But I who am bound by my mirror
as well as my bed
see causes in colour
as well as sex
and sit here wondering
which me will survive
all these liberations.
We opened today’s meeting inviting students to imagine all the ways our ancestors have worked for their liberation, imagine all the ways they are still figuring out, and see yourself in them. Recognize the hustle to get free. Beyond what stereotypes, see them as a freedom fighter and change maker. Now see it in yourself. In pairs we each broke off a spent a few minutes sharing ways in which you’ve created in your life that you’re proud of? On answer that stood out was a student I paired off with as he shared his experience in creating a Help the Homeless, a yearly project that collects funds to buy brand new warm clothes for folks living through homelessness in neighborhood of Humboldt Park.
We spent the rest of our gathering to learn from Dr. Mumm about Chicago migration history and begin to piece where our family’s experience may lie based on when, why, and how we got to the U.S and ended up in Chicago. None of these experiences are monolithic but are fascinating to thread the similarities and motivations as to why they migrated. Typically, in our U.S history curriculum at school we are limited to focus on how pilgrims migrated to U.S and people of color were imported as slaves. We center slavery as the beginning of history of for many while erasing the legacies they brought with them. Being able to contextualize push and pull factors of why many of our families moved here which was due to the political influence of the U.S on our home countries. For example, learning about such policies/ programs like the Bracero Program for Mexicans and Operation Bootstrap in Puerto Rico gives us more insight on how migration isn’t merely a choice but a choice of survival. It’s exciting during the beginning stages of this process because as we begin to piece together more information from our families we can begin to draw more connections and map ourselves within history with more integrity.
“To survive the Borderlands
you must live sin fronteras
be a crossroads.”- Gloria Anzaldua
On this chilly Saturday a few days before Halloween and dia de los muertos we met for a more relaxed session to spend more time allowing youth to get to know each other. As we go further into our programming a certain degree of trust and respect is needs to develop to ensure emotional safety and confidentiality as we begin to learn more about our family history and experiences. We read two poems, To Live in the Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldua and Ending Poem by Aurora Levins Morales and Rosario Morales. All Latina poets who express their feeling of ambiguity as they navigate life through two cultures, the ones they are living in and the ones they came from. We are challenged to hold and cross these two very different worlds in our everyday lives never feeling like we are “enough of” or validated by.
An example during discussion was when I shared how at times I never felt “Latina” enough and embarrassed my mother chose not to teach me Spanish. Growing up my mother explained to me that we “live in America” so my priority is to learn English. This often made me feel left out till this day and left with feelings of inadequacy because I have to carefully choose how to communicate with others rather than naturally joining in on some chisme. As I got older my mom explained to me how happy she was that I grew up loving to read and stay in school because she struggled as a kid in school with due to the language barrier and made her hate education. After I shared that, another student exclaimed “wow, I thought I was the only one, I never heard anyone say that before.”
The poems reflection of living between two worlds inspired me invite students to celebrate dia de los muertos, which highlights this notion duality between life and death. Many in the U.S seem to simply dia de los muertos as another type of “Halloween” celebrated by Mexican and Latinx cultures. We wanted to spend time learning more about what this celebration really means and how it honors our ancestors. From the first Brown in Chicago group, one of our culminating projects was to create a large altar to honor our passed loved ones and to highlight members of our family that first migrated to the U.S. This alter includes pictures, trinkets, candles, flowers and hand painted sugar skulls. We spend over an hour listening to salsa and adding pictures, more skulls and little notes of intention and cleaning the altar as we joined new ancestors to our LSNA familia.
We ended the meeting early to walk over and support Faces of Logan Square, a free 2-day community festival that supported local artesanas to sell beautiful pieces of jewelry, clothing and other creations that are handmade. We ended our meeting with the chance to watch indigenous folklorico dancers perform.
Hands/minds, they are carving out
A sanctuary. Use these weapons
Against them. Use your given gifts
—they are not stone
Our first meeting of Brown in Chicago 2.0 invited new and a few returning youth leaders and students from within our community of Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Hermosa neighborhoods. These folx range from ages 16-25 years old and hold a wealth of knowledge and experiences of their own. We began with checking in with our full names with an emphasis to honor our family’s name with respect and full enunciation. Many of us have experienced “whitewashing”our names in school or to others in order to make it more palatable and easier for others to say comfortably . We want to honor names and take the time to say them as they were intended because we believe there is power within holding our own names with integrity.
Next, we opened our discussion and asked to share what was calling them to learn more about yourself and your ancestors? A few of the responses included feeling sad about seeing the degrees of separation from their ancestors’ culture through each generation that slowly neglects, forgets, or hide parts of those memories and traditions. A few students expressed how “messy” their backgrounds felt because they either didn’t know much about the cultures or how to connect. We read a poem called The Calling- Luis Rodriguez that depicts the reflections of a young political prisoner who was wrongfully jailed and used that experience as a catalyst to change his life.
We then unpacked further what our own identities mean to us and teased out the differences between, race, ethnicity and what other roles and identifiers are important to us. Around the room we had sheets of paper with a word printed to represent an identifier and instructed youth to stand next to the racial &/or cultural identities you relate to (Boricua, Latina/o, Latinx, Spanish people, Chicana/o, Black, White, African American, Person of Color, Mixed, etc.) Here are a few of the reflections the youth reported:
- “Is inclusive of individuals, I identify as a queer Latinx and that I have both Masculine and Femme aspects about myself.
- “It’s a mess but a little bit of everything.”
- “I don’t know Spanish, only a little, and I have accepted its not bad to be where you are from”
- “Grew up with this identity more, I connect more to this side of my family.”
- “I am half Colombian and half Ecuadorian, growing up I learned spanish and Quechua at the same time. I remember a girl in the 4th grade told me I didn’t speak Spanish right. Later in life I appreciate the Quechua dialect when I speak Spanish because it makes me feel closer to my grandparents.”
- “Learning about chicanismo lead me to find chicano underground hip-hop.
- “When I was younger I used to be teased by my cousins for my English accent when I spoke Spanish to them. I feel like I am living between two worlds and Chicanismo embraces who I am.”
- “ I feel like I am living in between two worlds, I am not Mexican enough to have confidence with my Spanish. Our grandparents that migrated here had to embrace our cultures (U.S Culture). I recognize now that we had to assimilate in order to adjust living here. I haven’t been back to Mexico in 15 years and I wonder if I am still tied to that culture?
- “I identify as Mexican American (my mom is Texan) but have heard varied definition of what a Mexican American means.”
- “Sometimes I feel so Americanized and that I should be more Hispanic. I don’t connect with my culture because I wasn’t educated enough to engage with it.”
- “I was born and raised in Chicago. I identify mostly with being Puerto Rican from my mom’s side of my family. My dad left us when I was younger and his family is from the Dominican Republic so I never had a chance to learn that culture (or have an interest in that side of my family since he left us when we were so young. But now that I am older I can’t deny that part of myself.”
We ended our session with a check out to see what was coming up for students. Many reactions ranged from excitement to gratitude for having a unique space to learn more about our family history and ourselves. Some of the shared responses explained that, “This group feels welcoming, never had a setting to talk about our families, stories, or even history. What I learn here is going to be great for my future.” Or, “School is draining physically and mentally. This project is important for me to feel supported.” There is power that comes from connecting and reflecting deeply within ourselves as we navigate through our communities and politics that are quickly shifting. The U.S was built at the expense of people of color, immigrants and those who do not benefit from privilege. Over many centuries of reinforcing these ideas that uphold capitalism, patriarchy and racism has taught our families and ancestors to feel shame and less power for not holding these values. Being able to discover the truth of our family’s stories and struggles while taking it a step further to vocalize and share these pieces of history allows us to explore parts of our inherited wisdom and power that is waiting to become awoken.
If you want to learn more about our #BrownInChicago Project, please email Juliet de Jesus Alejandre, Director of Youth Organizing at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message here:
LSNA Youth Organizer and Development Associate
Loyola Chicago University MSW Candidate
I began to work with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association when I was sixteen years old as my first job ever in 2009 until 2011. As a Youth Leader LSNA’s After School Matters program I was introduced to social justice and grassroots organizing. In 2016, I returned from college and rejoined the LSNA team with efforts to combine my social work and feminist informed lens for our #BrownInChicago project. Through a strengths based approach towards cultivating passionate and authentic workshops to understand Latinx Identity and Power within our community. Gentrification within our community not only displaces communities but displaces the rich history and culture that has within it. I am working with students, professors and community organizers to capture counter-narratives as a form of resistance against hegemonic supremacy. We anticipate to continue to build relationships and intersect with other opportunities to uplift brown voices and ideas of our community and to learn from others who channel their passions as their resistance.
Arrived to Los Angeles, California with her two sisters and mother. My grandmother sold their home and belongings to pay for a coyote,so they can reunite with my grandfather who worked as a Bracero.
After settling and arranging their next trip, they began their journey to Chicago, Illinois.
My grandmother rented a small apartment for five people in La Villita on the south side.
Mi mamá found a job at a factory in Edgewater. She commuted everyday to and from work for almost two hours for a low wage and no benefits.At the young age of 18, she was work more than eight hours for six days a week.
Mi mamá wanted to go back home. I ask her, what do you miss about home? She says, “todo”.
“Ni de aquí, ni de alla”. So where do I go? I’m too Mexican for the United States, and too “American” for México. This inner conflict has been heard countless times that the authenticity of it seems to diminishes. However, the pain is very real.
I am not looking to fit in.
I am searching for the peace my ancestors did not find.