Between Halloween and Thanksgiving, I think almost obsessively about reconciliation. This wasn't always the case. As a kid, I grew up shamefully fetishizing Native American cultures and learning of indigenous peoples as one monolithic whole, though there are several distinct tribes in New Mexico alone. Even now, while some people tell me that Mexican people have indigenous roots and encourage me to embrace that, I feel an intense discomfort at the idea of claiming an indigenous lineage to which I have no real connection.
Racism and colonialism being what they are, it never occurred to me until I was older just how far-reaching the effects of colonialism and genocide perpetrated by European settlers are. In my own immediate family history, for example, there are questions I have never been able to answer. How did my grandmother find her way back in Mexico as a Mexican citizen, though she was born in New Mexico? How did my family find its way back to the state of her birth after a period of absence? Where was the link to our lineage lost to us, and could we someday recover the ruptured thread?
As a Mexican woman finding my way around the concept of "decolonizing," I wonder constantly what life would have been like for me if I had grown up more immersed in my culture. I wonder all the time if embracing an identity entirely different from the "wholesome American" one I've had to construct as a matter of survival would help me make peace with myself. I also wonder, oddly enough, to what culture I really belong, if the colonization of both Mexico and the United States has removed me twice over from my ancestors. It's hard to explain the way so many parts of my identity feel as if they've been snatched away from me by virtue of existing in the United States as opposed to Mexico. It's even harder to describe the longing in my bones to be connected in a more visceral way to my ancestral lineage.
For me, the process of recognizing the grief over this that I've learned to carry inside me and suppress has been eye-opening, heartbreaking, and confusing. I ask myself what it would take to reconcile where I am today with where I've come from. I wonder what steps are necessary to recover from the effects of colonization and for the colonizer to make amends, if amends were even possible.
I recently read Trevor Noah's Born a Crime, where he describes what it was like for him to grow up in apartheid in South Africa. Officially, by the time of his birth, apartheid was "over," but as anyone who has felt the effects of state-sanctioned racial violence can tell you, though swords were laid down, the conflict was far from resolved. He weaves an experience of racial tension and race relations that shows us just how arbitrary these categorizations can be, and it's no secret that the function of the racial divisions the government made was to continue to funnel power to the elite. Likewise, in the United States, state-sanctioned violence - beginning from colonization and extending into the present-day - exists to keep the concentration of power and privilege in the hands of a specific few.
How, then, I wonder, do we facilitate reconciliation and healing for a centuries-old wound?
As Trevor so brilliantly notes in his commentary around race relations in South Africa and the United States, it doesn't happen overnight. But as he says, "Racism does not stand up well to contact."
Later on in the interview, he talks about the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where the first step to healing is the acknowledgment that "this country was designed to oppress" people of color.
For me, it is necessary to do more digging. To heal the effects of hundreds of years of trauma, we have to dig up the past, we have to be willing to seek truth and justice, we have to be willing to tear down the illusions we have built around us. More importantly, we have to be willing to challenge the status quo so that those in power and those crumbling underneath the elite's feet can somehow meet in the middle.
Perhaps I am too optimistic, but when we speak about social, economic, and racial divides, I would hope that they "don't stand up well to contact."