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Jonathan Menjivar’s Guide to Being “Classy”

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Jonathan Menjivar is a reporter and podcast producer who previously worked on This American Life and NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He’s also the creator and host of his own podcast, Classy with Jonathan Menjivar, in which he discusses the complexities of class as it relates to wealth, race, and identity. Here are his thoughts on how to be classy about class.

Make sure to listen to the full interview with Jonathan.

Jonathan Menjivar Rewrites His Story on Class transcript

1. Anyone can be classy (not just rich folks).

You can be classy no matter where you come from. And there is real dignity and beauty and laughter and just three-dimensionalness of people, even poor people. I feel like that’s so often, even in kind of well-meaning liberal media, not the portrayal of people of that class.

There’s just an acknowledgement that some of us have things and some of us don’t, and there’s a lot of overwhelming feelings that go with that. Some of that is warranted, I think. Some of it’s not. So much of this stuff is stories we are telling ourselves, at least for someone in my position, I think. For someone of a lower class, the sort of made-upness of it is there are very real issues that people are facing.

2. Embrace your guilt.

I’ve realized, both in making [my podcast Classy] and just getting older is that you’re not gonna get rid of [the guilt], you’re just gonna have it. And the thing to do with that guilt is to sit with it a little bit, put your arm around it, and look it in the face and examine it and try and understand where it’s coming from, and make friends with it. And in that way, I think you can both diminish its power over you. 

And then also, it’s okay to feel shitty, even if you have managed to reexamine it and be like, Oh, no, no, no, some of us have things and some of us don’t, and if you happen to be one of those people that has [gained wealth or status and] you feel shitty about it, it’s okay. That’s probably a good thing for you to feel, to be questioning, like, wow, it’s pretty wild that in this unfair system, I somehow have managed to benefit from it.

3. Treat yourself. 

Spending money on yourself is a thing that for me, just in general, I feel guilty about, you know, you know, like a lot of immigrant children, my parents were sacrificing stuff and not having nice things themselves so that we could have stuff. So there is a real question of just like, What right do I have to like, buy a new pair of jeans when my old pair hasn’t worn out yet? 

But also, I think this is the life that my parents wanted for me. You know, they wanted me to have like, whatever I wanted, you know. 

4. Recognize when you’re putting on airs.

It feels shitty to not be a part of that club [where people recognize you for the school you went to]. At the same time, there is a way in which my version of saying I went to a state school, I commuted there every day, I lived at home—it’s both pathetic and also a little bit of a badge of honor. But even that, I’m just like, man, why am I pretending like this struggle that I had or the story that I tell about my college existence somehow gives me something?

It’s taken me a long time to feel like I belong somehow. Because I really did not feel for a long time working in some of the places in media that I have worked that I belonged and that I knew what I was doing at all.

5. The way you see yourself and the way others see you might not match (and that’s OK).

There have been descriptions of the show where people have said it’s about coming to terms with being okay with being upper class. And I’m like, wait, what? And then I had to be like, wait a minute. I mean, I’m not upper class. I think I’m probably technically upper middle class, but I thought all along what I was saying was, I have all this shit that I carry around as a working class kid, that’s the story I’m telling. 

And it has been surprising both in the making of it and the reception of the show to understand that people see things differently than I do. Of course they do. We are telling our stories to ourselves based on our own experiences and who we were as children and all of that.

Mash-up guilt is all too real. We feel it all the time, especially over what we spend money on (that our parent’s would never).

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