As a kid, I never had a problem making friends. Sure, I was a quiet child, but making friends came easy. I did not think my family had a problem with the friends I made but I soon realized this was a lie. There were certain kinds of friends some of my family members had issues with.
“Why are you friends with that person?”
“Be careful around that one.”
“You are not allowed to visit your friend in THAT neighborhood.”
Yes, they were talking about Black people. This aggravated me because my close friends are Black, and I never had a problem with them. My family was all smiles around them, but deep down I knew what they really thought. At the young age of five, I already felt that what my family was doing was wrong. I had to keep my mouth shut because “La familia se respeta” (you respect the family). Well, I was also taught that you give respect when it is earned, and in the past few years, several people have lost it with the racist, homophobic, fascist, and misogynistic bullshit that has come out of their mouths.
I am done being silent.
For years, I was forced to be silent whenever I questioned someone over social issues. I was to respect my elders. I was to shut up and not start trouble. Mami would reprimand me for speaking up, when I knew damn well, she also took issue with what was being said. I love Mami, but I have always seen her silence as a problem. I got angry with her for not saying anything because she is also dark skinned. Why would she keep her mouth shut? Mami always told me to stand up for what I believed in, but the moments when I did, she scolded me into silence. The discomfort was written all over her face.
“Mami, you know what they are saying is awful. Why are you not speaking up?”
“Mija, just please do not cause trouble. We are here to have a good time. No need to be so angry. That is just the way they are and there is nothing we can do.”
This was the usual response. I had to put headphones on to block out the “jokes”. I found refuge in the few cousins who had the same values as me and we all agreed this toxic cycle needed to be broken. There is a big problem in Latinx families when it comes to racism and colorism. All of us from Caribbean decent are made of three bloodlines: European, Black, and Taino. I have seen in Puerto Rico how Blacks are treated. I have heard how people in the Dominican Republic treat Haitians. Not accepting the Black part of your heritage is ignorant. We come in all colors, but in racism, there is only Black or White.
I used to work in a library and archive that specialized in Puerto Rican history. To my surprise, I found a census form that had my Abuelo’s name on it. He was nine years old at the time, and his mother had put him down as “White”. Upon further research, I discovered families living in rural areas got more federal help if they put down “White” instead of “Colored” on the census. Was Abuelo taught to hate the color of his skin? Did he indirectly pass this on to my mother? Papi’s side was worse. They were taught to hate Blacks in general, and this I noticed just through their language and behavior.
Things got worse when police brutality became more prominent against Black people. I already did not trust cops. Growing up in The Bronx, I was exposed to the racial profiling with the NYPD. I was looked over, but my Black friends were questioned. My family members defended the police, and unfortunately continue to do so. While I united my voice against the brutal murders of Sean Bell, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, and many others, I heard the most ignorant and angering comments, including: “Why did they resist?” and “They deserved it for breaking the law.”
Racist Latinx families believe in the lie that just because they pass for White they are entitled to White privilege. That because they vote Republican, work for the cops, or have some position in politics, that they are somehow superior to others. They forget that all the traditions they believe in began with our Black ancestors. The rhythms of Bomba, Danza, Plena, Salsa, Merengue, and Bachata grew from the drums of the enslaved. Colonialism continues to erase this part of history from their lives.
To them, speaking up is going against the family. Speaking up makes you the bad one, the ugly duckling, the one no one else will take seriously. I am tired of being told to sit down and shut up. That I do not have a “sense of humor” with jokes anymore. I refuse to be a hypocrite. Now, I raise my voice.
I support Black Lives Matter.
I support the LGBTQIA+ community.
I support women’s rights.
I support the fight against climate change.
For those of you that fight racism in your family, I understand. Try to have a healthy conversation about race and colorism with the members who believe that intolerance is normal. If the conversation gets toxic, walk away. At least that family member knows where you stand. You are allowed to have a voice. You have the right to walk away when the ignorance becomes too much. Stay true to your values. Sign the petitions, join the protests, and continue the battle on your own.
And to La Familia,
Your Racism Is Showing (you know who you are).
Last Updated: January 14, 2022