I’m struggling. Struggling to come to terms with what I’m seeing. To what I’m hearing. To what I’m experiencing. I’m struggling with what it means to be a brown-skinned Hispanic in today’s world. Frequently, when I speak about this topic, with friends and colleagues, they’re surprised I’ve experienced issues. I hear things like, “yeah, but you’re not one of those Hispanics.”
Over the years, I’ve experienced overt racism. From the playgrounds of my youth to my days in a Christian Prep School on Long Island. I once attempted to help someone up, who slipped and fell. His response? He smacked my hand away and said, “Don’t touch me, N-gger!”
I’ve had a police car, heading northbound near my home, pass me, turn around and follow me home, until I pulled into my driveway. Then do the slow roll, past my house, to see if I stepped out of my car and enter my home. To be frank, it was a bit unnerving.
In February 2020, after checking into an upscale hotel in our nation’s capital, I stepped onto an elevator wearing a suit and carrying a laptop case over my shoulder. As I did, I witnessed passengers clutch their purses, and shuffle back, as if I were about to mug them. When they saw I was staying on an exclusive floor that required a unique key fob, one muttered to the other, “I wonder who he is?” Tired from traveling, I quietly reply, “Just a guy, ma’am. I’m just a guy.”
As recent as two weeks ago, while walking around a retail establishment my family and I frequent often, I had a plain-clothed “security guard” follow me around the store. Did I confront the individual? No. I ignored him and went about my business, picking up items for my home, including two prescriptions. I left the store incident-free, but was it really…incident free?
The tears are real. The frustration is real. Regardless of COVID-19, this is my “normal.”
During interviews for my novels, I’m often asked why I feel it important to showcase white-collar Hispanics? The underlying question – why not showcase the “real Hispanic experience?” That of the illegal migrant worker, struggling to cross the border.
Last week someone said to me, “In my experience, Hispanics don’t live in upper-middle-class neighborhoods. They live modestly, so they can send money back home to their families. You know, the real Hispanic experience.” People on the Zoom call got quiet. I usually allow comments like this to sit in the ether, and float away.
This time, I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had to educate this individual on my reality. Share that, as a human being, I understand the plight of an illegal migrant worker, but it wasn’t my reality.
My father, a Puerto Rican, worked for the Federal Government as a Commissioner for the Office for Civil Rights. And my mother, a Dominican immigrant, was a prominent physician, who proudly became a naturalized US Citizen before I was born.
My brothers and I grew up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood and attended a private Christian prep school on Long Island. We lived in a two-story home, and a built-in pool with a slide and diving board. My loving neighbors, many I still affectionately refer to as “Mom” were Caucasian upper-middle-class people raising their families.
In my family, there are educators, attorneys, engineers, business owners and leaders, nurses, HR executives, and professional musicians. None of which crossed the border illegally.
Her response? “Oh…I had no idea.”
Well, now, you know.
The tears are real.
It’s crucial to showcase the possible. Prominent Hispanics and people of color. Strong capable women. Leaders in their field and community. Flawed individuals who, like many others, overcome adversity, make it through the valley, and reach the top of the mountain, or at least the next plateau.
The tears are real.
The good news is, I’m not alone. And neither are you. There are men and women out there, setting the standards for others to aspire. People who recognize the daily challenges and struggles. Who care. Who dream.
The tears are real.
And to those men and women out there, I say…Thank You!