Open Letter to The Summit Against Racism and All Those in Pittsburgh Working to End Racism

Assuming that many spanish-speakers in Pittsburgh can see these intersections as well, I thought they might be interested in the 17th Annual Summit Against Racism. I decided to cover the event for my day job as a correspondent for La Jornada Latina – the only Spanish Language newspaper in the city.

Latinos, too, face racism everyday and are being killed by police at almost the same alarming rate as blacks and native Americans. We also face unique issues that go unaddressed in a city that sees only Black and White. Pittsburgh’s Summit Against Racism is very important, but when it fails to acknowledge those of us outside of that binary, it continues to reinforce racism by further marginalizing those of us who are racially ambiguous, mixed race, latino, arab, native american, or any other shade of brown.

Puerto Rico, like Guam and the US Virgin Islands, is a long-existing colony of the United States. That makes me a legal citizen

1. against my will and

2. without any representation in congress, i.e. no formal, legal, political method for participating in decision making that is critical to our self-determination.

This should make my life easier in the United States, and sometimes it does; but I cannot count how many times my “legal status” has been questioned at job interviews and by the police. This is because the United States government has determined that some people are legal, and others are not, and that line is clearly drawn by color.

I hope that both the planning committee and the participants of the Summit Against Racism are all in full agreement a person’s legal status, as determined by the government, does not constitute ones’ personhood. In fact, in a country where the government considers corporations people and people as disposable, it seems as if everything is backwards.

After the summit, I learned from one of the workshop facilitators that she was required to add a white person to her facilitation team to fulfill a quota. Considering the absence of brown people’s voices that already existed, this practice re-centers white people in conversations about racism rather than building solidarity between people of color – something we desperately need.

I frequently use facebook to follow up with people after events that I was not able to track down at the event itself. It helps me fill in details and get contact information in ways that were not available prior to the digital age but are of incredible importance to journalists now.

After hearing about the facilitation quotas, I felt compelled to comment on the Summit Against Racism’s facebook page while I was browsing for information. The comment read:

“there should have been less white people talking about racism and some Latino, Arab or Native-American representations instead”.     

Moments after the comment was posted, I was no longer able to access the event. Rather than jump to conclusions, I emailed the SAR to find out what had happened. I received a flood of well-meaning emails. One (and only one) organizer did affirm the lack of Other voices and made a commitment to make changes in organizing to help to mitigate this issue. I hope they follow through.

Based on the remaining emails it seems like there is a lot of time needed for personal and organizational reflection before that can happen.  These emails both claimed that no one knew what happened and simultaneously excused the planning committee from taking any responsibility with phrases like “I can assure you that no one would ever do that,” or “why don’t you join the planning committee?”

That is what I would like to believe, but unfortunately, I was blocked by the facebook administrator (who is white) from her personal account, which blocked my access to the facebook event by default – a backdoor tactic to eliminate my presence from this conversation. Not only have I been silenced for my comments, I am being blocked from accessing information in my professional capacity as a journalist, and the lack of care or empathy from the planning committee was less than inspiring.

People claimed there are not many Latinos in Pittsburgh (there are; they are the fastest growing population in the city), or the classic “I don’t know why none of them came, they were welcome to attend.” Meanwhile, there is an active chapter of the Boricua Human Rights Network in Pittsburgh, several Latin American unions, clubs, and services in the city, and plenty of restaurants and stores to flier. I don’t know why none of you came to invite us and hear about our work and our issues, we were right here the whole time.

The SAR has traditionally been held on or near the birth date of Martin Luther King in order to honor King’s legacy in the Civil Rights movement of that era and we recently commemorated the assassination of * Malcom X. It seems appropriate to point of the relationship between the Black Panthers and the Young Lords – a latino organization that made a critical contribution to that same civil rights movement. There are many examples throughout history – including now – of people of color from different backgrounds working together to end White Supremacy.

So after being invisibilized, today I am declaring my personhood, here from the margin of the page of this story.

This letter is for Jesse Hernandez, Carlos Mejia, Frank Alvarado, Osman Hernandez, Angel Ruiz, Lolita Lebron, Sonia Santiago, Oscar Lopez, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and all of the “undocumented” people in this country who die – in prison, in sweat shops, enslaved in the farms where your food is grown – without their families or friends at home ever knowing because they spent their life hiding themselves and being hidden.

At the 17th Annual Summit Against Racism, volunteers prepare to serve foods to the large crowd in attendance. A banner reads "We must be tender with each other so we can be dangerous together." I couldn't agree more. The event was held at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church in East Liberty. Photo courtesy of Joyce Wagner.

At the 17th Annual Summit Against Racism, volunteers prepare to serve foods to the large crowd in attendance. A banner reads “We must be tender with each other so we can be dangerous together.” I couldn’t agree more. The event was held at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church in East Liberty. Photo courtesy of Joyce Wagner.

#BlackLivesMatter #LatinoLivesMatter #BrownLivesMatter #WeAreHereToo

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