Why I Joined the Women’s March in 2017
That Saturday in 2017, I woke up to a dream of a little indigenous girl, dressed in a flamenco outfit, on a scholarship for dance. She spoke to me with an indigenously accented Spanish, self-conscious of her English. I told her in Spanish with a chuckle, “Well listen to me and imagine how I feel speaking Spanish,” my American accented Spanish, thick and chunky like raw masa. She asked me, “Did you not speak Spanish in the home?” I said, “That’s the problem: I never did, I was spoken to in Spanish and I answered in English. I understand everything, but speaking is hard.” Then she told me how hard it can be, for women, for moms who cannot get “fixed”. That’s an interesting choice of words for this little girl, but I took that to mean that women still do not have as many choices as we deserve and it made me think of my own mother, and the women that came before her and what choices, if any, they had for their futures.
I’m not one for activism. I have my opinions and I have a safe place to express them, but I do not outwardly go and fight for them. I dabbled in it while in college when I joined MEChA, the Chicano/Latino student union. I learned so much about my people and their struggles here in the United States and it made me want to do something about it. I made signs, joined meetings and eventually marched in the streets of Eugene, OR. But rallies were not really for me. I avoid confrontation at all cost, which is why I had decided early on that I would not be going to the Woman’s March in Portland.
That dream lingered on that morning like a stubborn chinginga in my eye. After the election, I’d been ignoring what was to come. I’d been telling myself it will all be ok, yet meanwhile I hear how terrified my friends and acquaintances are through social media. I hear stories about women being harassed, of racist graffiti being sprayed, even down the street at the little school I live by! I thought to myself: this simply cannot be true, not here, not in Portland. I’ve been living in a bubble. I’ve been sheltered my whole life, first by my loving family, and then by my friends. From what I can remember, I’ve not had an experience of overt racism, but a series of tiny micro-aggressions. And because I trust first, I often give the experience the benefit of the doubt. As much as I do not want to admit it, the notion that there are folks out there that only see me and mine for what our outsides might represent to them, pains me and fills me with sickness and dread.
I wanted to go about my Saturday like it was any other Saturday. I wanted to believe that it was not necessary to lend my voice to a march because well, I’m not important and marching makes me uncomfortable. I wanted to all the while my friends were probably out marching, uniting their voices with others to protect themselves and me. I wanted to think it would all be ok. But what if it's not ok? What if the rights that protect us as women, as immigrants, children of immigrants, start to get picked at one by one like lint off a sweater until we realize, it wasn’t lint that was being pulled, but the yarn that held it all together until it unspools into a lump of wool?
What if the next four years leaves us naked and I stood by with my fingers in my ears passively ignorant to the real struggles of others? I’ve lamented to myself how I feel life is passing me by, that I am not the conductor of my life and that I’m on top of a train mindlessly following. I kept telling myself: if only I’d seen the choice as clear as day. And now here I am: do I go about my Saturday like nothing has changed in the world, or do I join the women? What will I tell my son when they ask me “Mama, what did you do on that day?” and I tell them: “Nada hijo, no me importaba mucho, tenía miedo.” Being scared is ok, but letting it take control and paralyze you is not. Me and fear have an abusive relationship. It tells me I’m weak and I’m stupid and sometimes I listen to it. But pushing through the fear creates courage and strength. This is the me I want to offer to my fellow marchers: The me that makes the choice, the me that is scared but moves forward anyway. I want to offer not just my voice, but my courage and strength that was a result of that fear. I do this for the women that *are* genuinely paralyzed by fear of what’s to come. I have you, I have your back. I will be strong for you.
I no longer want to be passive, I want to take control and be my own driver. I want my son to know that I, a Mexican-American from Oregon was part of history. Much of the time our collective Latino history gets swept aside or overlooked, unimportant to the bigger picture. But those in my picture are important, those little brown faces their colors ranging from Nesquick to Abuelita’s chocolate. Their brown and green eyes, blue sometimes too, eager to just be a part of something, to want so desperately to be seen and heard and belong. I want to tell them: I am here for you, because I matter and you matter. I see you.
I fight for the little girl in my dream following her own dream of dance, speaking Spanish with her indigenous accent, making her way out of the safety of her village to the large city in another country where she does not know the language well. I march for my mom who came to this country not knowing any English and raised 3 children along with my father. They gave us the American Dream that everyone dreams of and I hope they look back at their lives and are proud of me.
And like that little girl in my dream, I come to the march as a mix of cultures: a Mexican-American girl born and raised in the West Hills of Portland, Oregon having once migrated to Mexico and back, and who found a community of women friends that she’d put her fears, insecurities and laziness aside to march for them.