In 2007, I moved from a predominantly Hispanic community to a 95 percent white state. There were a few friends who warned me about how the transition would be difficult. They said I was going to encounter some challenges finding a job because as soon as hiring managers read my name, they’d throw my resume away.
In spite of the warnings, I moved anyway. I landed a job within 3 months of relocating and I began my career in marketing at a retail manufacturing company. People in my new state were extraordinarily nice. There was an immediate sense of community everywhere I went which was unexpected. Perfect strangers smiled and waved at me on the street. I felt right at home. There was a weird moment when I went to a trivia night at a popular bar and suddenly realized I was the only Hispanic person in the room. That had never happened to me before. I wasn’t scared and I didn’t feel threatened. It was just an awkward realization that my community looked different than the one I had just left. I was still happy I made the decision to move though.
Months past and I began to form a small group of friends. Eventually, I started to get invited to people’s homes for dinner or potluck events. Then, I noticed a few odd things.
I was often asked to make guacamole. At first, it didn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. People loved my guacamole. But one day someone made the comment, “I think it’s so cool that we get to eat authentic guacamole.” That’s when I realized that maybe… just maybe… I was asked to prepare this dish because I was ‘Mexican.’ I shrugged it off.
Then, one day at work, a coworker came up to me and said, “Hey Maritza, Can I ask you something?” “Sure.” “My husband and I are going to Cabo for vacation. When is National Taco Day?”
At first, I thought… Is she asking me this because she thinks I’m Mexican or is it because I lived in Texas and it’s close to Mexico so she thinks I would know? I decided to go with the latter.
“There’s no such thing as National Taco Day in Mexico.” “Yes, there is. My girlfriend told me when she went, there was a restaurant celebrating the holiday with $.50 tacos.” “Hate to break it to you, but that restaurant probably serves $.50 tacos everyday to bring in the tourists. National Taco Day does not exist.” “Yes it does!” “No. It doesn’t.”
She stormed off and I honestly can’t remember her ever speaking to me again.
The last straw for me came when my cubicle buddy was listening to Michael Franti and she said she was so happy that racism was over in America.
I think I spit out my coffee and laughed. I thought she was joking. When I looked at her face, I realized she was absolutely, 150 percent serious. The poor, innocent child thought racism was long gone. She thought we were living in one of Michael Franti’s songs, all dancing together in harmony, cherishing each other regardless of skin color. Sweet thing.
It broke my heart to tell her that racism was alive and well in the south. She didn’t believe me. Nothing I said could convince her. When someone comes from a community that is 95 percent white and they are also white, it’s hard to understand racial differences and the circumstances that befall people who are not part of the majority.
Which brings me to my ultimate point…
In my experience, most ‘racism’ and ‘prejudice’ comes from ignorance. Ideas that are outside of one’s bubble or understanding of the world can be tricky to navigate. The people who asked me to make guacamole or asked the date of a taco holiday were simply ignorant. I don’t think they had hate in their heart or prejudice on the mind. They just saw me with brown skin and assumed that I was the resident expert on all matters Latino. They didn’t even think twice about how that made me feel or if I might be offended by their questions. Likewise, the people who warned me about moving to a very white state were also coming from a place of ignorance. They were shocked when I told them how quickly I was able to find a job and how soon I was able to make friends.
Simple ignorance like this can sometimes turn into major prejudices similar to what we have seen in recent days. Especially if it keeps getting fed propaganda (Thanks, media!). Fear… lives at the center of each situation. ‘The Other’ is scary. It’s an unknown. I suspect it triggers our mammalian brain into action and engages our fight or flight response almost immediately. I am certainly guilty of this behavior myself.
How do we ‘cure’ it?
I’ve heard it said that our country, because it is so large and is made up of so many different communities of people, is more than just one big nation. It’s actually more like five nations all pushed together to form one country.
So, how do we learn about these regional communities and differences?
TRAVEL. Face ‘the other’ and get into the thick of it. See for yourself. Leave the city where you were born and raised. Find out if NYC really is full of assholes (spoiler alert, it’s not). Discover if people really do ride horses into work in Texas (spoiler alert, they don’t). Once people see ‘the other’ for themselves, it’s hard to keep being afraid of the unknown. Suddenly… you may find you have more in common with ‘the other’ than you realized. And that is a heart-warming feeling.
I grew up in México in a small town, I came to the US at 24 years old.
Some people, when they hear my story, want to know, “Why did you come to the US? For the most part it is has kind and curious people that ask.
I feel that my story is similar but not as harsh and sad as many of the other stories you hear from immigrants who have come here.
The dream of opportunity, the dream of being safe, the dream of not being harassed on the streets. The dream of a good paying job, the dream of a partner that is not abusive, manipulative, a better life!
Time has gone by, twenty years to be exact, I am now a citizen. I have been able to go back to México to visit my family, my Mom was able to come and work and stay, and my daughter came and after high school went back to Oaxaca.
A few years ago, my fiance Bob and I were discussing the issue of feminism and he asked me if I considered myself a feminist?
I answered, It depends, If I am in México, I am a feminist, If I am here (USA) I am not.
I had to think about it, and this is my conclusion.
Every time when I go back to México I feel, sad, overwhelmed, angry, and unfortunately not surprised of the chauvinistic way society works there. At the beginning of my trips I would argue, confront, get angry at every situation that would come my way. Vacation time was not relaxing.
Then I would come back home and my guard would come down. I would watch TV news and see women screaming, being angry, frustrated, arguing, fighting for respect and equality and I would think “What are they talking about?” “Why are they so angry?”, especially compared to Mexico.
Fast forward to the “MeToo” Movement and I suddenly realized how much harassment is happening here as well. I saw those angry women and frustrated women, many expressing the same sentiment I feel when I go back home.
What I understand now, however is also what type of victim I still am (Because I am still learning) of that chauvinistic society that I thought I left when I came here.
Many of the things that women here in the U.S take for granted, I didn’t even dream of. Being independent, having of a career, getting a college degree, those things never crossed my mind.
Life in the US has taken me in a beautiful journey that until recently through a series of epiphany’s, I didn’t realize I have been experiencing.
I did not go to college because still today I do not feel I have the skills to do s (This is what I am still working on, my beliefs and confidence)
However, I lived on my own for a while here and in México, I went to Cosmetology school and became an Instructor. I guess I may have what it takes for a journey to a College Degree. I am evolving.
(On a side note about the Cosmotology and Beauty Industry… I recognize now that in an industry that “caters” so much to women, to be successful in it you, have to be a man. For Another Blog)
I have come to realize now that women here in the U.S. are as angry and frustrated at the inequalities in our society as what I see going back home. I may not have seen it here because here, like in my and many other countries, Women are also held down and kept quiet. They are trying to get out or survive an abusive relationship, have strong opinions, grow careers and face many similar challenges. I feel that here in the U.S, even with the “metoo” it would be risky and perhaps devastating for our careers to report harassments and abuses.
In other countries it can even be devastating for your life.
I am now taking on a professional career as part owner of a Manufacturing Rep Firm with my fiancé. This experience has made me realize the money side of unequal pay and treatment to women. There have been cases where people dealing with me want to lower or delay payments delay answers and I am surprised at how treatment changes when my partner gets involved.
But more than anything again it is the realization of how a Caucasian male gets treated in business, opportunities, pay and overall treatment vs. a Hispanic woman from a third world country.
What I am also realizing is how education changes your mind, how sheltered my mind had been and how little by little the opportunities of education and experiences have changed my fears. It is time to exercise my “exigir”, or “how I want things to be”.
I am suddenly starting FIND MY VOICE!
I want equality
I want to change the way I think.
I want to decide.
I want to help.
I am thankful for the women in my life that answer my questions with kindness.
I am thankful for the men that treat me with respect and cheer for me to get a promotion , better pay and opportunities.
I am thankful for the situations and people that challenge my beliefs and thoughts.
I am thankful for the impassioned women on documentaries, teaching me lessons about how a strong willed woman (who has a victim of chauvinistic behavior’s or actions) believes, thinks and acts.
Meet Gabby Salinas: a healthcare advocate, cancer survivor, and scientist. Policy nerd. Political unifier. Red lipstick aficionado.
I met this Gabby in April 2018 when I just learned that my 12-year career teaching international university students was ending due to a nation-wide enrollment decline. I was preparing to move 2,500 miles away from my beloved home state of Oregon to Memphis, Tennessee and close the long-distance gap with my partner. I was eating lunch at my desk and scrolling Facebook when I came across a post in the group called Pantsuit Nation:
Wow! A woman wanting to turn her district blue just threw down her plans to run for office in the city where I was relocating! What were the chances? I was so moved by her announcement to run for state senate and excited to meet more progressive people in Memphis; a blue dot in a red state. Besides my partner, I didn’t know anyone else in Memphis, but that was about to change. I put down my salad and fork and sent Gabby this message:
“Hi Gabby! Happy birthday and congratulations on your campaign! Your story is very influential. I’ll be moving from Oregon to Memphis in September. I’ll be completely new to town and I’d love to help out on your campaign and meet some new people, so let me know if you need any help. I hope you have plans to celebrate today!”
And Gabby replied back:
“Hi Rachel, this is great news! You will love Memphis, it is a wonderful city! We would love your help, it is going to take all of us to flip this seat.”
And just like that: I made my first friend in Memphis.
Meet Gabby Salinas
A few months later when I arrived, I met Gabby in real life. She was as kind in person as she was on Facebook. I quickly learned that she and her family are the unofficial royal family of Memphis: loved by many for their community advocacy, genuine kindness, and their origin story of persisting in the face of hardships.
Election 2018 – She Persisted
I spent most of fall 2018 changing my address, shopping for a used car, and asking for rides to canvass for Gabby with my fellow campaign workers. Instead of preparing lessons and teaching students in a classroom, I knocked on thousands of doors and got to know the people in my new city by asking them to vote for Gabby in her campaign for the Tennessee state senate.
Fast forward to Election Night 2018, fueled by chips and salsa, margaritas, and hope, Team Gabby gathered at a local Mexican restaurant and watched election results roll in – first with eager anticipation and later with heavy hearts – as the local news networks declared Gabby’s incumbent opponent Brian Kelsey the winner of the state senate race by a margin of 1.8 percent or 1,520 votes. The race was close in terms of votes, but in terms of campaign spending, it was grossly disproportionate.
Follow the Money: PAC Attack
Brian Kelsey’s campaign was flushed with $369,000 from MCPAC, a political action committee (PAC of the then Lt. Governor Randy McNally.) That’s right: $369,000 spent. Against her. From the governor of Tennessee.
I can think of literally thousands of ways that money could be better spent: feeding families or providing jobs for many, but instead it was hoarded and spent in a smear campaign against a Latina female candidate. If fear had a smell, it would smell like whatever $369,000 smells like. Most people don’t know what $369,000 smells or even looks like because we’ve never seen that kind of money in one place, let alone be in a position to spend it.
MCPAC ran scathing TV and radio ads against Gabby calling her a “dangerous radical” and showing pictures of masked men as criminal immigrants. This was confusing because other than immigrating to the United States from Bolivia, Gabby can be found doing science in research labs, attending community events, or spending time with her family. Other choice phrases used to instill outsider-based racist fear to an easily-swayed conservative voter base were “Democratic socialist”, “not one of us”, and linked her to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Yaaaaaas! Wait I’m confused… is being compared to AOC supposed to be an insult?)
Gabby’s goal to expand Medicaid statewide as part of the Affordable Healthcare Act was twisted into rhetoric as, and I quote: “someone who would single-handedly destroy Tennessee’s economy”. Nevermind that the Tennessee economy is doing all right these days.
You may be wondering: who’s so opposed to hospitals to stop closing and every Tennessean to have healthcare that they’re willing to pay nearly $10,000 per donation? Some of the usual suspects include the National Rifle Association (NRA), the Republican National Committee, big tobacco, and alcohol distributors.
Gabby’s campaign was also funded by a PAC: a pro-immigrant political group that gave her campaign $23,000. Beyond the differences in funding, she and her team ran a true grassroots campaign that focused on the issues, not opponent-smearing. A “dangerously radical” concept indeed in today’s pay-for-votes divisive political climate. I was proud to be associated with her campaign.
The take-away is simple: follow the money, and vote with your dollars.
When I knocked on doors for Gabby in 2018, I had about 30 seconds to talk to voters and ask for their votes. My script went something like this:
Hello, is Mr. / Ms. Lastname home? My name is Rachel and I’m campaigning for Gabby Salinas who’s running for Tennessee state senate. Are you familiar with her? Gabby is a:
*Three-time childhood cancer survivor *Former St. Jude patient and researcher *Who wants to expand Medicaid for Tennesseeans and *Wants to fund public education, safety, and infrastructure to take all Memphians from surviving to thriving Can we count on you to vote for her?
While all of the above is true, Gabby’s determination to provide for her state goes beyond those bullet points. Gabby Salinas is a shero in the highest regard. Next to my own mother, she is one of the most resilient and focused women I’ve ever met. Gabby stands up for everyone. She’s a quiet riot, relentlessly steadfast and kind, smart, driven, not to mention totally relatable and super fun to be around.
When I’m at a community event in Memphis, I wonder: “Is Gabby here?” Inevitably I’ll text her asking: “Hey, are you at the Levitt Shell concert tonight?” or “Hey, are you cheering at the St. Jude Marathon today?” more often than not she is and we’ll find each other, hug, and catch up on the goings-on of the moment. We’ll high five runners, or stage a dance party while listening to the Memphis sounds of summer: cicadas and community concerts. When I ask her what she’s been up to, she talks about her work, school, community advocacy, board service. My head spins in awe and I wonder how she makes time to be such a badass and whether she’s a paper or a digital calendar person. She seems unphased by her self-imposed workload and is always happy to be serving her community. Gabby always asks about what’s happening with me and listens with genuine interest as I tell her about my forays into freelancing among other things.
Surviving & Thriving: the Salinas Family Story
Gabby and her family are a tight-knit and inclusive bunch and they are no strangers to struggle. The Salinas family immigrated from Bolivia to Memphis, Tennessee when Gabby was seven years old so she could be treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – a beloved Memphis institution devoted to treating pediatric cancers and diseases. Families at St. Jude never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing, or food. Marlo Thomas heard about Gabby being turned away from a hospital in New York because her family was unable to pay and brought her to Memphis to be treated at St. Jude for free.
When she was eight years old, her family traveled to New York to enjoy a change of scenery from the hospital. On the way back to Memphis, the Salinas family was in a bad car accident. Gabby’s father and sister died and her mother was paralyzed while pregnant with her youngest child who survived. Later Gabby had two more cancer diagnoses for which her family paid nothing thanks to the generosity of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital which shows how healthcare can and should be for everyone.
Gabby would not be alive without the support the Memphis community gave her and her family. Now she focuses her time and energy advocating for policies that will give back to the people who gave her life when she and her family were at their most vulnerable.
Moving to Memphis wasn’t easy for me. Even though I had the great fortune of being connected to one of Memphis’s finest people when I first arrived, I struggled to adapt to life in a new place. The first year of being away from my friends and family in Oregon rendered me homesick beyond expectation. Whenever I started to feel sorry for myself, I thought of Gabby and what her first year in Memphis was like. Inspired by her, I did my best to honor my feelings, shift my perspective, and find gratitude in a new situation. This is what I see her do. She never gives up.
Gabby and the Salinas family have experienced some of the most hellacious experiences life can present. They’ve moved forward and thrived through their struggles together. At a time when the problems of the world are many and people are paralyzed with overwhelm, Gabby. Is. Unstoppable. Gabby talks the talk, walks the walk, and shows us how to honor our heartbreak and turn it into action. She was alive when “pre-existing conditions” like cancer were acceptable reasons for declining someone health insurance coverage.
Gabby shows up for everyone. Now she needs our support for her campaign for Tennessee House so she can advocate for all at the state government.
Support Gabby Salinas for Tennessee House
Gabby is running for Tennessee House District 97 and oh yeah, also finishing her Ph.D. dissertation and keeping up with her advocacy work.
Contribute to candidates who care about the issues, not special interests. Make a donation and support her campaign at VoteForGabby.com. Follow her on Twitter as she moves her vision for Medicaid for all in Tennessee forward and stops rural hospitals from closing.
Like many first-generation Latinas, I struggle with knowing where I sit in terms of my culture. I’m an American by birth and a Latina by nature. It’s easier for me to say I’m an American than try to explain where on the spectrum my heritage sits. Is it enough to say that I’m a sensual, colorful, hot and spicy mix of all the delicious and naughty things people secretly love about Latin women? Because that’s the best way I can describe myself.
As a beautiful soul said to me yesterday, the Super Bowl half time show was every Latin woman’s dream come true. Two strong and culturally proud Latin women on the biggest stage in the world reveling in all that they are from head to toe. No apology, no explanation. That in itself is why it was such an inspiring performance.
“Why is she grabbing her crotch so much?” “Oh my god, she’s a stripper now?” “Did Shakira just wiggle her tongue at the camera?” “You can totally see her entire vag with that outfit.”
While the rest of America’s women take selfies in public bathrooms to show off their assets, these two women put it out in public for all to see with some amazing physicality and energy. And that is the magic of being a Latina. It’s in our soul to drip with sexy enthusiasm, to have hypnotizing hips, to have sets of lips that don’t need fillers because they’re ready to deliver the best kiss you’ve ever had. We are the fetish cowboys wrote songs about. And we’re not sorry.
I can sit in a board room filled with men and hold my own over forecasting reports and the company P&L. I can be a Suzie Homemaker and take care of a large family with amazing, from the heart food and incredible nurturing. I can be my husband’s most incredible fantasy behind closed doors. Latin women are all of these things.
Today, I can say I am so proud to be a Latin woman. I don’t say that often. Probably not often enough.
In 2020, I will celebrate who I am more and not allow the Puritanical perspective I saw creep and crawl through people’s comments on Sunday invade my pride.
I am Latina and I am proud.
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