If I see that stupid picture of Donald Trump and that pile of food he calls a “taco bowl” one more time, I will vomit. And then cry. And then yell. And maybe cry again. I will do something.
I could see the absurdity the first time I saw it on Facebook. I could see why people thought it was funny the next three times it popped on my wall. Then it took over my wall. Then it was on Twitter. Then it was all over Twitter. Then it was on the New York Times. Then CNN. Then the BBC. Then AZCentral. It has ceased to be even slightly amusing. I suppose I shouldn’t blog while angry, but it’s happening.
I’m glad people are making a big deal out of this, because it is a big deal. But I can’t look at it anymore. I can’t stand in mocking solidarity with those who are outraged or find it absurd. It’s hurtful to look it. This is causing me pain.
I’m going to try and do something which may prove to be impossible. I’m going to try and describe what it’s like for me to be discriminated against. Keep in mind, I am speaking purely from my own personal experience as a “mixed race” Latina.
The first and only time I ever had a school playground altercation was when I was in the fourth grade. Some classmates and I were standing around talking about what we “were.” We understood that we were all American, but we were talking about the part that makes us hyphenated. One girl was French and Italian-American. One boy was German-American. I said was Italian-American and Mexican-American. One boy said Mexicans were stupid. I kicked him as hard as I could and told him to take it back. Through his tears, he obliged. The group conversation ended right there. I wish I remembered more of what came next. I think that in itself is pretty telling. No one told on me. I know I didn’t ask them to keep it a secret. Maybe they agreed with me. Maybe it was just one of those kid things.
Modern discrimination usually isn’t that blunt. It’s subtle but deep, which makes it more painful with time. It’s passive-aggressive, which makes you try to talk yourself out of it, like they didn’t mean it or you must have misunderstood. Make no mistake, there is no misunderstanding. I’ve heard stories of people asking my uncle if he was “an illegal” before signing a contract with his flooring company, which he owned, by the way. I listened to my grandfather tell us how he had to convince the bank he was a veteran when he was trying to buy a cabin because they didn’t even believe he was a citizen, despite all the paperwork showing he was born in the United States and lived here all his life. I waited my turn to try on some jewelry with my mom at the silver cart at the mall, only to have the woman working there slam the case shut when we were next and tell us not to touch anything. I’ve sat with my hands gripped to a theater seat as a white actor in brown make-up played the part of Ritchie Valens in a musical, affecting an exaggerating Latin accent and shimmying across the stage. Any 90’s Latino kid knows Valens was born in California and didn’t speak a word of Spanish. The mostly white audience gave him a standing ovation, in case you were wondering. I’ve listened to my mom tell me about how her polling place couldn’t find her name this year, despite having gone to the same place for over a decade now. I’ve seen the scars on my family members who were physically attacked. I’ve missed family members while they were in jail.
Modern discrimination starts out feeling like righteous indignation. I have that first flush of “how dare you,” which is probably what made me kick that kid when I was nine. Then it sort of burns into embarrassment. See, this kind of stuff usually happens in a public setting. Even though I did nothing wrong, I know other people are watching. The situation is out of my control. I don’t want it to escalate. So my mom and I back away from the silver jewelry display case and timidly point at the ring I like. But now, by ignoring the moment and continuing to engage in the situation, I’ve allowed it to happen. I made it seem okay. Then comes the shame. I feel trapped. I want to take the moral high ground but what am I going to do? Storm out of a live theater performance? So I sit. And I stew. That’s when I have time to think.
I remember every other time I’ve felt like this. Anger, embarrassment, shame, and for what? What did I do? I was born with brown skin. My family was born with brown skin. That’s why the police tried to shove a stabbing under the radar. That’s why a life was derailed when a public defender pushed the plea deal because didn’t think he could defend against drug charge on someone who looks like that. That brown skin. Our skin. Our blood. I can’t change this fundamental part of me. Why should I want to? Why should I have to? This is ME. This isn’t self-love; this is existence. It’s like air. I didn’t put it there, but I need it to survive. And THIS is what THEY think of ME:
I’m not to be trusted. People who look like me are not to be trusted. Nope, back up: people who are darker than me are not to be trusted. See, I can “pass.” So I shouldn’t worry, right? I shouldn’t be upset when a certain presumed presidential candidate says people who look like my family are rapists and thieves. I shouldn’t be upset when he calls for a wall to enforce an arbitrary boundary that is less than 200 years old. But I am upset. So what’s a presumptive presidential nominee to do? Oh, I know! Take a picture with some misshapen mass of food that’s supposed represent my cultural heritage. Hey, everyone, check out this awesome gringo! He loves Hispanics! I’ll just go take this pathetic piece of pandering and sit my Latina ASS DOWN!
I recognize that racism in this country has, to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda, gone from latent to blatant. My experiences are nothing compared to the atrocities committed against others. For one, I’m still alive. I am grateful. I recognize my privilege. I will use it. I will do something. I will speak up. I will advocate. I will vote. I will try so hard not to let my feelings end in shame. I will try so hard not to let this anger evaporate into the void. I will channel it into something helpful. And I will not look at that picture anymore.