Race-work, Race-love

Love and legacy: On being the daughter of immigrants

In Uncategorized on December 13, 2010 at 3:16 pm

I sleep tonight feeling like the daughter of immigrants. I sleep tonight feeling the weight of survival and privilege – un amasamiento like Gloria Anzaldua writes – that gave birth to a creature like me. A hybrid. A combination of farmers, working class Americans, and new age academic elitism. A native New Yorker, the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants.

This weight of survival and privilege was born out of one of the most revolutionary acts of human kind: immigration. Leaving behind everything you know for a space that is totally unknown, a land that one can completely create.

This is not the revolution we understand. Individuals in my family weren’t freedom fighters, they did not create revolution in the spirit of civil rights, they didn’t march for The Cause — instead they sought freedom from the oppression of poverty, they created revolution by giving their children voices when they had none, and marched barefoot from their two bedroom shack to school back to their farm. They marched out of their farm into a small city and eventually out of the country into another big city called Nueva York where Americans only knew of Ecuadorians because of our Panama Hats.

Ecuadorian invisibility.

I grew up in the spirit of Civil Rights, learning the songs of struggle, reading about Angela Davis, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. I grew up with phrases from songs like Fight the Power and Self-destruction and Freedom. This was my education. My own racial revolution.

But the quiet revolution, the revolution that brought me here, the story of the immigrant is ignored, untold, badly reported, terribly maligned.

I live and love on the border of these two worlds. My racial revolution has its roots here but as you can see I know of one ancestry more than I do the other. My facial features demand that an African and indigenous story be told but how when your own parents or relatives do not want to talk about a painful past filled with poverty and illiteracy. Violence and no opportunity for growth. Where their only hope was a God and the few that left them behind. Their hope in individuals who left as brothers and sisters only to return as American citizens.

Blue passports became the new desired normal.

A tree with roots so deep people question whether they even exist.

But these roots are written all over my face! I scream in my head. Where do these features come from? Where does this sadness I inherited come from? How was this racial revolution, this fire started in the first place?

Immigration and race.

Today a woman died. A woman who I call my aunt whose story is untold. Buried under poverty and barely a grade school education. A woman whose roots run so deep we only recover bits and pieces of it. Scraps of history only evidenced on our faces.

A woman who believed in education so much she sent her very young daughters to live on their own, rented them an apartment close to their school so that they wouldn’t become farmers and be forced by a husband to be a wife like she was.

A woman who had no education, raised her 9 brothers and sisters and raised 8 children of her own. A woman who had no formal education but knew of its importance.

And in the US I learn that Latinos/as do not care about education.

Education is in our blood. And we do not care?

On the day my aunt passed, many of us were fighting in our own ways to pass the DREAM Act. Evidence that our people desire education. Many are opposed to it. Rather than creating possibilities for educational opportunities, they demonize the desire for education.

People are worried about protecting their privilege rather than distributing resources.


Survivor’s guilt. Just one generation removed from extreme poverty and here I am, a doctoral student, a director of an educational program. I am a sister, a daughter, a friend. I am a woman who is so different yet so the same as my aunt.

How did we escape severe poverty and illiteracy? Why?

While not entirely clear of the answer, with complete understanding, I realize that to survive the survivor’s guilt, I have to live. I have to fight for my brothers and sisters out there who cannot get the Blue Passport, who are struggling to get an education, who are not too clear about the maze created long before they were even born. I struggle to get on the other end of the finish line to get others there too. I get people through while I am running toward that last leg of the race, while being pulled by others who went before me.

And like my comadre Brenda says, throughout all of that, my aunt would want us to “smile, open your eyes, love, and go on”.

That’s my race-love right there.

With that love (and those blessings from above) I continue my race-work.


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