Dear United States,
You are not the only America.
My cousins in Argentina would say to me that they didn’t understand why yanquis would refer to themselves as “Americans.” As if we were the only country in the Americas. We are in fact one in 36. I would reply, “I’m not a Yankee, I live in Texas.”
Fifteen years ago I sat in my parents’ 11th floor apartment in Córdoba, Argentina. I could hear car horns, drums, and chants. From a high up through a small window, I watched hoards of people, mostly men, pour out of Avenida Hipólito Yrigoyen, a street named after the former president who fought for unions and universal male suffrage in the early 20th century. These men, presumably taxi drivers, swirled the roundabout Plaza España holding up sagging painted signs on sticks, painted to their cause. Someone said, “Another day, another huelga.” I thought, “Things like this don’t happen where I live.”
My relatives articulate the word machismo with a testicular hand-gesture that can easily turn into a fist. In 1995, Mexican poet Susana Chávez wrote a poem with the phrase Ni una muerta más to protest the femicides in Ciudad Juárez. This is where the term femicidio was adopted. More women are murdered in Latin American countries than anywhere else in the world. On October 19, 2016, I watched on Facebook as women in my family posted links, pictures, and news of women marching in Argentina to protest against femicidio. They adopted the hashtag #NiUnaMenos. Chile, Uruguay, Peru, and Mexico soon followed with their own marches.
After a late night out and an early morning rise, my mother used to say, “Calavera no chilla.” A skull, or a dead girl, can’t complain. Córdoba is a dry university-town, butting against a mountain range. Twenty-three thousand men and women marched there that October day, down Avenida Colón, an avenue of tall sand-colored apartment buildings where all the concrete balconies were empty. The protesters were dressed in black. Some painted red hands across their faces or as calaveras (skulls). Others outlined bodies in white spray paint on the pavement. The sagging signs they carried were pink, purple, and rainbow. The march hooked a right onto Vélez Sarsfield, gathered at the plaza, and stopped at Avenida Hipólito Yrigoyen.
I waited through the Bush years. I waited through the Obama years. I saw nothing like the protest cultures I saw around the globe. And yet… there I was on January 21st, among so many in the crowd of 15,000 men and women marching in Tucson whose first real protest was the Women’s March.
While walking up 6th Avenue, in between chants of This is what democracy looks like! and I don’t want no tiny hands, anywhere near my underpants! I marched to stand up to the groping hands that came into power the day before. I marched with millions of others in this country who wanted to say we chose a woman leader. We were joyous, practically giddy in our unity. But I also thought of the sorrow felt by the women who marched in the rest of the Americas—against femicide, mourning their loved ones, fearful for their lives. Even though they marched for something far graver, the women were seen smiling as widely in pictures as we were in the U.S.
Those smiles are democracy. This is what democracy feels like.
Header artwork by Patri Wisland.