Lawson: the Taylor Swift Ticketmaster debacle and especially the use of her lyrics in the Congressional hearing (Lawson’s an unapologetic Swiftie!)
Claire: Del Valle Education Foundation (Claire is the president!) working with the Kendra Scott philanthropic arm and seeing the good that can result for families
Nichole: Chernobyl on HBO Max along with the accompanying podcast
We explore the issue of food insecurity through the eyes of Lawson Picasso who has a compelling lived experience to share. She helps us understand the reality of living without a safety net and how invisible precarity can be even to those we are closest to. Lawson uses her incredible voice to detail her experience living in a car and brings us into the unrelenting pressures of living without resources. She weaves hope throughout her sharing and we hope you find the same level of commitment to making change that we’ve found.
Finally, we leave you with Lawson’s magic formula: access your lawmakers + educate yourself + serve others = pathway to positive change.
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
What’s it Like to be Food Insecure in Texas? Lawson Picasso Shares Her Lived Experience
Thank you for tuning in. We teased in an earlier episode, but to say it again, Nicole and I are going to be having a panel at South by Southwest in the Civic Engagement track. If you are at South by Southwest, come see our panel. It’s going to be on March 13th, 2023 from 11:30 to 12:30 at the Hilton in downtown Austin. We are going to be talking about food insecurity in that panel. What are the causes? What are some of the solutions and trying to get a real holistic understanding of this topic?
We invited one of our panelists to come onto the show and share more about her experience. For those of you who are not going to be able to make it by South which we understand, this is our first time. We want to give you an insight into what that talk is going to look like. We spoke with Lawson Picasso and she’s a firecracker. She’s amazing. She has a lived experience with living in her car, with experiencing food insecurity, which we talk about in the show.
Now, she is turning that into advocacy work to share her story to help lawmakers know that component that those folks need to be at the table shaping policy because who knows better about how to solve this than those who have lived through it? We are grateful for her time and for her being so honest about what it’s like to live in such a precarious state. Nicole, what did you think of this conversation?
What an honor to get the chance to talk to her. She’s fascinating and she shares her story so beautifully and so compellingly. I think people will find so much that’s interesting in this conversation. I’m going to highlight again that we want to emphasize that as often as possible, we hope to include people in conversations who have had real lived experiences with the things that we talk about.
Lawson highlights the fact that it is a necessity that folks need to be able to advocate for themselves and the folks who know best what they need are people who have had experiences that we are trying to problem solve. What an honor. I’m so grateful that she was willing to talk to us and that she shares so openly about her life experience.
Check this one out, you all.
We are here with Lawson Picasso and we are so excited to chat with her to learn more about her story, and the work she’s doing and to have a better understanding of food insecurity in Texas. Lawson, how are you?
I’m good. It’s good to be here.
We are excited that we got put in touch with you and hear more about your lived experience and to have a better understanding of this big topic because I think it’s something that if you don’t deal with it, you don’t think about. We are always looking for topics that we can dig into and have a better holistic understanding of. With that said, we always like to start at the beginning with our guests and get a little bit of their origin stories. Can you tell us? Are you from Texas? What was your upbringing like?
I am a Texan, born and raised. I have lived in every major city in Texas except for Dallas. I have lived on the West side as far as El Paso down South in the valley, which is Edinburg, Texas, Corpus Christi, and Houston. I did a stint in Austin. I reside in San Antonio, Texas, but a majority of my upbringing and my childhood is from a small town in South Texas called San Diego, Texas.
That’s where I was born and raised by a beautiful community of women. My grandmother and my mom raised me and they both had neighbors on either side of them that were also women. I was very much surrounded by these very powerful empowering women voices always lifting me up and raising me. I am very fortunate for that.
The other thing we like to ask about is since this is a political show, what was your experience regarding politics growing up? Was this something that your family was discussing or not as much?
Politics definitely was a big topic of discussion in my family. My grandfather passed away two years before I was born but was heavily involved in Texas politics. My family had a lot to do and was crossed into Texas politics, especially at the South Texas level. Growing up, it was not an option whether or not you were going to be involved in what was going on in society now. It was what did you read? You could not just read the headline of a newspaper. You had to come in with your own perspective of the views that were written within the newspaper and come to an understanding of what’s going on in society.
My grandmother was democratic. My grandfather was Republican. It was always a house divided, but that same value of understanding different sides was something that she raised me on and my mom raised me on and see where there’s a bipartisan opportunity. Where some people may be wrong here but are they right here and how can you come to a middle ground? That view stuck with me and how I look at life today and how can I discuss things that may be a little bit of an uncomfortable conversation in moving the needle forward. Politics was a part of my family.
Were there particular things that were coming up for you all? Specific issues that bubble to the surface?
The biggest moving point politically that came up for me and my family was right after 9/11 happened, you saw a lot more of the controversy come to the forefront because war is now at the front of the head and you know what’s going on with the oil industry and back home. I always say the dirtier the truck, the bigger the house because the oil industry did support a lot of the households back home.
I knew about Halliburton and what an Eagle Ford Shale was before I knew about a lot of other things. That did shape my views as a child in understanding that there’s an impact on the oil industry whenever we go to war and what that looks like. Also, understand the political ties to the oil and what that looks like. Also realizing that some folks are playing checkers on a chess board and some people are masterclass at playing chess.
Who are those people and what are those conversations looking like? Again, my mom was a single mom. She had me and then she had my sister later on and she also had a preexisting condition. I was fully aware of what healthcare looked like in America and the impacts that it can have on a single-income household. That for me I think was my first shock into why can’t go to the doctor or why can’t insurance be given. Why do you have to look at your medication and figure out do you have enough to get me through the month and why are these extra stresses coming in? For a kid, it seems so practical.
“Get your medicine.” That’s what you got to do. You got to go to the doctor, why can’t you just go to the doctor? She was born with a congenital heart defect so she had to drive to Houston, which for us was about 6 hours 30 minutes to 7-hour drive to get to her doctor. It was not a matter of, “Can’t you get a cardiologist that’s closer?” Her heart condition was so unique that there was only a handful of doctors in the world that could perform surgery on her.
Those were some of the issues that rose for me and I never understood. Moving around Texas, I saw different demographics of issues that impacted folks. Going from a small town where you are seeing the economic impacts of an oil refinery, then you go to a big town where you then you see the environmental impacts of the oil field, refineries, and what that looks like. You see more marginalized communities in different demographics. I learned what poverty looks like in a larger community, in a metropolitan city that I had not been impacted before.
Also, what racial demographics is? South Texas, was a primarily Hispanic town. Even in a primarily Hispanic town, I was too brown from my community. I got picked on for my color of skin but then going to Houston, I was completely welcomed by the Black community. They taught me how to put oils and different things in my hair so I could manage it, which was completely abnormal for me because I’d never been exposed to that before. I feel truly blessed that I didn’t stay. My mom was like, “I have to go somewhere else.” We moved around as much as we did because it gave me so many different facets of this unorthodox diamond of perspective that I now carry with me and what I do now.
I also think there’s something to applaud you for which it feels like you have a unique power of observation. I feel like you could put somebody else in these same set of circumstances and they might be oblivious to what is happening and going on around them. That’s also something I hope you give yourself credit for is that you were paying attention whether or not you know how you were going to integrate all these things that you were seeing around you at the time. You had a consciousness that is fascinating and it’s awesome to see how you have used those experiences to shape how you view the world now. It’s pretty amazing.
It sounds like you were doing this early in your life and that’s also impressive. I feel like Nicole and I are like, “Something’s not right here,” a little later in life but that’s okay.
It sounds like you were relatively politically awakened pretty early and my family for sure, we don’t do uncomfortable things. That’s the family culture. I also think it’s interesting that you came from a family where you do the opposite of, it sounds like. We steer into these things and we talk about them. You have to have a perspective and justify that perspective.
I’m thinking of it in the raising of my children because sometimes I think maybe I could use a little bit more of that. Sometimes I get a little protective and think that creating a bubble is the thing to do for them but I think there’s a balance that I could strike here that asks them to be more aware of the world. This is great. I’m getting great takeaways already.
We would love it if you could tell us a little bit about your story. We know that you have done a lot of speaking engagements regarding your personal experience of being food insecure. Can you tell us what that was like?
It’s funny because after many years of therapy and understanding myself and having more self-awareness like, “That was a traumatic situation.” I was reacting to suppressing a lot of these issues. I have learned a lot about myself in those circumstances and had these lived experiences and I call it a tale of two cities. It’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times. Of all the books that I read in high school, never once was I going to say that it would be the book that I resonated with the most in life. I never thought about that. I didn’t realize and kudos to my mom for not making a poor situation feel that way.
As I mentioned, I lived in Houston for a minute and at that point, my mom was in between jobs. She had gotten married and there were 3 girls, 2 parents, and 2 dogs living in a 2-bedroom apartment in a not-so-great part of Houston. I now look at a pork chop and I can’t eat it to save my life because that was the cheapest and what we ate a lot of.
I never thought of that being food insecurity if we don’t have a well-balanced diet because we can’t afford a well-balanced diet. There were times when I saw my mom cry but she didn’t necessarily give us insight as to why she was crying it was because she was trying to keep the lights on while also putting food on the table. She was trying to get Christmas and birthday gifts. She makes sure you have an experience and you don’t feel like you are depriving your kid of a life which was a very different experience living with my mom than going back to San Diego and living with my grandmother who gave me everything. She always opened the doors of opportunity for me.
Seeing that perspective and never having a grasp of it until I became an adult and was twenty years old. I had followed a boy to San Antonio. It truly felt like overnight went from having some stability, living in an apartment, everything was good, and getting the message, “It’s not working out. I’m going back home. I am sorry to do this to you,” and feeling like you had nothing. That’s exactly what happened I had absolutely nothing.
The ability to have any type of housing went away. I didn’t have a car. Here I am now at twenty looking at a ring that my grandmother gave me and was like, “In case of emergencies, you use this ring. You need to pawn it to get whatever you need.” I’m now here in an emergency having to pawn it to put a down payment on a 2008 84,000-plus-mile Dodge Neon that I had to purchase. I got into a payment agreement with them but had to put a down payment on that with a mom-and-pop shop down here in San Antonio.
It was that situation where I’m now in a car and I’m thinking like, “I have a door,” and now it’s like, “What’s next,” and then realizing you only have like $20 to your name at this point. What are you going to do? I’m looking over at my passenger side and I had my sweet baby, Chihuahua, Ru and it was her and I. We were looking at each other, “What’s next?”
I had to hustle. I got a job waitressing and I worked at Hooters. I made a community of friends there and worked on my personality and my love for sports. I was able to make good tips off of that and had to save all my acorns and figure things out but that took time. I remember looking at whatever dollars I had and thinking, “Do I get gas to go to work or do I get food to feed me and my dog?” My dog and I usually lived off of the $1 menu at McDonald’s. What is that going to look like? Is there a safe space in San Antonio that I can stay in and sleep in and that survival mode?
One of the reasons why I chose Hooters was because you have to stay fit. There is a very materialistic idea to Hooters that still remains now that I roll my eyes out as a feminist but girls got to do what you got to do. They provide free gym memberships and I saw that and I thought, “Here’s a shower.” I can finally get a shower. I have electricity so I can fix my hair, do my makeup, charge my phone and give my car a rest because Lord knows that battery was moving on a hope and a prayer.
It was that idea of, “As long as I look like everything’s fine, nobody’s going to question what my living situation is.” We were very politically involved growing up and it was one of these ideas that regardless of what’s going on behind closed doors, you could be throwing the dishes from the kitchen table at each other but you open that door and everything is good. It is apple pie, white picket fence and it’s a smile and you are good. That’s how I was raised.
I didn’t want people to know that life was messy. Even my mom didn’t know. I remember every mom, “Call me when you get home.” I would stall, shake the keys, and be like, “I just got home here. I’m coming in.” Nobody knew but it was tough. It was a six-month period of my life at twenty. I think of being 20 years old now at 30 and thinking like, “I was a baby.” I was trying to figure out who I was at that point and then having to understand my own identity of who’s Lawson while also having to feed Lawson and figure those things out.
I remember when I finally had enough money to get into an apartment and finally got a key and was able to put a key to a lock and open a door, I cried because that door was mine and that key was my home. Regardless if it had nothing in it at all, that was my space and that was mine to be able to maintain. That was just a celebration of all celebrations that helped me feel like, “We are going to get out of this. “We are done. We don’t go back here. We move up from here.”
Lawson, can I dig in there? Were you living in your car? Is that what I’m understanding?
How did you find places?
That was what I was thinking. Where do you go in your car overnight?
It was almost serendipitous. The H-E-B which is a grocery store Here, Everything’s Better and it was. I worked at Hooters and I usually worked in the evenings because that meant better tips and which meant I also got out of work fairly late and obviously pre-pandemics H-E-B were open. There were some H-E-B who were open 24/7. I went to my local H-E-B to get some groceries. When I’m talking groceries, I’m talking like granola bars and things that I can store in my car that are nonperishable.
One evening, this guy kept following me. He sees the orange shorts and it’s creepy. The security guard intervened and stayed with me to finish my groceries. He saw me go to my car and he goes, “Where are you going?” I’m like, “My car.” He’s like, “Where are you leaving to? I have seen your car quite a few times.” Again, Smurf blue. You can pick that car out of anywhere. I said, “No, I’m staying here.”
After a great discussion, he said, “Here’s my schedule. I’m here this many days and then when I’m not here I’m actually at the Walmart across this way. You can go and stay there. I will make sure that you are good. I make sure nobody messes with your car that way you can get some good sleep.” That’s the agreement that I had with him. “I will make sure you are good but this cannot be permanent. I want to know that you are getting your life in order.” It was like, “Yes, sir. Thank you so much.” He watched over me while I slept at night and I was able to do that.
Don’t cry because I’m going to cry too.
This is what I do. That’s a lot but I’m so glad that you found somebody. There was a guardian angel out there like that for you.
I will say one of the things that I feel like I owe San Antonio so much because if it wasn’t for the community of San Antonio, I would not be where I am now. They pulled me and helped me. One of the things that I always think is amazing about the community that I live in is that they open their door to you and they make sure that you are good. They won’t ask questions. I love that about where I’m at.
A lot of my drive to bring awareness to a lot of the historic and systemic and new issues that we continue to see here locally and across Texas stems from like, “These people help me. I need to give back. I need to pay it forward. I need to pay it back. I need to do whatever I can to show the grace that they gave me was not lost on me.”
Can I ask another question that again I feel you answered in some way? It’s the curiosity I have. It’s the feeling of a safety net. I have always and I am recognizing that this is an incredible privilege in my life. I have always felt that I had a safety net to turn to. I’m curious if it was pride or not feeling like you had a safety net. How do you kind of look at that determination you had to do it on your own in secret?
My mom and I had a very weird dynamic and I don’t know if it was because I was her first kid. She was 30 when she had me but being the youngest of her siblings and then having a heart condition, there was a lot of growth that never occurred in her life because she was very much held and over-nurtured. Having a kid, she was still a kid trying to figure this out and we had a very interesting dynamic. It was more of a friendship than a mother-daughter thing.
I felt like I became more of the maternal figure for her in her times of weakness. My mom as brilliant as she was, was not smart when it came to picking the proper mate. My stepdad and I did not get along. He was into all sorts of things and put her in really unsafe situations. I knew that she already had a lot of other battles that she had to figure out and was going through that it wasn’t going to be safe for me or her, for me to go home.
My grandmother at that point was already older and in fact, she had moved to go live with my aunt El Paso. That was not a viable option. Looking at the two immediate vessels of my call homes not being available and being blocked, meant that I needed to figure it out which for me is not abnormal. I thrive in a crisis which is a good thing and a bad thing. I go into game mode.
Having a parent that has a chronic condition, you know how to get into a mode and put your emotions aside so you can get through it, and then afterward you have a long cry. I was able to put my head down, know that something needed to get done, put my eye on a goal, and keep moving toward it. Going home was not an option.
I wanted to highlight some of what you said because so much of what we are hoping to do here is shed a light on the truth of a lot of these situations. What it’s like to live in precarity, what it’s like to live food insecure, and what it’s like to live if not in poverty, in proximity to poverty. A lot of people might think that there are irresponsible choices being made or that people don’t come from “good families.” There is a lot I think of myths that if we can dispel would be incredible which as you would appear to be a support system but even that support system had a lot of stress on it.
Could you tell us a little bit about that? What about some of the myths that you have personally encountered or have encountered in your work around folks who are dealing with poverty or food insecurity and are in these precarious states?
I think that there is a particular poster child for poverty. There is a particular poster child for a Hispanic in poverty and that ideology that you don’t check all the boxes so it doesn’t make any sense. We need to break that perception. There is a perfect poor person. There is no one-size-fits-all for how people get there. Everybody’s living on the razor’s edge and I think that 2020 highlighted that in a blink of an eye, you can go from donating to the San Antonio Food Bank to being in the line of the San Antonio Food Bank.
That was humbling too to see that all of a sudden, it went from a couple of vehicles and then a Lexus and a Mercedes are also in the line and you are thinking, “Why are you here?” It can happen to anybody. For me, I became every different status of, “She’s not going to be successful.” I was poor. I lost everything. I was homeless. I had to drop out of school and that meant having to figure that part out and what am I going to do because I wanted to get an education. If you are going to go to college, but when are you going to get your graduate, and get your Master’s? That’s also a conversation that was had but now here I am trying to survive.
I got pregnant right after everything had happened and I’m in an apartment. I started dating another guy and all of a sudden, we find out we were pregnant and that was a whole thing. I was like, “Is she really going to go to college?” I’m a young Hispanic mom, which that has its own stereotype on its own, and breaking this idea that she’s not going to do anything because she’s uneducated, she’s a young mom, or whatever the stereotype is.
Hardships can land on anybody but anybody can also have the opportunity to get there if they have the resources or they know where the resources are. One of the things that I learned living in my car was I didn’t know what my resources were. I didn’t know what opportunities and options I had to me. The only reason why I found out about the food bank was that I had a girlfriend that worked with me that said, “At the church, they do distributions and it’s all non-perishable items. You should go.”
That’s the only reason why I knew was because of community discussions but I didn’t know a lot of the knee-jerk reactions for getting access to resources it’s on our website but then what do we learn? We learn there’s a digital divide, not everybody has access to the internet and not everybody knows how to read and write. Not everybody speaks English.
All of these different layers of a barrier turn into a barrier. It turns into this wall of not being able to grasp the resources that are allegedly accessible becoming larger and larger and larger. I think in my perspective and in my own experience, seeing that my mom who had a preexisting condition should have been able to get access to healthcare easily because it also impaired her from being able to hold a full-time job at most points and a full-time job that could pay for her to have her surgeries but that was not the case. All of a sudden having a preexisting condition, the amount of money you have to pay for health insurance goes up and your ability to get access to good health insurance goes up. It continues to suppress people from staying down.
It’s like, “How do the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor?” It’s because we keep getting this gap that grows and grows and this middle income, this middle working blue collar demographic is dwindling because we are seeing that the gap between low-income and high-income is continuing to rise. We are suppressing it and we are not giving equitable and inclusive vessels of access to resources and assistance to help them get out of there.The rich stay rich and the poor stay poor because the gap between low and high income continues to grow. Click To Tweet
Public transportation, if you look at how these communities are zoned and designed, you see the low-income stays on one side of town and you have incomes on the other side of town and that’s completely intentional. Now, it’s a matter of having discussions about how are we fixing that. What are we doing to help people? We had a whole conversation about the rezoning of the different state seats. Did we do it selfishly or do we do it understanding that we need more people to be represented and we are not giving equitable time to the voices that need the support that is given?
Do you mean for the congressional seats or the legislative ones? We have an episode about gerrymandering. Go back and read. I have so many thoughts. I’m like, “Which way to go,” but I will pick this one. When you were talking about your experience working at Hooters and living in your car, you said you tried your best to look like everything was fine. Do you think the people in your life knew the precarious state you were in?
No. My mom didn’t know. She told me straight up. She goes, “I had no idea this was going on until I had to have a come to Jesus talk to my therapist, “You need to talk to your mom about this.” It’s funny because as much as we talked about things happening to other people, feelings were not a thing that we talked about in our family. As I said, it’s one of those the plates are crashing behind closed doors but we don’t apologize to each other.
My grandmother used to say, “You get one ugly cry,” and that’s it. You get to have one ugly cry and then you put your face on, go fix your hair and we are done. We move on from it. That was Latina machisma. “We are not talking about this. We are strong women,” ideas which are both good and bad. In moderation, it’s good and not, it’s bad but they didn’t. They had no idea that there was this much struggle going on.
Do you think that this is common? Nicole and I think about the invisibility of this and maybe that’s why I saw it addressed as much. Do you think probably more people in our lives that are in this state and we don’t realize it?
I think so. I think that there’s a lot of Keeping Up with the Joneses that occurs in this and social media does not help it. The fact that we joke about Instagram versus reality, we have this social pressure to be perfect and to be keeping up with societal norms and what that looks like. Nobody wants to talk about the debts that they have, the hardships they are going through, or the mental health battles that we are having to face every day.
We don’t want to talk about maybe my kid has a disability and that means that I’m going to have to now be that person that has that kid and/or that situation or I’m that person. It’s not wanting to be a burden on anybody and also wanting to meet the standards that society now who are telling us we have to meet to be successful.
It is very much like there’s a poster child for poverty. There’s a poster child for what success is supposed to look like and this term has been going around quite a bit, especially since the pandemic started to pick yourself by the bootstraps. I was able to do it and even people are like, “Look at you. You picked yourself up by the bootstraps,” and it’s like, “Yes, but I had to be able to afford the boots to put them on to pick myself up.” I wasn’t always able to afford the boots.
That’s part of the narrative. I feel like we made that statement midway through the story. There was a purchase of those boots. There was being able to acquire the boots in order to pick ourselves up. We didn’t get there overnight. That was not an overnight thing and not everybody has access to the boots. We need to understand, “If we don’t have access to it, what are we doing wrong? How can we get you access to that,” but nobody sees that. Asking for help was not something that impressed me as a child. You didn’t ask for help from other people. It’s like, “Don’t worry about it. We will always figure it out.” Being raised in that type of environment and a lot of folks suppresses the awareness of knowing what’s going on with other people.
I want to share something I found. I think it was on the Feeding Texas website that said around 37 million Americans or food insecure, which is 1 in 10 Americans, and in Texas, I think it’s 1 in 8. If you have eight people, one of them is food insecure, which is a huge percentage of the population. I’m like, “If so many people are dealing with this, why don’t we feel the urgency to help them get out of that situation?” Why do you think that’s the case?
I think with a lot of different issues that are going on, it’s the question of do we have the right people at the table to discuss this. Everybody wants to cut the ribbon and be the hero, but do we have the right people at the table? I had the opportunity and Feeding America gave me the opportunity to go to the White House and go to the conference for Hunger, Health, and Nutrition.
A lot of us left there feeling like we were a box that got checked off to say that you had folks here with lived experiences. How much of what we are seeing now is going to be incorporated? The input that we are giving does it matter because the day before the conference, they release a strategic plan. It was like, “We have the strategic plan but we want you all to come here to this conference to talk about the strategic plan.”
You then look at it, and I’m like, “This isn’t a plan. This is a vision. There’s no action. There are no benchmarks to go into what are we going to look at? How are we going to be measuring the metrics of what you guys are saying, your goals and your visions, and your opportunities?” It’s not realistic. It’s very lightly written and that’s what it is now.
We have a lot of policies and a lot of programs that are being created by folks that don’t have a hand or a heartbeat on what’s going on right now. We are bringing in people that do at the very tail end when things are already being done and we are ready to hit the button to press go. We are seeing this backwards when we should have folks at the very beginning of it.
Another theme that Claire and I have talked about a lot off mic is saviorism and that feels like what you are talking about. There’s this real desire to be the savior, but in ways that aren’t addressing the systemic issues that we are talking about. It feels very vain to me. It feels like it is a real chance for people to pat themselves on the back for being so giving, kind, and philanthropic, but in reality, we are perpetuating the same issues again and again.
I find myself frustrated the more I read, the more I hear, and the more I’m listening to your experiences like this because that’s feeling more and more true and it is so frustrating. Yet, we are problem solvers and we are hopeful. It sounds to me that what I would advocate for is having people in positions of power who have lived experiences. Who can speak to what it does take to access resources? What’s helpful and what’s not helpful? What are the real metrics of measuring success that can’t just be, “I’m not going to denigrate imagination?”
We do need to be imaginary when it comes to these things, but if you can’t like back that imagination up with real solutions, then it’s an exercise and daydreaming. I’m feeling fired up again. Number one is we have to elect people who are true representatives of the citizens of this state and that isn’t wealthy folks who have not struggled. It’s not going to have the right conversations. I’m not saying that they can’t. There is capability there, but I think that it’s not happening right now.
Have you had that experience, Lawson? Do you think that saviorism plays a role in keeping the current status quo?
I think it took me a while to feel comfortable to speak about my own story of living insecure and living in my car because I was always afraid that if I did it in a space that wasn’t the right space then it was, “You are bragging because you made it and it’s like, ‘Look what I was able to do.’” I didn’t want it to ever come off as cocky or pretentious. I wanted my story to be utilized in a way that moved the needle forward.
If my story could help somebody else feel like they had a voice to come next to me and it’s like, “When we are together we are greater.” The voice gets louder. I was very afraid of becoming part of the saviorism of, “Look at me. I’m going to go and kiss the babies. I am going to do all this because I’m one of you.” I’d never wanted that to happen. I see a lot of it where it’s so disingenuine when somebody comes into the community and they roll up their sleeves.
I always call it the JFK check box. You always know a politician when they are in a blue shirt, rolled up the sleeves and they are coming in. They look like you and they use the word robust at least 7 times in 1 message. If you say the word robust naturally, you know that you should be in politics and I always cringe at it. I always say if I ever get into politics, whoever’s writing my speeches do not use this word. It is the first rule of Lawson. Don’t use the word robust but it’s true. I think that we have a lot of folks that are empathetic.
I think that there are politicians that are empathetic and we see a lot of that and they want to know. They want to have these eye-level conversations but they are not the majority. The majority go to the events and they rub elbows or the people that are donating to the causes but are they out there? Do they know? Do they have an idea? If they do, how long ago was it? I always feel like everybody should have at least one job in their life, like the service industry.
Go wait for a table. Be yelled at. Get the tip that says, “You are not getting the monetary tip, but my tip to you is to smile more.” Have these real harsh experiences to tell you that people matter. People will get you where you need to go and figure this out. We voted you in. We want action in return. We need to see what we receive, these empty promises. I think we are also in a generation where there’s more education with the voters, especially the younger voters.
They are educating themselves a lot more and they are less impressed by the shiny things and this idea of wanting to be the hero for all. It’s becoming less and less believable and they are like, “How do you know this? Where did you grow up? You grew up over here on this side of town. Don’t tell me about education inequity or health inequities or the fact that your roads, you had sidewalks your entire life.”
There is sidewalk inequity and how infrastructure and the lack of infrastructure are also a reflection of poverty. That means safe roads are a privilege and they shouldn’t be. You should not be able to walk down a street and worry that your sidewalks are going to cut off and now you are in the middle of the street and now you are completely not protected by a bunch of speed cars going by. That is the reality of a lot of folks in communities right now.
I hear what you are saying. It’s awful. You are in the street or you are walking through this high grass that’s itching your legs because they don’t care about maintaining it. It’s terrible. I guess for me personally, what I’m trying to figure out is we only have so much time and energy and where is it best put to maximize the best well-being of people. I like that you are hammering on this need of having real authentic leaders in office because they’re the ones who control so much of the policy and so much of the state budget.
Nicole and I talk a lot about in the show how we have a $33 billion budget surplus and the things that we hear them talk about property tax relief and maybe some infrastructure and maybe schools, but we have heard zero about helping address food insecurity, even housing which is part of this. Yes, I want to see more people at the table that represent more Texans because we absolutely don’t have that. I think about nonprofit work too and how that’s a necessary thing to have to help people in immediately. I’m like do we put our effort into nonprofits or is that a Band-Aid? We should pivot towards advocacy. Where have you landed in this? How do we have the most effective approach quickly?
It’s twofold. Nonprofits are there as an immediate line of events. They can immediately help folks with what’s right in front of them. The food bank can get food into folks’ homes as quickly as possible by that. It’s like, “You are hungry today, we can get something in front of you tomorrow. We can do that,” but there has to be a short-term solution and a long-term solution.
We also need to look at, “We didn’t get here overnight.” This is due to the historical impact and segregation of the communities marginalizing Black and Brown communities for years before even I was born. My grandfather was an attorney and he had to take his license with him to court cases because nobody believed that a Brown man went to law school. He always used to gloat that he was 1 of 4 who graduated valedictorian of the Mexican high school in Kingsville and he’d have to travel. He commuted 20 miles or 20 minutes every day to finish his high school education.
Even to get his undergrad, he had to get his dad to get state representatives to write on his behalf in order for him to get a college degree. Those were the issues that we saw back many years ago, but we are still seeing the impact and the ripple effects that it has now. I think nonprofits are doing their best to be the front line of defense and help people that need an immediate need but they too can only do what they can with the services and policies that they are confined within.The issues of a hundred years ago still have ripple effects today. Nonprofits are doing their best to be the front line of defense and help people get immediate support. Click To Tweet
Locally, in San Antonio, we don’t pay our city council members enough. We pay them $45,000. That is not even an effective salary for the cost of living now. If we want to see folks that will bring a meaningful impression into how we are looking at local government, and how we are looking at state government, then we also have to consider whether are we paying them enough or else it’s only a bunch of folks that have a retirement plan or have a business that they can maintain and operate.
That’s something that’s back money and this is a hobby. This becomes a hobby for them and it’s become real work. They don’t have real action or real energy to put into this action. It needs to be twofold. I think that again, nonprofits, they’re the immediate need. Long-term, we got to be breaking down some of the barriers to the systemic issues that were put on by state and Federal lawmakers and how do we do that when we don’t have the majority of folks that see themselves as part of the issue?
We talk about that too a lot on the show. How do so many of these positions of power in public service pay nothing? I mean not zero. If you are a state board of education member, you don’t make any money. If you are a state representative, you make $7,200 a year and sometimes a little stipend, but that’s still not a lot.
I learned this and it’s different state by state, but in New Mexico, their state reps make nothing. They don’t have staff. A friend of mine was using this new term called modernizing the public office so that they are making a livable wage. As you are saying, you get different people who can step up because if you can’t afford to not go without an income, who are you going to get in these offices? We are very aware of those problems.
This is what happens to me always at this point in every show. My brain’s firing on every cylinder. We also had a discussion about Critical Race Theory and I’m also having so many light bulbs go off in terms of systemic racism and disadvantages and how so much of this is a legacy of history. You think about if our legacy leading back to England and the founding of the US is that only the wealthy served in government. That is exactly how it was designed purposely because it was believed that the educated wealthy should be making laws and rules for the country. That’s baked in quietly even to how we have approached government and leadership for so long. We need a re-imagining of what government should look like now.
We no longer live in a feudal state. Things have changed. We need a government that is reflective of that but how do you do that when still serving our folks who are in that legacy of the way that government operates? There’s a real tug-of-war here that we are talking about. I believe that it’s possible, but that’s going to be an uphill battle to see that change because a lot of people are going to hear that as a threat. It’s a threat to power that I think some folks believe they inherently deserve. That’s not a solution. Here I am observing and pointing out things that I noticed.
It’s like, “The system’s broken.” “It’s not.” The system is working exactly how the system intends to work. That’s why we need to consider the strategy for like what’s the Trojan horse to go in there? Completely implode the system and break it so we can redefine a new system that reflects the majority of folks and brings in folks that have never had a true meaningful representation within these systems. As long as we continue to allow the systems to be at play now, then we are going to continue to have this gap of opportunities and suppression of those that come with people of color.
There was a study that came out of Latina women making less money than their counterparts. You are looking at that and you are thinking, “What heck happened?” You look at women in general and it’s like, “We have to be the best moms, wives, and caretakers and be compassionate. Don’t use too many exclamation points. Still, be assertive. Still work your job 40-plus hours a week. Still do all of this in a high heel with the makeup on trying to keep yourself together. Don’t be a mental hot mess. Don’t talk about this.”
There are so many things that we have to do as a woman and the pressure that we have to be perfect in whatever role that we are playing that you ask a man, “Do I have to do that?” I sent an email the other day and all it said was, “No.” Somebody asked, “Are you okay?” I’m like, “Would you ask a man if he was okay if all he said was no in an email because I have never had to do that?” You look at that when you look at women’s representation in government where it’s like, “She’s going off her rocker. She’s running on a tangent. She’s so dramatic.” It’s like, “Am I, or are my vocal cords two octaves higher than yours and I showed up in a skirt.”
I also want to point out that changing the system for the better benefits us all. While some people may feel like they are going to lose something, the truth is you will be all right and that sharing truly is caring. It will be better for us all. History shows us that when you repress and suppress people, they reach a boiling point. Let’s not do that. Let’s be proactively looking at inclusive solutions that can benefit all of us. There’s my final plug.
We were curious and we have touched on some of this. If you had a magic wand and could change one thing, what would it be? Maybe we will give you two things.
Accessibility to lawmakers. I feel like they become almost at two inaccessible and they become almost imaginary ideas. Access to lawmakers would be the first one. Also, education in everything. The education system but also education in communities. There’s a gap in how we are informing people of what’s going on so they have this misunderstanding of the process and what they need to go through and it’s like, “Why can’t you do this?” It’s like, “We got to do this,” or whatever.
I think that if we were to educate people on what that process looks like, we also empower them to take on that process but if we continue to not educate them on that, then they don’t know. They are going to be loud. I think if I had a magic wand, it would be completely instilling in everybody’s brains the education of how to be aware and align together so we can as a society take things on.
Lastly, before we move into our Attention Mentions, what are some real actionable items that we can do to help tackle this problem in a real meaningful way?
I think locally when the pandemic hit, I was working for the District 1 council member at the time and I had a very interesting perspective and experience of what happens with local government and what they can do. I think that local government is truly the first line of defense for folks. Go to the local offices, know who your representatives are, write them, call them, and email them. Find out who’s on their staff. Write them. There’s always a constituent services representative. Get in touch with them. Understand what your resources are.
Have them print out the web form and fill it out with them. Whatever the case may be, getting in touch at a local level helps to empower you when you are starting to look at the state and Federal levels. They will give you that platform if you bug them enough and they are there for you. You voted them in. They work for you.Get in touch with lawmakers and let them understand your concerns. They will give you a platform if you bug them enough. Click To Tweet
Put your taxpayer dollars to work and be like, “I paid this much. I want this much effort.” Put them on the spot. They should be helping you and getting involved with a nonprofit. Understand what’s going on with your community. If that’s too overwhelming, donate your time. Donate a box of food or whatever the case. Whatever is in your energy or ability to do, get out there any way you can. A lot of small things make a big impact.
Do you have a favorite nonprofit?
San Antonio Food Bank is my favorite because they have helped me and I am incredibly fortunate for them. I’d have to say that because not only do they feed you with food, they also feed you financial education and being able to get access to housing and different things like that. They are a vessel of different resources and I’m incredibly grateful for them.
I want to point out too that you were consistent like your magic wand plus what you talked about that’s actionable, which is accessing lawmakers and educating yourself and others. I’m like, “I got my two things now. If I’m going to be consistent with those. Access power, do that because they should hear from us and educate me. Educate the folks around me and serve.” You also said serve.
Let’s move into our Attention Mentions where we mention something that has our attention. This can be something related to this conversation or not. It can be a book or a TV show. What comes to mind, Lawson? You were sharing something with us before we started that sounded fascinating.
I was, and then as soon as I said that, I’m like, “Let’s be honest. I am a proud Swifty and what’s been going on with the Ticketmaster debacle on C-SPAN has had my heart jumping. The fact that there are Swift lyrics being utilized to combat the Ticketmaster issue has been amazing for me. To quote Taylor Swift, I would be off-brand if I didn’t. Ticketmaster is the reason why we can’t have nice things. I loved it. I’m loving it.
I will go next. Speaking of nonprofits and philanthropy, something I do in my spare time as I serve as the president of the Del Valle Education Foundation and we partnered with Kendra Scott’s philanthropic arm. I’m so in awe of the work she’s doing now to help support women and children and investing in Texas and Austin. She’s been known to do these pop-up shops in hospitals and bring her jewelry and her expertise and find a way to give back. I’m in awe of that. I think when much is given to you, it behooves you to give back and she has seen the joy that brings and it’s also enriched her. Kendra Scott philanthropy. I think it’s called Kendra Cares. That’s my mention.
I love that. Sometimes I can get all about big business, but when it’s like that, I can be for it. It’s almost like I’m going to give you all a preview of something that I’m going to start, but I haven’t started it yet. I have not watched the series Chernobyl on HBO Max yet. My plan is to watch it and then also there is an accompanying show. I want to do that. A preview of an attention mention. It may come up again later, but Chornobyl is on HBO Max.
It’s a well-done show and I’m surprised you haven’t seen it because the writer also hosts a podcast, Craig Mazin, Scriptnotes. It’s also a good one and I know you listen to that.
I used to, and for me, here’s another confession. Sometimes shows like that are going to be good and also you can’t turn away. It’s the real deal. I have to be careful how much of that I consume because it will get in my head. I think that’s where that caution came from but it’s time.
Let us know what you think.
Thank you, Lawson, for sharing your story and helping us understand more of the systemic causes of food insecurity, and poverty and some ideas on how we can help correct this and make things better for more Texans. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.
Thank you for having me. It’s an honor.
Thank you everybody for joining us. Hopefully, we have demystified some little portion of Texas politics and we hope that you will do more with us. Let’s join together and do more. We hope you will let us know what is working and we hope you will join us in the next episode. Thanks, everybody, and have a good one.
- Lawson Picasso
- Feeding Texas
- Feeding America
- Critical Race Theory – Past episode
- San Antonio Food Bank
- Kendra Cares
About Lawson Picasso
Driven by her own lived experience, Lawson Picasso is a communications professional for a national engineering firm, WSP, and passionate advocate for solutions that address social inequities in marginalized communities.
Having had a complex experience with food and housing insecurities both as a child and an adult, she’s advocated for local and federal resources to mitigate the gaping need for food, housing, and transportation infrastructure sustainability.
She served on San Antonio Bond’s Housing Committee, which passed a policy she proposed that requires those interested in Housing Bond funds to submit Request For Proposal (RFP) in line with the City’s Displacement Impact Risk Assessment and solutions for any risks that may occur.
She is a scorer for the Bond’s Housing RFPs; sits on City Public Service (CPS) Energy’s Citizen Advisory Committee; and was newly appointed to the City of San Antonio’s Bond Commission.