My Story of Two Different Americas
I needed to take a moment (which felt like an eternity) to really gather my thoughts and emotions. The events of this past 2 weeks have really placed myself and my family on the verge of a maelstrom that we may not quite understand for years to come. I don't know what my place is to speak on such topics, because after all, who am I but one more voice on social media.
To say that this week has been a stressful period of soul searching would discredit the active psycho-social warfare that this nation is undergoing at this moment in history. Like everyone, I immediately jumped to social media and reposted social justice awareness to claim solidarity with the movement in a way that I've never seen before. But I just felt that wasn't enough.
My own life experience is mixed, in that I grew up in a small town suburb outside of Los Angeles. To say that I confronted blatant racism in my neighborhood as a social class would be untrue, because of the fact that I grew up (for more or less) in a predominantly white neighborhood. A son of Mexican/El Salvadorean immigrants, I went to elementary school, where i was immediately shuffled into an English as a Second Language, despite the fact that I didn't even speak the Spanish language fluently (I struggled learning a second language, but that is a story for another day). Learned how to love and serve God, community, and country as a member of the Boy Scouts of America -- earning honorable rank of Eagle. I went to private school for half of my life, and though I didn't immediately attend 4 year undergrad, I still maintain the ambition of seeking higher education with having not earned 1, but 2 college degrees.
Why am I telling you this?
This is the American story. That hard working, middle class families can make the sacrifices to afford their future generations a life of prosperity and peace. I was given that path and I don't want to deny the privilege that I was blessed with to allow me to become the man I am today. I was happy and glad for my opportunity.
Then adulthood and reality collided into my sheltered perspective. It wasn't blatant, no. In fact, it's almost a condition that reflects your insecurities and shortcomings back upon you, "is it just me?" So instead of finding the root cause of these emotional micro-aggression, I held it in, deep down, to the point where I forgot all meaning and justification for my attitude. I was just an angry brown man.
My worldview didn't begin to change until I engaged with members of law enforcement. Though most interactions were cordial, very rarely was it ever friendly, more of a sudo-interrogation and a few instances of a threat of arresting me if they "catch me in an act because they are bored and have nothing better to do" (miss you too El Segundo PD).
I chalked it all up to just the experience of being young in Los Angeles. Still maintaining to the belief that I was a good, righteous citizen.
Then one evening, during my commute home from Santa Monica while driving on Jefferson blvd in Marina Del Rey, I was hailed by the red & blue. Now, these flashing lights may mean something different to every single person reading this. For some, its safety and protection. For others, order. For me, that afternoon, it was utter confusion, then fear, and now to this day bitter anger.
I knew immediately this wasn't an ordinary stop, because not a single officer approached my window, like they would in a normal traffic violation. It wasn't until I heard the loud speaker that I knew this was much more serious than I thought. The officer called out to me and asked me to throw my keys out the window and to keep my hands in visible view while I slowly (with clear instruction) stepped out of the vehicle.
When I stepped out of my Honda Civic (full of personal possessions because I had just come home from a trip to my parents) I witnessed the full force of the LAPD out to apprehend their "suspect". I counted 5+ squad cars (estimated 10 officers total), all fixating laser scoped weapons at my chest and head, waiting for the slightest hesitation as to if, and when, I was going to make a sudden movement. I was asked to turn around and get on my knees, then lay flat across the pavement and dirt
As I layed there, polo shirt and khaki pants, I remember seeing Jefferson Blvd filled with a lineup of cars, stuck in traffic, doing the very thing that I was supposed to be doing -- they were just staring, wondering what I did, reaffirming possibly their own beliefs that crime just doesn't pay.
The officers handcuffed me and pulled me over to the lead squad car. They began questioning me: do you know why we are holding you? Where are you going? Are you a resident here?
When the questioning officer asked me for my identification, I didn't even have to tell him my wallet was in my car. The police, without warrant or probable cause, were already searching my vehicle. They had my license, they had everything and I stood there, complying to it all -- not saying a Goddamn word.
I came to find out later that there was a pursuit for a young, Hispanic Male with the same colored vehicle. So I just happen to be the unlucky soul during LA rush hour that "fit the description." When they realized that they had the wrong guy, I was set loose. I even wished them good luck on their ongoing pursuit, feeling sorry for anyone who looked like me driving my car at that particular hour. And that was the end of it. And I'm still alive to tell the tale.
Now, if you're wondering what on earth is the point of this story, well I guess that's the Rorschach test to the criminal injustice debate in America today. If you can't SEE what is wrong with the details to this narrative, then we have ourselves a bigger F**KING problem (I promise not to cuss anymore). I kept my mouth shut because I knew that I was a guilty brown criminal in all their eyes. No evidence. No jury. No habeas corpus. Just a bullet in my head if I didn't do what I was told. And I complied. I did my duty. I listened to the officer. I'm an American citizen.
Now I live in Trump's America. An America that will advocate leadership that will call its southern neighbor shithole countries occupied by rapists and criminals. A leadership that will stand by while white nationalists occupy city streets in protest, claiming them to be good people. A leadership that campaigns that we need to be TOUGHER on crime and that military force be used to dominate it's streets.
How many people does this reality exist for, every single day having to wake up, trying to find whatever inner strength left to do what is necessary to feed their children -- to still carry hope despite decades of struggle against a system that will value them as subservient to the elite class.
Lately, I've been struggling with the notion of being detached, unengaged, or never present mentally. I seem to no longer react emotionally to the human needs of others. But in that moment on Jefferson Blvd, handcuffed in front of all LA traffic, on the hood of a squad car, I realized that I had to be. I couldn't react, it was my survival instinct -- to protest would have meant death and so I remained silent.
When America asks why protest turns violent? Why the eruption of hate and vitriol is so potent when more "constructive" measures can be taken to influence change? It is because on most days, brown/black America stands there quietly complying, staring down the barrel of a gun.