Big Quit Energy
Friends With Big Quit Energy
“I am here, and you’re gonna have to deal with me”

“I am here, and you’re gonna have to deal with me”

Maegan “Mamita Mala” Ortiz on minimizing code-switching at work and in life

No transcript...

If you want a measure of how little power someone has, you could do worse than track how much “code-switching”--alternating between ways of presenting yourself (speech, dress, attitude, etc.)--they do on any given day.  And of course, despite employers' sweet talk about bringing your “whole self” to work, jobs are where  99% of us (some more than others, of course) code-switch most.

Necessity drove NYRican in LA’s

aka “Mamita Mala” (writer, activist, mom, non-profit leader, and much more) to develop code-switching expertise from a young age.  We kick off this new season of Friends with BQE discussing her story and how, slowly but surely, she grew to unapologetically express her uncut identity more often, including where it’s riskiest: in “professional” spaces.

In a bit over an hour, we discuss:

  • Her experience growing up as a Nuyorican trying to assimilate into “mainstream” culture, and the events that convinced her to fully own her heritage instead [Trigger warning:  there’s a short retelling of racially-motivated violence about 9 minutes into the recording, and it ends by minute 11]

  • The tricky dynamics facing people who are living in between two cultures (including an interesting thought experiment on what you need to experience in a community before you can claim to be part of it) 

  • On her intentional habit of “making trouble” at work meetings to size people up and model what it can look like to exist at work without code-switching.

  • The counterintuitive insight that the more ways you know to scratch together a living (odd jobs, side hustles, whatever) the less you have to warp your personality to keep a paycheck coming.1

  • The continued prevalence of “respectability politics” (basically, code-switching as a political strategy) in the nonprofit world and some of Meagan’s colleagues’ instinct to “co-opt” her decision to work as a stripper into what she calls a “bootstrap narrative”  

  • How the “bootstrap narrative” tends to value certain types of laborers (especially among undocumented immigrants) over others

Beside NYRican in LA, you can find all of Mamita Mala’s work and socials here. 

If you want to support or collaborate with IDEPSCA, the institute for popular education that Maegan helps run, you can connect with them on socials at instagram, facebook, or tiktok

Also, here’s the Resistencia Comunitaria media collective, for you Spanish speakers who like good radio and popular theater.

All the writing on Big Quit Energy is free to the world.  But!--if it resonates deeply enough that you want to support it with bucks, you can subscribe for perks here or you can also contribute a one-time donation.  

You can also pitch in (and look cool AF) by gifting yourself or a friend some Big Quit Energy in the form of sweet swag.


Please don’t take this as an admonition to #neverstopgrinding and build thirty side hustles and blah blah workhump workhump.  Maybe just setting firm boundaries at your one job is easier and better for your mental health.  But the insight is interesting regardless.  

1 Comment
Big Quit Energy
Friends With Big Quit Energy
Conversations with people who, whether they know it or not, are firing their inner boss. An audio companion to the Big Quit Energy newsletter.