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.
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