Not Looking Hispanic in Alabama Shaped My Life
By: Katie Dinnsmore
Being—though not looking—Hispanic in Alabama has shaped my life more ways than I will ever truly know. It is my motivation to join the efforts to take part in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of the Beloved Community. A few months ago, I read Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong. It was a requirement of the literature class I was taking. So much time has passed since then, but I know that Truong’s words will always resonate with me.
The book centers around a young Asian girl growing up in the heart of the South, but her race is not revealed until the last third of the book. This revelation makes all of the isolation and poor treatment of her so much more clearer. At one point she is asked what her experience is like being Asian in the South, and she insists that the real question is what it is like looking Asian in the South. There is so much difference between being and looking.
My mother has given me her brown eyes and unruly curls, but genetics had passed along to me the white skin of my father. It wasn’t until I was in kindergarten that I realized that my mother and I did not look quite the same. She volunteered to teach my class Spanish once a week, and it was then that my classmates pointed out to me privately the difference in skin color between my mom and me. This was my first experience with the perception of color, and the first explanation of my Mexican heritage.
I know what it is like being Hispanic in the South, since there is no single, absolute experience. Growing up as a white Latina in Montgomery, Alabama, afforded me privileges that are not immediately given to my own family members. I walk through the world differently than my own mother and brother, who are easily recognized as Hispanic, so I’ve never been one to deny the existence of my white privilege.
Though It was never directed at me, the prejudice around me toward Hispanics became apparent at such a young age with children around me reciting crude jokes and insensitive names. Of course, these injustices exist for people of many different races and ethnicities and on much bigger scales. Our fellow human beings endure suffering inflicted upon them because of sexuality, identity, religion, age, socio-economic status, or any other number of reasons. I’m not writing to convince anyone that these prejudices exist, anyone willing to pay attention can identify them.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. imagined a community in which we all recognize the pain of others and use our strengths to lift them up and heal their hurt. This community does not tolerate the suffering of others. According to Dr. King, the Beloved Community “is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men”. My own activism is sometimes flawed—I’m only human—but Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community inspires me to join the effort to create a world that works for everybody. For me, this means using the voice that I have to empower others and knowing the right time to stop talking and to listen and love instead.
A world that works for everybody does not pretend that we are all exactly the same. It accounts for the characteristics and unique experiences that make everybody special. The Beloved Community values diversity and recognizes the incredible traits that everyone has to offer. This value and respect of differences allows the Beloved Community to squash out the world’s evils through love. Dr. King knew that non-violence and love were the most crucial components of a community centered around acceptance and equality.
In the fifty years since the assassination of Dr. King, one of the most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, we have come so far as a nation in regards to equality. Still, we must acknowledge that there is so much more work to be done to become the Beloved Community, and I hope that the students and faculty of Auburn University can do their part to create a better, more loving world for us all.