On Saturday, in the midst of celebrating my cousin’s freshly pressed MBA, I received a text message from a comrade informing me that George Zimmerman was acquitted for murdering 15-year old Trayvon Martin. My heart felt heavy and light–heavy in despair for Trayvon’s lost life, his parents, his family and his friends; and light as my family of immigrants who strove to thrive in a new country celebrated my cousin’s accomplishments. The contradictions of America were all too certain in that moment.
On the car ride home, my husband and I were talking about the sadness we felt about the injustice done to the Martin family, the injustice done to all of us who know that Zimmerman is guilty; and perhaps the injustice done to us who thought justice could be feasible in the American judicial system. We felt betrayed. We felt played. Like we played ourselves. We know that Lady Justice is not blind nor colorblind. She is and has been built on racist ideologies and white supremacy. Native people and people of color in this country have never been “created equal.” But in some fog of hope, we though that Trayvon and his family could at least get some semblance of peace through this legal battle. We were wrong.
My father asked me, “What are you guys talking about?” I was careful to address my immigrant father from the Philippines (who is sometimes progressive, other times conservative–somewhat typical of Filipino immigrant fathers). I told him that we found out that Zimmerman was found not guilty. Surprisingly, he knew details about Trayvon’s case and life and death. I asked him what he thought about the acquittal. He replied, “Zimmerman killed that boy because his black. Just like why Oscar Grant was killed. No good.” My mother, a hard-working and often, apolitical person, chimed in, “Its too bad that the court doesn’t see how racism killed the boy.” These two, the ones I love the most, are also people who have internalized racist ideologies, repeated racist rhetoric about other communities of color and swallowed a whole pill about the American racial order even before they left the Philippines. These two, the ones I love the most, are certainly part of the contradiction of race relations in the US. They understood the wrong that happened to Trayvon Martin while also inculcated in the “distancing” that has happened between other racial and ethnic groups and Black Americans in the US.
In this moment, our whole car sent out a vibration of mourning and strength to the Martin family, what in Tagalog we call, “nakikiramay.” Honoring someone who has passed, even if that person was a stranger, even if that person was miles away.
But more importantly, my immigrant parents articulated more clearly than I could, the staunchly racist ideology of America. They found Zimmerman guilty. They found America’s racism, its white supremacy guilty. As immigrants in the US, they often cannot articulate how racism affects them. Both of my immigrant parents only see “hard work” in their success in the US. They don’t identify race or racism as a salient part of their daily life. This is something I’ve always been irritated about when talking to them about race in the US. I thought they had no “race analysis”. But here, they so accurately depicted what went wrong. They identified contemporary individual and institutional racism as the culprit and they despised it. “There will be a rally, Val,” said Papa (a generally anti-rally kind of dude), “they should rally.”
As I’ve continued talk to my immigrant parents about Trayvon Martin, I talk about how the legal system in the US has always upheld and maintain white supremacy–a set of ideologies that needs to “occasionally” kill Black men in order to keep the rest of us safe. It requires Black women to lose their sons, brothers and friends. It normalizes the murder and disappearance of Black people.
I talk to them about how Trayvon’s case also matters because the racism that allowed Zimmerman to murder Trayvon with impunity is also linked to the shrinking set of rights of native people, people of color, queer folks, women, poor folks and immigrants have in this country (i.e. Voting Rights Act, Affirmative Action, abortion rights, immigration reform).
But I also talk to them about how Trayvon’s life is not in vain as so many people are taking to the streets, starting conversations with their immigrant families about race relations in the US, getting out and doing something to honor Trayvon’s life, indicting Zimmerman the people’s way.
And although, some immigrant parents, like mine, aren’t always race-conscious, they still understand that there’s something wrong with this verdict. We all experience race and racism in different ways, but as my parents taught me, it is still real. Real enough for two immigrant parents to know what happened to Trayvon’s family is “no good”.
As I try to understand what really happened, here are some articles that have helped: