I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that then I realized I was somebody.” – Lily Tomlin
What does it feel been on the other side of the spectrum? becoming a minority? Back home I never used to identify as latino, because pretty much everyone is, in fact we don’t identify ourselves as latinos or hispanics unless we are in front of someone who is not, we just identify as Salvadoran, that’s it, plain and simple.
Identity is one of those things that become relevant the more we interact with others as persons of different backgrounds, ethnicities and contexts. It has been quite an amusing experience for me coming to the U.S. and exploring/feeling the meaning of the different aspects of my identity. Things which I might not have thought about twice back home became relevant all of the sudden in the U.S.
Most interesting to me has been the swift from a position of privilege to one of vulnerability and systematic oppression. Back home by birth I was part of the majority, a Salvadoran cis-gender male of light skin, while my family was not rich food was never missing from the table, my mother was never unemployed until she retired, I had the opportunity to go to college and visited the U.S. many times since my teens thanks to my tourist visa. The fact that I’m gay was perhaps the only thing that made me belong to a minority group.
Now that the roles have reverse I find myself often observing my surroundings as if I was on the other side of a clear crystal wall, on the other side of a window watching how others’ identities play with each other and with my own. I’ve seen everything from kind charitable discrimination to classism and white supremacy and way too many cases of complete obliviousness.
I’ve gone from been a racial majority to sometimes been overlooked because of the color of my skin; from having a voice to been a voiceless child easily dismissed with a condescending nod; from not worrying about money to consider yogurt a privilege I often decide not to buy because I cannot justify spending $2 on it when I could by a whole meal for that price.
As Atlas Corps fellows I don’t think we often recognized our own privilege signed away with the fellowship agreement and I feel it’s important to do so. We come into this land as skilled professionals with an education, entrepreneurs, change-makers, emerging leaders. We come with a certain status that is somehow lost in translation once you cross the border and your passport is stamped. Then you become an immigrant, a temporary worker, asian, african, black, latino or hispanic, you become all these things that you weren’t before.
Whether or not this swift causes an impact in your life it’s a choice, the fact that it happens is not. I consider this swift an enriching experience that I would definitely have not lived back home, like walking ten thousand miles in somebody else´s shoes. Hopefully this year will make better person, a better activist more aware of my interaction with others and will help me to relate in a truthful manner to those causes of injustice that are not my own but are suffered by many.
Way too often we encounter those who believe injustice is something natural and if it doesn’t directly affects them then they are not interested on it “its just the way life is” way too often we are that person and we don´t realize it.