In celebration of Latinx Heritage Month, we have invited founders of Nepantla Cultural Arts Gallery Jake Prendez and Judy Avitia-Gonzalez to curate a series of profiles and stories to amplify and honor people, businesses, organizations, and projects connected to Seattle’s Latinx community.
Nosotros venimos para darle una mejor vida a los hijos de mis hijos.
By Aviona Brown
“Nosotros venimos para darle una mejor vida a los hijos de mis hijos.” -mi tatada abuela Rodriguez/Balderas.
This was the same sentiment that motivated my mom to move out to Seattle, the same creed that urged mi tatada abuela to cross the river into the USA with 13 kids, two being babes in arms. I have moved every day with not only great pride but also the weight of her legacy and sacrifice pushing me to do better. This is my leg of the story.
My step-grandmother never liked me. Maybe it was because of my mom or maybe it was because of my skin – SOY MORENA- she’s gone now so I’ll never know. What I do know is, spending my childhood in her house with her kids was hard. They were always picking on me and even when I spoke to her, she never answered. She would hablar en espanol y se fue enojada quando me entendo que se estaba diciéndome. Her three youngest boys were my age, and we went to school together kindergarten through part of 3rd grade. They did everything in their power to bully my would-be friends and ensure I was alone no matter the playground. The other kids on Beacon Hill, where we stayed for a while, wouldn’t play with me because I was “different”. So, I watched on hoping for a time when the kids in the neighborhood would all look like me, maybe then they would play with me.
As my mom had kids and I grew older and taller (5’10 by age 13), her full-blooded Mexican children (my siblings) and I were like besties. We did errands together and rode the bus to Rotary Boys & Girls Club together. While there, and away from my same-aged uncles, I could pretend to be just another Black girl. The Boys & Girls Club is divided by age group and since my siblings were five years younger than me, we never crossed paths. The other kids never asked questions about my differences-, but they loved the waves of my 4-B curls. Everything changed when my mom became a receptionist at the Boys & Girls Club. I started acting out and getting in trouble, and counselors outed that my mom worked there. Then, the other kids started calling me names like half-bred and Blaxican. There was really nothing I could do to remedy this situation, so I started to get really into reading and art classes.
After seven or eight elementary schools, I was very glad when my mom told me I would be attending Hamilton International Middle School for the next three years. I was hopeful to create some lasting relationships. I quickly became a chameleon moving from group to group. Hamilton was indeed quite segregated. I had, and still have, some friends from the Latiné crowd. We never talked about our heritage but many of them spoke only in Spanish and would sometimes include me in the conversation. I never really quite fit in with the Black crowd. We didn’t have the resources to buy flashy things to help me fit in. So, I skirted by transferring my understanding of the Spanish language to paper, taking my first set of classes de Espanol. I would continue traveling back to Texas y Mexico con mis abuelitos para visitar familia. Todos de mi familia has loved and welcomed me from what I can recall and have experienced. It has always been difficult to live in the Pacific Northwest and be judged and othered by so many for being a blended person.
It wasn’t until I was an adult, in conservatory in New York City and living in Spanish Harlem, that I experienced Latiné people of all colores. I was truly awe-stricken to see myself in so many cultures and to be welcomed with open arms by not only brand-new communities but also complete strangers. After returning back to Seattle in 2016, I began to seek my Latiné community and insisted on inserting myself where I wanted to be. I have volunteered and taught classes in both English and Spanish to immigrant families. I have translated my poems into both languages and toured my one-woman show bi-coastally & bilingually. I have volunteered to supply mutual aid and offer art classes to migrant farm workers in Yakima. I have gone to Latiné bars to sing karaoke. And every time I go to the same taco truck in White Center to get mi platos de taquitos and they hold my order in their hands as ransom while asking me
“Adonde aprender espanol?”
“De donde estas?”
I take a deep breath and recognize this as a teaching moment to educate my fellow Latinos that YO SOY MEXICAN, AFROMEXICAN.
Mi MAMA ES MEXICAN Y MI PADRE ES AFRO- AMERICANO.
MI ABEULO NACIO EN MEXICO. Mi ABUELA NACIÓ EN TEXAS.
MI MAMA ES DE YAKIMA Y YO SOY DE SEATTLE.
ABRENDI ESPANOL DE MI ABUELITOS Y ESCUELA Y TAMBIEN ESTA EN MI SANGRE
NOSOTROS, TU Y YO, SOMOS PRIMOS CON DIOS.
SOMOS DE EL TIERRA Y UNA DIA VAMOS A REGRESAR
I really want us PNW Latiné artists to be seen. I really want us all to come together and collaborate to stamp the town and say SOMOS AQUI! My biggest dream is to destigmatize the colorism in our community. We all struggle, and our proximity to Blackness is not the defining matter to decide our struggle. Instead, it is the oppressive society that taints our minds and separates us.
~Poetry written by Aviona Creatrix entitled: Antepasados Con Nosotros~
Hair curls- which battle and intertwine, packed with knowledge beyond our years and intuition to keep our third eye wide.
Eyes filled with the hopes and wants our ancestors dreamed of, we ARE beyond their wildest dreams
I wonder // How many others in intertwined bloodlines anxiety infects your mind from time to time?
For generations stress could be found in piles of pulled out hair, bitten off fingernails, paper torn to shreds, overeating, indulgent drinking, drug addiction, and self-hate– still battled in each one of us to this very minute of this very day.
Skin- brown from the minute we emerged- or was it not black enough to fit in? Were you dismissed for being too far sun-kissed? Separated by laws and the stares of white men and their women?
Telling you all the things you couldn’t do generation after generation and still to this day we continue to be lynched in the streets or betrayed by those clouded by self-hate.
It’s not all bad though, we have survived to this day.
Because a few like you, who stood up-
We can sit and drink and marry whomever we choose.
Because a few like you, who listened to the voices in your head-
and tried to make sense of what was being said you spoke out and rallied for us.
Because a few like you, who explored ways to express
We create, manifest, and believe in the ability to live freely through art, music, and family.
Because a few like you, they live on
In each one of us. In our breath, in our voice, in our hair, in each choice we make. We represent them. We carry them. We cherish them.
For generations our ancestors waited, cried, screamed, dreamed of us. Here, now with the rights we won and the ones we will soon take back.
For generations our ancestors have been waiting patiently for someone to say the words I say today.
Here, now, with these friends as my witness
We welcome our ancestors to guide us, to warn us, to help us, to use us, to be in- around- and through us. We will not give up on this journey towards equality. We will not stay silent in moments of injustice.
We welcome you and the great spirit to express our message to the world in every avenue we choose and gain access to:
Together we are great
we are knowledge
Together we are great
we are power
Together we are great
we are unstoppable
Together we are great
Some really great Organizations I am in community with, who have supported me, and I in turn support include: