This Latinx Heritage Month, We Look to Our Heritage of Healing
When I thought about this Latinx Heritage Month, it was hard to get in a celebratory mood. Of course, I celebrate the beauty, strength, creativity, and power of the Latinx community year-round. But it felt wrong to use this month, when more attention may be paid to the Latinx community, to act like everything is okay. Everything is not okay.
The Trump administration and those who support it have made Latinx people a target of unrelenting attacks. We have endured and are enduring: family separation; the thousands of lives lost in Puerto Rico due to the administration’s negligence; Trump’s constant anti-immigrant and anti-Latinx rhetoric; concentration camps* where children die and the rights of women and LGBTQ people are violated and their safety threatened; refugees and asylum seekers turned away; ICE raids leaving children waiting after school with no home left to go to; beatings and shootings targeting Latinx people and people of color. We are living with significant community trauma.
There is now recognized evidence for what the community has known to be true from the beginning: life under the Trump administration is impacting not just our dignity, but our physical and mental health. Undocumented Latinas have four times the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder of anyone in the country. Latinas are suffering worse pregnancy outcomes under Trump. Latina girls continue to struggle with some of the highest suicide attempt rates in the country. This is not to say that everything was fine before the Trump administration (it wasn’t), but now things are even worse.
Latinx people like to pride ourselves on our resilience, but this is a double-edged sword. We are resilient because we have survived colonization and are still here. We know how to endure through unimaginable tragedy. But what can get lost in the pride in resilience is the firm, unbending conviction that we shouldn’t have to endure these attacks in the first place. We should be able to live free from fear and discrimination. We should be able to simply live.
This Latinx Heritage Month I feel both my privilege and my pain. Though I can rant all day about the second-class citizenship I enjoy as a Puerto Rican, I know that I am incredibly privileged to be a citizen at all. I speak primarily English, and do not have to fear public verbal harassment for speaking Spanish like so many do.
Yet, I also live with the knowledge that my privilege will only take me so far. The El Paso shooter wasn’t asking to see ID–he shot anyone who fit his stereotypical view of what a brown “Mexican” looks like. Increasingly, even U.S. citizens are being detained by ICE, who racially profile with impunity. And everyday racists seem to be more emboldened. After I voted in the midterm elections, in my liberal hometown, someone called me a beaner. As I was recently riding the bus in Washington, D.C., which has some of the highest hate crime rates in the country, a group of people laughed and said I look like I’m in MS-13.
If I as a citizen feel fear leaving my home, fear that ICE (which has been active in my neighborhood) will question or detain me or my family, or fear that I or my family may be caught up in the next anti-Latinx hate crime, I can’t imagine the fear that undocumented people and mixed-status families are experiencing. When I talk to family and friends, we admit that if we focus on this pain too much, we won’t be able to get up in the morning. I live with mental health disabilities and have felt a particular strain in the past two years–and my experience is just the tip of the iceberg.
This Latinx Heritage Month, we are not putting aside our pain. But we are drawing on our deep heritage of healing to take us through this time so we can fight for something better. This is not just resiliency, but it is the conviction that we deserve better for ourselves and for our families. We Latinas and Latinxs have a deep and diverse heritage of healing, with our curanderas, brujas and espiritistas, abuelita knowledge, and all the ways we’ve learned to heal in our families and communities. We are adding to that legacy by working to preserve our wellness as whole people, including our mental health. This month you will hear our stories, our struggles, and our discussions of what Latinx healing looks like now. This month and always, we will speak, we will endure, we will fight, and we will heal.
*A term I acknowledge not all agree with and which I do not use lightly, but in accordance with many Jewish (including Latinx Jewish) activists and with expert scholars.