The tears in that Spanish-speaking bible study Wednesday after Wednesday would be a part of the long process of healing. For two years, my 16-year-old soul opened up in these meetings. Most of the other participants were Latino immigrants who had just crisscrossed the continent or children of immigrants like myself still learning how to live in both Spanish-speaking and English-speaking worlds.
Those nights where very present in my heart last Wednesday night as the news developed in Charleston of a racist white supremacist terrorist killing nine Emmanuel AME churchgoers after sitting with them for an hour in bible study.
Those nights were nights of learning, of great joy and of needed healing. My parents had just gone through a nasty divorce and I was learning to outgrow the first years of addiction following that divorce. A much healthier setting, the sharing uttered by immigrants who knew what it was like to spend days crossing the border through the desert and the Latino spirituals of liberation of Central American countries became my first tastes of a life of faith and action.
I cried. I cried for the Charleston AME Church last week. Tears brought me back to my own time at bible study and to how powerful that space can be for all of us and especially for those of us who grow up in marginalized communities across our nation.
I prayed in English the prayers I learned in college. I prayed in Spanish the prayers that my Abuelita taught me, oraciones prayed in endless homes for those lost in the desert. I prayed as I realized how unsafe so many spaces continue to be for minorities, and especially for the Black community in our country. That night I cried the prayers of immigrant mothers and fathers, prayers that I know all too well and I offered them to honor the tears dropping down the cheeks of Black sisters and brothers all over the country.
I looked upon the faces and uttered the names of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, the Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., the Rev. Sharonda Singleton and Myra Thompson. So similar to so many who have given me ánimo (hope) in my own faith and commitment to social justice and who taught me what it means to love and work within a beloved community that aches for social transformation.
It was extremely disappointing and yet not surprising to encounter the hollowness of the response that the only two Latino presidential candidates for 2016 gave to the Charleston tragedy.
Marco Rubio sent his condolences via a tweet even after he failed to mention the shooting in a speech to conservatives where instead he focused on gun rights without even uttering a word in honor of those that had been lost.
Saddened by the news from Charleston. The victims and their families are in my prayers today.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 18, 2015
This past Saturday, Rubio’s words had shifted, when he told reporters that Dylan Roof was an “individual full of hate in his heart who carried out an act motivated by racial hatred and it’s an atrocity. It’s a horrifying instance.” Yet, when pressed about whether South Carolina should take down the Confederate flag, here is what Rubio said Saturday (looks like the “people of South Carolina” are already making the decision):
What I do think is important to remember is that the people of South Carolina have dealt with this issue before. They have found a bipartisan consensus over a decade ago on moving that flag to a new location. And I have confidence in their ability to deal with that issue again. So I think it’s important to let the people of South Carolina move forward on it….
Ultimately the people of South Carolina will make the right decision for South Carolina and I believe in their capacity to make that decision. The next president of the United States will not make that decision. That’s up for the people of South Carolina to make, and I think they’ll make the right one like they’ve made them in the past.
And then there was Ted Cruz, who said on Saturday that we should look at this as an opportunity to “bring people together to pray for families” and that was that. Well, he also said this:
We should all come together and denounce the tragic shooting that occurred at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. We should pray for the families who lost loved ones. Look, I have to say as a Christian that the idea someone could come and sit down and pray for an hour in a church and then murder the people he was praying with – it is horrifying. It is the face of evil, and we should be looking at this as an opportunity to bring people together and to pray for the families.
One of the incredible things yesterday [Friday] was to see the families of those who were murdered calling for forgiveness of the murderer. What a powerful demonstration of Christian love. I have to admit if it were my family I don’t know if I could demonstrate that degree of forgiveness, and it is a shame that there is some in politics who want to use this tragedy to divide us. I think that is wrong. I also think there is a qualitative between that and protecting the bill of rights, protecting the constitutional right to keep and bear arms of law abiding citizens which is altogether different and unconnected by a horrific murder committed by a sick and deranged individual.
Though I have not seen every single Latino leader’s response, I wish that the two Latino candidates for president would have responded differently.
Their initial mediocre and cold responses that clearly downplayed racism (Rubio needed a few days to mention “racial hatred”) are a farce at worst and empty at best. Cruz’s deflection was very evident. These responses speak to me of two Latino politicians that feel no need to deal with racism. Two politicians that have stood time and time again against policies for low-income and middle-class families, many of which are Brown and Black, and pray with their lips but do nothing with their action to address the racist reality that persists as an open wound in our country.
For when it comes to some in the Latino community there is a choice that stands before them.
Those with less melanin in their skin can choose the cowardly ways of these two senators and betray their community and their minority experience in embracing “conservative values” and a “color blind” view of our nation. This is the easy route and a framework that caters to the powerful, the traditional and the nativist.
Though this might seem like the easier choice, “the soul is lost” in this path. For as Calle 13 says “Latinoamérica,” “he that does not love his people does not love his mother.”
This path betrays the suffering that the Latino community undergoes in the inner cities and rural areas of our nation and in our desert border. It betrays the blood that has been spilled by our people for decades due to racist and imperialistic U.S foreign policy so clearly seen in the churches of El Salvador, the disappeared peoples of South America or the massacred students of Ayotzinapa, Mexico.
For those of us brave enough to embrace our Latino roots, there is a different way that we must continue to march upon in response to the Charleston tragedy. This is the path of those who are “are prophets of a future not our own,” inspired by another pastor assassinated in another church: the blessed Óscar Romero, who was martyred by rightist military forces as he celebrated mass in the 1980’s.
The Latino community must cry with our Black sisters and brothers as siblings fighting together against the systems of white supremacy and racism that led to this horrible tragedy. For though the context of our struggle is different, the perpetrator of our tears is one and the same.
We must kneel alongside our Black sisters and brothers as they try to grapple and as they grieve with the events from last Wednesday.
We must hope with them and rejoice as African American songs of freedom, dance in unison with the songs of freedom we offer from our own Latino experience.
We must march and act with them and white allies as we strategize and challenge our country away from its racist structures and into a transformation of everything from our criminal justice system to our immigration system.
Dylan Roof’s racist manifesto grieves the fact that the United States is becoming a more multicultural nation. Soon enough, projections show that we will become a majority-minority nation. There are those who are trying to hold on to an America that will never be again and we must actively struggle against these racist voices with our own united voice. After an hour of Christian hospitality, Roof doubted his actions but then reminded himself that “Black people where taking over the country.” We must not let the voice he spoke win.
Some expressions are as deadly and explicit as that of Dylan Roof while other expressions like those of Donald Trump (Mexicans as rapists) are subtler and may seem more innocuous at first glance.
Senators Cruz and Rubio have made their choice and have joined the subtle voice— assimilating and betraying their community. They have chosen to sell their supposed charisma and intelligence to their political patrons and see no need in denouncing the racism in our nation. The day will come when they might encounter their lie and might even regret it.
I hope that unlike them, most U.S. Latinos join me in being an active part of the solution to the racism that still persists even though we have made many strides. Racism, which rearing its ugly head and spilling blood in a church basement last Wednesday more subtly makes the Black community, the Brown community and other minority communities systematically suffer in corners all around the country on a daily basis.
Nine martyrs were added to the heavens last week. May communities from South Central to East LA and from Harlem to “El Barrio” continue to come together so that the blood spilled may transform into actions that bringing together Brown hands, Black hands and the hands of all those that stand up for racial justice, can finally tear down walls of oppression and build up more and more bridges of hope.
Hermano y hermana, aquí está mi mano y mi corazón. Aprenderé de ti y juntos transformaremos nuestra nación.
Brother and siste, here is my hand and my heart. I will learn from you and together we will transform our nation
From my Brown heart I will proclaim #blacklivesmatter and I hope you join me in standing up against white supremacy in both its explicit and more subtle forms.
Carlos Rodríguez is a graduate student at New York University.