Content warning: This post contains language and description of violence, harassment and abuse.

The first language that I learned was an intergenerational literacy that has kept the members of my family hollow. The language that I speak of is not English or even Spanish. It instead is an embodied literacy taught to marginalized populations— Silence. Growing up in my Mexican family I was always told to shut up, to be more obedient, to hide secrets that no child should hide, and to pretend that abuse that occured in my life never happened. I was expected to be silent, that was my birthright as a mujer, as a mexican womxn after all “calladita ninas son mas bonitas.” Being a womxn within my Mexican family meant that an inherent shame and silence came wrapped into my existence. I remember being yelled at by my abuelita whenever I rode my favorite red scooter because I wasn’t wearing shorts under my skirt, because I, a five-year-old, was being provocative in front of other males. I repeat, a FIVE-YEAR-OLD, for those that did not catch the inhumanness in that statement.

How is it that we teach non-male identifying folks that they should always feel ashamed of their existence because others sexualize it? How is that we teach non-male identifying folks that they should be silent when they go through abuse? How is that we teach non-male identifying folks that being harassed is a normalcy that they should expect? How is that as a five-year-old I learned all these lessons before I even entered elementary school?

HOW, HOW, HOW, we use that word so many times that the word itself loses meaning; it becomes another hollow shell, another tool of silence. However, there is an answer to this question that many folks choose to ignore– some people just do not care about the safety of womxn and non-binary populations. And the general population cares even less about womxn and non-binary folks that are Black or POC. The closer you are towards looking like a white male the more power, safety and autonomy is granted to you.

In a world where I am constantly told to be less sensitive, to be kinder, to be docile, to not act promiscuous, to be the perfect daughter, perfect wife, perfect servant to the males that hold any power over me– I ask the question how am I safe? How do I unlearn the self-hatred that the racist patriarchal system has embedded within me?

At the age of five I already asked these question, and lived a reality where I knew that my survival and the survival of other black, brown girl and immigrant girls is not a policy priority.

So as I sit here and write I wonder about all the other folks who have had their voices, abuses, and narratives silenced. I remember not feeling safe enough to express my discomfort with male professors’ gazes and condescending remarks. I remember feeling at fault for a male mentor’s unwanted advances — thinking, “Did I lead them on? Was I too nice?” And throughout this thought process I constantly blamed myself and reassured the validity of my oppressors acts. In fact when I did vocalize my discomfort many times I was silence by those that I thought would support because in their mind I was “too sensitive” and that “I need to calm down” because I could “ruin” my oppressor’s career.

How many times have you silenced others’ pain, harassment, violence, abuse? How many times have you silenced the abusive nature of your friends, coworkers, partners, peers? How many of you are people who identify as males that have validated in some way this toxic cycle of power, harm, and violence? We all are conditioned to silence womxn and non-binary folk, but it’s more than that: Womxn and non-binary folk are also conditioned to believe that their pain, abuse, and the violence that they face is in some sense their fault.

As an adult, Jessica is reclaiming her powerThroughout my life I have battled to overcome these systems of abuse and rediscover my voice and my existence. Working with youth, domestic abuse advocates, social workers and the mujers in my family has helped me to unpack the intergenerational trauma and break the cycle of silence within my family and community. My path in life has not been linear by any means; it’s been etched with tears, loss – loss of self, loss of friendships, loss of innocence— love, joy, and disillusionment. I found myself and my voice by confronting the abusers in my life and the patriarchal/machista systems that allowed them to persist/thrive. I gain strength from my madre’s unwavering power and blazing love, as she has gifted me with power to gritar, not only for myself, but for all my ancestors as well.

Proudly and full of hope I stand here ready for the next portion of my life within the Greenlining family. I hope to continue amplifying the voices of those that have been ignored, and fight for collective liberation. As a member of the all-WOMXN Fellows cohort here at Greenlining, we have been able to support each other in ways that other cohort may not have been able to. Each of the Fellows that I have met are brilliant, powerful, and blazing change makers. Together we are each #changingfromwithin and finding our own path to create a better world for those that have been contextually ignored and silenced.

Jessica Iniguez is Greenlining’s Energy Equity Fellow. Follow her on Twitter.