“We have the house and it is gated”: Latina/o Writers on Resistance

Rosebud Ben-Oni
November 29, 2016
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The pain and joy of the borderlands—perhaps no greater or lesser than the emotions stirred by living anywhere contradictions abound, cultures clash and meld, and life is lived on an edge—come from a wound that will not heal and yet is forever healing . . . we, especially we Chicanos and Chicanas, negotiate it in our daily lives, as we contend with being treated as aliens ourselves. This in essence is the greatest wound: the constant reminder of our otherness.

Norma E. Cantú,
“Living on the Border: A Wound That Will Not Heal”

Since the election, I’ve had quite a few men—all straight, all white, all identifying as liberal—explain to me what’s coming for me as a woman, as a Jew, as a Mexican-American with family on both sides of the border. Most of these men I call friends, and most mean well. Their anger wants to be my anger. But their fear is not my fear.

Last week, I went to visit my mother’s family who live on both sides of the border of Texas, a red state. Never have I understood better that a graduate degree in poetry does little to help with legal matters. Never has the visibility of being part of a mixed-race couple been more important in choosing where to go, even if it’s a brief trip to a grocery store. How many racist or sexist comments can one let slide by? How many times can I hear from relatives: Careful—this an open-carry state, and you never know who has a gun.

How many times can I hear from my mama: You think this country’s changed? It’s only revealing itself in full now.

In times like these, I turn to my fellow poets, to those who will not compromise, who will not be silenced, who are a most necessary force in this country, right now and always. I’m grateful for them. Below are their words, which I hope will get anyone reading this through that next rough day, that next rough hour, red state or not.

I’m grateful for them.

—Rosebud Ben-Oni

* * *

Up until last week I was working at an elite all girls private high school. I was only one of three women of color on the middle school faculty team. While there, I experienced more ignorance about race than I have in my entire thirty-two years of life as an Afro-Latina. I heard students say things like “blacks just need to get over slavery” and watched as a group of girls looked up and listened to the KKK anthem while laughing and dancing along. As an educator I felt it necessary to teach them right from wrong and when I could, I did intervene and have serious conversations with my students.

But the day after election, the school leader sent out an email about how we as a school and a nation “always stand behind our president” and that we need to pray together as a community and be kind and “not fall into revolution and disrepair.” These were his exact words.

I responded to his email by politely disagreeing with his statement and saying that I could not stand behind a president so vile. I told him I wouldn’t bring my politics into the classroom but I thought it was important that as a school who prided itself in “social justice for all” that we teach our girls how to fight for equality. I told him to reach out to me so we could plan training and discussions around matters of race and equality. He never responded to my email. The day before the Thanksgiving holidays, I submitted my letter of resignation. I know this is a privilege not everyone can afford, but I simply felt like it was something I had to do. I am fine with educating today’s youth and trying to make a better world for tomorrow, but I simply do not have the time or energy to educate grown folks.

—Jasminne Méndez

 

 The Glass Techo

We have spoken of how racist and sexist the U.S. is for having allowed a white male coup to take over the election, but I cannot help but think of the women of color in Latin America and whether their situation would have improved if we’d had a different outcome. For centuries, the U.S. and its allies have destabilized economies all over Latin America, via The Monroe Doctrine and corporate interests like The United Fruit Company (which evolved into the Chiquita Corporation). You are able to buy cheap flowers, cheap food, cheap clothing, cheap paper for books and writing, all items that support your ability to live and go to school, for example, while women in Latin America continue to lack the same opportunities. The overwhelming majority of rural people in Latin America live in poverty, with no real opportunity for education or life free from hardship, yet these people grow and supply our food, mine our minerals, cut down trees for us, etc. All of our leaders, from the conception of the United States, have kept this dynamic with Latin America (and Africa). The U.S. has historically enslaved the indigenous populations of America. Voting Hillary in would not have changed that. We invest our money, magically make a profit, and think there is nothing wrong with that. These investments that supposedly create money out of thin air are based on the enslavement of my people via cheap labor (which is actually slave labor). How in the world can I expect to have a truly different leadership when our system rests its heaven on someone else’s hell? We forget that in other countries there isn’t a glass ceiling, or techo de vidrio, to break. There isn’t even a house. We have the house, and it is gated.

—Dr. Grisel Y. Acosta

 

How shall we move?

Below are some of the comments/questions I received from my school tribe:

[mister,– if anything happens with trump, we will have to move back to zacatecas/ mister, my dad didn’t go to work today, we’re afraid of what will happen when he gets to work, his boss voted for trump /mendez – hell we gonna do, my whole family is on obamacare, we gonna be left out to die/ mister,  (almost numb) why would my parents show me all our tax information, all the mortgage papers and then explain to me how to register my sister for when she goes to middle school next year, are they going somewhere]

The days after have been an echo of this.

One white teacher asked [is this a normal reaction] and I thought back to my youth. I remembered a dinner table topic—if Apa gets picked up by immigration or the cops, mijito, to the Rio Grande Valley we go. If Ama dies suddenly, you will not live in the United States any longer. We always had the following in one bag: a week’s change of clothes, $500 in cash, and a set of passports, birth certificates and visas in an envelope. When I said this, the teacher said [wow, the closest thing I can compare to this is how we move if there is a fire in the house] It is the same, sir. This is just a much bigger fire and I have to teach this lot how to stand and be bombero as fuck.

Lupe Méndez

 

We need to recognize that this country has been a plutocracy for some time and now has elected an autocrat and an extremist, nihilistic cabal. We need to recognize that nothing about this is normal or should be normalized.

We need to recognize that electing a Climate-denying government at this time is an act of nihilism, one that threatens to make our planet uninhabitable.

We need to recognize that this country was founded on genocide and slavery and their legacy continues to the present day; as I write, water protectors are terrorized by militarized police serving banks and oil companies. The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and it’s likely to grow.

We need to recognize that white supremacy is the cancer of this society, that Trump’s election is a testament to its sickness.

We need to recognize that we have an economy that serves the 1% and leaves everyone at the bottom fighting for crumbs.

We need to recognize that both parties have failed us and the Democratic Party must transform into a true grassroots party if it’s to survive.

We need to recognize that the incoming administration resembles governments both parties have imposed on the global south, that our collective silence on this has been a form of complicity.

We need to recognize that we live in a country deeply segregated along race, class, and regional lines, that people of all colors are suffering, even if we don’t know the particulars of their reality.

We need to recognize that the election of a Trump would have been much more difficult in a country where people were less desperate and had access to steady work, healthcare, and education. We need to think about all of the people who did not vote.

We need to recognize that this election is part of a larger global phenomenon, that the vacuum left by neoliberalism is giving rise to ultra-right neo-fascism.

We need to resist what’s coming, and we need to be more vigilant and organized, more courageous and compassionate, more wildly imaginative than ever before.

— Florencia Milito

 

Filthocracy 2016 (Radio Edit)

Mourning heir reeks of frat boy flatulence. Once White, now Dung Bile Green House Effect. Where bullies become king. With one oil-rigged election. Pipelines and bloodlines strangle the ballot. Twisting courthouses into brothels. Salvage Black Water from sewer. To blacken lungs, bludgeon the throng. In this Jim Crow 2.0 Reality TV neoliberal prison. Executive order to execute empirical evidence. Purge to make the Middle classless, the Heartland heartless. Hail ALEC bills. Hail hooded doubt merchants. Hail fracked holy lands. Hail no bid contracts. Hail vulture fund perverts. Hail the disingenuous. Hail The Cult of Surveillance. Hail Columbus. Barricade Columbus Circle. Blame the duped, the generous. Queue up the dissidents for a ride on the Judas Cradle.  Death by Privatization. While we suckle screen-teats, baffled by fraud cases staining the National Mall. Inquisition Reboot. Selfie narcotics prime the pump for Narcissus of State. Grand Wizard regime, grave gold-diggers deifying deregulation. Abortion legal only for fetuses eighteen years or older. Crown of Diamond studded entrails slapped on The Almighty Bloviator. So he can grab us by our rights, by the land, by the resources. Dry drill us in Flint and Dakota without litigation. Trained all his life for this mass molestation. Go blame the left, the indy, the other. Make everyone other. Fault lies in the starstruck, dumbstruck by faulty logic of think tanks. No Brexit here. Can’t order no Quilombo on Amazon. Stuck on stupid of Citizens United under one Verizon. Metacom warned us. Bolivar Warned us. Of Africom. Of Viacom. Of White Male Torture Fantasies made legit by the market. By tech booms busted like heads of Black Boys on Mopeds. Atahualpa warned us. Yrigoyen warned us. Of the arrival of Swindler Supreme, Rapist in Chief. All bow to the loudest, the rudest. Glamorize this new barbarism. Alt-lynching. Alt-misogyny. Alt-Fascism. Safe space demolition. May the roofies wear off before we wake on a catwalk auction block dressed in shackles by couture.

—Vincent Toro 

 

The Fence

The steps you must’ve taken to get here.

Rio Grande, Progreso, Texas (Photo courtesy of Octavio Quintanilla)

To touch it. What you must’ve dragged behind you.

How heavy your shadow. El Salvador. Guatemala. Honduras.

Feel the steel under your hand. As if touching your husband’s spine for the last time.

See, it’s not as big as you imagined.

You thought that to scale it your feet would have to keep climbing even after your death.

But it’s so small.

Squint your eyes and see in the distance a jackrabbit jumping it with ease.

See how you can pick it up with your fingers and move it out of your way.

So small.

Like the country ahead of you and that you know so well.

The one they keep taking away.

You’re here. Get close. Touch it.

Border Fence, Los Indios, TX (Photo courtesy of Octavio Quintanilla)

Reach your hands between its open ribs.

—Octavio Quintanilla

(Note: First photo is Rio Grande River at Progreso, TX; second is the Border Fence at Los Indios, TX. Both courtesy of Octavio Quintanilla.)

 

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