by Rocio Isabel Prado
Recently, many folks have made comments on Facebook posts I have made about issues that are important to me. Because of the many identities I negotiate, I am deeply involved in these issues and any challenge becomes a painful personal attack that leaves me feeling silenced and angry due to my inability to express myself. I have found myself in the same position at school when folks have made claims of reverse racism. Consequently, I have never won an online argument or successfully defended my own political stances in class. I think it’s because I cannot speak the same English so many others speak. My lack of privilege, caused by intersectional oppression, materializes in the way I cannot successfully express myself in any language. People of color have been so consistently silenced that, even now, when I have developed the courage to speak, I lack the fluency.
When someone (usually an educated, middle class, non-POC, but not always) disagrees with a point I am trying to make, they launch a volley of articulate arguments in my direction and my only response is, for the most part, a resounding “go fuck yourself.” I am unable to develop a complex, logical, or persuasive response because I cannot speak the language they use to communicate with me. Even though I have received my Bachelor’s degree in English, their language is incomprehensible because they speak in an American, middle class dialect and use western logic. American, middle class English does not allow me to express gender, my queerness, or racial and ethnic identity.
In locations where I have been socialized, like school or work, my queer brown body is not given permission to be part of the dominant narrative because “ethnic” is othered as “not white” and using “they” as a gender pronoun is incorrect as it indicates plural (although it is the only English pronoun that allows does not police my gender). This language does not allow many queer people of color, immigrant folks, trans folks, or disabled folks to express themselves; it is the language of our colonizers and the language of exclusivity. English is the ICE agent or the gendered bathroom sign. I cannot answer because I am not represented in the words available.
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Because of this, I often lie awake at night in tears, frustrated with my inability to express myself. I burn with the rage at the realization that I can’t participate in this language without assimilating. My body revolts when it senses that it’s being kept out. My body cannot handle the no’s, the borders, the gendered bathroom sign. The stress manifests itself physically. The verbal damage leaves it beaten and bruised. It will not be until two days later that I heal enough to come up with an adequate response.
I have realized that I am unable to communicate because my language mirrors my background. My parents are immigrants who left Mexico to escape the chokehold of poverty they faced there and my family has always been poor and uneducated. My father’s education stopped in middle school and my mother was lucky enough to receive her high school diploma. The words I use to express myself are taken from the language they speak—mostly non-academic Spanish and English. My parents’ language is not an exclusive one. They are able to communicate in Santa Ana with those who are fluent in Spanglish. They can blend in well when they return to Mexico to visit and are eagerly accepted as paisanos. Similarly, in these environments, no one keeps me out because I don’t have an accent or because I don’t know when to use certain tenses. My parent’s ease of communication ends when a cop pulls us over or when they need to speak English to my brother’s teachers. Hablas ingles? They ask. My parents can speak English but what the cops and the teachers are detecting is that they don’t speak their English. I get the same feeling of being sized up in academic or workplace settings. This fear of being judged, of being kept out is noticeable in my speech which makes me look as though I do not have a point to prove or that I cannot defend my opinion.
Consequently, this difficulty with expressing myself in a language that was not created to facilitate my self-expression is compounded because those who refuse to understand my point of view are usually better armed. Their platform is an oppressive status quo that does not acknowledge or support my culture, language, or existence. They are usually prepared with examples and rhetoric that do not acknowledge folks like me. On the other hand, I only know of a few resources I can draw from. My English education has left me poorly informed with only notebooks full of racist stereotypes to analyze. Milton, Shakespeare, and Twain are not very helpful in situations like these. This leaves me, once again, silent and pissed. Fortunately, I have obtained education that at least helps me feel better. I have managed to somehow borrow or steal works by authors that help me deal with the verbal damage of speaking a colonized language. Authors like Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, and Sandra Cisneros know how to speak my language and heal my wounds.
To clarify, I am not saying folks should “dumb down” arguments with less privileged folks. We are poor and our education is often one learned on the streets or in public libraries. We are aware of the oppressions that we face. Our anger at our exclusion from language communities exists because we know we have been disrespected, but the dominant narrative has left us without words to use. Folks who recognize themselves as having a difficult time understanding what we are trying to say should, instead, listen to what we want instead of attacking. When you do this you aren’t making it easy for me to explain myself, you are colonizing my words. You will not understand me if you think your language is accessible to everyone because your privilege is sure as hell not obtainable for me. Understanding comes from putting yourself in a position that does not benefit you but rather one that is seeking to understand the position of someone else. We will simply not be able to communicate if you assume your language is the standard by which mine is judged. When someone attacks me online or challenges me in the classroom, my anger or silence is not a sign of defeat but a pause to translate their oppressive words into my language.
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Rocio Isabel Prado is an indigenous Xicana lesbian who is currently working towards her MA in English at California State University, Fullerton. On campus she enjoys working with students and organizing for the Queer People of Color club. Off campus she likes to cook vegan food, eat vegan food, and listen to comedy. Her research emphasizes texts written by and about queer people of color, the Chicana body, and graphic novels.
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