Bethzaida Olivera Is a Former Republican Fed Up With Racism. Here’s What She Wants People to Know

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Image courtesy of Bethzaida Olivera

By Mivette Vega

August 18, 2020

The Puerto Rican paralegal has witnessed many injustices against Hispanic communities. She left the Republican party, even before Trump, for many reasons.

For Bethzaida Olivera Vázquez, who moved to the United States in September 2016, the so-called “land of freedom” has proved to be a utopia at best.

Olivera moved to Florida after losing her job as a legislative analyst in the San Juan Office of Legislative Services. She found a job as a child-protection investigator in the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Tampa.

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As soon as she arrived, she noticed that of the 30 employees in the office there were only three Hispanics and one African American. As she began working, she noticed attitudes toward Hispanics that made her feel uncomfortable. 

“There was an inspector who would get in a bad mood every time she had to visit a Hispanic household. Once she told me, ‘You’ll see how I’ll find 15 people living in a trailer, and the man will be an alcoholic.’ I said, ‘Why are you telling me that? Does it have to be that way?’ ” Olivera told The Americano.

WATCH: Here’s What Betzaida Olivera Wants People to Know About Racism

She experienced discrimination firsthand and observed a lack of consideration from white co-workers toward workmates of different races. Once, when filing a complaint against a supervisor, Olivera was criticized for “her limited language.”  

Unfortunately, the paralegal faced more problems. In 2017, she began working as a community service officer at Orient Road Jail.

Once again, she was one of the few Hispanics working there. She was the only person in her division who spoke Spanish, even though they dealt with immigrants. 

It was then that Olivera became familiar with the situations immigrants have to live through. It “broke her heart” to see them detained because of DUI. If there were children and a family member was not around to pick them up, they would end up in a foster home.

Olvera’s situation became more stressful when she became pregnant with Esmeralda, her daughter with husband Sean Patterson. 

“During that time, the government started putting children in cages. The worst thing is I couldn’t do anything to help, as much as I tried. The system is wrong.”

In light of that situation and her own experiences, Olivera always makes sure to have documents on hand for herself and her daughter, who has red hair and blue eyes. 

“People have asked me if I’m her nana. I live in fear, even if I’m a professional and an American citizen. I’ve seen how your house can be destroyed, or how you can get lost in the system just because you are from another country,” said Olivera, who studied law at the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico.

For the paralegal, racism has “gotten worse” since Donald Trump became president. She grew up involved in the political and social-justice fields because her mother worked with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).  

“I noticed that when Trump won, many racists were emboldened because they saw a bully in him.”

Olivera visited Washington D.C. many times with her mother. At age 19, she was an intern in the U.S. Congress. In Florida, she worked as a paralegal, and as a professor of criminal justice and constitutional rights at the Ana G. Méndez University. She recently lost her job at a law firm because her daughter was deemed an “impediment to doing her job” during the pandemic.

Olivera was raised Republican. She even met George W. Bush, with whom she sympathized regardless of not agreeing with some of his policies.

Meeting Barack Obama when he was a senator was a life-changing experience for her, from a political point of view. At that point, she became a Democrat. 

“After meeting Obama I saw reality. I understood the importance of choosing the right candidate, one who seeks the good of the collective and not just a few,” Olivera explained.

She wants Puerto Ricans to be more prepared for the elections. She worries about their misconceptions. For example, she mentioned how a Puerto Rican said they would vote for Trump because of the money he gave to the island after Hurricane María. 

“No! Trump has given us nothing! He doesn’t give money. FEMA’s money is not a favor —we pay for that money with our mortgage. Social Security too, we pay it with our salary!” Olivera said. 

Pondering on Joe Biden as presidential candidate for the Democrats, she thinks he can “unite the party” and has had the opportunity to evolve through time. 

“Biden always supported workers no matter where they came from. He supports the underdog. He will work to give citizens a better quality of life—that is what the United States needs now,” Olivera concluded. 

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