Highlighting Yvonne M. Estrada for Hispanic Heritage Month

Yvonne M. Estrada is impressive. Born in Montebello and brought up in Pico Rivera, Yvonne is an arresting, heroic figure, but she’s also an artist. She’s got brown hair with a white streak in the front and is 60 years old. She’s an emergency medical technician (EMT), ambulance driver as well as a poet and photographer. In every way possible, she’s nothing like what I thought it meant to be an older beautiful Latinx.

She is the eldest of eight children born to first generation Mexican-American parents. Caring for seven younger brothers and sisters, shaped her into a natural caregiver and nurturer.

Yvonne became an EMT at 38, around the same time she decided to become sober. She was ambitious and wanted a degree that would be quick and would enable her to simultaneously care for her son. Initially she had aspired to be a physician’s assistant, but the amount of schooling would distract Yvonne from parenting her 12-year-old son. Yvonne decided to earn enough college credits in college to get her EMT certification. With her certification, Yvonne got a job working for Los Angeles County. This became the foundation for a lot of her other work.

As an EMT, Yvonne sees people living in many different types of living conditions and states of human distress. For a while, she handled only psychiatric emergencies.

I’ve had the pleasure of listening to Yvonne read her work. She is inevitably powerful. She comes off as thoroughly competent, no-nonsense, and unfazed. When she reads, it’s an altogether different thing. Her words are a testimony to raw beauty and strength of femininity.

When I asked her how art and poetry existed with her work as an EMT, she responded, “It can be an outlet for the things I see.”

More coursework at Citrus Community College led to two Associates Degrees (natural science and in behavioral science). She now also has a BA in Cultural Studies from California Polytechnic University, Pomona which she finished in five quarters. She currently holds a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University and is working at completing the 3,000 hours required to be become a licensed Marriage Family Therapist.

Her first poetry book is called My Name on Top of Yours The book combines her photography and her poetry, both about the graffiti she observed in Los Angeles County as she drove around caring for people.  Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park exhibited the work from this book in April of 2015. Yvonne says of the exhibition, “It was a dream come to life.”

Yvonne has been writing since she was in third grade. She tells me about a Halloween poem she wrote at the time. “I wrote that poem. It rhymed and I thought it was really good. The teacher gave me a D minus as a grade. She thought I had copied it. She wouldn’t believe I had written it myself. I wrote her into a poem years later that b**ch.” Then about 23 years ago, Yvonne returned to poetry and took a class at Writers at Work to manage and maintain her sobriety. That one class became a lifelong passion. It’s also where Yvonne met her spouse Terry Wolverton, who runs the writing center and is an educator, writer, consultant, and performer.

Yvonne started taking photographs when she was in high school. That led her to Rio Hondo Community College to study photography, where she became the teaching assistant in the photo lab.

Now, she has been an EMT for 22 years. When I asked her what she thought her many roles had in common, she responded, “If I’m going to do something, help someone, I’m all in. You are going to get the whole entire me. I’m fully committed, I try to be fully present always.”

Yvonne’s a light that burns brighter and more steadily as she gets older. She’s had many barriers in her life. But now, at sixty years of age, she is a lifelong learner. She connects with the rawness of humanity in her work as an EMT and turns that into poems and photography. She sees the beautiful in places where many of us might find despair. Her ability and willingness to continue to grow as a person is inspiring and redefines what is means to be a Latinx in Los Angeles today.

What do you think?

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Mireya Vela

Mireya S. Vela is a creative non-fiction writer and researcher in Los Angeles. In her work, Ms. Vela addresses the needs of immigrant Mexican families and the disparities they face every day. She tackles issues of inequity and how ingrained societal systems support the (ongoing) injustice that contributes to continuing poverty and abuse. Ms. Vela received her Bachelor’s degree in English from Whitter College—and received her Master of Fine Arts from Antioch University in 2018. She is also a visual artist.

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