I love my culture. Simply put: I’m proud to be Mexican. I take pride in my identity as a Mexican-American and try to use my perspective as a person of color to influence my world for the better. Being Mexican inspires me to be more inclusive: am I represented here? Are other Latinx people represented here? Are other people of color represented here? I’m a self-proclaimed activist, of Mexican descent, and that influences my choices and my viewpoints.
Following the death of George Floyd and the influx of Black Lives Matter protests, I felt it was my duty as a Latinx person to aid in the fight against racism, to arm myself with excerpts from all the latest articles and my knowledge of Black radical literature. I wanted to be on the intellectual frontlines, calling for justice and tangible action. I felt entitled to use my voice, specifically because I’m a person of color, for equality for other people of color. As if being Mexican meant that I understood the BLM movement more than my white friends did.
So I squawked as loud as I could. I told my friends and peers and family what petitions to sign and which graphics to repost. I ensured that I was keeping myself educated and up to date on the information that would benefit me most in the fight against racism. I wrote a lot about how to be a better ally and how to ensure activism wasn’t performative. I think in a lot of ways, I considered myself a leading expert on BLM. This superiority was shallowly disguised by my desire to be the best ally I could, and it was all wrapped up in my own Mexican-ness. The perfect storm for my activism to expose its ignorance.
It was in late June that I took a break from posting on social media. Battered by the words of family members who refused to accept BLM and bruised by the ever-depressing news of the protests turned violent across the country, I felt like I had to pause. I didn’t stop reading or flipping through Instagram stories; I didn’t quit thinking about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain and all the other names on my feed. During my break, I considered what it means to be a person of color. I saw posts that said things like “Yellow Peril for BLM” and “Latinx for BLM” and I wondered what it truly meant to be a person of color standing with other people of color. I thought about what it meant to be standing with another group that has been systemically oppressed in America.
And then I thought about how, even though I’m a person of color, I’m not Black. I can sympathize, but I can’t empathize. And through my activism and attempt to educate others, I wanted to empathize. I wanted to sound like I knew what I was talking about so badly to the point that I pretended to equate the Mexican and Latinx plight to that of the plight of Black people in America. And while, yes, there is overlap where both groups have been severely faulted by the United States, I am not Black. And I failed to recognize that in my activism.
Even more, I failed to recognize that while, for me, there’s no personal overlap, there is for others. I’m just Latinx; I can’t personally empathize with the Black community. But the Afro-Latinx community can. There, lying in the murky overlap of groups wronged by America, are Afro-Latinx people, and I overlooked them. For them, BLM and their Latinx identity are intrinsically linked, bound together in their blood. Being Latinx does have something to do with BLM for the Afro-Latinx community, and I had disregarded that completely. I felt my own ignorance blinding me, a fake woke cascade crumbling down on my head.
I wasn’t sure where to go from there. I felt like my discovery had been groundbreaking, I felt like I’d realized something about myself that was embarrassing. How dare I try to equate being Mexican to being Black, even subconsciously? That’s nowhere near being the same thing! How dare I forget that there are some Mexicans who are also Black! Can I even recognize and advocate for the entirety of my own community? I was ashamed of myself and felt like I couldn’t be a good activist because I was prioritizing my own story over the one at hand. In wanting to advocate for the BLM movement, I inadvertently diminished the struggles of Black activists and Americans by attempting to project my own experiences onto theirs. My short break morphed into an intentional hiatus and an avenue for me to rethink my position as someone fighting for change.
What I learned, and am still learning, is that genuine activism and allyship are for the benefit of the greater good. I shouldn’t be an activist because I’m Latinx, I should be an activist because it involves fighting for issues I care deeply about. It’s not about me. Even when it’s a cause pertaining to the Latinx community, it’s not about me; it’s about the Latinx community as a whole. I must separate myself and my desire to feel included from the cause for which I’m fighting. I can find community in other activists, regardless of where they hail from.
I love my culture, and I’m still just as proud to be Mexican as I was before—but now I know to check my pride when it comes to advocating for BLM. For me, being Latinx has nothing to do with BLM, and I now know I fight for BLM without asking “what about me?” Because I’m not fighting for me. And when I’m advocating for abolishing ICE and detention centers, immigration issues, or LGBTQ+ rights, it’s still not about me, regardless of my close relationship to those issues.
So I’m changing. I’m learning. I’m holding myself accountable every day, asking myself and my Mexican-ness if what I’m doing is making a genuine change and not just making me look good. Activism and allyship, for me, hasn’t been linear, and the road to improving is ever-winding. And now, self-proclaimed, I’m still an activist, still of Mexican descent: Mexican. Activist.
Visual by Vy Nguyen