I am a Cuban-American daughter of immigrants. Raised to believe America was the promised land. A land flowing with milk & honey. A land that hated communists, and if you know anything about Cuban-Americans, hating communists is as close to godliness as you can get. We came with nothing, we “earned” everything. We re-made ourselves. We scoffed at anyone who couldn’t “make it” in America. Immigrants are hard people. Hard people who believe in boot-strap theory more than almost anyone else.
I love my heritage, I love our music, our food, the loudness of our talk, the Spanglish that we weave, the “visitas” that last until 1 am for no good reason. The smell that fills the house of onions and garlic and the stews that fill your insides with warmth. I love the kisses and the dances and the depth of love we have for each other.
When I left my family bubble, I found the rest of the country not so in love with all of us. It was too loud, too “spicy”, too sensual, too late, too aggressive….too everything. We came to this country to succeed. Succeed I MUST. My family’s pride rested heavy across my shoulders. Succeed I MUST. Up went my Enneagram 3 spidey senses. The senses that helped me know what success looks like in any environment I enter. To succeed here, I must be ashamed of myself, my culture, my ways, my body. I must contort to “the norm” and maybe then I will find a seat at the table.
I did. I worked my ass off for a seat at the table, and when I got there, it was disappointing to say the least. I couldn’t have named it at the time, but in learning the “structures” of white supremacy and learning what a brown woman must do and not do to be accepted by whiteness I had to sacrifice my power for position. It was watered down power, but it was mine. It was success in image only (imaginary) but it was mine. Uphold the status quo, play the game, get yours. Send money back to family in Cuba, make sure your kids have a better life than you did - the immigrant dream. Succeed I MUST.
I could see the racial biases, even in my own culture. The way lighter skinned Cubans sneered and called darker-skinned Cubans derogatory terms. I never felt comfortable with it…but I never spoke up, I never called it out. Survival mode doesn’t leave much room for caring about the plight of others. The weight of success didn’t afford me the margin to carry other’s burdens. My own oppression was my “get out of jail free” card when it came to my complicitness in racism. I cared, but I couldn’t be bothered. It was wrong, but I had no time to stop it.
Slowly over time, through the deep and beautiful relationships, I was blessed to have with several Back women, I began to awaken. As I continued my Enneagram studies and realized we are all ONE, and the pain and oppression inflicted on one is inflicted on us all, I began to feel uncomfortable with moving through life as I had. As I engaged in deeper self-compassion and courage to look at my shadow side, the layers began to fall away.
Jumping into action I decided to fix it.
I, ME, ALONE would FIX THIS.
I could. I just knew I could.
I did some performative allyship. (As we all do at the beginning)
Got called out. Realized what an idiot I was being.
Dug into the inner work.
Felt completely crushed by it all.
Picked myself up.
Kept going, kept listening, kept looking within.
I confronted white friends & family.
I worked hard to hold space for Black friends.
I was just FLYING, spinning, swirling.
Until, I couldn’t.
I was seeing white supremacy EVERYWHERE and starting to realize….maybe I couldn’t fix it…and also, maybe I had also been wounded by it, all my life.
Maybe, in ways I had never realized before, I was not only fighting this for OTHERS, but for myself as well.
And maybe, being a “brown-skinned girl” who is not Black, but certainly not white, who feels shame for upholding white supremacy and also shame for never being white enough to have real white power. Maybe, all that shame, all that hate, all that external and internal oppression was building up. It was not being fully felt or processed - and if I didn’t stop, and heal, and surrender to the pain (which, I am learning is very different from “managing” it) I could see so clearly, I would bleed on those who never cut me. I will become a greater part of the problem rather than a solution.
Unhealed individuals cannot heal.
Individuals full of hate can not spread love.
Shame induced allyship will break down in a nasty way.
This poem is a reflection on my journey of “being a bridge”.
The need I had to re-humanize and re-connect to myself.
The tension of my life experiences.
It’s a confusing place to be.
Shamed by others.
Shamed by yourself.
Freedom lies on the other side of love.
I journey on.
Be the Bridge
Be the bridge they said
There’s hurting people on both sides
Stand in the gap
Hold the space
Let the tension pull you from both sides
But don’t break
So I stretched
Beyond my white fragility
Pushing the limits of my mental capacity.
I absorbed stories
I took a look at the ugliness within
I realized how I had become part of the problem
Upholding, out of fear that which oppresses us all
Attempting to leverage my brownness into pseudo power
Believing I had not the luxury to care
Survival, numbing my empathy, and blinding my awareness
Be the bridge they said
And when whiteness asks you where you’re from
And when whiteness assumes they know your story
Because of your dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin
And when they reduce
And when they dehumanize
And when they fetishize
And when they act surprised at your wit and wisdom
And when they give you a “seat at the table" but you are not taken into account.
Your words bearing no more weight than a feather floating through the window
Your screams holding no more volume than a whisper
So I stretched
Contorting myself to their expectations
Shrinking down my bigness
My boldness, my hips, my sass
Be the bridge they said
And I was…
But the cracks started widening
Person by person walking across
as I stretched and held my breath
Will this be the day I break?
The hate aimed at me from outside
Combined with the hate I felt for myself
Destabilized my very internal structure
Be the bridge they said…
But they never told me how to begin
They never told me how to rehumanize
They never told me that I needed a cleanse of hate
They never fortified me with self-compassion
They never told me how to confront the voices that stripped me of my dignity,
I never felt safe enough to rehumanize
I never allowed myself to cleanse from the hate
I never received self-compassion
I never confronted the voices that stripped me of my dignity.
Be the bridge they said….
Support yourself, with
Steel beams of SELF LOVE running through your core.
Cement compounds of standing in your GLORY filling every crack.
Cable wires of TRUTH pulled tight by embodied healing holding you secure.
Be the bridge.
Read more from Vanessa and follow her story on Instagram: @theenneagramworkshop