpreters to serving
as a Spanish interpreter herself. “We service
all of the hospitals in Milwaukee, and
the Health Department and just basically
what the City of Milwaukee needs,” Zash
explained. “With the approximately 30 interpreters
we have, we speak 40 different
languages.”
Zash has been working lately with Ragir
Consulting at the Corona Virus testing sites
– both “the main one” at UMOS (2701 S.
Chase) and the one at Custer High School.
She schedules interpreters to work at the
sites, as well as doing Spanish interpreting
herself. “So, I’m calling people with their
results, getting their contacts … I’ve been
learning so much about how you can get it
(COVID-19) and how to prevent it, how to
stay safe. It’s been really cool being able to
provide that information to people.”
Life-long learning
“I remember never being able to just sit
at home over the summer,” Zashy laughed.
“You were either at a soccer camp, or a
band camp, jazz camp, drum camp, dance
camp, some kind of camp! Which I’m also
grateful for. And then there were Saturday
morning music lessons from Dad …” She
started playing piano in fourth grade, then
tenor sax in fifth and trumpet in seventh.
“I also got a scholarship
for private music lessons
at the Wisconsin Conservatory
of Music. So that
started in eighth grade
and lasted through the
eleventh grade.”
Zashy was successful
academically and athletically
in high school. She
made it into UW-Madison
and attended for two
semesters, but then came
home to Milwaukee.
“Madison didn’t work
out for me when I first
started college. I was living
away from home, out
of my parents’ house for
the first time. It was quite
the culture shock, going
to Madison. Even though
I grew up with a white
dad and half my family
is white, I was having
kind of an identity crisis.
At first, during orientation, there were
a lot of other scholarship recipients in my
circle, which is where a lot of the minority
students were. But then as school went on,
I was the only person of color in many of
my classes, which made me feel uncomfortable.
I always was feeling like people
looked at me like the sole representative of
women, or Black people, or Latinos. Like I
represented an entire group. Which I was
uncomfortable with being.”
But Zashy also realizes that she just
wasn’t ready to go to college right out of
high school. After coming back to Milwaukee,
getting her own apartment and a
few different restaurant waitstaff jobs, she
dipped her toes back into going to college
by enrolling at MATC. “I’m glad I left Madison
and started over with school when I
was ready. I had to realign my priorities. I
figured out how to learn. I just found out
this year that I actually have to read the
textbooks, and actually do the work,” she
laughed. “I’m so glad I took that break.” She
completed her course of study at MATC
and is now a full-time student at UWM.
“My major is Global Management (essentially
like International Business). My
interpreting job helps so much because I
learn about different cultures through all
the people we serve.”
Zashy just finished up with some summer
school classes at UWM. “I just took a
geography class, and it was so awesome,”
she enthused. “I learned so much about colonialism
and imperialism that I just never
knew about … I really feel like I learned so
much history that should have been taught
to me sooner. We’ve been learning a lot of
white history. It’s really centered around …
well, it’s really specific what they want us to
learn and how they want us to learn, to keep
us in a certain place.”
Future goals,
ongoing education
“One of my biggest goals in life is to
be able to provide education to women
worldwide. Specifically, financial literacy to
women. Because there are so many women
around this world that are so attached to a
man. There are so many countries that are
making a woman stay attached to a man to
be able to own anything.” Zashy marvels
at the old ways that have taken so long to
change. “There are still forced sterilizations
in parts of India. The one-child-only laws
in China only ended in 2015! There all are
these things that I’ve never been exposed to
and wouldn’t have known about without really
good teachers. It’s sad. Everyone should
know what’s going on in the world. I love
learning about these things.”
Zashy’s parents are both bilingual educators
– her dad at the high school and
college levels, and her mom at Head Start
(pre-K) and elementary levels. “My dad
always gives me book to read on stuff he’s
learned. It’s usually about some injustice
happening to minority communities. He’s
always encouraging me to do my own research
on these issues, too. Both of my
parents are really smart. And my mom is
the strongest person I know. It’s just a great
combination of parents to have.”