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The Struggle We All Share

I’m not your typical La Gente writer. I’m white, I don’t speak any Spanish other than what I’ve picked up by living in Southern California my whole life, and quite frankly, the issues that affect much of the Latino community are things that will never affect me in a deeply personal or direct way.

And yet, I realize that the success of your community’s fight for equality and respect is intrinsically linked with a community that is both part of yours and mine. As a gay person, I am fighting for equality and respect as well.

I first realized I was gay when I was 16. As a white middle-class teenager, I never had much that made me feel different. I got along with my parents as well as any teenager could, I did homework, and I was just trying to make it through high school alive. But when I fell in love with a girl, I came to terms with the fact that I was no longer the cookie-cutter girl I saw myself as, and like it or not, I was now tagged as an “other” in a way that I had never felt before.

My otherness began as a teenager, but for many people, they feel like an “other” their entire lives. It became clear to me that while my rights were threatened and stigmatized for the first time in my life, many people of different backgrounds had been fighting this battle long before me.

The gay community is one founded on diversity. It is a segment of every community, whether it is a religious, national, or ethnic community. So why does the queer community often neglect other groups, like the Latino community. We are inherently linked with them, not only because we both deal with oppression and political struggles, but more importantly, the very nature of the gay community is a part of the Latino community as well.

Unfortunately, the gay community does not do a good job of publicly proclaiming this intersectionality. Our gay right’s activists are predominantly white and wealthy (I’m looking at you, Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres), which leads to the pre-conceived notion that those are the only people who care about gay rights, or even more problematic, that only white people are queer.

Aside from celebrity representation, which is overwhelmingly white, male, and sassy, even the Equality California web site indicates that most people leading our fight for marriage equality and hate crime legislation lacks people of color, which is surprising in California, one of the most diverse states in the nation.

So many queer people proudly display their “No on Prop 8” bumper sticker on the back of their cars, but how many are fighting in favor of the DREAM Act, or simply becoming socially conscious of other identity issues that people face? If it is only white people fighting for the gay community, it makes it easy to ignore other minority’s concerns, because for white queer people, their only “minority” label is their sexuality.

For people that only deal with limited forms of oppression, it is easy to focus on just one issue, learn all about it  – and while not realizing, or even worse, choosing to ignore all other countless forms of discrimination that need to be tackled, and more importantly, how all forms of discrimination are connected.

Although there used to be a stigma against homosexuality in the predominantly Catholic Latino community, that stigma is quickly shattering. According to the Huffington Post, 59% of Latinos believe homosexuality should be accepted. Celebrities like Sofia Vergara and Naya Rivera have spoken out publicly (and in Rivera’s case, played a teen lesbian on Glee) in support of the gay community. Yet, there seems to be little reciprocation from the dominant White Gay Male sector of the gay rights movement.

It starts with making intersectionality the forefront of our movement. The fight for marriage equality and hate crime legislation does not happen in a bubble void of any other struggle, and to deny that is only going to hinder both the gay community and any other minority’s fight. That all people fighting for gay rights need to educate themselves about other institutionalized forms of oppression, even if those forms of oppression do not directly affect them.

I will never have to face the obstacles posed by skin color or citizenship that occurs from being part of an ethnic minority. But indirect oppression for some becomes oppression for us all. Regardless of what type of “other” we see ourselves as, it is important that the queer community interacts with, educates, and embraces the Latino community and all minority communities in order to advance all of our fights.

OutWrite is a multi-platform progressive news channel for plugged-in, passionate LGBTQ youth at the UCLA campus. Visit their website at outwritenewsmag.org

UCLA Students Reach Out to Latino Cyclists

by Jaqueline Vergara Amezquita

In the busy streets of downtown Los Angeles, you can see them whiz by on their bicycles before the sun rises and then again just as it begins to hide under the horizon.

Tackling the auto-congested avenues and boulevards of L.A.’s major streets day in and day out, the city’s Latino riders rely on their pedals for work, errands, play and all that is in between.

They do not ride because Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” inspired them to reduce their carbon footprint or because they believe in their civic right to “reclaim” public space. Cycling for them is no doubt a joy, but they mostly ride out of necessity.

The majority of them are low-income, immigrant workers who depend on their bicycles mainly because of affordability. Most would not be allowed to operate a vehicle even if they wanted to due to their immigration status.

Allison Mannos, an Asian American Studies student and senior at UCLA, noticed that although Los Angeles is beginning to witness a growing cyclist movement, Latino riders unfortunately take no part in the advocacy and political dialogue.

“It was important to me to reach out to Latino cyclists because they often are left out of discussions about bettering communities and bikes,” says Mannos.

An avid cyclist and transportation activist, Mannos first learned about the challenges faced by this group after reading a 2004 study published by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC).

The study found that Latino cyclists lacked access to bicycle safety education and information about their legal rights on the road. Moreover, at the base of the problem was the absence of basic safety gear, such as lights and helmets.

After being hired by the LACBC in early 2009, Mannos jumped on the opportunity to create a new campaign that would help bridge the disconnection between the Latino cyclist population and the larger bicycle activist network.

What begun as a simple bicycle light and safety information distribution effort back in January of 2009 has expanded to include curriculum-centered monthly educational workshops and weekly bike mechanic and maintenance sessions held at La Bici Digna bike repair shop inside the Instituto De Educacion Popular del Sur de California Downtown Community Job Center.

The City of Lights, or Ciudad de Luces, campaign has diversified the cyclist advocacy movement by reaching out to Latino cyclists housed in day-laborer worker centers in downtown L.A.

At the forefront of City of Lights’ educational component is third-year sociology student Andy Rodriguez. “Our goal is to not only teach bike safety and legal rights workshops, but to have the guys spearhead their own culturally-educational bike classes and rides” says Rodriguez.

Implementing popular education methodology fused with interactive activities, the educational classes inform day-laborer Latino cyclists about safety, traffic laws and cyclist rights.

Led by two certified bicycle mechanics from the Bicycle Kitchen, a non profit organization that spreads and fosters bicycle expertise, the weekly maintenance and repair classes motivate students to build on the mechanics skills they already possess, stressing that they also learn from each other.

Enthusiasm for cycling runs high at the day-laborer sites visited by City of Lights. “Promoting bike-use is good. It benefits all in many aspects. It is 100% healthy and it does not contaminate”, says Latino cyclist Cesar Herrera, who is a day-laborer at the Central American Resource Center.

With the leadership of Mannos and Rodriguez, a more inclusive and diverse bicycle movement in Los Angeles looks pretty promising.