The importance of how the experiences of my ancestors affect my life was introduced to me as a Black Studies major in college. It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I not only understood that but also felt the effects. I would like to share my thoughts of how I came to hear and feel the trauma to the point of understanding how we are repeating the choices and lives of our foremothers and forefathers.
Writing my book, “Hija De Mi Madre”, made me reflect on what that means. Much of my views on sex, spirituality and the world were influenced by my environment growing up. Getting my hair relaxed at age 6 and watching all the women around me follow suit religiously made me reject my natural hair. Portrayals of Latinos as only resembling White people made me feel like there was something wrong with me. There is also the element of mental health. I had a vague understanding growing up about what women around me seemed to suffer from, “los nervios”, and ended up seeking therapy to heal from them. Through my work with mental health and observing how it affects African American and Latino communities, I began to notice the silence around the cycles that continue not just mentally but on all levels. Moreover, I saw how feelings of disempowerment have served as an obstacle to healing and transcending oppression.
I often have difficulty talking about generational trauma because I don’t want to come off as accusing anyone of doing a bad job at raising myself and my generation. Our families and communities have done what they could given the circumstances created by the dominant culture. Yet, I feel the necessity to talk about how so many of us are carrying the things we learned just by experiencing life with our parents and families. Speaking as an Afro-Latina, analyzing the Latino culture, my own experiences and sharing with others, there is a legacy of oppression that has become internalized from colonial times and beyond.
Internalized oppression stems from people being targeted and discriminated against. Often, the myths and misinformation that society communicates to them about their sociopolitical group are internalized – they believe and make it a part of their self-image. Exploited people such as African Americans, Latinos, women, LGBTQ individuals, and impoverished populations then act as if they were true. In our contemporary society, this internalized oppression manifests in our urban communities, relationships, beauty regimes, and families.
Latinos have had to endure various levels of oppression in Latin America and in the United States. From the time of conquistadors through the enslavement until now, the ideologies of white supremacist, patriarchal and capitalist imperialists have sought to undermine the self-determination of the African and indigenous people in the Caribbean and South America. The amount of trauma that our ancestors endured was intense and unfortunately, has never properly been addressed. Various forms of violence, lack of social mobility, feelings of unworthiness, religious intolerance, racial biases and family histories have been inherited through generations on a personal and collective level.
Not all members of groups that are discriminated against or oppressed necessarily turn stereotypes inward. Many remain proud of their heritage, or are able to take prominent places in the larger society through their exercise of effort, intelligence, talent, interpersonal skill, and self-respect. However, the effects of internalized oppression are present in our communities. As we work to change the conditions of oppressed people in the world, the necessity to speak about how breaking the personal cycles within ourselves, families and communities becomes imperative.