At one point, I missed my friends. After all, we grew up together. Our friendships outlasted messy breakups and zip code changes. Yet as we matured, we were no longer protected by our naivety. We weren’t invincible. The barriers of race, identity, and culture presented obstacles, interrupting the flow of day to day interactions.
Possessing a global awareness of issues that faced women, LGBT+ youth, and black and brown identities, put me in a constant state of defense. Developing thick skin was not easy because once I did, that layer was tested.
I listened to metal and punk: political and provocative music that amplified the unrest of the youth. My style was unapologetic. I didn’t fit in. Unfortunately, anti-blackness was projected by other Chicano Americans in my circle which complicated relations on another level.
I wondered: Where did I belong?
Entering adulthood intensified relations. My stance on injustice within the United States was non-negotiable. The emergence of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate shook me up.
As I began to speak my truth, others were quick to silence me.
Former classmates undermined my intelligence with ableist and sexist slurs. Strangers targeted me because of my race. The harassment followed me from the classroom to social media. In but an instant, I became a punchline and at times a punching bag.
I lost the self-esteem that I worked so hard to regain. I lost my sense of self. I lost my direction.
I lost my friends.
2016 was the year that I emerged as a voice within my community but it was also the year of sacrifice. The isolation I felt as a result of my advocacy and activism, was both external and internal. Though California offered diversity, some communities weren’t progressive. Sadly, that became evident in my home town(s) of Murrieta and Temecula.
To keep from falling apart, I relied on the support from students that I tutored and mentored; students who were leaders of their campuses and organizations. I relied on my family and colleagues. Readers sent me encouraging messages. The love outweighed the hostility.
Though I gained the support of fellow warriors, activists, leaders, and scholars- I could not downplay the threat of Donald Trump’s campaign. I used my resources to dismantle the hate. I spoke up against a man that represented America’s ugly corners of rape culture and xenophobia. Because of my stance, I knew that I had a lot to lose, but I also knew that I had more to gain.
My efforts were tested when a Trump rally was scheduled to occur in Temecula. After witnessing the violence and hateful rhetoric that spread nationwide, I was afraid.
The stress was high. What could I do? How could I ensure the safety of my community? Did people realize that a fallen marine and beloved classmate was returning home that same weekend? Would a rally interfere? Tensions escalated.
I used my platform as a journalist, educator, and student to promote a message of peace. Grass roots methods encouraged others to get involved. I wasn’t alone. Social media allowed me to gain the attention of students from across the county. Together we were strong. I was willing to put in the time.
I was willing to bear my wounds.
After I gathered more information, I encouraged individuals to write a letter of concern to the council members of the town. Counter protests emerged in response to the Trump rally.
Though I had a moment where I doubted my own capabilities, I was reminded that I was needed and heard. My efforts prompted the Mayor and Sheriff to reach out to me directly. I was assured that safety would be a top priority. Yet, the taunts didn’t stop. Nor did the threats.
I still felt as though I lost. My home. My comfort. My pride.
How could that be?
I was speaking a language that many were conditioned to ignore. Those who were not affected by Trump’s anti-immigrant and misogynistic language attempted to shame me into compliance. They attempted to police my emotions and the reactions of other American citizens. Little did they realize that they were participating in another form of oppression. The cycle of trauma and harassment felt inescapable.
At that moment I was faced with two options: Do I back down? Or do I rise up?
Do I stand up for the countless men and women who are brutalized by the police?
Do I stand up for the immigrants who are criminalized by government forces?
Do I stand up for the students who face economic hardships and disillusionment?
Do I stand up for the women and other individuals who are subjected to sexual violence?
Do I stand up for the black and brown LGBT+ populations who face discrimination and isolation?
Yes, because I am among them.
I fit the profile of the angry and battered. I am the product of immigrants. I am a graduate. I am bisexual.
Fearless, bold, and determined.
I could settle for the path that others decided for me: a lifetime of emptiness and pain or I could defy them.
Friends, neighbors, and associates who were near and dear to me were no longer recognizable. I could never gain their approval and acceptance when they used my humanity against me.
They supported a presidential candidate that incited fear, hatred, and violence against people that looked like me. They defended hate groups that wanted to use our backyard as a stomping ground. They were indifferent to the struggles endured by black, brown, and LGBT+ youth.
Though the Trump rally still took place, nobody was hurt. My message was heard and I discovered my value. That weekend, I attended the memorial service of my classmate who died defending the freedoms of others. I decided to be where the heart of my hometown truly was. My faith was restored.
After the service, I recognized that families nationwide were grieving. Whether their sons and daughters lives were taken overseas or in our neighborhoods, there was a loss. There was a sacrifice.
The whole nation was in mourning.
If Donald Trump is elected president, the grief will be prolonged. The division will prevail.
He aggravates our wounds. He denies his wrongdoing. He does not have America’s best interest in mind. His lies are plentiful and pose a direct threat to this nation.
Though many are fooled by the wolf in sheep’s clothing, I see his teeth.
I thought I lost my sense of self but I gained self-assurance and love. Though I was tokenized, fetishized, and tossed aside- I reclaimed my space and my narrative. I didn’t give in.
I thought I lost my way, but I discovered new opportunities. I did not settle for the status quo. I did not believe the bogus that Trump was selling. I opened the pathways to involvement and communication, listened to those who were overlooked and denied, and actively engaged. Without unity, compassion, and solidarity- America will suffer. That is why I filled these spaces with hope and empowerment.
I thought I lost my friends but I connected with new people. I learned how to appreciate the individuals in my life who were there for me when everyone else walked away. Those individuals were champions. They were my colleagues and family members. They were my sisters. They were my brothers too. Throughout the heartache, I learned how to forgive.
More importantly, I learned how to forgive myself.
I thought I lost my home and comfort, but I grew. Every seed of doubt was removed.
I am thriving now. In full bloom.
I still face attacks but I am not derailed.
I am humbled by the outpouring love and support. I didn’t lose. I won.
Educators, students, activists, and leaders face a lot of hate as a result of their contributions. Yet, we carry on.
We carry on because we know better. We know the truth. We are not prepared to lose our country. Women of color have fought for centuries. We earned our way and now that we are here, there is no going back.
The reality is disheartening, but we still protest on the streets. We still protest in classrooms. We still protest on the football field, on the podium, and throughout life. Our existence alone is a protest. Our willingness to illuminate the forgotten corners of our society is revolutionary. We are influential, intellectual, and inspiring.
Sometimes it feels like the conversation surrounding our communities is devoid of our voices. It can be discouraging to see others with more influence and power misleading the population when they are not immediately affected or at risk. My identity as a multicultural woman left me vulnerable to unwarranted threats. My presence forced others to confront their own deep seeded resentments.
It didn’t matter where I was- my identity alone would make a statement.
Looking back, I am thankful. It was not easy to be at the center of threats and harassment. As the days grow closer to the 2016 election, I know there is still work to do. That work begins with us. We must educate ourselves. We must participate in the political process by voting. We must equip ourselves with the tools to create change.
The change begins within. Spread love, peace, and hope. Be a part of the positivity. Be a part of the productivity. Be a part of the movement.
When I used my voice, others listened. When I took up space, I became bigger than myself. Every day I devote my life to the education and success of students who are looking up to us. Those students need us. We should represent them, fight for them, and advocate for them.
There is no shame in our identities as black and brown women.
That is why I am not afraid to say:
Here I am, despite it all- alive. Still black. Still Mexican. Still bi.
I exist. I am breathing and I will continue to use the air in my lungs to fight injustice.