I have finally had enough. Simply put, 2020 has been an exhausting year.
As a health care provider, COVID-19 brought about a lot of uncertainty and many changes in preparation for what might unfold. But over the last few months, the social unrest surrounding police brutality and the disproportionate occurrence of these cases towards people of color has added to my physical exhaustion by conflating it with both emotional and mental fatigue. After 32 years of tolerating systemic racism, it is finally my turn to say something.
My fight against racism is still confusing to some, including those who are against the concept of social injustice. But here it is, plain and simple — Black Lives Matter. That is not in doubt. The Black community is rightfully and vocally shedding light on necessary change and demonstrating how people of all backgrounds can unite together to support the just and equal existence of people of all races. Recently, I have been told that my story is not relevant because I am not Black; people assume that what I have gone through was simply not that bad. It has become apparent to me that more people need to be educated on the multifaceted history of people of color in the United States.
I am a first-generation Mexican-American who grew up in San Diego, California. I was three-years-old when the beating of Rodney King took place and I can still remember my entire family glued to the TV screen watching the event unfold. I remember the somber tone in the room. It rang with an uncomfortable silence but it was also laced with a silver lining. At this moment, there was hope laced in the fact that someone had finally been captured committing blatantly racist acts — something many people had unfortunately begun to accept as their norm. One year later, when the officers accused of beating Rodney King were found not guilty, I learned how unjust our justice system could be to people like me. I did not see the beating of Rodney King as a beating of a Black man; I saw that as a beating of a fellow person of color. Unfortunately, it would not be long until my young self became more intimately acquainted with racism.
Growing up in San Diego was not always just sunny days and beaches — there were racist undertones hidden in the most mundane acts. Shopping for my mother’s Christmas present with my brother was enough of an alert to have the store security tail us the entire visit. Simple trips returning from the border prompted thorough identification checks on my return home to the United States. Thorough was an understatement. I had to prove I was not hiding anything under my skirt, to be scrutinized as to why I would bring all my various forms of identification, and to be asked whether those papers were actually mine.
My favorite moment was being asked what made me a citizen, to which I responded proudly that I was born in the United States. The border patrol agent then scoffed at me. He responded, “And that makes you a citizen?” Fifteen-year-old me was a little more brazen, so I immediately countered with “Well, it made you one.” Leaving the house without an ID was not an option. Returning home across the border made you feel like an outsider. When your own country assumes you are a criminal and that you might be armed, there are no warm smiles. There are just cold, flat stares and hands hovering over their holsters just in case you get out of line.
Latinx and Black communities have all suffered unjust treatment of an implicitly racist society and, unfortunately, we are nowhere near where we should be as the purported exemplars of the free world. I am not trying to compete regarding who has struggled the most; the fact that any community still has to struggle is mierda. Unjust behaviors towards people of color and unjust killings have happened to all people of color and it all needs to stop.
I am proud of the actions taken that were born from feelings of unrest towards the death of George Floyd and the deaths of far too many before him. We need to keep fighting for justice for people of color. But continuing this conversation in a binary way does not allow us to address the injustices faced by all marginalized people and I am afraid that if we continue this conversation in this manner, we will repeat our shameful history. This is not simply racism. This is bigotry manifesting itself in another form and we cannot be blinded. We must see just how deep the origins of hate go so that we can unroot them and demand the change we need.
I wish I had some finite answers or a plan to help guide us to a better future, but I honestly do not think we are ready for such a systemic upheaval. We need more voices to be heard. We need more people to share their stories. We need to unveil more facets of bigotry and expose unjust practices before we can truly comprehend what we are dealing with. I know my story and experiences. But I both want and need to learn more. Black Lives Matter. And for my other fellow marginalized groups, I say you matter. I see you and cannot wait to hear your voices.
Image credit: Black Lives Matter Rally by David Geitgey Sierralupe licensed under CC BY 2.0.