I’ve grown up in your midst the past 35 years. I grew up in a place named after a native tribe, long since gone from their lands, where kids teased each other openly about losing wrestling matches to the nigger. Placed where students named Janel White of all names made fun of other students’ lips and neck rolls, visible after a fresh hair cut, because they were too black.
I came of age in the care of babysitters who hailed from the Midwest. Who would openly use racial terms like nigger to communicate their disgust for a people they thought less of, people who looked like my grandfather, mi Abuelito.
The only time he came to this country, he never returned to his home. He died not too far away from the Hamilton sign, a billboard off interstate 5 where the Hamilton family exercised their 1st amendment rights to put political perspectives for commuter consumption next to a caricature of you, America… As if Uncle Sam himself had a parting thought for you as you passed through this typical small rural town.
Welcome to America. Now speak English
This message would later be one of the thoughts for the day, years after my grandfather died here. I still use the poster of this particular iteration of the sign my friends had made for me as a teaching tool in my Language Acquisition class at Antioch University.
My upbringing took me from the rural parts of Southwest Washington to the suburban Southern California. Los Angeles was in the midst of an uprising after the police officers whine were tried for beating Rodney King were also acquitted of the charges. Before I left for California, I caught a glimpse into the power of internalized racial oppression when one of the only other Latino kids in the school told me to call him if I needed help when I got to Los Angeles. He said, “I’ll come down with my shotgun and show them niggers.” And so I left.
It was there, in one of the most wealthy parts of Southern California that I learned about the frightening intersection of class and race. The only black students were teammates of mine on the football team, not acknowledged for much else. I became the dirty Puerto Rican, a token Latino minority. I must admit that I internalized a part of this racial stereotyping too, for I was not strong enough to speak out and rise above it, my voice had yet to be found.
It was here that I also learned about the complicity of our law enforcement with upholding the relations and subsequent treatment that highlight our ethnic differences rather than our common humanity. Scared to speak back at police officers who berated me in front of my friends for “talking shit while I was arrestable,” for being too scared to remember to give the officer my last name when asked, even though I could see my house and it was 5 minutes past curfew.
And one of the most powerful life lessons I carried from this place was from the classroom. One an honor roll and gifted student, I was confused at the time, not fully comprehending my lack of academic success, almost not graduating high school. I couldn’t understand why a student like me could not do well at a supposed nationally recognized blue ribbon school, just as much as I could not understand why my history teacher was adamant that the American Civil War was not fought to abolish slavery, but was fought over states versus federal rights… TO OWN AND EXPLOIT HUMAN SLAVES!!!
It is here still, to this day, where schools still struggle to educate minority students in a safe and dignified manner, free from any racial prejudice or oppression.
My journey has now brought me to this place. I have had the blessed fortune to start and raise s family in one of the most segregated urban centers in America: Los Angeles. I have the privilege of commuting only 10 miles into the inner parts of South Central to work with some of the most creative, intelligent, hard working, and inspiring communities. I have held this privilege for the last decade. Teaching and learning from black and brown youth. Mis estudiantes.
I have found my voice. And I want to use that voice today, on Thanksgiving, – often referred to Thankstaking by those unimpressed with the often unacknowledged and misrepresented history of this holiday – to truly give thanks for what I’ve been able to accomplish in this life, here in this land.
I am thankful that this land is full of people willing to lend a hand, work hard for themselves and others. I am thankful for the opportunity to reflect privately and publicly, exercising my first amendment right. I am thankful for the spirit of a people that truly believe by putting into daily action, the ideals that gave birth to you America;
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
I am thankful for those brave enough to resist the system that subjugates their very existence, knowing that to be American is to settle for nothing less than justice. America, on this day know that as much as we love you… The people demand that you change, that you continue to grow and mature, and that you evolve into a better iteration… One that truly lives out your founding ideals. Rest assured we will help you. Because we love you.
Citizen number (whatever)
Photo credit: Mear One