what are you?

From a very young age, I was made aware that I was different; not different in how we are all unique, different because of the names I was called (spic, pork chop, monkey), questions I was asked. I heard,"What are you?" so often before the age of ten, I began to believe I was an alien.

At thirteen, my bus mate and I were questioned by the police as to why we were walking in our neighborhood that afternoon. Why two brown girls with our backpacks bursting with books seemed like a threat to those two officers, I will never know. But I knew they could see me as I opened the gate to my yard (my friend lived a block over). As we were questioned, I remembered our social studies teacher taugt up about out Fourth Amendment Right. Luckily, my knowledge wasn't needed during this encounter, but my heart remained in my throat until they pulled away five minutes later.

That same year, we were assigned to read Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. We read this after Maus, a graphic novel that depicts Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experience as a Polish Jew & Holocaust survivor. We were well acquainted with atrocities inflicted upon those deemed different and not human. With out reading of Black Life Me came project that remins one of the most powerful things I have seen from thirteen year old.

Essentially, we were to create situations within society similar to how John made himself black. I'd like to note that NO BLACKFACE was involved. All projects were subject to teacher approval. Some folks partnered with other races for their own experiment of treatment of blacks vs treatment of whites. One gal even when to the mall with a pillow to see the stigmas black teen mothers are faced with. It emotionally effected her so much that she had the class in tears.

Everyone was deeply affected by their projects. At thirteen, how do you grapple with the fact that there has been no progress in the years since John Howard Griffin wrote the book? As we grew older, we began to experience those injustices directed at us. The most vile, racial epithets lobbed at our athletes when we visited more rural areas. They wanted to intimidated the "city kids," yet it fueled our beast mode and proved on the court/field/track that we can and will rise above the bullshit. Plus, we didn't need to resort to bigotry and intolerance. At 16, we were well acquainted with the DWB-- Drive While Brown/Black. It's when you get pulled over in a predominantly white neighborhood for bullshit reasons:

  • tail light is out
  • what are you ladies doing out here?
  • did you know your right headlight is out?
  • where you going in such a rush?
  • just checking to make sure things are alright.

    Alright? That my car is my own? That I want to go home after a long work day? Unless I am straight up running people over, there's never been a real reason for me to be pulled over. I worked in a predominantly white shopping mall for many years and was subjected to some awful microaggressions. White colleagues would try to say,"maybe they didn't mean it that way," or "you're overreacting." but having lived this experience as a woman of color, I'm pretty sure I know when microaggressions are being lobbed at me, no matter how passive aggressive.

    So, what was the point of me rambling on about all of these things? From a young age, I have been made to feel other, not only in society at large, but also within my familial circle. Because I don't eat beans and am shy to speak Spanish, I'm deemed "not Puerto Rican" enough, although coquito runs through these veins. My heart aches and breaks constantly as I read the news and the bullshit regarding the lack of aid to Puerto Rico. I'm not surprised by the lack of help given to mi gente. I just wish other Americans realized puertorriqueños son su gente tambien and stop believing the lies of 45.

    please consider donating here (Hurrican Relief Fund for Puerto Rican) or here (Hispanic Federation). Anything you can do to help can make a huge difference.

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