The Divided States of America

The Divided States of America

I wanted to address something that has been weighing heavy on my heart. I wanted to give my perspective and address the dangers of subtle racism, the lack of accountability, and the stance of silence many have taken because it is an issue that doesn’t directly impact them. Every time the news covers another senseless death at the hands of racist police, every person of color recounts in their head every time they personally have been subjected to racist behavior. I have friends and family who are directly affected by what keeps happening. As a person of color, a person who has ties to the law enforcement community, and a first-generation American, I have my own experiences that allow me to see and validate the blatant racism that my black and brown friends experience daily and the lack of accountability within law enforcement and our communities.

 I know this to be true because I am married to a white law enforcement officer who has shared stories with me about fellow white LEOs not being held accountable for racist behavior. And what’s worse is that this behavior is often covered up, and many of these LEOs are promoted to senior-level positions. I have also heard first hand people ask if he could step aside and neglect his duty if there was ever an assassination attempt on the POTUS when he first started his career at the White House under President Obama. People felt it was okay to joke about him  looking the other way if a black president was murdered. I watched my husband get uncomfortable because that didn’t sit well with him. He would either walk away and not dignify a response,and sometimes he would respond with, “I am there to protect the office, and it doesn’t matter who the man is, what he looks like, or what party he belongs to. I am there to serve and protect.” To this day no one has said this to him during the current administration. Many have voiced their disdain, but no one has actually asked if he would step aside and not take a bullet for the current POTUS. Why were people so comfortable to say this to him before? I can only assume it is because they don’t believe it is racist when shared with another white person. You see, there are still many white Americans that may not openly target their brown or black neighbors with hate or racist talk or deeds but they are also not looking out for them either. This is subtle racism, small and quiet but just as traumatizing to people of color. 

I will share just a few of my personal experiences where I have encountered racist people, some subtle and some blatant, and no one objected as it happened.  

While pregnant with my oldest, I was at a Home Depot grabbing paint samples. I asked the person behind the counter if they had small pints of samples that I could buy so I wasn’t buying full gallons because I was undecided on a color for the nursery. I had never painted before, so I didn’t know how buying samples worked. A lady behind me inserted herself into the conversation to tell me I had no business getting pregnant. She also stated that if I couldn’t afford paint samples then I definitely didn’t belong there. She said she was tired of my kind of people using government assistance and having babies to keep getting a welfare check. I was pretty well into my eighth month and really swollen, so I wasn’t wearing my wedding ring, and I looked around to see other peoples’ reactions, and no one said anything. I blamed myself for not being able to wear my wedding ring because this woman would not have assumed what she did if I had. I normally have a lot to say when anyone comes at me, but that was the first time it wasn’t so subtle. I ran out of there with no paint samples and came home to tell my husband, and I remember him being shocked, mainly that I didn’t say anything back. I was clearly out of place, and not one person looking on would tell the lady she was out of line. Not one. What this says to me is that everyone else thought she was completely right to say how she felt.

Another time, we had a neighbor who had a friend over; they were looking at flooring my husband had just installed, and my neighbor’s friend mentioned the word “SAM,” which was a term I had never heard before. (Later, we found out that it stood for stupid ass Mexican.) This guy felt it was okay to say because he was around his own race. My neighbor came over to apologize for his friend’s racist remarks, but what strikes me is the comfort many white people still have in speaking this way to other white people. The only reason this is true is because not enough white people have stood up against racist speech.

When we lived in Maryland, I was often referred to, or assumed to be, the nanny when people would see me with my white baby girl. I would tell people, and they would laugh. I don’t think I ever heard, “That’s messed up.” Why is this? Because subtle racist speech is acceptable and not often challenged.

I remember having a group of ladies over, trying to make new friends with the wives of my husband’s circle of new classmates. I had made a shrimp ceviche, and someone asked what all was in it. I listed the ingredients and said “jalapeño” just like it’s supposed to be said with the ñ pronounced, and I was laughed at by one of the ladies there who told me I didn’t have to pronounce it that way. She went on to tell me how annoying it was and that she hated to hear Americans like Giada De Laurentis pronounce words with an accent when we can clearly speak English. What I heard from that was being a Mexican American was not appreciated and was even downright annoying to her.

Recently, I took on becoming a child advocate for immigrant children, and when I would speak out against the human rights violations towards these immigrant children -violations that our government has allowed to go on- I would be met with silence or justifications of people saying, “It’s been happening for years,” as if that makes it okay. My husband even got asked by people close to him what his thoughts were about me speaking out on these issues, if I had gone “liberal.” How messed up is this? To care about human right issues is now a political stance instead of a human stance. People have stopped listening and have offered nothing more than a cold shoulder on human rights issues because it isn’t the narrative their political party highlights. I refuse to accept that hearts have become this hardened, that we only value life if it was born in the US and white. 

The only way to change our divided states of America is by including and accepting people who do not look like you into your social circles, and using any privilege you have to speak up against racism and never staying silent. Staying silent ensures that no one becomes accountable for such hate. We need more of our white Americans to not just say they aren’t racist, but actually do something about it when they see it. Doing nothing makes you no different than the cop standing, looking away ignoring the pleading and crying of a helpless black man. This country, the United States of America, is divided and it is so because we still have too many white Americans who stay silent and comfortable within their own communities, never getting to know their brown and black neighbors who are also just wanting to enjoy the same freedoms they do. We cannot begin to heal within our communities if we only stick with our own kind. If your neighborhood isn’t diverse, seek places that are. A great place to find this is multicultural churches. It is important for people of all races to love each other and do life together the way our Creator commanded us to. 

The picture I have attached is my daughter and one of her first friends in elementary school. This is the picture of America I wish and pray their children will live to see. His mom and I became fast friends, and I consider her family my family. I have heard her struggles she faces as a black woman and married to a man from EL Salvador. I have been with her when she was a nervous wreck in public places with our children playing together and talked her ear off to try and ease her anxiety, although on the inside I was just as anxious. I have watched her always looking over her shoulder. I have listened and talked for hours on the phone after being followed around in a store at a local mall to make sure she wasn’t stealing anything, and having to come up with words to explain to her son why this person was following them around. She has also been there for me and checked on me and my family when police protests would break out. We don’t live each other’s realities, but we grieve when one another grieves. This is what it means to  love one another. 

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:17-18

  1. Melody Novak says:

    Beautiful words from your heart! Thank you for taking the time to write this. My entire family is mixed race and I fear for the ones that I love dearly who are exposed to this treatment everyday. We must care deeply for on another without judgement. God made all of us in her image…..

  2. C Orellana says:

    Your message needs to be spread far and wide. And you are absolutely right; we are where we are as a country because for so many they would rather remain comfortably silent, even when their voice could be the difference of life and death. I don’t know how to fix this, or if it ever truly will be “fixed”, but I love and value the friends who are allies and are willing to jump in, even when it is uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

  3. David Castillo says:

    Yesenia, I cannot describe this in better words. The issue starts in our homes, what we model to our children, what we allow them to watch and who we allow them to hear. My wife and I talked about the issue of racism looking inside rather than outside of us, our friend circles, if you have friends, all of the same color then we need to examine ourselves. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and becoming a voice to help people understand that we need to be more present when this issues arise in front of our eyes and correct with love as Jesus did. “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love”. – Nelson Mandela –

  4. Amanda adkins says:

    Beautiful and heart wrenching all at the same time😭😭 these behaviors needs to end!!!

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