Monday, January 4, 2016

Tales Of An American Spic: "The American Dream."
Let me take you back to a time when Latinos, and Hispanics officially did not exist in the United States. While many of you identify with being Latino or Hispanic, and feel a cultural connection with most people of Latin American descent, this broader feeling of unity between Latin Americans, is a fairly new phenomenon. The word Hispanic wasn't officially adopted by the United States until 1970, and the word Latino not until 1997. Before that, for most New Yorkers of the time, we were either Spanish, Porto Ricans, Mexicans, or my favorite "Fucking Spic's."
It was a time when Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Ridgewood Queens were mostly white neighborhoods. A time when Spanish Harlem was heading for decay, and Bushwick soon to follow. In 1964 my family and I, were one of the first groups of Ecuadorians to immigrate into New York. Before 1965, national quotas on immigrants favored European immigration rather than Latin American immigration. After 1965, with changes to immigration law, it became easier for Latin Americans to emigrate to the United States, but for us there were no Ecuadorian neighborhoods to live in. It was either live in the ghetto, or live in a nice white New York neighborhood.
We were the first wave of South American immigrants in New York and the United States. The first wave to go into the trenches. The first wave to be cut down, again and again. The first wave to move into the nicer white neighborhoods. My parents, and your parents wanted the American Dream, and they wanted it for there children. They didn't want to live in a ghetto. They were just as poor as most Latin Americans at the time, but that didn’t scare my parents. They wanted the American Dream, even if it meant working twice as hard, and enduring the pain of watching their children suffer the humiliation of discrimination, hatred and physical abuse, at the hands of the many racist New Yorkers of the time. They would push their limits and the limits of their children, in order to give their children a better life.
Believe it or not, there was a time when I only spoke Spanish. A time when I learned English strictly from watching TV. A time when I didn't even know that I knew English. Until a day in Kindergarten, after not saying a word for weeks, I asked the boy next to me to please pass me the crayon. He yelled out for the whole class to hear: "He spoke, he spoke." Until that day, I only spoke Spanish to my family. You see, I was afraid of speaking English and going to school, afraid of going outside to play. It was a time when we would go out shopping, and all the people would stare at us. I can still hear their whispers: “Look at the Spics. Make sure they don’t steal anything.” It didn’t matter that my mother was a beautiful Caucasian woman, or that we were innocent and harmless children, because as soon as my parents spoke, they knew, they always knew, they knew that we were spics.

We were the Latin Americans that were singled out, cursed at, spat upon, beat up, and humiliated. And the worst part of it was, that we couldn’t turn back, we couldn’t show fear, we couldn’t let them see us cry. It was our dignity that was at stake. It was your dignity that was at stake. We held back our tears and forced ourselves upon White Americans so that one day your children could live anywhere they want, and not have the word spic branded on their foreheads and burned into their hearts.
Which brings me to my point. How dare you? My fellow Latin Americans, and North Americans of Latin American descent. Accuse me of not being Latino or Hispanic enough. Of neglecting my Latino or Ecuadorian culture. You teased me as a child and called me a white boy behind my back, and over the years this has hurt me a great deal.
How dare you assume that I didn’t suffer racism as much as you. We had to survive in the white mans territory. It was a time when Elementary School was a war zone, and most of the Latin American and Black students were bused in from neighboring Bushwick. Most of these kids did of course experience discrimination while they were in school and in the white neighborhoods of Ridgewood and Glendale Queens, but when the three o’clock bell rang they went back to their neighborhoods, back to play with their friends. They didn’t have to deal with discrimination until the next school day. Some of you may remember the rocks they used to throw at your school buses when they would arrive at school. Scary, wasn’t it? Now imagine having to go through that everyday and all day as a child.
My brothers, sisters and I, had to constantly endure the stares, the name calling, the whispering behind our backs, and yes, the bloody noses. Everyone wanted to beat up a fucking spic. We were the little soldiers of the civil rights era. We experienced the front line. We have the scars from the battleground. The bloody noses from the enemy. We have the flashbacks that only war can leave. And in our minds the enemies were not the whites, but the bigots and their children. And when the three o’clock bell rang, I knew what to expect. I was a six year old child and I knew that it was time to get beat up.

We suffered the humiliation, the fear, the emotional scaring and the pain of not belonging. We had to humble ourselves, excuse ourselves, avoid eye contact. We had to be smarter in school to gain their respect. We had to push ourselves physically harder in order to defend ourselves. We could never lose a fight because it would show weakness. We had to endure more pain, be more humble, be more forgiving, because once we fought them we had to live with them, and eventually forgive them. That’s what my mother taught us, to forgive those who make us cry. We were just children and unaware that we were paving the future, so that you and your children wouldn't have to go through what we went through.

We fought the battle, so that you may prosper here today. We are the reason you can walk into a white neighborhood today and not be attacked instantly. We are the reason you can buy a house in almost any neighborhood today. We are the reason your children don't come home with bloody noses and mental scars of abuse. We're the ones. We were first contact with the whites in these neighborhoods. We forced ourselves upon them, showed them our ways, made them see us as ordinary people. We educated white Americans, by befriending them, by playing with their children, by gaining their trust. That is why I must apologize to my white American friends for using the word: White. Not all white Americans were bigots. I've made dear and lasting friends with many.

I am, Ecuadorian and Latin American I've always been so. Don't ever accuse me of not being Latino enough. I can't dance Salsa, because most of my friends listened to rock and roll. And when more and more of my own kind moved into the neighborhood, I tried to befriend you, but we were as different as night and day. You embraced your Latin American heritage, or the country of your origin. You were sure of your identity, proud of your culture and traditions. You danced like a true Latin American and spoke Spanish fluently. But what was I? What had I become? I had been assimilated. I had been accepted. I was one of them, yet I wasn't. I was one of you, yet I wasn’t. I had no identity. I had spent all my childhood fighting and defending myself, in order to gain white Americans respect, and when I finally got it, my own people mocked me.
I still speak Spanish, not as fluent as you, but I haven't forgotten. I don't dance as well
as you, but I sure do try. I'm the one who had the word 'Spic' branded on my forehead and burnt into my heart when I was only three years old. I was a spic long before they started calling us Latino or Hispanic. I am Mestizo, meaning mixed. I am Ecuadorian and Latin American. I am also a United States citizen and proud to be. But most of all, I am someone that believes in the American Dream. Not just for Americans, but a dream that can be realized all across the World.
David Yanez



No comments:

Post a Comment