Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Who and what is Safe? Who is Authentic?

I am chalking up this reflection to the wisdom gathered with age, internal peace that showers you when that arrives and fearlessness that mirrors that of my dear childhood friend Usha.

One door cracked the other fully open. Understanding the depth of that line has allowed me stay on this road to bring truth to something that is nothing but the truth. We have been fed years of misinformation that does not allow us to see each other.
I am walking around after a few profound experiences asking the question. Who and what is Safe as it relates to addressing Racism. The follow up question then becomes, who decides?
My skin seems to be getting in the way of other people seeing the good intentions in my footsteps yet my joy and acceptance of this skin and the internal pride it showers me with, has opened the door for me to find my True Self. 

This combination has brought me face to face with the realization that I am not invited to most Latino tables in Boston. This reality has come with acceptance which is why it was time to share it out loud.
In speaking out loud and holding nothing back at a recent panel, I realized that if you are ready to hear it, that is the reality about racism in and out of our community, then the delivery, visual etc., will not get in the way.

One, Talking about race is not safe. Two, talking about race as an Afro Latina calling out the internal racism within the community is not safe. What I am sitting with today after being on this road for a long time, is that in speaking on it, you personally become ‘not safe’ to many.

I see myself as non-threatening moving with the intent to raise the voices of my ancestors. Yet based on the looks and lack of invitations, I now know that my words sound like a heavy punch.
I have heard many times, “we need to bring you back to the Latino community."
 I never left, Yo soy PanameƱa de Colon Por Vida/ I am a Panamanian from colon for life!

The "Latino" door that excludes my Africanness did close a long time ago and may never open after this reflection. Yet the door that opened is filled with clarity of what I come from, whose shoulders I stand on, who I am and what I bring to the table.

Moving with the phrase, ‘land gently on the heart’ taught me new ways to speak on this truth. Yet however gentle, in Spanish or English I say it, if your heart has fears being seen as Black first and foremost, then I absolutely understand why you closed the door.
I know I am reminder of the roots you struggle to identify. My next question becomes, Who decides who is the Authentic Latino? Is there a Latino checklist that those who these words are directed to walk with?
Last week the young girls of the HER Project attended an event in the community with staff. They were excited to see one of the participants being Latina.
They met the self-identified Afro Latina and had an inspiring exchange that led them both to say, I want to be like her. The other exchange was also inspiring yet puzzling. When they approached the Latina in Spanish, she immediately stopped them to say, my Spanish is not good. My girls were puzzled because she had the name, the accent, the look, but not the language.
When I walked into the mix, the Latina seemed surprised that I had the place of birth, the language, I was asked about my name and clearly she was stuck on the look.
In comes the question, who is Authentic and who decides? Who makes that checklist that says, Ok, Ella es Latina. In this moment it becomes clear that assumption and bias takes over.
Moment’s likes these are a common theme in my daily life. I have learned to navigate them without responding with a history lesson.
My concern today is the youth that we see every day. What happens to the youth of the HER and the HIS Project who are doing their work, reaching for their root and finding joy and pride in it? What happens when they are faced with a ‘Latino’ who has not but has the power to make decisions and does not want to talk about Racism that includes looking at self. Is it easier to address Race issues from the outside of self? For your eyes to open to see it all around us, your heart has to be open to heal and shed what you have been fed for so long, Black is Bad and White is good. This goes beyond the color of our skin because the acceptance of the internal Black, the Africanness is the first step.
With all the work they are doing to organize their minds and remove the chains of colonialism, will they be invited to the table? Will they be safe? They will be the leaders of tomorrow with a strong sense of their identity.
While you sit and ponder all the questions I have posed in this reflection, I will stay on this road for as long as they want me to, working with the youth, speaking to those who want to listen and to those who want to see real change.
I will continue walking through the door that was opened for me to see beyond. Maybe someday when you find it Safe to speak about the internal racism that you see then you can invite the young women of the HER Project and the young men of the HIS Project to sit at the table with you.
Peace and Light,


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