Black Lives Need to Matter to Latinos
I remember the grief and sorrow I experienced when the shootings in El Paso happened. I cried as I received the news and I cried several days after as more information of the victims was shared. This was a very intentional shooting targeting Latinos— the victims could have been my abuelos, my parents, my siblings, my primos, my tíos. Going into work that Monday morning, I also cried because it seemed that no one else cared as we went on with business as usual. Was I being too sensitive? Or even worse— what kind of world did we live in where the deaths of dozens of people didn’t even matter enough to be acknowledged. Was a moment of silence too much to ask? People still laughing, and joking, and stressing about work when so many people had lost their lives.
The last time I felt grief like that was when my cousin’s life was taken, similarly by gun violence. Her life was taken the day before the Pulse shooting in Orlando, and it was then that I knew how my family’s pain and sorrow was amplified with all of the other families who had lost a loved one too. I still remember the sounds of the llantos of my tias as they yelled out in pain at the funeral. A life so young to be lost at 19. The heaviness of my eyes, the pain in my throat, and the tightness in my chest was so prominent after so many days of endless crying. Did it really take my own pain and loss to empathize so deeply with all of the losses of many innocent lives there after?
A few days after the El Paso shootings, some colleagues and I sat in a room to discuss the impact of this tragedy in our own lives and our community. I recognized how blessed I am to work with colleagues and a company that allows for space of our human experience as people of color. It was in this space that I recognized the compassion of one of my colleagues, an African-American woman who sat there and listened to our grief as we, a group of Latina women, shared our pain and suffering of our community being targeted. It was then that I realized the strength of the African-American community, because for me this was one of a few times I had felt a collective grief this deeply. But for our Black relatives, they have felt it time and time and time again. They have felt this grief since the beginning of slavery in America as they were ripped apart from their families and they feel it every time a black life is lost, they feel it every time a loved one walks out of their house not knowing if they will return. And yet, this friend of ours had the compassion to hold space for our grief as well. In that moment I knew that I had to be a more active participant in the Black Lives Matter movement.
A few months after the shootings in El Paso I had the privilege of visiting the Equal Justice Initiative, The Legacy Museum, and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama— the
epicenter of slavery in America. This experience shook me to my core, because again I was able to visualize the pain that so many of our African-American relatives have inherited from colonial trauma. I remember seeing a sign on the street describing the image of enslaved people boarding off the ships from the river, tied together in chains walking down that same street I was standing on to be auctioned off at warehouses to slave owners. Never in my life had I let myself go to this place in American history because somehow I had disassociated it from my own story.
My parents are Mexican immigrants, somehow that made me believe that American history didn’t involve me because I was the first-generation to ever experience life in the U.S. But my visit to Alabama proved just how wrong those thoughts were. I finally understood how “American Prosperity” came to be. I knew that slavery was a part of American history, but I didn’t understand how it was tied to my life today. The United States was built on the backs of enslaved people, families who were ripped apart from their motherlands, and who kept being ripped apart as the slave trade expanded from the North to the South. Enslaved people were kidnapped from their country of origin, and with that I understood that my parents decision to come to this country was just that— a choice. Having the choice is a privilege, even if that choice was brought on by poverty, it was still a choice. My family came here because of the opportunity for economic prosperity. This economic prosperity was rooted in the unfair labor of enslaved people. I too was a beneficiary of the historical injustice of this country, and it was then that I understood how I needed to be a continued allied.
It was in the moments of reading how families were ripped apart for slavery that I understood and felt it in my bones, the grief I felt when I heard about children being separated from their families at the border— because it happened to our African-American relatives first. It was in this museum that I understood the privilege of my parents migration being a choice compared to being kidnapped and enslaved for free labor. It was here I learned that the biggest migration didn’t happen outside of the U.S., rather it happened inside of it’s borders when millions of African-Americans fled Jim Crow South for the safety of their lives. It was here that I understood the privilege of my family's ability to break the cycle of poverty in one generation because of their migration to "the land of opportunity", where so many of our African-American relatives have lived in a state of oppression for centuries.
It has been over a year since I came back from my time reconnecting with Mexico, and I remember being so proud of being so connected to my roots and sharing it with everyone who would listen because for the first time I felt unapologetically proud of my identity. I remember two different times sharing my journey in conversations I had with two different colleagues, both African-American and in both instances they shared that they wish they could know their culture and their origin like I had known mine— again I was silenced by privilege I hadn’t even recognized I had.
There are so many ways in which Latinos have privilege, but we have to acknowledge it and use it to unite in the fight against injustice and be allies to our African-American brothers and sisters. Anti-Blackness exists within the Latino community, and a lot of it is based on a misunderstanding of history, of each other, and a language barrier. But we are a new generation that can communicate across generations and across languages. When we start seeing how similar our pain and suffering is we start to see how we each can support one another and be united in our fight against injustice. This is not to say that Latino lives aren’t being affected because they are, as we see innocent children being locked up in cages, as we see immigrant laborers being targeted with violence, as we see Latino men being shot. But we have to remember that our African-American relatives are also experiencing the same.
Change happens when we all come together for the greater good— that is called unity.
With that I ask what are you doing now to stand against the side of oppression? Are you holding space and listening to the pain of our African-American brothers and sisters? Are you standing against ignorant comments made within the Latino community? Are you educating yourself to then educate others? What difficult conversations are you having? What are you doing today?
We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr