Women’s March on Washington D.C. (Chicago Version)

Being part of this epic movement of women and people across the world marching to battle racism, hatred, sexism, misogyny and xenophobia, I felt energized. Like in the past, I’ve felt united with my people, however this massive event makes the other protests look small. I saw people of all ages walking, chanting, singing some Aretha Franklin songs and capturing the moment. Of course, though, the signs were the best. We saw Carrie Fisher make an appearance, men reminding everyone that they can be feminists, too and of course the epic Shepard Fairey posters that came in every size.

Thanks for taking a look. Leave a comment. Share your photos, too!

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I’m not an immigrant and I’m still scared. This is why.

The journalist side of me tries with all its might to stay objective. The Latina in me caps the emotions that I feel toward people who hate.

I’m used to writing about elections from an objective standpoint. However, this year has been hard and the lack of communication and understanding by so many is making the results of this election and presidency much harder to handle.

I’ve been paying attention. I’ve been listening and watching. I wasn’t a fan of either candidate and although I agree with so many that said, “I want a nominee that I can stand behind and that will represent who I am, not someone that’s just an alternative to hate,” it was really hard not to want to just stop Trump.

Since the beginning the things that he was saying seemed like the biggest joke. Extreme, inconsiderate, hateful and usually targeted to particular segments of the population– Mexicans, Muslims, people with disabilities, women. In a country that supposedly stands its ground on Christian virtues, the same population that says “there’s a war on Christmas” and always aims to bring Christianity into politics– how do you support hate?

I was always taught to look out for my fellow human being. I was taught to help, be a woman for others. Even though I did not grow up undocumented, poor or under privileged, I’ve seen the impacts on my community because I chose to be a part of it. I also am because of my skin color, because of my name and because I’m bilingual. Those are things I cannot deny.

Privilege

This election really brought out the question of privilege. Male, white, wealthy privilege. I’ve had my run-ins with it on varying degrees.

This is an example of what white privilege is: At a point in time, I was in a position where I had to communicate and work with older white men with more money than I can conceptualize. I was at a bar, sitting with one of them when we struck up a conversation about college. “So, where did you go to school?” he asked me. “University of Illinois in Champaign,” I responded. He says to me, “Oh! My son is there. He’s fourth generation Illini.”

Let that sink in for a second. Fourth generation. Fourth. Not first, not second, but fourth. This man’s grandfather had obtained a college degree. That means a good job, money, savings, understanding of corporate structures (because he probably started one), business savvy, and something to pass along to his children. By the fourth generation, college is a given– not a question. By the fourth generation, money issues (if dealt with well) aren’t a problem. Language, no issue. Then after graduation, you have a multitude of resources, parents that know just what you need to do to be a white-collar worker with nothing to complain about besides the lack of a raise.

I said the only thing I could say, “Wow. That’s great.” What else could I say? I was a first generation college student. Although my uncles had degrees, my mom had an associate’s, my father graduated high school and my grandmother didn’t even get an eighth grade education. How am I supposed to compete with a fourth generation college kid? Our worries were not the same. Our concerns were not the same. Regardless of the situation, I was always going to have to prove myself.

College wasn’t exactly the most welcoming place either. It didn’t matter who I was, but what I looked like mattered to many. We were feared after a frat party decided to celebrate a Tacos and Tequila event by dressing up as Mexicans– border jumpers, pregnant, wearing the flag. We were called spics in the street. I was talked to plenty of times only in Spanish and it was usually assumed that I was born in Mexico.

Once after being around my friends at La Casa, I returned to my dorm upset only to be asked, “Are you upset about some Mexican thing again?”

After college, outside of my comfort zone, people tried to pigeonhole me. They tried to figure out why I spoke English so well. “You’re so articulate!” I’d hear as if it were a surprise. Was I supposed to say thank you?

Since I talked to my friend Teresa about it, I will always remember something that she gathered from an instructor of hers: “They don’t know what they don’t know, so they don’t know.” It all made perfect sense after that.

The Last 18 Months

I never liked Trump. His smugness was so stereotypically masculine. He had all the money in the world, he turned his nose up at people who didn’t like him and he wasn’t prepared at all. I guess you can say he was a real white rich man in America that could do what he wanted because– privilege. Money gets you everywhere. Didn’t you know?

Then started the Mexican talk. Then the people with disabilities talk. Then the condoning violence and the beating of innocent people because… because… the man was Latino? Then came the accusations of bias because of heritage. Then the whole pussy-grabbing thing.

This man was in no way representing me. At all.

Voters and supporters of him say, “American Sovereignty!” Sure, I believe that since you know, his platforms and plans are so well thought out and planned, right? I don’t have a clue what this man wants to do besides put up a wall on the Mexican border, try to deport Puerto Ricans and end the Affordable Care Act.

To that I say, whatever. The American government will never please everyone. If he makes America function better than it has, great. White men have always governed this country and they will continue to for a very long time.  

My greatest fear is for all of us who are different. Because of what he has been saying, because of his mockery of people, because of his attitude, he has made it OK to harass the minority. He’s made those intolerant people show their true colors. He’s making it OK to demean, hurt and put down these individuals for what?   

Trump has said in the last 18 months everything that makes racists xenophobic, bigots homophobic and intolerant, and men pigs. He’s brought to light anything and everything that could possibly upset the white privileged and less educated people. Simple words, simple phrases that stuck. Those same phrases that made me say, “What the hell?!” made other people nodd in agreement.

And as Van Jones said on CNN, “It was a white lash.”

The Fear

I remember learning about the Holocaust. Learning about slavery. Learning about how Mexicans were treated as second class citizens. I remember learning about Japanese internment camps, the Native American trail of tears and the fact that every president during those time frames were some of the most vocally racist people this country has seen. I just saw 13th on Netflix that connected all the dots for me.

I don’t want to live through that. In a country where we’re taught that freedom prevails and equality is justice, I’ve seen very little of it that is blanketed over all people.

It doesn’t exist. It’s an ideology that people keep saying we have, but I don’t see it.

For the most part, after reading about all that has happened in history, I want to just think that it’ll never happen again. Everyone out there is going to have enough sense to say, “I’m sorry, no. Genocide is not right. People are citizens with rights if they’re born here. Human rights apply to all people.”

We’ve seen Hitler’s rise to power. We know what Stalin, Mussolini and Franco did. For those of us who have any idea of what happened during the World Wars, the rhetoric and jargon used in this election mimicked that of horrible times in history.  

In many, if not all, of those instances, there was a cleansing of the countries. Getting rid of the problematic people, uniting under one God, one flag, one country.

For those of us who have been verbally pinpointed by our president-elect, he may as well have put a target on our back. That’s the first step, isn’t it? Making the target feel less than and letting everyone else know they’re susceptible to indiscriminate behavior is the way to start breaking people down. Kids at Royal Oak Middle School in Michigan are already doing it. They heard what the man said and they’re acting upon it because they can. Then there’s this— a recap of what was done and said after the election. We’ve already seen it throughout the campaign trail and now that their leader is the president of the “free world” what more validation do you need to hate?

What Next?

I’d love to say that I could give him a chance to lead, but I’d be a liar. I’m scared. I don’t want to be a number, I don’t want to be harassed more than usual. I don’t want to be put down because of my last name or because I’m Latina.

As far as the government goes, it’s been Red before. I just hope that they all have the common sense to put a stop to the hate and stop him from being the next dictator. It will be the end of anything “united” and in fact, will divide the country as it’s doing so right now.

I’m proud of those who are speaking out and calling the election for what it is. Those people are the ones that start the conversations and bring the issues never spoken about to light.

The protests that happened across the country last night were against the fact that this person could be put in a position of power. It was a staging of First Amendment Rights. It was a staging of energy, anger and fear for what’s to come and proof that not all of the United States are backing a man just because 50 percent of the country voted him into the White House.

Those people that came together are activists, organizers and community folks who’ve been working their tails off for a more just society. They work at non-profit organizations, they work with the people of the community, trying to better their situation and way of life. How do you think so many people knew about and acted on the protest? Because of organizers.

There were some good things to come across the election– quadrupling the number of Women of Color in Congress was one. Let’s see how they do against the privileged Red. More states are legalizing marijuana on different levels.

After the Black Lives Matter movement, the senseless killings and all the other messes we’ve found ourselves in recently, we want to move forward. But in all the different ways of looking at it, as a proud Latina, I’m afraid we’ve just taken one giant step backward.

Testimony: Being The Mind Reader

I always wonder what people are thinking. In that sense, I try to put myself in their position and in their shoes to understand their point of view, their perceptions. See, I was taught in high school by a very good friend of mine that we should do one thing and that was to love everyone around us. Love was the way that we were going to make the world a better place and loving individuals was the answer to a lot of complications in the world. Smile, hug, compliment, talk. There are different ways to love.

My friend who taught me so much in high school, Mr. Chris LasPiñas.
My friend who taught me so much in high school, Mr. Chris LasPiñas.

In turn, I added another thing to that: Listening. That’s one of the ways I show I care. I listen. It might also be because of the journalistic background I have that comes piled with curiosity and the need to know information; though for the most part, I don’t pressure people into telling me anything. I leave it open for them to express however they choose.

Along with that comes the understanding and the insight, which leads to relationship building and trust. I like to understand people, spend time with them and learn from them. This helped immensely with writing feature articles. Let me tell you.

So on a daily basis, based on what people say, I like to try to figure out where they’re coming from. Makes for great questions and conversation. Then I try to relate it to something bigger; a bigger societal issue, a bigger personal issue. Not always, but when it comes to public display of opinion, I do.

I usually wonder what people think of me. Not that I care, although it does depend on who I’m questioning. If you missed it, I wrote my first Testimony: The Daughter of Immigrants, which got great feedback. In that first testimony, I talk about the racial experiences that I have been through along with “outsiders'” perceptions of who I am and who my family is. I reread it and some of those passages and stories along with this Marc Anthony fiasco and the Sebastian De La Cruz drama with singing God Bless America and The National Anthem, respectively, at large sporting events, got me thinking.

So unAmerican we hung a American Flag bow from our door!
So un-American we hung an American Flag bow from our door!

I mean, if there is anything to make us feel that we are racially judged for looking a certain way, this is it. People feel that they can say what they want on social media without being badgered, yet I guess they haven’t realized (just like they haven’t realized that Puerto Ricans are citizens, we’re not all undocumented and Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in the U.S.) that about 70 percent of us Latinos (who aren’t REAL Americans) are online. “BAH! They’re everywhere!” 

So after reading a few of these tweets, I thought to myself, why would they think like that? Let me put myself in their shoes. After some thoughtful (and not so thoughtful) consideration, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t put myself in their shoes. I guess I understand where they’re coming from, which is a place of ignorance. What I’m saying is that I suppose I know too much about our American and U.S. history to even make those horrendous accusations. I’m here trying to educate myself and learn about everyone while they’re sitting in underground lairs, apparently. I mean, they called Marc Anthony Mexican. Do they not use Google? 

This reminds me of a quote from Walk Two Moons: “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.”

This, makes me consider two things that I’ve heard many people talk about. One is that because the way we look does affect the way people treat us, whether we want it to or not, we have to up everyone on it. As people of color we have to push the limits and make ourselves better than the norm, which goes back to me feeling like I need to prove myself, mentioned in the first testimony. However, this is a bit more than proving. It’s taking what you know and making it work for you to the utmost potential. Being ambitious and working for the betterment of self.

The second thing is straying from stereotypes. The reason why there are stereotypes is because we have created them ourselves. All Mexicans eat tortillas, teenage Latinas are almost expected to get pregnant, teenage Latinos are all in gangs and we’re all undocumented. This is shenanigans. We have to be able to go against the stereotypes and live what we say: We’re not all the same. Okay, so prove it. Show me how much you’re not the same.

Reminds me of the key chain and t-shirts from mall kiosks: “I want to be different, just like everybody else.”

If we don’t try to understand from the inside, nothing will change. If we don’t try to understand each other and educate ourselves first, we have no hope. The only reason why people cut their Twitter accounts after those fiascos was because someone was their to educate them on the reasons why they were wrong.

It’s a challenge, for sure, to try to share knowledge without coming off as a jerk or a know-it-all, but hell, if YOU don’t do it, who will?

So, how does this apply to mind reading, you ask? Well, usually, it’s because I feel that once I educate or share with individuals about myself, I’m a little more respected and people don’t have to guess anything about me or my life. We don’t always have to be mind readers if we’re open to learning about individuals and they, in return, are open to sharing.

That’s why I listen and learn. The more I know, the more open-minded I am about everyone– even the ignorant people who think they know a thing or two. This is why I got into the story-telling business. Sometimes it’s not about me, but it’s about the people who choose to let me in.

This may be why, if I’ve ever interviewed you, you’ll know I start off by saying, “Teach me.”

My Testimony: The Daughter Of Immigrants

There was a point in my life when I would write about myself on a daily basis. What I thought, how I felt, the drama in my life. I didn’t share it often and when I did, it opened a sort of Pandora’s Box. It was a blog that people couldn’t tie to me. Now, they can’t tie it to me at all. The email address is canceled, I can´t even log in anymore, but it’s all still there. I go back and read some of it and try to figure out what is still me in those pieces, if anything at all.

I also look back on it and think, damn, I was young. But I can’t really frown upon what I wrote and how I wrote it. It was the beginning of my writing adventure and the development of my thoughts through a keyboard. It was probably pertinent to my style and I was able to develop a distinct form of communication while I traveled and experienced college in the most stereotypical way.

Nonetheless, it was around the same time that I started closing up the door on personal expression and sticking to the objective, journalistic ideals along with forming opinions on fact for my blogs. It was difficult enough to open up about the fact that I have diabetes and it was part of my every day. I didn’t know how to rock that story until put in a position where I could with a factual standpoint.

MojadaHowever, last week, I had the opportunity to attend a sneak preview of Luis Alfaro’s new play, “Mojada” along with my friend Amor Montes de Oca, owner of Arte y Vida Chicago. The play is based on Euripides’ Medea; a story about immigration that takes place in Pilsen in Chicago. Present were Alfaro, the director Chay Yew, and a few of the actors.

For those of you who don’t know, I returned from Mexico last week, where I absorbed a lot of what was going on there and how it applied to our lives up here en “El Norte.” I was observing, listening and paying attention while on my trip. I learned about politics, I read the paper and I brought a lot of observations back with me.

During this preview, Socorro Santiago who plays “Tita” set the scene for the border crossing. The performance laid out a lot of what I had experienced and observed in Mexico. Mind you, I didn’t cross the border with a coyote or anything like that, but I have heard stories upon stories about crossing the border. From individuals who did it to stories from coyotes themselves.

So I decided to make a comment then ask a question. Alfaro claimed that it was more of a testimony than anything else, and after, told me that I should write it down. That’s when I realized that the issues that I had seen and my experiences have not made it on any blog that I have going right now—and I technically have three. My opinions have been confined to the spoken word, not the written and after my “testimony,” I remembered being in a dialogue with Stephanie Elizondo Griest, journalist and author, who told me that I could write the stories about what I’ve seen. She was also the first person to tell me that I was an artist, even as a journalist and that no one could ever tell me different.

***

As we stood in line at the immigration desk to come back into the United States, I could feel my nerves moving. I was antsy and ready to speak the best English of my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a U.S. born citizen, raised in Chicago by parents born in Mexico who eventually became naturalized citizens. I was blessed to be born dark, as was my sister; Dark skin, dark hair, dark, demon-like eyes.  In kindergarten, my classmate told me that I couldn’t like certain boy because I was too dark and he was too light, although later on I found out that he was Puerto Rican.

In the doctor’s office bathroom as a child, a woman complimented me on my skin color and asked where I was from. I told her I was Mexican, though my parents didn’t see it that way. “You’re American,” they always told me. But since the beginning, I was tied to my Mexicanidad, whether I wanted to be or not.

As a college student, it boggled people’s minds to think that I was a fluent Spanish speaker without being born in Mexico. “Where are you from?” was a common question. Now that I look back on it, I ask myself, why was that important?

***

Back at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, there were three desks open as I stood in line with my sister and my father. All I could think was, I hope they don’t stop us; ask us too many questions; question our visit to Mexico. The thought of having a man question me was worse. I don’t fear a lot of things, and usually, when I’m alone, I’m more confident. This time, I was with my family. I didn’t want them harassing my sister or my father.

If I tell this story above, people will ask why that would happen. I know people can relate to me when I say this and by no means am I ashamed. If there’s anything I’m ashamed of, it’s my American paisanos who don’t know how to respect other people.

2013-06-16 12.45.39My father is amazing, but like many other fathers, he has an accent when he speaks English. He’s dark, which is where I get my year-round tan from, and he’s a badass. But when you have people who don’t know that, and hear the accent, and look in from the outside, making racist assumptions, the accent is the affirmative that “he’s not one of us.”

I saw it when I was younger. I saw my dad go through situations like that in front of me and I hated that I was a child. I hated that I couldn’t speak up and I couldn’t defend him and I couldn’t do anything. When my dad would tell me stories about being stopped at the airport and questioned even though he had proof of citizenship and everything else that comes along with that, I wished so hard that I was there to make it stop.

Coming in from Canada once a few years ago, my parents were in the front seat of the family van. The immigration officer wouldn’t let up on my dad and my mom, with no Spanish accent whatsoever, yelled from the passenger side window, getting heated and upset. Again, I was too young. I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t say anything.

My aunt and uncle who were in front of us went through with no problem. My aunt, light skin with light brown eyes and my uncle who’s Cuban and Honduran, born in Chicago but looks Polish had no issues.

They pulled the van aside and made us go in to double-check my parents’ status. My mom pulled out her ID and said, “Look us up to make sure everything is kosher.” As strong and upset as she was in that office, she went home and cried to my uncle about the feelings she had during the whole ordeal.

The only thing I could tell my mother was that we were different and no matter how much you want to fit in, we’ll always be different and that’s OK.

Is it still considered assimilating even when you’re not accepted? If you reject your own heritage and aren’t accepted by the “new” one, where does that leave you?

***

The immigration officer was a white woman. The fact that she was a woman made me feel about 10 times better. I spoke to her in clear English, being amiable, telling her about our cancelled flights. Hearing her say, “Welcome home, guys,” was almost ironic to me, since a tiny piece of me felt that one of us would be rejected from “our country.”

This made me think of the time that I was pigeonholed and questioned because I spoke English too well. It makes me laugh now, but just like the ignorant people don’t know how badass my father is, people don’t know anything about me.

Some of my friends find it arrogant that I talk about my experiences, but they don’t know just how many people I’ve come across who will easily make assumptions about me if I didn’t tell them about who I am and what I’ve done.

I’ve gone to school, I have an education, I’ve worked with multiple people and yet, there is still a sense of needing to prove myself. I feel that it’s almost something passed down, like the color of my skin. I love my skin. I love that when people look at me, they can tell that I’m some kind of Latina and that they even question my multi-cultural look. I love it.

I don’t regret, resent or feel any type of shame, but the heritage that my parents passed down to me came with much more.

***

Baggage, Alfaro called it. We all come with that cultural baggage. It’s true, isn’t it?

At the end of my comment to him, I said, I feel so tied to my Mexican culture. I feel so tied to the people, to the stories, to the prejudice and assumptions. I’m so tied that I feel the same way that my father and grandparents did when they crossed the border and started living in this country.

By the way, have you ever thought about the will power and strength it took to do such a thing?

***

My father overstayed his visa as a teenager and crossed the border back and forth. He became a permanent resident in 1981, when he married my mother who became a naturalized citizen that year.

2013-06-16 13.55.58
Dad and Mom on their wedding day.

As a lot of people might see it, I was born with some sort of privilege. My mother, who I call the half generation since she was born in Mexico and raised in Chicago, pushed my sister and me to get an education. That was what was going to make us intelligent and active members of society. In a way, it was supposed to make us more American. I totally get that. And she probably got a bit more than what she expected.

As my mom sees it, her parents were the immigrants. My mom got the light end of the stick, looking more Italian than anything else. Moving from Pilsen and what is now University Village, my grandparents along with eight kids eventually settled in Humboldt Park in the ‘60s. My mom knows the city like the back of her hand. Until that day trip to Canada, she had never felt harshly judged and I love my mother because of that. She’s always felt that she had just as much the right as anyone else to do what she wanted and no one was going to stop her. She was going to live the dream.

Growing up, my mom corrected my Spanish as well as my English, taught me about preparation and always pushed reading, learning and gaining experiences. My mother gave me the drive to learn, without a doubt. I’m lucky that my first teacher has always wanted to be a teacher.

My father, who was orphaned at 16 and crossed the border at 19 to join his cousins in Chicago, is our tie to history and who we are as Mexicans. With family in Mexico City, Oaxaca and El Narajno, a town that still knows who he is and has more stories than my dad can ever tell me, it’s this story that makes me appreciate what makes me unique, different and beautiful.

He taught me Spanish, for which I owe him, and is an avid supporter of my work in the bilingual community. He’s proud of my sister and I and you can see it all over his face and his hugs and his conversation. He kept us grounded to what kind of people we should be and told us that it was good that we spoke Spanish as often as possible. Without ever saying it, my dad and I probably feel the same way about language: It ties us to the centuries of history we carry in our blood.

In 1990 my parents bought a house, moving us out of a gang-infested neighborhood where gunshots were common and discussion of who had gotten shot over the weekend took place around the dinner table. My sister and I grew up with a backyard, going to Catholic school and surrounded by family. We had our ups and downs, like anyone else raising teenagers, but in the end we came out stronger for it. I went off to school, got a master’s degree and came back to a family that was well-off and never in need.

My parents, you can say, did it right. Yet, the anxiety of physical perception on those rare instances, like crossing the border, still brings out something in me that I can’t describe but know and feel very thoroughly.

***

That was a testimony to what we live, Alfaro said in so many words after I handed him the microphone back. He said that because of the work he was doing, he was opening up the doors for other writers to share their own stories.

I told him that someone had to start writing the “Next Generation’s” story. There are a lot of issues we, as children of immigrants, face that no one pays attention to. The majority feel that we are immigrants or undocumented, but neither is true. We have our bicultural ways of living and loving it with all of our hearts.

When Alfaro said that he probably wouldn’t dive in to the Next Generation story, he told me that I should. I have observed quite a few things over the past few weeks which has made me begin my own dialogue in my head and with other people who are in the same situation as I am.

Again, this will not hinder who I am or what I do, but I aim to start a conversation, above all else. There are certain realities that we live that we have to see from a different perspective and start talking about. Alfaro’s work does that. Although I’m not a playwright, sharing my stories can only put a dialogue into motion.

I have been told various times that I should write this down and so here’s to the beginning of that process. Here’s to telling my personal story based on my created fact and the fact that I lived through it. That’s all I have and that’s all you need to identify.

#iVote because I matter. #iVote because you do, too.

#iVote because I don’t want to be left behind; because I feel like I’m voting for someone who’s going to do right for my community and not just me; because I have a voice.
#iVote because my grandmother came to give my mother, aunts and uncles a better life.
#iVote because my father ventured into an unknown country and gained his opportunities.
#iVote because I want my community to be recognized. #iVote because there are plenty of undocumented, deserving, immensely intelligent individuals who can’t.
#iVote because there is a power in many voices.
#iVote so that my country doesn’t end up in the deepest gutter; so that I can still remain prideful in something my family has put work into; so that people remember that money is not everything, but human beings are.

#iVote because I matter. 

After creating this video with Pícaro and watching the videos of each person highlighted in the short, I have realized why I vote and it’s not just because my mother told me to.

I went to my uncle’s house to record his reasons. After about an hour of sitting there and listening to the majority of his reasoning on politics and his talks with my grandfather and such, he narrowed down his reasoning to loving the country his parents brought him to for a better life. When you love something, you want to be as much a part of it as you can. For him, decision-making is a huge deal and voting affects us all because our life is determined by the outcome of the votes. We need to be a part of it, he said. The fact that my grandfather loved it here also struck a chord with me, especially since I never met him.

This concept idea came after a long development meeting in our partners, Wendy and Matt’s living room. Bottom line came when another one of our team members, Marla, said something about mimes silently condemning drivers for not slowing down at crosswalks for pedestrians. How did this conclude to to an #iVote video? Well, here’s how.

The majority of our parents and immigrant family members crossed the borders into this country of ours in order to survive and make a better life for our families. To hear that voting across the country was dwindling and that people didn’t feel it important to vote, well that’s just a slap in the face to the people who helped us succeed to who we are today. Bottom line, this video was to wake people up and encourage them to vote for what they believed in. Not for policy, but the real reason.

By not voting, in my eyes, you might as well not appreciate what was done for you; it becomes a slap in the face to those who did something to better your future.

My grandfather worked laborious jobs to provide for a family in Mexico, which brought my grandmother, two uncles and my twin aunts in her belly to this side of the border. My paternal grandfather was a bracero, working in the southwest to provide for my dad and his cousins. My father then crossed the border as a teenager to see what opportunities lay ahead for him. All of my family members vote.

In order to be counted, in order to have an opinion, in order to know that you’re not being left in the dust to fend for yourself, you have to stand up and say something. You have to be a part of the whole and in this country, we are privileged to have the opportunity to vote. Now, many have resented this idea, saying that all politicians are corrupt and no matter what we do, we will not have a fair shot in an election. That’s crazy talk!

It’s only because for every one person who doesn’t vote, there’s a whole bunch of people, in other cities, from other parties who do. That’s how we become silenced. Muted. That’s why they don’t hear us.

In Chicago, we have a slew of local and municipal elections which, in fact, affect the bigger picture. Voting in presidential elections is definitely important, but voting for your alderman, judges, state representatives and state senators is just as important because they decide how your taxes should be distributed, how your neighborhood looks, whether or not you’ll have a new park or greenery and they are to be held accountable for any types of mishaps that happen within the designated area.  Find out who your local representatives are!

Because our families came to this country, left what they knew behind and worked their tails off to give us a better shot at success, the LEAST we can do is spend, at most, 10 minutes at the polls this November 6 and every time there is a municipal election.

Who are these “Latinos” you speak of?

What is it about Latinos that lead people to believe that they have to be spoken to in another language. Ok, ok, I guess all of the speaking Spanish is a dead giveaway, but then again, why are people having such a hard time reaching this demographic of people? These black and brown people who speak different languages and just act so…so… differently?

Ultimately, what people don’t understand is that Latinos are just like the rest of the country. We listen to music, we speak English, we watch things in English and we go to school here. Let’s specify Latino as someone of Latin American descent who lives in the United States; immigrant generation through second, third, to ninth generation. Yes, there is such a thing. Usually, they’re known as Texans.

We just look at things differently. Many researchers in terms of language say that we’re smarter for being bilingual. When you talk about cognitive development, having an extensive vocabulary and having a sort of natural focus on things, it’s kind of impressive. Since we’re bicultural, we grow in a more worldly fashion, most of us. We are less likely to put others down because of their differences and more likely to learn about a variety of cultures in the world. If anything, the more diverse we are, the more we absorb.

But hell if you hear someone with an accent. They mark you as a foreigner and hold it against you that English wasn’t your first language, not that you’re learning a new one. Have you ever thought about it this way: I know they have an accent because they speak another language and therefore should be admired for speaking a language other than their own? Nah.

And that’s not just for Latinos, that’s for all immigrants.

Little me.

Since I was a kid, I spoke Spanish. Right out of the womb, I was talking to my dad and grandmother in their native language while growing up with my cousins, mom, aunts and practically everyone else speaking English. They tried to convince me I was American… the little American girl I was supposed to be until someone pointed out my tan coloring and a girl at school told me I was too dark to like a lighter-skinned boy. My first memory of Kindergarten was teaching the girl sitting next to me how to say the days of the week in Spanish. Since day one, I was spewing my Latin goodness into the world.

I knew I was different, but not in any way that was going to make me ashamed. If anything, it was going to show my parents how strong I could be as a girl of Mexican descent in this country and how I was going to make it work for me. I noticed all the differences growing up and how I was a part of organizations, clubs and more because I was brown and spoke Spanish.

I was going to be the educated Latina that no one was going to put down or insult indirectly (even though it happened anyway), because I was going to tell you the truth. I was going to tell you how it really was with the history, the insight and the stories.

After playing my role as an “angry minority” in college, a friend of mine told me, “Don’t hate, Christina. Educate.” And damn, Ric, I took that to heart. So here I am, explaining. Or at least trying to.

With that said, I feel like I have to teach almost everyone about who we are as a community, as a

Mural art in Pilsen | Chicago

culture and as a group that is going to be one of the most powerful in the country very, very soon. This is why I’m very much in favor of quality education for children of color, why I expect so much out of my sister and little cousins and why I expect goodness, quality and high standards out of those around me. If you hold them to a high standard, they will perform at a high standard.

I also believe in knowing your place, or that you even have one. This is why I tell people about Latinos’ history in the United States, because, darn it, we have been here for a very long time and we’ve contributed so much to the building of the country. Those kids I went to college with, who chose to learn about it, naturally made their way into social services to help, pick up and lend a hand to people we know need help, using education as the tool to help do that, not to learn about the situations. That came from experience.

Many of my friends and I, we’ve taught ourselves about our place in the country, what we’ve given, where we’ve lived and what caused societal issues that affected the underrepresented communities of the nation. We learn about it and tell our stories through music, writing, theater and standing up for ourselves against any kind of oppression whether stereotypes, discrimination or prejudice. We do it through marches and collaborations; love and support; toughness and expectations. And ultimately, my team and I plan on standing up for ourselves by changing the way people think about us.

This new community, this new generation of Latinos who have chosen to make a new path though education and equality, this is the generation of Latinos who will take over this country. These are the people you have to talk to: the professionals who sit in the next cubicle, your boss, the guy on the bus, your lawyer, your doctor, your waitress and the musician on the stage. They may not “look” Latino, but trust me, they are.  We’re all around you, so don’t be afraid. We probably like the same things you do, talk the same way you do and have pride in the same sports teams you do—and no, it’s probably not a soccer team.

You can talk to us in Spanish, we will understand you. But you know what? Treat us as humans, as equals. In the end, that’s what wins, isn’t it?

What students aren’t learning and what they need to know

I talked to an eighth grade class the other day at my grammar school, St. Nicholas of Tolentine on the southwest side of Chicago. I usually do this every year for my former teacher, with whom I’m now friends. She asks me to come in and talk during the beginning of their research paper topic scouting, especially since, as a journalist, I use similar concepts to find sources and get to the root of the stories at my job.

My introduction has changed every time I’ve talked. The first time I did it, it was much more formal and I had ideas on what I was going to talk about. This was when I worked for Café Media. The second time I did it, I felt rusty and I don’t quite remember why.

This time was a complete turnaround and I feel that it is because of where I am in my life, how much experience I have working with kids, and knowing what they need to hear.

When I talk to kids, I talk to them like adults; like I would my cousins. When I speak to them, I expect them to look me in the eye, listen to what I’m saying and have a drive that I can feel. You probably think, that is a lot to ask of eighth graders, but not how I see it. It’s crazy that I can actually use life experiences to back up my theory.

If we don’t expect ambition and drive from our youth, they won’t have it because it’s not a standard. We have to make it a standard, full of belief and curiosity to grow in educational knowledge.

I taught an introduction to journalism class for two semesters at the University of Illinois during my graduate program. It was great. But while teaching and getting to know my peers, I realized that there was a lot of information these kids weren’t getting in grammar school and high school. It was sad to say, but I saw the biggest distinction in students of color.

While a senior in college a group of friends asked me to help their frat brother out with a paper. As a college freshman, this guy was still writing five paragraph essays. Though this was a good place to start, I told him, this isn’t where you need to be. For four hours, I sat with him, explaining the nature of an outline, how to structure a thesis and how to formulate ideas that went above and beyond what he already knew. I had to explain critical thinking. Of course, I asked where he went to high school and what exactly he learned. I learned a ton in those four hours about him and what he wasn’t learning.

I keep this in mind every time I talk to students about papers and structure. When I have time, which I wish I had more of, I go and visit my old stomping grounds at Christopher House, where they have a college prep program for high school students. When I walk in, the coordinators usually assign me to help a student working on an English paper or some assignment that has to do with writing. Determinant of their level in school, there are some high school kids who need a push in the right direction while there are some younger students who don’t know how to spell.

It’s these situations that lead to my explanation of having expectations for oneself, not waiting for others to formulate who they need to be. They have to want it and not just academically, but socially and emotionally.

There was one eighth grade student at St. Nick’s who didn’t look me in the eye when he was speaking to me, I called him out on it. “Look at me when you talk to me, not at your desk,” I said. “Have confidence!”

Kids underestimate themselves a lot of the time. They don’t think they know as much as they really do and it limits their contributions in the classroom. I push creativity because that is what will lead to curiosity and questioning and learning.

“What made you pick your topic?” I asked them. “What do you want to know? What is your research going to show and what will it address?” I kept telling them to build curiosity. To develop a thirst for knowledge and what they want to learn about their topic.

Some kids had already done their research. They knew their topic, they had answers when I asked questions and I pointed them out. “See? It shows she did her research. She wants to know.”

If there’s anything I got from high school, it was a desire to learn and fill your head with knowledge. “You’re not going to use everything you research,” said their teacher. And I had to chime in: “That’s the best part! You get to fill your head with knowledge and insight into different things. And on top of that, your papers will be better because you actually know what you’re talking about!”

The majority (I think all but one or two) in the classroom were Latino and if there’s one thing that irks me about grammar school is that there are no Latino studies. The class had two themes to choose from: Black history and Women in history. Most of the class, with the exception of a few girls and a boy, chose Black history obviously because they thought writing on this topic would be easier. “That’s not true,” I told them. Little did they know how deep Black history was.

“Here’s a story idea for you. Where were Mexicans and Latinos when Blacks were encountering segregation and discrimination? They were there, right along side them and guess what. We were part of the segregation, too.”

It’s never talked about. Ever. No one even knew that we were here that long ago. Why? That’s the biggest question running through my head. Why don’t they know? The world in grammar school is Black and White, but how will Latinos ever grow up to succeed and prosper and hold their heads up when talking to a stranger if they don’t realize just how much of their own history lies within the boundaries of the United States?

In order to look into your future or know where it’s going, you have to know your past. It shapes and defines you. It makes you whole.

I wish I could go back to that classroom and let them know that we are here and were just as substantial in the passing of many laws and the development of this country. I want to let them know that for a lot of us, we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us. I want to let them know about the discrimination people in Texas endured, being treated as second-class citizens and that the water fountains were segregated with “Whites Only” and “Blacks and Mexicans Only.” I want to tell them that there were Puerto Rican riots here in the city of Chicago, that the first successful desegregation case in southern California it was  Mexican-American and that there were people who are still going through harsh realities even though we didn’t have a Million Man March or a Martin Luther King, Jr. to help us pave our way. But that our Chicano movement happened in California and spread throughout the country, just not into their text books; not the right way.

I want to tell them about the Latinas out there who have helped shaped literature, about the Latinas who have done such important things in the country’s history that they don’t know about. I want to teach them about their history, about their culture, about how they should hold their heads up high and be proud for being bilingual and have double the smarts that a monolingual person has. I want to tell them that college is not out of their reach and if anything, they should reach for the stars and the next universe.

If we don’t teach our children about their heritage and just how important it is to know where you come from, who will? If students don’t learn how to read and research and write now, when will they or will they ever? The questions simmer in my mind all the time. There are so many students to help and not enough time, but changing one kid’s mind can make all the difference in the world.

I had a few students come up and talk to me after I spoke to their class and tell me that they wanted to “wow” their teacher or change their topic because they wanted to learn more. I was thrilled.

During my talk to the students, I was inspired to give them a bit of motivation. I told them that the top three papers in the class would be published on Clique-Communications.com. You better believe that my friends were on board with the idea.

Education is the key to a substantial future and community. Teach a student. Tell them the truth. Tell them they’re worth it.

Here’s a little bit of information on “our” movement: