The Boy Who Chose to Change the World

On Valentine’s Day I am reflecting on the meaning of love.  For many, love means giving other people jewelry , a fancy dinner, a reflection of love to that one person you love most in the world.  I do yearn for this sometimes, but I reflect on love in the broader sense, in ways we ourselves do not necessarily follow. I reflect on the need to love humanity and want to make it a better. place.

 

Yesterday I walked into the community of La Cruz in El Salvador. It’s a unique community, in the middle of the city is a community that started out as war refugees in the early eighties. A series of families were given asylum in a plot of land and they set up camp. Four generations later they still remain, a community of 150 people in a series of shacks the size of one large living room.  There are no personal toilets but a shared toilet for 150 people.  The shacks are made of metal and cardboard. The floors are dirt roads and a dirty soapy water flows through it. You can smell detergent , and roosters and ducks peck through the ground.  It’s an odd thing, a shanty town in the middle of a bustling city. Women have children young- as young as 15 years old- as they walk through the town barefoot carrying large tubs of Corn precariously balanced on their head.

In the middle of the slums live a couple youth. Two boys, brothers dreamed of bettering their community. One of them already has a scholarship to one of the most prestigious universities. On their own intitiative, they set out to do literacy classes for those who were not educated. They set up a recycling program, and gathered all the youth together tp try and make a positive difference in their communities.

The community is not without problems : Teenage pregnancy, gangs, illiteracy yet here is a boy who had virtually nothing , who could be angry but chose to love and embrace serving others. Here is . a series of teenagers and young university students who have an idealism, a love for others despite having every reason to hate or to be bitter.

 

They humble me by their idealism, and I want to be like them when I grow up.

 

 

 

The Veil of Political Correctness

Political correctness only gives you a tool to make it seem like you are informed or not prejudiced. It never teaches you to reach out and have conversations with other people, it does not teach you to constantly be educated. Anyone can fall into ignorance or prejudice. It’s how we truly want to deal with it that makes the difference

In one of my favorite scenes of Harry Potter, Sirius Black goes into the veil and is never seen again.  The veil changes everything, and once people go into it, we can’t go back.  In some ways, this is a reflection of what has happened after the Election. We have gone beyond the veil of political correctness and people can’t unsee all the maladies that USA has.

There has been more than 700 hate crimes around the USA since the election, and a movement of Nationalist and  White ” Pride” has come into the fray that of the Alt Right.  There are still people who want to deny it exists. Everywhere you turn  there are reports of hate, prejudice and intolerance.  I was on the phone with one of my best friends and I was a little perplexed. ” Why are people so surprised that racism , sexism and intolerance still exists in this country?”

I started to contemplate the idea of political correctness and it being a veil for privilege or awareness. By avoiding certain words in your vocabulary, by trying to be politically correct due to the fear and the  real consequences for your actions, by policing speech people we are able to give an appearance of equity in society.  The USA can keep on with the narrative that it is an educated and informed society free from prejudice with equal opportunities for all.

People are shocked by someone saying a racial slur, and forbid them to use it but we don’t stop the behavior or provide educational programs in schools to teach tolerance. We don’t engage in real dialogue of why this keeps happening decades after the civil rights movement and women’s rights movements.  Neighbors of diverse races and background merely politely ” ignore” each other while living in the same street, yet will continue to harbor prejudice in their heart.

For me, who walks in between a bunch of worlds, this dichotomy and hypocrisy rarely shocks me. For some reason people are who they are around me. The moment they ask me where I am from and I say ” I grew up in El Salvador” since I was a kid people have been saying things like ” Oh it’s a shame that Latinos bring crime into this country” or ” People are so barbaric over there” or ” I am glad my ancestors were slaves in this country and not some backward country in latin america ” ( Double whammy for that one folks!!). It’s as if, because of my skin color and the way I talk ” American” somehow I am not an Other but a ” Them” and by consequence they can tell me how they really feel.  This was not limited by people who were white, but people of many cultures and backgrounds who had misinformed opinions about El Salvador.

” Well, at least you know how people feel and you aren’t left guessing ” Said my best friend Rachel. I guess this is true. Of course, I can walk into a store and no one will think I am going to rob it. I can speak and no one will be annoyed by my accent. Living in other countries is considered exotic and interesting and not something that is a disadvantage. I have an Arabic name and have a religion that is not Christian but I look innocous enough that people can ” pardon ” that.

What people are voicing around the country is something they already had in their heart. This was not something that started with a presidential candidate, rather it only broke the veil of Political Correctness. Should we go back to simply using the right words , and yet have small microagressions of prejudice? Should we smile politely and interview people of color for jobs and yet still end up hiring people ” like us”?

When I was walking back from the prayer vigil for the North Dakota pipeline, a well meaning protestor asked me where I was from. I told her I grew up in El Salvador , and she started to ” inform” me about all the political groups in El Salvador  she was a part of, and how things worked in the country I grew up in all my life.  I’ve seen that before too, the kids with Che Guevara on their wall, who spend a long time talking about injustice and are knee deep in the latest educational or political theory book they have been studying. Some go to their preferred place of activism to take over the narrative,  to ” educate” people of their own suffering and experience because they have read a bunch of books in an Ivy League University.

Others are well adept in Slacktivisim and love to post things on their walls that made them seem well meaning and informed.  For them,  activism is almost a show a way to pat themselves on the back. My x boyfriend was like this, always lecturing me on how to think or talk constantly putting things up on his wall to seem informed reminding me about how much you have to ” Check your privilege”.  Being around him was exhausting, it was all about the ” right ” thing to say, and never truly admitting that sometimes you were ignorant about things.  In that world, it was all about seeming ” open” but never truly about engaging in conversations with people of diverse opinions. It was silently judging everyone else was was prejudiced or ignorant but in many ways it made them complacent in their own misconceptions.  It was about talking about causes but never truly volunteering or trying to work towards significant change.

He would talk about his “exotic” x girlfriends as if they were badges of his awareness. He would make sure he would say it in front of any of my friends especially if they were a different race or culture.  It’s the kind of activism that is more about a sense of guilt and how it looks then really wanting to make a difference.   At times this approach is judgmental and divisive, a sort of competition of who is  most ” aware “, the type that posts about their achievements more than actually doing anything . The cause ceases to be important.  You know the type. The kind that loves to pose in front of a lot of ” diverse” children smiling to the camera and give inspirational quotes about their achievements. They know all the right words to say , but cease to see people as people and more as causes. They are more about how activism looks to other people and not doing actual true significant change.  Yes they are politically correct, educated and ” aware” but are they really truly free from prejudice?

In college , I worked at a vegetarian Co Op. (I was a horrible employee. I admit it. I left at the earliest possible moment, so take this story with a grain of salt). There was a girl there , we shall call her Thea.  Every week there was an employee meeting ( not paid btw) and everyone talked about their ” feelings” . I briefly said I was doing ok, there was a flood going on in El Salvador but everyone seemed to be fine. I shrugged. Then it was Thea’s turn. Her blonde dreadlocks wobbled around her as she teared up. ” I am so worried for my womyn ( Yes, that’s how she pronounced and wrote it) in COATetepeque ( She made sure she emphasized it) those wonderful women that I spent two weeks with … ” The girl went on and on and on and on. Everyone ran to console her while I looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Girl, this isn’t your tragedy. Stop.”

I know, I am being really judgmental about this type.  I’ve found that oddly this type is also the most judgmental towards my own background. When I say I grew up in El Salvador and I don’t feel like giving the whole explanation of where I am from,  and when people find out my mother is Scottish and my dad is Italian they think I’ve ” Lied” about my background. That I am not really ” from ” El Salvador. It causes a real visceral reaction in people.  It’s as if I have to justify my existence. It’s an odd thing, because if the roles were reversed and you told someone who was not born in the USA but grew up there that they are ” Lying” and they are not ” really American” it would be insulting and absurd.

The truth is, I am not from a particular place. I am from many countries and backgrounds. I’m ok with that.  I think people who are multicultural and to an even larger degree people who are biracial or multiracial challenges political correctness, challenges what people want to believe or judge about others.

Political correctness only gives you a tool to make it seem like you are informed or not prejudiced. It never teaches you to reach out and have conversations with other people, it does not teach you to constantly be educated. Anyone can fall into ignorance or prejudice. It’s how we truly want to deal with and to take the first step towards ridding ourselves of prejudice that makes a real difference.

I’ve encountered three types of prejudice in my life , the first is just simply ignorance. Some people just don’t know. They weren’t taught in schools and they are mirroring what their parents are saying.  Then there are those who hate others and know they hate them.

But there is a third kind which I think are the most damaging. It’s the kind that simply denies it’s existence. It’s the kind that live in a bubble, the perfectly nice polite person who knows all the right words to say but doesn’t really truly want to hear when things get ugly. It’s the person whom if you say you have been sexually harassed on the street will say ” Oh I am sure you didn’t hear it right”. It’s the reaction when you say that your friend in Spain was ostracized for being hispanic who will just shake their head and ignore it. It’s the person who wants to live in a society where pain and ugliness does not exist. Who desperately wants to think that we live in a world that ” sees no color”.  They want to erase the narrative because it challenges everything they believe in. Imagine if you thought all your life you lived in a safe neighborhood and then one day your neighbor has their car stolen.  The first reaction to this is ” Oh maybe they just lost their car or maybe the man didn’t really mean to steal the car, it doesn’t mean that my neighborhood isn’t safe”. If they admitted that their neighbor’s car was stolen on their street, it would mean that their view of the neighborhood is a lie. It would mean that crime does exist it just hasn’t happened to them.  Instead of working with your neighbors to address the issue and try to make your street safer, you live in a denial that it even exists. The neighborhood slowly becomes so filled with crime and problems  until it reaches a point where you can’t ignore it anymore. This is what has happened to America.  And yet still you can try to make yourself believe that it doesn’t exist or happen.

That’s the most dangerous kind of prejudice as it is willful ignorance, surpressing the victim and gaslighting their experience because it makes someone uncomfortable.  It’s hiding behind a word and not really want to see the ugly things behind the veil. It’s seeing footage of a crime and STILL denying it.

It’s calls for unity and love yet not really wanting either, rather to surpress the uncomfortable reality we live in. Real unity is not in words alone. It is in actions, it is in the everyday cosmos of living in a diverse world where there isn’t just one truth. It’s acknowledging that while you may not have ever said horrible hateful things to someone , it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.

Instead of denying it’s existence, grab someone’s hand and smile at them. Instead of taking over the narrative, try empathizing with your fellow man.  We need to start talking with each other, trying to have these difficult conversations. We need to admit we don’t know all the answers just because we have the right vocabulary.

Finding Peace and Equality