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"The best way for me to continue existing was to make others forget that I was there."
"The best way for me to continue existing was to make others forget that I was there."
Photo by Shelby H. via Flickr

Why Some Brown Girls Don’t Fight Back

What we teach our kids is based on our values, our history, our experiences, and the world we live in. Teaching little girls to fight, as our own Jef Rouner recently suggested, is a response to the active threats that they will get all their life and makes sense in a society that does not feel the need to actively teach our boys to not be aggressors.

However, as a Mexican woman of color raising kids like me, I did not grow up valuing confrontation or the search for justice, nor do I teach them as much about it as maybe I should. I grew up valuing survival. Just as different animals have different ways of surviving from predators, so did we. Ours was simply disappearing. Growing up in an environment that taught us that we were not accepted because of our colors, features, or documentation status was key in understanding that the best way for me to continue existing was to make others forget that I was there.

This started at home when we were taught to not speak Spanish outside of our home or at our schools, which made us feel like our languages were not welcome. Our language made us stand out, so we didn’t use it. When we were in situations that were threatening we were taught how to hide and where. I recall as a little girl being told that La Migra would probably show mercy on us if they thought we were younger than we were, so we lied about our age. I didn’t even know if that was true or not, but I did it and felt safer somehow.

Being a petite child, this was easily believed, a lie that made me at one point forget how old I really was, and I had to check my birth certificate to confirm. My father has no idea of my real age; he has long forgotten. Every time we drove by any type of law enforcement vehicle, even if it was just a mall cop, we pretended we were asleep, our heart beats racing because this might be the time they stop us.

We had a network and communicated with each other about where to hide. It even helped us decide even when to go to the grocery store. It was a makeshift Latino horoscope that guided our brown lives. Raids are not just a modern worry with the latest political changes. For those of us who have been in the United States even before the Reagan amnesty they were our life and continued to be the lives of our families and those around us.

Therefore, we didn’t fight. We ran and kept quiet and allowed others to bully us and hurt us because it meant we would live to see another day here with our families. The worries that our parents had were not that we would get in trouble in school because it would affect our grades, but because it might lead to attention. We did not want attention for us or our families. Maybe because we were living in a one-bedroom apartment in East Spring Branch with three cousins and aunts and uncles, or because we didn’t have driver's licenses, or because we were using Social Security numbers that were chuecos.

Women and children hesitated to report their partners for abuse because it would mean suffering for all of them. Employers knew this fear as well and often took advantage of that. Non-reporting in immigrant populations is very high and survivors of any type of assaults have little protection. We thought surely that the police and immigration worked together and would not aid us. Instead we would all end up deported or lost in the system. As an adult I know this is not true, but I will never be able to convince my family that it isn’t.

When you live in a world where disproportionately brown and black bodies are behind bars and accused of crimes, and you don’t have the money to defend yourselves from any possible repercussions that may come from fighting back and when all you want to do is blend into the fabric of the world around you… fighting is not what you do. You don’t push back, you don’t cause stirs, you don’t speak out.

I am not saying that this is right. I am not saying this was the best way to raise children and that we should continue this. But I am saying that still now in this day we have many families who cannot teach their daughters to fight back and won't. Because survival takes many forms.

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