A few months back, I found a drawing on Facebook that really caught my attention. It’s a picture of two young women. The Latina is holding a sign that says, "Black Lives Matter," and the Black woman’s sign says, "No human being is illegal."
The young women are holding hands and across their arms is written, "tu lucha es mi lucha," meaning your fight is my fight. This is solidarity. I tried to find the original artist unsuccessfully. But I still reposted it and saved the image to my phone.
You may or may not be aware that historically within the Latin and Black cultures there is tension. I grew up with this tension, taught by society and family members that Black people did not like Latinos and vice versa. Unfortunately, this racism doesn’t just stop here.
I am a dark-skinned Mexican woman. I grew up thinking that dark skin was not desirable, something to be ashamed of having. In the summers, I would literally avoid the sun for as long as possible. I believe this awful mindset exists all throughout Latin America, and to some extent, even among the Black and African communities too.
You can see how these poor teachings would cause even more tension, even if unconscious, between the two cultures in America. Yet today, in the midst of our current times, I find hope in seeing how various immigrant advocates are building bridges with the Black Lives Matter movement. This bridge can be a healing experience for both Latinos and Blacks in the U.S.
In my small midwestern town, there was a march and rally led by youth fighting for a stop to detention and police accountability. It was titled a "Unity March" between brown and Black lives. With about 100 people present, it was an empowering experience for Black and brown youth. Watching it come together, I have such admiration for our new young leaders.
It seems that the youth of today have figured out that the systems of oppression have spent decades dividing two vulnerable populations. On the one hand, you have Jim Crowe laws, on the other hand, you have barriers to obtaining legal status. One road leads to mass incarceration, the other route leads to mass immigration detention.
No other developed country has such oppressive systems. No other country incarcerates at the rate that the U.S. does. The criminal justice system has little to no restorative justice practices. There are some people fighting for change like Bryan Stevenson and Sister Helen Prejean. But their lives work has been an uphill battle against a system dedicated to criminalizing people of color.
Similarly, no other developed country detains immigrants at the rate that the U.S. does. Most certainly, there aren’t other countries separating children from their parents with no intention to reunite them. There are alternatives to detention that are much more cost effective, more humane and just as successful in getting immigrants to comply with the process.
In both systems, bonds are used to keep poor families separated and individuals incarcerated or detained. The criminal justice system and the immigration system have made it a crime to be poor.
It’s a shame that such tension has existed between Black and brown generations. Our struggle looks different, but in many ways, it’s the same.
As we continue to move forward with 2020, as a Latina, I want to encourage my Latin brothers and sisters to be bridge builders with the Black Lives Matter movement. We are stronger together.
The journey of the cross is one with many sacrifices and many wounds. But we must remember that healing and justice will come to the poor and the afflicted. May our tears be the waters that grow seeds of hope for the next Black and brown, and all, generations.
(Edith Avila Olea is policy manager for the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Chicago. The 2015 winner of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, she holds a master's degree in public policy and a bachelor's degree in organizational communication.)
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