I used to think that even though racism still exists we really had made great strides as people away from racism. That was until this year’s election. Prior to this year people were still racist, but it was kept behind closed doors. Being racist was shameful, not something to be proud of; you wouldn’t shout your bigotry from the rooftops, until now.
A few weeks ago, I was sadly reminded of the reality of racism on multiple occasions and just how loud and proud people are really getting about it.
The first incident was when I was enjoying a nice dinner that my friends had made for a group of us. We were laughing, catching up, and listening to music loud enough that you could realistically only hear the person next to you. I had picked to sit near a friend and her mom who was asking me about my family.
I of course started off with my dad’s side of the family, partially because my mom doesn’t have any family that is alive anymore and also because I am proud of my Mexican heritage. I managed to get out about six words which were “Well my dad’s side of the family is Mexican…” before my friend’s mother abruptly cut me off.
She looked me deeply in the eyes before saying, “I am so sorry for any of your Mexican relatives; I hate all Mexicans,” the same way you may tell someone that it’s raining out or today is a Thursday.
I am and have always been an outspoken woman, but this is the first time in my life I found myself stunned into silence. I could feel my cheeks flame up with a combination of blotchy anger and shame. But I couldn’t find any words to defend not only my family but my entire existence.
Due to the music, the only one who heard was my friend whose mother had just apologized for my entire race. I was hopeful that in this moment where I couldn’t find the words to stand up for myself, someone else would, but I was sadly let down again. My friend’s only response was, “Oh she didn’t mean it like that. She married a Mexican man and it didn’t end well.” That was it. That was the closest I got to an apology. A half assed excuse.
I decided I would brush it off to the best of my ability because I’ve learned it’s futile to try and change the mind of a middle aged racist. I figured that was hopefully the worst of my week or maybe even the worst of my month. But yet again, I was mistaken.
The second incident was in my natural hazards class, which happened to be just two days later. We were doing an online poll survey where people can input their responses and it shows up on the screen to, “What could you put along the rivers banks to mitigate risks from flooding?”
At first, a flood of answers you’d expect appeared on the screen slowly: a dam, a levee, and rocks. Then appeared an answer I literally couldn’t even fathom. In bright red letters was the response, “MEXICANS.” Someone in my class honestly thought a humorous suggestion to prevent flooding was to put Mexican people in the way.
I can feel the words, “What the fuck” slide off my tongue as if it were just a reflex. I reread it just to make sure I was seeing what I think I was along with the rest of the class. The girl next to me actually laughs. In my classroom taught by three different professors not a one seem to even consider commenting on the giant red “MEXICANS” for an answer on the screen; they ignore it.
Perhaps maybe they thought it wasn’t a big deal. Or even worse, maybe they thought it was a “joke.” I made a list of excuses for them as to why they chose to not shut down that comment just as fast as it appeared on the screen, but I needed them to step up.
I am so tired. Tired of being the angry Mexican girl who is just “a little too sensitive.” So I said nothing and everyone pretended like it wasn’t happening.
But I cannot pretend I didn’t see it. I cannot ignore it or choose to overlook it because I carry it with me everywhere. I feel that shame in my bones (that feels similar to concrete).
I have been forced to take a thousand steps back in my journey to self-love that I have been working so hard on.
But fuck that, honestly.
How dare people make me feel so small and ashamed of something I have felt proud of my whole life.
I refuse to allow that because I am honored to have brown sugar skin and all the wonderful values and world views that come along with it. I will continue to find ways to love myself in a world that thrives off my self-hate because I owe that to myself.
To all my Chicanx people:
With the next month unfolding and the presidential election closing in, I urge you to not lose sight of yourself. Do not let go of your pride or your resiliency. Keep people close to you who remind you of everything there is to love about yourself. People who will not make excuses on racist’s behalf but will breathe fire down their necks for their ignorance. On the days where the weight of shame is too much to bear: cry about it, scream, or rant to your best friends for hours. Don’t ever begin to feel like you bring it up too much or that you’re oversensitive because you are not. Your feelings are valid. You are valid. Never forget.
Grace Espinoza is a junior undergraduate student at SCSU, majoring in Social Work. Grace works at the Women’s Center and the American Indian Center on campus. Grace is a straight, Mexican Portuguese/white woman with a passion for social justice, feminism, and poetry. She has been a published poet several times beginning in the seventh grade and is honored to contribute to Collective Feminism.