Episode One: Keeping Up With The Quizhpi’s
Episode One: Keeping Up With The Quizhpi’s
Produced by Ariel Goodman and narrated by Lisa Salinas.
Speakers (in order of appearance): In this transcript, Speakers’ words will all appear in size 14 black type. Speakers’ names are in bold size 14 black type. Portions where we hear music or scene sounds are italicized.
Dennis Quizhpi: The central character of the story. He’s an 18-year-old student completing his first year at Cornell University.
Narrator: Lisa Salinas: Salinas takes the listener through Dennis’ story, weaving in and introducing information of both his and his families’ lives.
Don Sergio (Sergio Quizhpi): This is Dennis’ dad. He hails from Ecuador and owns and works at a taco truck, which he drives every night from his hometown of Queens to Brooklyn, New York.
Gabriel Quizhpi: This is Dennis’ younger sister. She gives us a bit more insight to their family dynamic and the events that transpired this summer. She was also the first family member to contract COVID-19.
Note: Some portions of this transcript are in Spanish and translated by the narrator.
End Transcript Key
Dennis Quizhpi: You know, there’s my bed, there’s like a fridge back there. Um, there’s really not much going on in my room…it’s not really that…
Audio of Dennis fades down under narration
Narrator: Dennis Quizhpi is a long way from home. He’s 18 years old, and at this time was just about two months into college. His dorm room is pretty empty except for a few string lights hanging from the ceiling.
Audio of Dennis fades back up
Dennis Quizhpi: It’s not really an aesthetic thing that I’m trying to achieve here.
Narrator: He’s a freshman at Cornell University. One of the most prestigious universities in the country––it’s ranked as the 18th best in the nation. Getting here fulfills a lifelong family dream.
Music of a slow-playing guitar begins to play.
Narrator: He’s the first in his family to go to college…. and the eldest of his siblings. When Dennis isn’t pulling all-nighters studying in his dorm room or hanging out with friends, he’s working a service job he worked a lot on back home: food prep on a taco truck.
Dennis Quizhpi: Once you start working, like, you know what to do, you can kind of take your mind off of the present and just like, zone out while you do all your things.
Narrator: So Dennis has prior experience working at a taco truck because… it’s also their family business. Back in Queens, NY, Dennis and his siblings would work alongside their mom as she cut vegetables, and prepared meats in their basement.
Music of a slow-playing guitar stops.
Narrator: This spring, Dennis and his family found themselves in epicenter of the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dennis Quizhpi: We were definitely worried. And we came up with ways to, you know, isolate ourselves and to, you know, try to keep each other from becoming infected. But it didn’t really work in our immediate family. We all got infected.
Narrator: During this time, they also had some pretty tough conversations.
Dennis Quizhpi: It was a prime opportunity to kind of do that. Since we were all just together and like things like conversations like this could not like happen, kind of in any you know of, any other context or any other circumstance. It’s like a really good time to have those conversations.
Upbeat, mysterious-sounding music begins to play.
Narrator: This is First Generation, a podcast that follows the internal and external obstacles facing first generation college students. I’m Lisa Salinas. And in this episode, how the Quizhpi family’s small Queens apartment became a pressure cooker that forced Dennis to come face to face with who he is and where he comes from. This is episode one: Keeping Up With The Quizhpi’s.
News clips announcing Queens and Corona Queens as the epicenter of the virus begins to play for a few seconds.
Sergio Quizhpi: Esa experiencia pues para mi fue fatal porque cuando… nosotros aquí, las dos semanas acostada en la cama sin no…mucha fatiga, desesperación. Sin poder ni siquiera ver a los niños, ni jugar, ni energía para compartir era como…cada quien por su lado.
Narrator: That’s Don Sergio. He explains that the family was bed ridden for two weeks. He talks about the desperation and fatigue they felt when they had COVID-19. Gabriela Quizhpi, Dennis’ younger sister, was the first to get the virus.
Gabriela Quizhpi: I quarantined like in my basement for a good month. Like, mostly because I was scared. Like, we didn’t know what’s going on yet. I think the scariest thing, hit me the most, was when my dad was sick. He was bedridden. And I was like, oh damn, like, I don’t want him to die. Like I was, like, very scared. And then my dad got better, which was great. And then my mom was sick. Her symptoms were like, a lot worse. ike, she was also bedridden. But like, she was extremely weak. And I was always, like, very terrified.
Upbeat, mysterious-sounding music stops.
Narrator: During the first few months of the pandemic, the family had to shut down their taco truck business. For five years, Don Sergio, who hails from small rural farming towns in the Cañar region of the Ecuadorian andes, has worked long nights at the taco truck. The truck, named TACOS EL IDOLO, sits under the whirling sounds of subway tracks on a street illuminated by the fluorescent bodega signs. The family had lost one of their primary sources of income.
Gabriela Quizhpi: I helped out sometimes, so I like kind of took a quarantine as a way for us to keep working and like I can you know, like when to lend an extra pair of hands on, but unfortunately, like, we couldn’t keep working. So we lost our income for like, a good few months. So yeah, that was like, when we started freaking out and everything.
Narrator: Don Sergio opened the taco truck back up during the summer, once the city came out of lockdown. And as Gabriela describes, it is a family business. Dennis began working full time with his dad over the summer, often long into the night to the early hours of the morning.
Dennis Quizhpi: I spent, you know, maybe three, four nights a week working on my dad’s food truck and literally, literally every day you know, working with my mother at home and trying to prepare all the ingredients and cutting up things. It was a really busy summer.
Narrator: Working alongside his dad, Dennis was able to get to know him a little bit better and put himself in his shoes. But above all… Dennis came to have a greater appreciation for his community.
Dennis Quizhpi: We got to share the pain of being low income, we got to share the pain of being laborers. So, that was a very big, I think, a very big benefit of working in a truck. And just going through that summer. It made us closer than ever before. Out of that I think came a love for everything that was not considered you know high class, everything that was not considered top of the top. I felt that I was getting close to my parents because of the fact that I was working. Because I was sharing kind of some of the experience that they have, you know. I’m starting to come of age, they started working around the same time as me. They started working around the same time as me.
Upbeat music, which could be compared to a game show theme song, begins to play.
Narrator: Slowly, the family recuperated from the virus. Distant family members, alongside thousands of their neighbors, were not as lucky. But despite the grief and pain of the summer, it also meant something positive for the Quizpi’s: it was one of the first times in a long time that the kids remember being together as a family. When the taco truck shut down, it meant that their dad was awake during the day. Dennis felt the family becoming closer, but he also felt the stress of being in close quarters with his family for such a long period of time.
Upbeat music, which could be compared to a game show theme song, stops.
Narrator: The clashes between him and his family became more visible. Like this moment, for example, when Gabriela was showing signs of COVID-19.
Dennis Quizhpi: I was the one who first suspected that this might be COVID. Because I was like, you know, if my sister suddenly loses her sense of taste or smell, and you know, that at the time, it wasn’t really a documented symptom of COVID. I was like, yeah, no, that definitely is strange. And I told my mom about that. She was like, “Nah, that can’t be true. That can’t be true.” I was like, “Yeah, it’s like, it’s true. Like it has to be!” Like, what other reason would there be for her losing her senses of taste and smell?
Narrator: An article confirming that these were COVID-19 symptoms came out that same day…and…
Dennis Quizhpi: I showed my mom the article, and she’s like, I still don’t believe you let me call our family pediatrician. And she called him. And he was like, I don’t think he read the article yet. He was like, “No, she probably, it’s probably something else. It’s not COVID.” The next day he calls back, he calls back to us. And he says, “Oh, I read the article. I found it online. And yeah, it might actually be a symptom of COVID.”
Narrator: Being under one roof with his family for an extended period of time was, naturally, frustrating. But the topic where Dennis butted heads the most with his family was one that forms a fundamental part of who his parents were and how they saw the world: their religion. Unlike his parents who are Catholic, Dennis identifies as agnostic. While he respects traditions that his family practices oftentimes Dennis’ deeper beliefs would clash with those of his parents.
Upbeat music, which could be compared to a game show theme song, (the same one played earlier) begins to play.
Narrator: Dennis and his family would pray to the Virgin Mary using rosarios. This is a tradition their family had done in the past, but once quarantine started they became more frequent.
Dennis Quizhpi: We did that virtually my family almost every night they’d gather with, they’d gather with aunts, uncles, relatives through Zoom, and we just, we would just pray and I would, you know, kind of be pulled into it. I thought it was like, okay, it was like a small hassle. It’s only like, 20, 30 minutes, I can like endure it. But then it kind of gets to the point where my parents kind of wanted to kind of extend to my everyday life. And they kind of started being a little bit too confident in what they can and can’t kind of push onto their children.
Narrator: Dennis’ mom is used to going to church several times a week. But when the pandemic began, she began to watch sermons online. Sermons that Dennis says, began to radicalize her in ways that he disagreed with.
Dennis Quizhpi: So we’re talking about the pandemic, and what that has to do with kind of, you know, God’s intention and how he might be really punishing us for what we have done. And then she comes out with a statement is like you know, he’s doing it because of, you know, homosexuality, because people are not like, sticking to tradition. And that’s why, like, you know, he’s kind of casting all of these plagues upon the world.
Narrator: Dennis wasn’t having that…
Dennis Quizhpi: And I’m like, okay, slow down. Let’s take a step back. And then it definitely simmered down. I talked to her again, like, like, the next day, and then she was like, “Oh, yeah, like, I didn’t mean to offend you.” And it, I guess, she really felt like she was sorry. And so I didn’t really let it slide. But I kind of saw that as a sign that she knew that she kind of was going against a huge cultural shift. And that she knew that like her children were going to be alienated from her if she kept up with kind of that new belief that she had picked up. Because before she wasn’t like that, obviously.
Upbeat music, which could be compared to a game show theme song, (the same one played earlier) stops.
Narrator: These differences in beliefs between Dennis and his family aren’t really a surprise. Their life experiences are completely different. Dennis’ parents were born and raised in rural farming towns in the Andes. And despite the fact that his parents have lived in New York for more than two decades, their experience of the city is largely based in their work. This has ranged from sewing factories, to fast food restaurants and eventually to the ownership of their own business: the taco truck. Dennis has lived a very different version of New York city.
Sounds of the train begin to play at a low volume.
Narrator: In high school, Dennis attended The Dalton School, a private day school for grades K to 12, located on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. Every day his commute would start in Queens, where he would ride a subway packed with immigrants from all over the world heading into Manhattan to work in restaurants, and construction sites. But when he stepped off the train, he would walk into a very different version of New York City, one that he compares to tv show Gossip Girl.
Here, sounds of the train passing by, underground, become louder and stop.
Dennis Quizhpi: Once you stepped off the six train, you kind of had to put on that Upper East Side kind of vibe. You kind of had to give that vibe out. You ran the streets, and you know that this is your place, the Upper East Side is your playground. You are here because you need to make a splash in this area. You need to make a difference and that pretty much just dictates how you carry yourself while in that environment. I kind of had to basically fake it until I made it.
Music of a slow-playing guitar begins to play. This is the same music we heard at the beginning of this piece.
Narrator: The distance Dennis traveled between Queens and the UES was the same distance he felt internally… between him and his wealthy, white classmates.
Dennis Quizhpi: It was sort of a disconnect geographically that didn’t let me just go, hop over to Manhattan. I didn’t have that kind of money. Metro cards are really expensive. So, I felt that there was a lot that was separating me from, who I wanted to be with, and also who I wanted to be. It also kind of came to the point where you kind of like, also think to yourself…you’re always going to be in this sort of like, inferior state.
Narrator: Dennis started to question his identity. This new space was at opposite worlds with the environment where he grew up. And there was another side of this, too…
Music of a slow-playing guitar stops. This is the same music we heard at the beginning of this piece.
Dennis Quizhpi: A lot of my friends told me, yeah, that was like, it was such a toxic environment, because everybody felt like they were the best. Because everybody has been through that same system. There were a lot of people there from Kindergarten and they stayed till 12th grade. So just like you couldn’t imagine, like the amount of times people told them “Yeah, you’re really special for going into the school that you are going to”, or for having parents who are, you know, super professional. That gave them a lot of artificial confidence. It certainly did well for them. It certainly helped them succeed under school and academic settings. But it left a lot of holes in them, I could feel.
Narrator: As Dennis figured out his place at Dalton, his family started noticing some differences in him. Here’s his sister, Gabby, again.
Gabriela Quizhpi: I feel very bad for saying this to him, when we were younger, but I was like, stop talking white, like, stop talking educated. Cuz, I didn’t talk like that. My sister didn’t talk like that. I think like, the way he presented himself and like, because he was exposed to like, this different environment, like we were all like, why are you acting like that? And like the way he spoke in Spanish as well. I think he took Spanish for like a year, and like you could very clearly see it was… while it was like, well spoken it was also more like Spain Spanish. It was just very enunciated. It’s not that we were against, we were just kind of, like very confused, like, the way he was presenting himself.
Upbeat music, which could be compared to a game show theme song, (the same one played earlier) begins to play.
Narrator: At Cornell, Dennis finds himself at an elite school once again. He says he’s learned how to navigate these spaces. And has become comfortable with the fact that sometimes he has to combine the side of himself he discovered in high school, with the one from his home life in Queens.
Dennis Quizhpi: Do I think I’m assimilating to the Cornell culture? I think so. Am I acting white? I think so. But honestly, I’ve been in situations here where I just instantly switch to speaking Spanish or instantly kind of just started speaking slang, Mexican, Ecuadorian slang, stuff like that. I think there is just one me and it’s literally just like that switching you got to do. It’s not really a double personality that I’m trying to portray across two different places. Both are within me and both are easily accessible.
Upbeat music, which could be compared to a game show theme song, (the same one played earlier) begins stops.
Narrator: Dennis was looking forward to making Latino friends at his new University. But even though he’s a part of organizations centered on Latino and first-generation college students….
Dennis Quizhpi: My closest friends are actually the types of people that I did not grow up with. Which is really interesting. I feel like it’s myself telling myself that I can do these things, I can mingle with other people I can, I can be part of other cultures without damaging my own.
Narrator: But, he found a tie back to home nonetheless: the taco truck.
Dennis Quizhpi: It’s three minutes walking from my dorm.
Narrator: He worked a few nights a week, sometimes picking up the late shift from 10pm to 3am. He would sometimes think about his dad working the same long night hours in Brooklyn, with the rustle and bustle of the streets…the sirens of the cars buzzing through Broadway and Kosciuszko Street.
Narrator: As the coronavirus cases continue to rise throughout the country, Dennis is back home for the winter break through the end of January. The university didn’t have students come back after Thanksgiving break. And like most college students, being back home can conflict with the newfound self and freedom they’ve experienced while away. Early in our interviews with Dennis, he said he’s always looked forward to being independent and living alone.
Dennis Quizhpi: When I go back home, my parents are gonna definitely see me, they’re always gonna see me as just as a person that has a lot to learn. Not even just like as a child, every parent sees their child as a child, as like you know, their own, but they’re always going to see me as a work in progress, and, and they’re, they’re kind of always going to kind of nag on me about things that I don’t know. Here, I get to sort of embrace the fact that I am learning and I get to present myself at college as a person who is actively growing instead of a person who is being raised.
Narrator: Dennis is back working with his dad at the food truck in Brooklyn, just like those days during the summer. While going to school, virtually, full time, he says he’ll be three to four days with his dad.
Audio of the narrator, Lisa Salinas, speaking with Don Sergio begins to play low in the background.
Narrator: When you meet the Quispe family you immediately feel their warmth. When I met Don Sergio a few months ago at the taco truck, his eyes instantly lit up when I told him I had spoken with Dennis that week.
Narrator: Hablamos con Dennis esta semana
Sergio Quizhpi: SI? Oh, que bueno!
Narrator: Creo que fue el jueves. Ariel y yo hablamos con él.
Sergio Quizhpi: Oh, si, si.
Narrator: We spoke with Dennis this week
Sergio Quizhpi: Oh yeah? That’s great!
Narrator: I think it was Thursday. Ariel and I spoke with him.
Sergio Quizhpi: Oh, si, si.
Audio of the narrator, Lisa Salinas, speaking with Don Sergio stops.
Narrator: So, it’s no surprise his family was really very excited to have the sixth member of their family back home.
Gabriela Quizhpi: We were counting down like, “Oh, my God, Dennis is coming home in two weeks. He’s coming home in a week.” We have like this calendar on our wall. I go like, “Oh, my God, look Dennis is coming home.” Yeah, we’re all excited for him to come home.
Narrator: Even the family dog jumped for joy when he saw Dennis. And Dennis…was really glad to see them, too.
Dennis Quizhpi: I was really I was really, like, excited seeing them. And I got emotional as well, especially when my dog came in and he like finally recognized me. He was, uh, it was it was really it was really touching.
Narrator: When I last caught up with him on Zoom he was eating a snack in a basement room. On the other side of the wall is the kitchen the family uses to prep the food for the taco truck. Since quarantine began back in March, it had become his new study space. And now, he’s getting ready to start his Cornell classes there.
Dennis Quizhpi: I made it into a room. I can live with it. Half of it is where we store like old winter clothes, extra baby clothes, things like that, and half of it’s like… drawers…
Audio of Dennis fades out. Music of the slow-playing guitar begins to play.
Narrator: And that balancing act we’ve been talking about? It’s a lifelong process.
Dennis Quizhpi: I mean the day I finally solve, everything that’s to be solved in terms of that, is the day that I kind of reject my cultural heritage. And I don’t want that. So I’m okay with kind of letting some issues remain, you know, as long as I’m able to kind of keep both sides of it. As long as they don’t sacrifice one side or the other. It’s like, there are going to be less instances of tension between the two in the future.
Narrator: This episode was produced by Ariel Goodman and narrated by, me, Lisa Salinas. The music you heard was from Blue Dot Sessions. Muchas gracias a la familia Quizhpi por dejarnos entrar en sus vidas y contar sus historias. Ustedes son una familia increíble y les queremos mucho!
Translation: Many thanks to the Quizhpi family for letting us into your lives and tell your stories. You all are an incredible family, and we care for you all deeply.
Special thanks to our editor and professor Karen Shakerdge, as well as everyone else in the narrative audio journalism class for your thoughtful feedback and support this semester.
Music of the slow-playing guitar stops. All audio ends at 20 minutes and 43 seconds.