100 Fires: The Latino Condition

Nov 22, 2019
1:59 PM
Originally published at TonyDiaz.net

Photo by MarcusObal (CREDIT)

It is hard to fight structural oppression when the structure is on fire.

This hit home after I saw the news reports that Latino gardeners and housekeepers were not evacuated during the fires in California. They either went to work because they needed to, or they were told to, or they were not warned to flee.

This is a powerful metaphor for our time. Folks who don’t recognize structural discrimination wonder why the workers still went to work. We have been trying to explain for generations. Structural discrimination can kill you. I am so glad a Latina reporter named Brittny Mejia was there for the Los Angeles Times to report this. #RepresentationMatters. (We interviewed Brittney for the November 19 Nuestra Palabra radio show.)

Those workers’ lives were threatened by literal fires. Our community faces 100 metaphoric fires every day. Of course, comparing literal fires to metaphorical fires may seem callous. However, mainstream folks do not really care about either. Both are equally ignored by mainstream media. The literal fires did not stay on national news, did not become household talking points, and will fade into the news cycle like the rest of the systemic oppression our community faces, and will evaporate like our great acts —thus our history is not taught in schools— like so many other structural barriers and discriminatory attacks we face both obvious and subtle.

We face 100 fires every day. Here are just 10 examples:

1. DACA is being debated at the Supreme Court. Multiply this by several other immigration issues that hang over the heads of families in our communities. And there are still parents trying to be united with their kids, who were torn from their arms by immigration officials.

2. Election season is here. This conjures how both parties neglect profound issues that directly shape our community. Add state-wide elections. Add city-wide elections. Multiply this by the number of cities like Houston, where we are 45% of the population yet hold only one city council seat, depending on the outcome of upcoming run-off elections. Multiply by the issues we have to fight regarding gerrymandering, voter suppression, voter purges, etc.

3. Ethnic Studies: I’m thrilled that the Texas State Board of Education is taking public testimony regarding implementing African American Studies Texas-wide. The Librotraficantes have sent letters to encourage the TX SBOE to vote the right way. If you have not heard about this, it’s because good news does not make news. I hope we won’t have to get on buses to drive to Austin to protest the TX SBOE for rejecting African American Studies, as we did when they attacked Mexican American Studies. But we will board those buses again if we have to. During the six years of work pushing for MAS, we made sure to include a path for African American Studies, Asian American Studies, and Native American Studies. Now, multiply our work by the 1,200 school districts in Texas that need the books, training, and teachers to teach these amazing new courses.

Activists from San Antonio, the Rio Grande Valley, and Houston demanding MAS in Texas. Photo (Credit: Zeke Perez)

4. A Harris County Assistant District attorney refused to prosecute a sexual assault of a person in a holding cell while he was under police watch because he may have been undocumented. The assistant DA was fired. Multiply this by all the profiling and injustices we don’t hear about.

5. Austin ain’t that cool. The University of Texas at Austin is proven to have been unfair in the hiring and promotion of Latino faculty. Multiply that by all other “Hispanic Serving Institutions” that do this and all the other industries where this happens.

6. Latino Art: Our community does not have the luxury that mainstream nonprofits enjoy to simply create art because we must also address the fires I’m describing to you right now because if they don’t effect us directly today, they affect our audience, our artists, our community, and our futures. Multiply by this by all the writers, visual artists, musicians, actors, who have to fight to survive and maybe thrive and who have time and energy to donate to Latino Arts nonprofits. Ask me how we united to save the Talento Bilingüe de Houston theater—for now.

7. Education. Yes, education is a major issue for the entire Latino demographic, but Houston is in crisis mode as the state takes over the entire HISD district after laws played a role in a high school failing to meet state testing standards for seven years. Houston has the largest school district in Texas and is 62% Latino. In Texas, Latino students represent over 52% of the 5.1 million public school students and out-going Republican Speaker of the House Bonnen was recorded saying that Texas laws are intended to choke blue cities. Don’t multiply, do math. A parent must worry about their child attending school, the courses they will take, the teachers they will learn from, the building they report to every day, the curriculum that will add up to a diploma in a school in a district that is now in upheaval.

8. Kept out of the Getty Museum. Kept in the Getty fire. People really don’t want to know why the Latina housekeepers were not warned by their bosses to stay out of the fires. People don’t want to know about the fires we face every day. Multiply this by every industry where we are paid under the table, where we are paid less than other workers, where we are overlooked for raises and promotions-if we are even hired. We are not considered intellectuals, or artists, or-evidently-even thinking feeling people. So, what if we perish in literal or metaphorical blazes.

9. Add so many more issues from the cradle to prison pipeline to climate injustices in our neighborhoods to all the issues that hurt poor folks the most because our community has the most poor folks.

10. The El Paso Walmart re-opens. This attack on our community, aimed directly at Mexicans and Mexican Americans, shrinks in the memory of the U.S. as the media and politicians move on. Multiply this by 100 because this included a manifesto that plagiarized the discriminatory hate speech used against our community that appears in so many speeches, ads, memes of so many far-right politicians.

That massacre revealed how limited our representation is on TV and in media because there were not enough Latinos to properly cover the slaughter of Mexicans and Mexican Americans. And this also demonstrates how this attack on our community and all the previous attacks fade from the American imagination, and we are left alone to deal with the trauma, as we still have to show up to work at jobs where we are expected to be happy just to have, so we should not know that we are paid less or complain when we find out, or we should just keep working even as the walls around us burn down.

In this Aug. 4, 2019, file photo, a Virgin Mary painting, flags and flowers adorn a makeshift memorial for the victims of the mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton, File)

You wonder why we didn’t attend the event you organized to save us? You wonder why we still might show up for jobs in the midst of literal fires?

We face 100 fires every day, and outsiders barely see the smoke. We have to monitor all of them to make sure we are not consumed as we extinguish those whose heat is closest.


Tony Diaz is a writer, activist, professor and media personality. More at TonyDiaz.net. He tweets from @Librotraficante.