I consider myself pretty open-minded and judgment-free. I understand that each person’s life is different and intricate in its own way and that I can never know exactly what someone is going through, period. I cringe when people decide some problem is caused by one thing and requires just one solution, because I believe that’s impossible.
Ever since I learned in school about slavery and the subsequent culture of racism against blacks, I have had empathy for black lives. I read Sula and Black Like Me in high school and remember being moved to tears, and don’t get me started on how I still bawl like a baby every 15 minutes during The Help. I was never close to the black community because I lived in a town that was 98% Mexican until I was 20, but I always felt empathy.
Last year, when events were unfolding in Ferguson, just 15 minutes from my home, my heart was heavy. I am married to a God-serving and loving, educated black man that comes from a stable and supportive family and extended family, and it hurt me to think that anyone could look at my husband and think otherwise. It pained me to think that someone could decide that my husband’s life was not as valuable as theirs because of the color of his skin, and it pained me even more to think that someone could decide to back their prejudice with some sort of insult, threat, or worse. My heart ached for days, weeks, and ever since then, I’ve carried a little bit more empathy for the black life experience that has never been my own, but that is now so close to me.
Just recently, I came to the realization that I have always seen racism as a “white vs black” problem. I have never felt like I was discriminated against because I was Mexican. Hello, I’m adorable! If any sort of label was given to me, it was that of the “spicy Latina” and really, what harm is there in that. I even laughed at the notion that someone said (to my face), “You’re too pretty to be Mexican. Sure you’re not Puerto Rican? Or Colombian?” because, again, I told myself, what’s the harm in that. People are weird.
The truth of the matter is that I have a life experience that is currently being attacked in politics, media, and by proxy, by the general public, and it has brought to light many opinions from people that I thought I knew that are meant to insult me and my entire ethnic background. All of this came to a head last night when, after seeing post after post of racist rants on Facebook, this yucky feeling of... defensiveness, maybe? starting pouring out of me in a way that it never has before. I am lucky to have Ben by my side to let me cry, listen to my troubled thoughts, and console me with intelligent conversation and chocolate, because he’s the best.
Although I am an American citizen, I am also an immigrant, as are my parents. I could even be considered one of these “anchor babies” that the GOP is loving to hate right now. And when we first moved to the US when I was 7, my parents did it all legally but did require assistance for years as our family grew and my parents did missionary work. We always had just enough. I didn’t have a new backpack every school year and I didn’t go on any high school trips that cost money. All of my healthcare needs were met in Mexico and I didn’t go away to college right away so I could save some money. And even though I am neither confirming nor denying that I have a juvie record (hehe), guess what, I turned out pretty ok and I’m sure I’ve paid back in taxes on one bonus check more than my entire family received in a year. And that’s just me... my parents both work now, all of my siblings do also, and one of them is in the military. Can someone please just acknowledge that just because there are some bad Mexicans out there, it doesn’t mean we are all out to get your jobs or to shoot you, Ann Coulter?! I could pull all that lady’s hair out in a minute. Not that I ever would.
So I was telling Ben last night that I’ve always had empathy for this race problem in America, but now I also have experience. It hit me much harder than I ever thought it would, even though none of it has been specifically directed at me, it hurts just the same. I felt like that man was telling ME to go back to Mexico when he was saying it to Jorge Ramos and I felt a slap in the face like I never have before.
I am not going to allow this to jade me. For my children, who are both black and Mexican. For my people, because we can do so much if we are all strong together. And for my own life experience, because I matter.