Our place in history ...

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Written July 15 @ 5 AM (the day after the verdict led to a sleepless night)


When my father was a teenager in Mexico City, he was known in the neighborhoods around El Monumento de la Raza as "the gorilla." He wasn't scared of anyone or anything. If some guy picked on a family member or friend, he would go to where he lived, knock on the door, ask that guy to step outside, and then proceed to pummel him. He once had his jaw broken by a baseball bat, but he never lost a fight. It wasn't until the Mexican government turned its soldiers with guns and tanks upon the high school and college age youth that spent the summer and fall of 1968 marching in the streets that my father feared violence. Not even "the gorilla" could win in a fight against the artillery unleashed in Tlatelolco. Thousands were killed and made to disappear. It would take more than a generation for the Mexican government to admit what it did.

My mother who deplored violence, and my father who came to realize its limits, raised me to avoid physical confrontations. They taught me to deescalate conflict, to "think about the consequences of my actions, and use my words whenever possible." This was a fine strategy until we were deported. In Mexico City I was a sitting duck for students who saw me as a descendant of Hernan Cortes, instead of Cuauhtémoc, and/or personally responsible for the killing of los Niños Héroes. I was a pale, skinny kid. Everyone knew I came to Mexico from the US. I stood out. Packs of bullies, older kids, several grade levels ahead of me, would beat me up before/after school, on the bus, during lunch/recess, and on field trips. Initially, I tried to run and hide. But one evening, as I explained to my parents that I hadn't eaten during the day, because I spent all of lunch hiding in the bathroom, sitting on a toilet in a ball, hugging my legs tightly with my arms, I caught a glimpse of what can only be described as shame in my father's eyes. I knew then that my days of running and hiding had to come to an end.

The next day several grade levels from my school were taken to an athletic facility with several soccer fields and an athletic track. This was an opportunity for us to run around in a wide open space, as my school consisted of a block building and paved playground -- a space completely devoid of grass, much less trees. The day was cut short by a sudden rain storm. We were instructed to get into single file lines and walk back toward the buses via the most direct route, one that took us within a few yards of an uncovered swimming pool. En route to the bus I was pushed to the ground and verbally assaulted by a pack of bullies. Humiliated, I wanted to cry. But I remembered that look of shame in my father's eyes. So instead, I ran toward the bully directly in front of me, using the force given to me by my momentum to knock him to the ground. He got up. So I ran toward him again. This time jumping in an attempt to tackle him. I succeeded. We fell into the pool. He didn't know how to swim. I didn't know this. He nearly drowned. I swam toward the adults who promptly punished me. And although my parents reprimanded me as well, I no longer saw shame in my dad's eyes.

When I listen to "legal experts" explain that George Zimmerman was found not guilty because he acted in "self-defense." When I read comments written by people who feel the system works because in the middle of the fight he started with a 17-year old child, a 29-year old man, feared for his life, and therefore needed to stand his ground, I am completely floored. I simply cannot understand how anyone can fault a 17-year old boy for fighting back after being followed by a strange man. Maybe there is a way that Trayvon Martin could have hidden himself in fear, or run away crying desperately for help. But if he hadn't stood up for himself, if any 17-year old boy in that situation hadn't done exactly what Trayvon Martin did, would that boy be able to look into the eyes of his father and/or other male role models and not catch a glimpse of shame? Whether this is all macho b*llsh*t or not, it is an undeniable part of our culture. There is not a film, tv show, comic book, etc. in which the male protagonist runs away from a fight. Regardless of how insurmountable the odds, our heroes never back down. I can't think of a single instant in which an adolescent has ever received praise from another adolescent for running away and hiding, or simply turning the other cheek when an aggressor delivers verbal and/or physical blows. When I was a teenager, the mere perception of disrespect toward you, or anyone in your set was enough reason to throw down. But it didn't end there. And once your high school yearbook features an In Memoriam section for those who lost their lives to gun violence, you long for a chance to escape. And forget.

But at 17, you want so desperately to be a man, that you mask your fear and insecurity as best you can. If someone wants to start something, you force yourself to rise to the challenge. At 29, the expectation when someone says, "Man up," the expectation is for your to be the bigger man and walk away. At 17, when someone says, "Man up," you throw down. This does not make you a thug, or a hoodlum, or a gangster (gangsta). It just makes you a boy trying to live up to the socio-cultural definition of what it means to be a man. If you've experienced this, or if you can imagine it, then please take a moment to wrap your head around what it's like for a boy from a community of color to try and be a man in a world that constantly tries to humiliate him in the ways most meaningful to young people. 86% percent of those stopped and frisked by police officers in NYC are black and brown, for instance. And if you've seen the film, Fruitvale Station, or remember the murder of Oscar Grant, at point blank range, by an officer in the Bay Area, you know that this phenomenon, of peace officers harming people of color, is common from sea to shining sea. So again, place yourselves in the shoes of a 17-year old black boy being followed by a stranger. There is no evidence available to you that compels you to believe that the police are going to treat you fairly, or much less come to your rescue. You know that you are on your own. And you know that men stand up for themselves; they don't run away from a fight.

A 29-year old with a gun and a delusional vendetta against "these a**holes [who] always get away" murdered a 17-year old black boy. The murderer is almost twice as old as the child he murdered. If that murderer had killed a 17-year old girl, or a 17-year old white boy, he would have been convicted, and would be serving jail time. If a 17 year old girl had been followed on her way home by a 29-year old man, the assumption would be that this stranger was following her because he sought to rob and/or rape her. In this scenario, the taking of the word of this murderer, claiming that it was necessary for him to brandish a firearm and discharge it because of "self-defense" would not occur. Since the majority of those who contributed financially to the "Zimmerman defense fund," would feel differently about this case, in this scenario, then gender matters. The fact that the media labelled George Zimmerman a "white Hispanic," and that those who sought to demonize a dead 17-year old posted a profile photo that was not from the murdered Trayvon Martin's Facebook page, and was not of the murdered Trayvon Martin, but a photo of a completely different and unrelated person with the same name and skin color, proves race matters (http://www.snopes.com/photos/politics/martin.asp). To quote Richard Wright, "the color of a Negro's skin makes him easily recognizable, makes him suspect, converts him into a defenseless target... [because] America, lusty because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid, insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and the evil, the high and the low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity. It hugs the easy way of damning those whom it cannot understand, of excluding those who look different, and it salves its conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness.”

No matter what the jury or any of the talking heads on radio and TV say, there is only one person who exercised self-defense. There is only one individual who stood his ground. And that is a 17-year old black boy named Trayvon Martin. 29-year old George Zimmerman is the one who followed when the 911 operator told him not to. He is the one who got out of the car with a gun on his person when there was neither reason to get out of the vehicle or brandish a weapon. He sought out conflict. He targeted Trayvon Martin and pursued him. That a 17-year old made a 29-year old bleed, is not as important as everything George Zimmerman did leading up to the moment in which he murdered Trayvon Martin. You can't claim self-defense if you are the one who picked the fight. You can't pretend you're standing your ground, when you're following someone to the ground where that person's standing. As Sara Ceballos said, anyone who pretends justice was done, because the letter of the law was followed, doesn't understand the meaning of the word justice -- everyone from Jesus Christ to Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela engaged in civil disobedience to protest unjust laws. And watching every single hour, minute, and second of that trial does not make you an "expert," if you're not willing to admit that George Zimmerman would not have been found "not guilty" of killing a 17-year old white boy, or a 17-year old girl.

Written July 13 @ 8 PM Pacific (the night of the verdict)


It is in moments like these it seems as though believing in the institutions of the United States of America is no different than believing in the institutions of faith. The Catholic Church facilitated the genocide of tens of millions of indigenous Americans, but here I am the descendant of indigenous Mexicans from the mountains of Guanajuato who were denied humanity -- never mind equal opportunity, they were denied simple humanity -- going to church, praying, confessing my sin, asking for my forgiveness. When it would be more appropriate for the church to ask for forgiveness for what it did to my family. And what it has done since: causing Jews to die in Hitler's camps, children to be unforgivably abused by priests, etc. Today, a man who followed a child was found "not guilty." This man was carrying a gun. This man was told by a 911 dispatcher not to follow the child. But this man took his gun, and followed this child. Guilty means responsible. This man is responsible. This man is guilty. He is guilty of killing a child. And the justice system of the United States of America is supposed to work to uncover truth. It is supposed to work the way it does when justice prevails in a Hollywood film, or television drama. But today is a reminder that it is the systems of the United States of America that repeatedly fail to do the right thing at the right time. Slavery and Jim Crow existed because of laws, not customs. And today's Supreme Court is the one that overturned the Voting Rights Act. In Korematsu v. United States a US citizen challenged the legality of a Presidential Executive Order that forced Japanese descendant US citizens into Internment Camps. Korematsu lost. Hirabayashi v. United States was about mandatory curfews for Japanese Americans. Hirabayashi lost. The Supreme Court did not support them, or any other Japanese American. The Chinese Exclusion Act was a federal law, passed by Congress, and signed into being in 1882. It did not end until half way through the 20th Century. And only because the US government needed help fighting the Axis powers on the Pacific Front. Native Americans -- the people that were here when the Pilgrims rolled in, the ones that Disney romanticizes in Pocahontas, the people that Johnny Depp paints his face and claims to belong to in the Lone Ranger, the human beings whose willingness to feed the starving Europeans, every Thanksgiving... No Native Americans were citizens of the United States until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. In fact, they were prohibited from becoming citizens by the Naturalization Act of 1790 -- that stated that only whites, not Latinos, Asians, African Americans, or Native Americans could be citizens of the United States of America. It was the government of the United States of America that "repatriated" millions -- yes, millions, not dozens or hundreds or even thousands -- of Mexicans in the 1930s and 1950s. No one asked for proof of citizenship. They simply rounded up anyone with a brown face and put them on a train headed for Mexico. This literally happened in the 20th Century at the hands of the government of the United States. The very same Republic to which I Pledged Allegiance every single morning as a kid. And today, in the 21st Century, it is the government of the State of Arizona, the government of the State of Alabama, that have passed SB 1070 and HB 56 respectively, so they can once again have permission to stop anyone with a brown face. All in the name of feeding a federally supported deportation policy that has established a quota of 400,000 deportations a year. President Obama, who I campaign on behalf of, and voted for twice, is responsible for deporting more people in half a decade than 100 years worth of US President's were able to deport. And the reason we can't have immigration reform is because the GOP controlled House says that there's not enough enforcement? Please tell me again why it is that I tell people to have faith in the institutions of the United States of America when there is no wealth of empirical evidence compelling them to? A man followed a child when he was told not to. He was carrying a gun, when he did not need to. This man had a car and a nearby home. He could have avoided conflict. And he was told by a 911 operator to avoid it. But he sought it. And he killed a child. These are facts. And facts are supposed to matter in the United States precisely because We The People does not contain any footnotes, endnotes, parentheses, or asterisks that explicitly exclude Constitutional protection from anyone in the United States. The system is broken. I need to go eat and find a proof point that convinces me that it can truly be fixed.