WHAT ABOUT US?
Authors Note: the following was in response to a text message from a Black friend of mine who was having trouble understanding why or how so many Brown people on her timeline were not understanding the urgency of unification between our communities and instead turned to asking the question "What about us?" , as in what about the plight of Latins here in America, a land we originate in. This was my honest response as to why I believe so many of us have a hard time with understanding it is not US or THEM . It is WE who must overcome the obstacles we encounter when navigating White America..
Latinos in my experience, have a hard time wrapping our minds around Black people being part of "US". Acts of solidarity between Black and Brown communities are something that have happened on a widespread level only within the last few generations or so. Although I am not an expert on Latin cultures, I assume Afro-Latinos from the Carribean, whose ancestry goes back to the trans-Atlantic slave trade must have a somewhat easier time connecting their African ancestry due to their closer genetic kinship and physical appearance, which places them in the midst of many of the same situations as, and resulting in, a closer connection to the contemporary Black struggle in America (specifically those from Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic). This is just an assumption on my part of course. There are many from the island that identify as Black.
Mexicans, like in many countries, discriminate against those with darker skin because they tend to belong to the lower class of society. In major cities like Mexico City, the majority of people who belong to the upper and middle class are those whose ancestors were clearly repeatedly raped because they are WHITE WHITE. The servants, housekeepers, drivers, (basically "the help") are all primarily Indigenous, many for whom Spanish was not a first language- so add that level of discrimination on there. All in all, the general perception is that a darker skinned individual is less educated, and seen as lower class, while the notion that whiteness and a Eurocentric culture was perpetuated- creating a divide between people of color and “whites”. In Mexico, particularly as you move further south- the people get steadily darker. For example, in Oaxaca there are people that -in my opinion, do not look African because of slight differences in bone structures-, but for all intents and purposes could very well be mistaken for a Black person by someone who does not know any better. It is important to complement this by saying that there is a lot of conversation surrounding African presence in Pre-Columbian Latin America. Thus, it is quite possible that there is African ancestry within those groups of people, although I should mention this is in no way an attempt at erasing Indigenous American culture in favor of an African narrative.
Our parents and grandparents came here with an already ingrained prejudice against the darker skinned brought over from the old country - you and I have grown to see that as a Machavelian divide and conquer tactic as we have learned we have a common enemy. Many immigrants who come to the United States, despite being dark themselves (like my family) operate with the same self-discriminatory prejudices only amped up further. Their self-hate is projected onto Black America, who because of slavery have a longer history here in relation to US history, than we do . Blacks have their own culture ON TOP of American culture, so the alienation for my people was twice as severe. Not only was there a culture divide with whites there was a whole other divide in relation to Black people. I've heard stories from my people about how they were treated by Blacks when they first got here and suffice it to say, I understand why their views would be as they are given their lived experiences compounded with their predisposed beliefs about those with darker skin. Think about it Raza, how many times has a tia said something sideways about a "mayate"? Ultimately, we can attribute some disconnect between the two communities to those above mentioned reasons. In addition to the preconceived notions and discrimination from people that crossed over, there were many people who stayed here after the land shifted hands from Spain to America known sometimes as "CALIFORNIOS". They were here before America was America, those people who had the newly marked border cross their land, - along with first generation immigrants known as Chicanos and Pochos- lived in either relative obscurity due to the legal status of their parents, their low economic standing or their extreme assimilation to prevent their children being ostracized for partaking in Mexican culture. You will find that a lot of current conservative Mexican-Americans that voted for Trump fall under the latter category. They were raised and continue to live with the "white is right" mentality and if anything we should be THANKFUL to White America for allowing us the luxury of living here. Raza was living powerless against the police with only a few instances of rebellion and activism (atleast to my current knowledge) outside of the Zoot Suit riots in the 40s, (again I could be wrong). However Mexicans struggles included suffering both at the hands of police and the only other minority present, Blacks. As a result, the formation of Chicano gangs and the subsequent race wars seen between Brown and Black ensued. The formation of the UFWU (United Farm Workers Union) and Brown Berets in the 60s heavily emulated the Black Panthers of the time. By this time, revolutionaries like David Sanchez and Cesar Chavez had begun to better organize their movements towards justice and equality. However for the above mentioned reasons, as well as a lack of number of people supporting them, their impact was nowhere near that of the Black community. Consequently, our history of rebellion in this country is again, newer and less widespread than that of Black people who have been loudly and passionately organizing rebellions since the Amistad. Though some organizations like the Brown Berets and Migente exist today they are nowhere near as influential as say BLM or the NAACP. Culturally, it's simply not "honorable" to be loud and rebellious - especially not against whites. We're taught to conform, keep our head down and just work- preferably for the government- because it serves a dual purpose; to gain approval from whites, and to gain respect from their cultural communities. This is something that has been repeated to me and many I know our whole lives. As I type this I realize this is what happened in my own family. The goal was to be "one of the good ones" and earn our place here , on a land that was ours to begin with. Its also to be noted that as a result of growing and learning beyond what is taught at home by doing our own research on our history, many of the millennial generation such as myself have begun to renounce our support of figures like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta because they held considerable anti-immigrant sentiments. They only campaigned for those born on this side of the border and worked closely with Border Patrol to capture undocumented migrant workers. Evidently, Mexicans born on this side possess a superiority complex against those born on that side with seemingly opposing interests and values that continue to conflict to the present day. Again, all very unorganized and divided in comparison to Black America. There is a clear lack in media representation for Mexican-Americans specifically. We have a lot of Boriquas and Islanders because those are the"cool" countries, which appeal to the “exotic” nature Latinos are supposed to possess. However, to every 10 Black A listers we have about 1, IF THAT. Where in Mexico they have Chente, Juan Gabriel, Los Tigres del Norte and Chavela Vargas. I bet you can't name a mainstream Mexican artist on this side of the border, aside from Selena and even HER life story was depicted by a Puerto Rican. Forget about Penelope Cruz (who is Spanish, as in from Spain) and Salma Hayek who although was born in Mexico is actually of Lebanese decent). For all of your Whitney Houstons, Tupacs, Maya Angelous, Toni Morrisons , The Temptations etc. We, on this side of the border, have maybe less than a quarter of that influence in entertainment and media. In conclusion, there are many factors that answer that "wHaT aBoUt Us" question some of your Mexican-American/ Latino friends asked recently. Beginning with racial prejudice brought by the old country that was passed onto the next generations, the negative experiences our families have gone through at the hands of Black people, the culture of conformity and silence to earn our place in a white society, no real organized revolutionaries, a dissatisfaction and disassociation with the philosophies of organizations of the past, deep divides within our own community based on geographical location, lack of public representation for Mexican -Americans to gain inspiration and momentum from. Speaking personally, I've had to fight my ego plenty in the strive for a deeper understanding of the world and the game of chess we are playing against an oppressive system. I’ve not only been jumped multiple times by Black girls and guys, but I’ve also experienced alot of "wetback bitch", "taco truck ass bitch", "beaner" , mocking of our culture and language, and I’ve witnessed Black people being outright verbally abusive to what we call "recien llegados" or "just arrived" Latinos. It actually happens with quite some frequency at my sons predominantly Black school. HOWEVER, I also remember how some Latino kids threw around "Nigga" like it was nothing, I remember saying and hearing stuff like "oh that girl is pretty, for a Black girl" ( As if Black girls are innately NOT pretty?) I remember when the Latino kids would make fun of the dark skin Black kids whenever the lights in the class were turned off talking about "Where'd you go?" This goes back ages and it is all clearly very nuanced. But again, when I learned to check my ego in favor of growth, I started to look beyond just my experiences and started focusing on a bigger picture. Our experiences with the system and with White people are eerily similar after all. I do not need to speak up on behalf of Black people in hopes of reciprocity, nor do I. I do so, because it is simply the proper thing to do. If the Black people in my life choose to speak up when it comes to issues that affect my people, then great. If not , it wont change what I know to be right. It won't erase the number of times I've seen authority figures abuse their power with Black people, the many atrocities they have suffered throughout this nation's bloody history, or the continued oppression they continue to face today. When I think of how bad I have felt when I've been on the receiving end of racism, it is more than enough to keep me knowing that I'm on the right side of history here. The unfair treatment of Black people all over the world is WRONG, and I'm not with it period. Again, I've chosen a path free of ego and have looked inward to examine what I believe my community is lacking, which is not something everyone in my community has been able to do just yet. Thankfully, many have and I hope my kids and their Black counterparts reach a level of community that our generation and the generations before us never have. I hope they are united against our common enemies on a level we could only ever dream of. Perhaps, the next time you encounter a Mexican -American or Latino friend who is having trouble with understanding WHY it is important for us to unite regardless of who gets more "air time" in the media, you may break down the many reasons we as a community have not mobilized ourselves in the same way as the Black community has been mobilized. Gently suggest they check their ego for a moment and appeal to their ethos by highlighting how the greater good includes ALL of us if only we just remain consistently united regardless of whose issue is front and center at the moment.
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