He had been living in the U.S. for 9 years. Then he started thinking: Why not move back home?

Uvaldo Ramirez had been living in New Jersey for nine years when he started to think about it: Why not move back to Guatemala?

All photos by Anna-Cat Brigida.


He crossed the border into the United States at age 13, moving in with relatives and taking a job as a dishwasher in New Jersey to earn money for his family back home.

But life in the States wasn't easy. Not only did he have to learn English, he also had to learn Spanish. He grew up in Cajolá, an indigenous community in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, where residents speak Mam, a Mayan language.

Communication was only one obstacle. The bigger issue was that he never had legal immigration status, which meant he could be deported if anyone ever found out. Eventually, life in the U.S. just seemed too hard.

“I got tired of it and I felt lonely, so I returned to Guatemala," he said.

The return home wasn't without its challenges, though. He needed a job.

Luckily, he got a call from Willy Barreno, a friend and fellow Guatemalan who had been living in New York until 2007 but had also returned home. Willy offered him a position at Cafe RED, a cute little restaurant that was also an offshoot of his nonprofit organization, Sustainable Development for Guatemala (DesGua in Spanish). The cafe was in Quetzaltenango, the country's second-largest city and not far from Uvaldo's hometown.

A relaxed vibe on a Friday afternoon.

The position was on a volunteer basis, but it came with other benefits. Uvaldo could get business and management experience, a support system of other returning migrants, and a smooth reintegration into Guatemalan society. His wife's salary as a teacher was able to support them both for the time being, which made the arrangement possible.

Now working at the cafe, Uvaldo extols what he calls “the Guatemalan dream."

What is the Guatemalan dream? According to Uvaldo, it's the right to find a decent job and live a quality life without migrating to the U.S.

In the 2015 fiscal year, more than 13,500 Guatemalan minors — like Uvaldo was when he came to the U.S. — were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol while trying to cross the border. Another 15,000 were caught coming from El Salvador and Honduras. Many of those people are looking for jobs, hoping to escape violence, or trying to reconnect with relatives.

A person's new life in America can be rewarding — a chance to earn more, live in a safe place, or be with family — but it also means sacrifices.

Uvaldo at Cafe RED, also called La Red KAT (Cafe, Academics, and Store Network).

Cafe RED aims to help more Guatemalans succeed without having to start their life over somewhere else.

Willy Barreno had lived in the U.S. working at restaurants for 14 years, but he always felt his roots were in Guatemala.

Barreno on the job.

He decided to return in 2007 and use his knowledge of migration and restaurant work to launch Cafe RED. The mission: provide job opportunities and training to returning and potential migrants so they have the chance to stay in Guatemala.

In Spanish, “red" means network — and the name doesn't just signify that the place has Wi-Fi (although they have that, too). The cafe is a support system, a network of returning migrants and youth considering the journey north.

For six years, Uvaldo has been an administrator at the nonprofit, which really means he does a little bit of everything.

Since returning home, Uvaldo has not considered migrating again.

Hands-on experience.

He is closer to his family and culture, and he believes his work has a positive impact in Guatemala.

Willy has big hopes for Cafe RED. He started one cafe, but why can't it become a movement?

He has limited funding to open more cafes, but he hopes other Guatemalan business owners will follow his example and provide jobs to youth — giving them the option to stay.

So much of the immigration debate focuses on the impact of newcomers in the U.S.

But if we can understand what drives people to leave their home countries — and what they might need in order to stay — we might come up with ways to offer people more choices.

Some people, according to Barreno, would definitely prefer that. In his words:

“When we know our roots, we can be happy with ourselves."

A message in the cafe reads, "More love, please." Let's add jobs to that, too.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."