Speak Up

On our last night together in Quito, September 15th, we had a final dinner and group time. During the group time following dinner, I gave this speak up (which is basically like a speech) to the entire group. I’m posting it on my blog as a reminder of what has been going on and because I mention it in other blog posts. Also, two things I didn’t mention during my speak up that I wish I did: 1) I gave this at the beginning of Mexican Independence Day in a country that didn’t widely celebrate my culture but I was not going to forget what it meant to be Mexican 2) All the people mentioned are in my Ecuador cohort

As a first generation, Mexican American, lower income, girl from the lower west side of Chicago, you can kind of guess that the way I look precedes anything else before me. I lived in Mexican neighborhood all my life, which allowed me to be sheltered from a large amount of hate in the world, a privilege I didn’t really recognize until it was gone. In 7th grade, I became apart of High Jump: an enrichment program for academically strong students from a lower socio economic background that live across the city to apply to the most selective high schools in the country; I would not have gone to my high school without it. While High Jump prepared me for the academic rigor of high school, it did not prepare me for the social aspect of being one of 5 Latin-X students in a grade of 112, of which the majority were white and from a higher socioeconomic background. During my freshman year alone, I was called “illegal”, “poor” and “ghetto” for things I couldn’t control like the color of my skin or my zipcode. To say the least, graduating high school was easily one of my proudest accomplishments.

Fast forward to GCY, during our days at Stanford, speakers and activities pushed fellows to talk about identity and topics that most people don’t get to talk about in school-structured environments. As exhausted as I was, I loved being apart of a program that focused on being global citizen in a world much larger than just our hometowns, not on getting into an ivy league school.

Towards the end of Stanford week, I was walking to the dining hall from the dorm and two white fellows made ignorant, hurtful Mexican jokes- one directed at me and one said in response to the first joke. I froze. I walked out of Norcliffe confused on why I didn’t say anything. A mix of frustration and anger flooded my head and all I could say was “I should’ve said something”. I called my best friend back in Chicago and cried. I haven’t really talked about it to anyone else until now. I didn’t know why it bothered me so much until a few days ago.

On Monday, we broke into groups at the Mundo Juvenil and talked about our Quito experience thus far. Towards the end of our group time, we were asked to journal about values that are important to us and how we plan to continuously practice them throughout these next seven months. I chose accountability. I realized everything hurt a bit more because no one was held accountable. No one said anything. No one made the people who said those hurtful realize how much damage they actually did. It made me realize I wasn’t the only person who should have said something in that situation, as there was a good 10 other fellows in the lobby at that moment when that happened.

I think about that day a lot, probably once a day since then. And I think about how my experience would have been different if someone would have said something. Maybe if someone would have said something, would I be less afraid to speak up in groups? Would I be more likely to confront people when someone says something that goes against my fundamental beliefs? Would I feel like I belong more?

As we go into our homestays and find ourselves immersed in environments that aren’t exactly what we expect, I know I will need to depend on other fellows more now than ever. While we think of accountability as being on time for meetings or making sure you text your host parents, it’s much bigger than that. It’s making sure you’re actively aware of your actions and your words. It means actively standing up for people who often can’t stand up for themselves. It’s recognizing that privilege is always there, whether you know it or not, and making sure you are using your privilege to pull others up, not push others down. Accountability, in it’s simplest form, is really being there.