I never sold or did drugs but I dated drug dealers. I hung out in bootleg bars and played craps with drug dealers and drug addicts. My first husband was a crack addict. I got pregnant at 16 years old by a man who was 21. That is statutory rape, which I didn’t even consider until I was in my 30’s. But more than anything, I have been the nice little kid turned hard because that is the only way to survive in my circumstances. The circumstances being I didn’t live in a home with a mom and dad who loved me and took care of me. I had to take care of myself.
Recently, I read two books; one was the autobiography of Gucci Mane, an underground rapper from Atlanta, and the other an autobiography of an Atlanta comedian known as Ms. Pat. I found a lot of similarities in our lives and struggles especially in the struggle of being an innocent child made hard by difficult circumstances that are traumatic but seem normal because it’s all that you can see around you.
I am told that if I, as a Latina, say I identify with the struggle of any black person, then I am appropriating their culture and their struggle, and thus giving offense. This is nonsense meant to maintain social divisions. The truth is, growing up poor and brown, I identify plenty – their stories really resonated with me, and how anyone can take offense at that is beyond reasoning.
For the last few years, I have been trying to figure out exactly how to write in a way that is authentic but that doesn’t offend white people. And I don’t mean people whose skin color is white; I mean the white people mentality. To me those are people who think anyone who is poor needs to either be pitied or treated like they are lazy. Sometimes they do both. To me, “white” isn’t about color, it is a philosophy, it is actually more about elitism but because I have been used to saying “white” that is what I say out of habit, but really it’s elitism. I have had brown people treat me like I was less than them because of how poor I was. I have had black people call me a wetback and tell me to go back where I came from (that would be Texas, USA). I have had arguments with people of all backgrounds about how my momma can speak Spanish at work if she wants to because this is America.
Although I act like I am hard as nails the truth is I have felt ashamed around white people all my life. I have always felt “less than”. I have always felt like something was wrong with me that I just could not figure out how to act “right”. I get dismissed by white people all the time with some insulting passive aggressive remark made to look like an apology for my “hard life”. I feel stupid when I talk, especially if I don’t quite pronounce something correctly. My tenth grade education seems to hover above my head whenever I am out and about in my suburban neighborhood, where I judge myself for not being better educated, and all of the bad choices that seemed to go along with that fact.
I need as much hope as I can find right now. It seems as if culture wars have begun to smother out the hope and joy of a lot of people, especially on social media. If I can’t find the hope and joy that I need to counter the grief of losing Anthony in Catholics online, then I will go and find it somewhere. I am so glad that I came across these two books and stories of two people who beat the odds and came out on the other side. I watched Gucci Mane marry the love of his life last night on BET and I cried like a baby. The world is thirsting for light in the darkness and Catholics are busy arguing online about whether or not our Pope is Catholic. I wonder if we really realize how that looks to people on the outside. If I am tired of seeing it and I love the Church and am 100 percent Catholic, then how tired must people on the outside be of it. How does it build the Kingdom? It doesn’t. Gucci Mane’s wedding did more to reflect the love of God to a world dying to know they are loved than most arguments among Catholics on Social Media about theology.
So I’ll keep listening, keep reading, keep learning, even from an underground rapper like Gucci Mane, because with all of my walking wounds, it is a lot easier knowing that I am not alone, that others are wounded and have made it to the other side. I need that inspiration. The stories of suburban women who found Catholicism without having a ten page long criminal record just don’t speak to me, or for me. I am happy for everyone who does get inspired by those conversion stories and they do a lot of help me in other ways, but my story is just very different. It takes people like Gucci Mane and Ms. Pat to help me to see light at the end of the tunnel and to hope that maybe, just maybe I will reach it too. Their stories help me to appreciate all of the people who have loved and supported me along the way my whole life, especially those who do so now as I try to figure out how to do this Catholic writer thing. Their story helps me to keep hope alive.