Uniting My Voice with Others for the Change We Need to See, written by Esther Peralez-Dieckmann
Blog Series: Confronting Inequities in Our Field - July 30, 2020
As the brutality and racism of the murder of George Floyd and countless other Black people over the course of the last year reverberates around the world, I feel an overwhelming sense of remembrance. I feel triggered and greatly saddened because these issues are not new. They feel familiar…the trauma, the anger, the fear, frustration and desperation….all of it. I had put it away in the box that I call “the 70’s” and moved on with my life. Things were crazy back then. Over time I convinced myself that even though there were still issues, things were much better today for communities of color. And now we have social media. We transmit images and information in seconds around the world. Those stories I only heard through others back then are now visible in horrific real time. This is not new to me. I had to reopen the box and after having two anxiety attacks, decided to get some help. I didn’t realize how much trauma was in that box. There are moments when I feel as if I were 8 again and while I didn’t cry back then, I can’t seem to stop the tears now.
I grew up as a product of the American GI Forum Generation in a small town in Texas. Up until about the age of 8, I was taught that public service was a nigh honor and that working for the government was one of the best jobs you could have, that we needed to respect and obey teachers and police and that military service was one of the highest callings one could have. During the 1970’s, my parents were organizers. The Latino community had faced so many challenges during that time – poor educational outcomes, lack of voting power, lack of economic opportunity and violence and racism that was widespread in our community and also in the Black community. I remember at age 8 my mother took me and my siblings to a protest led by the Brown Berets in Austin, TX. It was over a murder of a Mexican-American youth. I remember hearing “they threw him off a bridge in handcuffs” and I was having trouble understanding why the police would do such a thing. Could it be a mistake? Surely they were mistaken. But as the mothers of other Mexican-American and Black youth came forward to share their own stories, I realized this wasn’t a mistake. It was actually happening. People were dying at the hands of police and there seemed to be no way to address this or get justice. So the people marched. Black people, Brown people, White and Asian people. All kinds of people. It drew attention but not much changed. There would be more marches at that time decrying the murder, violence and racism of Black and Brown people at the hands of police. Back then, the jails and prisons were filled with mostly people of color. It has been painful to realize that in many ways it’s still 1973. And people of color are still dying and oppressed not only by police but many other systems people of color navigate every day.
We can say to ourselves “it’s only a few rotten apples” but having spent over 20 years working for city, county and state level governments in Texas and California if there is one thing I know, I know systems and bureaucracies. And systems are often flawed, biased and people of color don’t fare well in them. And people in these systems bring their own prejudice and bias that contribute to how those systems function. Systems and cycles overlap – cycles of poverty, cycles of educational failure, cycles of abuse and violence and incarceration. They are nearly impossible to break and they take lives every day.
I am feeling lost and trying to figure things out. Where do we begin…again? What do we do different this time?
I remember a former college choir director who used to get very angry because we sopranos would sometimes avoid hitting the really high notes (it takes a lot of work and courage to go for those notes). He would angrily cut off the singing and point to us saying “it’s me, O Lord!” It was his way of reminding us not to wait for the next person to hit the note. We had to do it for ourselves and in the end our collective voices would produce a beautiful sound.
I am still working through what I need to do next about all these issues. It’s a lot. How do I teach my children? How do I lead efforts in my own organization to try to understand and form our collective agenda in response to everything that is happening? When and where should I speak up? Reminding myself that “it’s me, O Lord” is helping me. It begins with examining, however painful, my own prejudice and bias which we all have to some degree. It begins with asking questions and listening to my colleagues to find out what they feel and think about these issues. It’s taking a hard look at how we provide service, how we engage the voices of survivors to influence our planning and decision-making and how we confront the systemic racism and oppression that converges in the experiences of survivors of gender-based violence that happens not only today but has happened through the entire history of this nation and even before that for the Indigenous people who were annihilated in the name of Manifest Destiny throughout the Americas for hundreds of years.
I am looking for allies and people who understand and are moved and want to take action. I am grateful so many of them exist among the team I lead at Next Door Solutions. And there are survivors, many of them, who may not have had fairness and justice in their experiences but they are organized and willing to work for peace and justice, such as the survivors in our Comite de Mujeres Fuertes (Committee of Strong Women) who work with us to make sure our services are accessible and high quality. They are loving souls that understand what is at stake and they are a force for good that demands to be heard. They use their voices to change things in systems and in our community so that families can have peace, justice and the opportunity to reach the highest quality of life possible.
I continue to work through my own issues. I continue to work to unite my voice with others for the change we need to see. And our collective voices are beautiful and have the power to transcend and transform the world.
In this moment, I feel hope and gratitude. This time it can be different. And I hope never to have to open the box again but rather do away with it completely.
May we continue to work for justice to achieve equity….and peace.