Solidarity – an exploration

I found myself thinking about the term “solidarity” and what it means over the past few days.

The definition of solidarity is unity, but what it conjures up for me is more than taking  stand, it’s acknowledging that ones’ own privilege may be negatively impacted in doing so.

I’m white, and I’m the grandchild of immigrants. My daughter is the child of one immigrant, and one second-generation U.S. citizen. Her dad is first-generation in the country of his birth, although for his parents and my great-grandparents, their families had lived in the same place for as far back as anyone could remember. The migrations of our parents and grandparents took place between around 1900 and 1960. We are immigrants to Washington State, where we currently live, from California, where I am from.

I like immigrants, and immigration. I think people’s freedom of movement between locations is an essential aspect of modern life. I am in favor of self-determination and locality development and when people don’t want to leave what they regard as their homeland, I’m in favor of seeking peaceful solutions that allow them to stay.

History isn’t my strong suit, but growing up in California, I was always aware that my family wasn’t “from” there. We would often visit Spanish Missions in California, and I was acutely aware that not only was California once part of Mexico, before that it was claimed by Spain, but before that the people who lived in the land were Native American. The land of California didn’t belong to me, if anything, it belonged to the Indians who lived there many generations before my people ever set foot on California soil. This didn’t make me feel any less “Californian,” knowing this history. It made me feel sadness, grief and some shame about what human beings are capable of doing. It made it harder to ignore other times when human beings, including my own people, perpetrated oppression on others.

Arizona’s new law that requires law officers to question people who are of questionable immigration status is so infuriatingly the opposite of my own beliefs, I don’t even know how to react. A friend of mine who is Chicana posted on Facebook on May 5, “I wonder how the Cinco de Mayo celebrations are in Arizona…” I completely stand in solidarity with those who oppose the law. I have no plans to go to Arizona anytime soon. I doubt my opinion on Arizona’s ridiculous law will sway anyone. But I have to say something because by saying nothing, someone who disagrees with me about it can go on merrily thinking we are in agreement, and we are not.

I sometimes get asked if I am Latina. Sometimes in California, native Spanish speakers start talking to me in Spanish, and then the have, uh, interesting and understandable reactions when I have to tell them I don’t speak Spanish. All I have to say is “Lo siento, no hablo Espanol” and the looks they give me I generally interpret as annoyance, which I find completely understandable. It’s a bit of an awkward situation, one that I find slightly amusing, and I usually want to assure the person who spoke to me in Spanish that I’m 1) Flattered, 2) Embarrassed that I don’t speak Spanish — although I understand a little if people aren’t speaking it too fast for me — i.e. the normal pace that Spanish is spoken at. I think some of what makes me mistaken for someone who speaks Spanish is that I don’t have a “hard face” — I don’t look uptight — and my dark hair, dark eyes, skin that tends toward oliveness, shortness, roundness, and general air that if someone needs to eat, I couldn’t bear to not feed them. I consider it a compliment to be mistaken for Latina. But I also want to avoid cultural appropriation, so I don’t pretend to be Latina. If someone starts speaking to me in Spanish, or asks “Habla Espanol?” I gently say “no” but try to say something along the lines of “I get that a lot” — and, please, let’s keep talking in whatever language we can find to communicate in.

These constructs of race are false. Completely. A friend’s mom, when she met my husband for the first time, said “oh, he looks just like our cousin!” This cousin is Mexican-American. There is no way to know by looking what my or my husband or daughter’s ethnic backgrounds are. My husband speaks accented English, as did my Grandpa. My husband is a legal resident, but I would hate to see what happened if he committed a traffic violation in Arizona.

I also want to stand in solidarity with Bri King, who has been dragged into a very public straw fight framed as fatness vs. health. She is amazing. Brave, strong, smart, compassionate and wonderful. I hope to meet her in person someday. But, if it’s anytime in the near future, we won’t be meeting in Arizona.


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