Undergraduate Research & Scholarships

Michael Papias (2021)

Tú eres Tú/You are You: A Zine Building Course for Latina/x/o Foster Youth

In Michael’s senior year at Cal, he conducted an Ethnic Studies senior honors thesis that gained the support of the Ronald E. McNair and Robert and Colleen Haas Scholars programs. His project explored the impact the child welfare system has on Latina/x/o cultural and family identity development. Michael’s research data highlighted an internal struggle of culture and family identity development amongst Latina/x/o foster youth. However, his data also suggested that Latina/x/o foster youth have developed their own set of tools to (1) avoid disclosing their foster youth status, (2) subvert state violence, and (3) reposition their lived experiences as an opportunity to create their version of “Latina/x/o.” These youth have reimagined foster care as a liminal space, where an embrace of their foster youth identity allowed them to feel autonomous and empowered by their intersectional identities

Michael brought his data to the Peter E. Haas Public Service Center, becoming a Peter E. Haas Service Leader, and creating a community partnership with the statewide nonprofit Seneca Family of Agencies. As a Peter E. Haas Leader, Michael developed Tú eres Tú/You are You, a free 6-week zine making and community building program. This past spring, his first virtual cohort of Tú eres Tú completed their zines—showing the feasibility, success, and impact of targeted, arts-based programming. With the support of the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize, Tú eres Tú will be expanding into a yearlong project consisting of two eight student cohorts. Students will learn how to use creative writing, 35mm film photography, and zine formatting as a tool to explore their Latina/x/o foster youth identity. In addition, students will meet Latina/x/o published authors, photographers, and zine makers, helping them learn their new tools from established Latina/x/o professionals.

Tú eres Tú centers Latina/x/o art production as a liberatory practice that will lead to personal and societal change. Zine building will develop student voices into a force powerful enough to abolish the stigma/stench placed onto their differences. Latina/x/o foster youth seek a freedom that will not be given to them through a friendly understanding—it requires a forceful liberation, one that disrupts a dominant image that rejects them. Student imagination and creativity will be unchained, un-surveilled by social workers, not questioned by police, not undermined by a judge, or attacked by foster parents. Their destiny no longer controlled by a state apparatus, identity not written by a piece of legislation, students will unsympathetically be the creators of their world.

Tú eres Tú’s goal is to help all 30, 934 Latina/x/o foster youth in California find their voice—our collective shout will demand everyone’s attention.

Follow Tú eres Tú at https://www.tuerestu.org/

Letters Home



Michael Papias was only ten years old when he entered California’s child welfare system and became a Latina/x/o orphan. After losing both of his parents to domestic violence, he was placed under the guardianship of his tia/aunt in the Antelope Valley. The walls of his valley, for many years, had seen immense violence: Michael witnessed confederate flags flown proudly across his city, officers harassed Michael as he walked to and from school, and in the past five years, three Latina/x/o foster youth have been murdered in the Antelope Valley. Michael’s journey through the child welfare system was compounded with hate from the new city he had to call home. This layered intersectional mess of experiences removed his ability to think and speak freely. In Michael’s Junior year of high school, he saved up $40 and asked his classmate Jonathan, the only person in his friend group that knew of Michael’s foster youth identity, to help him purchase a 35mm film camera from eBay. Michael began to photograph his walks home, his friend group, and even took portraits of himself—each roll of film contained 36 frames, when he was focused entirely on one person/place/thing. It was 36 moments that were memorable during a difficult and troubling childhood. During this period of photography, Michael’s first and only teacher of color handed him Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima. It was the first time Michael had ever heard the phrase “Chicano literature.” Anaya’s romantic realism conjured up memories of the stories Michael had heard from his father, cousins, and grandfather, around their family fire pit. The work of Anaya allowed Michael to grow comfortable with his Mexican-American identity and helped him explore his interest in creative writing. Michael has paid tribute to Anaya, who passed away in 2020, by pulling the phrase “Tú eres Tú” from Anaya’s 1992 novel Alburquerque, a nod to the work that brought him comfort while in the child welfare system. Michael arrived to UC Berkeley at the age of 17 with his camera, a few changes of clothes, and his copy of Bless Me, Ultima. He felt alone on campus, believing that he was the only student who had endured the loss of his parents. After three years of living in his loneliness, Michael reached out to Professor Victoria Robinson for help. Dr. Robinson pointed him towards the Berkeley Hope Scholar (BHS) office. BHS provided Michael with an entire community of scholars that also endured loss in their childhood and had to navigate the child welfare system. Michael grew more comfortable with his identity and voice while an active BHS community member. Michael is grateful for community support programs like BHS, the teacher of color that introduced color into his academics, and friends/allies like Jonathan—the people who really want to see foster youth succeed. Michael has graduated from UC Berkeley with a double major in Ethnic Studies and Film and a minor in Education. In addition to working on Tú eres Tú, Michael writes creative essays and poems, he creates experimental films that explore the Latina/x/o foster youth identity, and edits a quarterly self-published Zine titled: Orphan Tongue. Michael has dedicated his artwork, academic work, and advocacy to help Latina/x/o foster youth find their voice.

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