Last week Project ñ’s founder, Denise Soler Cox wrote a piece called “Haters Gonna Hate, Right?” about her reactions to comments Project ñ received by self-identified Donald Trump supporters. In her piece, she described how it felt to see ñ’s have their stories diminished by hateful internet commenters. The comments are like the ones we see whenever we attempt to shed light on the lives of immigrants and their children in the United States. While everyone can have opinions, disparaging comments about Latinos, or Americans of Latino descent are not “just an opinion” they are hate speech. We shouldn’t let anyone tell us otherwise.
Denise noted that she has tried to stay away from political discussions in her documentaries and has made all attempts to stick to storytelling. The old adage, the “personal is political” comes to mind in situations like this. The sheer act of telling our stories can be perceived an act of defiance and deviance. These same individuals take advantage of the anonymity the internet offers to spew hate and try to silence our voices. There is always a potential for backlash when we speak truth to power. After all, for decades others have attempted to deny us our unique existences by perpetuating stereotypes about immigrants and their children.As a result, we have remained quiet or have shied away from discussing our heritage. Many think that activism is the act of marching on the streets demanding change. Telling our stories is another form of activism, as our stories have the potential to bring social and political change. It is also an effective way to make a compelling case as research has found that our brains respond better to storytelling than they do to facts and figures.
There is always a potential for backlash when we speak truth to power.
I wrote about my experience as an ñ in MarieClaire.com because often times our stories are not told in the mainstream media. It was also in response to Donald Trump and his supporters who seek to define me and those like me as “anchor babies.” My editors advised that it was important that I clarify that my parents are no longer undocumented immigrants to protect myself from internet commentators. I admit, I pushed back on this as I didn’t want to change the narrative of my story for fear of internet haters. After some back and forth with my editors, I added language that alluded to my parents status as permanent legal residents for a variety of reasons. In the end, the piece had many positive comments and an outpouring of support from my friends and family. The lesson for me is that there is compromise involved in having our stories told in mainstream venues but the alternative would mean that we miss an important opportunity to educate others and declare that we exist. While it is not our job to educate people about the complexities of being a first-generation American our narratives have a right to co-exist with those of “mainstream” Americans.
But spaces like this one are also important because they allow us a safe space to tell our stories. This is a space where we don’t have to explain to anyone what it’s like to be an ñ. In the process we reclaim our narratives and feel less alone.
This is an exciting time for Latinos. We have entered a new era where we are no longer afraid to be proud Americans who are also proud of our ñ heritage. A Nielsen report titled, “The Latina Power Shift” called this the era of the ambicultural Latina to describe Latinos who are no longer afraid to embrace their culture.
Endeavors like Project ñ are just one example of this shift among Latinos, who now embrace their heritage, share their experiences and build powerful networks in the process. “Be Visible” is a digital platform that is helping Latina Millennials find their voice and encouraging them to “be visible” as they strive to succeed in their careers. “Latinas Think Big” hosts events to connect Latinas to each other and to thought leaders at the cutting edge of tech. Eva Longoria recently launched a product called “the firsts” to highlight the accomplishments of Latinos in the United States. It encourages Latinos to share stories about being the first in their families to reach milestones like: finishing college, starting a business, or even voting.
Even in the midst of our success there is also a sub-culture that still seeks to define us, label us, stereotype us and deny us our individuality. In this context telling our stories is the revolutionary act of reclaiming our identities by daring to speak up about our experiences. Some of us are born activists and some of us become activists as an act of self-preservation. The internet can propel movements and a hashtag like #blacklivesmatter, while a viral challenge like the ice bucket challenge can bring attention to a cause and in some cases can precipitate change. Telling our stories is an important way to educate others about these issues and move the social and political discourse forward. It is also a way for those of us who are first-generation Americans to make sense of our dual existence. Let us never forget that our experiences are rich, they matter and they can transform.