Our Sacred Identities – Generation Justice

Lately, police violence, hate crimes, and institutional racism have flooded television coverage, newspaper articles, social media posts, and conversations on campus. Because of these narratives, I’ve become concerned over the power of stereotypes, violence, and trauma. In order to try and understand these concepts, I had to confront my lack of understanding of colonization. It is embarrassing that our schools do not teach us the truth about U.S. culture, let alone our own cultures. It has been such a revelation to me that we have to know where we come from in order to get to our destination. It’s outrageous that I would not be exposed to the concept of decolonization, or healing, if it weren’t for my work here at Generation Justice.

Generation Justice youth, fellows, staff and advisors with Roberto Chene.

I had the special opportunity, alongside my GJ fam, to sit down and really have a conversation about decolonization with Roberto Chene. Roberto has years of experience working with multi-cultural coalitions, so he is a perfect mentor when it comes to relationship-building and understanding the multiple dimensions of intercultural communication.

Through this conversation, I began to understand how the work of GJ is built through a set of values that counteract colonialism and its damages. I could see so clearly how my own perception of myself is manipulated by the institutions and stereotypes that I am surrounded with. As a woman of color, I am constantly stressing myself out and trying to do as much as I can to destroy the barriers that I feel are blindly placed on me. Constantly labeled an “overachiever” or a woman with good “work ethic,” I had never, not even once, thought that this was a consequence of my environment. It was only until we were all speaking our stories to Roberto that I realized the other women of color in the room felt this same pressure in our success, and definitely in our failure.

I felt such a sense of relief that I wasn’t alone, and that this is a place where I could find healing. Feeling disconnected from my culture, but also feeling disconnected from U.S. culture, I find myself in this in-between trying to figure out where I belong. In many ways I think I have been protected from multiple aspects of culture in order to avoid trauma – but those truths are necessary truths, and important ones. I feel emotions bubbling up when I speak about it. I have felt shame because I do not know how to talk about identity, and now, more and more I can see that’s because dominant society devalues the identities of people of color. It’s a feeling of invisibility – that society can just look straight past you.

Roberto has such a beautiful, natural approach to how he addresses these topics, and how he speaks to every one of us. I love that at Generation Justice we have the freedom to express whatever we’re feeling or thinking, and there’s no limit to that. It contrasts the larger, colonial society that doesn’t care about what we’re feeling or thinking, and often shames us for speaking freely. When Roberto saw that I was becoming emotional, he assured me that that is the direction I need to go. That is how I know I’m going in the right direction. Those words, and that assurance, are so important to me because often they aren’t even spoken. That was another shift for me that day – that we need to work together to heal and to counter the voices that harm us, whether they’re close to home or they’re on our news feeds.

I can see why Roberto has influenced so many others, and I feel honored to have spent time with him. I look forward to meeting with him again, and to taking his words to heart in my own life. I am not alone in this struggle. This struggle is a fight that we have to face together. Our identities are sacred and stretch throughout a history that has been purposefully hidden from us. For me, it’s a breakthrough to see how I do not owe society what they demand of me, and that I can reclaim my own identity.