Privilege, Racial Equity & Family

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted. My original plan was to share my story of life during those early days of the pandemic, but I quickly realized my privilege and once I did, my story was no longer important. I work for a foundation that invests money and resources into organizations and coalitions who are working in their respective communities to advance health equity. Our target populations are urban and rural low-income, and minority populations, especially those historically disenfranchised. Just a few weeks into the pandemic, it was obvious that these communities who have been left behind for decades were bearing the brunt of covid-19. Writing about continuing to work from home and receive a paycheck when so many had lost their jobs seemed heartless. Expounding the joy of grocery delivery seemed ignorant as so many lined up outside food banks throughout our state to feed their families. And, how could I write about being confined to my home as the virus flourished in nursing homes and essential workers were not only being asked to play Russian roulette with their lives but having to stand face-to-face with those who deny, downplay and demand their rights of the virus.

With work becoming increasingly stressful as we tirelessly reviewed record-breaking numbers of grant applications (lots of tears were shed knowing we couldn’t fund them all) and the news of exposure, deaths and the ensuing ridiculousness of those protesting the guidelines to flatten the curve, my writing took a backseat. I was too mentally, physically, and spiritually tired. And just when we thought being face-to-face with the realities of health inequity and food insecurity in our neighborhoods couldn’t get any worse, we watched as a black man, once again, pleaded for his life at the hands of a police officer. That video set the world on fire and refueled not just the Black Lives Matter movement but shined a huge spotlight on racial inequalities across our nation. Communities across the country and world came out in solidarity to protest failed policies, failed police oversight, failed leadership, and a failed system. And, I might add, failure to educate others that yes, many steps have been made in advancing the rights of our black, Hispanic/Latino and Native American brothers and sisters, but if you believe “everything’s good” with these populations and racism is not part of the issue, you are living in a fool’s paradise. Either that or your “everything’s good” is based on long entrenched bloodlines of bigotry, lack of empathy, blinders mentality or all the above.

My privilege continued to face me in the mirror each day as I watched our youth being hit with rubber bullets and being maced as they knelt in peaceful protest, while just a few weeks earlier white men were allowed to protest being told to wear a mask while armed from ankle to shoulder as if going into battle. Sadly, fear and ignorance are the greatest epidemics of this country. And when my own childhood neighborhood saw a protest turn violent, I cried. The North End is part of my being, always will be, as that community is who I am even though most of my time growing up there I didn’t feel like I quite belonged. I’m a tall, light-skinned, non-Spanish speaking Mexican whose paternal and maternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S from San Luis Potosi and Chihuahua, Mexico, respectively. My privilege is passing for white most of my life and subsequently being teased and called gringa by the other kids in the neighborhood. Even when people learn I am Mexican, what follows is usually “really?” and “is your mom or dad Mexican?” Both (pendejo). I get it. We live in a society of stereotypes and to some, I don’t look the part. When younger, I didn’t mind being asked if I was Italian or French, but as I grew older I went through varying stages of embarrassment of my heritage being questioned, shame at not correcting people of their assumptions, and later, pride in knowing where I came from and just because my physical appearance doesn’t register immediately to some as Mexican, I know who I am.

Which leads me to family.

The histories of the De la Tejera and Castro Families

I took a break from reality and was fortunate to be offered a safe and isolated writer’s residency where for five days I revisited the novel I started three years ago. The book is a work of fiction set against the backdrop of my hometown and the North End, and based on the history of my paternal grandparents, Francisco and Dominga Castro. My aunt Graciela, the Castro family matriarch and keeper of the histories, blessed us with a packet documenting the journeys of both maternal and paternal family lines from Santander, Spain and Rio Verde, San Luis Potosi, Mexico to Lyons and Wichita, Kansas in the U.S. I’ll receive no greater gift than this as it is the inspiration to write my first novel and it solidified who I am. I am the great-great-granddaughter of a man who left Spain to find his future in the rich soils of San Luis Potosi and the Sun of Mexico. I am the great-granddaughter of a man who was killed at the Battle of El Ebano during the Mexican Revolution and the woman who went to claim her husband’s body and returned with her cart carrying three of her neighbor’s husbands so she would be the one to deliver the news and their bodies. I am the granddaughter of a man who died saving another and who kept a journal about his love, his life, and their children. I am the daughter of parents who suffered at the hands of discrimination based on the color of their skin and who yearned for their children to have better opportunities. I am the daughter of a man who as a young boy loved to run and would run from school to his home near the railroad tracks in Lyons, Kansas, just to see how fast he could make it home. One afternoon, the police stopped him. The reason? They thought he was “up to no good…what are you running from, boy…what did you do?” Sound familiar? My siblings and I are the children of a couple who were traveling and stopped at a restaurant to feed their family only to be asked to leave because “we don’t serve Mexicans.” We all are the children who will carry the legacies, both the good and the bad, and ensure their stories are not forgotten.

While my writing is refocused, my heart remains in the present time, in this movement, in this opportunity for long, lasting change. I will do what I can to ensure we come out of this on the right end, this time. Injustices and inequality have for too long informed the lives of non-whites. If we were made in the image of God, or whomever you believe holds the higher power, wouldn’t that high-power be a rainbow of colors? When did lifting up humanity become political? As a society, we must turn inward to the magic of our hearts and follow the only rule given to us by a man who walked this earth in one of the most peaceful protests of our time as he challenged us to love one another. All others. Everyone.

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