It would be a lie to say that when I first heard your mother was pregnant with you, I feared for you. I don't remember what my initial feeling was when it was announced to me. I was in New York at the time trying to make a career as an artist -- acting, writing, directing, producing, etc. My mind was clouded by the burdens over those efforts, so I cannot accurately pin point the emotional response I had. But that is what the feeling has become: fear. I fear for you because you were born into a beautiful and terrible world that I cannot protect you from.
You were born at a time when the world was in a great state of chaos. That is to say, you were born into the world as it has always been. Chaos is the natural order; however, the word "chaos" can deceive even the finest academic.
Yes, it can mean destruction and mayhem. But in ancient Greek mythology, "chaos" did not mean disorder. It meant vacant space awaiting occupation. And since all or most of the world is already physically occupied, you'll have to think of this vacant space in more complex and abstract terms. This vacant space has everything to do with your mind and body. And the fear I speak of has everything to do with the forces who wish to destroy and rob you of both.
This truth I speak of is not a matter I feel entirely comfortable intellectualizing, but you must know it in order to survive. The truth I speak of is: You are not safe. The reason is: You are a Latino male who was born and lives in America. Your mother is Mexican. Your father's parents are/were native Salvadorans. You come from a long and proud heritage.
"You were born into a nation that didn't want you. In America, your life is disposable."
In a culture obsessed with labels, you can choose to identify as Mexican, Mexican-American, Chicano, Salvadoran, Salvadoran-American, Latino, Hispanic, American or a combination of some or all of those identities. Or none of them. Pick whatever you feel suits you best, if you wish to reflect on the matter at all. The choice is yours. But make no mistake on this matter: You were born into a nation that didn't want you. In America, your life is disposable.
Many people just like you and I have had to endure the pain of what it means to not be white in a white supremacist society. And when I use the term "white people," I use it in the way the great writer James Baldwin did: the problem with white people is that they believe they are white.
I speak of the people who cling to their whiteness because its benefits are so deeply rooted in the fabric of American society. They mistake privileges for rights. They vulgarly confuse being contradicted with being oppressed. They mistake comfort for freedom. They cry discrimination when all that is being asked for is equality.
Now, that's not to say that a white person cannot have a difficult life in America, but it is not difficult because that person is white. Whatever it is, however you want to define it, you are not one of these people and you never will be. This in itself puts you in danger.
I cannot promise that you will be safe when you leave your home and walk the streets in the day or night. I cannot guarantee you that your life will matter to others, like the police, if you are ever mistaken or fit the profile of a criminal. I can't say you will never be stopped and frisked by the police like I have been. I can't promise that you will never be the victim of police brutality the way I have been. I can't guarantee you that you won't be gunned down by the police the way so many of our people have been simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Many of these individuals, like (or more especially) our black brothers and sisters, were unarmed. And I can't promise you that those murderers, these state terrorists, will be punished for their crimes.
The history of our people in this nation has been defined more by pain and degradation than by dignity and triumph. By the time you are old enough to read and understand this letter people will have already attempted to deprive you of your past and culture.
You will be taught in school that your culture is secondary (at best) to European and European-American culture. Be it systematic or symbolic or even well-intentioned, the people who believe themselves to be white want you to forget where you descend from.
Let me be clear: I'm not exactly advocating nationalism. That's a tricky slope. I'm of the opinion that nationalism or patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. I think you should go beyond nationalism, but not without it. To know where you descend from is vital to who you are as a person of color in America.
So, I offer you this: You are the son of Cuauhtémoc. You are the power that grew out of Pancho Villa's gun. You are the Maya prince. You are the blood of Oscar Romero. You are the workers in Diego Rivera's murals. You are the Zoot Suiter. You are the student who cried Chicano power. You are the one underneath the masks of the Zapatistas in Chiapas. You are Farabundo Martí. Your name is Joaquin.
Who you are and who you choose to identify with is and is not up to you. On a personal level, the choice is yours. On a societal level, it's more complicated. People will impose what it means to be brown in America upon you whether you like it or not.
Brown liberation will not come through numbers alone. Latina/os in America have failed to organize themselves in a way that brings about true political power. It is here where my generation has failed you the most. Our people pick the fruit from an American garden only to hand it over to rich men who wish to enslave our minds and exploit our labor.
"If you love yourself in a way the white supremacist power structure does not ... you are committing a revolutionary act."
But all of this knowledge will not keep you safe. Even with all the dignity you may obtain from this search I encourage you to undertake, to discover who you are will not save you from a bullet of a police officer's gun.
You can live in the suburbs of bigotry, you can attend the best university, you can wear the most non-threatening clothes, you can always take the safe way home, you can speak English better than the people who taught you how to speak it, you can forget Spanish and abandon our people's struggle all together, you can be the token, you can be whatever you want -- but none of that will save you from one racist moment that can occur at anytime.
You matter. Your life matters.
Any policy or system or government that makes you feel otherwise is something you must fight against. That is your real enemy. This enemy will appear to you in many different ways. It may appear to you with a smile and friendly face. It may perceive itself as a cure to any burden you may be carrying. However it reveals itself to you, do not be deceived by it.
If you love yourself in a way the white supremacist power structure does not want you to love yourself, you are committing a revolutionary act. In a nation that desperately tries to rewrite history in order to convince people of the secular religion of American Exceptionalism, it is essential you reach a consciousness that goes beyond what I have achieved or what W.E.B. Du Bois proposed.
If American Exceptionalism exists it is because it was built on the backs of Africans and migrant workers: Latina/o migrant workers. You owe them both the utmost respect for surviving in a country that did all it could to break them. Never forget that.
For all its benefits, for all its tragedies, for all its blatant lies, I write this letter knowing that my generation is leaving you this country, this earth worse off then when we inherited it. And it is for this reason that you must do better.
Read the full letter at www.sergiocastillo.weebly.com.