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WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES: Junior speaks up by both obligation and choice

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Jacqueline Chao
Junior Gabi Alvarado

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.

 

Brooch

 

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

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8 Comments

8 Responses to “WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES: Junior speaks up by both obligation and choice”

  1. robert gaines on June 4th, 2018 12:14 pm

    “men who think they are stronger than I.” I hate to disappoint you but men are stronger than women, there is a biological basis for this. I don’t mean to offend you, but facts are facts. You’re welcome to reply and dispute this.

    [Reply]

    robert gaines Reply:

    There are of course some exceptions, but in general the above holds.

    Also, when you say “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” are you saying that minorities hate/are ashamed of their skin color. I’ve never seen this case to be true since at least the 1950s (probably long before that too).

    There is a big difference between “hating” one’s skin color, and feeling “disadvantaged” for having that skin color.

    Most importantly, how do you aim to solve these problems of gender/race discrimination. You bring up the issues, but don’t offer much substance other some fluff about speaking up. I think the primary reason why your argument is unconvincing to those such as moderates and right wingers who hold onto previous societal customs and culture, is that your argument is rather emotional, not factual.

    As you mentioned having mock trial experience, I am sure you know that evidence is the key to a good argument, and emotion can only do so much in the courtroom.

    [Reply]

    Gabriela Alvarado Reply:

    Robert Gains,

    First, I did not mean only physical strength in the comment “men who think they are stronger than I.” I was referring to the feeling of being shut down time and time again by men who think they have more of a right to be heard than I, just for being male. My voice counts. This proves that.
    Second, I meant precisely that minorities feel contempt for their skin color, thanks to white-dominated media. (No, I don’t have anything against white culture, but I am strongly against bigotry and lack of diversity and a misrepresentation of our population.) Minorities have felt this way since there have been minorities. Don’t people hate those aspects in themselves which are being discriminated against? So it is for color. I recently read “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, which is a quintessential example of this notion. I spent years hating my color, knowing I was American and not being able to find a balance between being Latina and Americana (see “Mi Raza: Changing Identity,” a previous blog of mine). Only recently have I found spaces where they are one and the same.
    Third, I think awareness is the first step to bringing about change. Very few have awareness of the ongoing problem, something that didn’t go away with the 1960’s. Also, along with the Chicanx-Latinx Student Union, LGTBQ+ Club, and Chinese Club, I am currently pushing our school’s administration to incorporate an ethnic studies (or identity) class into the mandatory high school curriculum. I am doing what I can to create change here.

    Sincerely,
    Gabriela Alvarado

    [Reply]

    Wei Yong Reply:

    I’m first generation Asian immigrant and proud of my skin color. Stop speak for others when they speak for themself. Maybe you are feeling contempt of your skin and culture but I do not. Thats not awareness. It’s forcing your views on others. Exactly what you’re trying to fighting against? Sorry but forcing people to take a ethnic studies course isn’t going to solve anything.

  2. robert gaines on June 4th, 2018 12:23 pm

    I also felt the need to address this:

    Does discrimination against men exist?

    It’s goes without saying that women faced discrimination for much of history, but could this trend be reversing? American men today hold 96% of Fortune 500 CEO positions. They constitute more than 80% of the House and the Senate, and have an unrivaled 45-0 streak in winning the presidency. But in 2017 American men are also increasingly likely to say that they’re the ones facing discrimination. So, are men facing increasing discrimination?

    In the 2012 American National Election Study, 9% of men said that men faced “a great deal” or “a lot” of discrimination in America. In 2016 that figure is 18%. If we add in those men who say that men face “a moderate amount” of discrimination, 41% of men now say that men are being discriminated against. Overall, about of half men now say that they’re facing substantial gender discrimination, and two-thirds say that they’re facing at least a little discrimination. It’s possible this number may be even higher as some men didn’t want to say they are being discriminated against as they fear public embarrassment. Discrimination against men could be so unrecognized and ignored that the mere mention of it is laughable.

    What about legal discrimination? That is discrimination in the legal system, government, schools, and in the private sector. Well, let’s start with court system. According to University of Michigan Law and Economics Research Paper, No. 12-018 written by Sonja B. Starr shows that men receive 63% longer sentences on average than women for the same crime and that women are twice as likely to avoid incarceration than men. What about one of the most serious crimes against the human body? Rape? Well, according to the FBI a study found that 8% of rape cases were found to be false allegations or were baseless. 8% may not sound like a lot but the mere accusation of rape upon a woman will ruins a man’s life forever. As found in multiple cases, when men are accused of rape they are fired, their cars get trashed, they received multiple death threats and are heavily shunned in society. This all happens before the judge even makes a decision. For 8% of accused men their life is ruined even when they are found innocent. The numbers are even worse in India, where men are regarded as below women, at 76% of rape accusations found to be false or baseless.

    How about Schools? Schools may seem unbiased in teaching ,but in reality, a girl’s skills and behavior are seen as the gold standard. Being a normal boy in today’s classrooms is a serious liability. Boys tend to be disorganized and restless. Increasingly, our schools have little patience for what only a couple decades ago would have been described as “boyishness”. As psychologist Michael Thompson has observed: “Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools. Boys are treated like defective girls.” As a result, these “defective girls” are not faring well academically. Compared with girls, boys earn lower grades, win fewer honors and are far less likely to go to college. Boys are languishing academically, while girls are prospering. In an ever more knowledge based economy, this is not a recipe for a successful society. To fix this balance we need to encourage boys to read more. It’s common knowledge the reading improves school skills all round. Yet boys score far less on national reading tests and are far less likely to even read books.

    This article is already long enough, so i’ll try to keep these next two short. In the private sector of engineering, women are far more likely to be chosen for the job even with less qualifications in the name of “diversity”. No one is entitled to representation and hiring people based on their gender is textbook sexism. Why aren’t raped men (yes it happens) given emotional support and government aid, even nearly half of all rapes are against men. Why do men have to register for the draft to receive federal aid, a driver’s license, or even citizenship but women don’t? Men make up half of all Domestic violence victims no shelters exist for them, why? Men couldn’t even be legally recognized as victims of rape before 2013! Why are women allowed abortion for babies they want nothing to do with but men have to pay child support to a female who raped him and stole his sperm? These questions are most often ignored and dismissed when brought up in court, but if these questions are not addressed women will have more rights than men, no wait, they already have more rights than men.

    In Conclusion, increasingly you can find cases of discrimination against men in the modern era. This is happening frighteningly fast as this turn can be seen happening since the 2000’s and at in increasing rate. Men are discriminated against more than women in the modern industrialized world.

    [Reply]

    Gabriela Alvarado Reply:

    Robert Gains,

    I know everyone has struggles. The only struggles I can write about fairly are those I have felt or have seen first-hand.
    Everyone has biases; everyone gets discriminated against. Again, I wouldn’t know enough about the struggle of being a man because I don’t identify as one.
    My father as a young Latino in Southern California would be discriminated against for being male.
    I have close friends, both male and female, who have been victims of domestic and sexual violence.
    But I write predominantly about my own experiences. I feel I cannot accurately represent those terrors I have not encountered myself.

    Sincerely,
    Gabriela Alvarado

    [Reply]

  3. Kat on June 4th, 2018 6:28 pm

    Everything else aside, don’t you think it just a little counterproductive that you keep saying you’re speaking for others? You support your entire argument with personal anecdotes, yet claim you’re not arguing for yourself. More importantly, you say you speak for others who have it worse than you. Who gave you to right to take away their voices and make them your own?

    [Reply]

    Gabriela Alvarado Reply:

    Kat,

    I wrote this entry to justify (mostly to myself) continuing to go my classes, continuing to write.
    Perhaps the only thing that keeps me going is that I am not the only one (especially at Country Day) who has to or will have to deal with these issues. So I write about and I continue to challenge those spaces where I feel torn-down, because many times I have felt so close to dropping a class or just giving up that I marvel at how I kept going. I’ve not taken anyone’s voice. I write because I know there are some who feel so horrible they can no longer speak. And I know this because I, too, have felt that way before.
    I think of my blogs mainly as journal entries or for some background why and how I wrote and/or chose a certain poem. But this one was different. I wrote this blog to convince myself to keep going.
    Let me tell you, it worked.

    Sincerely,
    Gabriela Alvarado

    [Reply]

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