Hearing Silence

I walked the streets of DC yesterday, and I was horrified.

The last time I walked here, just over five years ago, I was awestruck, mesmerized by the grandeur of marble buildings housing my government and paying tribute to my country’s history.  I swelled with pride in what it was supposed to represent: freedom, liberty, democracy, and a citizenship and government equally invested in each other.  My government was big and powerful, and that’s because it was determined to do what was right.

This time, after two years of studying oppression and structural violence, organizing to smash patriarchy, and reading extensively about the impact of American and paternalism colonialism within and outside its borders, I saw something different.  I saw mammoth buildings and a city plan designed to intimidate. I saw museums selectively documenting a history dotted with injustice and tyranny.  And as I walked past the US Customs and Border Patrol building, tucked behind the EPA, just steps off the National Mall, I thought of the chapter of this nation’s history which is currently unfolding – one that happens out of sight of the Capitol, but that I am about to find myself in the middle of, when I spend my fall semester in Tucson, AZ studying the US/Mexico Border.

There is a missing piece of the American story that we don’t hear much of in the elementary school narrative that inspired me.  It’s the story of unthinkably brutal oppression: oppression that destroyed Native populations and culture, oppression that keeps racial divides uncrossable chasms, and the oppression of Latin@ immigrants, who come to this country seeking a better life outside their home countries’ economies, decimated by US economic policy.

People are dying in the desert, seeking a route north to a livable life.  People are starving in former agricultural communities in Central America, their corn worthless because of the flood of corn from American imports.  Children are separated from parents, detained after applying for food stamps.

And until I sought it out and did my reading, I didn’t know.  People crossing the border were just undocumented immigrants with undocumented stories, silent to me.

The girl in the upper-middle class classroom full of white kids has the privilege to not know that her government is not as awesome as they might have you believe, but Latin@ children in Arizona certainly don’t, and that is a problem – for everyone.  When injustices are silenced, they continue, and they grow, and they affect us all.  Fighting oppression is not about me going to Arizona to lift people up from the burdens placed upon them.  To fight oppression is to uncover it, to see where it lives and how it works, so we can challenge it in all of our lives.  We have obligations to each other to stand in solidarity.  If we don’t think the oppression of others affects us, we’re wrong.  Only together can we resist and seek solutions.

Break the silence, stop the violence.