Money Talks: Stef Estep-Gozalo
Stef-Estep Gozalo is an actor, writer, producer, podcaster, bartender, and #Founding500 Scout living in Los Angeles, California. We chatted with Stef about financial security, checking society’s boxes, healthcare, her experience with beauty as a Latinx immigrant, and more.
Stef hosts and produces a true-crime podcast called “Close to Home” that will be released later this year. The show centers around the crimes that take place in our own backyards.
You can follow Stef for more cool things on the gram at @coffeegremlin_
CHELSIE: Tell me about you. What do you do for work?
STEF: I’m an actor and a writer and a producer living in Los Angeles. I was working on a movie that was supposed to shoot this month but because of the craziness, we’ve obviously had to postpone everything. But I just do a lot of artistic projects and then I bartend for actual money or do commercials every once in a while if I’m really lucky.
CHELSIE: Tell me about your movie.
STEF: It’s called “Girl Afraid” like The Smiths song. It’s about this young, Latinx single mom in Fresno which is where my partner is from. Fresno is a strange kind of very diverse community, but it’s a very religious community. He and I are both Latinx, and we have that unique experience of what it is to be in Southern California and grow up in these religious households. The story is she gets pregnant. She’s a diabetic and later on she loses her job and needs to be able to get insulin. It’s really just like one really, really bad day where she needs to take care of her son, go across town when she doesn’t have a car to try to get this too expensive prescription. It’s about the health care infrastructure, and it’s set to The Smiths soundtrack. It’s pretty near and dear to my heart.
CHELSIE: That’s especially poignant right now. Health care is at the top of almost everybody’s mind because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic.
STEF: Healthcare is such a key issue to the story and to us personally because I’m on Medi-Cal. Thank God but until this point, I didn’t have any health insurance after I graduated from college. And then it was just like, okay, well, I hope I don’t get sick. I hope I don’t get in a car accident. I hope nothing bad happens because I can’t afford it. And that shouldn’t be the case for anyone. Especially for women. And it’s disgusting that these legislators are trying to make abortion basically illegal and just put all these restrictions on abortion rights. It boggles my mind. I was like, “Are you just always thinking about uteruses?” Is it just at the top of their brains but they’re just like, “Oh, this is a good time. This is a good chance to just take control of those things.” They’re always thinking about it. I don’t get it.
CHELSIE: I don’t get it. I don’t even think about my own uterus that much.
STEF: No, I do think about her once a month when she’s trying to kill me.
CHELSIE: What is it like for you working or pursuing your passion for being an actor and working in that realm but then also having to sustain your life by bartending to make ends meet?
STEF: I feel like I should be a lot more scared than I am, but it’s been my normal for so long. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck since I was in college. It’s a precarious financial situation where I feel I can never save or if I do get some savings and then something happens with my car and I need to take care of that. Finances are something that was not really discussed with me in my house growing up. I think my parents, God love them, and they believe in me and my dreams and stuff but I really think they thought I would go to college, learn enough to be interesting at parties, and marry a doctor. I never figured out how to make a budget, and I’ve had to learn that stuff on the fly. It’s hard and it’s exhausting but I can’t imagine … I mean, living in another way. I can’t imagine living in a world where I would just go to work every day. I’d make my money and be financially stable but to have that be my routine all the time? I think now most young people aren’t doing traditional corporate life because it’s all gig economy. Everything’s changing. These infrastructures aren’t really sustainable for us anymore.
CHELSIE: 46% of Americans work a gig economy side hustle to supplement their income on a monthly basis, and I don’t think the gig economy doing a good enough job of one compensating their workforce or providing resources to things like health insurance or retirement savings accounts. It’s a really big problem. I came of age during the great recession, and financial security has always felt slightly out of reach. What do you think financial security looks like or feels like?
STEF: I’ve never really attained it. I just feel like I wouldn’t be so stressed all the time or making choices like can I buy this at the grocery store right now? Or if I get this one thing with that 20 bucks be what screws me later on rent? Like if I didn’t put it aside or if I have some kind of emergency. I think financial security would just be like knowing that you have the money to maybe buy yourself a treat at the store or something like that. Or like my biggest thing is I love to get coffee. I drink a lot of coffee and every time I buy myself a coffee I have this feeling of guilt where I was like, Oh, I should’ve just made it at home. I shouldn’t have spent that $5 and what if later something comes up and I happen to be just $5 short? That feeling sucks. I think it’s hard to remember that it’s not a moral failure to be poor when it’s like just something that’s kind of instilled in you and there’s a lot of shame around it.
CHELSIE: And especially if you’re from somewhere like Reno, right? And you need to go to a larger, more expensive city to seek new opportunities for your life.
STEF: We moved to Reno when I was seven-ish, and we moved from South America, from Peru. Being Latinx and an immigrant and having this idea if you play by the rules of this country and of society, you’ll improve your life. I went to college, and I spent all this money trying to set myself up for adulthood and then I graduated but all I got was a whole bunch of debt. And I think a lot of people feel that way. Where it’s like you grow up in these places and you do all the things you’re told you’re supposed to do and then what?
CHELSIE: You hope you make it big.
STEF: I guess. Yeah. It’s just like, oh, I really needed to go to a private university to bartend every day and do all this stuff and maybe not ever be successful in what I want to do. And maybe that’s just how it is. I guess that will have to be okay.
CHELSIE: What was your experience with beauty like growing up as a Latinx immigrant in a largely white community?
STEF: Well, I passed-ish. I passed for white because my skin is a little bit lighter. My sister does not pass. She’s much darker-skinned than I am, but I have a very specific memory of being in middle school. I didn’t really start wearing makeup until this woman teacher saw me wearing a full face of makeup, because I did a lot of theater. I came to school to pick something up after I had done one of the shows and I was wearing all my stage makeup and this teacher was like, “Oh my gosh! You look so pretty. You should do that when you come to school. I bet if you did that when you came to school you’d have an easier time.” Because the kids were not super nice to me, and I was like hmm.
CHELSIE: What a very bizarre thing to say to a young person.
STEF: This same teacher also said something to me. I think she meant it to be encouraging and now I realize how racist it was. She would say stuff like, “You don’t want to hang out with the other Mexican girls, okay? You’re really smart. I don’t want you to get in trouble and be like them. You’re not like them, okay?” I did well in school because my teachers thought I was white and I’m cute. My sister had a very different experience where teachers were mean to her kind of right off the bat until they were like, “Oh, Stephanie is your sister?” And then in their brains, they could see her as like a tan white child. Beauty was interesting. I always kind of missed the mark a little bit. For a while, it was trying to pass and just not quite being able to do it. I couldn’t get my hair to work the way that white girls’ hair would work. Growing up it was very much trying to fit in, as I got a little bit older it was more about embracing what makes me different and really loving that. It wasn’t until I actually left Reno that I was like “Fuck that”.
CHELSIE: Especially as young people, we all have this urge to be alike, because for one it means safety. It means that people aren’t going to pick on you or bully you. Even as an adult it takes a while to figure out that being different and differentiating yourself is actually really powerful.
STEF: And it feels good! For me, it’s more like skincare than anything else right now because I’m not trying to cover anything or hide anything.
CHELSIE: I love that. What skincare are you loving right now?
STEF: I use a lot of Glossier stuff because I like the formulations and the packaging is pretty. Have you heard of Egyptian Magic?
CHELSIE: Yup. I have some in my mini skincare fridge right now actually. Haha.
STEF: I love that stuff. I’ll also make a lot of my own stuff. My mom would do that with me. So a lot of natural things like washing your hair with camomile tea makes it really shiny and things like … Oh, have you not done that?
STEF: And you’re blonde! You should do that. It’ll tone it, and it looks all nice and shiny. I like that kind of stuff. Or now especially it’s like I can make a face mask at home because that’s what I can afford. But it’s also that balance of not having to splurge on self-care. I’ve got a lot of things in my shopping cart from a bunch of different places that I’m not going to buy right now.