Being Latina in Trump's America

Photo by Cindy Smart. Creative Commons license.

by Christine Stoddard

I was already sick on the eve of Election Day, with the throbbing headache, temperature, and aches typical of the season. Stress also was certainly to blame. I was exhausted from work and the vicious election cycle. I spent Election Day bundled up in bed, drinking plenty of liquids in an effort to feel human again.

Then something happened that, in an instant, seemed to rob me — and so many people like me — of my humanity: Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Was our next head of state really going to be a sexist, racist, Islamophobic failed businessman who lacks any political experience?

As a biracial Latina, I’ve grown accustomed to living life in las fronteras, the figurative borderlands of race and culture. In many social settings, I’m white passing and find myself forced to speak up when white people bash brown people. In other social settings, I’m not considered white or white “enough,” and I’m subjected to incessant questions about my heritage and stories about my peers’ trips to Latin America — usually Cancun (thank God there’s not a Trump Hotel there).

The sort of questions and comments I’ve had to field as a biracial woman have often been annoying and frustrating, but they’ve rarely been outright aggressive. When they have been aggressive, they’ve mainly been aimed at my female body. And, yes, some of those remarks have exoticized me and included explicit mentions of my Latina body, but I view those as the exception rather than the rule. That’s not to say such behavior is remotely acceptable. It’s to say that others have it much, much worse.

Related: Eric Trump Tricked by Latinas Contra Trump

Even with all of the forms of sexualization and oppression I endure as a woman, I recognize that my life would be much harder if I were a darker woman and an immigrant to boot. To deny the social benefits of my white privilege and U.S. citizenship would be damaging and disrespectful to my brown brothers and sisters. That’s especially true in the era of Trump, who, if he has his way, will deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. My responsibility is to use my privilege for good so that one day all people may be afforded the same human rights not just in principle but in actuality.

My own direct and personal struggles are not the most painful aspect of my biracial experience. Watching my Latina immigrant mother, who cannot hide her “otherness,” face ignorance and thinking about how xenophobic hatred is targeted at people like her is what’s most painful. Hearing Trump call Mexican immigrants “rapists” or kicking journalist Jorge Ramos out of a press conference and telling him to “Go back to Univision” is what’s painful. Hearing Trump swear he will build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it is what’s painful. If Trump had his way, he would never see people like my mother and her relatives unless they were toiling away in kitchens and gardens. If Trump had his way, people like me would not exist. After all, he apparently inspired so much racist vitriol in one 32-year-old that the Trump supporter stabbed a kissing interracial couple outside of a bar in Olympia, Washington, last August. (Unsurprisingly, this man immediately began heralding Trump.)

Related: Why I Plan To Tell My Brown Kids That Their New President Is A Racist — And You Should, Too

All throughout Trump’s campaign, any time he disparaged Latinos or immigrants, I thought about my family’s struggle. I had flashbacks to my mother studying for her citizenship test when I was a little girl and how terrified she was that she wouldn’t pass. I remember when we visited my uncle’s first house not too long after he and his wife, who also is a Salvadoran immigrant, bought it. In that moment, when I laid eyes on his new property with its flourishing garden, the American Dream seemed achievable — as long as you were willing to work hard, so very hard, and weren’t killed by a white supremacist nutjob in the process.

Now I question how many immigrants, especially those of color, would even attempt the American Dream under Trump’s presidency. If Trump follows through on his promise of a mass deportation and constructing a wall, he’ll certainly discourage plenty of people from coming to the United States, legally or otherwise. Of course, tightening U.S. borders to the point of nearly closing them altogether is far from the kind thing to do. As my mother has said, she cannot imagine what kind of life she would have in her motherland today. She and her brother lived there during a horrendous war — a bloody conflict for which the U.S. owes El Salvador a major apology — which doesn’t exactly set the tone for a promising future. Most immigrants don’t abandon their homeland and come to the United States because they want to; they come because they have to.

Even if I find Trump and his racist, anti-immigrant attitudes and so-called “policies” despicable, I haven’t lost all hope. Because once you lose hope, you stop fighting. I believe in the power of petitions, of monitoring legislation, of writing letters to Congress and never losing sight of how much happens at the state and local levels of government. I also believe in organizing and volunteering. The day after the election, I signed up to volunteer at my neighborhood food pantry, which primarily serves low-income people of color — because election or no election, people have to eat. The reality is that no matter who’s in office, and until society undergoes a major overhaul, times will always be toughest for poor people of color, including immigrants and refugees. It may only get worse under Trump.

We can’t just shrug our shoulders and accept this. White people must support people of color at all times — no exceptions — but their support is especially critical when we have such a dangerous man on the verge of taking office. Looking for a place to start? One of my favorite quick and easy ally guides to reference is Dr. Frances E. Kendall’s article, “How to Be An Ally If You Are a Person with Privilege,” which I’ve summarized and interpreted here. It’s general, but it’s practical. From there, begin researching what’s going on in your community if you don’t know already. Find out who’s looking for allies and how you can help. If you’re a writer or teacher of any kind, Electric Literature has assembled a useful list of organizations seeking your time.

On the note of white allies, I have a special message for my mixed-race brothers and sisters. Those of us who are mixed-race people and have white privilege have a duty to connect white and non-white communities and foster understanding. As biracial actor Jesse Williams told The Guardian in an interview last year, we have insight into both sides of the American experience — the white one and the non-white one. “I have access to rooms and information,” he said. “I am white and I am also black. I am invisible man in a lot of these scenarios. I know how white people talk about black people. I know how black people talk about white folks. I know I am there and everyone speaks honestly around me.” We must capitalize on this honesty and use it to build a better America, no matter how Trump tries to oppress us.

Unfortunately, it’s not very likely that the Electoral College will support Hillary Clinton for president on December 19, when they’re called to legally elect the next president of the United States. Thus we will almost certainly face four years of a Trump administration. But I repeat: that does not mean defeat. Do not lose hope. We must unite to fight Trump and pressure him to serve the needs of all Americans.

Trump will never be my president, but he will be the president of a country that needs our solidarity. No matter what we look like on the outside or what’s printed in our passports, we must come together and make it clear that we will not support bigotry and oppression from our government. We must stand together to oppose racist, sexist, Islamophobic and otherwise incendiary comments from a man who has history of making hateful remarks. We must also oppose legislation that falls in line with similarly hateful and oppressive ways of thinking. We won’t accept anything less than a president who stands for justice and equality for all people. If that requires fighting every single day, so be it. We must tirelessly demand an America that is great for everyone.

Christine Stoddard is a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer, artist, and the founding editor of Quail Bell Magazine. She also is the author of Ova (Dancing Girl Press, 2017) and Hispanic and Latino Heritage in Virginia (The History Press, 2016).

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