By Karla De Jesus
Lately I have been questioned by Latinx people about why I speak out about the brutality targeting black people, since it is an issue that ‘doesn't affect me’. These types of questions that are generated by my own upset me, because many Latinx youth do not stand up for a problem if it doesn't directly affect them. The first time that I realized the tactics the white media uses to justify such brutality, I was in 6th grade and Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. As my teacher told us the details, we understood that Trayvon was a kid like many of us, who engaged in activities that we took part of in our own neighborhoods.
However, he was black.
Although his blackness made it so he wasn’t told to go back to his country, he wasn’t told that his spanish accent made him an alien, he wasn't told that he stole jobs, his blackness got him murdered. I began to understand that although we were taunted and wanted out of America, we would never be so hated as black people are. The next couple of days were filled with pictures of Trayvon with his middle finger out, with big shirts, with a ‘mean muggin’ face, all of which were supposed to justify the bullets that stopped his heartbeat and took him away from the world. Now I don't know about everyone else, but I know that I have Latinx friends who took pictures like the ones of Trayvon, and in no way were they kids that deserved to be taken away from their loved ones.
Many Latinx feel as if the “Black Lives Matter” movement is to advocate for the superiority of Black people over everyone else, and it’s difficult to explain the difference between pride and supremacy. The care-free black girls that I have met throughout the years have encouraged me to love my dark skin, to love my browness, and to fight against the slurs that are yelled at my undocumented parents. Even now that I’m in high school, it is beautiful to see black people love their blackness, without caring about the opinions of those who don't.
When I began to be more open about my passions for human rights I began to attend protests that addressed problems in the Mexican community. Here, I witnessed so many black people who’d go to stand in solidarity with us, and that is where I realized that I had to do the same and use my Latinx privilege to talk about their oppression. I started to speak out on social media, encouraging my friends and family to do the same. I have tried to attend protests that are dedicated to the victims of brutality, so other Latinx people can see that unity is possible if we allow ourselves to gain courage, and defeat those who try to separate the brown and black communities.
Recently I attended a march that was organized by Assata’s Daughters, and it was truly amazing. It’s really inspiring to see queer women empowering themselves and informing the public on the deaths of queer black women while still being inclusive and giving shout-outs to the Brown and Asian communities. At the start there were many speakers who recited poetry, sang songs, and spoke their mind, but what hit me the most was that they invited an Indigenous woman to speak out about the brutality Indigenous people have faced since their colonization. The inclusiveness was truly beautiful; you don't see a group of people have the platform for an issue they are currently facing, while still remembering those from distinct communities who are facing issues as well.
When we began to march, we stopped at important landmarks for the communities we walked through. We were told the historic importance of them and how they related back to the brutality that is occurring. Protests downtown are swarmed with policemen, making sure we ‘thugs’ don't ruin their landscapes and architecture, but at this protest, the number of policemen was so little, as if they didn't have anything to protect. This protest allowed me to stand in solidarity while learning about things that textbooks never taught me. We are never taught in school how cocaine was brought into black communities, and that it catalyzed the violence referred to as ‘black on black’ violence, as if the greater system is not responsible for it. It is facts like those that can open the eyes of other people, so they can see who is really controlling the violence we face as minorities.
With all the information that I have attained, through readings, protests, and friends, I think Latinx people need to stand in unity with black people, we need to address that racism is a much bigger issue for the black community than it is for us. We must fight with them because of the simple fact that they are humans and deserve basic rights. We gotta have each others back. Su lucha es nuestra lucha
Photos by Emi Stearn.
I recently was able to attend the Chicago premiere of “He Named Me Malala” at the Chicago International Film Festival, and participate in a Q&A session with director of the film, Davis Guggenheim. “He Named Me Malala” is based on Malala Yousafzai’s book of the same name. Malala is an 18 year old activist for women’s rights and education, especially for the education of women in third world countries where it is either not easily accessible or denied to them.
The Taliban, a Pakistani extremist group, banned the education of girls beyond learning the messages of the Qu’ran. Malala counteracted this act by continuously publicly speaking against it as a girl seeking education. She soon became a symbol for oppressed Pakistani girls.
In 2012, while on her way to school, the Taliban stopped her school bus and shot Malala three times, one bullet hitting her in the head. Other girls were injured as well. After intensive care and therapy, Malala survived and continues to advocate for her cause. She recently founded the Malala Fund, an initiative to provide 12 years of safe education for girls all over the world. In 2014, she became the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Malala’s movie, “He Named Me Malala”, focuses on Malala and her resilience. The entire film is modeled around the historical story of a girl named Malala who spoke out in a war despite it being considered ‘radical’, and was killed for it. Coincidentally, Malala is also an outspoken woman in a place where it is looked down on as well. The film open your eyes to an issue not always talked about: oppression of women of color in third world countries and the systemic importance of education. “He Named Me Malala” makes you think about situations happening on the Eastern hemisphere that Westerners are privileged to not experience. We often forget in this place of privilege that fundamental rights are not rooted in systems everywhere. Oppression on both sides of the hemisphere, although both legitimate, are on two different spectrums. Throughout the film, we are able to step into Malala’s shoes and feel her persistence in changing this situation for these girls. Her vision can not be dismissed. For those who want to educate themselves on global oppression and initiatives to minimize it, this film is a good first resource. It does a good job of not evoking pity, but admiration for the strength these girls have to endure such obstacles.
In the Q&A with Davis Guggenheim, the director of the film, I asked,
“How do the struggles of WOC on the Eastern Hemisphere like Malala and WOC in America parallel, and how can we minimize these struggles?”
Guggenheim replied, “WOC are denied opportunities just as WOC there are. Especially in minority neighborhoods, the system doesn’t allow certain people to get to resources outside of their neighborhood. The education offered in these low socioeconomic neighborhoods isn’t as good. Education is stripped on both ends. To minimize these struggles we need to provide more opportunity”.
Later in the Q&A he reflected on the impact the film had on Malala and her family saying, “The act of making the movie was a kind of therapy. I think the movie was an odd experience for them. But to her, it’s her mission. She really feels like she is the spokeswoman for these 66 million girls. She sees the headlines on what’s happening in Syria, Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa. She knows these girls are just like her. She wants to do something about it. The attention is nice, but she wants them to serve a purpose.”
When asked about different reactions people in Pakistan had to Malala he said, “It’s very unfortunate how her story gets twisted in Pakistan. There isn’t a lot of info about her, and I think it goes right back to education. People need to be educated well, be able to read well, to understand her story and their history. There’s this idea that they continuously turn her story. When she got shot they captured it with their imaginations. When she became popular in the west they called her westernized. But there is also an even greater population in Pakistan that love her, and that’s what’s most important”.
Both the film and the Q&A touched a lot on the struggles of different Islamic women, forms of oppression, and the importance of education. Impacted by the film, I sought to interview Islamic women on these subjects and Malala’s affect on them.
Njeila is a 16 year old Bosnian-American Sunni-Islamic woman, and Sarah is an 18 year old Pakistani-American Shia-Islamic woman. Although a part of two different cultures that come from different parts of the world, both had similar responses and ideas, especially when it came to the abundance of Islamophobia in America. Below are statements from their interview transcripts.
Misconceptions of the Hijab and Islamophobia
“In terms of the Hijab, there are some places in Southeast Asia where many women wear it because it is normalized, not necessarily forced, and there are some places where few women wear it. I currently am not a Hijabi. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about being one. I was severely bullied in grade school for being Pakistani and Muslim by teachers and students. I would get chanted at and spit at on the street when I wore it. When I go out for religious reasons and when I’m comfortable, I wear it. I feel like it’s so people don’t view me as a sexual object. When I wear it, it’s rare that I get catcalled. It’s like a mechanism of protection. It helps to alleviate objectification. I hate when people call Hijabis victims. Anytime someone sees a picture of a girl in a Hijab they say ‘that’s not feminism’. They say the most degrading and hurtful things about these women. I don’t understand how it’s different from a regular choice. It’s who you want to be represented as, and that’s fine. One isn’t more okay than the other. There is this western heroism because people want to ‘save these people being humiliated by this scarf’ and I just don’t get it. Why can’t they make choices? When I wear a Hijab people don’t make eye contact with me. Over the years, it’s gotten better. But when I was ten and wearing the Hijab, this big white guy chanted USA in my face, spat on me, and told me to go back to my country. I was ten. I think you learn as a Pakistani-American Muslim woman that people don’t like you. If people even see the word Islam they will say the most horrible things. It’s become okay in the media to slander Islam.” -Sarah
“I don’t like when people assume that when a woman wears a Hijab she is being controlled by a male, or by society because that should be her choice. In Islam that is the choice that you make, and that only you can make for yourself. No one else can make that choice for you. However, people confuse religion with culture. If her culture makes her do that, if society makes her do that, that doesn’t mean it’s because of her religion. It’s because of people around her and her traditions. ‘You have to wear the Hijab, you have to cover yourself. Women can’t drive or ride bikes.’- That doesn’t mean the religion says they cannot drive or ride bikes. Anywhere else in the world they can, no matter their religion. It’s a cultural thing. Wearing the Hijab is a really hard choice to make. You dedicate yourself to that for your entire life. It’s not something you decide overnight. Sometimes, your family does it so you kind of want to do that. That makes you happy because of the tradition. With me, it’s not really the tradition. It’s something I hope one day I can do, but I’m not ready for that. I feel like you really need to be ready and content with that decision. It means different things for different people. For me, It would mean being modest for the rest of your life. Making different choices. Once you do that you’re limiting yourself. But I feel like that’s a great thing, to live a clean and pure lifestyle. According to the religion, you only are supposed to show yourself to your husband. You can take the scarf home and show them to your brother, father, and husband. If you wear the Hijab you tend to get discriminated against. People approach you either as a victim or a criminal. They think you’re either forced into it or a terrorist. They’ll think you support terrorist groups and that you are violent. Or, they think you should go back to your own country. These are things that keep people from wearing the hijabs. It’s like a lot of change. You have to change your lifestyle, and people’s reactions towards you will also change. Our generation is more likely to accept it, but parents can be skeptical. People sometimes do see it as a costume and not culture. The best way to combat that is through education.” -Njeila
Culture vs. Religion
“When we do religious things like Ramadan and Eid, it’s better there. The atmosphere is different. Everyone around you is celebrating the same holiday. It’s more fun and more positive. Whereas here, I have to take a day off from school because it’s not a religious holiday for everyone. I’m actually wondering what tests I’m missing, and if it’s worth it taking a day off from school. Eid for us is like Christmas for Christians. We get two Eids a year. It’s kind of the only holiday we have. Its sad because sometimes I’m worried about if it’s worth it to miss school and hang out with my family. Sometimes it’s easier to go to school than spend time with my family.” -Njeila
“A lot of my culture is religious. I attend my Mosque regularly. I’m involved in Islamic youth groups and conferences. It’s all dependent on the person. I’m personally at peace with my identity. With people at my Mosque, there are those who wear traditional clothing, it varies from casual wear to really fancy wear. Religion is a great part of that. But I feel like when you become a Pakistani-American you differentiate culture and religion a lot. Holidays are normally based off of religion. Eid just happened like a week ago. You got dressed up in cultural clothes, you do henna, you put on makeup, you go out with your family to your Mosque. It’s like Christmas. Being Southeast Asian, other examples of culture would be like Bollywood movies. I think the work ethic is different. The reason for you working in Pakistan is family. We work in America for ourselves. Its very self focused. Over here it’s about getting together with your friends, over there it’s about getting together with your cousins. Over there modesty in a different manner is looked upon. Modesty here is looked at solely as religious. Modesty there is culturally religious. The way you interact with people and everything is culturally religious. Over there you don’t think very hard about being Muslim. It is what it is. Islam is very integrated into culture. They have a very clear distinction. It’s far less integrated here.” -Sarah
Association Between Islam and Terrorism
“Whats sad is that when we think of terrorist groups we think of them as a complete representation of a religion. We forget that terrorists groups most often target Muslim people as well. My friend was telling me the Taliban wouldn’t let Muslim girls in Pakistan go to school, and they were hanging Muslim men. You would think they wouldn’t because they should try to show how they are for Muslim people. It just goes to show that they are actually sick people and not Muslim. Just because you identify as Muslim, doesn’t mean you are following the religion like the rest of us.” -Njeila
“People say Muslims don’t speak out against terrorist groups enough, and that’s just not true. We continuously say that these groups aren’t Muslim. But somehow, they are still connoted with the religion. Terrorism has now only been affiliated with Islam. I’ve been called a terrorist by teachers. It’s just a sad reality of life. It’s the only perception people have of you, and when they don’t, you’re surprised.” -Sarah
Malala and the Importance of Education
“I think no one expects for a strong female to come out of Pakistan. It shows how there is a change in Pakistan, and that women want to be educated. Unfortunately, they are being told that they aren’t supposed to have it. Education allows for people to get out of the hierarchical place they are born into in society. There’s a saying that, “If you educate a man the only thing that changes is he lives in a better house, he wears better clothes, and he will have a better life for himself. If you educate a woman, everyone in the neighborhood is going to be dressed better, eat better, and have a better education”. Terrorists groups think educating girls would mess up the entire social structure. Women go out more, they speak more, and they have more social connections. Its interesting that someone so young can be used as a symbol of hope for so many Pakistani girls oppressed by militants. The one thing you can’t take away from people is education , and they are afraid of that. If girls in Pakistan are educated, these militants lose their power. Malala represents the opportunity to get out and speak your mind. A lot of young girls think no one on the other side is going to care. Malala shows them they do. If someone who has been through so much like Malala can do it, they can too. It gives them hope that even if they can’t get education, maybe their kids can.” -Sarah
“Educating girls scares the Taliban. When you educate a girl you educate an entire community and improve it. Like in India, it would be a really good thing because when you educate girls they learn about their options such as birth control. When you don’t, you’re limiting them and making them dependent on someone else. I read Malala’s book. I think it’s great. I feel like if anyone deserves the Nobel Peace Prize it’s her. I think it’s so great that a girl shot by the Taliban has such a positive outlook. She has the Malala fund now, and she’s making a big difference. I think the American society thinks it’s cool but small. We don’t recognize it as a big deal. We think it’s a good thing, but there’s so much negativity around Islam, people would rather focus on that. Malala gets a lot of popularity with the fact that she is a WOC, and she was shot by the Taliban. It’s a big part of her story. If she were a white girl from the U.S. she would get more help from people of importance from the U.S. She would have more support if she were white because of white privilege. I feel like we almost feel bad for Malala. We’re like she deserves recognition, but she isn’t going to do anything effective. If she were white, it would immediately be as though she’s making this huge difference. It would be like ‘Good for you for helping those girls’. They say it’s cute that she’s trying, but her culture and religion will overpower her. But that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try. I think girls in third world countries, especially from Pakistan, see her as an idol. She went from having limited education to winning the Nobel Peace Prize. She’s definetely making a difference.” -Njeila
For more on Malala visit: www.malala.org
“He Named Me Malala” premieres in theaters in America October 9th.
SEPTEMBER 15- OCTOBER 15 WAS LATINX/ HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH. ONLY RECENTLY HAS THE OCCASION BEEN ALSO REFERRED TO AS LATINX HERITAGE MONTH. LATINX IS A NON-GENDER CONFORMING LABEL FOR A PERSON OF COLOR ORIGINATING FROM A LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRY. MANY LATINX PEOPLE DO NOT IDENTIFY AS HISPANIC BECAUSE IT IS LIKE CALLING THEM THE PEOPLE WHO COLONIALIZED THEIR COUNTRY. IT IS LIKE IDENTIFYING THEM WITH THE SAME LABEL AS THEIR OPPRESSOR.
THEIR IS SO MUCH PRIDE AND CULTURE IN LATINX COMMUNITIES. ALTHOUGH IT IS AFTER LATINX HERITAGE MONTH, THE HERITAGE AND CELEBRATION IS FOREVER. IN HONOR OF LATINX HERITAGE MONTH, BELOW IS A GALLERY OF LATINX HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS IN CHICAGO AND THEIR RESPONSES TO THE PROMPT, “WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE LATINX?”.
“For me being Latina means being powerful. This is because I think our culture derives from a very colorful and vibrant background. I feel like the movement to the United States, immigrating, takes courage to preserve your culture and thrive. Thinking of my family I think of power because I know we have gone through a lot but I also see how far we have overcome these struggles. We are setting a better lifestyle for future generations to grow more and more. I’m really proud to be Latina because our culture is the most historically diverse. I feel like there is a lot of things that are taken into consideration with our culture. We have gone through a lot of victories and oppression. even going back to Aztecs being conquered by the Spaniards, yet we were still able to get our land back. Art is a big part of our culture. It tells stories. As a Latina living in the United States I feel a lot of oppression, but at the same time if Latinx people unite we can preserve our beautiful and amazing culture. Being a Latina I am really prideful and I’m always doing what I can to show I’m proud.”
“I am proud to be Latina because I love my culture, and my hard working, beautiful, and strong people. We are minorities, which mean people don’t always trust in our capabilities to succeed. Being a Latina means working as hard as I can to disprove the expectations people have of me.”
“I am very proud of where I come from. A Latina female living in Chicago. In today’s society racism is not supposed to exist anymore, but we all know that is not true. Walking down the streets of my school neighborhood on the north side and listening to the way people stereotype me because of what I look like. The color of my skin and hair and the way I speak Spanish. Many Latina females have accomplished their dreams of success, which shows how strong we are considering where we come from. As a young girl I never thought about it but the stereotypes of Latinos are everywhere. We can be powerful if we work together to let everybody know we are not the stereotypes they believe we are, we are strong women that want to succeed and help other Latina women to know that things can and will get better.”
“To be Latina means to have perseverance, to never give up, to have strength, to make a movement, to have your voice heard, to never give up, to give strength to others. That’s what it means for me to be Latina.”
“Latina is someone who faces their problems set on. We face a lot of struggles, but we know how to work as a team. A lot of the time we are the underdogs. People don’t always see us. But we are also here. We have a voice and we aren’t afraid to fight for ourselves.”
“As a young kid growing up in a primarily Latinx community I didn’t understand what it meant to be a Latinx in America, I heard Spanish at home and at the grocery store, I saw tamale and stole being sold at every block. I assumed that the world consisted of this and oh how I was wrong. As I got older and had a chance to get out of my community I started noticing that I was in fact very different from the other kids. I spoke Spanish and they spoke English. My mom was dark and their mom was paper white. I was poor, they were rich. Then I started hearing what kids were say about me and of my community. I was likely to get pregnant at 15 and then survive of food stamps. My dad was not deserving of his job, he stole it from others. My mom was probably submissive and yet at the same time abusive. I heard someone say MY culture was trash and therefore so was our future. I heard all these things but they never made me feel bad or ashamed. My dad is a hardworking man and so is my mom. As an immigrant woman with little to no education she managed to raise my sisters and me and we have turned out great. My immigrant sister who was told she had no future went to one of the countries best universities on a full ride scholarship. My other sister also went to college. I am going to college and I will be successful. Latinx are not criminals or rapists we are hard working people. We work our asses off day and night for our children to have a better future. We risk being arrested and deported every single day of our lives as we drive our kids to and from school. Latinx people are brave and strong. I will never be ashamed of my culture, of my country or of my people. I am Latinx and I am forever proud.”
“Being Latinx is a fight to keep my culture alive. My island is becoming nothing but a little vacation spot for tourists. My Taino roots, I don’t even know about them, they were taken when my island was taken. My culture is almost gone. I’m afraid that in a few years, all we will have is our rice and our salsa music. I am proud to be Latinx, I just wish I had more of a culture to show it.”
“To me, being a Latinx child of Mexican immigrants is all about duality. For as long as I can remember, my life has been one realm “en español, el mundo de los paisas“, where I was raised and where my enormous family back in México resides, and one “en ingles, el mundo de los gringos” that I go to school in and is the only world that my privileged white friends, who I used to go to school with in Evanston, have ever known. This is a world here Donald Trump’s delusions are never more than a punchline, where my hard-to pronounce, hyphenated last name is never more than a punchline (Or worse, the sugarcoated: “Alt-Altamirano-Iniestra?” That’s so.. exotic!!”). When these worlds collide, the result is painful and beautiful and confusing but most importantly, it has seeped into every aspect of my life and carefully crafted who I am. It is the purely and utterly uplifting feeling of finding a Latinx poet, politician, educator, etc. who really just “gets it”- listening to them talk is like coming home to recharge after a long, long day. It is the automatic bond that you make when a Timbiriche song comes on and you realize you’re not the only one subconsciously singing along.
Conversely, it is also the sinking feeling of suddenly looking around your 30-person advanced math class in middle school and realizing you are one of two POC, and the only WOC/Latinx person, along with the equally alarming realization that not much has changed in high school. It is knowing that when someone asks me: “so, where ARE you from?” they’re not asking for my neighborhood, but also the Pyrrhic victory I feel when I answer, “you mean, why am I not white?”
It is the sense of dread that hung over me for weeks after my old friend and I were playing tag in her backyard when we were in 3rd grade and she yells, “run like it’s the immigration police!”- She didn’t know what she meant and I didn’t really know what she meant, but I knew enough to run home faster than I had that entire game, dissolved in tears. But most importantly, it is the lump in my throat when my father brags about me at a dinner party in English that, after 17 years of living in the U.S. is still halting and broken but more full of life and love than anyone I will ever have the pleasure of knowing, “I may not have been to college, but it’s never even been a question with mi vida. And she’s not only going to be going, she’s going to be at the top of her class”, garnering the rare laugh where “los gringos” are laughing with me and not at me. It is my Latinx experience.”
“I’m proud to be Latina because overall all of our countries have different culture. I’m Puerto Rican and the biggest parts of our culture are our dances and foods. I feel like our food is different. I’ve never heard of countries having different things than our foods. Latina is who I am. I was born with it. You can’t change your heritage. So why not make the best of it? When people meet me they doubt I’m Puerto Rican because of my white features. But, I take pride in who I am. I love being Puerto Rican. I don’t let the stereotypes get to me because I know that’s not who we are as a culture or who I am as a person.”
“Being a Latina means being powerful. People like my parents face challenges immigrating from Mexico and other Latinx countries so that their children can have better lives. I feel like because they had the courage to do that, they instilled courage in us. I have to live up to that courage. I’m so proud to be Latina because we go through so much for others to reach their dreams. I feel powerful because I know what I can accomplish because of what my ancestors have accomplished. Although we are a minority that cannot stop us. We are more powerful than ever. Any challenge is accepted with a headstrong attitude. I am personally willing to accept every challenge before me. It helps me learn so much about my beautiful, diverse, and accepting culture.”
“I’m still on the road to pinpointing what makes me Chicano, and I think that’s okay.”
“Being Latina means being proud of my jíbara roots despite living in the city. Though I’m thousands of miles away from where I grew up, I still hold onto the values and traditions my grandparents and uncles instilled in me. We were never wealthy but also never in grave situations. All that mattered was the strong bond my family shared and the respect we had for our land and animals. My grandfather’s lessons and stories very much so shaped me and I think being Latinx is using what our families have gone through to keep from going down the wrong path. But keeping from doing bad things may be because of the bad experiences con la chancla…”
“Being a Latina woman means that I get paid $.54 to the white man’s dollar. It means that I always have to explain that I’m Puerto Rican and not Mexican. It means that I’m inherently fetishized and exotified. But it also means that theadobo and sazón in my food contribute to the body that I use to dance the plena and bomba. It makes me proud that I have a community of people that experience the things that I do and get through it. It means that WEPA says more about how my day has been than real descriptions.”
“Being half Latinx means being fetishized and denied my identity in a single breath. It means not knowing Spanish, but not getting away with it since I’m not “full Puerto Rican”. It means being told your ethnicity and race are “disgusting” and like “a pig breeding with a dog”. It means that people somehow feel entitled to know which parent is Puerto Rican, even though it’s none of their concern. That I cannot somehow be mixed because I don’t “act” like either side, as if I have to be a breathing stereotype in order to be validated. That in elementary school I would only be called half the n word, since I was “luckily” only half black. That when I would go to get my hair done, the hair stylist would tell me that I had great hair, all the while by slandering black girls. It means that I have to avoid mentioning being mixed in front of my family at all costs, he-who-shall-not-be-named style. But being half Latinx also means that despite all of the above, I embrace it. That I don’t have to prove my identity to anyone, because I know who I am and that’s all that matters. That I can take pride in two beautiful cultures, ignoring anything anyone else might dare to say. Being half Latinx is a piece of my character, embedded into my DNA and in my heart.”
“Being Latinx originally made me ashamed of my origin. When I was going into 5th grade, I moved to Mexico with my father for a whole year, although I was born in the United States. When I came back, people from my school assumed I was an immigrant due to the color of my skin, dark brown hair, brown eyes, and broken English. I remember certain classmates would insult my complexion, in English, not knowing that I understood what they were saying. They would say stuff like ” oh, have you seen the new girls arms?”, “do all Mexicans have ugly bushy eyebrows?”, and my favorite, “if she was lighter she would actually look pretty”. These phrases engraved into my brain causing me to feel self conscious about who I am and about my own culture. It got to the point where questions regarding my culture or where I was from, made me really uncomfortable and embarrassed, mostly because I was afraid of people’s judgement. As I grew up, I realized there was nothing to be anxious about because each individual person is different, including myself, and so I should be proud of my Latin roots. As a Latinx, I would say that common stereotypes on us are extremely unjustified and offensive. Who are you to judge my culture? Who are you to make me repel my own skin? Who are you to set a beauty standard for a certain type of origin?”
“To me, being Latinx means growing up with inferiority, being told you have to hustle twice as hard to make it, being told you’re not going very far, being told you talk funny, being made an object. Being Latinx is a struggle when you live in a white washed nation and although I overcame the constant belittling, I know many who haven’t.”
“To be Latinx means that I can be a part of a community that allows me to express my creativity without restriction.”
“To me being Latinx means that I’m different. There are great things about this uniqueness, but there are also hardships along the way. People look at you different, but you learn to get over that. You begin to realize that people will always have assumptions about those who are different, but it teaches you. It teaches you to embrace your beautiful dark skin, and it teaches you that your culture is beautiful.”
“For me, being Mexican is such a big part of my life. It’s the way I’ve grown up, and it’s definitely a defining characteristic about me. Because of my skin color, people have always questioned my heritage, and whitewashed my background, so I would of course only say that I was white. Now i have become so much more educated about my heritage and become so much more proud of who i am and the challenges my family has had to go through to be here today.”
“Being Latinx means not letting other people appropriate or erase my culture. It means going to a predominantly white school, but not allowing myself to be white washed. It’s holding onto my native language and traditions and educating others on my culture.”
“The people of Latin America typify multiple races, speak 700 different languages/dialects, with huge variations in diet, climate, and traditions based on region. What being Latina means to me is having an unspoken understanding with other Latinxs. The history of Latin America and what we have endured has formed a common thread, from sayingbendición, to giving kisses when you enter a room, to respecting our elders, to a fierce pride in our countries. These small traits/traditions make up the Latin American narrative and are what it means to me to be Latina. However there is no better way I can explain it than with this piece.”
Soy, soy lo que dejaron
Soy toda la sobra de lo que se robaron
Un pueblo escondido en la cima
Mi piel es de cuero
Por eso aguanta cualquier clima
Soy una fabrica de humo
Mano de obra campesina para tu consumo
Frente de frío en el medio del verano
El amor en los tiempos del cólera mi hermano
El sol que nace y el día que muere
Con los mejores atardeceres
Soy el desarrollo en carne viva
Un discurso político sin saliva
Las caras mas bonitas que he conocido
Soy la fotografía de un desaparecido
La sangre dentro de tus venas
Soy un pedazo de tierra que vale la pena
Una canasta con frijoles
Soy Maradona contra Inglaterra
Anotándote dos goles
Soy lo que sostiene mi bandera
La espina dorsal del planeta es mi cordillera
Soy lo que me enseño mi padre
El que no quiere a su patria
No quiere a su madre
Soy América latina
Un pueblo sin piernas pero que camina
Tengo los lagos, tengo los ríos
Tengo mis dientes pa’ cuando me sonrío
La nieve que maquilla mis montañas
Tengo el sol que me seca y la lluvia que me baña
Un desierto embriagado con peyote
Un trago de Pulque para cantar con los coyotes
Todo lo que necesito
Tengo a mis pulmones respirando azul clarito
La altura que sofoca
Soy las muelas de mi boca mascando coca
El otoño con sus hojas desmayadas
Los versos escritos bajo la noche estrellada
Una viña repleta de uvas
Un cañaveral bajo el sol en un cuba
Soy el mar caribe que vigila las casitas
Haciendo rituales de agua bendita
El viento que peina mi cabello
Soy todos los santos que cuelgan de mi cuello
El jugo de mi lucha no es artificial
Por que el abono de mi tierra es natural
Trabajo bruto pero con orgullo
Aquí se comparte, lo mio es tuyo
Este pueblo no se ahoga con marullos
Y si se derrumba, yo lo reconstruyo
How To Be An Ally: A Guide for Woke White People, White People Who Want To Be Woke, and WOC Who Can Empathize
As a black woman who finds herself in primarily white spaces, I often feel silenced. There are always white people who invalidate my struggle, even in places that should be safe for me. WOC (women of color) are often told not to generalize when talking about a societal issue. We are asked to censor our speech in order to make oppressors comfortable, and not attacked, even when we shouldn’t have to. And if we don’t censor ourselves, we are immediately silenced.
Although silencing is the easiest and most blatant form of oppression to point out, it is not the only way WOC can be oppressed. Deeming us ‘exotic’ by pointing out our bodies and hair textures, saying we are pretty or smart for a WOC, appropriating our cultures- these are all examples of microaggressions against us.
Because of white privilege, many white people don’t even think about it when they oppress POC (people of color). It just happens. Certain behavior is just embedded in American culture. This isn’t an excuse though. When made aware, everyone should try to make spaces safer for POC, specifically, WOC.
Here are a few statements by anonymous WOC on times they have been unintentionally oppressed by white people, and how to avoid oppressing them and be an ally:
1. Reverse racism isn’t real.
“HAVING A WHITE MALE COMPARE AND EQUATE OUR STRUGGLES WAS COMPLETELY BAFFLING TO ME. HIS INCAPABILITY TO ADDRESS WHITE PRIVILEGE AND NOTE HOW DIFFERENT OUR EXPERIENCES WERE SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE OF RACE (NOT EVEN MENTIONING GENDER YET) WAS RIDICULOUS. IT WAS EMBARRASSING. GOING TO A PREDOMINATELY WHITE SCHOOL WAS AWFUL. WHEN ISSUES WERE BROUGHT TO THE ATTENTION OF ADMINISTRATION NO CONSEQUENCES WERE TAKEN AGAINST THEM. YOUR TEACHERS MAKE YOU BECOME A REPRESENTATION OF YOUR COMMUNITY AND EVEN WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT ISSUES FROM YOUR COMMUNITY, THEY ARE DISREGARDED AND WATERED DOWN AS “NOT BEING THAT BAD”. THEN BEING LABELED AS AN ANGRY BLACK WOMAN BECOMES A VIABLE REASON TO COMPLETELY DISREGARD WHAT YOU’RE SAYING. SO THEN WHEN YOU’RE TALKING WITH SOMEONE ABOUT SOCIAL ISSUES, IT’S LIKE “OH I HAVE TO CHECK MY ATTITUDE”. BUT THEN YOU HAVE AN ANGRY WHITE MAN YELLING AT YOU, AND EVERYONE JUST AGREEING WITH HIM. IT’S LIKE YOU DON’T MATTER. YOU JUST DON’T MATTER. WHITE WOMEN OUT VOICE YOU WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT INTERSECTIONALITY BECAUSE THAT DOESN’T HELP THEM. IT’S EXHAUSTING, CONSTANTLY DEFENDING AND SAVING MYSELF IS EXHAUSTING” – BLACK WOMAN
Racism is the oppression of a people systemically. In the US, POC don’t directly benefit from this system. We have no power to oppress people, especially not white people. The American system was literally built to benefit white people, specifically white men, only. You cannot call a WOC racist when she talks about her oppressor because she has no power to oppress you. She has right to generalize because the power of white people is a key factor in her struggle. Calling a WOC racist is not only just wrong, but a method of silencing. Stop being offended when a POC says something about white people. Instead, take notes on how you can not do what is upsetting that said POC.
2. We are not exotic. We are beautiful.
“ONE DAY I HAD MY LUNCH AT SCHOOL, AND I HAPPENED TO SIT WITH SOME WHITE FRIENDS. THEY WERE SUPER NICE AND TALKING TO EACH OTHER AND THEY STARTED TO TALK ABOUT BODIES. I AM VERY INSECURE ABOUT MINE AND DIDN’T WANT TO TAKE PART IN THE CONVERSATION. BUT I WAS LISTENING TO WHAT THEY WERE SAYING, AND I DEFINITELY DID NOT MEET THEIR STANDARDS OF BEAUTY. I TOOK OUT MY LUNCH AND ONE OF THE GIRLS LOOKED AT ME IN DISGUST AND SAID, “YOU’RE EATING ALL OF THAT???” I FELT SO EMBARRASSED AND ENDED UP NOT EATING MY LUNCH. THEY THEN PROCEEDED TO TALK ABOUT HOW MY DIET PROBABLY HAD TO DO WITH MY HIPS AND BUTT. I LEFT THE TABLE AND TO THIS DAY I HAVE NEVER TAKEN REGULAR FOOD OUT FOR LUNCH.” – LATINX WOMAN
“I THINK AROUND 9TH GRADE IS REALLY WHEN I STARTED TO BECOME CONSCIOUS OF MY RACE AND HOW IT AFFECTED MY LIFE. AND NOW, LOOKING BACK, THE WAYS I WAS SILENCED WERE ALWAYS SUBTLE – PEOPLE SAYING THINGS LIKE “YOU’RE THE WHITEST BLACK PERSON I’VE EVER MET” AND “YOU’RE NOT EVEN BLACK” JUST BECAUSE I WAS ARTICULATE AND EDUCATED. OVER TIME, I STARTED TO REALIZE THAT THOSE THINGS REALLY MEANT SOMETHING ALONG THE LINES OF “YOU ACT LIKE WHAT I WAS TAUGHT A WHITE PERSON SHOULD ACT LIKE, SO I FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE WITH YOUR BLACKNESS.” AND FOR A WHILE I BELIEVE I INTERNALIZED THESE COMMENTS AS VALIDATION IN SOME TWISTED WAY. NOW THAT I’VE BECOME MORE EDUCATED ON THESE ISSUES HAPPENING TO THE BLACK COMMUNITY AS A WHOLE, I CAN SEE THE SAME PATTERNS IN HISTORY WITH THE “HOUSE NEGRO” AND THE “FIELD NEGRO”. IT’S TAKEN ME A LONG TIME TO REALIZE THAT PROXIMITY TO WHITENESS, EITHER PHYSICAL OR OTHERWISE, IS NOT EQUIVALENT TO MY SELF WORTH, AND I THINK THAT SEEMINGLY SUBTLE INJUSTICE IS SOMETHING THAT MORE PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW IS DEHUMANIZING AND TAKES A LONG TIME TO UNLEARN.” – BLACK WOMAN
The box braids of black girls are not eccentric. Latinas are not ‘spicy’ because of their bodies. Asian women are not submissive. Our stereotypes do not define us. Our features should not be put to the side of the spectrum of beauty and intellect. We don’t have to try to accommodate Eurocentric standards. Don’t assume we are trying to be white. It’s insulting to imply that the closer to white we get, the better off we are. We are beautiful the way we are, and don’t say that we aren’t. If you’re going to compliment us on a feature specific to our race, don’t ostracize it. Welcome and support us as WOC. Don’t try to make us something we are not.
3. We are capable.
“SOMETIMES IT’S FRUSTRATING TO BE THE ONLY BLACK PERSON IN AN ALL-WHITE ENVIRONMENT. WHEN I PLAY AT AUDITIONS AND GET A HIGH SEATING IN GROUPS THAT I PLAY IN, I CAN SEE THE PUZZLED FACES FROM STUDENTS AND PARENTS. I THINK TO MYSELF “WHY ARE THESE PEOPLE LOOKING AT ME SO MUCH?”. THEN I LOOK DOWN AT MY HANDS AND MY MELANIN REMINDS ME. I’M UNDERESTIMATED A LOT. I REMEMBER ONE GIRL TELLING ME “I’VE NEVER MET A GOOD BLACK VIOLIN PLAYER!” IT HURTS TO KNOW THAT PEOPLE FOCUS ON YOUR SKIN RATHER THAN YOUR SKILLS, BUT I NEVER ACT LIKE I’M OFFENDED. I DON’T NEED TO. I JUST LET MY RESULTS DO THE TALKING.” – BLACK WOMAN
“IT WAS MY FRESHMEN YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL, AND AS A LITTLE BLACK GIRL COMING FROM A PREDOMINANTLY BLACK SCHOOL LOCATED IN WHAT PEOPLE CONSIDER THE “HOOD” OF CHICAGO, I DIDN’T GO INTO MY HIGHSCHOOL WITH THE BEST EDUCATION. I RECALL BEING IN MY FIRST PERIOD CLASS OF WORLD STUDIES AND MY TEACHER ASSIGNED US TO WORK IN GROUPS. MY GROUP CONSISTED OF ME AND TWO WHITE GIRLS AND ONE WHITE BOY. I DON’T REMEMBER THE EXACT TOPIC THAT WE WERE TALKING ABOUT, BUT I DO REMEMBER PRODUCING, WHAT I THOUGHT, WAS A GOOD IDEA AND I SHARED IT WITH THE GROUP. DURING CLASS, THEY ALL PRETENDED I HAD A GREAT IDEA AND WE ALL CONTRIBUTED TO MY IDEA ON A GOOGLE DOC TO TURN IN TO OUR TEACHER. IT WASN’T UNTIL I GOT OUR GRADE BACK, A 73℅, ON OUR PROJECT THAT I REALIZED THAT THEY HAD CHANGED EVERYTHING WE DID IN CLASS WITHOUT MY INPUT. INITIALLY SEEING THIS SCORE WASN’T WHAT BROKE MY HEART, IT WAS THE FACT THAT THEY CHANGED ALL MY HARD WORK WITHOUT NOTIFYING ME OF DOING SO. IN MY MIND, THEY THOUGHT THE LITTLE BLACK GIRL FROM THE “HOOD” DIDN’T KNOW WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT AND THAT REALLY HURT ME. IT ACTUALLY MADE ME FEEL INFERIOR TO THEM BECAUSE IT PUT ME IN THE MINDSET THAT I WASN’T SMART ENOUGH TO COMPETE WITH THEM AND I DIDN’T BELONG AT THE SCHOOL. AFTER I SPOKE TO MY PARENTS, THEY INSTILLED IN ME THAT I’M IN THAT SCHOOL FOR A REASON, AND TO NOT LET ANYONE STEER ME AWAY FROM MY PURPOSE. I THEN GAINED THE CONFIDENCE TO CONFRONT THEM AND ALSO GO SPEAK TO THE TEACHER ABOUT MY GRADE. DURING THE CONFERENCE, I EXPLAINED TO THE TEACHER MY INITIAL IDEA AND HE AGREED WITH ME. HE TOLD ME MY IDEA WAS PERFECT AND IT FIT THE THEME PERFECTLY. HONESTLY, MY SATISFACTION CAME NOT FROM THE TEACHER’S WORDS, BUT FROM MY GROUP MEMBERS STUMBLING OVER THEIRS TO EXPLAIN WHY THEY CHANGED OUR INITIAL WORK. WATCHING THEM STRUGGLE WITH THEIR WORDS GAVE ME A SENSE OF SATISFACTION BECAUSE IT SHOWED HOW AS A BLACK GIRL COMING FROM THE WEST AND SOUTH SIDE OF CHICAGO, I WAS CAPABLE OF KEEPING UP WITH THE WHITE CHILDREN WHO HAD ONCE HAD AN ADVANTAGE OVER ME.” – BLACK WOMAN
“SO MY MATH CLASS LAST YEAR WAS MOSTLY WHITE MALES, AND IT WAS REALLY HARD TO CONTRIBUTE AND PARTICIPATE. BEFORE I COULD EVEN START TALKING, THERE WAS ALWAYS THIS SENSE THAT I WAS GOING TO BE WRONG ANYWAY. THAT COMBINED WITH THE FACT THAT I WAS THE ONLY WOC AT MY TABLE STRESSED ME OUT. IT MADE IT HARDER TO ASK FOR HELP WHEN I NEEDED IT.” – BLACK WOMANI’ve been told I’m pretty or smart “for a black girl” too many times to count. There are so many preconceived notions that come with being a WOC. White people become surprised when we accomplish things that are out of the ordinary in terms of what society expects us to accomplish. Our expectations are always set low, and it’s offensive. Don’t put us on a lower level. Don’t be astonished when we excel. Don’t ask how we were able to obtain certain resources. Instead, treat us as viable opponents and peers. We might not be systemically privileged, but we can do what you can and more.
4. Speaking for us isn’t helping us.
“IN MY SOCIOLOGY CLASS WE WERE DISCUSSING WHY HUMANS TEND TO STAY WITHIN THEIR COMFORT ZONES. SPECIFICALLY, WE WERE TALKING ABOUT THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE AND HOW PEOPLE ARE MORE LIKELY TO DATE WITHIN THEIR RACE, CLASS BACKGROUND, LEVEL OF EDUCATION, FINANCIAL BACKGROUND ETC. BECAUSE IT’S A HIGH SCHOOL SOCIOLOGY CLASS AND FOR MOST OF US THE IDEA OF GETTING MARRIED IS UNFATHOMABLE, WE STARTED TO DISCUSS THE WAYS IN WHICH KIDS AT MY HIGH SCHOOL HAVE VERY HOMOGENEOUS FRIEND GROUPS. FOR A REASON THAT ESCAPES ME NOW, I TRIED TO EXPLAIN WHY ALL THE BLACK KIDS STAY TOGETHER IN THE LUNCHROOM. I EXPRESSED THAT IT’S MUCH EASIER FOR ME AS A BLACK PERSON TO TALK AND JOKE WITH OTHER BLACK PEOPLE BECAUSE I ASSUME THAT THEY WILL LAUGH WITH ME, RATHER THAN USE ME OR MY IDENTITIES AS A PUNCHLINE. I ALSO EXPRESSED THAT COMING TO MY HIGH SCHOOL’S AFRICAN AMERICAN CLUB MEETINGS FELT LIKE COMING HOME AFTER A LONG AND TIRING DAY OF WORK. SUBSEQUENTLY, ONE OF MY WHITE FEMALE CLASSMATES EXPRESSED THAT THE REASON STUDENTS- AND HUMANS IN GENERAL- TEND TO CONGREGATE WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE LIKE THEM IS BECAUSE HUMANS ARE INHERENTLY LAZY. INSTEAD OF TAKING THE TIME TO “EXPLAIN OURSELVES” TO PEOPLE WHO MAY NOT SHARE OUR EXPERIENCES, WE’D RATHER JUST TALK TO PEOPLE WHO KNOW OUR STORIES. IT’S LIKE WHEN I TALKED ABOUT MY FEARS OF BEING HURT BY NON BLACK PEOPLE, SHE COMPLETELY TUNED OUT. SHE INTERPRETS MY PRECAUTIONS AS “LAZINESS” WHEN IN REALITY IT’S A DEFENSE MECHANISM – SPECIFICALLY FOR PEOPLE LIKE HER.” – BLACK WOMAN
“AS AN ASIAN YOUNG WOMAN AND A FEMINIST, SOMETIMES I FEEL A LITTLE SCARED BY WHITE PEOPLE VOICING THEIR OPINIONS VERY BOLDLY. I WANT TO BE ABLE TO BE VOCAL. DUE TO THE FACT THAT I’M ASIAN, PEOPLE MAY EXPECT ME TO BE QUIET AND SUBMISSIVE BECAUSE THAT’S A HUGE STEREOTYPE OF THE ASIAN RACE. I WANT MY STORY TO BE TOLD BECAUSE I AM APART OF THE MINORITY. I DON’T WANT WHITE PEOPLE SPEAKING ON MY BEHALF. IT’S DEFINITELY NOT FAIR WHEN SOMETHING I HAVE TO SAY ISN’T CONSIDERED AS IMPORTANT AS WHAT THE WHITE PERSON HAS TO SAY. A LOT OF PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW RACISM FITS INTO FEMINISM, AND WE NEED INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM TO FIX THAT. THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE WHO CONSIDER THEMSELVES FEMINISTS BUT FAIL TO INCLUDE PEOPLE OF COLOR.” – ASIAN WOMAN
“I’VE FELT SILENCED BY WHITE WOMEN, SPECIFICALLY WHITE FEMINISTS, WHO REFUSE TO LISTEN TO WOC IN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT INTERSECTIONALITY. IT’S AN ALLY’S JOB TO LISTEN, LEARN, AND UNDERSTAND THEIR PRIVILEGE NOT TO TAKE OVER OR HIJACK A CONVERSATION ABOUT ISSUES THAT DO NOT AFFECT THEM DIRECTLY” – BLACK WOMAN
“WHEN WHITE PEOPLE ACT LIKE THEY KNOW MORE ABOUT BEING A BLACK PERSON THAN AN ACTUAL BLACK PERSON, IT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE I’M NOT EVEN WORTH THEIR PITY BECAUSE THEY ‘KNOW MORE ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE THAN I SHOULD’. SO, THEY DON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THE THINGS I WORRY ABOUT. SINCE THEY ARE ‘SUCH EXPERTS’, I AS A PERSON WHO IS ‘LESS EXPERIENCED IN THEIR IDENTITY’ AM NOT ABLE TO TALK ABOUT WHEN THEY ARE BEING RACIST OR MISOGYNOIRISTIC.” – BLACK WOMAN
No one can understand and explain the struggle of a WOC but a WOC. We are the most oppressed people in this country because of our races and sex/ gender ( I say this to be trans-inclusive). When white people try to explain our struggles or act as though they are more familiar with them than we are, they are completely invalidating our struggles. Also, do not dismiss our struggles as though we are exaggerating when we express our frustration. Just because you may not experience it, doesn’t mean the struggle doesn’t exist. For us, these struggles are reality. If we can’t even claim our oppression, then what is our worth? We cannot be spoken for. We have to speak and advocate for ourselves. Speaking alongside us and showing support is different and much appreciated.
5. Acknowledge your privilege, and use it for the better.
“ONCE I WAS TALKING WITH A FRIEND OF MINE WHO WAS WHITE. SHE WAS PISSED OFF AT PEOPLE SPEAKING UP ABOUT PREJUDICE AND RACISM AT SCHOOL. SHE SAID THEY DIDN’T APPRECIATE THE ALREADY LIBERAL ENVIRONMENT. I TRIED TO EXPLAIN TO HER THAT PEOPLE HAVE TO SPEAK UP ABOUT THINGS OTHERWISE NOTHING WILL GET BETTER. SHE INSISTED THAT IF THEY WERE UNHAPPY THEY COULD JUST LEAVE. I TRIED TO EXPLAIN THAT PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BE DRIVEN OUT BY PREJUDICE. SHE IS NOT A BAD PERSON AT ALL, SHE HAS JUST NEVER HAD TO DEAL WITH RACISM AND HER SILENCE IS CONSENT TO PREJUDICE.” – LATINX WOMAN
“OUR SCHOOL HAD A BLACK LIVES MATTER “PROTEST” DURING THE AFTERMATH OF THE MICHAEL BROWN SHOOTING. MY PHYSICS TEACHER MADE A COMMENT ABOUT HOW SHE WAS GLAD NONE OF US DECIDED TO JOIN IN THAT NONSENSE. A BOY AGREED AND A CONVERSATION ENSUED ON THE MATTER. AS THE ONLY POC IN THE ROOM I FELT AFRAID TO SAY ANYTHING, BUT I DID. I TOLD THE BOY THAT THE REASON WAS VALID. NON-WHITE PEOPLE GET KILLED AND DO NOT GET PUNISHED BECAUSE IN THE US BLACK AND BROWN LIVES DO NOT MATTER. THEY DESERVED TO BE ANGRY ABOUT IT AND THEY DESERVED JUSTICE. HE TOLD ME THAT THE BOY WAS BUYING CIGARILLOS AND ASSAULTED THE CLERK. I SAID,”YOU MAKE NO SENSE. SO YOU ARE SAYING THAT BECAUSE HE STOLE LESS THAN EVEN $5.00 WORTH OF MERCHANDISE THAT HE SHOULD BE SHOT AND KILLED” I HEARD THE PERSON BEHIND ME SAY “CHILL OUT, YOU AREN’T EVEN BLACK” WHILE THE TEACHER CHANGED THE SUBJECT BACK TO PHYSICS BECAUSE SHE FELT IT WAS GETTING TOO INTENSE, AND “SOMEBODY’S FEELINGS WERE GOING TO GET HURT” – LATINX WOMAN
White privilege is an advantage in this society. It allows white people to receive opportunities that POC would not be able to obtain easily. A lot of the time this privilege allows white people to remain comfortable, ignorant, and sheltered from social issues that are thrown in our faces inherently. If this privilege is acknowledged, white people can use it to advocate for POC. Instead of reveling in privilege and compromising the comfortability of a POC, use it to make spaces more safe. It’s a weapon we don’t have. When used correctly, it can be useful. Privilege can be used to stop the silencing of WOC. If someone interrupts a WOC you can say, “Hey, ___ was talking”. You can use privilege to call out other white people for their microaggressions and disrespect of WOC/ POC.
6. Educate yourself and be consistent.
Intersectional feminism is not a fad. It’s not a trend. In order to be an ally, it is important that you remain politically aware (woke). It is important that you are educated enough to assist marginalized groups that may need help advocating for themselves because of systemic oppression. You can’t drop the movement. Consistency is key. We cannot drop the movement because it is a fight for our lives. You shouldn’t either. A good way to educate yourself is to listen. Listen to WOC. Try to understand our struggles and support us.
Listen to us. Fight with us. Create safe spaces not just for POC, but for WOC. Be an ally.
I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO INTERVIEW AND SHOOT TAYLOR LAST WEEK ON THE LAKE. THE PHOTOS AND INTERVIEW WORK HAND IN HAND TO TELL HER STORY OF STRUGGLE, AND HOW SHE WANTS TO USE IT TO ADVOCATE FOR OTHERS. READ THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW BELOW TO LEARN MORE ABOUT TAYLOR AND HER JOURNEY:
Taylor: So I went to Aruba in the Spring, and I put on my little bikini, and then I looked in the mirror and I was like, “Oh shit”. I first cut myself when I was eleven years old, like six years ago now. I told everyone, “Oh yeah I stopped when I was thirteen, it’s over, blah blah blah”. I looked way different when I was thirteen. Now, I look in the mirror and I’m like, “Oh my god”, not everyone looks like this. That’s like such a crazy realization. When I walk down the street men say things like, “Hey, kitty cat baby!”, and I think to myself “If they saw my scars would they still say that?”.
I’ve heard so many times, “Oh my god, you’re so emo” while hearing at the same time, “You’re so hot I don’t care about the scars. Don’t worry about it. It’s okay”. That puts you in such a bizarre place. I’m not supposed to look like this. Not everybody looks like this. There are always people who tell me I shouldn’t be doing this, and then there are people who just can’t stop staring, like, they snicker when I walk past.
With this blonde hair now, people see me as this “white girl”. I was talking to my father the other day, my Latino father, Puerto Rican father, and he was like “Taylor you’re white”. And I’m like okay. Yeah, I am white, and he’s white too, but still he isn’t. I’m of mixed race. And that’s such a hill for people, as well as the way that I look. They see my body and they don’t sexualize me. They say, “There is no spicy Latina stereotyping here”. But they see me as this little “white kid” who is so involved with herself that she does this stuff. You know? I feel like it puts me in this realm of strange privilege. I know I have this privilege. I look like a white woman. I don’t read as Latina.
Eva: So you’re like white passing?
Taylor: Yeah I’m white passing. It’s a privilege. I never know how to address my issues as a woman of color. I never use that term to describe myself because it makes me feel like I’m encroaching on a space I shouldn’t be encroaching on. I can so easily insert myself into a white person’s world. But still things put me on the outs because of where I live, or how when I talk it’s labeled as “Chola”, or the way I do my eyeliner, it’s “Chola” eyeliner.
Eva: It’s cultural.
Taylor: Yeah. I feel like a caricature of this culture unintentionally because I’m trying to connect with it in the way that I look. I have so much discomfort in my body from choosing to go down that road of self harm. I find myself not being taken seriously often because this is supposedly the biggest thing in my life. Like I’m expected to walk down the street with long sleeves, long pants, and big shoes so that I look a semblance of normal, and I’m not going to do that. I dress like a “thot” or whatever. But then again, I become that caricature of a Latina woman who is oversexualized. Do I oversexualize myself intentionally to try and fit into this stereotype that people do and don’t see me as?
Eva: Do you feel accepted by the Latinx community?
Taylor: I’ve never “interacted” with the Latinx community. Some of my best friend are Mexican and Puerto Rican women and they are so important to me. They will say stuff like, “Oh my god, Taylor is so Puerto Rican”, and I feel like I fit in with them. But I don’t know how I fit into the community. I don’t want to say I don’t feel accepted because to me, that sounds like I’m making it about me and making it my problem. I feel like I would be accepted as a Latinx woman, but I don’t know how comfortable I would be in that position. It’s all just very weird for me as a person who is mixed race. I don’t know much about Puerto Rico. I’ve never been. My Spanish is elementary level. My father’s parents have divorced. His father is Puerto Rican and he doesn’t want much to do with him or his background. But now I have this disconnect, and I don’t know what I want to do to bridge that gap. I connect so much more easily with my mother and her Danish background because it is more accessible to me. I think I would be accepted into the Latinx community, but right now it doesn’t feel as big to me. I just don’t’ know if I can give myself the label “Latina” because I don’t want to encroach on something.
And with the whole self harm thing, I feel like it’s easier to talk about than my race because it’s what people immediately see. It’s what I have been written off as.
Eva: So you think people pass off your scars because they see you as a white girl?
Taylor: I feel like they focus on them so much more. People see them and they are like, “Oh shit. I’m going to talk about that” other than saying, “She’s smart, nice, this, that”. I feel like that becomes the biggest thing about me which is troubling because I want to be seen as not only a human being, but a mixed race human being. It’s something I have to take charge of, embrace, and be happy and proud of.
Eva: Do you think people would view you different if they saw you as a woman of color?
Taylor: If people saw me as a woman of color with this mental health problem it would be different. All of the books and movies about girls who have eating disorders or depression, (ie. Girl Interrupted, Wintergirls), things like that, they are young and conventionally beautiful white women. Being happy with yourself and your own body, this isn’t a concept addressed in reference to women of color. Women of color with these struggles don’t have many people to relate to in the media. I’ve read so many books about little girls that hurt themselves, but these girls are never of color I’ve never seen a black, brown, or Asian girl in that position.
I feel like if people saw me as a woman of color I could be someone to talk to. I don’t necessarily think it’s a responsibility that I should have, but it’s one that I want to have.
Eva: So in this situation, how does being white passing work for you and the access you have with having these issues?
Taylor: Like I have so much access to help. I had to go to therapy in grade school because the state thought i was crazy. Also in regards to the school I went to, we had a social worker and a counselor. Even though I wore longsleeves everyday and never talked, they were like, “She has problems, and they need to be addressed”. I feel as though if I looked more conventionally Latina, my white English teacher in seventh grade might not have cared so much. I would hope that this wouldn’t be the case, but nowadays with the way things just look I don’t think she would. Women of color are just viewed in a more adult way. I don’t know if people of color have that same network and outreach that changed my life. I want to be that example of “you can still do this” for others. This is a problem that I still deal with every day. I want people to know that it’s so much more than a white kid, emo kid problem. It’s not just a whiny issue of someone who is privileged and is making issues for themselves. I want Latina girls to know it is okay to hurt and seek help. I think the one good thing that could come from me ruining my body and breaking the hearts of people around me- I want to be an example that it is okay. It is okay for people to do this and want help. You’re not a freak for it.
Eva: When do you feel the most vulnerable?
Taylor: I don’t really feel vulnerable in reference to the way I look. When I’m around strangers who I can tell are staring at my body and either making comments to me or someone else, it’s a feeling of exposure that I’m not particularly fond of.
Eva: When do you feel the most confident?
Taylor: When I put on my makeup and a cute outfit regardless of if my scars are visible or not. Or, when I’m with people who have either had the same problems or are able to look past mine. They know that it is a part of me, but I’m just a person that they know and care about.
Eva: Why is intersectionality important to you?
Taylor: Intersectionality is incredibly important to me. I grew up considering myself a feminist. I grew up in a realm of powerful women. I always had women to uplift me. I was a little white passing kid. I know a lot of young girls of color are not uplifted in the same way. Society does not deem them intelligent or pretty. Everyone always told me I was a smart pretty girl. I have so many friends that are women of color, I am a woman of color. I consider myself a knowledgeable feminist. I think intersectionality is the most important thing for me and for feminism. I grew up in such a place of privilege. It’s so jarring to realize that the feminism that uplifted me, the women around me that were taken so seriously, are all white women with such privilege. Women of color wouldn’t be taken so seriously in those positions. I want all women to have the opportunities I have being white passing. That is the job of intersectionality, to uplift women who can’t reach things so easily.
Taylor Lopez is a sixteen year old white/ Latinx guerita cis-gendered girl. She is also a poet and a "bad Catholic".
Photos by Eva Lewis
This summer I lived in France for a month for a French language and cultural immersion program. While there, I began to shoot a short film that would become ‘Redefining Opportunity’. I conducted and filmed short interviews with twelve of the students on my study abroad program. During interviews, I asked each student what they thought a student who would be more likely to travel abroad would look like, and how they fit that narrative. With their stories as a canvas, the themes of privilege, race, and socioeconomic class were all explored.
I chose to do a film on this topic because I knew that as a young Black woman raised by a single mom, society would never have expected me to get a full scholarship to travel abroad. This is not the narrative society has written for a person of color (POC). Expectations for us are often set very low. Knowing this, I was very grateful for the opportunity I had to come to France. There were quite a few other students who felt the same way. I sought to show the dynamic among the students on the trip. There were White people who were and weren’t aware of their racial privilege. There were POC that were/ weren’t aware of their socioeconomic privilege. Then there were some who had neither of these privileges. After filming, it was evident that many of the students interviewed viewed their position differently. It was quite the experience.
Upon returning to the U.S., I was given the amazing opportunity to have a screening for my short film in downtown Chicago. Alongside my film, art was presented, and music and poetry were performed. Following the screening of the short film, we had a brief Q&A with the audience. Subjects touched on during the Q&A were different types of privilege, the effects of a lack of educational privilege, and effects the film had on others. (Photos taken of the event can be seen above.)
I’m still in awe that my short film has been appreciated by a vast amount of people. I never expected to be able to have a screening for it, especially not downtown. This film means so much to me, I hope it touches many more the way it touched me.
And now, without further ado, here is “Redefining Opportunity”:
(Photos by Stella Binion)