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.