Global Competence

Hugo Santiago - Ecuador


August 2, 2016

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Pride. Not the bad kind, the good kind. The kind a parent shows on their face when their kid just said they were accepted to college. Pride. That was what I saw on the face of a Black woman sitting within the street markets of Ibarra, as she looked up to Desire Mulla (a Black Global Citizen Year Fellow from Uganda) and I passing by.

The elderly Black woman’s mouth dropped open with a gasp when she saw Desire’s neon yellow t-shirt sporting the words, “UGANDA” in bold black letters. As the woman proceeded to look up at Desire in awe, I could see it was out of this woman’s imagination someone from Uganda could travel all the way to Ecuador. That was Desire Mulla for you, always inspiring people with her confident rhetoric and in this case fashion sense. “Ah, yes, hola“, Desire chimed back to her with a loving smile. That was the problem, we couldn’t allow them to expand their imaginations. With racism, bigotry and prejudice afoot, how could we?

In Ibarra, Ecuador (the community I was placed in during my eight month fellowship with Global Citizen Year) Black citizens had been subject to these concepts, mocked. I first took note of this when my host father told me if I were to ever see an “Afro-Ecuadorian” walking on my side of the street, I was to stop what I was doing and cross the street. What was that suppose to mean? By the time New Year’s arrived, I was at a party that quickly escalated into something else. Before I knew it Mestizo men had painted their faces black, smeared on bright red lipstick and callously ran around in long skirts while banging a traditional Afro-Ecuadorian instrumental drum. I stopped taking photos right then; I just couldn’t believe this, that “Blackface” was still happened in other parts of the world. As March progressed and my year came to an end, one of the foster youth I worked with would be accused of robbery. I was told to hurry up and turn on the TV for the rest of the kids, to block out the noise of shouting adults. Did I mention the foster youth accused of robbery was Black? What bothered me most, was the simple lack of logic in the accusation pinned against him. How exactly was an 18 year old suppose to find $1,000 (the money he was accused of stealing) in the front pocket of a dress shirt left by a woman (the woman accusing him of the act) donating dress shirts (the place he was accused of stealing it, in a dress shirt pocket) to the foster home. Who even leaves $1,000 in their dress shirt front pocket without noticing it gone? Actually, how can someone leave $1,000 in a dress shirt pocket? People in Ecuador use traditional golden Sacajawea coins to barter/plunge into the economy, as opposed to dollar bills in the States. Not to mention, the few times I saw money in bill form, it was hardly ever pass a $10 bill. I had yet to see $100 bills. So I found it difficult to believe someone could leave $1,000 in a front dress shirt pocket. Eventually, the foster youth would be set free but not without, of course, calling the police on him since he “refused” to give up the $1000 he did not have.

As I embark on my transition back into the United States, the Black Lives Matter movement at hand strikes my thoughts. The concept circulates my thoughts as I continue to read through articles about the Watts Riots and historical segregation of people of color and whites in my home city, Los Angeles. Or as I pass through Skid Row, a city section dominated by homelessness. My Global Citizen Year has taught me to think critically. So I question my city, how can people state segregation no longer exists when there is an abundance of African-Americans lying secluded and homeless in one part of Los Angeles and we have a large population of white Angelenos living in the affluent region of Los Angeles? If Black citizens struggle to find security from bigotry, prejudice and ignorance in the city of Angels, I want to see this change. I have joked a myriad of times with my mentor that one day I’ll be the mayor of Los Angeles, about my theory on how mayor Garcetti is secretly the Jersey Devil and how I’m going to overthrow him with a political coup I’m recruiting. Yet, the more injustice I come to realize that rests in our world, the more I become serious about aspiring to be the leader of a global powerhouse as Los Angeles. As big cities have historically been, I want to continue the phenom Los Angeles is as a safe haven for citizens of the world regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status and in this case, color.

Before my Global Citizen Year commenced I did not have any close Black friends, coming from a largely populated Latino community. Now, I do and now they’re back home in places from Memphis to Uganda. A premonition lies in the pit of my soul and my heart aches. The fact that my Black friends have to fight harder than the rest of us just to feel…safe. Everyone, should feel safe, unconsciously. I’m worried for them and I hope you read this with patience, as this isn’t my story to tell. For I will never completely understand what it means to be a Black citizen. But I can no longer be silent on this cause either. No longer will I be neutral about this cause. To sit in silence has only ever helped the oppressor and never the oppressed. I ask you to stand against these injustices in a peaceful manner as well (simply as bringing these issue to light, to talk about them and spark conversation), as we are all citizens of the world and should not be treated any differently. With Global Competence surging through my veins, I find motivation to start college this fall and find understanding in the world around us. Hopefully, with a proper education, I may contribute my part toward bringing justice to my friends in the Black community, a justice they should not have to fight for in the first place.

Hugo Santiago