Janette Villafana, EdSource's California Student Journalism Corps
Latino families join the protests in support of Black Lives Matter movement.

It’s happening again. But this time I’m experiencing the American nightmare with my own eyes.

I remember as a child asking my mother about what happened with the Rodney King riots and why? She told me about all the madness that broke out across Los Angeles in April and May of 1992 and how she witnessed all of it on television.

Now 28 years later, I’m in the same position.

I’m the one hooked to my TV and cell phone to watch protestors overwhelm the streets of Minneapolis, where a white officer pressed his knee on the neck of a black suspect for nearly nine minutes, using an illegal choke-hold that led to George Floyd’s death. Now protestors are sweeping through neighborhoods in Los Angeles and many other cities nationwide in the name of justice for Floyd and his surviving family. To fight against police brutality. To acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement. And to fight for equality in 2020 America.

As a Latinx student, I did not realize until now that my voice is important to the Black Lives Matter movement, too.

I was never taught to “love on” people outside my culture, but I was also never taught to hate them, either. I was told to smile, be kind and mind my business when an uncomfortable situation on the streets had nothing to do with me. As long as I kept it “pushing,” — a term used for minding my own business — I would still be categorized as a “good” person because I wasn’t the one causing trouble. It was an unspoken rule, something I never understood or took the time to understand, but I followed it nonetheless.

Now, however, I understand that a big part of our silence comes from fear of stepping out of line and getting into trouble or upsetting the powers that be. The generations of Latinos who immigrated to America have never wanted to step on white toes. They recognize the power that is held over their heads. Their main focus is to provide for their families. They choose to stay quiet during times of injustice because they feel there is nothing they can do to change it. I have seen this in my own family. Some of my family members are still struggling and choose to stay silent rather than to speak up. My uncle has been having a hard time at work through the pandemic but remains quiet about unfair pay practices that harm undocumented immigrants, so that he won’t upset his bosses and lose his job.

Many of us Latinos are taught to stay quiet. Some have no formal education. Many in our community don’t fully know about their civil rights, or really understand that there is a way to fight oppression.

Although Latinos are often an oppressed minority, too, I have also been aware of racial prejudice against blacks in the Latino community. Many don’t feel a strong connection to the Black Lives Matter movement. I understand that there is no justification for the way black families are treated in America. I also understand that Latinos who are prejudiced against blacks shouldn’t get away with it. I understand that there is a lot of repair to be done between these two communities and I’m here with my tools to start the job.

I take responsibility for all those years as a child when I sat back in the classroom and listened to my peers crack jokes and use the most racially derogatory terms. I take responsibility for the times I sat back and listened to family members talk down about the black community. I take full responsibility for these moments that happened years ago, but are still weighing heavy on my heart. I see where the problems lie and I’m not going to conform and stay quiet anymore. I’ll speak up during times of injustice. I’ll hear people out, let them inform me and guide me toward the movement for justice for all.

I might not have every answer or know how to help proactively, but I’m willing to learn. I’m eager to break old habits and speak up against my own people to stand up for what I believe is right. For me, that’s living a life of justice for those who never got the chance to do so.

It blows my mind to think that, years from now, I could end up becoming a credible source for my own kids that I hope to have one day when they ask about the George Floyd riots, just like when I asked about the Rodney King riots.

Just as my mother did for me, I will explain to my future kids the timeline of tragedies and tell them how black men in America had no chance against authority. I’ll let them know about the uproar of anger on social media; how people managed to not give up on Floyd and the memory of other victims of police brutality. How people marched, signed petitions — even rioted — despite fears about an ongoing global pandemic.

I’d break down this repetitive cycle and pinpoint all the similarities in each case: How a black man ends up dead and a police officer ends up in prison or without a job. I’d show them countless films, starring black actors as parental figures having to teach their children to safely encounter the police; how to strategically maneuver while keeping their hands visible at all times and announcing each and every move, like “Officer, I’m grabbing my license and registration.”

After all, the stakes are so high. Any wrong move could lead to life or death.

I’d then scare my babies and tell them that because we live in a world that has yet to find a solution or vaccine for injustice, they might have to do the same humiliating and frightening drills with police. I’d tell my children that because certain people have been taught to fear those that they don’t understand, we must also carefully maneuver our way through these encounters. By the time I’d finish explaining this to my future kids, they’d be exhausted.

Just like I am right now.

•••

Marlene Cordova is a senior at California State University Los Angeles and a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps. 

Commentaries published on EdSource represent viewpoints from EdSource’s broad audience. We welcome guest commentaries from teachers, parents and students about their experiences during these turbulent times. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

Share Article

Comments (8)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. luis estrada 1 week ago1 week ago

    All lives matter . What I dont understand is how people make it seem that this country is bad, when my home country Mexico is way worse in everything . Security – medicine – schools – and opportunities. I was born in Mexico and i think Mexicans need to make sure we parent our children to not fall to this victimhood .

  2. Oscar 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I agree there should be more Chicanx and Latinx people involved in the struggle against the whole criminal injustice system and racism/colonialism. I want to add to what Yolande said about Chicanxs possibly being a bigger target in some places. The absolute number of "Hispanic" persons in state and federal prisons throughout the whole country (not just in California!) actually went up slightly between 2008 and 2018. (See p. 6 of "Prisoners in 2018" on … Read More

    I agree there should be more Chicanx and Latinx people involved in the struggle against the whole criminal injustice system and racism/colonialism.

    I want to add to what Yolande said about Chicanxs possibly being a bigger target in some places. The absolute number of “Hispanic” persons in state and federal prisons throughout the whole country (not just in California!) actually went up slightly between 2008 and 2018. (See p. 6 of “Prisoners in 2018” on bjs.gov.) That is true though the rates or numbers went down for other groups. In other words, there has been a kind of browning of prisoners going on under both Obama and Trump. The Black imprisonment rate is still the highest by far, but Chicanxs and Latinxs have an interest in these struggles.

    But I’m not sure anyone has shown the percentage of Latinx people participating in the George Floyd protests is less than the % of Black people who participated in the immigrant/migrant rights protests during George W. Bush’s presidency. I never saw anyone write something like, “generations” of Black people “have never wanted to step on white toes” because more Black people did not show up. I think we are all aware of the history of Black and Brown activism.

    Yes, how undocumented migrants are treated could make some less willing to take part in certain struggles internal to their workplaces or politics in the United States. With respect, though, I feel some people reading the article above could confuse these particular undocumented migrants with whole “generations of Latinos who immigrated to America.”

    Isn’t actually true that some undocumented migrants are more political in some ways than some Latinx persons with U.S. citizenship?

    The idea that brown immigrants in particular stay quiet, keep their heads down, etc. (compared with Black and even white workers), was used by many U.S. union or party activists to justify treating these immigrants (both undocumented and documented) as a problem and keeping their numbers low. If they were welcomed, the welcome was contingent on standing for the flag at a citizenship ceremony and saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Or else they were scabs likely to cross a picket line or lower everyone’s wages. Some people seem to forget this, but it is ideas like those that led to Trump and the deporter-in-chief, Obama, before him.

    Before George Floyd’s murder, some people were talking about immigrants from Nigeria, Ethiopia etc. in a similar way, as if they were almost contributing to the oppression of Black people in the U.S. descended from slaves. What do we think that kind of talk is really about?

  3. Maria Gonzalez 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I agree with the author that many Latinos are afraid to speak up against racism, like my father used to say, este es su paiz - this is their country not realizing how problematic that is at many levels, including that it places white Americans as the only "true" Americans. I think Latinx owe a lot to the Civil Rights movement which brought up and centered the issue of racism and oppression of … Read More

    I agree with the author that many Latinos are afraid to speak up against racism, like my father used to say, este es su paiz – this is their country not realizing how problematic that is at many levels, including that it places white Americans as the only “true” Americans.

    I think Latinx owe a lot to the Civil Rights movement which brought up and centered the issue of racism and oppression of everyone. Hence, it also helped to energize the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, and has now morphed into Black Lives Matter. Latinos/as have to confront the anti-Black sentiment that our cultures (plural because there are variations in all 19-20 Latin American countries) has ingrained. We are the product of colonialism, slavery and U.S. imperialism – that’s a lot of baggage.

    One only has to look at Spanish language Television to see who is in front of the cameras – white appearing people. There is a lot to talk about amigos and what better time than the present.

  4. Yolande 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    May I inject that Chicano people too have experienced a lot of racism and both them and new Mexican immigrants experience xenophobia that is expressed through racism. Many Chicanos and Mexican immigrants have been victims of police brutality in California. I would even say Chicanos are even at times more of a target in California than African-Americans due to their large numbers. However, I agree that African Americans due to the history of their treatment … Read More

    May I inject that Chicano people too have experienced a lot of racism and both them and new Mexican immigrants experience xenophobia that is expressed through racism. Many Chicanos and Mexican immigrants have been victims of police brutality in California. I would even say Chicanos are even at times more of a target in California than African-Americans due to their large numbers. However, I agree that African Americans due to the history of their treatment since Jim Crow have been even more demonized as a threat.

    Lastly all Latinos are not of Mexican heritage and in a New York and Miami the majority of Latinos are of African descent. So they too are “Black”. But due to certain historic dynamics in their construed are not identified as such in America. I am seen as Latino when I am in NYC and African-American when in the southern part of the U.S. I am neither. Just make sure you’re inclusive when referring to Latinos as a whole.

  5. Christopher Chavez 1 month ago1 month ago

    I feel this too. My father has to deal with constant racist berating at his work (where he has a degree), but chooses to stay quiet cause he has to provide and has lost his job for speaking out before. Both my parents and I support the movement, but I worry for my mother who might get deported and my dad who has already dealt with racist police. Hanging our head low is no excuse … Read More

    I feel this too. My father has to deal with constant racist berating at his work (where he has a degree), but chooses to stay quiet cause he has to provide and has lost his job for speaking out before.

    Both my parents and I support the movement, but I worry for my mother who might get deported and my dad who has already dealt with racist police. Hanging our head low is no excuse for not speaking out though, the way black people are treated as a threat in every level of American society is absolutely unacceptable and many Latinos should be aware to remove that bias from themselves and call it out where they see it.

  6. Maria 1 month ago1 month ago

    I can’t seem to shake off the fear that the police will find me and I’ll place my vulnerable family members and deport them to countries they’ve never been in and most likely won’t survive if I take place in the protests. But I want to. I want to fight for justice.

  7. Ashley Blanco 1 month ago1 month ago

    Thank you so much for writing this article. You touched on some things that have bothered for me for years a Black of Latinx origin. But you also reminded of why people stay silent. The conditioning we receive as Black and Brown people just to stay alive corrupts our ability to voice and stand in the essence of our presence. Again, thank you for enthusiasm, love, and deeper commitment.

  8. Chris Pacheco 1 month ago1 month ago

    Wow, this is so powerful. I can’t believe how much I relate. I’m so proud to be a Latino and so thankful you posted this!