This has been a defining year for me. Last summer, during the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project, something clicked. I realized I can do more, and I have an obligation to do more, because I am not alone.
I am not alone in how I feel. Millions of children know or will soon know what it’s like to be the different one. To be the one that no one expects to succeed. To be the one that eventually doesn’t expect herself to succeed.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to write about this like this.
I’ve always thought more with my heart than with my mind. I’ve never been able to stop my feelings, passion, from taking over. In everything.
And I cannot be silent. There are so many more out there who cannot speak, and I feel I must speak for them.
I feel I must speak for the ones who grow up in the fields because their parents don’t get paid enough doing that same labor day after day to support their families.
I feel I must speak for those who don’t speak English because their family values their own culture and they haven’t yet been soaked in “American” culture long enough to adopt its language.
I feel I must speak for those who have been broken by what I experience every day, those who used to be just like me but are now silent. They are silent because it is more comfortable. It is easier. It demands less of your soul. Bits and pieces of my soul are eroding. I never knew what it must be like to be a Dolores Huerta or a Rosa Parks, but I now know that I would crumble, crumple – like these half-written, thrown-away poems – into nothing.
It’s hard for me to keep going. To wake up every morning and take a deep breath and re-enter this life dominated by whites who think their skin is more beautiful than mine and men who think they are stronger than I. I feel both their attacks. I am exhausted of telling, screaming at people, crying to them, about how much it hurts me. How every prolonged look makes me squirm and makes me hate my own skin. I’m exhausted of trying to tell people I need help to survive these attacks and being turned away again and again – teachers telling me I’m thinking too much, feeling too much, reading too much into things. They say that it’s not their fault, it’s society’s fault, and they can’t change anything about it, so why even try.
I write to inspire myself. Here is one piece I wrote for myself. In the mornings I drink coffee from a mug with Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Here is the poem:
white glowing beast of a bird
with wings the size of your body
extending out of her back
and her arms are wide open to embrace you
the white glowing madness that is her fire
for that white is not her skin
her skin is brown
dirt-brown, the color of unpaved roads
the dirt that marked her feet as she ran through them
and now when she embraces that brown,
that beginning, in the dirt,
here she will find her calling
here is where she responds
and she is change.
she is the change she wants to see
in this world
It is not acceptable to hate something so irrevocable as the color of your own skin. This is why I speak. And although every time I open my mouth I think, “God, Gabi. Shut up already,” I don’t. It’s never been my nature.
I’ve suffered a brutal year of beatings at school. Not physical. Much worse. I think they will leave scars. I am not stronger for this bleeding, for these tears.
I often wonder why me – why am I here, in such privilege, in place of any of the millions of children who suffer? Perhaps this is why.
Perhaps it is because I continue to speak though every impulse tells me to stay quiet.
I speak not for myself, not against any one individual, but for those who will come after me, those who will suffer after I am gone if things stay the same.
This marginalization is no single person’s fault. However, if it continues, it will be collectively all of ours, those who can speak up.
These impulses are not from within me. They are from this society. But they have penetrated my being, integrated with my own thoughts and feelings. I have begun to acknowledge the impulse to hush up as originating within myself. It has not originated within myself, for I am not at fault. This is something we, females, racial minorities, have to tell ourselves continuously in order to continue to face this world. I am not at fault. I am not at fault. I can make change here.
I wrote this poem in the courtroom, as lead attorney, with the defendant, freshman Sarina Rye, sitting at my side. The opposing attorney, blue-eyed, light-skinned, blonde, was closing and pointing her finger at Sarina. From my perspective, she was pointing right at me.
This space, the courtroom, was a place where I had been belittled because of my color, shape, gender, countless times. And then once more.
No, I won’t stop speaking up.
White finger pointing, unwavering.
A crystal-clear set of blue ice-cold stones
stare, narrowed, down the barrel that is her arm
at us, inferior, because we have brown settings
for black gems, which are our windows.
For we, too, have souls.
—By Gabi Alvarado