• Jose Alonso Munoz

Updated: Jun 7, 2018

I'm sure you'd had a familiar feeling: waking up one morning and thinking to yourself about the many ways you’ll seek to make improvements in your personal life, professional life, or maybe even the world. Have you ever considered how the ways you’re looking to do better are just hurting you in the long run?

Let me stop talking about "you," and start talking about me. What if the ways I'm looking to "do better" are actually hurting me. There's been multiple times over the past few weeks where I've wanted to share a news article, YouTube video, or other moment of current events through a Facebook post. What's stopped me, or made me think twice, has been my inability to find the right words to share the many ways I'm angry or hurt, by that particular news story.

I recently posted on Facebook about the lovely, totally not racist, misunderstood, white man who threatened to call ICE on two deli employees who were speaking to customers in Spanish. I shared an anecdote about growing up with an English speaking mother who would routinely speak to me in Spanish while in public, and the (at the time) inexplicable anxiety it caused me. A day later I posted a story about the Republican Gubernatorial candidate from Georgia and his "deportation bus." That post was one I went back to many times. Eventually, after deleting and rewriting multiple paragraphs, I posted it with a simple "sigh."

Since then, there's been many times I've wanted to post something newsworthy along with a rant about race and social justice. I've had a lot of things to chose from, too. Like, Starbucks and their racial bias training, "lost" undocumented immigrant children, the killing of a young undocumented woman from Guatemala, Roseanne - I can keep going. We're living in trying times, with a seemingly infinite number reasons to get upset about the state our our nation and the people in it.

So, why, you might ask, did I decide against these posts? Why self-censor? While originally subconscious, the answer to this has became clear recently - I just didn't have the energy to spend on something so ineffective. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to be said about educating those around you, or bringing awareness to social issues. It didn't feel like I wasn't doing that, however. In all of the incarnations of potential posts, I was declaring my own fear, or pain at these events. My own outrage. It felt performative. "Here is the gay Mexican immigrant I'm friends with on Facebook, looks like he's scared or angry, or upset, by some new thing Trump or some racist did. Yikes!"

Every "like" or "angry face" my post garnered on Facebook became less and less a moment of solidarity, and more and more ammunition to keep the show going. To what end? Ultimately, I asked myself: What did I want to get out of it?

Both leading up to, after the election, I found myself carrying on multiple conversations with many well-meaning white people on Facebook. Even before the election, I've never been shy about posting my opinions on social issues, or engaging in heated debates in the comments sections of a friend's post. I just kept coming back to this question: What did I want to get out of it? Was I going to change the heart and mind of your aunt Becky? Was Margaret going to admit that she doesn't know nearly as much as she thinks she knows about the intricacies of immigration law? Most signs point to no.

Then what? Was I going to make my well-meaning white friends more aware of social issues. Possibly. What was more likely, at least in my mind, is that I would share my fear, anger, and pain, with my Facebook friends, just to share it. Just to help them see how the barrage of awful headlines aren't just isolated incidents, but rather, incidents that speak to the higher systemic problems prevalent in the lives of people of color across the nation.

While that's all well and good, when I stepped back and analyzed what I was doing, I realized while I was "doing better" by bringing awareness to these highly important things, pouring my anger or fear just felt like I talking to a stadium full of people with a microphone that wasn't on. Eventually I just felt like I was feeding their outrage. In some ways, contributing to creating a numbness to these current events.

What to do instead, then? The truth is, I don't have a definite answer yet. While I'll continue to engage in conversations around race in these especially volatile times, I'm consciously asking myself: What do I want to get out of this? I'll point my internal compass away from "to tell this person off." It's easy to tell someone off. I know that well enough to know that isn't "doing better."

15: A Quinceañera Story, a collection of four short documentary films, follows five Latina girls all observing the traditional rite of passage of the quinceañera, a celebration of their 15th birthdays. Available for streaming on HBO.

As LGBTQ people, many of us, regardless of if we’re trying to or not, have helped pave the way for others to live proudly as who they truly are. We hope to make progress because it will make life easier for those people who come after us. At times, we live out our own hopes and dreams through them. Thalia Sodi’s HBO documentary series, 15: A Quinceañera Story has an episode that shows just that. The series follows five Latinas over the course of four half-hour episodes, as they prepare to turn 15. One of those episodes follows Zoey, a transgender teen from California. The LGBTQ people surrounding her reconcile their past with her present, and personify their own hopes and dreams through her.

While a documentary that follows a teenage girl as she prepares for an impressive birthday party might seem superfluous, make no mistake, this is no MTV My Super Sweet Sixteen. There is no drama over the car her parents bought her, tears over canceled credit cards, or arguments over who gets invited. Instead, we hear, through her mother Ofelia, of some of the struggles Zoey has faced as transgender teen. One of those was a legal battle with her school district, that wanted to expel her as a result of the bullying she was enduring. Here is where we meet the first adult who sees himself in Zoey.

James was the ACLU lawyer Ofelia enlisted to help Zoey fight expulsion. In the time since he helped Zoey as a client, he’s become a close family friend; a father figure for Zoey whose dad passed away. James tells us when he first met Zoey, who as James describes was “pre-transition," she was playing with dolls in her front yard. He shared how his mom who, at seeing him at a young age playing with dolls in a friend’s front yard, told him he could play with dolls, but only in the backyard so as not to be seen. He saw a bit of his past in Zoey, but it was an idealized version. There was hope in knowing that unlike him, Zoey wasn’t being asked to hide, or feel shame.

As Zoey prepares for her Quince, she meets with Joseph, a choreographer helping with the dance she and her friends will perform during the party. He shares with Zoey, her friends, and her mom, what it means to be able to see Zoey thriving as an out transgender teen. “I know how it is to be different. I’m Mexican and I’m gay,” he says. “To see the family that you have, and the support, is really touching to me because I didn’t have that.” Joseph, very much like James, is able to identify a similar experience to that of Zoey, despite him being gay and her being transgender. The connection he makes is to say that he, unlike her, didn’t gain the same level of acceptance from his family.

One of the more direct ways Zoey’s life is epitomized by an adult surrounding her comes from Zoey’s madrina (godmother), Maria, a transgender Latina who pays for Zoey’s Quince dress. While shopping for the dress, she reflects on what it would mean to be 14 again, specifically, how fun it would be to have Ofelia as a mother.

During Zoey’s Quince, Maria gives a speech telling Zoey, “it feels like all the years of struggle are all coming as a blessing through you.” She goes on, “to me, you symbolize the hope that many of us didn’t have.” A Quinceañera represents a young Latina leaving childhood behind and becoming a woman. It’s a rite of passage for many young Latinas. For Maria, a trans woman, seeing Zoey able to celebrate this momentous occasion allows her to reconcile her own missed experience. An experience she wasn’t able to fulfill, for probably similar reasons as James and Joseph, which don’t come up in the episode.

Perhaps that’s the very reason why it’s so easy for the LGBTQ adults in Zoey’s life to see a bit of themselves in her. Allowing themselves to live vicariously through the life of a younger generation of trans, gay, or queer, people gives them a form of absolution. It allows them to recognize their struggles as worth something; for the greater good. Their struggles and their pain allowed for an easier path, although one they themselves weren’t able to walk on.

Unlike our straight and cis counterparts, as LGBTQ people, experiences we miss out on are a result of living in the closet, of society thrusting shame upon us. While there are definitely plenty of young cis girls who longed for a Quinceañera, but were unable to have one, they’re different than the transgender women, like Maria, who never had one because they weren’t allowed to live as their authentic selves yet. That difference is key because non-LGBTQ people can also feel as if they miss out on the lived experiences of younger generations. It's just for different reasons.

Maria ends her speech to Zoey by telling her, “every time I see you, I see every dream that did not come true for me, come true for you.” For us, as LGBTQ people, seeing a younger generation live in ways we were never able to might be enough. Especially because, reminiscing on lived experiences that could have been in a more accepting time might just be too hard. It’s easier to live hopefully through the experiences of a younger generation so that they, hopefully, have less and less they wish they hadn’t missed out on.

Gina Rodriquez, our favorite TV virgin turned action movie star, director, and producer, used her platform on the SAG Awards red carpet to champion Latinx representation in Hollywood. Rodriquez’s message about Latinos in Hollywood serves as a reminder about intersectionality.

While talking to E! on the red carpet, conversation turned to Rodriquez’s upcoming projects. In reference to her upcoming film, Miss Bala, she said, “Yay! Sony for putting a Latino as a lead because barely [do] people do that.”

Not one to hold back, Rodriquez went on. “I mean; we do make 55 million plus [for] the country. You should throw us in a movie or two. It would make sense.”

Rodriquez went on to share some statistics about Latinx audiences. “We do buy one in every four tickets every single weekend, and make sure that your movies do well.”

Rodriquez’s message of representation is not new. She has been sharing her message about Latinx representation in Hollywood since winning the first Golden Globe for The CW in 2015, for Best Actress in a TV Comedy for Jane the Virgin. During her speech, she said her award represented “a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes.”

Her message continues to be as prevalent as ever, as there were no Latinx nominees for any of the male or female leading or supporting Actor categories at last night’s SAG Awards.

Rodriquez finished her interview by thanking Paramount and Sony for opening the doors for Latinxs in leading roles, calling it not only a service, but “integrity.”