“Latino is a different checkmark”

When I asked Nico what is difficult here, his smiling face changed. There was a deepening in his complexion—strong feeling rising to the surface.

Nico: Unfortunately, I’ve learned that my accent and my physical aspect invite people to react differently. When I go to the nearby Dunkin Donuts, I ask for bacon mac and cheese and coffee, and the lady looks at me like I’m nothing and throws the stuff at me.

When I have to ask for help from someone who is white and seems to have power over me, I feel like the white person is on top looking down and you are looking up. You are getting marked as “Latino.” This happens much less in the music community because music is more important than color or ethnicity. Even so…

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"If I could wake up in one hundred years..."

Photo by Yoann Boyer, Unsplash

In 2016 in February I met Manuel, one of the first Hispanics that I would interview on my newly imagined Soy/Somos conversations. The political environment in the US and the world felt hugely different then. The shocking Brexit vote fell on the world later that year in June; the American presidential election, in November. “Build the wall” became our leader’s mantra.

A Spaniard who had moved to the US with his wife and babies in l972, Manuel was quietly dressed on that morning when we spoke, silver rimmed glasses, laced up shoes. In the l980s he had formed an executive search firm in New York to find and recruit Hispanics for the workplace when American companies began to see the significance of the Hispanic market but didn't know where to look for hires. I remembered Manuel’s beautiful closing words only a few days ago—on the morning of the New Zealand horror.

“If I could wake up in one hundred years, my greatest curiosity would be to see if human society has evolved into one race. I would hope to find no barriers or prejudice. In Europe I see English lawyers practicing in Spain—and Spanish lawyers in England. Isolated places like Moldava and Mongolia are becoming accessible with travel and communication via the internet. Marriages across race and culture are all around us.”

Manuel’s dream seems more than ever unattainable.

As the world gets smaller and becomes more global, we are becoming fearful of people who don’t look or pray like us. New Zealand is a vast country with only five million people. Even so, it was home to the latest horror. “Keep the migrants out and people who are different.” Hate has gone viral. 

What can I--one person--do? I can speak out. I am still engaged in conversation with Hispanics/Latinos/Latinx in my adopted country—your neighbors and mine—to demonstrate the depth and humanity in all of us. So much needs to be done. There are good people working against hate, people who’ve matched their words with action. I’ve learned first hand about a group of women and men who work day and night to reunite families separated at the US border and a coalition of faith communities who try to meet the overwhelming needs of people facing detention and deportation. There are other issues of desperate importance. Like protecting our Earth, violence against women, the fever spread of automatic weapons. We can choose the issues that resonate the most with us—and take action.

After the shootings while people were praying in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand,  the nation’s Prime Minister,  Jacinda Ardern, held a news conference to speak about the tragedy that involved many migrants. “They have chosen to make New Zealand their home,” she said, “and it is their home. They are us.”

They are us.

Immigrant Families Together

New Sanctuary Coalition

If you’d like to receive future Soy/Somos conversations, please contact me on my website or write to me at marlena@breathinginspanish.com. Here is how Soy/Somos got started: We Are Many.

Coming Next Week! Una Cubana Takes Off Her American Suit

Queridos amigos y lectores:

Cuba visit

Do you remember Carolina? She’s the Cuban born woman I interviewed almost two years ago in Soy/Somos: “I’m Not Yelling! I’m Cuban!” Carolina had left Cuba with her parents when she was a little girl of four. She spoke to me of the longing she has always felt for that lost piece of her story.

Here’s an excerpt from our very first conversation. Carolina had just returned from the Cuban Consulate in Washington DC where she had gone to apply for a Cuban passport:

“The Cuban Consulate in DC is a beautiful old building with a huge Cuban flag. When I saw it, I said, ‘This is me!’ Then I was told to go into a tiny building with almost no windows and bunches of people telling their stories. I heard the beautiful Cuban music of their voices. And I felt so American. It was my first visit to what was almost Cuban soil, and I was scared. I have always lived with this confusion of who I am and where I belong."

Since our conversation early in 2016 Carolina has traveled to Cuba twice, to Pinar del Rio, the most westerly province of Cuba. She meets her large family still living there and begins to put into perspective her Cuban heritage. Fall in love with Carolina. Be on the lookout for “Una Cubana Takes Off Her American Suit” coming to you next week.

But before that, I recommend you re-familiarize yourself with the American piece of Carolina's story.. Click here for the first interview, Soy/Somos: “I’m Not Yelling! I’m Cuban!”

See you next week!