Amongst the Strawberries

By Linda Dianne

There are several moments where my patience is tested as a queer-identifying Latina in media. Some days it’s a micro-aggression the floats across the hall into my lap. It curls itself up beside me; hoping to distract me from my routine. But then there are other days where a direct comment slips between another’s lips and scald me from within; a numb pain that continues to haunt for days, weeks, and even months after the initial burn.

While I have trained myself to create an invisible barrier to the most common annoyances—to put it kindly—there are extraordinary circumstances that consume me. One such case happened not too far in the distant past where one person’s childhood anecdote really underlined the problems in the way Latinos are treated in many parts of the country.

It started off innocently enough­—with rumbling stomachs and a desire for fresh fruit. My friend Rosie* and I were looking forward to a weekend full of farmers markets where the fruit and veggies around you practically call you forward, dollars in hand, to take them home with you. We laughed at the thought of the juiciest strawberries crying out our names, looking forward to their own demise.
That’s when it happened–a story so tone-deaf that my friend Rosie & I, the only Latinas in the vicinity, were left speechless.

Ally* walked over to where we were holding our sides in pain and began, “I have a funny story about strawberries that still makes me laugh to this day.” She chortled. Hard. Her pink skin turned red as she tried gasping for air at her incoming punch line. “When I was little, my mother struggled for months to get my brother to school” she continued awkwardly. “So one day, my mother drove him to the closest strawberry fields and pointed.” I held my breath. Without hearing how this story concluded, I knew I wouldn’t like it. I start walking myself towards my desk now–hoping to find refuge in the distance.

“If you won’t go to school, pick up a shovel and join them,” Ally performed in a WASP-y accent I could only assume was an imitation of her mother; bursting into laughter as she completed her thought. The room fell silent and my mouth was agape. I was embarrassed, furious and confused. After what seemed like hours, Rosie responded with a curt and monotone, “Huh. Interesting story”–giving Ally the final nod of approval for her to leave the scene.

Rosie and I turned our swivel chairs to face each other without saying a word. Our humanity was nothing but a worst-case scenario. While my family history isn’t connected to the California strawberry fields, I have many friends whose parents and grandparents worked or remain working amongst these berries. And yet, to this young, white, privileged woman, they (and in effect, we) were a completely foreign concept to her/her family­.

While I’ve experience racism in the workplace across the span of my career, there has never been a clearer moment in my life where I was a bright, neon sign of othering. In the age of political candidate Donald Trump, micro-aggressions have become commonplace, it seems.  More and more people are seeing Latin@s as a problem rather than an integral part of this society—even in our everyday lives!

So more than ever, I urge my fellow Latin@s to take up your metaphorical swords and fight back. Work for people who care about your stories and your humanity. Support your fellow Latin@s and lend your voice to the discourse. Let’s stop these inane and racist thoughts from proliferating. Now.

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