Dominican Republican for Hillary
It may be difficult for some of you — my White friends — to understand why we who are Latino and Black view “build that wall” and “speak English” as racist manifestations of those impulses that many White people have that should not be coddled. You haven’t had to exist outside of your own cultural milieu — your own cultural space. You don’t have the blessing of having more than one cultural reference point to enrich your life. You don’t have a father that doesn’t speak English, a mother that speaks it well but with an accent, and a grandmother who was beat within an inch of her life regularly by a dictator of a grandfather, who didn’t learn to read or write Spanish, let alone read, write, or speak English. To just “speak English” was not to cut off your father, place irresponsible and impossible constraints on your grandmother, and deny your mother the joy of speaking her (our) native tongue. You didn’t leave everything you knew in the richest city on Earth — richest in monetary value no doubt because of the richness of cultural interchange that occurs here — to go to poverty-stricken rural and suburban South Carolina in order to better understand your faith and the political phenomenon Hillary Clinton correctly and eloquently speaks of in yesterday’s speech — the alt-right.
The first week I was on campus at Bob Jones University as a Black Latino, in 2005, I met those whom I still (despite my more abrasive iteration today) consider lifelong friends. They were White missionaries to Mexico. I normally humorously describe one of those friends as opening your eyes and seeing Justin Timberlake, and closing them and hearing Machete. As we were speaking one day (of course, in Spanish), a so-called “redneck” came up behind us and said, in his beautiful and unique and glorious Southern drawl (which I absolutely love to this day), that “[he] didn’t know Black people could speak Spanish.” We laughed, and I still view that as a beautiful moment of honesty and growth for that individual — what college is supposed to be.
The following semester, I went to a different room. My roommate hated it when I would turn on the opera “Mefistofele” in order to hear it out before the performance that semester (since I was in the choir). You who remember Bob Jones University will also remember that headphones weren’t allowed in the dorm rooms. [I’ll wait for most of the readers to pick their jaws up off the floor.] I would often call home (as any Freshman would). When I would call home, Sean (as I’ll call him) would scream “ENGLISH.” At one point, I got so angry that I transcended the barriers of time and space, and tapped the wellspring of “I don’t care” that I regularly exhibit these days. I was speaking to my mother, with whom I could’ve easily switched to speak English, but decided that at that moment, I needed to vent in Spanish to my dad, who never really cared what profanities escaped my mouth. Let’s just say my dad learned curse words in Spanish he (in his 68 years on this planet) still hasn’t heard again. He remains grateful for the opportunity to see that honesty, and that I commiserated with his experience as someone who can’t speak English.
If the humor and the red-hot rage didn’t at any point resonate with you, I can completely empathize. But I’m willing to bet that you can empathize with these anecdotes. And since you do, you may begin to see why Latinos hate being asked to not speak Spanish. You’re asking us to act as if we see the world through as narrow a lens as you do. You’re asking us to conform to those expectations that many of us can easily conform to — around you. You’re asking us to go out of our way to accommodate you. And that’s for those of us that speak English fluently (and often better than many of you). And why? Because your birthright entitles you to it. Mine doesn’t since I was born in a hospital in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
And “build that wall” means that you view my grandmother as an existential threat to you. She’s here legally, but that’s irrelevant because the alt-right makes no apology about its desire to see more “beneficial” immigration, which luminaries of the movement like Ann Coulter have openly said means “White” or so-called “model minorities.” Grandma is a threat because she’s not like you are. She’s isn’t useful because she can’t work but collects certain meager benefits, and isn’t even WHITE on top of that! Never mind my mother who has paid ungodly amounts of taxes to this country as a NYC Public School teacher (who regularly votes Republican, by the way). Never mind my sister (who followed mom’s career choice to Texas) and I (who work for America’s largest bank as a risk and document analyst), who do the same. Never mind the father who worked in the basement of Bear Stearns delivering mail to the bankers and investors and experts that I deal with every day, which he did with a smile on his face and unparalleled grace so his son could occupy a floor he could only aspire to visit and help in his limited way. His experience and his story — and that of his son — don’t matter to the “alt-right.” Neither do his taxes. His contribution to America. The grief of his loss — my other sister’s death of a heroin overdose — don’t matter. They’re a statistic with which to slap Black and Latino folks. More evidence of “what the hell do you have to lose?” The same ones Donald kept out of NYC housing by slapping a scarlet letter “C” for “Colored” on their applications.
And Black people. Black people do speak English. But there’s a different English. There’s a different language. You can speak the same language without speaking the same language. My White friends who know the scourge of poverty know what I’m referring to. There’s hoity-toity English and then there’s “redneck” English. But the force of every word is different. The wellspring of experiences that make up “redneck” English is not the same as those that make up “hoity-toity” English. My Black brothers and sisters understand that from the moment we’re socialized into this society. The same things that can be said about Spanish for me can be said about Black folks and poor White folks as well. The words are different, and often the language is different, but they echo across temporal and spacial boundaries to the same realities — our shared humanity, and a humanity that brings us all to this present moment in time.
This is why Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policy proposals are so dangerous. Because they divide us. That’s not what #MyGOP is about, and I can thank Obama and Hillary for being honest about that. They have decided that they will respond to the GOP at its best when they are presented with the GOP at its worst, and that takes moral character and strength unlike anything we’re seeing at this moment outside of a few exceptions — like Jeb Bush and John Kasich and Marco Rubio. And for that, they will go down in my book as patriots. This Republican will gladly vote and go the extra mile for Hillary Clinton in this election cycle, and will support brave and wonderful Republicans like Patrick Toomey in PA, Rubio in FL, McCain in AZ, Ayotte in NH, and others across the nation that have proven that they are not in public service for themselves or for denigrating entire groups of people to reap political gain. We need them. We need checks in government as we have never needed before, and once this election cycle is over and it’s time to rebuild the GOP, I’ll likely rejoin since I became an independent after voting for Kasich in the primaries.