COMMENTARY: Facebook recently reminded me of the mental state I found myself in after Donald Trump was elected last year. I was not in a good place — not just because of who was elected, but because I was living an existential crisis over my racial identity.
I am a mixed-race adult. My dad is Mexican and my mom is White. I had grown up identifying with both cultures. It’s a part of my DNA and how I identify as a person, and it is something I have always been very proud of.
But it is also something I have struggled over a lot during the past couple of years.
During Trump’s campaign and after he was elected as president I found myself confused about who I was supposed to be. All my life I have strongly identified as a Latino, being that I grew up in Mexico. There have been few times in my life where I identified as a white guy, mostly because I grew up in a foreign country.
I still felt a conflicting crisis within me, as both Hispanic and white members of my family supported Trump. His anti-immigrant rhetoric was something that angered me every time I saw him on TV or online — not only was it just wrong, it made me feel sick.
During the 2016 election season, the thought of him winning seemed almost impossible to me, yet it happened. He won. He became our president. All that I had feared he would do if elected slowly became our reality.
His anti-immigrant rhetoric would become something his administration would actively work hard to support. I felt depressed, confused and lost. My Mexican side was hurting and my White side was embarrassed of what I had seen that group of people do and support. Throughout Trump’s campaign, when I saw hordes of people yelling “Build that Wall,” I felt as if my own people were attacking me and others I knew. I didn’t know how to feel.
Horrific things happened after that, such as the rise of white supremacy all over the country and seeing men — who, any other day, would have looked like any of my peers — attacking people of color, attacking my people, calling them racial slurs. It made me feel embarrassed of my white side and caused a lot of confusion about who I am.
As I said before, I have rarely identified as a “white guy.” In fact, I can probably count on my fingers the times I have felt that way. Being that I grew up in a very multi-cultural Mexico City, I enjoyed the privilege of having white skin without ever even acknowledging it. This is something I came to realize later in life as an adult, and something I still struggle with.
Now that I live near the Mexican border, this ambiguity over my ethnicity has become much more apparent. I have been in a vehicle with people who look darker than me who get asked more questions by Border Patrol when traveling through a checkpoint. I tend to get mistaken for a white person until people learn that I am Mexican, and people make assumptions about who I am when they don’t know me.
But the truth is that I don’t identify as that person. I don’t see myself as someone who has benefited from white privilege, even though there have been many times I have.
The acceptance of other cultures is something I was brought up with, as both my parents made it a point that we knew our heritage from both sides. It gave me a deeper appreciation for other people and what they go through, even if I may never get to truly understand them. Yet, what is currently happening in our country has pushed me to question who I am as a person and what aspects of my ethnic background I am to be proud of.
A year after one of the most difficult nights of my life, I still go back to the same thought. I spent a couple months trying to recover from that blow. It wasn’t easy. There was a lot of soul-searching I had to do, including acknowledging the advantages I have because of the light color of my skin.
I am now in a very different place. I feel more confident in the person I have become and where I am headed. I believe that while what happened in our history was difficult, it is something that shaped me and so many others. On a personal level, I came to deal with my own understanding of the role that I played as a white male — something I had rarely considered in the past. I began a process of accepting who I am based on the color of my skin and who I am as a mixed-race person.
One year after the election, I am fighting harder for my own people and for the rights of many others. I have become more involved in local politics and activism than I ever thought I would be in my life — not for any personal power or recognition, but out of a desire to help and advocate for others who are not able to do so for themselves.
I’ve had the privilege of speaking on behalf of people that are afraid to come out of the shadows, or whose lives could be considered at-risk because of their immigration status. I hate giving Donald Trump credit for giving me the courage to do so, but had that historic mess-of-the-system of our democracy not happened, certain aspects of my life may have continued on, “business as usual.” While I’d dwelled on the notion of being active in politics, I’d never seen the huge need for it.
And that is something I regret.
This has been a full year of battles, of protests, of actions, of rallies, and of people remembering the power of democracy. This has been a year of learning who I am as an individual and as a human being. It has been a year of accepting my multi-ethnic background, and of realizing that certain aspects of it haven’t always been what I thought.
It has been a year of learning that racism in this country is alive and well — and very strong. It has been a year of realizing that I have the power within me to choose to speak up and to not be afraid of the consequences of doing so. It has been a year that has molded me into a strong person — and, yes, a stronger man.
Luis Guerrero lives in Las Cruces and has been an advocate for social justice, specifically among the Latino and immigrant community of the border area. He currently holds a position as the southern New Mexico field organizer with the Democratic Party of New Mexico.