Alumni of VONA/Voices and Culturestrike’s UndocuWriting, Alan Pelaez Lopez’s poetry and nonfiction essays have been influenced by growing up Black, poor, queer, and undocumented. A 2018 Pushcart Prize nominee, Pelaez Lopez was named one of “10 Up and Coming Latinx Poets You Need to Know” by Remezcla and one of “10 Poets for the Revolution,” in The Best American Poetry Blog. Follow them as @migrantscribble .
They are currently working, living, crying, mourning, laughing and creating in Oakland, CA where they are finishing their first full-length poetry collection, Intergalactic Travels: poems from a fugitive alien.
Published and/or forthcoming in: Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Vinyl Poetry , Red Ink, Splinter News, TeleSur, A Quiet Courage, The Feminist Wire, (Un)documenting, Fierce by MiTú and more.
Quoted in: Poetry Foundation, Them, NPR, Voices of America, Rewire, Bustle, Colorlines Magazine, Huffington Post Latino Voices, Mic Identities, and more.
Videos / Readings
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An Encounter With My Heart
Origins Journal, April 2018
elders have always told me to be specific—
to identify & point to the place of ache.
my right index finger always pointed
to my head, eyes, & upper back.
corazón, i didn’t realize that when you ached,
our pain migrated to different cells of our body.
i wear a ring on my index finger
bought from another ndn in Oakland
thinking it would help with precision.
how naïve to believe that i understood you
without ever conversing with you, corazón.
this medicine disguised as a ring
has fallen off so many times that
i finally found my ignorance.
corazón, thank you for being so gentle;
your tenderness in the form of headache
eye-ache & backache will no longer go unnoticed.
this ring does not feel loose—
i know that it fits quite well.
querido corazón, I am ready to feel you.
no need to travel to my digits
& make this medicine
mistaken as object, fall.
today, i point to you, corazón,
& proudly testify:
it hurts here // it hurts
here // it hurts // here.
Pittsburgh Poetry Review, February 2018
I am a specialist
in what we call border
// // // crossing.
I can // // / //
cross / / a / / border
any time you ask
from my faggy lil body—
and my history of abuse,
to my ndn roots; I can swim any river;
see, I do everyday. I had luxurious wings once,
but they came and cut them—
then the air sopló and created an injury;
the waves of the water weakened them,
and the amnesia of history exhausted them. Now,
I can no longer cross
// // / // borders.
My lungs, alma,
can no longer swim,
So I have to // // / // hop;
// // / // // // / // Saltar
hide // // / // and // // / // seek
In what once was my land.
Guide to Border-Crossing Self
Pittsburgh Poetry Review, February 2018
I. The Training
mi amor, you better learn to run,
learn to run without shoes:
forget what it feels like to tie
laces, do not practice the ritual
of a bow too many times, for you—
you will forget that you are in danger.
II. The Crossing
corazoncito, when you get to the fence, you
must run, you must not look back, you
must run faster than ever. pretend you
are back en el pueblo and you have just
picked a bean of coffee from the Gringos
that enslaved your family; run as if they
have seen you; run to safety before they
hunt you like a deer; run before they lasso
your body—traffic you to ameriKKKa;
lynch you at the white house. ¡corre!
III. The Survival
mi’jo, the life you must save
is your own. you have thousands of
hearts beating through your blood
system. you may feel alone, but you
are not: deep inside your skin, you
have the resistance of Indian & Black warriors,
you will fight all the way, you will take
every bean of sunlight, you will take
any bit of water offered and you will
always burst new roots. you cannot
be killed. life is in your body,
it is in your words, in your existence.
“sick” in america
Vinyl Poetry and Prose, Nov 2017
before the crossing (1) our family could understand the whispers of the water (2). we bathed our cuerpos morenos as if we we were holy: as if our humanity was valuable, as if we were worth life. it is hard to remember anything before the crossing (3). how do i tell myself i had a childhood if at the age of five i am a fugitive (4) of the law? it would be easier to remember life before the crossing (5) if we didn’t become paralyzed for the rest of our lives: the doctor tells me i have post traumatic stress disorder. he says it is because i am an immigrant (5), but that in a few years, i will be american (7).
(1) during the crossing // we were faced with // the reality // of what it means // to be Black and Indian // in an Empire // that constantly measures us // on production // production // and production. // our blood // a sustenance // for those // who deem us “illegal.”
(2) the water here // has been cut through // by wooden logs // that demand // we show them // papers that say // we are not poor // nor Indian or Black.
(3) i only crossed once // (location: // San Diego/ Tijuana border // age // five // how // by foot and car.)// but every story heard // becomes another crossing // my body remembers every crossing // every crossing becomes mine // my body has experienced every crossing // in dreams.
(4) fugitive: american indian boarding school runaway// fugitive: runaway slave// fugitive: runaway soon-to-be-lynched negro// fugitive: assata shakur // fugitive: mike brown // fugitive: sandra bland // fugitive: alan carlos pelaez lopez.
(5) crossing: the precise location in a five-year-old’s life where they lose their humanity, health, and livelihood. // the site where the child realizes their guiding spirit is weakening // the body, changing // the mind, confused // the flesh, shivering // eyes, watering // digits, dancing. // the site where “Americans” will blame the child for “infecting” the “American Dream.”// the site where a child is just a child visiting occupied Indian land.
(6) “the black body does not migrate, it is shipped”- tavia nyong’o
(7) american: i guess i’ll be forever “sick.”
Vinyl Poetry & Prose, Nov 2017
I am nine-years-old
& Mamá María tells me que somos negros
I do not believe her
we have only been in this country for 4 years &
one thing I know is that only Americans can be Black
and only Americans can be White
¿como puedo ser negro?
no hablo Inglés, no tengo papeles, mierda no soy Americano
Mamá María me dice que somos negros
Mamá María tells me that I must learn to love my skin,
to love my accent,
to love my culture,
I do not understand
one year later, bilingual education ends
(I am shipped to a school 13 miles away)
(I am labeled Haitian)
(I am yelled at in French-Creole by an ESL teacher to whom I am her only student)
(I do not understand.)
(c’est garçon est tres stupid)
(she whispers to another teacher)
I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not understand. I do not.
That night, I cry in the bathroom until Mamá María comes home from cleaning houses
I tell her I hate my new school
I hate the way Mademoiselle looks at me
I hate the way kids pull my hair
I hate being the only immigrant
El unico illegal
I can see the water in mama’s eyes
“Somos negros” Mamá María tells me
“Pero no le puedes decir a nadie de dónde somos
Nos van a deportar y si nos deportan, nos van a matar”
Las Estages of Blackness
Bozalta Journal, July 2016
I’m going back again—boarded.
My heart, full of love, but stomach—
it’s a heavy sickness. I want to call it
Black Stomach Sickness,
but that may be too much, or maybe not.
Symptoms of Black Stomach Sickness:
Symptom One—Being Brown, or more dangerous, Black;
Symptom Two—Walking on the street with headphones– — — careful!
Symptom Three— Living in the hood, da projects;
Symptom Four—Too much police, too much circulation;
Symptom Five— Police buying girls from your building for sex;
Symptom Six— The judge at your local court, assaulting Maria, the one from outside your window at East 138 th;
Symptom Seven—You have just found blood all over the blue elevator door at your apartment complex (all that’s left are the 50 stars) on Madison Ave, as you step on broken Heineken bottles all over the stairwell.
Black Stomach Sickness (noun), Definition One—
the feeling a Black Boi gets when he
visits best Home Girl in the hood at 125 th Harlem.
At arrival, heart’s at ease, it feels like home, but she worried,
she tell him he must not get too comfortable,
a lot has changed
Black Stomach Sickness (noun), Definition Two—
Falling asleep at ten pi-em,
gunshots wake you up,
bullet hits ground floor.
Black Stomach Sickness (noun), Definition Three—
You’ve parked on the left side of the street,
you must now face what happens to the building at night,
and explain to your 2 year-old niece that the holes on the wall
are shelters for homeless bees, as you hope
there is no drive-by until you are back inside, safe.
Black Stomach Sickness (noun), Definition Four—
the feeling you get after she tells you
no one will hire her because she Brown
because her address gives it away, she from the hood
no more address from White Country Club University.
She not girl who makes it
She not girl who’s supposed to make it
She not girl with the American name
She not girl who should have a career
She not girl who ‘worked-for- what-she- has’
Black Stomach Sickness (noun), Definition Five—
an obtuse feeling on the stomach
that makes you faint, your body,
hitting the cracked sidewalks that City Hall will not fix cause
you a problem
‘cause, you a commodity
‘cause, you an animal
‘cause you a jungle animal
‘cause you a misfed, raving, jungle animal,
‘cause you Blaq.
Black Stomach Sickness (noun), Definition Six—
a tired body trying not to drown in organized crime.
a tired body trying not to buy the coke the NYPD is selling on their break.
a tired body trying to avoid the gun the NYPD is selling at 50% discount.
a tired body trying to work 65+ hours to afford community college.
a tired body keeping the mouth closed when manager clocks it out 3 hours before the body leaves work.
a tired body living in a neighborhood with more fast-food restaurants than a grocery store with affordable food.
a tired body walking 3 miles, takes train for one hour and seventeen minutes, waits ten minutes at bus stop, takes bus for nine minutes, gets off, walks 1 mile, body is home.
a tired body, tired of surviving.
Perhaps, Black Stomach Sickness
is too radical, too academic, too literal.
How about I call it:
Waiting for justice.
I wonder what will happen, when I go back to da hood,
resume address changes;
first name mistaken as American,
last name becomes un-hyphened.
this boi not supposed to make it.
I hope we make it—
My Arbitrary Legal Case
A Quiet Courage, June 2016
The court document says that the state of New York
has found me to be abandoned by one, or both parents.
The court states that it is not in my best interest to
be removed from the United States, though they
will probably forget my name when my body is found
dead on a sidewalk, another Black fag shot down.
Thank you for the protection New York,
I’ll smile harder next time I see the NYPD
approaching me outside the subway station.
The Feminist Wire, May 2016
and to think that once,
I thought you were
lucky to trace
trace the maps of your name
to sailors and warriors
where you found honor
we found our owners
where you found
one-third Italian, two-thirds Polish
my great-grandfather murdered by the local Oaxacan government
and great-grandma dead before abuela Belen could learn her name
I found stories of their deaths, but not their lives
sometimes, I imagine no last name
I try to imagine no abusive father
no sleeping next to a dog when I reached the states, undocumented
no rollerblading down the cemetery on the border of Newton and Waltham
attempting to find traces of my sister Michelle, buried only a country away
no eating that red-orange piece of brick across from Leary Field
no punching Luis at 9 on the intersection of Marion St. and Bennington St.
no crying under the panda comforter in Noemi’s 3rd floor apartment
and when my name
gets lost in translation
I will not correct you
because this, this is how I revolt
when the callouses on my tongue are accents
but the burns that do not let me sleep at night are English
No Translation Necessary
Gemstone Readings, May 2015
I notice mamá Maria
look at me funny
every time I open mi bocota
I know it is because
I lost my accent
tho’ Gringos sometimes tell me
I slur my words
mamá Maria tells me that
tho’ she does not understand
the language, she needs no translation
for the people that speak it
are always sad
how ugly this English is
Working With Má
Gemstone Readings, May 2015
I can smell the dough baking two bridges over the highway intersection.
A beaten down building “For Lease”.
Bodies dressed in black rush to tables:
Sauvignon Blanc, Chateu St. Michelle Riesling, Oyster Bay,
some Peach Belinis, Classico Margaritas, and Sangria—you know these well.
Us waiters have had our break,
the cooks have been working since 7:30A.M.
I clock in at 5:32P.M.—the 70A was late
and I did not run across the highway as fast as usual.
Saturday, twenty-second of July—if you remember—, Mom’s birthday:
She is in the kitchen of the restaurant making salads.
It has been twelve hours,
four more to go and she can eat.
Undocumented Chapped lips opening wounds,
loss of saliva, maybe the refusal to drink like the others.
Mom is ready to faint in front of the guests.
At 11:00P.M., she will walk to the white minivan,
run her pointer fingers on her forehead,
praying to La Virgen Maria.
Her black hat, stained in cactus-shaped tomato sauce, will come off,
and her black ponytail will release wild curls
covered in the black Pantene hair dye of the month.
The key will turn, and she will drive two exits,
right turn to get out, sharp, sharp left, and a right,
two miles later, we will be home.
She has to work at 8:00A.M. tomorrow, you know.
What it’s like to Attend a University that is less than 10% People of Color
Gemstone Readings, May 2015
mispronounce my name
and blame your maid for not
teaching you Spanish
/ Originally Published Here
Open your mouth
Go ahead, I give you permission to call me a jota
And a faggot
Tell me I’ll never be like you
Call me ese negro pendejo
Teach me to beg my mom to get me contacts
But not clear contacts
You know, those that’ll keep me safe from harassment
The blue ones
So I can be like most of my class
The ones that will make a father say
“That’s my son
With the clear blue eyes”
Instead of a broken healthcare system
That will refuse to provide me care
So when I am in High School
I am working on the streets
For white men that exoticize me
and exploit my undocumented body
Only to pay for those thick frames
That will dress the wounds in my eyes
And allow me to visibly see my reality
Which is that of the WHITE man teaching us to hate ourselves
And conditioning us to think
That WE are disgusting
WE are trash
WE are nothing
But no! No! NO!
I will no longer be your sexual fantasy
You will no longer rape my mind with colonial ideas
I will no longer allow you to masturbate at our struggle
And cum at every suicide, deportation, and the suffering of our communities
We are FUCKING beautiful
And if we have to, we will sharpie in our existence in every textbook
And make sure we hold YOU
AND each other
We are not MACHINES
We will not work as a FORD assembly line
Continuing the cyclical violence
Of your disgusting imperial trap
We will de-colonize
And re-create our education
Because we are BEAUTIFUL
Your ideas, are nothing
But a constant reminder
Of what it means to
In a system were your existence is radical
Your voice— a crime
Your thoughts— a lethal weapon
And your heart— illegal.
I give you permission to no longer hide your thoughts.
Because I, I will not hide mine.
I will speak.
/ Originally Published Here
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Lessons From an Immigrant Rights Organizer: We Are Not Our ‘Productivity’
Rewire News, January 2018
Undocumented Artists Exist, But When Will We Center Their Narratives?
Medium, October 2017
17 Trans-of-Color Leaders Resisting, Inspiring and Keeping it Real in 2017
Everyday Feminism, July 2017
10 Affirmations to Help Undocumented Immigrants Turn Panic Into Resistance
Everyday Feminsim, April 2017
I have PTSD, but PTSD isn’t rare. See, I come from a community of predominantly Black and Indigenous undocumented immigrants from all over the world, and PTSD is something that a lot of us struggle with.
As (un)documented immigrants, we have been forced to migrate out of our homes.
Some of us migrate because international corporations came to our villages, built factories, polluted our water, destroyed our ecosystem, and, therefore, eradicated our access to healthy foods and safe working conditions.
Others come searching for refuge (from war, military invasion, and so on). Some arrive to ask for political asylum (for anti-LGBTQIA+ violence in their countries, murders against women, and so on). Others come because they were trafficked, and some come without the intention of staying.
My point is being undocumented isn’t something that just happens.
Undocumentedness is a painful experience rooted in oppressive powers that make living conditions so atrocious in one’s home country that those who are most affected have to flee –if they don’t die – and find a life elsewhere.
Once we do migrate – most undocumented people migrate “legally,” and then lose status – life becomes even harder.
Because we aren’t protected under the law, most of us are seen as cheap labor. Factories, farms, manufacturers, homeowners, restaurants, businesses, and so on want our labor, but only if we agree to be overworked, underpaid, and go uninsured.
The immigration system isn’t broken. The immigration system created the “illegal alien,” because the US (as an empire) depends on our labor in order to continue to grow as a capitalist and modern society.
The US depends on our labor the same way in which it depended on slave labor, on the colonization of Indigenous land, and on the exploitation of female bodies.
Under the new presidential administration, we have witnessed anti-immigrant rhetoric that portrays immigrants as violent to society and in need of deportation. This rhetoric is strategic.
aSecond, this rhetoric makes immigrants so afraid that they actually become easier to control. And, third, this rhetoric allows for immigration to continue to work the way that it was designed to work: to label some immigrants good, while others bad.
This rhetoric, however, has also intensified the amount of fear, anxiety and vulnerability in our communities. It’s for this reason that I write. I want all of you (documented or not) to know that your life matters, and that we aren’t powerless.
I want to affirm that whatever you’re feeling isn’t an exaggeration. You have a right to your feelings.
I hope that this piece helps alleviate some of the public panic we’ve experienced and turns panic into resistance.
1. Being Scared Isn’t a Weakness
There have been few moments in my life where I truly felt that I was hopeless.
The first moment was in 2010 when my family couldn’t afford heat during the Boston winters. I thought we wouldn’t survive. I was scared.
However, my family made it through. Our fright forced us to be creative. We learned to all sleep in the same room, to wear layers to bed, and we learned how to hold each other tight.
That was in 2010, and seven years later, I’ve learned that being scared isn’t a weakness. As immigrants, we have a right to be scared.
We currently live in a xenophobic society that judges us based on our skin color, our accent, our religion, and our culture. So, yes, being scared is normal.
In this article, I don’t mean to normalize fear.
Instead, I mean to expose the fact that – under the structures of settler-colonialism, racism, and anti-Blackness – Black and Indigenous people and other people of color are among the most vulnerable populations, and therefore, live with a lot of fear.
However, that can change. We can turn our fear into power. Fear is a war tactic that forces marginalized communities to feel weak.
To counter our fear and self-doubt, we must learn that we’re powerful – power is waking up and acknowledging each other’s struggles.
Power is being honest when we need help. Power is admitting that we have messed up, and thinking of ways to move forward. Power is learning to be in community with one another.
Fear is an emotion we can regulate and transform into power.
2. You Can Checkout of Social Media
Let’s face it, there’s a lot of public panic in social media.
In order for us to continue fighting, we might have to get off social media. Maybe just for a week, a weekend, one day, or two hours!
As my colleague, Sian Ferguson explains in an article about online activism:“While your work is so important, it’s entirely possible for you to take a break from social media and pass the baton onto other activists.”
When you checkout of social media because you are becoming more and more anxious about the state of our communities, what you’re actually doing is taking care of yourself.
Tuning out of social media – even if only for an hour – is a form of resistance that allows you to continue taking care of others and yourself.
For example, I have PTSD.
A few days ago, I opened my Facebook and saw a combination of the NDAPL camps being burned, immigrants being detained, and trans women being murdered. I was triggered. There was violence all over the news. I had to tune out.
When I tuned out, I called a friend, and we chatted for two hours. This friend made me reflect on what it was that I needed: I realized that I had been missing meals, and I realized that I wasn’t talking to anyone about how I was feeling.
Because I tuned out of social media, I was able to take care of myself, and then write this article!
3. You Don’t Have to Be at Every Protest (Or Any!)
As someone who came-of-age attending May 1st protests in my little neighborhood of East Boston, I have realized that protesting is only one form of community organizing and activism.
As a community organizer, I know that protests are key in bringing people together for a few hours, and send a direct message to either the local government, or an entire society.
However, as someone who is Black and also an immigrant, I know that I have a higher risk of being detained at a protest, imprisoned, and deported.
Therefore, protesting is only one form of community organizing.
I’ve realized I can also mobilize by regularly asking my immigrant community how they’re doing, if they’re being treated fairly at work, what they worry about, and how I can best use my privileges to help them.
Protesting is an effective strategy for activists, organizers, and artists to deliver powerful messages, but it’s not the only strategy available.
4. Your Familial, Romantic, and Intimate Relationships Are As Important As the Movement
This has been the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn in my years of organizing in the Immigrant Rights Movement.
In 2011, I remember talking to my friend Andres, and telling him that I was spending so much time traveling and talking about how much my mother and I had suffered as immigrants, that I wasn’t actually building a relationship with her. I remember telling him:
“If immigration reform happens, and we’re treated as equally as white immigrants, that doesn’t mean that I’ll all-of-a-sudden have an amazing relationship with my family.”
I realized that fighting for immigrant rights also means taking care of my intimate relationships. When I work to have healthier relationships with my mother, I’m actively participating in the Immigrant Rights Movement.
One of the largest struggles about being an immigrant is being displaced from home and having to work so much that family time becomes rare.
By finding moments to be with my family, friends, mentors, and romantic partners, what we’re doing is resisting the violence that immigration has created.
5. Making Art Is Militant Resistance
Artists in the Immigrant Rights Movement have been under appreciated. Without art, no social movement would ever be successful.
Think about it this way: In order to change a society’s culture, that society first needs to understand what’s wrong. In order to understand, they’ll need representation of the oppression.
This representation may come through the visual, the auditory, the literary, the culinary, and so on. Once the society is exposed to the issue (via art), then that society can be mobilized to a re-imagination of what an anti-oppressive culture could look like.
Engaging in art, therefore, is always a form of protest and militant resistance.
6. Finding Moments of Joy, Laughter and Love Are Necessary
Because being undocumented sometimes means living in flight-or-fight mode, we need to be able to find moments of joy, laughter, and love in order to continue fighting.
I’ve definitely had moments in my life when joy was a hard emotion to find. For example, one of my best friends and femmetors is currently in an immigrant detention center, where she’s been in-and-out of solitary confinement.
On a regular basis, I get calls from her, and we talk about the ways in which the immigration system is strategically designed to create exploitable labor, to incarcerate vulnerable communities, and to discipline those who are queer, trans, indigenous, Black and low-income. During these heavy conversations, joy is hard to find.
However, finding joy, laughter and love are emotions that we deserve. Oppression is most successful when violence makes us feel that we’re alone in the world and have no agency.
Joking around with people is a pleasurable action that we should not find guilt in. Having sex is something that should be liberating, not shameful. Enjoying the company of community is something we should be comfortable with, as opposed to finding it a rare occasion.
Point being, how do we expect to continue resisting if we can’t find moments of joy, laughter, and love in our lives?
7. It’s Okay to Take a Break and Want Alone Time
Let’s face it, it’s never been easy to be an immigrant. However, you should never feel guilty about wanting to take some time to listen to your body.
I know, with papers-please laws, Muslim bans, and immigration raids happening around our communities, the feeling of not being productive enough can consume us. Measuring ourselves based on productivity isn’t helpful though.
“Productivity” is actually a measurement of capitalism – and we, as immigrants, are always expected to “prove” our value and worth in the US.
This “proving” that we’re asked to do depends on the idea that as immigrants, we are only valuable if we can sell our labor to advance society, which in reality means big corporations.
We need to take care of each other and ourselves if we’re going to continue resisting.
8. You’re Loved by More People Than You Think
I’m not sure if everyone will relate to this, but within my close group of (un)documented friends, I’ve noticed that most of us have a hard time accepting compliments and love.
If you’re reading this, I want you to know that more people than you know love you.
Accepting love can be a long process sometimes. There are moments where we misrecognize love.
When someone asks you if you’re hungry, that’s a sign of radical love. When someone gives you a ride somewhere that’s also a sign of love. When someone is able to challenge you and make you think in different (and sometimes scary) ways, that’s a sign of love, too.
It’s important for us to be able to recognize those instances in our lives. By doing so, we’ll be more aware of the love that our community has for each other, and hold each other tighter when the time to resist harder comes.
9. Your Existence Is an Example of Historic Resistance
As a Black human being who was undocumented for seventeen years, I often find myself reading and rereading Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman’s slave narratives.
I do so because I see parts of my realities represented in their texts. In the moments of their texts when they write about being fugitives of the law, I understand what that means.
For me, slave catchers are manifested in what we now know as immigration agents.
These agents will go into immigrant households late at night, pick up our families, and throw them in vans. Then, our family members are sent to a prison, or immigrant detention center. For me, those “housing” facilities represent plantations.
As (un)documented immigrants, our everyday survival is actually a blueprint of resistance.
We need to share our realities with our communities, because there is incredible knowledge in the ways we have been able to thrive, when it seems that everything has been set up so that we don’t.
10. I Will Fight Next to You for Our Liberation
I know that most people reading this don’t know me, but I want to tell you that I’ll always be fighting next to you for our liberation. What that means is that you’ll never be alone.
I’m committed to developing a more compassionate practice of resistance and community organizing, which means taking care of myself as much as I can so that I’m better able to take care of my community.
Most of us don’t have access to the care that we need. Access to therapists that understand the complexities of our realities is rare. Working in an environment that affirms us and celebrates us is rare. Heck, sometimes, even access to affordable food and a place to sleep can be rare, too.
So, I commit to continue sharing my experiences. I commit to learning from you. I commit to continue re-imagining what radical resistance can look like.
10 Ways to Support Friends and Family Members in Prison
Everyday Feminism, February 2017
The first time someone in my family was incarcerated, I was in grade school.
My mom didn’t know that I had overheard her phone conversations, so I said nothing – this was my secret.
Unfortunately, by the age of ten, I witnessed mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and siblings of my friends become incarcerated as well.
Some people were incarcerated for being undocumented in the US. Others were locked up for being found with weed in public, and some for not paying $1.50 on the train because, simply put, they couldn’t afford it.
But honestly, even with incarceration-facilitated loss being such a significant part of my life and community, I didn’t know the impact it would have on me in the long run.
By the age of ten, I was ashamed to have family members in prison and refused to tell anyone. I was also scared by the reality that all of my friends (who were predominantly undocumented) were having their families ripped apart.
I, like many others, didn’t have an analysis on the ways in which the prison-industrial complex works to target people of color, specifically, Black, Indigenous, poor, immigrant, disabled, trans, and queer communities.
Because I was so fearful of the stigma that comes with incarceration, I refused to open up to anyone. This debilitating fear of stigmatization created a cycle of silence and prevented me from accessing support from my own community.
When I was younger, the last thing I was thinking was: How do I support my community who has been incarcerated?
The truth is, I wasn’t in a position to fully show up for my family and friends who were incarcerated. As an adult, however, I have realized that I grew up in a community that was constantly terrorized by the police.
We were living in a constant state of anxiety, violence, and grief, and I struggled to actively be in solidarity and perform acts of allyship for incarcerated people in my life. And I couldn’t support my friends dealing with incarceration of their families either.
To this day, I still find myself stuck sometimes. I have to remind myself that feeling guilty or awkward won’t really change much. At these times, I have to think through the different resources I have at the moment and consider different ways I can show up for my incarcerated community.
In light of such tiring times, I want you to know that you aren’t alone.
You have a right to your confusion and frustration. You have the right to be angry. You have the right to have questions, and I hope you’ll allow me to give you some initial answers.
There are many ways in which we can support our friends, family, lovers, and mentors who are incarcerated.
For me, showing up was a process, and it will continue to be a process until the prison system is abolished.
There is no manual on how to actively show up for someone who has been incarcerated because everyone’s situation differs (you may be undocumented, you may be under eighteen, you may not have access to a phone, car, Internet, and so on).
However, the following list includes some practical ways we can show up for those who have been incarcerated. Not every suggestion in this list may be accessible to you at this exact moment (because, let’s be honest, the impact of capitalism is real).
But this is knowledge I’ve learned over the past few years in supporting, or failing to support, people in my life.
1. Send Money If Possible
I know it sounds so simple, but in practice, it’s a step that many of us don’t take.
Sending people money in prison is important because without money, it becomes incredibly difficult to get access to stamps, envelopes, or phone cards, which are all used for communication.
Sometimes, a person in prison needs to send a lawyer a written statement. How else would the person do it without a phone card, or access to paper, stamps, and envelopes?
In addition, money is also helpful in buying tuna, microwavable soups (which are upscale alternatives to the food received in prison, so I’ve heard), toothpaste, brushes, and so on.
The first time I deposited money into someone’s account, I had to chase down their full name, their booking number, and how much the person already had in their account so that I wouldn’t exceed their maximum funds’ limit.
However, once I located all this information, it took less than five minutes to process the deposit.
Don’t fear the process.
2. Answer Their Calls
Did you know that if someone who is incarcerated is calling you, and you are able to answer without paying anything, it means that the inmate has paid with their own money for that call?
I didn’t know that. Heck, I didn’t even know that I could open an account to receive calls and not have my family members, friends, or mentors waste their money.
When I first began being present in the lives of community members who were incarcerated, I would always hesitate in answering calls. The reality is that I didn’t want to not have something to say.
This means that I was making the situation about me and my discomfort to not have the right words as opposed to about the ways in which my community was oppressed by the prison industrial complex.
I had to let go of that discomfort – because the people calling me are human.
They have experiences they want to share. They take pleasure in exchanging stories. And they play an incredible role in my life.
3. Write Them Letters
Because calling is expensive – and not everyone has the money to deposit money into the beast that is the prison industrial complex – writing letters is a fantastic alternative.
The first time I wrote a letter to a friend, I sketched a photo, painted the photo, and mailed it out. A week later, the letter was returned.
Apparently, I had violated the rules by using a chemical formula that is most commonly known as paint from the 99-Cent store.
Before you write letters, make sure you visit the website of the facility where your family member, friend, mentor, or community member is housed. Some facilities will have more nuanced rules than others, but generally, they are equally bureaucratic.
In your written letters, catch them up on your life, ask questions, and share local and national news.
4. Visit Them in Prison
People need intimate human interaction.
Over the years, I’ve noticed myself failing to show up by visiting those in my life who are incarcerated.
Sometimes, my reality is that I don’t have access to transportation that can take me to the locations I need to get to, but I’ve learned to ask. I have friends who want to help me visit my family members, friends, and mentors and will take a few hours of their day to accompany me.
However, before I got to the point where I just blatantly asked people to drive me, I had to get over my fear of going inside a jail/prison/detention center.
I was terrified, because after having been undocumented for almost two decades, I knew that I risked my own incarceration by going inside a federal government building. Now, as I write this, I recognize that I have incredible privilege by being a green card holder.
However, if you are a US citizen or resident and going inside a jail/prison/detention center will not trigger your mental health, it’s time to begin to face our fear of the establishment.
Our community needs us.
Often, inmate rights are violated. And those who are undocumented, transgender, mentally ill, and disabled are more likely to be forced to live in solitary confinement.
Now, the most important part is to continually visit.
We must remember that as people who aren’t incarcerated, we have a particular privilege of having the ability to experience a diversity of human interactions on a daily basis.
Our community members don’t.
5. Ask Them If They’ve Made Friends in Prison and Visit Them, Too
Once you’ve gotten the hang of the process that is visiting someone in prison (which will include some mental preparation and self-reflection afterward), you’ll be ready to take the next step: visiting their friends.
Ask them if they’ve met anyone else who they would like you to visit. There are many people who, after the first few months, stop receiving visits from their family, friends, and/or partners.
You can change that.
I would suggest you bring a friend, so that you can visit someone new, and your friend can visit the person who you’ve been visiting.
This is how community is built.
What’s important is that you genuinely put in the work. Allyship and solidarity are actions, not just theoretical concepts.
6. Remind Them That They’re Powerful and Resilient
After one of my closest friends was sent to a federal high-security prison – having already been imprisoned in solitary confinement at an immigration detention center – my friend began to experience doubts about her value and self worth.
We need to remind those inside that they are powerful and resilient for surviving inside a system that is meant to kill us.
In the case of imprisonment (read: captivity), power can look like getting up in the morning. Power can also look like deciding to call someone if you’re allowed.
Power can also look like filing a complaint against a guard. It can look like choosing not to speak at all. Power can look like participating in a hunger strike or creating your own makeup.
The point is that our incarcerated community is powerful and resilient. Every moment that passes, they’re demonstrating to us that resistance is possible.
Don’t take their existence lightly. What our incarcerated community has been doing is creating a blueprint for all of us to follow on how to fight, resist, and survive when the state attempts to fool us into thinking we can’t.
Yes we can.
7. Tell Them About Your Life
They want to know how you’re doing, too.
When I began to communicate with family and friends in prison, I felt awkward. I didn’t want to share much about my life, let alone my sex life, or what I did for leisure.
I felt this way because I knew that they didn’t have the same privileges as me: People who are in prison can’t pick-and-choose their bedtimes, meals, hours spent in the sun, and so on. So I felt that I shouldn’t share those aspects of my life.
I was wrong.
One of my mentors who is currently in an immigration detention center constantly asks me about what I’m doing for fun. They lecture me on how I need to let go and enjoy life because, the reality is, no matter how oppressed I am, there are still moments of joy to indulge in.
In fact, some of those moments of joy are parts of my highly awkward and quirky dating life, which I have gotten quite used to sharing.
You see, the world doesn’t stop when someone is incarcerated, so you must not hold back in what you share.
When you share your life experiences, you might be quite surprised by everything your family member, friend, mentor, partner, or community member will tell you.
I’ve learned a lot about their lives, what they’re thinking about, and all those funny, enraging, curious, awkward, and just plain, obscure interactions or stories they’ve encountered when I invite them into the intimate moments of my life.
8. Exchange Jokes
As I said in the previous point, we need to find moments of joy and indulge in them.
My first time going to visit a friend, I was awkward and quiet. I didn’t know what was appropriate. I wondered: Do I talk about the case? Do I ask them what they need? Do I smile? Can I tell a joke?
You know, every time I’ve gone to see someone, I notice that they’re as happy to see me as I am to see them. We get to pick up where we last left off.
Sometimes, that may be completing a half-finished joke from my previous visit.
What I’m trying to say is, we need to not treat our community members as if they have no feelings. It’s okay (and highly encouraged) to share jokes, exchange smiles, and share joy.
9. Learn About Anti-Prison Organizing – And Share It with Them
It’s important for you to learn that there are communities actively working toward abolishing the prison system.
Whatever state you are in, research what organizations are doing, and share it with those in your life who are in prison. They need to know that they’re not alone, and that people are working on their behalf.
The prison system is not a transformative tool for our communities.
In fact, it is the opposite. The system is setup to tear apart communities and to destroy people’s spirits.
We need the spirit of abolition in order to continue resisting.
10. Open Up to Others About Your Loved One in Prison
At the end of the day, you can’t do this alone.
You’ll need support from your local community.
It’s important for us to share what we know about the prison system. We need to uplift the stories of those who are in our lives, and share the knowledge that we’ve learned.
Yes, it’s scary to think about opening up to people about having family members, friends, mentors, and/or a partner in prison, but what we need to do is shift culture.
People who are imprisoned are often stigmatized as criminals, dangerous, aggressive, social exiles, and much more – even after they’ve served their sentences.
However, you and I know that there are many reasons why people have been targeted and incarcerated, which is why opening up may be the next step to take in our journey.
5 Ways The LGBTQIA+ Movement Fails At Intersectionality
Everyday Feminism, December 2016
I am queer and gender non-conforming, but the LGBTQIA+ movement is not for me.
The LGBTQIA+ movement is not for me because I don’t have the privilege to fight for a singled-issued movement.
I’m Black, low-income, and formerly undocumented. But the mainstream movement has failed at intersectionality, which means addressing the fact that LGBTQIA+ people live at the intersections of multiple oppressions.
My Blackness is visible. My accent marks me a foreigner. And my gender presentation makes me a target of violence in a world where femininity is devalued and to be destroyed.
The LGBTQIA+ movement has failed at being an intersectional movement because I don’t feel safe entering spaces that market themselves as “LGBT-friendly.”
Not when just three weeks ago, a White man at an “LGBT mixer” approached me and told me I would be more attractive if I wasn’t wearing a head wrap. The LGBTQIA+ movement isn’t for me when I can’t even afford entrance fees to community events that bring “emerging leaders” to my neighborhood.
An LGBTQIA+ movement that centers intersectionality wouldn’t be letting these problems go by as the norm. If you’re part of an LGBTQIA+ organization, it’s sometimes hard to criticize our own work – because after all, not all of society is committed to our liberation.
However, if you notice that your work for LGBTQIA+ liberation isn’t intersectional, you have to do something about it.
Because if one single person in our community is oppressed, we will never reach liberation.
To be more concrete, I want to share five particular ways in which the LGBTQIA+ movement has failed at intersectionality.
1. Marching for Gay Pride, But Not for Black Lives Matter
Do you march at Pride, but not for Black Lives Matter? If so, you’re not alone: Many people do the same. However, this might be a good time to reflect on how that happens, and why it needs to change.
The mainstream LGBTQIA+ movement isn’t for me as a Black individual because my number one concern is to make it through every day alive – a concern many who live at the intersections of being Black and LGBTQIA+ have.
Living at the intersections of queerness and Blackness, I have seen the ugly ways in which a predominantly white and male LGBTQIA+ movement has erased the leadership of transgender women of color.
LGBTQIA+ Pride has become a corporate event, where the same corporations that imprison us (primarily Black, Indigenous, and of color trans and non-binary folk) are the organizations sponsoring our marches.
Liberation will require divestment from institutions that target us.
For example, let’s say you go to a restaurant and you’re mistreated on the basis of your gender, race, or age. You wouldn’t be very happy. So in order for you to feel liberated, you might make the decision to not go there again.
Divesting from institutions that oppress us isn’t easy.
For example, GetEqual recently led a campaign tittle #PrisonsOutofPride, where they encouraged people to “divest from Wells Fargo and the company’s unapologetic support for mass incarceration by returning Wells Fargo’s sponsorship money and removing Wells Fargo as a current or future sponsor of Capital Pride.”
It can be hard to get all LGBTQIA+ people moving their money elsewhere. However, liberation takes hard work and a community commitment to help each other.
The reality of living at the intersections of Blackness and queerness is that I’ve seen the ways in which the LGBTQIA+ movement has failed my Black community.
While LGBTQIA+ people have no problem marching at those corporate-sponsored Pride events, these very same people avoid marching at Black Lives Matter events. Despite the leadership of Black Lives Matter being predominantly LGBTQIA+, the mainstream LGBTQIA+ movement has failed to show up and act in solidarity, because the movement lacks an analysis on race.
I’m not white. I can’t separate my Blackness from my queerness. I can’t separate the fact that at any moment, I may be killed in the street not only because my queerness is evident, but also because as a Black body, I’m always deemed a threat to society.
If the LGBTQIA+ movement wants to be intersectional, it must march alongside Black Lives Matter, because Black Lives Matter is a queer movement. When we march for Black Lives, we are marching for Black LGBTQIA+ people.
2. Asking for Marriage Equality, But Not for an End to Prisons
While writing this piece, I had to go back to a Facebook status that I posted in March of 2013, where I wrote, “Gay marriage will not change the incarceration rates of the queer community. It will not stop racial profiling of queer people of color. It will not stop the high suicide rates of our communities and the lack of medical care of our communities.”
Immediately, my status caused chaos in my circle of LGBTQIA+ friends, leading me to realize that some of the people I was fighting alongside weren’t interested in fighting within an intersectional perspective that considered race, class, and gender in their analysis of LGBTQIA+ issues.
Many of my Facebook friends – primarily those who are white – decided to send me message after message about how “angry” I came offonline, and how I was missing the fact that people “fought” for me to be able to get married.
Marriage equality didn’t stop the police from stopping me and frisking me as I walked out of the metro in New York City that year.
What the LGBTQIA+ movement has missed is the fact that we’re oppressed because we (LGBTQIA+ people) have always been perceived as criminals. Marriage equality doesn’t de-criminalize our bodies.
In the report, they found that in the US, approximately 3.8% of adults identify as LGBT(QIA+), but 7.9% of adults in prison are LGBT(QIA+), and 7.1% of those in jail are also LGBT(QIA+). Even more, 20% of youth in juvenile detention are LGBT(QIA+)-identifying.
This means that our community is being incarcerated at massive rates. LGBTQIA+ adults and youth are two times more likely to be imprisoned according to the report.
We need to push for policies that de-criminalize LGBTQIA+ individuals.
To do so, the LGBTQIA+ movement needs to work with organizations and movements who are already addressing anti-Blackness and racism within the criminal justice system, as well as those who are working to protect the rights of sex workers, homeless folk, those who are undocumented, poor, and of religious minorities, just to name a few.
3. Encouraging People to Come Out, But Not Keeping Safety in Mind
Are you currently out as LGBTQIA+? I am, too – and I’ve been very lucky to have the support of some of my family members, and you may have been as well. However, I encourage you not to forget that there are also other realities we may not understand.
Coming out is not for everyone. Sometimes, coming out as part of the LGBTQIA+ community can put us in physical, emotional, and spiritual harm.
There are some people that grow up in households where being part of the LGBTQIA+ community may mean exile. There are youth who sometimes choose not to come out in order to survive with a roof over their head, clothes, and food.
The idea that everyone has to come out to be liberated is problematic because it relies on an understanding that all LGBTQIA+ people will find a community that will uplift and celebrate them.
There are people who don’t come out to their families as a form of resilience.
For example, I have undocumented friends who have chosen not to come out as LGBTQIA+. Because being undocumented is already dangerous enough, and sometimes, not coming out is a way to resist and survive.
For them, not coming out doesn’t mean hiding – it means survival, resistance, and revolutionary action.
Adrian Ballou wrote a great article titled, “It’s Not all Glitter and Rainbows: 6 Harmful Myths About Coming Out” where they explain that coming out “varies depending on what other privileges and oppressions” the person lives with, because “the more types of oppression you face, the more exponentially dangerous and difficult it can be to come out.”
In order to understand that not coming out is a form of resistance, the LGBTQIA+ movement needs to develop a more nuanced analysis that considers the ways in which people who may be in rural areas, poor, undocumented, or part of a conservative religious community may chose to protect themselves from violence by not coming out.
This doesn’t mean that they’re dishonest. It means the opposite: They’re honest with choosing what’s best for them at that moment.
4. Telling LGBTQIA+ People That It’ll ‘Get Better,’ But Not Considering Structural Violence
In 2010, Dan Savage found the It Gets Better Campaign through a video he released on YouTube with his partner Terry Miller. The campaign, which still exists, is an attempt to send a message of hope to youth who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community and may be facing discrimination or bullying based on their identity as LGBTQIA+.
You might not see anything wrong with this campaign – what could be wrong with giving kids some hope?
Well, while the intention is one that rose out of struggle, the execution of the campaign is poor. It’s not intersectional.
Because the campaign doesn’t address class, race, or gender, it fails to name that LGBTQIA+ communities are actually oppressed by structural issues, and not just bullies in high school.
The campaign is actually hurting the LGBTQIA+ community because it’s led by people who are of middle class status and predominantly white, and who fail to realize that poor, Black, Indigenous, and of color LGBTQIA+ individuals are oppressed by more than one identity.
When I first came out, I was living in Massachusetts, and all my straight “progressive” friends would tell me that I was lucky to be living in Boston because it wouldn’t be as hard for me. However, when I came out as queer, my primary concern was that I was living undocumented and could be deported at any minute, especially now that I was out as queer.
My friends didn’t understand that my LGBTQIA+ identity was just one factor of the way in which I navigate the world.
The reason for this is that popular rhetoric like “It Gets Better” tells a privileged narrative that doesn’t reflect the lived experiences of those of us who embody marginalized identities.
As I stare at a screen of two white gay men – who also happen to be cisgender, US citizens, and upper class – telling me that things will “get better” concerns me. Because the truth is that the message doesn’t address the concerns of my community.
5. Fighting for Inclusive Bathroom Bills, But Not For Federal Protection of Trans People
Earlier this year, Delia Melody wrote a piecetitled “The Crucial Problem We’re Forgetting in the Trans Bathroom Debate,” where she explains that she’s “tired of hearing about and talking about bathroom bills.”
Because the problem isn’t that there is un-safety in using bathrooms, but that the agenda of anti-trans bills is to eradicate trans and non-binary communities.
Furthermore, Melody explains that “[f]or a very long time we’ve wanted to act like we’re protecting women by gendering spaces, but all we’re really doing is enabling the misogyny to continue everywhere outside of those spaces.”
In order to avoid this, we need to address patriarchy, gendered violence, and a culture that devalues femininity.
Fighting for inclusive bathrooms isn’t a “wrong” thing to do, but it simply isn’t enough, especially when transgender women of color are dying at massive rates.
We need federal protection of trans and non-binary people, which will mean changing culture. We need to uplift the voices of trans and non-binary people, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, and of color.
We also need to see trans and non-binary people in positions of leadership – because they’re the ones who can best show us what liberation truly looks like for our communities.
If you’re LGBTQIA+, I need you to know that it’s not too late to begin to push for a more inclusive movement. If at all, we need to understand that there is not just “one” movement for us to exist in.
We have been existing as part of multiple movements.
I invite all of you to reflect on the ways in which race, class, gender, immigration status, and religion affect our communities. In reflecting, I’d like for you to make a commitment.
Maybe your commitment is to center the voices of LGBTQIA+ community members who are not white and not male. Perhaps your commitment will be to march at the next protest that is not necessarily an LGBTQIA+ protest. Or what you can do is simply share this article.
To be liberated, we need to work together. We need to analyze, critique, and provide ways to move forward.
We can’t just critique each other and move on. I leave you these words as a way to start a conversation, because the reality is that I’m tired of feeling that the LGBTQIA+ movement isn’t for me. It should be for all of us.
7 Invasive Things People Tell Afro Latinxs (And Why You Must Stop Saying Them)
Everyday Feminism, September 2016
I love my Latinidad and I love my Blackness — I wish other people did, too.
The truth is, I was once confused on who I was and if I could even rightfully claim to be Latinx and, other times, Black.
I navigate the world as a light-skinned Black person who sometimes speaks with a Spanish accent (when I am nervous), and it’s a hard experience to navigate.
There are times that I need to be with Black people only, and that’s fair. When Trayvon Martin was murdered, I cried in the shower for weeks, and it wasn’t until I publicly talked about it during breakfast with four other Black folks that I was able to feel as if I would make it through life. I needed the love and validation that can only be received from Black person to Black person.
When my grandmother’s home in Oaxaca flooded, and neither my mother nor I could go to Mexico because we didn’t have “legal” documentation, I needed my Oaxacan community here in the states. We all shared this unique and stressful experience, so it made sense that we went to each other.
And, in both of those instances in my life, I was both Black and Latinx. Each experience that I go through can never separate how I navigate the world, and that’s something that both non-Black Latinx and non-Latinx Black folk need to know.
Being both identities does not mean that I only live my life as Black 50% and as Latinx 50%. Instead, it means that I live my life as Black 100% of the time, and my life as Latinx the other 100%. The math doesn’t need to make sense!
And in light of living my life at 200%, I invite both my Black community and my Latinx community to reflect on the ways in which you interact with Afro-Latinxs, because sometimes, having questions is okay, but at times, those questions and comments manifest in hurtful and damaging ways.
Below is a list of invasive comments, phrases, and questions that I, and many in my community, have received – and they must stop in order for us to be able to work together, and really be a community.
1. ‘Which One of Your Parents Is the Black One?’
When an Afro-Latinx person is asked which one of their parents is Black, they are literally denied their existence as Afro-Latinx, because both of the person’s parents can be Black.
Afro-Latinidad is not the result of an African American individual having a child with a Latinx individual. Afro-Latinidad can absolutely be the result of two Afro-Latinxs reproducing and having an Afro-Latinx child.
In addition, there are Afro-Latinxs who are not socially categorized as Black because they are light-skinned and may have stronger Latinx features (like my younger sister), but that doesn’t mean that they’re not Afro-descendants and that their experience and identity as Afro-Latinx is somehow less or fake.
Race is complicated and we can’t be the ones who decide who has a right to Blackness and who does not.
In addition, asking someone who in their family is “the Black one” is literally a form of policing because sometimes, the only physically Black person in someone’s family may be a grandparent or someone they may have never had the chance to know, which leads people to say, “well, you’re not really Black, because neither of your parents ‘look’ Black.”
2. ‘You Never Told Me You Were Black – You Speak Spanish!’
Being Afro-Latinx myself, I haven’t experienced this remark too much, primarily because I grew up on the East coast and Afro-Latinidad is a common racial and ethnic identity there due to its geographical proximity to the Caribbean. However, upon moving to the West coast, I found many people confused about why I had a Latinx last name and spoke Spanish (since I am visibly Black).
Upon living in the West for a couple of years, I have seen many in the Los Angeles Afro-Latinx community become more vocal about their experience as both Black and Latinx. Because Afro-Latinxs are being vocal about anti-Black interactions amongst non-Black Latinxs and other people of color, many non-Black Latinxs are censoring Afro-Latinxs, and using the excuse “I didn’t know you were Black,” to dismiss anti-Black comments and actions.
First of all, not “knowing” that someone is Black doesn’t give a person the green light to engage in anti-Black comments and actions.
Second, Afro-Latinidad is an identity that many of us grow into because many of us have to work through our taught internalized-Blackness, where our own Latinx community encourages us to use lightening-skin creams, straightening our hair, and rejecting our very evident Blackness. Because of internalized Blackness, many in the Afro-Latinx community are recently transitioning in taking pride in their African ancestry, and that’s why we claim our Black identity “late.”
This is particularly true to Afro-Latinxs who may grow up with just one parent, and their African ancestry has been passed down from their absent parent (yet another reason why people must stop asking “which parent is the Black one”).
3. ‘But You Don’t Speak Spanish…’
Latinidad and Spanish-speaking are not mutually exclusive terms.
Hispanic and Spanish are mutually exclusive, since both terms trace to the country of Spain, where people born in Spain, are Spanish people of Hispanic descent, and will most likely grow up speaking Spanish.
Latinidad has no official language. Spanish is a Latin language from Europe — some Latinxs speak Spanish because of Spain’s colonization.
Other Latinxs speak Creole, Dutch, Portuguese, Mam, Yucatec Mayan, Garifuna, etc.
Assuming that a Latinx has to speak Spanish in order to be Latinx is practically saying that Indigenous Latin American people can’t be Latinxs either, which is participating in settler-colonialism, where we still center Europe (Spain and the Spanish language) on our understanding of Latinidad.
4. ‘Are You Really Latinx?’
This question is probably one of the most hurtful, as the question is rooted in deep anti-Blackness and colorism.
Many dark-skinned Afro-Latinxs in my close group of friends have shared with me that they are tired of participating in Latinx spaces, particularly because they are always forced to give a genealogy of who is and who is not Latinx in their family.
Why does this happen? Because many Latinxs are light-skinned and when they see a dark-skinned Black Latinx, their proximity to White Supremacy is challenged.
White-passing and White Latinxs are the most highlighted in the media, history, and society at large, so when a dark and Black individual rightfully claims their Latinidad, the internalized White Supremacy in our community arises.
Dark-skinned Black people get their humanity questioned over and over again, while light-skinned Latinx people only get their Latinidad questioned. This, unfortunately, is one of the largest problems in our community, and we must address it now.
5. ‘I Didn’t Know [Insert Country] Had Black People!’
It feels crucial for me to name this comment because it’s the one comment that never allows me to forget how neglected the African slave trade has been from the minds of all non-Black people. Slavery wasn’t a systematic project that only involved Africans being violently taken from their land and sent to the United States to be enslaved.
Slavery was a system that kidnapped, enslaved, and transported said enslaved Black people to locations all over the world including the European continent, North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.
When people tell me that they’re shocked that I was born in Mexico because I’m Black and they just assumed I was either mulatto or African American, what I hear is, “Oh, Mexico had slaves too? How interesting.”
It’s really not a pleasant conversation to have, and I feel like I shouldn’t have to have it with anyone, because me having to explain that I’m Afro-Latinx because of the systematic slavery of Africans, is me having to engage in a painful conversation that reminds me that I might never know my roots or where in the diaspora my ancestors come from.
Sometimes, it’s best to keep comments to oneself, because at the end of the day, someone’s intentions won’t matter if the person they were speaking to ends up feeling frustrated, and erased.
6. ‘I Felt Connected to You Even Though You’re Black’
No, this didn’t only happen once, but about five times over the course of two years.
The last time this interaction occurred, the phrase at hand was something the lines of “I felt really comfortable with you talking about Latinidad because you understood and you’re Black.”
I have noticed that my Blackness is something that makes non-Black Latinxs see me as if I am incapable of understanding a Latinx experience, but the reality is, that I understand both experiences really well.
The issue that this phrase brings is that it already predicates that there’s something untrustworthy about my existence, and that thing is my Blackness.
This is true, because when a person is surprised that they were “comfortable,” or that they “connected,” with a Black person is literally saying that they do not see Black individuals as humans with the capacity of connection or trust. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, this is the same mentality that has had many of my Black kin killed by the police — supposed fear of Black violence, or distrust.
7. ‘Don’t You Think You’re Being Divisive?’
This is the last major phrase that I have heard from my Latinx community over and over again, but have heard about three times from my Black community as well.
Being both Black and Latinx doesn’t mean that I am trying to divide my two communities. If at all, it means that I am trying to bring them together.
I usually hear this phrase when I try to give feedback on direct actions that we are planning either around immigration, or for BLM events, and I start my statements with, “as an Afro-Latinx individual, I feel…” which gets me interrupted right away. Sometimes, folk feel as if I am privileging one identity over the other.
But I can’t afford to privilege one of my identities over the other because both affect me in radically different ways, every day of my life.
Yes, my Afro-Latinidad challenges dominant narratives of what a Latinx looks like and what a Black individual looks like, but the reality is that I’m not just going to stop being Afro-Latinx. Instead of being silenced, Afro-Latinx voices need to be heard because they bring an intersectional insight that enriches the way in which both the Black community and the Latinx community can organize more efficiently, and not stop until we are set free.
Sometimes, we say things without meaning harm, and that’s a mistake we all have made, and we can never have full control of it. However, it’s super important to reflect on our everyday interactions.
When we reflect, we’re able to pick out things we have said or done that we could have possibly done better, and times when we did, and we want to continue.
Reflection, though, doesn’t mean that it’s okay to police the identities of other people, because policing is something that already exists, and is used primarily to oppress Black, Indigenous, and of color communities, so let’s not go there.
Instead, reflection can be a tool to help us communicate with each other more intentionally, more compassionately, and hopefully with more authentic curiosity about each other’s existences and experiences.
The more curious we are about each other, the more likely we are to educate ourselves autonomously — instead of asking invasive and oppressive questions like the ones listed in this article… especially when we usually (and hopefully) have good intentions towards each other.
An Open Letter to Afro-Latinxs: You are Enought and it’s Okay to Have Questions
Everyday Feminism, September 2016
I have tried to write this letter for years. I used to think that I needed to apologize to my younger self for never letting myself claim both my Blackness and my Latinidad. I constantly told myself I had to “pick a side” and it caused me a lot of harm and extreme feelings of racial and cultural isolation.
I thought I couldn’t be Black because I wasn’t born in the United States. Then I thought I couldn’t be Black because I had an accent. Later, I thought I couldn’t be Latinx because none of my non-Black Latinx friends could fully understand my day-to-day interactions with the world.
But especially, I thought I couldn’t be Latinx, because everywhere I went, I was labeled “African American,” “mulatto,” “negro,” and so on.
But, the reality is that there’s no need for me to apologize to my younger self and there’s no need for you, my fellow Afro-Latinx sibling to apologize because there is no manual on how to navigate being both Black and Latinx.
If you are reading this, I hope you understand that being confused is not your fault, that having questions is okay, and that you’re not the first to learn to accept your full Black self and your full Latinx self.
Let me get something clear: you are not an impostor!
You do not need to explain to anyone why you’re Black, why you’re Latinx, or which identity you feel closer to. We, Afro-Latinxs are out here and, at some point in our lives, we have felt, and we will feel a little lost. But that’s just the process of living at the intersections of two beautiful cultures, herstories and blueprints of resistance.
If there’s anything I have learned is that we, as an Afro-Latinx community, need to first let go of the mindset that we are only x% Black or x% Latinx. When we begin to think of percentages, we begin to see one identity as less important, which is something that as people of color, we cannot let happen as it erases our experience as mix-race people.
Thinking of percentages not only separates us, it also recalls a history of Jim Crow laws in the United States and the history of erasure that African descendants have in other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean such as Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
For example, in the Dominican Republic, anti-Blackness has manifested itself in anti-immigrant laws, where many dark-skin Black people have been ripped away from Dominican citizenship because the government states that they are Haitian Descendant, and thus, not Dominican. This mentality is rooted in the legacy of colonialism that the island has, as well as in White Supremacist practices where the darker a person is, the less valuable they are, and thus, expelled from the country.
So, in order to step away from this “I’m only x% Latinx and x% Black,” it is important to acknowledge each other, and that means understanding that we might not always know how to interact with the world.
For this reason, I want to share a list of affirmations that I have come to learn, as my family and I learn to celebrate our Blackness and our Latinidad in healthy and compassionate ways.
1. You Have a Right to Your Blackness and Latinidad
I was about thirteen years old when I found out I could be both Black and Latinx. I had only been speaking English for a couple of years, but knew enough to serve as a translator for my mom when we visited the neighborhood free clinic.
I remember the nurse asking us for our race, and I said “Mexican.” The nurse smiled at me, and said, “that’s not a race.” She proceeded by asking, “are you White Hispanic, Black Hispanic, or Other Hispanic?”
I didn’t understand, but I said “Black Hispanic,” since my mom would refer to herself as “negra,” every once in a while.
It took me a few years, actually, to understand the difference between race, ethnicity, and culture. And even later, I had to reflect on identifying as Hispanic, instead of correcting the nurse and said Latinx. But, I was thirteen, and I’m still learning.
The point is that you can be both because Latinidad is not a race, it is a culture and an umbrella term for various ethnicities in Latin America and the Caribbean. For example, someone can be Latinx and Asian, Latinx and Mediterranean, Latinx and Mormon, Latinx and Muslim, etc.
2. Not Speaking Spanish Doesn’t Make You a Fake Latinx
This is probably one of the biggest reasons why a lot in our Afro-Latinx community sometimes feel as if they aren’t Latinx enough.
Spanish is not a native language of Latin America, or the Caribbean, so whether you can speak it or not, it doesn’t matter!
The Spanish language was spread all over Latin America and the Caribbean as a way to de-indigenize the country and to force African descendants and Asian descendants in Latin America and the Caribbean to forget their histories.
There are countries in Latin America where Spanish isn’t even the national language. For example, Belize, a country in Central America with rich African, Mayan, and Kriol roots, uses English as their national language, and following English, one can find the Garifuna and Creole languages – which many Afro-Latinxs speak – as well as Mopan Maya, and Q’eqchi’ Maya. So, Spanish is definitely not a requirement to be part of the Latinx community.
3. It’s Okay to Ask Where Your Blackness or Latinidad Comes From
For a long time, I thought that I couldn’t ask anyone from which family member did we trace our African ancestry. Partially, I didn’t ask because almost EVERYONE in my mom’s village in Oaxaca was Black, so it was pretty obvious that we were all African Diasporic from Mexico’s participation in the transatlantic slave trade. But I still wanted to know more.
It wasn’t until recently that my grandmother began to talk to me about my Blackness, and partly, it was because of my hair journey. In a small conversation we were having, she asked me if I knew where I got my hair from and I just assumed her side of the family, but I was wrong.
She told me that many of the people on my father’s side of the family have thick Afros. My father hasn’t been in my life since ever, so this was new news. I learned that both my parents are Afro-descendant, which practically places me on the pan-African side of the diaspora.
Asking where our Blackness or Latinidad comes from is not a bad thing to do, because, it’s never too late to reconnect with your elders or others, especially if you may not have much of a relationship with.
Often times, they are the ones who can teach you the most about yourself.
4. No One in Your Family Might Know How to Treat Your Hair, But You Can Learn
Growing up in a Latinx migrant community, openly talking about hair can be a radical and healing exercise.
Being Afro-Latinx doesn’t mean that we will all have the same hair texture, the same amount of melanin, or the same connection to both the African diaspora and the Latin American and Caribbean diasporas. Instead, it means that we are all going to have different experiences, and because of this, we will need each other for guidance.
In my own case, I’m the only one in my direct family that has thick and curly hair. My mother has extremely curly, and semi-thick hair, but after much ironing, her hair has “fried and given up” as she often jokes.
The reality is that she didn’t necessarily know how to treat her hair because growing up, her hair was seen as bad – thus leading her to iron it.
Now that I’m growing older, it’s been hard to figure out how to wash my hair, how many times a week to wash it, and what types of products to use. But I have learned to reach out to fellow Afro-Latinxs and my local African American community, who have all aided me and even personally handled my hair.
We shouldn’t feel embarrassed to ask for help, because part of being African diasporic is reclaiming the parts of our bodies that centuries of slavery, colonization and anti-blackness has tried to prevent us from loving.
5. Yes, You Can Wear That Head-Wrap – It’s Not Cultural Appropriation
A non-Black person once told me that I was appropriating African culture for wearing a cuff with an Angolan cloth print!
Let me start with this, I was born in Mexico and my last names are Pelaez and Lopez, the last names of European slave owners! I have no access to my roots based on my name. I know that the village I lived in is influenced by Angolan music, dance, and words, but I can’t say, “I’m from Angola.”
Wearing an Angolan-print cuff is my attempt to de-center Europe and center an African worldview, one where I can say that even though I don’t know where I fit in as a Black body, I know that I have a homeland in Africa.
How can an African diasporic person appropriate African culture if the person has no access to where in Africa they are from?
When a Black person wears a piece of clothing, colors, or symbols from the African diaspora, the person is acknowledging an appreciation for African culture, and it’s also a symbol of honor.
Cultural appropriation also involves a particular power structure that is dependent on race. For example, in Maisha Johnson’s article, “I Hate Cultural Appropriation — but Have I Appropriated African Culture?” Johnson writes, “…if I wear an outfit inspired by African style, I don’t do it to be cool or edgy. In fact, it usually has the opposite effect – as a person of color breaking away from the Eurocentric norms of US fashion, I can be regarded as unprofessional, strange, or even dangerous.”
I have read the articles that argue that Black people appropriate each other, but I have to stop for a second. Wearing something like a head-wrap with an African diasporic print is actually a way that we can actively fight White Supremacy. In the US the head-wrap was used to shelter hair during hot summer days, to create community, and to reclaim Black kinship.
Simply put, wear that wrap!
6. You Don’t Have to Answer Questions on Your Race, Ethnicity, or Culture to Anyone
I am tired of people asking me over and over again to give them a complete genealogy of where my family is from. I don’t need to do that, and neither do you.
I use to answer to everyone and explain that I had no idea where in the diaspora I was from, and then people would say, “oh, you’re not really Black then.” Upon hearing those words, I would get upset, but then I thought about it and realized that the people talking to me in that manner had no idea about anything, especially because most were either non-Black or non-Latinx.
I stopped answering questions of who in my family was Latinx and who was Black, what language I spoke, and whether or not I had been to either Africa (as if it were just one country) or Mexico.
Disengaging from these conversations changed my life because it gave me time to invest in deeper relationships with people that mattered to me, like my fellow Afro-Latinx community.
7. You Can and Should Participate in Black-Only Spaces and Latinx-Only Spaces
After writing an article on creating a pro-Black Latinx culture, I was contacted by a reader via social media, who identified as Afro-Latinx, asking me what I thought about Black-only spaces. I replied, “they’re critical to our survival.”
I explained that a Black experience in the US is nothing like any other experience. I mean, we are literally killed on the daily, even on film, and those who kill us aren’t held accountable.
It’s okay for us as mixed-race people to go to Black-only spaces because we are racialized as Black and those who aren’t Black will never understand our experiences. They can listen to us, but they won’t know what living through anti-Blackness is like.
In 2014, when 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College went missing in Guerrero, Mexico, I was scared, I was afraid, and I was in pain. Guerrero is the neighboring state to my homeland in Oaxaca, Mexico, and I needed community.
This was a time that I wanted to be with other Latinxs because disappearances like these are happening on the daily all over Latin America. I participated in a closed ceremony for Latinxs only, and I needed that space to process and create a community support plan.
The transition to accept your full self can be messy, because race in the United States already is messy, but there is no need to fear. I recently went into a Black space, and one of the elders called me a “family member” he had “never met before,” and that’s exactly how we should be thinking whenever we are in Latinx spaces, Black spaces, or Afro-Latinxs spaces!
I know that it’s taken me some time to write this letter, but if anything, please don’t give up! You are Black. You are Latinx. And you are always both!
7 Fantastic Tips From Youth on How to Teach and Talk About Racism
Everyday Feminism, August 2016
We need to talk about race and our education system.
“But I don’t see race” can no longer be an excuse we use to avoid teaching youth about race, racism, and anti-Blackness. Racism and anti-Blackness as institutional systems are set up for White and light-skinned people to thrive, while people of color, especially dark-skinned people of color, are oppressed.
This is called benefiting from White Supremacy.
Wait a minute – what does this have to do with our education system?
The reality is that children are also benefactors of racism, and thus, participate in unintentional acts of racism and anti-Blackness.
I know this for two reasons: First, because most of my insight in this article comes from conversations with my 11-year-old sister, Ashley, and my 12-year-old brother, Diego. Second, because I was that age once, and I can point to instances where I experienced racism in school, and instances where I – unintentionally – perpetuated anti-Blackness.
One of the ways in which society dismisses racism is in thinking that we are living in a post-racial world because we have a Black president. In fact, that was one of the beliefs my younger siblings had – until they unfortunately lived through their first major racial interaction with a policeman.
Just because we have a Black president, that doesn’t mean we are post-race. And if we teach our youth that we’re post-racial, we’re doing a big disservice to the people they interact with on a daily basis – whether it be their teachers, counterpart classmates, or younger children who look up to them as mentors.
Recently, I was wearing a t-shirt by artist Micah Bazant that read, “Stop Killing Black People.” My younger brother asked me if it had anything to do with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
I replied yes, and began to talk to him about the shirt, and our role as Afro-Indigenous migrants in the United States.
What came from this conversation, I never expected. My 12-year-old brother said, “I wish we talked about racism in school.”
Pay close attention: This is a 12-year-old mixed-race youth, who feels that his education system disregards a major issue that people of color face every single day of their lives.
A few weeks later, I called my siblings. During a 2-hour conversation about race, my younger sister explained to me that she’s never talked to someone else about racism, and that she wished she knew how to talk about it.
When I asked them if they found it awkward, my brother said, “It’s not awkward to talk about race, it’s just that we have never been asked.”
For the remainder of this article, I want to invite you – my fellow educator, parents, guardians, and people who interact with youth on a daily basis – into a conversation about changing our education system.
With the insight of my sister, Ashley, and my brother, Diego, the two have composed a list of seven recommendations to re-create a culture that does not dismiss race, racism, and anti-Blackness in our K-12 education system.
1. Don’t Start at the Beginning, Start at the ‘Now’
When Diego and Ashley explained to me how they wanted to be taught about race, they made it clear that they didn’t just want a history lesson that goes back hundreds of years.
Diego believed that starting with #BlackLivesMatter (#BLM) would be perfect, because that’s what’s in the news. Since there’s so much controversy over it, they first want to know how #BLM began.
Knowing the story of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old youth who was shot dead outside a gas station in Florida, would place the classroom in a space of urgency.
Trayvon Martin was young, Trayvon Martin was just buying Skittles and iced tea, and most importantly, the event happened when they were alive.
Starting at #BLM allows youth to contextualize racism in a way that is not theoretical, or historical. Rather, racism is contemporary, but it is rooted in a legacy of anti-Blackness, genocide and White Supremacy, which will be learned only after #BLM is contextualized in a classroom.
2. Center Multimedia: Videos, Comic Strips, Posters
One of the most valuable suggestions – in my opinion – is to make conversations about racism and anti-Blackness interactive and not necessarily dull. To do this, we need to de-stigmatize the conversation.
How? By letting youth know that racism and anti-Blackness is not their fault.
What I mean is that growing up, I was often forced to feel that racism was my fault by counterpart White and non-Black classmates, who would try to tell me that I was just “sensitive,” and to not make everything about me.
In fact, the reality is that it’s not the emotions of people of color that are to blame, but the institutional violence that people of color face every single day for not being White, or light-skinned.
Trust me, youth are open to these conversations, and the conversations won’t traumatize them if we frame their participation in racism and anti-Blackness as the result of a violent culture.
Instead of shying away from courageous conversations with youth, we should be empowering them to think of ways that they can change their own world. And part of it is educating them in the ways that they want: using multimedia.
It’s okay for youth to watch videos created by other youth on these topics, especially because the videos might serve as a platform of how other youth are talking and thinking through racial inequalities in the US, and the world.
Multimedia is a helpful way to think through these problems because the production of art, music, and writing allows youth to know that race, racism and anti-Blackness are not taboo issues, and that other people have begun to do the hard work already.
Simply put, it means that they don’t have to carry the burden of being the only ones talking about ending a system of racism and anti-Blackness.
3. Include Speakers Who Have Experienced Racism in the Conversation
When I was asking Ashley who she wanted to hear from, she looked at me as if I was asking her a silly question.
“Someone who’s experienced racism,” she replied.
For her, the answer was simple. But in a lot of classrooms, especially in K-12 education, hearing from people who are directly impacted by racism and anti-Blackness does not happen.
Personal stories are key components of re-creating culture, because it allows for individuals to dialogue, and to directly name a problem, and think creatively about solutions.
As I reflect, Ashley’s answer was not only informative, but it was also an urgent call to action: Youth aren’t being asked how they want to be taught, and we must center their needs in our school curriculums, because if we don’t, we’re doing them a disservice.
4. Speakers Who Have Unintentionally Participated in Racism Should Also Share
Following the previous point, Ashley and Diego made it clear that as well as hearing someone talk about their experience of racism, it would be beneficial to hear someone talk about when they have been racist, or anti-Black.
When a youth hears an adult publicly say, “I was being racist without realizing it,” youth understand that racism is more than just calling someone a racial slur.
In fact, racism becomes an everyday reality, which helps debunk the myth that children can’t be racist, and the myth that people who “don’t see color” exist.
Hearing someone speak of their unintentional participation in racism and anti-Blackness opens dialogue where White students and light-skinned Asian, Latinx, Black, and Indigenous students can also reflect on how they may at some point have perpetuated racism and/or anti-Blackness.
It’s good for youth to see their teachers, parents, guardians, mentors and relatives reflect on past mistakes, because it builds a sense of trust, and allows for some of the educational hierarchies to dismantle a little, which therefore, allows students to be heard.
5. Integrate Racism and Anti-Blackness Discussions in Social Studies Classes
So, my siblings and I had a long conversation about racism and anti-Blackness, but since I don’t really know how their school works, I had to ask: “Should there be a new class?”
Both Ashley and Diego replied, “No.”
Honestly, I was a little shocked because from my experience, I didn’t really see this type of conversation fitting in a traditional history class. So I asked, “Where, then?” And to my surprise, they said, “Social studies class.”
I was surprised because the only time I can remember having social studies class was in the sixth and seventh grade. I don’t even remember what we learned!
My siblings explained that social studies classes should be addressing racism and anti-Blackness, because if it shows up in the everyday, then it must show up in other cultures and countries.
To get a better understanding of the structure of racism and anti-Blackness, students need to see how it shows up around the world.
Plus, as Ashley mentioned, “it would make me want to pay extra attention in class.”
However, what Diego and Ashley have helped me understand is that racism and anti-Blackness should not just be addressed in social studies classes, but in every class, because real life racial interactions can occur at any moment.
Math, science, and technology teachers do not get a pass on omitting conversations about racism and anti-Blackness, because the truth is that people of color, especially Black womyn, are already marginalized in these professions.
So if there’s an opportunity to talk about racism and anti-Blackness outside of a social studies class, the educator should take it – it’ll enrich the classroom, and create a safer space for students of color.
6. Race and Ethnicity Should be Taught Every Year From 6th-12th Grade
Once I asked them how long they wanted their social studies classes to tackle on issues of racism and anti-Blackness, Diego said he’d be fine with “just one year.”
Ashley, however, thought otherwise. “We need to have it every year,” she explained, and partly because racism and anti-Blackness took years to form and institutionalize themselves, so there’s a lot of unpacking to do.
However, in Ashley’s ask for learning about racism and anti-Blackness every year starting in sixth grade, I saw another ask: The need for them to continue with social studies classes, and not end them post seventh-grade.
Now, this is another article, but perhaps, our education system can re-evaluate the necessity of maintaining a strong social studies curriculum, and developing an ethnic studies curriculum at the grade school level.
As students get older and learn more about the world, racism and anti-Blackness will take on different forms, and they’ll need ongoing conversations to apply anti-racism to their developing worldview.
7. Let Students Know That Racism Is Not Their Fault – And That Anyone Can Change Culture
And finally, students should know that they are not the ones to be blamed for the existence of racism and anti-Blackness.
Students of color need to know that their existence is not the reason why racism and anti-Blackness exist. They also need to know, however, that being of color doesn’t mean that they can’t participate in anti-Blackness.
On the same hand, White and light-skinned students should not feel that racism and anti-Blackness are their fault, because these things are institutional. The students should, however, understand that they benefit from these institutions, but that they can show up, and develop anti-racist worldviews.
Teacher, parents, guardians, and/or mentors should be able to name times when they have benefited from racism and/or anti-Blackness, and how to use their privilege to show up for people of color.
This will show students that, even when they’re taking personal responsibility for their role in racist systems, it’s not about calling them a bad person. It’s actually empowering them to know they can help make a big change through personal action.
Even more, when students of color witness White and light-skinned adults standing up against racism and anti-Blackness, students are able to understand that a better future is possible for them.
Talking about racism and anti-Blackness should never be about putting the blame on one person, but on recognizing that a system exists, and that everyday reflection on our personal participation is necessary to end the system that oppresses both our peers and ourselves.
Being in grad school has made me reflect a lot on my education, and I seriously wish that I thought in the way that my siblings do.
Their recommendations should not be taken lightly – these recommendations are demands that my siblings came up with not by themselves, but by everyday, casual conversations they have with their friends.
Youth voices are powerful, and they should be at the forefront of the ways in which education policy is crafted, how curriculums are developed, and the different needs that students have.
Commit with me to share this article with fellow educators, parents, mentors, and relatives of youth, so that we can begin to think of ways to incorporate the recommendations listed above in our own districts.
9 Puntos Críticos Sobre la Anti-afrodescendencia, Inmigración y por qué los Latinos También Deben Actuar
TeleSur, August 2016
Carta abierta al Movimiento de los Derechos Inmigrantes:
A la luz de los asesinatos brutales de Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Delrawn Smalls Dempsey, Alva Braziel, Joyce Quaweay, Skye Mockabee y Korryn Gaines, la anti-afrodescendencia, el patriarcado y la transfobia deben ser nombrados profundamente dentro del movimiento de Derechos Inmigrantes, ahora más que nunca. Aunque la solidaridad de parte de personas latinas no-afrodescendientes con las vidas negras ha crecido y aumentado, aún hay mucho trabajo por hacer.
Cómo navega, la comunidad latina y el Movimiento por Derechos de Inmigrantes, la anti-afrodescendencia?
¿En primer lugar, que es la anti-afrodescendencia?
“La anti-afrodescendencia no es simplemente las acciones racistas de un hombre blanco resentido o solo una estructura de discriminación racista – la anti-afrodescendencia es el paradigma que ata a la afrodescendencia y la muerte juntas, tanto que no podemos pensar de una sin la otra”.
Por otra parte, la supremacía blanca no es un sistema de opresión que funciona igual para todos. Más bien, se dirige a personas diferentemente dependiendo en cuánto capital le saca a dicha comunidad y cuánto poder y brutalidad impone sobre ellos. En pocas palabras, la diferencia entre la anti-afrodescendencia y la supremacía blanca es que la anti-afrodescendencia es la forma más penetrante, sistemática y brutal de la supremacías blanca.
Además, el autor y profesor Negro Frank B. Wilderson sostiene que la economía, la sociedad, y la “democracia” estadounidense son posibles solo manteniendo cautivos a los cuerpos Negros – históricamente a través de la esclavitud y el día de hoy a través de la industria carcelaria.
Wilderson sostiene que los inmigrantes son cómplices y se han beneficiado de la anti-afrodescendencia porque tenemos el poder de ascender la jerarquía, asimilar, y abandonar la afrodescendencia. Subconscientemente, los inmigrantes equivalen la afrodescendencia con un estatus no-humano, y consecuentemente buscan distanciarse del terror y las balas que la Afro-descendencia atrae. Nos invertimos en afirmar nuestra identidad de piel café deshumanizada como sujetos por medio de nuestro rechazo del objeto negro, no humano.
Algunos ejemplos claros de cómo hemos adoptado esto incluyen la anti-afrodescendencia que es común en nuestras propias familias y también la consigna común del Movimiento por los Derechos de los Inmigrantes usada anteriormente: “Nosotros no somos los criminales”. En este ejemplo, hemos vendido a la comunidad afrodescendiente en nuestras marchas, demostraciones, entrevistas y en nuestras negociaciones y colaboración con el gobierno. Esto es solo una parte. Sin embargo, la comunidad latina va y viene entre una categoría de infrahumanos blanqueados, y por otro lado, también son relegados políticamente a las sombras indocumentadas de la Afro-descendencia. Aquí es cuando empieza nuestra negación.
Y donde se complica la situación para la comunidad inmigrante que no es negra.
Aunque somos cómplices con la anti-afrodescendencia, el ser indocumentado también pone a los inmigrantes en una posición de invisibilidad. Las personas indocumentadas no existen dentro de la sociedad civil porque pertenecen a una clase baja subterránea, a la cual también pertenece por extensión la comunidad latina con papeles. A las personas de piel café también les persigue, les aterroriza, y les subordina el mismo sistema anti-negro, capitalista, patriarcal y transfóbico al cual buscamos pertenecer. Sin embargo, esto le ocurre a la comunidad latina en un nivel distinto porque la comunidad latina tiene una relación distinta a los EE.UU. que la comunidad negra/afrodescendiente. Aunque hay paralelismo, existen claramente privilegios y diferencias por no ser negros, Afro descendientes que debemos reconocer constantemente antes de hacer llamadas generales de unidad.
Es importante enfatizar que el peso completo de la anti-afrodescendencia y la xenofobia chocan en el cuerpo negro inmigrante indocumentado. Primeramente, la comunidad indocumentada negra está sujeta a un estado perpetuo de “ghettoización”-el concepto creado por la feminista escritora Patricia Hill Collins en su artículo “Pensamiento Feminista Negro” donde explica cómo la comunidad negra ha sido segregada en “ghettos” o barrios como manera en la cual las instituciones blancas podrían mantener control político sobre ellos después de la esclavitud y también para controlar la economía.
Esta “ghettoización” causa que la sociedad que no es negra entienda a la comunidad negra como “floja”, “criminal” y “violenta”. Por medio de esta perspectiva, el inmigrante que no es negro se beneficia de una sociedad anti-negra que considera su cuerpo café o blanco como “trabajador” y más “confiable” que las personas negras, y automáticamente “menos violenta y floja”.
Aquí es donde analizamos que las experiencias de la comunidad negra indocumentada no se puede comparar con la de otras poblaciones indocumentadas, especialmente cuando inmigrantes negros son 5 veces más propensos a ser deportados que inmigrantes que no son negros.
Definitivamente, inmigrantes no negros no comparten la experiencia de ser negros o Afro descendientes. A la misma vez, compartimos a menudo el terrorismo de la supremacía blanca que originó con el secuestro, transporte forzado y la esclavitud de la gente negra y el genocidio y ocupación de las tierras de la gente Indígena.
Indudablemente, esto explica cómo la comunidad latina también sufre con el desempleo, la pobreza, el sistema de justicia criminal, el encarcelamiento masivo, la detención, la deportación, la salud y la educación. Sin embargo, los inmigrantes en general benefician de siglos de la anti-afrodescendencia y el genocidio de la gente indígena. Aunque comunidades en la diáspora comparten historias del despojo y desplazo, esto no puede ser utilizado como escusa para deshumanizar la comunidad negra y perpetuar el acto de borrar los orígenes anti-negros del imperio, capitalismo y ciudadanía estadounidense.
Es solo cuestión de tiempo y trabajo antes que el movimiento de Derechos Inmigrantes acepte esto y vea al terrorismo policial también como un asunto latino. Esto requerirá que abandonemos la narrativa del “buen inmigrante” la cual conduce a fantasías que los papeles otorgaran a la comunidad latina la liberación. Este es un paso hacia deshacernos de la criminalidad como un tabú al cual debemos evitar y rechazar para poder practicar la solidaridad transformativa con las vidas negras.
Los siguientes 9 puntos son críticos para la consideración y exploración de los latinos que no son afrodescendientes:
1. Las entidades policiales tienen orígenes racistas por naturaleza y no pueden ser reformados con cámaras de panel o corporales, supervisión del departamento de justicia, responsabilidad policiaca, ciudadanía o alivio migratorio. La policía, ICE, el departamento de seguridad nacional, y la patrulla fronteriza deben ser privados de fondos, desmilitarizados, y desmantelados totalmente.
2. La liberación latina, trans, y queer no será posible mientras la anti-afrodescendencia siga como paradigma y la gente negro/afro descendiente siga siendo asesinada en sangre fría por la policía.
3. Debemos levantarnos en solidaridad con nuestros hermanos negros/afrodescendientes y inmigrantes indocumentados negros y aceptar nuestra cercanía a la Afro-descendencia y reconocer que el terrorismo policial es un asunto que también impacta a los latinos y a nuestras familias directamente. A la misma vez, debemos reconocer nuestras diferencias y privilegio como no-negros/afrodescendientes y no reclamar o apropiarnos de la lucha Negra que no nos pertenece.
4. Es importante desarrollar un análisis político que identifica la anti-afrodescendencia, la supremacía blanca, el capitalismo, el patriarcado, la transfobia, el estado policíaco, la encarcelación masiva, fronteras, la ciudadanía y el imperialismo como sistemas que tienen que ser abolidos.
5. Debemos de organizar como clase obrera no alrededor de nuestras identidades, mientras a la misma vez con el entendimiento de que al deshumanizar a la comunidad negra causa que no lleguemos a tener liberación para todas. Tenemos que ser inclusivos de las experiencias, liderazgo y demandas indocunegras y expandir como movimiento la narrativa de quién es inmigrante para incluir, centrar y enfatizar las identidades y análisis político de las comunidades indocunegras, indocuasiáticas, indocutrans/”queer” e indocufemeninas.
6. Cuando muere la gente latina y gente indígena que no es negra, hay que levantar sus nombres y sus historias sin compararlas a las muertes negras y sin expresar resentimiento sobre la falta de atención que reciben de los medios. No hay que comparar las muertes al costo o sobre las espaldas de la comunidad negra/afrodescendiente. No estamos en las olimpiadas de opresión.
7. Hay que solo usar #BlackLivesMatter o #LasVidasNegrasImportan y no cambiarlo y convertirlo en un hashtag acerca de vidas latinas o cafés porque eso es un ejemplo de la apropiación y de hacer que el asunto se trate más acerca de nosotros.
8. Debemos hacer presencia, crear relaciones y estar en coalición con nuestras organizaciones locales dirigidas por gente negra/afrodescendiente como parte del Movimiento por las Vidas Negras y ayudar y seguir su liderazgo.
9. Debemos responder, alzar la voz y organizarnos cada vez que una persona indocumentada negra, afroamericana, latino, trans, o queer en nuestra comunidad sea asesinada por la policía.
Fundamentalmente, la gente latina también es asesinada por la policía porque a este sistema no le importan las vidas negras. Entonces nuestra cercanía a la afrodescendencia, combinada con la xenofobia anti-inmigrante, atrae balas. Esencialmente, no importan todas las vidas hasta que las vidas negras realmente importen. Nos pasa a nosotros porque les pasa a ellos.
Como la premiada poeta dominicana afrodescendiente compartió en Instagram, “Para aquellos que no creen que no creen que por medio de su silencio no son cómplices. Para aquellos que pueden pasar en esta sociedad y no creen que estos asuntos nos afectan porque vivimos bajo la apariencia de ser: Latino, Hispano, de piel blanca, Trigueno, Indio, mestizo, o cualquier otro término que no significa mierda porque también vendrán por nosotros”.
Ni que decir, desde el 4 de julio, por lo menos 8 latinos han sido asesinados por policías. Estos son sus nombres: Pedro Erick Villanueva, Anthony Nuñez, Scott Ramírez, Melissa Ventura, Raúl Saavedra-Vargas, Vinson Ramos, Fermín Vincent Valenzuela y Javier García Gaona.
Como Movimiento de Derechos Inmigrantes: Debemos constantemente lamentar las muertes de y levantar e inmortalizar a nuestros hermanos negros/afrodescendientes que desproporcionadamente son asesinados por la policía a lado de los nombres de los latinos y familia quienes también son ejecutados por la policía. No pueden morir en el anonimato. Necesitan vigilias, protestas, declaraciones, hashtags, pero más que nada, necesitan nuestra indignación y coraje colectivos.
Abandonar la anti-afrodescendencia significa aceptar nuestra propia cercanía política a aspectos menores de la negritud. Esto no significa que nos apropiamos de la lucha Negra, por que no nos pertenece, sino en vez, llegamos a reconocer las diferencias y similitudes enraizadas en la anti-afrodescendencia y la supremacía blanca. Esto es un requisito al trabajo de solidaridad real con las comunidades afroamericanas, inmigrantes negras indocumentadas y afrolatinos.
Para concluir, mientras exista la anti-afrodescendencia, estructuralmente y a nivel interpersonal, y la gente negra sea blanco del asesinato, los latinos nunca jamás serán libres. Más allá del trabajo de solidaridad con comunidades negras, los latinos que no son negras/afrodescendientes deben verse implicados colectivamente en erradicar la anti-afrodescendencia. Debemos aprender de y seguir la valentía y las intervenciones del movimiento Por las Vidas Negras.
Los latinos deben lanzarse con nuestros hermanos indocumentadas negras, afroamericanas, indígenas, trans, queer, musulmanes y asiáticas. Debemos cambiar nuestro análisis y nuestra consciencia para así darle nacimiento a una nueva realidad- nuestros propios sueños y visión en términos nuestros.
Your Guide On How To Support Black People After Incidents of Police Violence
Everyday Feminism, July 2016
When Black people are killed, the world stops for other Black people – because it could have been them that day. But for many non-Black people, it’s business as usual.
The media has been strategic at desensitizing Black deaths by continuously showing us images of massacred Black bodies. By exposing murdered Black bodies over and over again, the public no longer sees it as “new” news.
Being a Black, queer, and mentally ill immigrant in the United States means that I wear my skin, my afro, my nose, my PTSD, my mood swings, my height, and my accent tight around my neck. If at any moment, I’m not careful, I can be shot dead.
And I’m not exaggerating. This is the truth that I live.
Just this January, the state police in East Boston, Massachusetts, stopped my family in a tunnel. Before asking my stepfather, who was the driver, for his license and registration, the state police officer looked inside the car to see who the passengers were.
The White officer spotted my eleven-year-old-brother and ten-year-old-sister and told them, “You’re going to be criminals like the rest of your kind.”
Make no mistake: This was a racist interaction. And it caused my brother to have an intense anxiety attack that night that brought many tears – as well as many questions.
My brother is a mixed-race child of immigrants. My brother is dark skinned – much darker than I am – but racially ambiguous. See, he’s the child of an Afro-Indigenous womyn from Mexico, and a pan-indigenous man from Guatemala. But at just eleven years old, my brother has had to face what it’s like to be Black and dark in America.
Just this January, I realized that I would have to do better in supporting my brother, because although we are both Black, he lives a different experience as someone who has a lot more melanin than I do.
See, being Black in the United States means being told when you’re in grade school that you should never walk too fast on the street, or too slow, no matter how long or short your legs are. It also means that you might automatically be labeled as a threat or a criminal in the same way that the racist, anti-Black state police officer labeled my eleven-year-old brother.
Not only do I need to do better as a Black person to support my brother, but also, those who are not Black need to commit themselves to change culture.
This piece is for you, my non-Black friends, my non-Black family members, my non-Black activists, my non-Black educators, and my non-Black partner. This piece is for you, because whether you know it or not, you benefit from anti-Blackness.
Even if you’re a non-racist activist, it doesn’t mean that you escape from the benefits of anti-Blackness. Anti-Blackness means that someone that looks like me is more likely to be perceived as dangerous than someone who looks like you, my non-Black counterpart. This is a US reality that you unintentionally benefit from.
It’s not your fault that Black people are systemically seen as inhuman, but you can be part of our oppression if you don’t name anti-Blackness when you notice it – or if you’re unable to have conversations with non-Black people about anti-Blackness.
I need to mourn. I need to be there for my family in these violent times. But I also need you.
I need you to commit to stand by our side, and to not make this about you. I need you to acknowledge that being Black in the US is an experience like no other.
And if you really believe in solidarity and allyship, here are ten things you can do right now to support us.
1. Don’t Demand We Share Our Thoughts On Every Black Murder
When a tragedy happens in the Black community, I usually talk about it with my close friends and family.
But it’s gotten to the point that I share so much of my analysis on Facebook, that when I don’t jump on a national conversation after a tragedy, I get private messages from non-Black people, demanding that I tell them what I’m thinking.
Non-Black people shouldn’t demand a Black person to develop an analysis on another police sanctioned murder of a Black individual – even when you think you’re asking nicely, even when you’re asking because you want to help.
We, Black people, already have an analysis because we live this on a day-to-day basis. And we don’t need to share it with you.
Instead, what non-Black people should do is attempt to battle with the ways in which they’ve historically benefitted from the oppression of Black people in the US – and publicly name those forms of benefits, as well as how they continue to oppress Black people.
I understand that non-Black people want to ask Black folk what they’re thinking so that they can be better allies. I get it.
But think about it this way: If you go to a funeral, you’re not going to demand that the family re-tell you how the person died, because that’s a lot of psychological and emotional space you just demanded for yourself, instead of carving out space in your life to hold the family who is mourning.
2. Read Articles Before Sharing Them on Social Media
This mistake – not reading before sharing – I’ve unintentionally committed, and it’s had serious consequences.
A few years ago, I shared an article about the murder of a trans womyn. The headline was something along the lines of “X Trans Person Killed This Year.” The article, however, would at times refer to the trans womyn by “she” and at other times by “he.”
By not reading the article, I participated in continuing to perpetuate violence against a transgender womyn who had been killed by the police.
We need to be critical and careful when sharing online information.
Not only do we need to hold writers and artists accountable, but also ourselves.
I see many people in my community share article after article without any context of why they’re sharing it. Maybe the title spoke out to them – or the excerpt that went along with it. Maybe they trusted the person that they shared it from, and so assumed that it aligned with their own values, too.
But perhaps take a second and see if the information is accurate, if it truly speaks to your soul and your cause – or if it’s actually, in some way, further hurting the people you’re advocating for.
3. Don’t Share Content Created by White People Narrating Black Experiences
Think about your own marginalized identities. And imagine someone – who doesn’t share this personal experience – talking from your perspective.
How would you feel?
I’d feel angry. In fact, I feel angry right now.
These past couple of days, I’ve noticed that people on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have been sharing photos of White folks along with their analysis on #BlackLivesMatter – posts that, imbued with Whiteness, have gone viral.
You know why this has angered me? Because what these people are saying is not new. In fact, Black people – and particularly Black womyn – have been saying the same things for decades. But their knowledge is taken for granted because not only are they Black, but because they are also womyn.
We need to re-evaluate who we uplift – and at the cost of whom.
You want to share posts that speak truth to power? By all means, do. But make sure that those posts are coming directly from the community affected.
4. Uplift the Voices of Dark, Fat, Queer, Trans, and Disabled Black People
In order to be accountable and uplift voices, what we need to do is see all Black people as knowledge producers and intellectuals – that they are the experts on their experiences, what they need, and how we can address their needs.
Patricia Hill Collins, in her phenomenal book Black Feminist Thought explains that “Black women intellectuals can stimulate a new consciousness that utilizes Black women’s everyday, taken-for-granted knowledge. Rather than raising consciousness, Black feminist thought affirms and rearticulates a consciousness that already exists.”
Think about who are the most marginalized people in any given movement. And make a conscious effort to amplify their
By uplifting the voices of dark, fat, queer, trans, and disabled Black folks, we provide an understanding of the ways in which we can work together to change culture – and depart from living under a slave/master political regime.
5. Offer Food and/or Safe Housing to Black Folk
As people engaged in social justice work, I really do believe that we often fail at addressing the basics: food and shelter.
Perhaps, a better strategy to be an ally and in solidarity with Black folk in the midst of violence is to offer them food or a place to sleep.
This is needed because when we’re hurting, we sometimes forget to eat. And to be honest, food is sometimes inaccessible to people in my community. I definitely have spent my fair share of days of hunger.
Shelter is also important. Due to problems like gentrification, poverty, and racism, many Black folk live in unhealthy places. A home may be unhealthy because one of our roommates might be racist or because it’s regulated by police circulation, thus putting our bodies at fight or flight mode all the time.
Some of us may not even have a place to call home.
Just say, “Hey, would you want to spend the night at my place? You can take the bed, and I’ll take the couch, or we can share my bed.”
6. Buy Grocery Store Gift Cards and Distribute Them to Homeless Folk
Again, hunger is real. But also, did you know that non-Black homeless people are more likely to receive better treatment than Black homeless people?
The harsh reality is that homelessness has nothing to do with a person being inefficient. The reality is that homelessness is an issue created by a society that doesn’t prioritize community health.
We live in a society that doesn’t combat racism, sexism, and classism in the K-12 education system or in the workforce – in a society where Black folks never received reparations. What can you do to help that?
Last year, I wrote an article about what it was like to be an undocumented activist, and in it, I named the fact that I was often hungry, and how far I would go with $15 in grocery gift cards.
This isn’t something I’m making up. This is a real lived experience, and a real need in my community that will help us mourn.
7. Offer Childcare to Folks with Children
When tragedies happen, our lives stop. But somehow, we have to keep going – because everything around us doesn’t stop.
For those Black folks with children, mourning, breathing, and decompressing may become harder, and at times, impossible.
If you know Black folk who are parents or guardians of children, offer childcare.
Childcare might look like your visiting their home and playing with the child(ren) while a parent or guardian has coffee in their kitchen, or it may look like your babysitting while a parent goes to a protest – because for the Black body in America, protesting is often the way we mourn.
8. Redirect Conversations Between Non-Black People and Black People to Yourself
If you see a non-Black person attacking, or demanding a Black person to defend why #BlackLivesMatter is important, you should direct that conversation to yourself.
A good way to be an ally is to engage in conversation with other non-Black folk about what’s going on – and to break things down for them.
For Black folks to do this work is for Black folks to literally have to prove their humanity over and over again, which is something that’s disempowering, violent, and traumatic.
9. Create Spaces for Non-Black Folk to Make Community Commitments
It’s really important for non-Black people to get together and find ways in which they can collectively fight against anti-Blackness and racism.
For example, if you live in a neighborhood where police circulation is frequent, you might want to call a meeting with non-Black neighbors and commit to no longer call the police. This may look like creating a system of first respondents. For example, if you’re bothered by music, instead of calling the police, you have another system in place to deal with things like this.
Another great example is for you to host a community forum of what White Privilege, Anti-Blackness, Patriarchy, and other oppressions are – and how to address them in the everyday life.
These are the ways in which you, as a non-Black person, can do the work that is needed to shift culture.
10. Donate Money
So, this is the last one, because I need y’all to take some real good notes.
Donating money doesn’t always mean giving hundreds of dollars to an organization. Donating money has to go further. You need to invest no only in organizations, but in people.
Daily, my newsfeed on Facebook is filled with GoFundMe campaigns of fellow Undocumented and Black immigrants asking for financial help, trans and queer Black folk who are escaping violent situations, and Black folk in need of medical help.
I want you to commit to no longer ignore these causes. I want you to make a commitment to donate when you can. If you can’t, because that’s also real, I ask you to send it to ten people and ask them to give.
Because this is how we can fund our communities.
If you can commit to following the points in this guide, and to share and re-share this guide, you will be contributing to changing a culture that is indebted in the oppression of Black individuals.
Think of my brother, who at eleven was labeled “criminal.”
Is this the culture you wish to be a part of? If it’s not, you can do something about it, and you can start today, because my brother is not the first child to go through such psychological abuse by the police.
My ask is for you to commit to fight for the liberation of Black people. Because if one person in the community is oppressed, we’re all oppressed – which means that someone is benefiting from our oppression, and that might just be you.
7 Things Undocumented Immigrants Worry About that US Citizen’s Don’t
Everyday Feminism, June 2016
In the early 1990s, a White Mexican family sponsored my mother for a visa. They did this promising my mother work and a better life.
My mother migrated to the United States – and once here, found herself working over sixty hours per week, Monday through Sunday, for less than two dollars an hour.
My mother, who is also my biggest inspiration, role model, and shero, was able to escape from her coercive employers, and find her way back to Mexico.
But when my mother was ready to come back to the US – truthfully, needing to escape the violent household we were living in – she was denied a visa because the family that had originally sponsored her and exploited her for months withheld her visa from her while in the US.
Since my mother didn’t have access to her visa, she didn’t know the time limit regulations – and her visa expired while she was being exploited in the US, essentially held in modern day slave labor.
My mother, then, risked everything so that we could survive, and she came to the United States without a visa. I later joined, coming to the US undocumented.
I write this piece in the hopes of addressing those who are not undocumented. I write this piece not to convince you that we, the (un)documented, are human, but to make you realize that we have been made non-humans.
I write this to share my realities as a formerly undocumented immigrant. But most importantly, I write this article because most of these struggles are the struggles I didn’t understand growing up. I didn’t understand them because my mother shielded me from our realities, but also because I was a toddler and didn’t know what it meant to be undocumented.
My mother and I are African Diasporic and pan-Indigenous immigrants from Mexico. What does this mean? This means that as Black immigrants, we are five times more likely to be deported than non-Black immigrants. And being Mexican means that we only have a 1.6% chance of actually winning a political asylum case.
This means that our experiences in the United States have been painful and traumatic.
For this, I feel a need to share a list of seven things that undocumented people worry about that citizens don’t:
1. Going to the Doctor Is a Luxury Undocumented People Often Don’t Have
I remember that I seldom visited the doctor’s office when I was younger.
I used to think that I never went because my mother and I lived below the poverty line and couldn’t afford it. But then I realized, in reality, that going to the doctor’s office could get my mother and I deported.
The Massachusetts State House even tried to pass a bill (twice!) that would demand hospitals to ask for proof of citizenship. And if they were undocumented, they would get treated, but wouldn’t be able to leave the hospital until Immigration picked them up and placed them in deportation procedures.
What kind of life can a person live if getting sick can lead them to deportation, and potentially, a faster death?
2. When Undocumented People Drive, They Risk Detainment, Imprisonment, or Deportation
First of all, most undocumented people don’t have the privilege of applying for a driver’s license – because to get a license, one needs a social security number and a US-issued government ID.
So, for undocumented communities, driving is often not an option. But sometimes, they have no other choice, and must drive without a license.
However, in many rural communities, public transit doesn’t exist because it’s assumed that all families have a car. For example, as I began to organize around undocumented rights, I began to hear the experiences of those who didn’t live in major cities that gave them access to public transit.
I remember once talking to a friend of mine from North Carolina who told me that they had to ride their bike everyday to school for almost five miles since they were in third grade, because their parents were undocumented and would risk being deported if they drove.
At some point, my friend’s parents had to learn how to drive, because it wasn’t safe for an elementary school-aged student to travel for miles by themselves.
Being undocumented means having no freedom to move or travel.
3. Undocumented People Have to Second-Guess Using Public Transit
Growing up in Boston, public transit was pretty reliable, and I never really thought anything of it. At one point in my life, however, I lived in New York, and now in California, where transportation police are often present in the subway system.
In having conversation with my undocumented community in New York and California, friends have told me that they no longer trust the subway system because they can get profiled at any minute.
They can be approached and asked for a government-issued ID. And since most undocumented people don’t have access to them, it triggers a lot of questions – and might lead to being detained and deported.
Using public transit is a privilege that many of us often take for granted. And we need to be more conscious about the ways in which public space is used as a playground for the police to profile people of color, queer and trans people, people with disabilities, homeless folk, and other low-income people – just to feed into the prison-industrial-complex and the private detention-center system.
4. Undocumented People Never Know If They’ll Be Paid for Their Labor
To be honest, I was lucky to have only been in the workforce while undocumented for four years. In those four years, I realized the atrocities that my undocumented community has been through.
Oftentimes, undocumented people are hired for one-day jobs (like construction, cleaning, painting, cooking, or organizing), and then they won’t be paid for their labor. Instead, the person who offered them the job will tell them that they’ll call the police and have them deported.
Other times, employers will clock out workers hours before they finish their workday, and undocumented workers will only get partial pay for their labor. Afraid of being deported, workers won’t say anything.
5. Having Casual Conversations About ‘Home’ Can Be Really Dangerous
Having been undocumented for sixteen years, I always feared being asked about how often I visited my home country, or if I missed home. In these conversations, all I could think about was forgetting how my aunts and uncles looked, or how I haven’t seen my grandmother in almost two decades.
Talking about home meant reminding myself that I was in hiding – and that I could be kidnapped by Immigration at any moment and be sent to a detention center.
Talking about home meant admitting that I could not return. If I decided to leave, that would mean leaving my mother, my brother, my sister, my stepfather, and some of my aunts.
While undocumented, I had no home. Now that I am a resident, I have realized, I still have no home.
6. Undocumented People Fear Family Separation Every Single Day
What people don’t usually know is that deportation isn’t the only way in which undocumented families are separated.
In fact, I remember rumors going around in elementary school that a classmate was no longer at school because they were taken away from their mother by social services, just because the mother was undocumented.
When I was in high school, I remember my mom telling me about a case that happened in Texas, where a social service agency stated that having an undocumented parent put a child at risk, so they placed the child in the foster care system.
7. Undocumented People Can’t Plan Ahead
Because most undocumented people don’t have access to a social security number or a work permit, planning ahead is often tough – because any money that comes in has to be used for immediate survival: food, shelter, water, heat, and clothing.
Planning ahead often requires citizenship and financial stability.
For example, a US citizen can plan ahead by saving and eventually becoming a homebuyer, a privilege that undocumented people often don’t have. In addition, there are banks that discriminate against undocumented people, so opening a checking and/or savings account is already predetermined based on citizenship status.
All undocumented workers will also never see the money that they paid in social security benefits and/or taxes because retirement money is only afforded to those with US work authorization.
Clearly, planning ahead is a privilege that undocumented people don’t have, an oppression that they also share with poor people, homeless people, and those of us that depend on the medical-industrial complex.
I shared this list because every day that goes by, there is an undocumented immigrant out there being denied human rights, and there are citizens out there, preaching false information about the immigrant community.
This article is not about pity, or saying that undocumented people are the most oppressed in the world. This article is an invitation for you to commit to change culture, and to begin advocating for those who may not have the capacity to advocate for themselves.
The most important thing a citizen can do right now is to commit to taking a stand against anti-immigrant rhetoric, which only perpetuates violence and instills fear, thus preventing the liberation of all people.
6 Examples of How You Can Benefit From Citizen Privilege
Everyday Feminism, June 2016
Sandra Bland, Kayden Clarke, Trayvon Martin, and Aiyana Jones were all citizens, yet they were violently taken from this world. The police did not protect their lives; neither did the court system, or their neighbors. Citizenship proved to be of no favorable factor on their deaths.
We are in a state of emergency where a transgender person is murdered every 29 hours; an unrest where an unarmed Black man is killed at five times the rate to an unarmed white man; a state so violent that people with disabilities inhabit one of the highest poverty levels recorded thus far in the United States.
And because there is so much injustice in the world, it may seem like citizenship should be the least of our concern.
As a visibly Black and queer body, I have always felt unprotected because people like myself have a history of being killed in our very own neighborhoods, sometimes on the door of our “homes” – something that happened too often in my low-income neighborhood of East Boston, and later in my life, on the outskirts of New York City.
However, not having “legal” immigration status made me realize that being a non-citizen meant that I had no chance of being protected by the court system, the health system, and the prison industrial complex.
Citizenship privilege exists and it matters, a lot, because every oppression a person faces is an intersectional oppression, meaning that it is perpetuated by multiple powers and institutions.
Citizenship privilege is hard to understand by those who are citizens, because oftentimes, citizenship privilege is something a person is born with, which means that that person may have never in their life had to think about their status as a US citizen and how that affects how they move through their world.
What Is Citizenship?
Being a US citizen means that a person has a United States passport and a social security number. Some citizens will also have a US birth certificate, a US state-issued license, and/or other form of identification.
A US citizen has documents (literally, pieces of paper) that prove that they were either born on US soil, and thus, their citizenship was recognized by the country, or that they were naturalized and became citizens by taking a citizenship test or through a young adoption.
Sometimes, citizenship privilege is an automatic (unearned) privilege that people have, as people who are born in the United States automatically receive citizenship. Other times, people who have had legal help, and the financial stability to apply for citizenship, become citizens.
Why Is Citizenship Important?
Since we have citizens, we also have non-citizens, who are usually categorized as “aliens.” The category of “alien” already creates the allusion that a person does not belong, and that an immigrant is someone to be feared.
Because of this citizen/non-citizen binary, it’s crucial to have a conversation of what privileges a citizen receives, and how some of those privileges are relying on the dehumanization of non-citizens.
A non-citizen (alien) is someone who was born in another country, or someone who doesn’t have documentation of their birth, and therefore, no proof that they were born on US soil. A non-citizen can also be an adopted individual who hasn’t been naturalized, a refugee, a person seeking political asylum in the United States, or an undocumented immigrant (someone who doesn’t have a visa to be in the United States).
All of these people can be deported at any minute, be hunted by Immigration and Custom Enforcement, and be shipped to a private immigration facility that makes money per night that they hold immigrants, regardless of whether the immigrant is documented or undocumented.
As long as there are bodies inside the detention facility, the facility is making such high revenue out of inmates that they’re encouraged to continue detaining migrants for no reason, except that they are not US citizens.
Undocumented people, in particular, are those who are the most marginalized for not being citizens.
Because undocumented people don’t have citizenship, they’re considered invisible and non-existent, which means that the government can get away with torture, hyper incarceration, and deportation without the events ever making the news, because technically, the people suffering don’t exist.
‘The Law Is the Law’ and ‘Illegal Is Illegal’
I’m tired of “the law is the law” being the first phrase that comes out of the mouth of someone who disagrees with me on the notion that, regardless of citizenship status, people should be treated with humanity.
If we believe that “the law is the law” and that “illegal is illegal,” then we agree that the genocide of indigenous people was okay – because it was legalized by the colonizers.
We then agree that slavery was absolutely fine, because it was legal. With slavery, we agree that Negroes should have never been educated, because that was illegal; we also agree that child labor was a perfect labor law, because it was legal.
It’s clear that the law has been used to dehumanize communities and to create catastrophic violence that we still can’t recuperate from. So I want to push our analysis of the legal system and encourage everyone to think independently, past binaries of “legal” and “illegal.”
If we move away from the one-dimensional analysis that “the law is the law” and that “illegal is illegal,” we may be able to have more nuanced conversations about the liberation of all oppressed communities.
Undocumented immigrants are not “illegal immigrants.” Undocumented immigrants are people that have been illegalized by the same systems that legalized the transatlantic slave trade – white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism.
There are a lot of anti-immigrant sentiments in our current culture, and I have to be honest: I really don’t believe that people can be innately anti-immigrant.
Let me start by asking: Why are people fearful of undocumented immigrants?
My best attempt at answering this question is by saying that a lot of US citizens believe the myth that undocumented people are stealing “American” jobs, and as Donald Trump has convinced himself and his followers, the myth that immigrants are “killers and rapists.”
In fact, a few weeks ago, I wrote an article about the ways in which “the rhetoric of xenophobia teaches us to only celebrate and empathize with white immigrants.” This is represented in our media and in forcing us to celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving and Presidents Day, which rely on repressing the history of genocide and slavery.
Many people are anti-immigrant because the media instills fear in the minds of working class communities, portraying immigrants as the root cause of our contemporary economic crisis.
This, it seems, is easier than digging at the actual roots by focusing on the way corporations create poverty, or the way in which people in power gain their wealth at the expense of creating a perpetual cycle of poverty for low-income people. (For more resources on how the media creates anti-immigrant notions in US citizens, you can look here, here, and here.)
At best, I want to say that one shouldn’t be ashamed of having citizenship privilege, but we have to be conscious of what it means, and the way in which citizenship is dependent on the oppression of non-citizens.
To start, here are some everyday examples of citizenship privilege that people need to be aware of.
1. You Won’t Face the Everyday Fear of Deportation
Did you know that undocumented immigrants are only one group of non-citizens that can be deported? In fact, about 10% of legal permanent residents are deported each year. And of these 10%, more than half are deported for nonviolent crimes, such as accumulating parking tickets that haven’t been paid for.
In addition, people that are seeking political asylum in the US are often deported because their cases are deemed as low-priority.
For example, some immigration judges have denied political asylum to transgender immigrants and other LGBTQIA+ immigrants from Mexico, because some states in Mexico have approved same-gender civil marriages.
As an immigration activist, I’ve heard many stories of transgender womyn who are denied political asylum, deported, and found dead shortly after.
2. You Will Never Be Denied Housing on the Basis of Being an Immigrant
As part of the housing application process, many landlords and homeowners now ask not only for proof of income, but for proof of immigration status, too.
My family has been denied housing dozens of times because the only government-issued IDs we can present are our foreign passports. Unfortunately, our statuses as non-citizens limit our accessibility to finding housing.
When citizens simply send over their state ID, drivers license, or US passport to potential landlords, they unknowingly indulge in citizenship privilege.
3. You Won’t Be Threatened with Deportation By Your Employer
Part of US citizenship is government protection from work exploitation.
The reality is that many non-citizens are coerced by their employers and forced to work in inhumane conditions. Employers get away with this type of treatment because they understand that, as citizens, they have control of employees who are non-citizens.
And if they want, they can call Immigration and make complaints, or make up lies to have them removed from the United States.
When I lived in Boston, I left three jobs within two or three weeks of being hired because I noticed that my employer would sign me out of the computer hours before my shift was over, and I would end up getting paid for less than what I was working for.
Upon confronting them, one told me something along the lines of, “You’re lucky I hired you. If you’re not happy, leave. But if you stay, no more complaining – or I’ll call Immigration and tell them you’re a threat.”
A US citizen can’t be threatened with being reported to Immigration.
4. You Can Leave the Country – And Be Admitted Back
International travel is actually a huge privilege: US citizens can leave the country for as long as they wish and be admitted back in once they arrive.
For non-citizens, this is often not a possibility.
For example, if an immigrant in the US is here on a visa on the basis of suffering abuse inside the country, and the immigrant must leave to their home country because a family member is dying, the immigrant might not be admitted back to the US – because they’re considered to have abandoned their immigration case.
This exact situation is true to undocumented immigrants, temporary protective status holders, deferred action for childhood arrivals holders, political asylum seekers, refugees, and more.
5. You Have Access to Seeing Your Family Members – In or Out of the Country
Many non-citizens cannot go back home.
For example, my mother hasn’t seen her own mother in almost twenty years because if my mother leaves, her petition for political asylum will be denied.
In our contemporary US immigration system, it can take decades for someone to finish their legal case and hear back from immigration on whether or not they’ll be considered for residency, and then citizenship.
6. You Have the Right to Sponsor Family Members Born Outside the US
Many people who are not US citizens have family members in other countries, family members who they cannot help come to the US.
I have a half-sister in Mexico that I’ve never met. Ideally, I would like to meet her, and have her visit me in the United States.
But as someone who isn’t a citizen, I don’t have the privilege to sponsor her and bring her to the States.
Talking about citizenship privilege shouldn’t be confused for the end goal being for everyone to be a citizen.
The end goal should be to abolish the citizen/non-citizen binary – because no one will ever be liberated from the violence that a faulty immigration system has created.
For now, we should continue to challenge each other, and work towards the abolition of borders, of prisons, of capitalism, and of citizenship in order to get closer to the liberation of our communities.
Orlando Massacre: It’s not safe to be a queer person of color in America
Fusion, June 2016
The massacre in Orlando brought me back to when I was four-years-old. I have never written of the experience, I spoke it out loud once—just a few months ago—at a Latinx conference.
At four, my mother and I were separated. She had to migrate from Mexico to the U.S. after years of physical and emotional domestic abuse leading up to my younger sister’s death. I was too young to understand the violence that my mother and sister had experienced, but I knew that I was somehow safe, or at least, that’s what everyone around me kept telling me.
During the time my mother and I were separated, I lived in a household where at age four, I was expected to “act like a man,” meaning that I could not cry, I could only play outdoors, and that I wasn’t allowed to play with girls. When I got caught playing with an 8-month-old girl, my caretaker forced me into a dress for acting like “una niña.” I was beaten while wearing a dress, and forced to stand outside, alone in the open streets of Mexico City. Neighborhood boys pointed, laughed, and threw rocks at me. I don’t remember if I thought I was going to die, or thought that it was a fair punishment for being feminine, and not man enough. I was four, but now that I am older, the memories come back as if it just happened.
On Sunday, I woke up to the overwhelming vibration of my cellphone on the nightstand. What the hell could be so important?
Without putting my glasses on, I saw that I had been added to a group text with friends I’d had dinner with the night before. There had been a shooting at a gay club early Sunday in Orlando, Florida, during the club’s “Latin night.” Someone texted, “50 of our people were killed last night!! We need a space for our people to process this. I need to process this.” I couldn’t comprehend the texts, so I read them again. Then I thought about my childhood, and realized that I, too, needed to process.
I realized that even though I have been involved in social justice movements since 2010, chanting all over the U.S., “undocumented and unafraid, queer, and unashamed,” the truth is, I am still afraid. I am afraid even though I am no longer undocumented. I am afraid despite the U.S. recognizing gay marriage. I am afraid because just as homophobia and transphobia—paired with racism and anti-blackness—were root causes of the torture I survived at the age of four, they fueled the shooting in Orlando. Acts of violence are committed against queer people and people of color every day, whether they are massacres like Orlando or the Charleston church shooting, or more intimate tragedies that are rarely reported in the media.
Then there’s the fact that people quoted by mainstream media have used Orlando to criminalize people from the Muslim community, and to shame those of us that are queer, transgender, intersex, etc. for trying to live authentic lives. Let’s face it: we aren’t living in a post-race or post-gay society.
As an Afro-Latinx gender-non-conforming immigrant, I must emphasize that Sunday’s massacre cannot be isolated as a random act or purely an act of Islamic terrorism. Too many people are dismissing that the shooting took place during Pride month at a Latin night event. Even friends on social media have said that this shooting has nothing to do with race, because, after all, white gay people go clubbing, too. But Sunday’s shooting was an attack against a primarily young crowd of Latinx and Black individuals celebrating their existence in a world that has continually tried to silence them. We can’t deny that it occurred because our (American) culture devalues the lives of womyn and people of color, and has through our history.
We are not all Orlando.
When I was four, I was tortured for acting feminine—femininity, and therefore, womynhood, was weak and not to be celebrated. If I had stayed away from playing with girls, my caretaker argued, I would have never been punished. I was beaten and mocked because I was wearing a dress, but also, because I am visibly Black. As a Black body in Mexico, my worth and value as a human being has always been questioned. I cannot detach my Blackness, my femininity, my queerness, or my mental health from an analysis on what happened in Orlando.
Sunday’s shooting cannot be blamed solely on Omar Mateen. In fact—and this is the critical, and risky part—we have to hold each other accountable in the ways in which we may participate in the oppression of people of color, the oppression of the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual +) community, the oppression of religious communities, and more.
I ask all of you to help me. I cannot heal my traumas without you. The four-year-old inside me is still hurting, today more than ever. I need you to help me heal, but most importantly, I need you to help me stand in solidarity with the victims and survivors in Orlando, so that they too can heal. You can start today by committing to do these four things:
Recognize that LGBTQIA+ communities and all people of color are hurting.
This is not a time to be insensitive.This is a time when those of you who are not LGBTQIA+ or people of color can make a list of what you can contribute to our communities such as rides to work, gift cards to the supermarket, childcare, etc. Ask people around you if they need those services so that they can better continue to resist. If you find yourself stuck, offer to listen, and listen attentively, because we need to process, and sometimes, it’s easier to process with someone who is not as directly impacted.
Do not erase transgender womyn of color.
Since I first read about the shooting, articles, tweets, and Facebook statuses have mentioned solidarity with the “gay” community. As my Trans-Latina sister Bea Fonseca told me, “the advertisement for Pulse Orlando Latin Night shows two trans womyn, a Latina trans womyn, and a Black trans womyn, possibly an Afro-Latina. We need to center our analysis, our conversation, and our advocacy on the fact that this is also a crime against womyn, against Latinxs, against Blacks, and not just a crime against gays.”
Transgender womyn of color cannot be silenced in the way that they’ve been silenced in LGBTQIA+ history. Did you know that we have Pride because of transgender womyn of color like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson? To not erase transgender womyn of color, we need to uplift their narratives by investing in them, which means hiring them as full-time employees in our organizations, listening to them, seeing them as knowledge-producers, and as agents who have been engaged in the LGBTQIA+ struggle before it became a global movement.
Fight against Islamophobia and xenophobia.
The media has framed this event primarily on Mateen, ISIS, and the rest of the Muslim community, but no—this massacre was about society not being a safe place for LGBTQIA+ communities, or for people of color.
We have to push the media and understand that blaming the Muslim community is perpetuating the fact that xenophobia teaches us to only celebrate and empathize with white immigrants.
In fact, we need to remember that Latinidad is a diverse culture and that many Latinxs are also Muslim—we cannot talk about them as separate identities.
Do not pretend to understand.
I will never understand what it is to have lost someone at Sunday’s shooting, which is why my analysis is based on my experience as a Black, Latinx, gender-non-conforming queer migrant. I ask you to do the same.
We are not all Orlando. We are all individuals with different experiences.
I ask you to listen to those who were directly affected, but also to listen to LGBTQIA+ people of color, because this is our everyday reality.
If you can commit to these four asks today, you will be part of my healing process, my survival, and my community’s survival. Today, like yesterday, we will continue to mourn, but if you join us and take action, you can be part of our liberation.
A Reclamaiton of My Rights as an (Un)documented Person
Everyday Feminism, April 2016
I am tired.
I am tired of hiding from the domestically violent past, from the no-heat during Boston winters, from the daily threats my family faces for walking this colonized land without “proper documentation.”
A year-and-a-half ago, I sat in a rather empty courtroom, listening to a judge grant me “proper” immigration status in the United States after having lived undocumented for almost 17 years. I got this status at the expense of my mother who, in exchange for my secure residency, signed a legal document assuring that she would never ask me to petition her.
I, the child she saved from death cannot petition her. I, the child she risked her life for —crossing dozens of borders — cannot petition her.
I, the child she sometimes worked more than two full time jobs to support, cannot petition her as my own mother for “proper status.”
This is what some people call, “a broken immigration system.”
But this system is not broken. In fact, this system is working exactly as it was intended as it profits off of the exploitation of my mother’s labor, the separation of immigrant families, the incarceration of all people of color, the fear that has been instilled in the immigrant community, and my dependence on the medical industrial complex for PTSD medication.
Today, I dare to take up space. Today, I dare to give voice to my needs — and that of my mother’s. Today, I dare to demand a reclamation of my rights as an (un)documented person.
1. I Have the Right To Be Afraid
I am tired of having to control my emotions and pretend that the violence I have gone through has nothing to do with being a displaced negro from the diaspora.
I have the right to be afraid because there is no system in place that can 100% assure me that my body will never again be violated, put in a boat, and be shipped somewhere else in the world without my consent.
I have the right to be afraid when people that look like me are more likely to be shot dead than greeted.
2. I Have the Right To Put As Many Locks on the Door As I Want
My community has been terrorized too many times by immigration officials in the middle of the night because, in this country, sleeping comes at a cost.
If an additional lock will assure me that my elementary-school-aged siblings will get enough rest and not think about what life would be like if my mother, my step father, or I were to be deported, I will add the lock.
3. I Have the Right To Not Be Raided
Enough is enough. I always try to imagine what kind of privilege it must be to be calm at work, at school, at the restaurant, at the doctor’s, at the grocery store, or at home, and know that no one will just come and arrest me for breathing.
But then I remember — my community doesn’t have that privilege. We are too foreign to know “calmness.”
4. I Have the Right To Not Be Deported
I have the right to not be deported because our lives as immigrants matter, our labor carries the weight of this country, and our existence is a living revolution.
5. I Have the Right Not To Be Shipped To The Wrong Country
In this system, people deemed foreign are always at risk. There have been too many people in my community that have been deported to the wrong country.
Many of these deportations are of Guatemalans or Salvadorians “accidentally” deported to Mexico. What’s to say that my Blackness will not have me deported to a country I do not know?
6. I Have the Right To Imagine a World Without Borders
Before I was 3, I knew what the border was — too many people from my village had died crossing it.
Too many people from my village had been kidnapped and taken to the other side of the border.
Too many people from my village were dying because the border disrupted the hundreds of years of our indigenous connection to the land.
7. I Have the Right To Not Be Coerced By Employers, Landlords, and Law Enforcers
I am a human being, yet employers constantly threaten me, and other members of my community, that if we say “no” they will call immigration and have us deported. Our landlords raise our rent or ignore our calls to fix our homes because they know they have something that we don’t — status.
And law enforcers, the more of us they “catch” (yes, like during slave-times), the more credentials they will have.
8. I Have the Right to Demand Workers Compensation
We are not machines and it is time that people begin to see immigrants with dignity.
No matter how “low-skilled” you think our jobs are, we demand respect and we demand a living wage because no one should be working 60+ hours a week and still struggle to pay the rent.
9. I Have the Right To a Doctor and Not Just a Mobile Clinic Drive
What is it like to know the name of your doctor or to call the doctors office and make an appointment? Those are honest questions, and yes, I want you to answer in your head at this moment.
If your life matters just as much as mine, then why is it that in this system, people that cannot afford health care, or who aren’t offered health care via employment or government, are just left to slowly die?
10. I Have the Right To an Education If and When I Want
My mother only made it to 6th grade because there was no higher schooling within two hours from our village in Oaxaca, Mexico. Understanding that, it seems clear that it is only by the chance of my location, not just my heart work or merit, that I got to go to college, much less high school.
I have a right to an education because leading up to my High School education, more teachers discouraged me to continue on to college, than those that rooted me on.
Despite maintaining decent grades, I was told that my “passion” for social justice issues was distracting, and that people like me (undocumented) never got anywhere in life.
Today, I need to make it clear, it is our right to an education, but only if and when we want it
11. I Have the Right To See and Meet My Family — All My Family
All I want is to know my family. I haven’t seen aunts and uncles in almost 18 years. I do not know my half-sister, I only know of her.
What a world this is that a man-made border separates us from our loved ones. While I have had the privilege to grow up with my mother, my mother has not seen hers in 20 years.
Their relationship is documented in $5 phone calls, the first $1 eaten up by the phone operator asking her to select what language she wishes to hear — even though the phone card comes from a Spanish-speaking company and all the instructions on the card are in Spanish.
The operator mocks my mother and I in English.
12. I Have the Right to Attend Funerals, On Either Side of the Border
A part of growing up was hearing from others that friends and family members have passed away without you seeing them in years. I am tired that my community has to mourn from countries away instead of mourning with loved ones wherever they are.
I am exhausted of having heard that friends, family, and friends of friends have died crossing the border and their bodies are just left because others had to move on.
13. I Have the Right to Stop, Cry, and Mourn
Let me be clear. I have the right to stop, cry, and mourn because what I am asking for is not immigration reform, it is to end White Supremacy and uplift the voices of ALL people of color.
I am tired of having to hold in the pain in fear that I’ll just be seen as the angry Black person in the room.
Mourning is part of my existence, of my survival, of my culture, and I am no longer asking permission to mourn.
14. I Have the Right to Stop, Cry, and Laugh
My mother always reminds me that in the midst of all the negative experiences that immigrants of color are put through, we need to learn how to cry and laugh — it is the only way our bodies do not become numb.
I refuse to be unhappy, knowing that being sad is okay, too, but I refuse to let this system bring me down.
15. I Have the Right to Accept Love More Than Once
After living in so much fear and poverty, I have forgotten that I am worthy of love, that no matter how many mistakes I commit, I can still accept love.
We, as immigrants, have some of the fiercest love in this world. We regularly sacrifice our lives for those closest to us. During this sacrifice, we sometimes forget that we, too, need love.
Today, I dare accept love not from one person, but from my entire community, from past lovers, from current lovers, and for those I am too scared to love.
16. I Have The Right to Have an Accent
I am embarrassed to admit that I made it a life goal to lose my beautiful accent. I was tired of the bullying and of the racist, xenophobic, and white supremacist stereotype of being unintelligent for having an accent.
I will no longer monitor my accent. I will let my rolled r’s slip out of my tongue. I will celebrate the only language that allows my mother and I to communicate.
17. I Have the Right to Be Black
It is 2016, and we are still experiencing the unrest of our violent histories as Black folk displaced from the homeland. Today, I dare be unapologetic about my Blackness.
I have a right to celebrate my afro, the beautiful melanin that runs in my family, and the beauty, excellence, and brilliance that is Blackness.
18. I Have the Right to Be Queer
Everything I do, everything I am, everything I want, and everything I feel is queer.
I will not hide my queerness in a system where queerness may mean death, in a system where queerness and Blackness are supposedly never to meet, in a system where immigrants aren’t supposed to have the right to love — just to work and work and work. And then maybe sleep two hours a night.
19. I Have the Right to a Home
I have the right to a home because I am tired of hiding, running, and searching to find a place to belong. I, and all of my (un)documented community members have the right to a home. And not just any home — but a home free of immigration policies.
We have the right to a home free of psychological, physical and emotional abuse. A home where our youth feel safe. A home where we can cry, laugh, love, and be intimate.
We have the right to a home where trauma does not follow and surviving is no longer a concern. A home where there is more than enough to eat. A home where we can breathe, build, and create.
With this reclamation of our rights as (un)documented persons, my community will be able to live.
If there is anything that I have learned about the immigrant community, it is that we are resilient and there is nothing that we will not do to live.
And for now, we will continue to work against inhumane immigration policies, capitalism, White Supremacy, settler colonialism, and all other isms deeming us “alien,” “criminals,” and “other.”
10 Small Steps You Can Take Today to Start Creating a Pro-Black Latinx Culture
Everyday Feminism, April 2016
For a good portion of my life, I pretended not to be Black.
In fact, I would always get so angry when people in school called me Black, that I would respond by yelling (loudly), “I’m not Black, I’m Mexican!” Despite my “baby hair and afro” as Queen B sings, I refused to identify as Black — even when I would hear mama Maria call herself “negra”.
The reason why I didn’t understand that my Blackness and Latinidad intersected was because race wasn’t a concept I thought about in Mexico, especially in my pueblo in Oaxaca, where variations of Black skin, afros, and big nostrils were the norm.
Because I migrated to the states at the age of 5, my perception of Blackness was an English-speaking, US-born Black body. As a Spanish-speaking, Mexican born person, I internalized my own blackness, meaning that I ran away from my mixed-race identity, and rejected anything that marked me as Black.
And that, predominately, has everything to do with the fact that I knew little to zero history of people of color.
It feels critical to note that my internalized racism is not my fault — and if you’ve ever been in the same situation, it’s not yours either. This is a result of the system we grew up in.
For example, having been a part of the US public education system, I have noticed that the history of slavery has become marginal and even described as a history of “migration” — instead of what it actually is, a history of captivity. Latin America was one of the biggest benefactors of the transatlantic slave trade.
The Afro-descendent population of Brazil is approximately 49.6%, meaning that about half of Brazilians would be racialized as Black if they came to the US. Similar to Brazil, almost 30% of Colombians are Afro-descendants!
But what about my home country? The well-hidden truth about Mexico is that “more than 500,000 Africans were brought to Mexico — which is more than the United Sates at 450,000.”
So, why don’t we know about this history? The reality is that Blackness has been internalized, and silenced in Mexico. It wasn’t until December of 2015that the government legally recognized Afro-Mexicans.
And even with recognition, Afro-Mexicans, “ are least represented and the most oppressed of all of Mexico’s ethnic groups.”
Having struggled myself to recognize my own Blackness, I want to urge the Latinx community to commit with me and work towards creating a pro-Black Latinx culture. To start, here are 10 actions we can all engage in:
Action 1: Do Not Assume All Latinxs Look A Certain Way
Being an immigrant myself, I know what it is liked to get racially profiled — and to profile others as a way to find folk that look like me so that I can feel safe. However, like Audre Lorde says, “Unity does not require that we be identical to each other.”
In fact, we can only grow stronger if we let each other into our realities, and begin to have conversations about what it means to be Latinx and benefit from passing privilege; what it means to be both Latinx and Black; what it means to be an indigenous Latinx; and what it means to be Latinx from various Asian and Caribbean diasporas.
We need to do this because as Latinxs, we have a history of displacement, of colonization, and of multiple slaveries that have shaped a resilient culture. In order to heal from the violent history our people have suffered, we need to talk about how diverse we are, because when we do, we will finally begin to unite as one culture, and much of that means living with the messiness of our experiences as displaced people.
Action 2: Listen Attentively When Black Folk, Especially Black Womyn Speak
Let’s have a courageous conversation and talk about the ways in whichpatriarchy manifests in our Latin community. Being raised by 3 afro-Latinx womyn, I noticed the violent way in which the world interacted with them.
My mama always used to tell me, “el machismo es peor alla,” which translates to “the machismo (patriarchy) is worse over there (Mexico).” For starters, since we have already recognized that Afro-Latinxs have historically been silenced, non-Black Latinxs have to listen attentively when Black Latinxs share their experiences.
Growing up, I learned to see myself as less than others for the sole reason that I am Black, which made me quiet about speaking up against injustice.
It is time that we are heard, and it is also time that our non-Black Latinx community has our back — we need to pay particular attention when Black-Latinx womyn, and Black gender-non-conforming & gender-queer Latinxs speak.
Action 3: Celebrate Melanin
While I am Black, I need to be clear and explain that I am a light-skinned Black person. Growing up, my cousin Jorge, who has a lot more melanin that I do, was often picked on for being dark-skinned. As a light-skinned Black person, this was something that I didn’t always experience.
Once I got to the US, I experienced it much more often because other body features gave it away that I am a child of the African Diaspora.
We need to uplift dark-skinned Black Latinxs by stepping away from comments like “maintaining the race,” that are used to make sure that we, Latinxs, always mate with someone a tone lighter than us; and comments like “que clarita es, que bonita” (she’s so light-skinned, how pretty) that emphasize lightness as beautiful.
We must encourage people to love and celebrate all Black bodies.
Action 4: Gift Latinx Children Black Dolls and Books With Black Characters
Yo, as a child, I secretly loved playing with dolls. I had 4 miniature ones (that I acquired because my mom ordered happy meals for herself sometimes at McDonalds), and my favorite was Jasmine from Aladdin because she looked like my friend Vicky, who is still living at the other side of the border.
However, light-skinned Jasmine was the closest I ever got to a Black doll.
Had I played with Black dolls, I would have had a better relationship to my skin, to my beautiful afro, to my luscious lips, to my nose, and to my body overall.
In addition, having been an immigrant and displaced from my Afro-Indigenous community, I was essentially forced to learn how to socialize in a world where everything that is deemed beautiful is White.
A lot of us have seen the doll experiments, where most children identify the White doll as the nice doll and the Black doll as the mean doll. In the same way, they identity the White doll as more intelligent and the Black doll as less intelligent.
What if I told you that you have the power to re-create a Latinx culture that steps away with this racial bias? One easy thing to do would be to expose Latinx children to Black dolls and books with Black characters early on.
One of my favorite initiatives this year was the #1000BlackGirlBooks, launched by Marley Dias who is simply “sick of reading about white boys and dogs.” I am too, and how about you?
Action 5: Celebrate Curly, Kinky Hair
Wouldn’t it be nice if our entire Latinx community were body positive? I think so, and hair is part of our body, so let’s start by appreciating hair — all types of hair.
Recently, I wrote an article about the different ways that I was taught to hate my afro and it was not a healthy time in my life! In conversation with other friends that have way longer hair than I, they shared that a lot of the treatments they would go through to straighten their hair actually ruined their curls.
Why would we teach each other that something about our bodies was inherently bad or not worthy enough to admire?
In a beautiful spoken word performance, the fierce Elizabeth Acevedo tells it like it is: “You call them wild curls. I call them breathing. Ancestors spiraling.” We have to realize that our hair comes with a history, and often times, a very violent history.
So, if you know someone with curly, kinky hair, celebrate it — and celebrate them! Side note, celebrating curly, kinky hair does not mean touching the hair!
Action 6: Always Remember That The Caribbean Is ALSO Part of Latin America
Sometimes, the Latinx community tends to divide itself into those from the Americas, and those from the Caribbean.
But I struggle to understand why we separate from each other? The more of us, the stronger we are, and the stronger we are, the better we can stand up for each other!
By remembering that the Caribbean is also part of Latin America, we expand our own notions of how a Latinx person looks, the ways in which our culture differ geographically, and what languages we speak.
Did you know that many Afro-Latinxs speak a language other than Spanish (and some, not even Spanish!)? For example, some Afro-Dominicans speak Spanish and Jamaican Patois. Another example is our Central American and Caribbean Afro-Latinx community members that speak Garifuna.
In addition, when we include the Caribbean in our understanding of Latinidad, we also open up a space where we not only celebrate each other, but where we share culture as well. Latinidad is already an amazingly rich culture, so why would we not want to know more about just how beautiful our people are?
Action 7: Demystify The Notion That Black People Are Bad
If we’re being honest, I have to hold myself accountable and speak from a place on intention. As a young Afro-Latinx person, I refused to identify as Black because I thought all Black people were bad.
Sadly, I’m sure that I’m not the only person in the community to have ever thought like this.
A good place to start is by asking, where does this begin? And a big part of it should be accounted to the media. When I moved out of the city for the first time and headed to the suburbs for college, I could not imagine what I heard from my classmates about the murders of Black lives based on the media’s interpretation.
Unfortunately, my classmates were so quick to jump on justifying why Black and Brown youth should have been shot — many would tell me that I was being defensive because I was of color.
Others would tell me that if “Black people weren’t such lazy criminals” they wouldn’t end up dead.
Why is it that we are so quick to name Black people as criminals, instead of recognizing Black folk for who they are, people? We need to re-evaluate the stereotypes that we have about the Black community if we ever want to get anywhere as a Latinx community.
In addition, we really need to be more conscious of what we consume in the media. For example, I challenge y’all to no longer invest time in television shows, movies, or songs that solely depict Black folk as criminals, sex workers, or drug addicts — or that don’t unpack those experiences and professions from a Black feminist perspective.
Consider how powerful and transformative it would be if we invested in media that represents us in ways that are reflective of our everyday lives.
Action 8: Bring Up Afro-Latinidad With Friends & Family That Are Non-Black
As an Afro-Latinx person, I don’t mind sitting down with fellow non-Black Latinx community members to talk about ways to live a pro-Black life. But to be honest that takes a lot of work.
I shouldn’t even have to try to convince my community that I am worthy of acceptance; instead, my wellbeing should already be a priority if I am seen as part of the Latinx community.
One of the most powerful actions an ally can take is engage in courageous conversations with other allies. So, how does this look like? If you’re a non-Black Latinx person, next time you are with another non-Black Latinx person, I challenge you to ask them if they have heard about Afro-Latinidad or Black Latinxs. If they haven’t, this is a perfect opportunity to tell them about what you know — or simply share this article with them.
Another way for you to bring up Afro-Latinidad in non-Black Latinx spaces is by questioning why there are no Afro-Latinx folk in the space. This might just look like starting a conversation with others in the room, and say, “hey y’all, what do you think of committing to bring in Afro-Latinxs into our space?”.
Just to be clear, however, the more Afro-Latinxs you know doesn’t give you brownie points. Allyship is about the actions you take everyday. One earns the title “ally,” and one has to keep earning it!
Action 9: Stand Up For Black Lives
This is one of the most important actions. I am tired, I really am. I am tired of hearing people in my community make up excuses of why they feel targeted by #BlackLivesMatter.
I am tired of hearing people say, #LatinxLivesMatter. We need to understand that when we say #BlackLivesMatter, that already includes the Latinx community — Afro-Latinxs, because we too are being killed at massive rates.
Even though we are Latinxs, our Blackness puts us in a vulnerable position of being victims of racial profiling, police brutality, and racial subjugation.
Maisha Z. Johnson has a beautiful article titled, “5 Ways People Excuse Police Violence Against Black Youth — And What They’re Missing,” that all my non-Black Latinx community members should read before engaging in this work. To echo her words, “As we find reasons to justify these attacks and blame children for state-sanctioned violence against them, we deny children of color the right to be children.” Another great resource on what not to focus on when our community is being killed can be found here.
We need to stand up for Black lives, because if we don’t, we will all lose.
The ways in which White Supremacy works is by pinning communities against each other, thus not permitting us to collectively fight for our own liberation.
We have to stop the dichotomy that the Black community and the Latinx community are separate. Black folk are, and can be, Latinxs in the same way that Latinxs are, and can be, Black!
Action 10: Tell Others About What You’ve Learned
This has been a lot of information, but we can’t just read and share it! We have to process it internally as well as with our community. I hope that this list allows you to also think of new and creative ways to pave a path for a pro-Black Latinx culture and community.
We need to challenge each other and bring the revolution to intimate spaces, meaning to our homes, to our families, to our mentors, to our partners, to our friends, etc.
This is really the only way we can begin to break the systems that oppress us and pin us against each other.
10 (Un)documented Black And LGBTQIA+ Activists You Need To Know
Black Girl Dangerous , March 2016
Growing up Black, queer, and undocumented in the United States was an isolating and frightening experience for me. I was always afraid of being deported, profiled by the police, or shamed for my queerness. Being Black and queer meant that I was not sure how I fit into the U.S. narrative of immigration.
This is because the immigration narrative in the U.S. focuses on non-Black Mexican immigration and does not address Black, queer, and trans identities. The truth is, undocumented Black queer and/or trans activists have always been a huge part of the immigration movement and it is time that they receive recognition.
Here’s a list of 10 (un)documented Black queer and/or trans activists to know, and ways that you can support their work.
1. Karolina Lopez
Karolina Lopez is a fierce transgender afro-Mexicana that fights day-and-night for prison abolition. When she first came to the United States, Karolina was incarcerated for 3 years at an all-male detention center in Arizona and spent 6 months in solitary confinement. She is known foroccupying busy intersections in California, fundraising with Mariposas Sin Fronteras to pay the bonds of undocumented trans detainees, and giving powerful testimonies. In recent conversations, Karolina has opened up about the ways her Blackness gives her a political consciousness to fight against the incarceration industrial complex.
2. Laura Perez
Laura Perez is an (un)documented Oaxacan migrant with rich pan-indigenous and african-diasporic roots. She is known for helping organize the Oaxaqueño/a Youth Encuentro, a gathering that brought together indigenous Oaxacan youth to address issues of afro-indigeneity, food injustice, and the lack of resources that communities of color are facing in the U.S. She is currently building community gardens to create herbal medicine for (un)documented migrants and is part of the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners network.
3. Kemi Bello
Hailing from Nigeria, Kemi Bello has made a mark in the movement by using her poetry and narrative writing in her activism. Kemi took part in the No Papers No Fear Ride for Justice, whichtraveled around the country protesting deportations, racism, and incarceration. The riders each faced the threat of being stopped at an immigration checkpoint and potentially deported. If her courage doesn’t impress you, her heart will. In 2014, she wrote to the undocumented community, “and when you are tired of crossing borders, migrate to me. We will not apologize for this pursuit of decolonial love…”
4. Jonathan Perez
In 2011, Afro-Colombian activist Jonathan Perezentered a border patrol office in Mobile, Alabama to voice his disapproval with the Obama administration’s deportation of more immigrants than any other U.S. President. Upon voicing his disapproval, this courageous undocumented Black activist was detained and shipped to an immigration detention center. Since then, Jonathan has successfully led a campaign to build 3 new schools in his community in Los Angeles and he continues to use his voice to create change today.
5. Grace Lawrence
Grace Lawrence is a transgender Liberian activist who uses photography as a political tool to talk about LGBTQIA+ violence in Africa. Grace migrated to the United States seeking political asylum, but instead of being granted safety, she was incarcerated for almost 3 years. For 6 of those months she was in solitary confinement where was ordered to be deported by a judge and suffered from a mental breakdown. Grace uses art and her voice to encourage the trans immigrant community to come together and join her in the fight. She now runs a Facebook page called LGBT Liberian Photojournalism Activist which archives anti-LGBTQIA+ violence across the globe.
6. Ola Osaze
Ola Osaze is a trans Nigerian writer, activist, and overall powerhouse! As a community activist, Ola has been involved with the Audre Lorde Project in NYC, co-founded Trans Justice and Uhuru Wazobia, one of the first LGBT groups for African immigrants in New York. He currently serves as the development senior manager of theTransgender Law Center. Ola’s powerful writing has been featured on BGD, Autostraddle, Apogeeand more. Recently, Ola co-founded the UndocuBlack emergency fund to support emergency needs of those that are (un)documented and Black in the U.S.
7. Angel Patterson
Angel Patterson is a trans, gender non-conforming femme activist from the Dominican Republic via the Cuban diaspora. When they were a teenager, they were placed in solitary confinement at an immigration detention center after revealing their trans identity. Migrating throughout the rural south, Angel is known for their work with the organization SONG, where they focus on battling deportations, transphobia and femmephobia. They are also a co-founder of the UndocuBlack Emergency Fund.
8. Christina Mavuma
Christina Mavuma is an (un)documented activist and key health advocate from Botswana in the immigrant rights movement. She has dedicated her life to change how primary care is experienced by QTPOC communities. Many may know her from her powerful piece on Pen Out-Write about almost being arrested inside a health facility because the nurses did not believe her identification was correct due to her legal name not matching her “gender presentation.” Now that she has gained “legal” immigration status, she works with The Exchange Program to capacitate “emerging transgender activists in South Africa and the East African region.”
9. Didi Adiakpan
Didi Adiakpan is a brilliant youth organizer from Nigeria who works on fighting biphobia and towards decolonizing Evangelism in Texas. When she was in high school, she helped pass the Employee Non-Discrimination Act in the city of San Antonio. Didi also runs a Tumblr page with almost 2,000 followers which highlights womyn of color and LGBTQIA+ musicians who are influenced by Black music genres. Recently, she has been working with the UndocuBlack network to create a resource document of national organizations that are both undocumented friendly and anti-racist.
10. Jerome Andre
Jerome Andre is a gender non-conforming femme from Barbados. While they were in NYC, they worked with Brooklyn Men (K)onnect doing health educational outreach with young men of color. In addition to doing HIV/AIDS outreach and prevention work, they were also heavily involved with Make The Road New York, advocating for the rights of undocumented and LGBTQIA+ migrants.
These 10 (un)documented, Black, queer and/or trans activists are all doing critical work to reimagine a world without borders. There are so many more folks out there shaping our movement than just these 10 brilliant activists. I hope this list challenges your perception of the immigration movement, because the Black queer and/or trans community is affected everyday, and we can’t fight alone.
4 Reasons LGBTQIA+ and Immigrant Activists Can’t Afford Not to Work Together
Everyday Feminism, March 2016
As intersectional feminists, it’s important to acknowledge that we sometimes struggle with working with people who may not exactly look like us, love like us, talk like us, share the same values as us, and so much more.
And as someone that was undocumented for almost 17 years, and is queer in every sense of the word, I want to invite my LGBTQIA+ community and my immigrant community to reflect on the ways we treat each other, and what we can do to unapologetically fight side by side.
I know that there are a few organizations like Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project, and others trying to take on undocumented AND LGBTQIA+ issues, but that’s not enough.
We need the entire LGBTQIA+ community advocating for immigrant rights, and we need all immigrants advocating for LGBTQIA+ rights.
And we need to acknowledge the ways our communities, identities, and lives intersect.
First though, we need to talk about why we aren’t working together, and here are 3 crucial things that have stood in the way of our solidarity:
1. We Are Taught To Think Our Struggles Are Single-Issued
When I first “came out” as queer, I was widely accepted at my predominantly White “liberal” High School.
That is, I was accepted because it was easier for the White students to “understand” my queer identity more than my identify as an immigrant, as a Black Latinx, and as a low-income student that benefited from the free-lunch program.
However, when I “came out” as undocumented in the same school, I was ostracized.
I lost most of my “close” friends. I often heard whispers as people passed by, calling me “illegal” and “wetback.” And I even remember a teacher tell me I wouldn’t be able to go far in life.
I wanted to fit it, and I thought the best way to do it was by joining queer and trans youth spaces in Boston, and finally joining the undocumented youth movement.
It was those spaces, however, where I first began to realize that immigrants were reluctant to talk about queer and trans issues, and that queer and trans spaces never talked about issues of migrants.
I was asked to not reveal my queer identity when I was recruiting undocumented youth from churches to join the movement. And I was once asked not to tell anyone I was undocumented at a meeting for queer and trans youth of color, because the youth might feel “uncomfortable” and “in danger”.
It’s not until later that I learned that as oppressed people, we sometimes think that our oppression is more violent than the oppression of others. But the reality is that we are all oppressed by many of the same systems.
In fact, the way in which systematic oppression in the United States works is by pinning marginalized communities against each other. This happens because if we upheld each other instead of playing oppression Olympics, we would gain exponential power that could more efficiently dismantle some of the systems of oppression that bring us down.
Because LGBTQIA+ and immigrant communities are heavily oppressed, they often only have time to think of how they are going to survive that day, thus not having the psychological space to think about the ways in which they’re oppression is also the oppression of another group of people.
2. We Criminalize Each Other
In fighting for my liberation as a queer person, I use to hear many homophobic and anti-femme comments from my immigrant community that made my queer identity feel like a shame, dirty, and unearthly.
One of the questions I use to get a lot was, “why do you want to be one of them?” — which was almost always followed by one of these two statements: “you want to infect everyone with HIV and AIDS?” or “you want to be a sex worker?”
And in the same way, as an undocumented person in queer and trans spaces, I always used to get “but you’re not like the rest of the illegals”.
The comments I was receiving were actually informed by the way in which society has violently and inaccurately imagined the “realities” of the LGBTQIA+ and immigrant communities — without actually engaging with all of the media produce about our own identities, in our own words.
3. We Do Not Realize We Can Be Both Immigrant and LGBTQIA+
Because the media influences the way in which we see the world, we often fail to realize that people embody multiple identities.
For example, immigrants that cross the border are usually portrayed solely as Mexicans by US media, and we usually get images of middle-aged migrant men. And queerness in the media is usually depicted as White men in the symbols of the “gay best friend,” the “feminine men” depicted either as a pervert, or a social outcast.
Because of these images, we fail to realize that immigrants can be queer and/or trans, and vise versa.
To be honest, it took me a long time to come to an analysis of how my undocumented reality and my queer reality intersected, and it was a frustrating process.
At first, I thought my only problems were hiding from la migra and not being able to have a federally recognized marriage, but I learned that my struggles were about more than just citizenship and same-sex marriage.
Here are 4 struggles the LGBTQIA+ and immigrant community share, and how we can work together:
1. Our Communities Are Strategically Funnelled In The Prison Industrial Complex
The LGBTQIA+ community is extremely vulnerable to incarceration, because sexuality has always been regulated from what we wear, to how we walk, what we drink, and the way we speak.
Laws like New York’s stop-and-frisk combined with their condom law (now over) strategically targeted people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community by labeling us as “prostitutes” — and criminalizing those who do engage in the sex industry as sex workers.
With a combination of gender policing and racial profiling, we were — and still are — being funneled into theprison industrial complex.
However, what we aren’t talking about it that many of these LGBTQIA+ folk that are funneled into the prison system are also immigrants, and some, undocumented. We don’t hear about this because many are shipped to immigration detention centers, where they are put in deportation procedures.
In detention centers, trans undocumented womyn make up 25% of sexual assault cases, though there is only 1 trans womyn out of every 500 undocumented migrants in detention.
Undocumented migrants face the possibility of being detained every single day because they have no legal protection. Immigration can show up to their homes unannounced, to their jobs, to their schools, to the emergency room, etc. and pick them up to deport them.
Likewise, LGBTQIA+ folk can be falsely accused by the police, or by neighbors, and detained. These are the forces of homophobia, transphobia, femmephobia, and xenophobia all working together at the same time.
So how can we address this problem and work as a community?
1. When we advocate for prison abolition, it is our duty to also highlight the violence of immigrant detention centers, because often enough, people do not see this form of incarceration as part of the prison industrial complex.
2. For those of us doing community work, we need to expand our analysis, and always think about how people outside our community are affected by prison. If we are an LGBTQIA+ organization, we need to invest in resources and people that can help us expand to have a pro-migrant and anti-racist analysis.
If we are an immigrant rights organization, we must make it a duty to adopt a pro-LGBTQIA+ culture.
3. We cannot only be anti-prison, but we must also be publicly anti-deportation, anti-gender policing, anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia, anti-racism, etc.
2. Our Communities Are Prone To Chronic Homelessness
As many in the LGBTQIA+ community know, when we “come out” to those that we depend on, we always risk rejection — which is also parallel to coming out as “undocumented.”
For example, LGBTQIA+ youth may be kicked out of their homes if their parents do not accept them, and thus become homeless. Undocumented folk are sometimes kicked out of the places they rent when their landlords, or housemates find out that they are undocumented.
Something we need to talk about is that in the process of being kicked out, LGBTQIA+ youth may not take their ID’s with them and are denied entry to homeless shelters. I know this to be true because as a queer person I sometimes needed a place to sleep, and I was asked for identification since some shelters have government funding and can only serve citizens and permanent residents.
Other ways in which undocumented folk are prone to homelessness is that in order to rent an apartment, people are often asked for their drivers’ license, or a form of identification. This happened to me often, so my options of finding migrant-friendly housing were always extremely limiting.
In order to work together to address some of these issues we need to do the following:
1. As individuals, we need to create a living environment that is pro-migrant and pro-LGBTQIA+. For example, when we advertise rooms for rent, we need to be explicit in saying things like “immigrant friendly” or something like “queer and trans” friendly.
2. Immigrant rights organizations and LGBTQIA+ organizations should work together to stop homeless shelters from asking for proof of documentation.
3. Every time we see someone homeless, it is our duty to acknowledge them as they are people. They are alive — they exist and are not dead! Sometimes, a smile, or a hello can make a huge difference.
3. Access To Healthcare Is Nearly Impossible For Our Communities
First, let me start by saying that undocumented people in the US have no direct access to healthcare. Some of us have received it because of individual state laws that are required to give healthcare to all toddlers for example, etc.
However, other than that, we depend on free clinics, or alternative forms of healthcare.
The LGBTQIA+ community also experiences denial to healthcare in various ways. For example, a lot of hospitals are not trained on how to be LGBTQIA+ friendly, and may perpetuate homophobia or transphobia, thus putting the community in danger. Transgender folk that wish to have a medical transition often can’t because health policies may not cover transition, and because it’s crazy expensive!
To have access to better, or any healthcare we need to work together by:
1. Sharing resources with each other of places that are both migrant friendly and LGBTQIA+ friendly.
2. Citizen LGBTQIA+ folk with access to healthcare should always ask their health providers what their policies are for undocumented immigrants, and challenge them when they can.
3. Undocumented migrants that may have good home remedies should also share their knowledge with the LGBTQIA+, for those forms of knowledge are often better than US medicine.
4. We Are Often Discriminated At Work
For undocumented immigrants, and those with status, there is a lot of racism and xenophobia at the work place.
For example, the other day, I was walking by a restaurant, and there were two job announcements: a position for a dishwasher, which was written in Spanish, and a position for a cashier, written in English. Clearly this was discrimination because even if one was bilingual, the message was clear: non-migrants were being encouraged to apply to the cashier position.
Undocumented immigrants face a lot of workers rights violations.
When I worked under the table, I was paid less than minimum wage, and there were times my manager clocked me out hours before I left work.
When I retaliated, I was threatened with getting fired, or he’d call immigration on me. It was coerced labor.
The LGBTQIA+ community is also prone to work discrimination and unemployment because many places will use the excuse that our gender presentation is no “professional”, or they’ll resort to petty reasons for firing us as a loophole to worker protection laws. Not to forget, transgender folk are often denied jobs, or disrespected at the workforce in marginal ways.
To address this issue, we need each other:
1. First, we need to work together to fight for unions. Many workers unions fight for the rights of undocumented workers to get paid fair wages, and for the protection of the LGBTQIA+ community.
2. If you’re documented, you need to stand up to your bosses/managers when they mistreat the undocumented workers. Likewise, if you are an undocumented, or migrant worker, you need to also stand up for anti-LGBTQIA+ treatment at work.
3. Both LGBTQIA+ and migrants need to work together to demand change at the workforce, the more unity, the stronger the battle.
While these are some of the commonalities we share as immigrants and LGBTQIA+ folk, it is important to always think of creative ways to be in solidarity with each other, because allyship is an action, not an identity.
For organizations trying to work at the intersections of migration and LGBTQIA+ issues, you do not need to reinvent the wheel; you need to see who is doing the work, and help allocate funding for them, and make public statements on your positions.
There is a difference between being a “public” ally and a “private” ally. Publicity allows for honest accountability.
6 Common Phrases That Are Fueling Xenophobia Everyday
Everyday Feminism, March 2016
So, you’ve head about oppression and privilege right? Well, what if I told you that there’s a form of oppression that you, and I, may be participating in that we are unaware of?
Xenophobia is the word used for people that have a discomfort, dislike, or a fear of people whom they perceive to be outsiders, and/or from other countries – a fear which, in the United States, is rooted in White Supremacy.
“But I’m an anti–racist feminist, I don’t participate in Xenophobia!”
Actually, anti-racists feminist can, and do, participate in xenophobia, often times without even knowing it.
Because United States culture privileges the realities of White immigrants, such as figures like Christopher Columbus and the pilgrims, the realities of migrants of color, especially the undocumented, refugees, and those seeking political asylum are silenced and pushed away.
In my own experience as a Latin American immigrant, I perpetuated xenophobic thoughts by believing that I was better fit to be in the United States than my counterpart Middle Eastern migrants. I thought like this because after 9/11, I was taught by a racist media and political regime to see Middle Eastern, and especially Islamic folks as terrorists.
And because I didn’t yet realize how intentional media programing is, and how corrupt the United States government is – especially when it comes to foreign policy, war, and imperialism – I was privileging Latin American migrants by pinning and uplifting those realities against Middle Eastern migrants.
I was xenophobic, and I didn’t even know about it!
But how did this start? Where did I learn it?
Xenophobia Begins with the Lie That the Pilgrims Were the First Immigrants
During my first year at an all-American elementary school, my 5th grade class took a fieldtrip to Plymouth Plantation. Right before the trip, however, we had a whole unit on “The Mayflower.”
I remember this unit so clearly because, as the only non-English speaker in the class, the teacher kept telling the class that the pilgrims were immigrants, just like me.
She started by explaining that the pilgrims were born in Europe, but because of political persecution, they were forced to make the most courageous decision of their time – to leave their home in the hopes of finding acceptance elsewhere.
I remember looking up to the pilgrims. I couldn’t begin to imagine what it would have been like for me to be in a boat for months and manage to survive.
When we got to Plymouth Plantation, I remember my friends reading to me some of the flyers that depicted the pilgrims as the first immigrants. Finally, I felt that I fit in with American culture despite my thick accent, my kinky hair, my dark eyes, and being the only person of color in the room.
But my whole class was taught to celebrate the courage of the pilgrims and empathize with their struggles – and never once did we learn about the Native Americans who were massacred at the expense of “the first immigrants.”
Because of the untold story of Native people who were exiled, executed, and made invisible, we perceive the United States as a nation of immigrants. But clearly and in reality, we’re not really the nation of immigrants.
The heroic story of courage and oppression that we learn about the pilgrims is all about celebrating Europeans who “earned” their “liberty” and “freedom” by creating genocide of indigenous folk.
When we celebrate the pilgrims, what we’re actually doing is celebrating White Supremacy, affirming genocide, and performing solidarity with the White men.
The United States is not a Nation of Immigrants; it is the Nation of White Supremacy.
Xenophobia Teaches Us to Only Celebrate and Empathize withWhite Immigrants
Since the United States is NOT a nation of immigrants, then what is its stance on immigration? Well, I’d argue that the Unites States supports immigration, as long as the immigrants are White only.
For example, have you seen the political cartoons of Native Americans building a wall to keep the Pilgrims out because the pilgrims refused to learn regional indigenous languages, customs, and ways of being? These subversive cartoons are pointing out the fact that when White folk came to the United States, undocumented, everything was okay.
But, when immigrants of color come to the United States, we need to question, police, and detain them because they are, according to the media, dangerous and not to be trusted.
The narrative of the pilgrims as the first immigrants is violent because that same narrative makes immigrants of color appear as bad, as trying to take an “unearned” piece of the American pie.
The story of the pilgrims makes it seem as if the pilgrims “built” America, and when people of color come, they have to prove themselves worthy. If we do not, we are depicted as people that didn’t “work for what they have.”
In the United States, people of color have been depicted as savages, as non-human, as 3/5ths human, and most recently, as “criminals” and “illegals.” Heck, even talking about slavery in the context of migration is messed up, because we do not acknowledge that slaves were people forced into captivity, tortured, and forced to internalize their colonization.
It is time that we realize that our binary of the good immigrant versus the bad immigrant is actually representative of White supremacy versus non-complicit people of color!
In a few words, this is the root of xenophobia: privileging White Supremacy, and therefore, questioning, exiling, and criminalizing migrants of color.
Wait, Are Xenophobia and Racism The Same Thing?
They’re closely related, but not quite.
Racism is “the belief that all members of a purported race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or other races.”
With this definition, one could say that racism is intertwined with physical and cultural characteristics of an individual. However, in order for racism to take effect, there needs to be a superior race, or at least a common narrative of who is more powerful, who is better, who is smarter, etc.
In the United States, and around the globe, this is the narrative of White Supremacy, which is why racism and xenophobia are so closely aligned.
Xenophobia, unlike racism, is rooted in the otherness of a community/society. Our dominant culture – white, middle class, US American – imposes its normality by deeming those who don’t fully assimilate to, and embody, that culture in every way as foreign and outsider.
This notion of foreign and outsider essentializes the un-foreign community/society as standard, and assumes its identity and cohesion to be in danger and in need of protection from the newcomer.
As a result, racism and xenophobia meet because xenophobia manifests in negative attitudes in prejudice, in microaggressions, and in actions that systematically exclude, shame, and marginalize the community deemed other/foreign/outsider in similar ways that White people treat people of color in a White Supremacist society.
Undocumented people of color experience xenophobia in marginalizing ways that White undocumented people will not receive.
For example, in my undocumented community, two of my close friends are undocumented and European – from Albania and Romania – but they’re always assumed to be American and safe. As a formerly undocumented migrant of color, I was always deemed other.
My Browness and Blackness deemed me outsider and prone to comments like, “Get out my country,” and disturbing side comments and/or jokes, like “Show me your greencard!”
Xenophobia is a form of oppression that we participate in because of internalized White Supremacy that makes us believe that people from other countries are less than us, less “developed”, people that are “stealing American jobs”, etc.
We need to recognize xenophobic thoughts when we have them, and reflect on why we are thinking in this way, and how to change it.
Some examples of xenophobic sentiments out there are the following:
1. “We Need To Enforce Our Borders.”
This statement assumes that immigrants are dangerous to society and fails to address whypeople from other countries are coming to the United States undocumented: foreign policies like NAFTA that displace indigenous Mexican farmers; escaping gang recruitment; attempting to survive while transgender and of color, etc.
2. “Learn To Speak English!”
Did you know that the United States has no official language? So, when we tell other people to learn English, we are speaking from a place where we perpetuate colonization, White Supremacy, and genocide, because English is not a native language of the United States.
In addition, every time a child enters an education system that has no bilingual education curriculum, that child is forced to participate in the colonial project of xenophobia. In fact, a non-bilingual education system serves as a border for non-European, predominantly non-White, and often times, non-middle-class youth.
3. “Muslims Are Terrorists.”
The direct blame-making, exclusion, and marginalization of Muslims, especially immigrant Muslims is a form of xenophobia, because the way in which Islamophobia works is that it prevents non-Muslims from seeing Muslims as individual people as positive agents, and as part of the community.
If we want to dismantle the ways in which Islamophobia work, we need to take a close look at our own biases and the ways in which we intake information about the Muslim community.
Xenophobia does not work alone; it requires the participation of politicians, the media, and us.
Consequently, we have to educate each other on these issues instead of waiting for the Muslim community to educate us. For further resources on addressing Islamophobia, you can lookhere, here, and here.
4. “No, Where Are You Really From?”
Often times, we may think that we’re trying to engage in conversation with people of color by asking them where they’re from, or worse yet, where they’re really from. I would argue that we don’t necessarily do this for conversation, but to inform our decision of whether or not we are going to trust the person in front of us.
The question may seem innocent, but it is a violent wake-up call that says “you don’t belong here” to the person being questioned.
When was the last time you went up to a White person and asked them where they were reallyfrom?
5. “Don’t Go To X Neighborhood, It’s Too Dangerous.”
Believe it or not, the perceptions we have about “dangerous” neighborhoods come from a place of (un)intentional xenophobia.
When we speak of spaces that are violent, we are usually speaking about the spaces of people of color because that’s what we are taught by the media, by the local government, and by the amount of police circulation in the area. We sometimes view our own neighbors as foreigners.
It is painful when my own community tells me not to go to certain neighborhoods because there’s too many Dominicans, or too many Pakistanis, etc. These statements are xenophobic and not committed to dismantling intersectional forms of oppression, but rather, enforcing oppression.
6. “I’m Not Like Other [Insert Nationality].”
I’m not like other Mexicans were the words that came out of my mouth when I was about 15 years old. I remember sitting at lunch and my friend asking me if I thought Mexicans were aggressive. I not only said “yes,” I then followed up by saying “I’m not like other Mexicans.”
At the age of 15, I was being xenophobic to my own community by framing myself as a “good Mexican.” Unfortunately, as I began gaining consciousness, this was a phrase that I heard hundreds of times by others in my immigrant community.
Because of White Supremacy, people of color, especially immigrants of color are always forced to explain themselves, to “de-criminalize” themselves, and to protect themselves by feeding into stereotypical narratives of their home country.
We need to stop it with the good immigrant/bad immigrant narrative. If we don’t address this dilemma, we will never reach collective liberation!
It’s taken me a long time to be able to make sense of xenophobia, and to understand the ways in which I have perpetuated xenophobia. Even us, self-proclaimed feminists need to be weary of our language, and our everyday interactions with other people of color.
It is the only way to de-colonize our thoughts and perceptions of others.
4 Myths About Undocumented Immigrants That Are Hurting Feminism
Everyday Feminism, February 2016
Imagine being five and hearing stories from everyone around you about suffering the violence of being placed in la hielera – one of the worst forms of torture too often experienced by undocumented immigrants.
The hielera is a small immigration cell, where the AC is on at its highest temperature, so high that immigrants call it “the cooler.” And this is a torture that lingers. Often times, older immigrants that live through the hielera develop many bone-related health problems that decrease their lifespan, and most youth who live through the hielera develop complex PTSD.
I came to the United States at the age of five, undocumented, and was undocumented for almost seventeen years – and I lived in constant awareness of what dangers were looming the entire time.
As a community organizer, activist, and feminist myself, I have befriended many people that support the immigrant rights movement and are down with the politics.
However, because they do not face the everyday reality of living without a social security number – meaning no eligibility to legally work, get healthcare, loans, enter homeless shelters, or feel comfortable going to the police in cases of domestic abuse – allies often carry myths about undocumented immigrants that hurt both the immigrant rights movement andintersectional feminism.
Below are four myths that feminists and other allies must stop perpetuating in order to really support our movements.
Myth 1: Undocumented Youth Didn’t Come on their Own Free Will
When I first started speaking out about my immigration status, I called myself a “DREAMer,” which is essentially a word that was given to me by politicians that wanted to pass a legislation titled the DREAM Act (2010).
This legislation would allow undocumented youth that entered the US before their sixteenth birthday and either joined the military, enrolled into higher education, or completed a certain amount of community service hours, a pathway to citizenship.
However, the narrative was that undocumented youth needed the DREAM Act because they weren’t brought on their own free will. Instead, their parent(s) brought them – furthercriminalizing undocumented parents.
At the time, I identified as a DREAMer because I benefited from the promises the legislation would bring. The identity in itself allotted me certain unearned privileges because they deemed my mother “other,” a “criminal.”
It wasn’t until later that I understood this form of oppression.
The truth is that, yes, it’s easy to claim that a five-year-old couldn’t possibly make the decision to move to another country, and successfully accomplish the move. But, the reality is, yes, that’s what happens.
At the age of five, I had already developed PTSD in my home country from an acute form of punishment for not “acting like a man.” In addition to this, there was an interfamily murder before I turned five that I was very well aware of.
So, yes, I came here on my own free will because I knew I would be safe.
Children have agency and when we accept legislations that take our agency away, we are actually hurting our own communities because the legislations do not reflect our realities.
Furthermore, the word “DREAMer” is a word loaded with privilege that is intertwined with classism and nationalism.
Although the legislation never passed, it was classist because shortly after it was introduced, politicians eliminated the community service option and the only two options left were to either join the military or enter higher education.
These pre-conditions actually required undocumented youth to risk their lives (once again) by joining the military or to enter higher education, meaning that only undocumented folk who came from a wealthy family or had legal status for a long time in the United States before becoming undocumented, would be able to enroll.
What we can do now is educate each other that we can’t privilege one undocumented reality more than others because the reality is that undocumented migration is attached to physical, emotional, psychological, and historical violence.
We cannot only advocate for undocumented youth. We need to advocate for all undocumented migrants and begin by focusing on the ones that legislations have already made “the other!”
Myth 2: All Undocumented People Cross the Border
Due to the media representing undocumented migration as people that cross the border, swim across a river (“wetback”), or walk through the desert, the public seems to believe that all undocumented people cross the border.
While many do cross the border, the low estimate is that 40%of undocumented immigrants actually fly to the United States with legal status, which does not account to the number of immigrants that drive to the United States with legal status as well.
Any non-US citizen can become undocumented.
Many times, immigrants are brought to the US with work visas, and sometimes their work visas are taken away because they are no longer needed, thus becoming undocumented. Other examples are international students who overstay their visa and become undocumented.
There are even legal permanent residents that lose residencydue to misdemeanors, or being political activists in the United States.
But how is this myth hurtful if it seems more like a misinterpretation?
By framing the undocumented reality as a journey across a border, we begin to fictionalize undocumented experiences into a Hollywood-like action film. This very action story is what a lot of my feminist and activist communities narrate to politicians as a strategy to appeal to their emotions, but it’s more like exploitation of severely traumatic realities.
In thinking that all undocumented immigrants cross the border, we become less likely to challenge US immigration law.
This is because we assume that all the violence is happening at the border and don’t question times when workers (nail salon workers, farm workers, garment workers, and so on) are brought on visas and then held as slave labor.
Employers threaten workers if they ask for a living wage by taking away their visa (their sponsorship), thus forcing them to become undocumented. It also works the other way around: Undocumented workers are sometimes forced to work in inhumane conditions, and if they resist, they are threatened with deportation.
Assuming that all undocumented migrants cross the border distances us from engaging in critical conversations about the intersection of migration and the history of slavery (and Blackness, thereof) in the United States, as well as the ways in which we participate in a culture of xenophobia.
Myth 3: All Undocumented Immigrants are Latinx
Because México is our bordering country, and the United States has had many laws passed in regards to the US/Mexican border, our point of reference of an immigrant is a brown-skinned Mexican individual.
Much of this myth is due to the rising Latinx community in the United States that is estimated to be the majority in the near future, which is already representative of states like California, where Latinxs outnumber Whites.
Although Latinxs are increasing in numbers, we need to realize that there are undocumented immigrants living in the United States from all over the world – including the European Union, Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Australia (not just México or Latin America).
In 2012 (I know, a little outdated, but that’s what happens to marginalized communities), the PEW research center estimated that there were 1.4 million undocumented Asians living in the United States, 600,000 undocumented European and Canadians, 400,000 from Africa and the Middle East, and 550,000 from the Caribbean. The larger population of undocumented migrants hail from the Americas (about twenty countries).
By thinking of undocumented migration as a Latinx issue, we silence those that come from other countries and prevent inter-undocumented solidarity.
At the moment, the undocumented Latinx movement and the undocumented Asian Pacific Islander (but mainly East Asian, and not so much Southeast Asian or Pacific Islander) movement have had a good amount of publicity and support.
However, because we have consumed a narrative of immigration as a Latinx issue, undocumented communities themselves and their allies have been unable to make connections of migration as an intersectional issue.
As a Black Latinx that was undocumented for almost seventeen years, I struggled myself to understand the ways in which my Blackness intersected with my undocumented status.
The reality is that Black people in the US have been stateless ever since slavery, laws that made us three-fifths human, segregation, and so on. So, for me, as an undocumented and Black migrant, I had to look to the history of Blackness in the US, which meant the one-drop rule, widening my understanding of what a Black person was compared to Blackness in my home country.
Not only was it difficult to understand how Blackness and undocumented-ness intersected, but I also felt left out because my reflection was never represented in art created about the undocumented movement.
For example, being in an immigration protest, most signs were always either in Spanish and English, and there were never any physically Black people represented in our posters. Along with this, since our messages were always in Spanglish, we, as an undocumented community, were not creating a space for other non-Spanish-speaking undocumented immigrants to be included.
To put it simply, imagining immigration as a Latinx issue prevents us from practicing intersectional feminism, because at the moment, immigration narratives are so binary that we are unable to intersect speaking about issues of Blackness, issues about land, and issues about geographic location.
Myth 4: Undocumented Immigrants Are Stealing American Jobs
Who hasn’t heard that one?
For the seventeen years that I’ve been in the United States, the myth about undocumented immigrants taking American jobs was one I heard almost every week.
When in high school, I remember once having a class conversation about immigration, and my counterpart classmates arguing that we needed to “put them in a box and ship them back to where they came from” because they were “stealing our jobs” (“our” clearly didn’t include me).
The reality is that undocumented labor in the United States“raises wages for documented/native workers” because undocumented workers, since they are not “legally” allowed to work without a social security number, often enough end in low-skill job positions – even if they have college degrees or extraordinary abilities.
In addition, since undocumented workers often have family members that can help them out filing for taxes, undocumented workers “pay between $90 and $140 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxes.”
One of the most shocking news I found out in 2011 was that when anti-immigrant laws began to be implemented state by state, many of the biggest farms in the United States were left with their crops rotting because undocumented workers either left or were deported.
When this happened, US citizens did not want to take over those jobs. The situation got so intense that the local government sent US citizens that were on parole to work the fields and most walked out.
So, if US citizens don’t want these jobs because the conditions are so severe, how are undocumented immigrants stealing jobs that no one is taking?
Undocumented workers in the United States grow our food, sanitize the public spaces we visit, raise US-born White children, construct homes, work as independent artists, and have started our own businesses.
In my own feminist circles I often got the question, “How do/did you work?” And to answer it simply, I just did, but for less than minimum wage, and little to no workers’ protection.
The most common and unintentional way in which this myth has been carried through is that we sometimes assume that immigrants live glorious lifestyles. We do this because many immigrants work one or two full time jobs, plus one or two additional part time jobs to make ends meet, which is how people in my family have lived ever since we got here.
Because we manage to survive, people assume that our survival is a result of stealing “American” jobs, when in reality we are working so much, that we are just surviving, not living.
Although these are only four of the many myths about undocumented immigration, it is important that as feminists and people trying to partake in actions of allyship, we take a moment to understand what it means to have a social security number, a blue passport, a green card, a visa, or anything that allows us to claim “documentation.”
We need to create a culture that challenges narratives of migration, and ask “How did people become undocumented?” instead of “What are we going to do with the undocumented?”
Only through understanding the historical and contemporary realities of undocumented people can we become better advocates for those marginalized by our broken immigration system.
4 Ways I Learned to Hate My Afro As a Black Latinx (And Why I Love It Anyway)
Everyday Feminism, November 2015
Being Black in the United States is already like no other experience. But when you add being a Mexican immigrant and not understanding how my Blackness and my Latinidad intersected – well, that made me a very confused and frustrated child.
For example, in my Latinx community, I was often advised by well meaning folk to go to the barbershop more often because shaving off my afro made me look handsome. In the voice of one of my unsolicited advisors, it would be “una pena” (a shame) to be perceived as “a negro” with “ese pelo feo” (that ugly hair).
With so many people directly letting me know they didn’t like my afro, I began to believed that it was ugly and dirty. What I didn’t know, however, was that my hair is one of the most political parts of my body, as it is what lets people know that I am a child of the African Diaspora, a child of ancestors that were taken from their land, and shipped to Latin America during the slave trade.
As I grew more conscious and began to understand that I was both Black and Mexican, I began to ask other Afro-Latinxs about their hair and learned that I wasn’t the only one who was taught to hate it.
The earliest memory I have of being Black in the US was when bilingual education ended in Boston and my mother and I moved to the suburbs – where my classmates were no longer all Latinx and African American, but all white (except for 5 of us).
“Do you miss Haiti?” a White woman asked me, as my mom was enrolling me in school… I remember just looking at her without a response. Eager to talk to me, she opened her mouth again and, this time, in a funny accent said, “Bonjour.”
I didn’t know what Haiti was, but I recognized “bonjour” from a restaurant that the public bus would always drive by, but why was she saying it to me? I didn’t speak French.
I had a very obvious Spanish accent.
Little did I know at that time that my Black Latinx body would be one of confusion, ridicule and frustration for a lot of people as I navigated life in the United States:
#1. My Afro Became a Playground For Other Kids
Since I was constantly told that my hair was ugly, I felt special when people expressed interested in it. However, my classmates would always want to touch it and, afraid to say no, I let them.
Some were so enthused with my afro that they’d glide their hands through my hair until their fingers would get stuck in my curls. When they tried to pull their fingers out, they’d always manage to pull some of my hairs out as well.
With a thick Spanish accent, and an Afro, my classmates would always giggle about how different I was. I thought I was different because I was from Mexico, but what was really going on was that my classmates had never really interacted with a Black person.
There’s something about White suburbs that puts Black youth in danger. Perhaps its the fact that Black bodies are always so obviously there, yet invisible. Or maybe its because, after such a long history of Blacks being segregated from White schools, when Black students enter one, they have to endure the discomfort and racist curiosity of White youth.
#2. My Own Latin Community Encouraged Me To Shave My Afro To Avoid Looking “Aggressive”
Although a lot of the Latinxs in my life were great people, they were also significantly anti-Black. It’s one thing to give me a complement on a haircut, and it’s distinctly another thing to bluntly say that my afro was ugly.
You’re no longer celebrating a change in hair length, or design, but, rather, you’re celebrating the removal of what my afro says about me – that I’m a Black.
Straight and semi-curly hair isn’t attached to a race the way that wild curly afros are. So clearly, all the compliments I got when I shaved my hair were actually for appearing less Black, or may I say, less threatening to the Latinx community.
One of the big ways I have noticed anti-Blackness in the Latinx community is in restrictions on dating other curly haired folk.
Many of my friends have told me about their community rejecting either them for having Afros (being Black), or their partners for being Black. Latinxs have internalized the notion that they have a duty “to maintain the Latinx race,” or make it better by dating a lighter skinned person. However, there is no such a thing as “maintaining the race”, or “bettering the race”.
There is no such thing as a Latinx race, there is no skin tone that yells “Latinx”, and there is no way that marrying a Spaniard, or other type of European is going to make the Latinx race better!
Often, being Afro-Latinx, Indigenous-Latinx, or a Latinx from the Chinese and Korean diaspora means that a person does not qualify as Latinx, but rather, someone who is unfit to maintain the Latinx race. A lot of Latinx community members (especially migrants) have not met too many Black folk because Afro-Latinxs are congregated in patches all over Latin America where ports of entry were established during the slave trade.
If a Latinx migrant lived nowhere near those ports, then they may have never encountered an Afro-Latinx.
In fact, the Latinx community has learned that Blacks are bad and wild through the media and telenovelas (soap operas) that often depict them as unintelligent, dirty, poor, and in many television cartoons, Blacks are represented as monkeys. From these depictions, the Latinx community believes that Blacks threaten the Latinx “race.”
Acknowledging Afro-Latinidad will only get us closer to a communal healing process that acknowledges that we are in pain as people whose indigenous cultures and black cultures have been put through genocide after genocide.
#3. According To White People, My Afro Was Unprofessional, Unintelligent, And A Joke.
When I was finally in High School (first person to even make it to the 9th grade in my family) and applying to colleges, one of my High School teachers recommended that I clean up, meaning shaving my afro, for my college interview – so that I would appear “professional and serious.”
What she meant was that I was too Black, and that I should shave my afro so that I could be more Latinx. That way, I’d have higher chances of winning the interviewer over because, clearly, I’d be less threatening as a Latinx than a Black student with a Mexican accent.
What I learned from this experience is that maybe the anti-Blackness in the Latinx community didn’t come out of nowhere. In fact, as people of color, Latinx also experience racism. However, in experiencing racism, Latinx learn to also see other people of color as bad, or lesser.
Therefore, Latinx communities begin to act in ways that White Supremacy has taught them to interact with the world – which privileges them – especially since a lot of Latinxs are also very light skinned and might even be perceived as White. My Afro challenged White Supremacy, so it was an issue for both the White community and the Latinx community that had internalized the views of White Supremacy.
#4. After Joining The Undocumented Movement, I Always Had To Pick A Side: Latinx, or Black, Never Both.
Again, within my local undocumented community, I began to pick out the ways in which White Supremacy was manifesting. I remember always talking about xenophobia, but never mentioning anti-Blackness.
I mean, how can you talk about the fear and discomfort of immigrants without talking about anti-Blackness? After all, Black folk were actually taken from their countries, forced to migrate all over the world, and turned into slaves. There really can’t be an immigration narrative without acknowledging that Black bodies have been violated all throughout history due to migration.
Although I was an Afro-Latinx, I was often only racialized as Latinx after I gave my speech about how I was actually born and raised in Mexico – and lived in an indigenous village with my grandmother and grew up with indigenous rituals and all other justifications to why I qualified as Latinx.
When I travelled to conferences and would meet other undocumented activists, some assumed that I was there as an ally because I was Black. Even when we were having conversations of changing the narrative that undocumented migration was just a Latinx issue, we were failing in recognizing Black undocumented realities.
To this day, we have a good amount of undocumented Asian (but primarily East Asian) visibility, and rising undocumented European visibility, but the undocumented Black reality is still missing.
Thankfully, I began to meet undocumented Afro-Latinx womyn that radicalized my politics in ways that I could never imagine. I remember first meeting my friend Jase, whose Afro was huge, and together learning about our histories, and really challenging our identities.
Were we Black? Were we Latinxs? Were we just racially ambiguous?
These questions really allowed us to unpack in community, acknowledging that in the midst of unpacking who we were, there might be pain and denial, but that there was a healing process. During our process, I also met Isabel, who kept challenging me. I remember having conversations with the both of them about dating, and about de-colonizing my own personal love, by stepping away from the Latinx mentality of maintaining the race.
In the light of so much anti-black racism in Latinx communities, Afro-Latinxs deserve spaces to love and affirm each other. So, for my other Black Latinxs, I want to say:
Your Afro Is Beautiful, Do NOT Cut It!
When I finally saw my grandma after 17 years of being undocumented, she saw my hair, and was sad that I hadn’t been treating it right, so she made me go get a haircut, and told the lady to just cut a little bit and make it look round.
When we were walking back, my grandma explained to me that our hair has memory, and it’s the memory of resistance. So, do not get rid of your hair. Instead, treat it well, and don’t be afraid to ask other Afro-Latinxs what products, or home remedies they are using to perfect the wild-ness of our curls.
Your Hair Has Nothing To Do With Your Job
If anyone asks you to fix your hair, let them know that they have just demanded that you physically alter your body to fit in with their work culture, which is an ethical violation.
Your Afro Is It’s Own Revolution
Afros were a central part of a revolution (that’s still going) against anti-Blackness in the United States.
In a video, Black Panther Activist, Kathleen Cleaver, breaks it down for the world “all of us were born with our hair like this… because it’s natural… [there’s] a new awareness among Black people that their own natural physical appearance is beautiful. For so many years, we were taught only white people were beautiful, only straight hair…was beautiful… White people now want wigs like these. Dig it? Isn’t it beautiful?”
Your Afro Makes You Sexy!
Every time I was taught to hate my hair, I almost did, but there’s something magical about looking at myself in the mirror, and everyday, seeing my reflection screaming, “I AM BEAUTIFUL. MY LIFE MATTERS, AND DAMN I LOOK SEXY”.
3 Things I Regret Not Asking From Allies and my Community as an (Un)documented and Queer Activist
Black Girl Dangerous, October 2015
I arrived to the San Diego border at the age of 5, alone, to reunite with my mother, who had been working for a White Mexican family in the United States as a domestic worker and nanny for about 2 dollars an hour, and working 60+ hours a week.
At the age of 5, all I knew is that ma and I were safe here. Ma and I were going to live. I knew that there would be no more family deaths, no more visits to the hospital because of an abusive night at home, but it also meant no more visits to the cemetery to see my younger sister.
Growing up, I knew ma and I were undocumented. I knew that there were people out in the US/Mexican border with rifles shooting migrants, I knew that people didn’t want us in the US, I knew all of this, and I learned to survive and to grow up fast.
When I was a teenager, I began to hear about undocumented youth in California, Arizona and New York speaking out in public and sharing their stories as undocumented. As a teenager, I didn’t know I had a story, and yearned to be a part of this movement. When I was 16, I joined the undocumented movement and finally felt like I could create change.
Undocumented Afro-Latinx womyn in Boston, and undocumented queer and trans activists influenced my politics, my art, and my ambitions. While revolutionary people surrounded me, I endured a lot of pain because I didn’t know how to hold allies, community members, or myself accountable.
As a queer and (un)documented activist, here are 3 things I regret not doing to hold allies, my community, and myself accountable:
1. I often felt I couldn’t say “No” when I was asked to share my story at rallies, public hearings, church talks, community events, or at delegations.
The reason why undocumented youth were able to mobilize so successfully is because undocumented youth took risks: undocumented youth created a national community by sharing their stories of survival, of resistance, and of home. However, as someone with extreme PTSD caused by an interfamily murder, and a history of abuse for not being “man” enough as a toddler, sharing my story often caused me secondary trauma.
To my undocumented community out there, be careful. Your story is yours, and you should not justify every part of your existence. Share what you are comfortable with, and let people know when you need someone else to speak.
To those in solidarity with the undocumented community: the stories you hear are not yours to re-tell. Yes, you should share articles, videos, & art by undocumented migrants, but you should not re-tell their stories without their permission. By re-telling their stories you may trigger other migrants; and you may also romanticize and exaggerate them, thus reducing (and detaching) the lived experiences of those who have so vulnerably shared their truths with you.
2.When people asked me to speak at colleges and universities, galas, or art venues, I always said yes, but never got paid.
Truth be told, undocumented activists are being burnt out, and fast, because a lot of people want to hear our truths, our cuentos, our laughs, our love, but no one wants to pay us for our time.
I remember once traveling about 2 hours on public transit, getting to a college, the facilitator being late, and then being in a panel followed by a Q&A, and all I got for it were a water bottle, and chocolate. For real? You’re telling me that I just traveled 2 hours, talked for an hour about how undocumented folk are paid less than minimum wage, harassed at work, denied health care, threatened with deportation, and you can’t compensate me for my time, but you have a budget for snacks, set-up, cleanup, and tons of fancy posters and invitations?
To my undocumented activists, do not be afraid to demand compensation for your time. Our truths are not readily available to anyone that wants them. I know that sometimes, we feel that we have to say yes because our stories are barely shared, but you have the right to be treated with respect and consideration. Your stories matter, your time matters, and your money matters.
To those in solidarity with undocumented activists, and to those who work in organizations that serve the undocumented community: if you are going to have an undocumented individual speak somewhere, compensate them. Think about it this way: when you ask someone to speak, they have to write their talk down, they have to revise it, they have to remember many painful memories, then they have to rehearse. Umm, no, this is not free.
3.I regret the most not disclosing to my undocumented community and those in solidarity with us that I was often hungry at all our organizing meetings, or scared of my hour and a half commutes at night.
As an (un)documented activist, there was always something more important to do than eating: stopping someone’s deportation, fighting for stolen wages from domestic workers, dealing with family issues back in our home countries, etc.
Food and transportation for undocumented and queer activists are major concerns, especially for undocumented queer and trans youth, who are sometimes not privileged to be accepted at home, and thus end up raising themselves in the homes of other undocumented activists, in the streets, or in homeless shelters (if they don’t require an ID).
To my undocumented community, it is not shameful to admit that you are hungry, or that you need a ride, or someone to wait for you at the bus stop. I regret not asking for help. Take my advice, if you can, and ask for help when you need it.
To my undocumented community members with modest jobs, and to those who are in solidarity with the undocumented community: please always try to ask undocumented activists if they have eaten, and if you have a car, always offer a ride, if you are able.
Before moving to California, when I was able, I would buy three $15 grocery store gift cards when I went shopping, and whenever I had the chance to give one out to an undocumented activist, I would. Hey, when I worked in the kitchen of a restaurant, and barely made minimum wage, $15 got me a long way at the market.
Just remember that sometimes the best way to be an ally is to allow an undocumented activist to stop for a second, and eat, or to simply ask them if they need a ride. And if you are comfortable with buying gift cards for those in the movement, I would highlight suggest it!
How American Police Forces & Higher Legal Systems Embody Master/Slave Mentalities
Black Girl Dangerous, January 2015
In 1993, my mother gave birth to her first child in Mexico City. Because he had a faulty lung system and developed so slowly as a fetus, the doctors weren’t sure than he’d make it through his first year. But, he made it. He cried when he was hungry, drooled when he slept, laughed when her curls touched his cheeks, and yelled when his 3-inch feet were lightly tickled. In 1993, my mother didn’t know if her child would live.
In 2015, she’s still isn’t sure.
I’m healthy now, but my mother closes her eyes and prays for me every time I walk out the door. She’s never sure if I’ll get sent to prison for being Black, hate-crimed for being queer, or sent to a detention center for entering the US, at the age of 5, without a visa. She knows that the first time I was stopped-and-frisked, I had continuous nightmares of being shot. What she doesn’t know is that, sometimes, men chase me down the streets of Harlem and Brooklyn with a pocketknife because I’m queer, or because I won’t have sex with them.
We are stuck in a system where Black lives don’t matter, where Black queer lives don’t matter, where, especially, Black transgender lives don’t matter. In this system, our lives only matter when our existences are extensions of slavery.
As a person with PTSD, the recent non-indictments in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have me on fight-or-flight mode. Now, I eat every meal knowing it may be my last, wake up screaming from nightmares of being gang raped or shot by the police, scream when anyone touches me, and cry from anxiety when strangers approach me. As an undocumented, queer, Black man, I am terrified for my life, my safety, my freedom. Aside from my value as a minimum-wage paid worker, I feel unseen and unprotected in this system—the same way that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were unseen and unprotected.
In the epoch of slavery, if an enslaved person died while being punished by their Master, the Master would be protected under the law because it was an accident. When the Grand Jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting an unarmed 18-year-old Black male to death, they leaned back into this Master-Slave law. Michael Brown was big and Black. Michael Brown was not complacent. Darren Wilson was White. Darren Wilson was scared. The murder was valid.
If I were to be murdered, the person who killed me may be applauded and encouraged to hunt more Alan’s. What I mean to say is, the Grand Jury would have more than my Blackness to judge—they’d judge my “chosen” lifestyle, they’d judge my “chosen” migration to a country that enslaves me to work just so I can (barely) afford a shack on the plantation and the coffee beans imported from my home country every couple of months.
Michelle Alexander—in The New Jim Crow— argues that “Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen). Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That is what it means to be black.” The prison system and capitalism are America’s legal slave plantations, where police forces take on the duty of the Master and send the insubordinate to prison so they can “reflect” on their behavior; so they can’t run when the master needs them to bow down and work.
America needs the police to target Black people. America needs to convince the public that Black people are thugs, criminals. This way, we won’t question incarceration rates. In my family, three of us are male: my stepfather, my brother and I. One of us is deemed to be imprisoned before we die. Check the statistics.
The state demands inmates because for-profit prisons are hungry for money. The state is a machine looking to acquire cheap(er) labor through undocumented bodies, Black bodies, queer bodies, trans* bodies, female bodies, and bodies with disabilities. These people, when imprisoned, become slaves. They become the state’s property, the state’s income.
The day the police stopped-and-frisked me, they let me go because I had 4 books in my backpack and a folder with a syllabus bleeding through the cover. I was the Black kid that somehow made it to college. If I had my gym clothes in my bag instead, they would have kidnapped me for saying “no” when they demanded I spread my legs, and sent me to a plantation so far away my family would have never found me.
The police do the exact job that slave owners and catchers did. Through racial profiling and gender policing, they enter communities, turn people against each other, break up families, and ship children and parents to prisons. Then, they “accidentally” kill us—legally—when we run away from them or resist arrest.
Masters did not protect slaves. Masters conditioned slaves to be so fearful that most did anything and everything asked (as the consequence for disobedience was death).
The protests and outbreak of #BlackLivesMatter are calling out these Master/Slave ideas. Our human limits—of being put on slave boats/jail busses, of forced labor, of broken families, of rape, of fallen children, and of not indicting those who murdered us—have been met.
The police, with the approval and authority of capitalism, have recreated and replenished the slave plantations of 1662. And to the young man who didn’t play the role of prey, the police choked—no whipped, no lynched—him 11 times. The police have done their duty: they have created a system that puts us in a state of violence and subjugation, that makes us invisible. Our invisibility built this country. Our invisibility allowed this country to grow into a capitalist nation that refuses to recognize exactly how much Black lives matter; how much Black trans* lives matter; how much undocumented Black queer and trans* lives matter.
For those who fail to see us—we will continue to fight for ink in history books that make our experiences forgettable; we will not bow down to prisons and capitalism; we will not apologize for our forced migrations; we will not give up our seats in life; we will continue to hold you accountable until you realize that we are beautiful and that our lives matter.
What HIV Testing is Like When You Are Queer, Black and Undocumented
Black Girl Dangerous, August 2014
I can no longer cross borders—
my lungs, alma, and mind,
can no longer swim,
so I have to hop; saltar
and play hide-and-seek
in what once was my land
Last fall, I received a call from an old partner I had not spoken to in six-months. In the middle of debating whether to answer or not, I accidentally accepted the call and heard his voice. I went to get tested and I’m HIV positive, you need to get tested, he quietly explained. He sounded tired, filled with the kind of panic that comes after days of shock and denial. It was the same tone I remembered carrying in my voice one day in Boston as a glass bottle flew towards me—then shattering as it hit me—followed by an older White male calling me “illegal.” I heard his voice and I could not breathe. I was scared for him, for me, for life.
After the phone call, all I could think was: Can I even get tested?Growing up undocumented and queer on the East Coast meant only seeing a doctor when my temperature was over 104º or there were free clinic drives at local non-profits.
I could not sleep for more than two hours. I could not eat. I could not concentrate. During the week after the phone call, I kept running through scenarios in my head about how to go to the doctor and not disclose my immigration status. I was afraid that if I had HIV, the government would think I was a threat and deport me. I could see the headlines blaming undocumented immigrants for the HIV virus. I was afraid of the attacks on my community, my family, and myself. But above all, I was afraid that if my mother found out, her body would be too weak to endure the shock. My mother’s shoulders, limbs, and spirit carried the trauma of not seeing her mother in about twenty years, of having a deceased daughter, and of surviving years of domestic violence. If I was diagnosed with anything, I could not tell her. I could not burden her with another worry when she is still healing from the open bruises that hide underneath her clothing, her vulnerabilities only exposed in 30-minute phone calls to Abuelita Belen. I could not disclose negative news with the face of my younger sister still blurring in her mind, the remnants of a grave abandoned almost two decades ago when the cemetery did not receive the seventh-year payment.
The phone call scared me. It was about more than just papers and sexuality. I had just moved to Connecticut and didn’t know the area. I had to come out to a new friend as undocumented, queer, and potentially living with HIV. She dropped everything, not knowing exactly what to say, and took me to get tested. Stop one was Planned Parenthood. Approaching the glass window felt like I was about to enter an immigration check point. I had to act American: make sure my accent did not slip off my tongue; make sure I wore colors that didn’t make my skin look too Black; make sure I rubbed the nail polish completely off of my fingernails; remember to wear the button-up I would never have been able to afford if it weren’t for the $1/pound section at the thrift store. I was finally going to get tested.
Planned Parenthood turned me away from getting an HIV test. I did not have a U.S. ID. I had a Mexican matrícula. We’re sorry, but you need a state or federal ID. If you can’t provide that, you must pay full price for any check-up, test result, or anything of the matter. I walked out, something I was used to after living undocumented for sixteen years. As I pushed through the door, the thought hit me that maybe I experienced this not just because of just my immigration status, but because the lives of poor, queer, people of color do not matter to society.
Stop two was a free clinic a few miles away. Denied.
Local college clinic next, wait list. Maybe in two months.
Crying in a borrowed car outside a Rite Aid parking lot at 3:47 p.m. on a Tuesday appeared to be the only type of healthcare I would receive.
Hours later, many miles away, I finally found a clinic that would test me. No questions asked. Negative.
I moved to Los Angeles three-weeks ago, where, for the first time, I have seen organizations that work to gain healthcare for undocumented immigrants. It’s unbelievable to me that we even have to fight for such a basic human right. I am done feeling that I don’t deserve my health. This country has systematically conditioned me to think that I’m not good enough because I’m too Latino, too Black, too Gay, too easy to Mispronounce, too Savage—Illegal Alien. Healthcare is a human right, but in the US healthcare is only for those who can pay. I cannot live a healthy life when I can’t remember my last eye doctor visit or experience the security of a bi-yearly checkup.
My blackness does not make me invisible. My queerness does not make me illegitimate. My immigration status does not make me alien. I am in these positions because of a complex colonial history that has enslaved people that look like me; burned people who painted their nails like mine; shot people whose coffee tasted like the coffee in my backyard in Mexico; trafficked people that would do low to no-wage work like those in my family.
I am afraid I can’t even afford to die. Healthcare is the least this country could do for its people, our people.