Whether California colleges and universities offer courses or diplomas in Chicano Studies, Latin American Studies, Asian American Studies and other ethnic studies courses, higher education plays a major role in helping students become more socially, politically and historically aware. Such studies “help foster cross-cultural understanding among both students of color and white students and aids students in valuing their own cultural identity while appreciating the differences around them,” as stated in a 2020 National Education Association research study.
David Solis, Suzy Amezcua and Leonardo Rodriguez are prime examples of this. All three attended California State University, Northridge (CSUN), a university with a rich history of student organizing and activism. CSUN is also closely linked with activist, writer and educator Rodolfo F. Acuña, one of the academic fathers of Chicano Studies and writer of must-read Chicano books, including “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos” “Anything but Mexican,” and “Corridors of Migration.” Acuña was also the founder of CSUN’s Chicana and Chicano Studies.
During their time at CSUN, Solis, who grew up in South L.A; Amezcua, who grew up in Fillmore, CA; and Rodriguez, who grew up in Boyle Heights, rapidly became involved in student organizing/activism. But, most importantly, they began learning about their culture, identity and heritage, which they say were not intentionally introduced to them until college. “The three of us were privileged enough to be able to attend higher education, and there we realized how unfortunate it is that for many people like ourselves, it is not until they get to college that they are able to dive deep and learn about these things,” Amezcua said.
With this in mind, the three friends created Cafecito con Conciencia (which translates to Coffee with Conscience), a podcast series where they engage in critical pláticas (talks) regarding social injustices, community building, unity, and more, all while sipping and supporting coffee from small businesses. The podcast series began in 2020, and their episodes, which last anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes, cover issues such as “Power Dynamics,” “Why Voting Matters,” “Respecting Essential Workers,” “Identity,” police violence, colorism and much more.
Solis, who is now a school counselor and who initially introduced the idea of Cafecito con Conciencia to Rodriguez, said a podcast was never the real intention of this “life project,” as he describes it as. Solis said the original idea was to make a series of Instagram T.V (IGTV) videos. This Instagram function allows creators to produce and upload vertical videos up to an hour in length. “Our idea was that in these videos, we would visit local coffee shops and have our pláticas, while drinking our coffee from there,” Solis said.
“But as we were getting ready to launch and planning our initial locations, the COVID-19 outbreak began, and everything closed down rapidly.” Instead of putting this project on pause due to the inability to visit coffee shops in person, they decided to continue with their vision. Rodriguez, who helps the team with the show’s media production, suggested the project be fostered into a podcast. “As business began closing, it was unfortunate because we were already so excited, but I’m glad we continued it,” Solis said. “Now I realized how COVID-19 and the quarantine really allowed us to have and create this space.”
Even though it couldn’t be integrated into the podcast as they initially planned, the show continues to be a vital component of the pláticas or conversations.
“We still promote local and family-owned coffee shops in the podcast and in our social media and many of the times when we are recording, we have a cup of coffee in our hands,” Solis said. But for Solis, it is vital to practice the critical conversations they have, which come when ethically consuming coffee. “I’m not a Starbucks fan,” he said. ‘It has to do a lot with my politics and the low pay they offer their workers, specifically farmers who produce, grow and harvest the coffee. So instead of Starbucks, it’s important for me to support mom-and-pop shops.”
Amezcua is currently working as a 6th-grade math teacher, coffee is more than just a drink to accompany their pláticas; it’s a shared cultural tradition. “When we first met to talk about the name of the podcasts we shared how we all grew up with our families drinking coffee in the morning,” she said. “Sitting down and sharing a cup of coffee was and continues to be a way to bond.”
For Solis, Amezcua and Rodriguez, it has always been essential to tackle topics that are important to their community, things that are affecting them or their loved ones. That they do so not by imposing their beliefs but by referencing their own experiences and “talking from the heart.” “We don’t feel like we are the voice of our people, but we are just a few of the voices within a community that has had their voices oppressed for too long,” Solis said.
At the same time that the podcast was taking flight, social movements and uprisings were being televised and discussed, something they did not shy away from. ”When our episodes were coming together, details regarding the death of George Floyd were unfolding and people were sharing and talking about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement,” Amezcua said. However, they felt there weren’t enough Brown people talking about BLM, anti-blackness or solidarity.
“When they were, it was to spread the message that Brown lives mattered too, and for us, that was a whole different message,” she said. “We wanted to talk about BLM at the beginning of this podcast because we felt there weren’t enough platforms that featured Latinos, Chicanos or Brown folks that were educating each other and advocating for the Black community.”
Sharing their own political and social views and opinions has not always been an easy task, but something that, according to them, has been worth it. “Topics like these hit you at a personal level,” Solis said. “As you share your thoughts and experiences regarding the topic we are tackling that day, you are also coming to terms with your truth, and that’s hard.”
Amezcua said that some conversations stir up disagreements between the three amigos. “We carry different experiences; although we are similar, we are not identical, so different points of view do arise,” she said.
However, each one of them said that although disagreements happen, three key components keep them on the same page: trusting one another, knowing the space they created is safe, and knowing that disagreements are OK. “Even if we disagree with one another, it’s important to trust that we are coming from our truth and have the best intentions,” Solis said. “We do not take it personally because we know there are no bad intentions behind our point of view.”
One of the most rewarding things that Cafecito con Conciencia has brought the three co-hosts is a sense of community and feeling supported through the pandemic and the systemic and social uprising that took place in 2020-2021. “When you are quarantining, and you are looking at social media, we saw everything that was happening around the world. It was overwhelming,” Amezcua said. “From Donald Trump’s supporters, the Proud Boys, police violence, to COVID-19 deaths, many of us didn’t know how to navigate that.”
Amezcua knew she could talk to her wife but did not want to put that all on her. ”Having these pláticas, making this podcast, was my way to self-care and not have to hold onto so much,” she said. “As a middle school teacher, Amezcua needed to process everything she saw online and on the T.V. before seeing her students and teaching class. “I wanted to be sure I could show up for them, I had to be OK and process all of this so I could be the best version of myself for them,” she said.
Last October, Gov. Gavin Newsom passed Assembly Bill 101, which prompted California to become the first state to require ethnic studies for high school. High schools must begin to offer courses starting in the 2025-26 school year. Until then, the Cafecito con Conciencia hosts plan to continue their critical conscious pláticas. “People do not have to be in college to learn about their culture and identities. We hope that what we talk about helps people feel seen, heard or hopeful,” Solis said. “Our communities and voices matter. We want to make sure that this podcast says that and makes people feel that way.”
The third season of Cafecito con Conciencia is currently in the works, and Solis, Amezcua and Rodriguez are excited to jump back into the show. All episodes of Cafecito con Conciencia are available via YouTube and Spotify. You can also visit their website here for additional information on the podcast.