Why I Marched, Why I’m Mixed, and Why It Matters
On January 19th, I turned 28.
On January 20th, Donald Trump officially took office as the 45th president of the United States.
On January 21st, I marched in a city that I’ve been living in for about two weeks. I carried a sign proudly, letters cut out of construction paper in all caps, stating three things about myself:
“I AM BROWN, I’M A WOMAN, I BELONG.”
It garnered hugs from white women, conversations between mothers and their children, knowing smiles and shared shy glances from my few but beautiful fellow POC.
On January 22nd, I reveled in the glory of this day, scrolled through images from across the globe, and found a comment on a friend’s photo of us, from a stranger: “I just want to point out that the girl behind you, is in fact, not brown.”
On January 23rd, I read about other women’s negative experiences with this march. I read about indigenous women being treated as subhuman. I read about black women being the only voices to prominently declare “Black Lives Matter” despite roaring, unified cries about “what a feminist looks like” and “what democracy looks like.” I read about some women saying this was a waste of time, and some men telling us to get over it. And I couldn’t sleep.
So now, in the early hours of January 24th, I’d like to tell you about my family.
My grandmother on my father’s side was a Holocaust survivor. She persevered through medical and sexual violence at the hands of Dr. Mengele in Auschwitz, and if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here today.
My grandmother on my mother’s side found Catholicism in her later age. She spent the majority of her adult years working with gang members in her native El Salvador. She lets me practice my broken Spanish with her even though her English is perfect because she knows it means a lot to me.
My father is a pretty sensitive guy. He’s been combating mental illness alongside the trauma that comes from a childhood marred by his parent’s war-torn history, and truth be told he probably cries a whole lot more than my mom does. He reminds me to embrace my anger, my sadness, and convert them into strength.
My stepfather is a professor at the nation’s oldest HBCU. He came into our lives about 10 years ago. We’ve recently started an email correspondence where he shares some snippets of his childhood and reminds me that I can be anything. I started off reading the memoirs during my lunch break, but the sections about white men yelling at young black boys spending time together made me cry, so now I read them when I get home after work.
With him come two sons, one who I get to see alongside his husband when I go back home, and one whom I’ve never met because he lives in Sudan, where he practices Islam and builds a life with his wife and two daughters. I’ve never had brothers before, and then just like that, I got three.
I also have three sisters. My oldest sister is a teacher. I officiated her wedding to her trans partner in 2014. We were happy that photos of their beautiful day were picked up by various media, but disappointed when they were riddled with hashtags like #2wivesarebetterthan1.
My other older sister is a writer. She’s been writing stories and songs for me my whole life and now it is her profession. She lives in LA. She was the only woman in her first writers’ room.
My youngest sister is in college. She transferred high schools after freshman year because teenagers can be cruel to one another. She wants to be a doctor.
My mother was born in Italy. She has been an educator for most of my life. She was recently prosecuted in a criminal case where she was accused of conspiracy, said to be aiding in cheating the students that she has advocated for relentlessly. They publicly released our home address when she was arrested.
Amidst the news articles about the trial and the scandal, a separate headline about her reads “Classes Canceled But Teachers Press On at North Phila. School With No Heat” from when she was a principal. She is fulfilling her community service requirement by teaching English to refugees and helping immigrants prepare for their US citizenship.
And then there’s me. I was in the top tenth percentile of my senior class in high school, on a varsity team my junior year, and an active leader in several other activities. I wrote a killer essay. I got accepted to two Ivy League Schools. The day we shared this information around the lunchroom, I went to the bathroom. While I was washing my hands, a classmate looked at me through the mirror and said, “I hope you’re glad that people like you are taking spots from people like me that deserve it.”
I’ve had my genitalia grabbed by a complete stranger while I was walking down the street in two different cities in the US, once in broad daylight. When I was traveling internationally, a man walked up to me, grabbed my face, and tried to stick his tongue down my throat. I backed away, but then confronted him after I saw him take the same approach with another, more inebriated, woman. He punched me while his friend threw a drink on my head.
Why does any of this matter? Who are these people? They are my relatives. No one famous, nothing jaw breaking. But to say we need to move past discussing our differences is to say we need to move past the very existence of these humans that I have mentioned. It is to negate our past, our present, and our possibilities for being a part of the future that we are supposedly fighting for.
I understand that intersectionality is complicated, and hard, and uncomfortable. I know that because intersectionality is a fundamental part of who I am. I cannot remove it. You may grow tired of different people saying this truth over and over again about their personal experiences. Imagine how tired we grow of trying to explain. Each of us, however, carries this struggle uniquely, independently. My trans siblings, my black siblings, we are united, but we are distinct. Our worries, our hopes and dreams, and our lives, are our own. While our identities are not a choice, they are certainly all compromised and threatened when we are told to stop distracting, to stop dividing, to stop reminding people of who we are.
Some people believe they have the right to define me, even when I have EXPLICITLY, VISUALLY, defined myself.
Some people believe they have the right to touch my body, or tell me what to do with it.
Some people believe that things are already good enough.
Some people believe I’m not good enough.
As a result, my life can be complicated, and hard, and uncomfortable. But it’s also beautiful, and luckily enough for me, it is a life filled with people who motivate me to keep going. We tell each other we love each other every day. We celebrate our achievements. I’m lucky to have all these walks of life in my own family.
I invite you to get to know us, and people like us, or people who are different from us, and different from you. We are not complicating the message, we are trying to be ourselves, the only way that we know how. I invite you to experience our radical love.
Maybe my sign had it wrong. Maybe it should have said
“I AM BROWN. I’M A WOMAN. I EXIST.” Because until my existence is acknowledged, with all of its complexity, how can it be accepted or protected?
Thank you for your consideration,