A few days ago, I was walking to class on my campus’s quad, and I was speaking on the phone as I trekked through the snow. 9 out of 10 times, when I am speaking on the phone it is to a family member from Spain, so I am speaking Spanish. I know I’m a loud person, and I often don’t realize the volume at which I am speaking. This is a personal thing, it has nothing to do with being Hispanic. As I was on my call, absolutely minding my business, a total stranger yelled, “other side of the wall,” as he snickered to his friends. It all happened so fast that I froze. I kept on walking, and my voice seemed to find its way into the depths of my gut. I’m glad that my immediate reaction is never to fight, yell, or be aggressive (although, I definitely would love to say a thing or two to this dude in rather loud Spanish), but I hate that in these unexpected moments I completely freeze up and it keeps me from defending myself and what I believe to be right.
“Other side of the wall.” Let’s take a moment to just let that sink in. This guy’s brain is programmed in a manner in which, not only does he find a joke like this amusing, but he came up with it in a matter of under 15 seconds. I know that there always will be racists, but that still doesn’t make me immune to the shock of every micro and macro aggression related to race, ethnicity, and nationality. This guy is a total stranger to me, yet he decided this joke was funny enough to share with me – somebody on a phone call who he had never interacted with.
I know that things like this, comments without any threats, are not putting me in danger, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to talk about it. I am not hurt; I am angry. The fact that racism is still an issue, at absolutely any level, is an indicator that a lot of work needs to be done. We are far from racial and ethnic equality, and this is one tiny example on a very large scale of injustices that occur every single day. I’ve taken a step back from blogging for a few months while putting in some serious thought about how I want to approach my activism. I felt as though my dozens of previous posts were too focused on negativity and anger without solutions. This is why I put almost 80 of my posts on private. I haven’t come to a decision yet as to what I believe is the most productive form of activism, but I decided that this piece is going to come straight from my heart. That is what IIB is about.
I think in lists, so I’m going to spit one out full of everything I think you need to know.
1. Supporting “the wall” makes you a racist. Defending “the wall” also makes you a racist.
If you do not know what I mean when I say “the wall,” here is a link to an in-depth explanation. In short, Donald Trump would like to build a wall along the border of the United States and Mexico in order to put a halt to illegal immigration. President Trump has made remarkably horrendous comments about Mexican people, and their country as a whole (among a million other extremely offensive and racist comments he has made). “The wall” was a big part of Trump’s presidential campaign, and its development (even just hypothetically) is a blatant attempt at making the United States a predominantly White country. Does this ring any bells? *cough* Hitler *cough*
2. Not all Hispanic people are Mexican.
I am absolutely not bashing on Mexican people here, they have a beautiful culture full of lovely individuals. I just need everybody to be aware that there are dozens of other countries from which people are considered Hispanic.
3. The labels “Hispanic” and “Latinx” are challenging, but I am going to do my best to break them down for you.
I took a class on cultural diversity last semester, and the following is my takeaway from the discussion that we had about the labels “Hispanic” and “” The term “Hispanic” means that you come from a Spanish-speaking country, while the term Latinx (Latino is the label for men, Latina is the label for women, and Latinx is the gender neutral term) refers to people who come from countries in Latin and South America.
So, for example, somebody from Mexico is considered both Hispanic and Latinx because they come from a country in which Spanish is the dominant language spoken, and they come from a country located in Latin America. A person from Brazil would be Latinx, since they come from a country in South America, but they are not considered Hispanic since they come from a country in which Spanish is not the dominant language (it’s Portuguese). This all makes more sense if you know the historical context of Spain, Portugal, and Great Britain conquering certain countries. Somebody from Spain (like myself and my family members) would be considered Hispanic, since they come from a country in which Spanish is the dominant language, but they are not Latinx since they do not come from a country in Latin or South America.
The terms “Latinx” and “Hispanic” are not interchangeable terms, but they are often used together in labeling the community as a whole. I identify as biracial in terms of race, since one of my parents is a person of color (my dad is from India and has dark skin) and one of my parents is not (my mom is from Spain and has light skin). Hispanic/Latinx is not a race, though. Historically speaking, some conquerors from Europe had children with the local indigenous people. These children were either “Mestizos,” (half White, half non-Black Indigenous), or “Mulattos,” (half White, half Black). So, as an example, there are light-skinned and blonde Cubans, but there are also Black Cubans. Hispanic or Latinx does not have a “one size fits all” look. This is why on American legal forms you are asked first if you are “Latino/Hispanic,” and then you are asked if your race is White, Black, Asian, Native American/Pacific-Islander (I have issues with this label, but that is a post for another day), multiracial, or other.
So, I am a White Hispanic, and Asian person. I fall under the multiracial category, but if I were able to check more than one box (instead of just selecting multiracial) I would select White and Asian. I have never identified as Latinx, but I definitely strongly stand by labeling myself as Hispanic. It is a big part of who I am as a person, my values, and how I was raised. However, I identify as White-Hispanic. This includes the term “White,” which is a label that I don’t feel like encompasses who I am as a person at all. However, I have light skin. I’m pale, pasty, doughy; I’m White. There’s no two things about it. I often consider myself as “passing,” which means that I do not identify as solely “White,” but that is what most people would guess for me from just looking at me. Having light skin, regardless of ethnicity or nationality, has its social privilege. I have escaped a lot of racism because of the pigmentation of my skin. That was long, but now you know all about the labels of “Latinx,” “Hispanic,” and how they are actually not terms of race.
4. Not all Mexicans or Latinx people in the United States are undocumented immigrants.
Most are not. Many were born here. Many came to this country legally.
5. Not all undocumented immigrants are bad people.
They’re not all rapists or drug dealers, as Donald Trump has suggested. There are some undocumented immigrants who are doing bad things, and there are some documented immigrants and American-born people doing bad things. However, the majority of undocumented individuals are good people who were dealt a rough hand of cards and want to improve the quality of their lives, as well as those of their children. There is a lot of immigration reform that needs to be done. Although immigration should be done legally, sometimes people do what they have to do to get food on the table and roofs over the heads of their children. Immigrants are hardworking people who are trying to make a better life. It’s really easy to label undocumented immigration as wrong from a warm house and on a full stomach. I wish that all people were taught to treat others with empathy. The rotten people are the ones who think that we should use the resources that this mighty country has to build an unnecessary wall instead of taking care of the struggling, cold, and/or hungry people that are dying here every day. A parent trying to provide their child with alimentation and shelter is not a rotten person.
6. Discriminatory jokes of any kind are never funny.
7. It’s not “just a joke.”
I will not “just calm down.” I get that I am bound to receive more hate because I am outspoken about my beliefs on race and ethnicity, and I am willing to handle it as an activist trying to make a difference.
8. I am very grateful that my parents were both able to immigrate here legally and that I have never had to worry about either of them (or myself) being deported.
I am grateful that my family was in the circumstances to come here legally. My parents are both the most hard-working individuals that I know. They are so kind, and an amazing addition to this society. I am so grateful that I have never had to worry about having a home to go sleep in, where my next meal would come from, or having my family sent out of our home country. I acknowledge that these are privileges. I cannot imagine the pain and damage a joke like this would have caused somebody who did not have these privileges.
9. I refuse to think of this country as an anti-immigrant place.
I am a first-generation American. I was born and raised in Michigan, and when asked my hometown, I don’t hesitate to point it out on the palm of my hand. However, when I’m asked where my home is, I think of the faces of my mother, my father, and my paternal grandfather (the three people who I lived with until I went away to college). I see the faces of these three lovely individuals whose first languages were not English, whose names are almost always mispronounced, whose first times visiting the United States were as adults. I see my mother, my father, and my dadaji; they are my home. I, an American, cannot think of home without them – three immigrants.
I like eating apple pie, watching football, singing along to the Dixie Chicks, and saying y’all. I am American, and my family belongs here just as much as I do. Because, I love them more than any stars, stripes, pledges, or fanfares. This country has given my family so many amazing opportunities. My mother became the first person in her family to graduate from high school, and then she came to the United States where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree, and two Master’s degrees. My father came here and worked his way up the corporate ladder and is an extremely successful engineer. They achieved the American dream together, and the product of that is me. We are some of the lucky ones, and I know that this country does not treat all immigrants as well as it has treated my family. This country would not be my home without my immigrant parents. This country is not my home without my immigrant parents.
I’m going to end this by asking you – please be kind to others. Please stay educated, stay woke, and stay kind. Jokes like the one that I dealt with today are just the gateway to bigger, more severe, more violent issues. Stand up for yourself and for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
I’d like to share with you a few of my favorite songs by one of my absolute favorite artists, Logic. Music is something that I use to help me through anything in my life, positive or negative. Logic is an American rapper who happens to be biracial – just like yours truly. I relate to a lot of his music, and I am specifically in love with his latest album titled, “Everybody.” I love the activism that I’ve heard from some of my favorite rappers’ lyrics (Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, J Cole, to name a few). All of it is amazing, but Logic really hits the spot for me as a biracial individual who has struggled with racial identity. I think that the way he discusses race is so personal to him, yet relatable to biracial people, and oh-so powerful overall. While these pieces may not be as relatable to non-biracial people, I still think that they are excellent at getting you to think about race, ethnicity, and the surrounding issues. The urgency that is communicated in these songs is one that I hope will infect your actions and race-related dialogues in the future. This whole album is fantastic, but here are my favorite tracks.
Let’s talk about race, and specifically what we can do as individuals to make our communities more inclusive and just. Tweet me at @midha_ind or comment below to start a dialogue. I look forward to the IIB community being a collaborative space to discuss important issues and provide encouragement to take action on these matters.
With so much love,
P.S. – The mural pictured in the cover image is in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.