My grandmother grew up poor. As a child, she had to drop out of third grade to help her single mother make end’s meet. When she couldn’t afford to buy shoes, she would tie her shoes to her feet using rubber bands. When she became an adult and a single mother to three children, she paid for a single bedroom with bunk beds in her employer’s home. She worked as a maid, babysitter and cook for the family whose house she was living in. She would also work as a street vendor, selling pasties to the locals. My grandmother knew first hand what it was like to starve, to worry that your children may not have adequate clothes to wear to school, to not know if tomorrow you’d be homeless. Unlike my grandmother, I’ve never been poor.
My mother also grew up poor but because of my grandmother’s efforts and hard work ethic, she was able to complete school and become a doctor. Unfortunately, terrorism struck Peru and my mother made the toughest decision of her life to leave with her three children to the United States. Here, she struggled with living as a single mother, working as a waitress, going to night school, learning the language, fighting cancer and lying about her citizenship struggle. For nearly two decades, my mother jumped through hoops to disguise the fact that she wasn’t a citizen. For years, she held her native tongue back to assimilate into this society. For years, she told herself to forget she was ever a doctor because the memory of what she had to give up was too painful.
I’ve never had to sacrifice so much. I’ve never experienced the fear of being told I have cancer. I’ve never had to run so far away from bombs that I ended up in a foreign land where I had to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture. I’ve never had to forget a past where I achieved so much, accomplished my goals and survived a lot just to let it all go and start at the bottom again. I’ve never had to starve, give up my education, fear for my life. It’s because of my grandmother and my mother that I am fortunate. I am privileged. Therefore, I also have a responsibility.
Those of us who are privileged, whether we are citizens, have a lighter skin tone, or have money, have the responsibility to work towards the equality and betterment of others. We have been granted with the job to be their voice. Because we are safe, we have to put ourselves in spaces that benefit those who could have easily been us in another life, in another time.
In this political climate, it is crucial for us to decide where we stand. Being in the gray area is now equivalent to staying silent and as a collective and as a community, we cannot afford to play neutral because our brothers and sisters are suffering. As a US citizen, I have the advantage to be a voice and a force fighting against undocumented immigrants. I have been granted with the insight on how long it takes to get paperwork approved, I have knowledge on why some people leave their counties, and I have first-hand experience with the opportunity that comes with living in this country that is often denied of us in Latin America.
As a straight woman, I have never had to deal with the fear that comes with being honest about who I love. In this politically charged environment where our president has an opinion that is actively and publicly damaging the LGBTQ community, we must support communities that are being oppressed. As a straight person, I have the flexibility to talk about the LGBTQ community without being judged. Because I have this safe platform, I can help protect the LGBTQ community.
As a community that is oppressed, we can’t be ignorant to the fact that we are not the only community that is oppressed. In addition, we can’t ignore that within our own community, there are people with different skin tones, different sexualities, different statutes that are experiencing constant maltreatment in this era and society. If we have the privilege to live a life where we are safe, we have an obligation to help protect the lives that are in danger.
I am a refugee and immigrant who has citizenship, who has never had to apply for DACA or wonder if my future is at risk. I know that ICE will never show up at my doorstep. I know that the police shooting me is unlikely, I know that religion will never be used to offend my sexuality. THAT is a privilege. I’ve never had to face the obstacles many oppressed face today. It’s because of that, I have a responsibility.