There was a Latino Student Association that I joined when I entered into my HBCU, (Historically Black University or College.) It was the first organization that I joined. At my previous school, which was a PWI (Predominantly White Institution) there were organizations for many minority groups: there was NOIR for the Black Student Association. LSU, the Latino Student Union, was formed by a close friend of mine in the Spring Semester. ALANA was the multicultural organization for people of color. Hillel was Jewish organization, that one of my Jewish friends invited me to. There were many more clubs that I joined during my freshmen year that centered around supporting and empowering diverse groups on campus.
At my second college, when I transferred sophomore year, the first organization I was looking to join was a Latino one. There would obviously be no Black one considering the school was already predominantly Black. Because the school was predominantly Black and Latinos were one of our smallest minorities, even the Latino Student association was mostly African American. The group consisted of African Americans who had an interest in participating in, learning about and empowering our Latino brothers and sisters. This was very significant for me because I felt very alone in High school when I learned Spanish and began to embrace many aspects of Latino culture that I had an affinity for.
There was a profound disconnect that I had with people during that time. In my art I had become very outspoken about immigration issues and my stance on amnesty was met with hostility and disgust. I was called un-patriotic and anti-American. People could not understand why I was so gung-ho about being merciful towards immigrants, because in their eyes they were criminals who deserved punishment. I got heat from both sides about it because on the Black side, people had the viewpoint that Black people are in such dire straits that we ought to stand up for ourselves exclusively and dedicate all our activist energies to Black matters only. Latinos were seen as a growing threat to both White and Black people. At the end of the day, xenophobia in both communities united the races against Latinos because whether American or not, they were seen as foreign alien parasitic enemies of the United States.
I did not want to participate in this anti-Latino, anti-immigrant, anti-Spanish language divide. Somehow I was seen as a traitor and I was also treated differently. When I embraced and expressed an assertive defense for the Latino, immigrant and Spanish speaking communities, I began to be labeled as one of them. It was incredibly strange. People began to question my ethnicity, as if they had not already done so before. So many times in my life I have been “un-Blacked” by people. How did I go from being White to Latino? My race was changing all of the sudden based on my actions? It has been done so many times, it was hard to still believe that I belonged to the community anymore. Strange enough if I had ever recanted my Blackness, then a myriad of hatred would have come upon me from the very same people who rejected me in the first place. What hypocrisy!
I remember in college my freshman year when I was dating my ex-boyfriend at the time, that he interrogated me about why I was so vocal about Latino, immigrant and Spanish language issues but so quiet on Black issues. He even interrogated me about my race because I suppose to him, my affinity was so intense, that he truly couldn’t wrap his mind around a Black girl like me. He kept asking me if I was Latina and lying about it. This hurt for so many reasons. It hurt because no one can choose who they are born as, but we all naturally like what we like, and I have witnessed so many individuals betray what they authentically like because it doesn’t fit the narrow racial expectations of their “tribe.” I can truly attest to the fact that acceptable Black likes are very, very narrow.
It hurt because I felt like he was constantly confused by my existence, and there was nothing fake about me. I was incredibly authentic and I think most people cannot handle that level of transparency, especially when they have their own insecurities. It hurt because this was a person who I let into my heart and my life intimately, now berating me the same way the mean High school kids did. I was even called Mexican in a derogatory way by a few strangers because I was overheard speaking Spanish fluently. My pronunciation was so good that many people did not know I was not originally Spanish speaking. I remember people staring at me in public whenever I did it and my mother advising me not to speak Spanish in public because the atmosphere was dangerous.
I think I was a little naïve back then, because I had the attitude of trying to do whatever I wanted despite people’s attitudes, not realizing that, the anti-immigrant sentiment, and the profiling would land me too, in dangerous situations. That’s one of the big differences between me and a true Latina. A true Latina will feel those feelings on a deep, visceral level. They would probably take precautions and not do things to draw attention to themselves. I have met Latinos for whom I would speak Spanish too and they would insist on speaking English as to not bring attention to themselves in public. Me being naïve, I am thinking, ah just eff the haters, but that was because I was in a privileged position to be able to do so.
Some Black people say that Black people have no privilege but that is false. There is privilege in being fluent and having the native tongue of English, the dominant and most desired language spoken globally. It is the language of business, the one that gives access to wealth. There is privilege in having an American status and even if we are treated like second class citizens or even worse, completely inhuman, no African Americans have to fear deportation or linguistic isolation and fear.
The assumptions and perceptions that people made about me were so far from the truth sometimes, and it really irked me that there was nothing I could do about it. People just assumed I was always automatically #TeamLatino and that any Latino I met I would pursue and wanted to defend to the ends of the Earth. The same thing happened when I gained a bunch of Asian friends from China and South Korea. I’m #TeamHuman dammit! I befriend who I want. I befriend people because of how they treat me and honestly, over all, most of my best, deepest, and most meaningful friendships have been with non-Americans.
I have felt betrayed and rejected. I have felt out casted by my own kind many times in my life. Whether it was Americans, English speakers or citizens in general my interests were met with great hostility and I felt isolated in the things I liked in High school. Thank goodness that there was one girl who I met who I still consider a best friend today who was one of the two only Mexican American girls in the entire school. Finally I had found someone who I could play with and make jokes with and practice Spanish with and enjoy Latina things with.
I know there will be plenty of people who will never understand me or my points of view and I don’t blame them because they have not lived the extraordinary odd life that I have lived. Ten-year old me would not understand fifteen year old me, and fifteen year old me would not understand twenty five year old me. My life changed dramatically so many times. I changed dramatically, so many times. People don’t have to understand me, but I wish they wouldn’t crystallize me in their own twisted perceptions. People see what I do on the outside and they think that they know me, but they know so little.
I felt embraced by the Latino churches I attended and the people that I encountered. I felt embraced by the Latino Student Association for whom honored me so much, they suggested that I run for president of their organization. I declined for two reasons, one, because I felt that that space ought to be reserved for someone who has lived life and experienced it in a primary sense. I did not grow up Latino, I don’t personally suffer Latino struggles, and no matter how much I may love and have an affinity for aspects Latin culture I can never know in a primary sense what it feels like to be one. Secondly I was starting my own multicultural organization and I could not run two clubs at once.
I felt so touched that they felt to loved by me that they would allow me that sacred space to lead. They said that I cared so much and was so knowledgeable about Latino issues that I deserved to be there in that capacity. It still humbles me so much to know that my love meant that much to them. That kind of embrace is rare among racial and ethnic lines. Not only that but when we marched in the Hispanic Day Parade, I got to be Miss. Latina Student Association. The title was not required to go to Latinos only, it was done by votes, but the woman who was voted to do it got ill and they needed a quick replacement. I took her place.
I had the full permission and approval to do these things by the people who were in these groups, but I know that there are bitter, and confused individuals on the outside who were probably looking at me claiming that I was trying to be something I was not. I have grown up in a multicultural atmosphere with parents who constantly exposed me to multicultural things and so maybe that is why I feel such a disconnect with people. My mind just isn’t segregated like theirs is, but it makes it very difficult for me trying to maneuver through the world that clearly is very divided.
I do not want to live in a world where someone who is of a different group caring and advocating for another group is seen as strange or a betrayal to another group. If minorities united our numbers would outnumber our oppressors, but I can almost guarantee that it will never happen because we are too busy eating one another in this dog cage because we are accessible, our oppressors are not, and when people are hurt, someone, usually the ones nearby, must get hurt too. These realities make my soul ache. Latinos are my family, even if all of them may not see me as such, and so are Asians, and the Indigenous, and Whites too. I don’t need someone to love me for me to love them. Some people feel that this kumbayah hippie Christian attitude is detrimental to one’s survival and that most people are parasites, selfish and loyal to their own tribes. I just don’t operate that way, never have and hope to never do so.
Maybe that attitude is due to my bias, my experiences, of feeling rejected in so many spaces. I am loyal to those who are riding for me period. I find that there is more benefit to having a diverse crew, because that gives access to wider ranges of allies as well as resources and ideas of how to change things that one single group might not have thought of. Anyway, this was a personal reflection of mine, and it is a true story that is near and dear to my heart. Many of my Latino friends will say, “Tu eres Latina en tu Corazon.” “You are Latina in your heart.” To that I am honored, I am honored by their love, their embrace and their welcoming of me into their communities.
When I hung out with my international friends, they could not believe I was American because I was so open and they would affectionately call me an international in an “honorary” sense. I hung out with them so much that plenty of them just assumed I was an international student too. My Asian friends appreciated my attempts at speaking their languages and invited me to their apartments to eat their traditional foods and they were so elated to see me wearing some of their traditional clothes, participating in their cultural events and including them in events around campus that they otherwise would not have known about.
I just want to change the world dammit. I just want to change it for the better and I know that I will encounter people who will think I am a lunatic and a fool for those kinds of dreams, but it’s those kinds of dreams followed by actions that do impact the world and I will continue to fight, advocate, learn, educate and build relationships with those who are different from me.