Institutions and identities…


Over the last week, every aspect of my identity  has undergone some sort of institutional attack by the Trump administration.  What’s even more saddening is that so many more people; friends, family, and strangers (fellow countrymen and fellow global citizens) have experienced the same attacks and yet have had to feel them on much deeper levels. To realize this suddenly Saturday morning with my children, while attempting to shake off the remnants of a difficult work week by reading a friend’s tweet… it is all surreal. 

My identity as the child of an immigrant mother who came to this country at 19, newly married to my father… a soldier in a semi occupying army in her native land, this part of me is under an old but vigorously renewed assault by the same country that welcomed my mother with open arms. I’ve always had to deal with prejudice and misunderstandings of one of my home cultures.  It is hard to read stories like this and not feel the impact at the core of your soul when you juxtapose those with the memories of waiting anxiously outside of customs to be reunited with your family once again.  Being a Panamian – American is not as hard perhaps as some other minority bi-cultural groups, but that identity is questioned and challenged for basic legitimacy and dignity nonetheless.  As is my Mexican heritage.  How should one respond to the building of a wall to keep separate the people on the other side you call Tio and primo?  I have a few choice responses swimming around my mind right now. 

As a husband to my wife, a woman who’s entire family lineage is born of a Muslim land where people are currently being barred from entry to the country we both call home… the attack is real. Like me, she can vividly recall the beginnings and endings of summer travel to our other homelands at the Tom Bradley international terminal… immerging from the tunnel to warm smiles greeting us. Attempting to imagine what other have been greeted with as of yesterday’s America is traumatizing. 

I’m infuriated by the attacks on women in general, as a father of two young girls who will be growing up in a “democratic” society that attempts to legislate and politicize their own bodies. Incensed by the economic and social inequities imposed and emboldened by this administration’s view on a women’s worth in the work place.  I’m sick to my stomach. 

I’ve already lamented about the attacks on my profession in recent posts. But I found this UCLA interview with public education champion Pedro Noguera to be informative and semi hopeful. Yet it is clear that Inand others will have to fight for the very right to envision our work through the lens of justice. 

And what of our work?  And that of others. While this new administration, like those of the past, asserts that they prioritize job creation and expansion of the middle class, they are about to enact policies that will completely decimate it. At the same time, they are drastically attempting to limit the power of labor organizing, lying to union leaders, placating them with overinflated estimates of infrastructure jobs to be created and squeezing out any real sense of union strength that will be necessary to preserve the working class. 

These are some of the identities that make up my daily existence.  And while I won’t quite adhere to the sentiment that my existence is being completely challenged… I know enough about history and contemporary society to understand that many people are feeling the pressure of these encroachments by the political apparatus in a way that brings on a type of existential and identity crisis that typically results in two outcomes: 

 1.  You become paralyzed with fear, afraid of the possibility that your existence is no longer welcome or sanctioned by the state… and you conform, playing along with the insanity in the hopes that you will get by until the next “transition of power” wishfully thinking it may be more merciful in the future. This option unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately is only viable for a few. 

2. You fight. Fight like hell to be recognized, never apologizing for who you are and where you are from. Because your whole life you’ve known to one extent or another that your identities, complex as humanity, were never fully accepted by the state. Your existence has always been challenged one way or another. 

It is the fight that has become unclear to many. And for those who are coming out of the privileged consciousness of false peace, it’s quite a cognitive dissonance to make the leap into war, even if that war is to be waged for your own self preservation. Because you have never really had to fight. But for those who have lived their whole lives under attack, there is nothing else but the fight. 

To be clear, if we are going to come out on the other side of this ok, we are going to need both types of folks. And the fight can take on many tactical variations and iterations. But fight we must. These words are one extent to the fight I will continue to be, for these words are me. And my government has not stolen them from me. Not yet… 

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