Valeria Taylor of Loba Pastry + Coffee is Hungry Like the Wolf

Valeria Taylor of Loba Pastry + Coffee is Hungry Like the Wolf

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Ask anyone here: If you come to Chicago, you have to go to Loba Pastry + Coffee. For the coffee, but also for the food: Loba goes well beyond the typical muffin or croissant options that you would expect to find at most coffee shops. Instead, it boasts a pastry menu that is both highly creative and technically ambitious.

Valeria Taylor is the owner and baker behind Loba. “Loba” is Spanish for “female wolf,” and Valeria named the shop after a particular wolf, the ’06 Female. Scientists studied the ’06 Female after releasing a pack in Yellowstone Park for observation, and were completely baffled by her behaviors. She refused to settle for a mate, at one time courting five potential suitors. She outsmarted packs of rival wolves. Instead of hunting for prey in the shadows, she faced her opponents head-on, rushing towards her intended targets. She could take down an entire elk by herself.

Like the ’06 Female, Valeria defies stereotypes. In a way, she’s the ultimate MacGyver, taking whatever situation life hands her and finding a solution. Her story is full of twists and turns, and moments where she chooses to confront a problem with the full force of her personality. Throughout it all, Valeria trusts herself—she knows her worth and talent, and doesn’t back down. That isn’t to say that she hasn’t confronted challenges and failures, but Valeria is the first to admit that she’s better because of her mistakes, and the moments that have offered growth and change.

Valeria is refreshingly confident, joyous and funny, and bracingly honest and transparent. You’re going to have fun with this episode.

Ashley: So Valeria, thank you so much for taking the time to join me.

Valeria: Thank you for having me.

Ashley: I was wondering if you could start by explaining what “Loba” means.

Valeria: “Loba” is the word in Spanish for a female wolf.

Ashley: Where did that name come from?

Valeria: It’s sort of my guide in this business. A long time ago, I read this paper and I listened to this podcast about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park. And I mean, if you want to listen to it, the podcast is [from Snap Judgment and it’s called the] ’06 Female— it’s a, I want to say a short story, but it’s based on a bigger study.

It talked about bringing wolves back to the park and scientists track them. And it was like an experiment. Wolves used to belong to the park, but they were never studied this closely. And it just changed everybody’s knowledge of what wolves were actually like. The idea of the lone wolf was thrown out. The idea of the alpha wolf was also thrown out because of this amazing female who just did whatever she wanted, and she led a pack and she didn’t take a mate. She just took helpers. I was just so inspired by her, by this study, by this powerful animal that I decided to name the shop after it.

Ashley: The name is a pretty good description of what your business actually is like as well, which is pretty cool foreshadowing in a way. So let’s talk about that a little bit. How did you get started in the baking world?

Valeria: It’s a very long story. It happened by accident. I’ve been cooking all my life, but I get involved in it professionally shortly after I moved to Chicago.

I was so confused about what I wanted to do with my life. I had just turned 21. Just a little bit of background—I moved to the States when I was 15 years old. I lived in Florida for some time. I actually moved to France for a semester. So I did the whole study abroad [thing], and I was just so confused, had no direction, ended up moving to Chicago because my circle of academic friends were at the University of Chicago. That was sort of the goal, to just pursue academia. But it was just not working out and I was not adjusting to city living very well.

I was working as a nanny in the suburbs and I don’t know, I just needed more. I went on Craigslist and I was looking for any sort of job that I could do in the city. I wasn’t even spending time in the city. I saw this Craigslist ad for a pastry intern and I was like, “Well, I’ve baked before. I’ve worked in a restaurant before. I can totally do this.” I just showed up to the interview ready to learn, starved for something new. And they hired me—well “hiring” is a funny word because it was an unpaid position…

Ashley: Right, it’s not like you were getting paid.

Valeria: It was one of the best restaurants in the city, now that I know: Blackbird, the now-closed Blackbird. And I don’t know, they took a chance on me and I sort of never looked back. That was the only place that had felt like home since I had left home. So I just dove head-on and never looked back.

Ashley: Yeah. Because right after that, you really just went full out on baking and pastry, right?

Valeria: Yeah. I … let’s see, this is in 2010 and I was working—for free—about three to four days a week. I was pulling some crazy shifts, maybe 40 hours a week, and just learning everything that I could learn in this very, very hard … like [this] classically trained chef was my boss and he was terrible, but I think it was a direction that I needed at the time.

I very quickly forgot about going back to school and I just, I don’t know. There’s really no other way to describe it. I learned everything that I could, I worked there for nine months, and after that went to another restaurant, stuck to fine dining, and did that for a few years until I burnt out—because there’s only so many years that you can do 13-, 14-hour shifts, five days a week.

Ashley: I think that’s a really … that’s like a stopping point I want to talk about, because I think for a lot of folks in coffee, and a lot of whom listen to this podcast, their experiences probably mimic yours pretty precisely. You can go all-in on coffee, you can work a minimum wage job—for you, it was even more extreme because you were working unpaid internships—and you can kind of run on those fumes for a while.

But then there’s this moment where it’s almost like you hit a wall. So I was wondering what was that moment when you realized, “I can’t do this anymore?”

Valeria: It was a lot of ups and downs. After leaving this internship, the job after that, I was hired under a pastry chef and she ended up leaving soon after. So with the little experience that I had, I sort of stepped up to the role of pastry chef and it felt good. It felt a little validating that I was on the right path, but I was just not ready for it, you know?

I succeeded and I failed in different ways. I still kept this job for a whole year, but it was hard. I don’t know if I was ready to be humbled yet. So I don’t know if I recognize that as failure. I did know that I needed to gather more experience before I could lead a kitchen because that’s the one thing, you know, maybe you can have the talent, but being a manager or like heading a department, that’s a completely different set of skills that I didn’t have.

Ashley: Yeah. And I think that your experience probably mimics a lot of people’s experience in coffee where you’re a barista, you’re barista for a while, and then there’s a management position and you’re like, “Of course, I’m going to take this. That’s more money. It’s more responsibility.” And it feels incredibly validating, but we don’t train anybody about how to be a leader.

Did you find that tough, being a leader? Suddenly being propelled into this position? Because you mentioned, “I didn’t know if I was ready to be humbled yet.” And I think that that’s a really powerful thing to realize.

Valeria: It’s also a little bit more complicated than that. I was the youngest person in the kitchen altogether, aside from the dishwasher. I was one of three women that worked in this big kitchen.

So there was, even though I was supposed to have a place of power, I had none, I had zero leverage. So the experience was quite miserable, and I actually ended up getting fired, which really upset me at the time. It was right after Christmas. I had just finished a Christmas banquet, or like a New Year’s Day banquet, and I had worked so hard to have this be perfect.

And then they let me go in the middle of winter in Chicago. Ugh. I mean, they didn’t even fire me. They were just like, “Hmm, we think that you should take a break.” And I was like, “Oh, I’m outta here.”

Ashley: What was that like? I mean, I love a firing story. Don’t get me wrong. But what did you feel at that moment?

Valeria: Oh, I was so incredibly angry. I was so stressed out and I was so mad that I had a little capillary burst on my toe. I left their office and I changed and my shoe was filled with blood and I was like, “You know what? I need to get out of here. This is not normal.”

But I’m a very intense person, you know? I think that’s part of what made me thrive in this industry is that if somebody gives me a challenge, I’ll be like, I’ll do it better and then some more. It was a good time to step away. And you know, my living situation was fine. I was in a house with plenty of roommates. I got smart and I asked for a severance package and a week paid vacation.

I took one month and I went to New York City to see what the fine dining scene was out there. And it was great. I just, I’ve only heard that the scene was different, but I didn’t know how, and I brought all my tools and I brought my shoes and I was ready to work. I just knocked on every fine dining kitchen that I could see if anybody would take me.

I was embraced by the industry. It was really great. I was able to walk into the kitchen of Del Posto. I was able to go into Jean-Georges, the kitchen at Daniel gave me a little tour. And what I kept hearing is that, “We would love to have you, but we don’t do this thing of internships.” I don’t know if it’s true, but they told me that the city of New York would not allow stages or they had to be approved in a different way in a timeline that didn’t fit my stay in the city. So I sort of kept it in the back of my mind that maybe I will do this eventually. Instead, I got a short gig at a chocolatier shop in Soho called Jacques Torres. So I tried a new thing.

Ashley: At what point did you start thinking, “I want something of my own. I want to open a business or I want my own bakery.”

Valeria: The first week that I started at Blackbird.

Ashley: Oh, so it was immediate.

Valeria: Immediate, yeah. I was like, “This is it.”

Ashley: What was the turning point for you to realize, “Oh, this is the time?”

Valeria: I think it’s one of those things of having the stars align and perfect timing.

From the time that I started training in pastry, I spent six more years working in the industry in different positions. I was lucky to have a “pastry chef” position very early on, but I tried lower-ranked positions in order to learn more. I figured that I ultimately would work up to be a pastry chef again, but every opportunity that I had since, I understood very quickly that that was never going to happen.

Nobody was really taking me seriously. It didn’t matter how hard I worked. I was just this … I don’t know how to call it? I just wasn’t a dude and I wasn’t white, so nobody was going to take me seriously. So I stepped away. I stepped away from the industry and I always wondered what the alternative life would be like. What if I just had a regular office job and what if I had finished college and what if I could do all of this differently? I pulled out the Rolodex of all the former contacts that I once had and I landed this gig as a … [laughs]

Ashley: I love that you’re laughing about it. Because I know what you’re going to say, but it’s just so funny for you to be like, “This is ridiculous! Why’d I do this?”

Valeria: Yeah, yeah!

Ashley: Sorry. Go ahead and say what you ended up doing.

Valeria: I landed this gig as a project manager for a software company in the suburbs once again. And it’s funny because there was this—the ranking that I wanted, the value that I wanted. For the first time, in a long time, I had a reasonable wage. I had insurance and I had PTO and I had all these benefits. And I hated every single minute of it.

The idea of being in front of a computer—and my job was so easy. I woke up in the morning. I had a Slack meeting with everybody, like a video meeting for like 30 minutes, and then I would jump on the train, go to the suburbs and just tell 40-year-old men what to do. And it was terrible.

I hated it. I hated it so much. Every day that I was away from the kitchen, I just wanted to go back. I knew that I couldn’t be back in the restaurant industry. I tried the fine dining. I tried the regular dining and it was just not working.

So—I kid you not, I think I also had three days off. I had Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off. I had no idea what to do with my life once again. It was a Friday and I woke up at like, 5 in the morning, and I lived in Humboldt Park at the time. I just started walking. I was so sad and miserable with my life. I started walking and I remember somebody once had told me that there was a really good small bakery in Lakeview. And I just decided to walk there from Humboldt Park.

Ashley: Just for people who are not in Chicago, that is not close.

Valeria: What is it? It’s like six miles?

Ashley: At least. I live in Humboldt Park, and for me to drive to you—I mean, this is a little foreshadowing, because where you walk to would end up being where Loba is now—it’s a 20-something-minute drive.

Valeria: It was like a miserable death march!

I finally made it there and I had some coffee and, typical—there are no chairs. I just started talking to the guy behind the counter and the pastries that he was making were what I was familiar with in these fine dining establishments. But I noticed very quickly that everybody who was in at the shop at this time had never heard of these things. And I was like, “What do you mean, a canelé? It’s so easy. I could do it in my sleep.” And that’s why this guy got so much praise—because he was making these like, fancier versions of pastries for this very ordinary coffee shop set-up. Before I left, I cornered him and I was like, “I’m going to work for you.”

And he was like, “I’m not taking any employees right now.”

And I was like, “Okay, so I’m going to work for you. See you tomorrow. What time do you get in? Like, 4 a.m.?”

And he was like, “No, no, no, I’m not taking any employees.”

I was like, “Cool. So what, is it later? Is it 5 a.m., is 4 a.m. too early?”

And he was like, “Oh, well, can you be here at like 3:30?” or something ridiculous.

And I was like, “I'll be here.”

And I just showed up the next day, Saturday, the busiest day of the week. And I was like, “All right, what do I do?”

I don’t think he thought I’m going to show up. But I did. I was there early, 15 minutes early, just ready to work with my shoes on, all my tools, like, “What’s up chef?” I just picked it up within weeks.

Ashley: It’s just amazing that you just made this decision. You were like, “I’m doing this thing. Welcome. Like, hello.”

Valeria: At first it was just going to be for Friday and Saturday. I had that time off and I figured, “I’ll work Monday through Thursday at my boring office job and I’ll do this Friday and Saturday—for free—and I’ll be happy.”

I think two weeks in, he’s telling me that he can’t hire me, but if I know any barista he’s looking for a barista, and I was like, “What is that? I’ll do it. Whatever it is just hire me already.” He’s going over how you steam milk, and I’m like, “Oh, okay. So like a milk meringue. Gotcha.”

And I kid you not, I’m not even trying to toot my own horn, but I poured—on my first try—a perfect flat white, like I got it right. I was just like, “Oh, okay. So what, like it’s hard?”

I like to tell everybody—I’m not trying to diminish a barista’s ability, but it’s just that when you work in pastry, everything is so precise—gauges and thermometers— frothing is something that you do constantly with not just one but multiple ingredients at the same time. So the idea of making an emulsion with a syrupy oily mix into something light and frothy that has to be at about 68 degrees, I was like, “Cool, I’ve done this. It’s like a mousse, but easier.” I basically had been trained to be a barista in many different ways.

Ashley: That’s wild how bold that is, but also incredibly inspiring to feel like, “Oh, there’s a thing that I want to do and I’m going to do it and I’m going to make it happen.”

So obviously at some point, you decide to leave your boring job—which I think there’s some interesting tension there, this idea that to have stability, you had to do this boring job, but then you had the sacrifice of the thing you love. Eventually, it seems you kind of start to go back to the thing you love. So at what point did opening a shop come into focus?

Valeria: It was also by accident. I can talk concrete numbers if you want, but I opened up the shop with a $5,000 loan.

Ashley: That’s wild.

Valeria: That’s all.

Ashley: That’s nothing.

Valeria: I also knew that I had some savings and I knew that at the very least I was going to give it my all. I had nothing else going on and this was going to be the thing that I was going to do for the next five years. And that was my goal. I was like, “For five years, I’m just going to work hard as hell and go all in and we’ll see what happens.” Maybe in five years, I realize that it wasn’t worth it and I figure something else out.

Ashley: What were those first couple of months? You were Loba’s only employee for a long time.

Valeria: I was. So the shop was open six days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. On the weekends I had my business partner help. So Saturday and some Sundays he would come in and give me a hand, but otherwise it was just me.

It was stressful … kind of fun? I don’t know.

Ashley: Do you even remember it?

Valeria: I remember the feeling. I just spent so much time there. I basically almost lived at the shop. In fact, I had a little cot that I would sleep in sometimes for like anxiety, for nervousness, for tiredness, but I just spent so much time there trying to prep, trying to organize, trying to clean, trying to figure out what to do. Because it just felt so urgent that I couldn’t even give myself any rest.

I felt that if I rested too long, it would all go away. I also couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that I had managed to do my goal of opening this bakery that I had thought of on my first week of working pastry as an intern in this very professional kitchen. The original thought was that, maybe, after I’m 30 years old, maybe I’ll be able to do this in a smaller town, not a big city like Chicago. So I think the first two years I kept pinching myself, I just couldn't believe it.

Ashley: At what point did you decide—or did you realize—that you could start hiring people? That’s something that you talk about a lot too, that you want to hire people and give them jobs that don’t suck, essentially. So I imagine you had to think a lot about what it means to hire somebody?

Valeria: I had no idea where to start. There was a girl from the neighborhood that would come in sometimes and she was young. I remember the first time that she came in and she wanted like a vanilla latte, something sugary and full of milk. I remember the next time she came in, she got something smaller, like a flat white. And then the next time she got a cortado and, then she finally was brave enough to try a shot of espresso just straight up.

She was developing her palate as she was coming in. And it was very exciting. If you come to the shop, it’s very small; there’s one big counter. You can’t hide. If there’s one person in the shop I’m like, “Hi, how are you? What’s up?”

And especially back then, I just talked to everybody cause it was fun and there was nothing else, there was nowhere else to hide. And this girl who was probably only 16 at the time, [and she] was telling me that she was looking for a job and if I knew anybody hiring. She was like, “Oh, I’m thinking about maybe applying to Dinkel’s,” which is an old-school bakery down the street.

I don’t know why, but I was like, “Why don’t you work here?”

And she was like, “What?”

I was like, “Yeah, why don’t you work here?”

She didn’t know anything about coffee, but one thing that she was willing to do is she wanted to learn. She just wanted to learn everything that there was to learn about coffee, and she could appreciate that the pastries were not frozen or coming from a box from miles away. She could appreciate that they were made in-house.

And I was like, “Okay, you’re hired.”

She was homeschooled at the time. So I think she worked two days a week and then three days a week.

And before I knew it, she could do my job, too. She wanted to learn more. She learned everything that she could about coffee and being a barista and pour overs and grind size. And she was like, “What else? Can I learn how to bake?”

And I was like, “Sure, let’s do this!”

So we started baking together and it was a huge help. It allowed me to sort of grow. It allowed me to grow the business since I didn’t have to be there all the time anymore. It gave me the time that I needed to breathe, the time that I needed for myself, not only that—this is when I first hired her, and part of the reason why I hired her is that at the time, I was buying my business partner out, so I needed some extra help for the weekends.

It was once again make-it-or-break-it time. It relied on me once again, and I needed to learn how to do all of the business stuff that my business partner had been doing. Because that’s the thing, I handled everything on site, the food preparation and the coffee and the cleaning. And he took care of bills and permits and compliance.

Ugh. I had to learn all that and it was … it was interesting. I did a few things very wrong in the few months that I feel like I almost lost the shop. During that transition, I feel like I was just not paying bills on time. I couldn’t figure out the tax rate that we needed to pay to the city. I was starting to accrue a lot of debt and I was so overwhelmed and I didn’t have a line of credit. It was all these things. Anyway, I made it, I will never look back.

Ashley: That’s wild to hear. But it’s also important to hear it because I think it’s easy to be like, “Yeah, and it all worked out,” but there are moments where you're like, “I don't know if this is going to work.”

I want to talk a little bit about Loba now. You talked a little bit about what the shop used to be when it was Bad Wolf before you bought the space and kind of the classic pastries that they would do. Because I think what makes Loba so special, besides the fact that you’re amazing, is that the pastries are like a singularity. You can’t get pastries like what you make at Loba anywhere else.

I think it is this really interesting combination of these fine dining things—like when you mentioned canelés, I'm like, “Fuck, I eat the shit out of a bunch of canelés.”

But you never find that at other coffee shops, because they are maybe a little more associated with fine dining. But then you infuse your heritage and your background into the pastry. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you designed your pastry menu, or how do you think about the pastries you make?

Valeria: I think it comes down to—to be completely honest, inclusivity. Whenever I make something at the shop, I want to make sure that it can be enjoyed by a lot of people. One of the things that pushed me out of fine dining was the elitist attitudes that it had. While French pastry is very well respected, the terms and the ingredients of fine dining can be a little bit alienating for regular people. And that’s one thing that I never wanted to do. I wanted anybody who came to the shop to recognize what they were eating and maybe enjoy something new. There were no rules except that there’s always something savory, something vegan, something gluten-free. I try to use, of course, local and organic produce or products as much as possible. I don’t want to shock anybody.

I want everybody to enjoy what they’re eating and not feel bad about it. [I want them to] feel good about it and not be like, “Oh, you don’t know when a kouign amann is—get out of my shop.”

I want it to be more like, “Yeah, this is basically a caramelized croissant. There’s nothing weird about it. It’s delicious. Try it.”

So the French technique I think is helpful because it’s a good way of making pastry. It’s not even refined, I dunno, it’s the standard in the pastry world. But I’ve always considered what I like to eat, what ingredients I like to consume. Like I mentioned before the interview started, my grandmother was the kind of person who would rather do things herself. If she went to the store and the chorizo wasn’t the way that she liked it, she would make chorizo by hand and cure and then have it just the way that she liked it for the rest of her life. So I think a lot of the inspiration comes from my grandmother too.

Ashley: Yeah. It seems like you balance both making things accessible and doing exactly what you want, which is hard.

Valeria: Yeah. I think a lot of the pastries just come out by accident. I don’t know if I ever have a plan of like, “Let’s make a brand-new pastry that doesn’t exist before.”

It’s usually like, “What if I put this with this other thing and then mix it and see what happens? That might be good.” And there’s been a lot of failures. I think earlier I was looking through my Instagram feed, seeing the pastries that I used to make before. And obviously, I’ve grown so much as a baker. I continue to learn every day, the journey never ends. There’s always a new ingredient or a new technique or a new way of cooking things. And that’s also exciting.

Ashley: I want to talk a little bit about the store, because the last time that I went to Loba you had, you had a vigil to Breonna Taylor and to Vanessa Guillén and that is incredibly powerful. I was wondering if you could talk about, how do you imbue yourself into the space? Because it feels very personal when you go into Loba, it feels like it is your coffee shop.

Valeria: I think it’s because it’s been my home—it is an extension of me. I’ve spent so much time there that it’s part of me, too.

The vigil was an altar for Day of the Dead. It’s popped into the pop culture here in the U.S., but growing up, it was a very regular thing to do. Even though it’s super traditional, I never saw it as something antiquated. We would make them at home. We would make them in school, it’s part of my life and the way that I grew up.

It’s another thing that also centers on food. And I don’t know if you can tell, but I love food and food is so important to me. It’s definitely my love language, if that one exists. Day of the Dead is an important tradition that I want to keep alive the same way that I did growing up.

And for anybody who doesn’t know, you make an altar for someone who has passed away either a long time ago or recently. Some people call it ofrenda because you make an offering for these people because, for this one night, it is believed that there’s a portal that opens in between this world and the other worlds. And for one night people that have passed can visit their loved ones, if they are only guided to where they should be.

And it’s a joyous occasion. Of course, Breonna Taylor and Vanessa Guillén were murdered in the worst possible circumstances. And that’s why I wanted to celebrate their spirits in whichever way that I could. I don’t think it’s about what is real and what isn’t and this mystical thing. It’s just a celebration and respect for anybody. And hopefully they found the little altar and had some pan de muerto and a bite of the avocado and everything else that I put on the altar.

Ashley: What do you want people to know about you listening to this?

Valeria: Oh, I don't know.

Ashley: I have to imagine that you know your story in and out. Maybe this is me getting—I have Areli from Little Waves in my head, so I’m just going to get a little meta—I have to imagine, listening to you talk about your story and tell your story, you’ve told your story, you know it in and out.

And it feels like you seem to identify very specific parts of your story to the current moment that you’re living in. So I feel like you understand its importance very deeply, and that’s why you feel so comfortable telling it. So I wonder, you must know that people look to you as an inspiration and could feel kind of uncomfortable to reckon with, but that’s kind of just like my meta assessment of this moment. But I wonder, as you tell your story and as you are on a platform like this, or you give an interview for a magazine or an article, like when people look at you, what do you want them to feel?

Valeria: Maybe a little bit of hope. And also a little bit of anger and resistance, because as much as I’ve had this opportunity, it wasn’t easy. It was not easy. There were a lot of people that stood between me and my goals and my desires. So, the angst—I like to joke that a punk is a punk and I’ll never get old in that sense. But the angst does shift course, and I’m still angry, but I am not directing that anger to myself or to people—maybe to the establishment.

And there’s hope. You can’t lose hope, you can’t give in. It is difficult and it is hard, but what else are you going to do? Try and maybe try harder and give it your best.

Ashley: I think for me, that’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from this conversation, to just try—because you never know.

Valeria: Yeah. You never know. Now I can say that you have to be open to failure and it’s not the end of the world. The biggest lessons that I’ve learned in business and in this life have been through failure. Like I’ve failed miserably and massively in making recipes and running a business, and every time that I fail, I learned something new. And that also keeps me going.

Ashley: Valeria, thank you so much for taking time to talk to me. Before we end though, because you said this off the air and I want you to say it on the air: Can you say your full name for me?

Valeria: My born, given name is Maria del Socorro Valeria Rebeca Ballado Velazquez.

Ashley: Thank you. I wanted to make sure that that was on the record.

Valeria: A story about that: I became a citizen a few years ago. My stepdad, I call him my dad cause he’s been my father figure. He’s an American-born person and he married my mom when I was 15. That’s why I ended up in the U.S.—I never wanted to. But since he is my dad, I decided to take his last name when I became a citizen to honor the respect that I feel for him. So I didn’t mean to whitewash my name so much. I didn’t realize the repercussions. And it’s funny, everybody, a lot of people, think that I maybe am not Mexican when I feel so, so Mexican. But yeah, that’s where my last name comes from, and you know, I’m not ashamed of it. I love my stepdad. And I don’t know, that’s where I’m at.

Ashley: That’s where you’re at. And you shouldn’t have to justify the choices that you make. So fuck that. Do whatever the fuck you want. Thank you again for taking the time to talk to me. I really appreciate it.

Valeria: This was great. Thank you for giving me the time and the platform.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

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