By Johnna Dominguez
My story is not a dramatic one. I am Latina. But I am third-generation with light skin and hair. Some would say I “pass” and so I’ve never really had to worry about racist discrimination based on looks alone. I also grew up with economic privilege. So it might be safe to say that I grew up with a form of white privilege.
But I didn’t even see this myself until my experience during the National Advocacy Weekend. I grew up with an open-minded family, so I always thought myself to be a champion for the weak, the underprivileged, the downtrodden…whoever needed a cheerleader, I could do it! Now I realize how little waving my intellectual pom-poms actually does. Those affected by social injustice don’t need a cheerleader. That role allows someone like myself to become too complacent. No, those affected by social injustice need solidarity and people who will stand up and fight alongside them.
This was never as obvious as it was after my first lobby visit with a legislator. On March 18th, I was paired with another person from Alabama and an immigrant woman from Nicaragua to speak to senators from Alabama and Florida. After the first meeting, the immigrant woman Aida eloquently said: “I feel freedom.” She continued by explaining that, in Nicaragua, speaking directly to a politician would have been impossible. She felt, in that moment, that her voice had power.
After the next meeting, where she asked the most hostile office of the day some tough questions and said goodbye with a pointed reminder to remember immigrants, she had something even more powerful to say. “The sacrifices that I’ve made are now paid off, by sharing my story and having people listen.” She had come to this country under amnesty (which, by the way, one of the Alabama senators noted he was against) and worked her ass off to make sure her children could have the things she never could in her home country. Aida has earned so many things since then, including a Masters degree. But it was this day, full of personal story telling and respectful (well, mostly respectful) listening, that made her feel the most accomplished.
Many of the other people I met this weekend felt the same way. They all had amazing stories, and yet many people—in our communities, in our states, in our country—want to silence their voices. Many of the people I met this weekend, whether documented or undocumented, were hard-working, productive members of society. They believe in the same American ideals of life, justice, equality. So don’t they deserve the same respect and rights as any other American who takes these things for granted? I admit, I was one who took these things for granted, at the same time that I was calling myself a “champion”.
But I’m not a cheerleader anymore. I’m an activist.
I’ve come to realize that I do have a story. Instead of a theme centered on immigrant justice, my story is firmly placed in the problems of sexual education, body image, and control of female bodies. No matter the context, I will not be complacent in my privileges any longer. I look forward to forming, and then sharing, my story in the next few days, weeks, months, and years. And I look forward to listening to and fighting alongside those around me. After all, soy poderosa y voy a seguir adelante.