Conflicted Feelings: Visiting the White House as a Latina

Oct. 21, 2016 / By

It’s 7 a.m.; I’ve got to wake up! Do I have everything packed? Do I have all my paperwork?

It was a surreal Sunday morning. In less than 24 hours, I’d be outside the White House lawn. I had to get ready mentally for South By South Lawn (SXSL), a festival of ideas, art, and action.

I didn’t really have too many expectations, I was just excited to have the opportunity to be out of the city I was born and raised from. I would be representing my Long Beach community at the event.

I was told that I was going to meet two other people to complete my journey to Washington D.C. I met Tyler Harrison, a youth journalist from Redwood Voice in northern California at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. I was so excited to finally meet the person I was going to cover SXSL with. But it didn’t truly hit me that this was not a dream until the flight attendant greeted us as we were entering Washington D.C.

Is this really happening? We then met Alhelí Cuenca, YouthWire’s statewide coordinator and our mentor for the trip. I just felt the need to post a Facebook status. Naturally, I posted this:

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I felt compelled to let my community follow my adventures.

We made it to the Westin. It had a gorgeous interior. It was definitely a high-end hotel. I couldn’t believe I was going to have a room to myself.

After leaving our stuff at our hotel, we headed to Old Ebbitt Grill, located right by the White House.

I was so intrigued by seeing the city. There were so many historic buildings full of power and significance, yet they were surrounded by homelessness. Can power and poverty coexist? How can a place with so much power let this poverty happen?

When I got back to the hotel, I was looking at my nightstand and was suddenly triggered by the penmanship of my housekeeping lady. It was bit elementary and for some reason, and it struck a chord with me.

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It upset me because I imagined a older woman named Dora trying to make ends meet. I had to shake those feelings off. I didn’t know how much being in Washington D.C. was going to change the way I see the Capital. I couldn’t have guessed how many homeless people I would actually encounter.

It’s 10:30 a.m., I’ve got my pink blouse on and could only hope the makeup on my face could last the day because there’s no makeup containers allowed in the White House. We got in line to enter the premise and noticed filmmakers and panelists standing in the same line we were.

I felt special – I was among a few invited to such a prestigious event. It was an event filled with innovation, art and activism.

Being in front of the White House was unreal. I felt like I was in the set of a TV production. There was an area full of food. I turned to Alhelí and asked, “Is everything here free?” She responded, “Yes, it is!” I felt like royalty.

priv·i·lege
ˈpriv(ə)lij/

noun

  1. a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.
  2. “education is a right, not a privilege”

I was surprised. I felt so privileged. The fact that my immigrant parents have worked so hard to put food on our table, and years later I’m hanging out on the front lawn of the White House was mind boggling.

I felt like I was among a very few Latinos at the White House. Everywhere I turned, I wondered: where were my people at? I wasn’t quite sure how to feel. Should I be proud to be representing Latinos, at least from Long Beach? Should I feel disappointed that we, as Latinos, were underrepresented?

I had no other choice but to be proud. I didn’t let my ethnicity define me. I felt so empowered to be the voice of the voiceless and represent first generation Chicanos. I had to be the face of those who couldn’t be represented.

I watched Grammy nominated rapper Common perform a poem and the line that stood out to me was, “Some say slavery is abolished unless you are a criminal.” I thought it was so deep because prisoners are being treated unfairly.

Prisoners today are used to for cheap labor and therefore, slaves to the criminal justice system. Inmates are often mistreated physically and verbally.

Seeing President Barack Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio with my bare eyes also sparked inspiration. It gave me hope in change.

DiCaprio is the United Nations Messenger of Peace. Is he a scientist? No. But he’s made his passion of educating people about global warming his mission. Their discussion about climate change motivated me to continue writing about social justice.

South By South Lawn has shown me the beauty within myself and my community. It demonstrated that even though I am one, I can make a difference – that I matter. It made me optimistic that I can make a difference within my community. There’s two sides to every coin, it depends on what side you decide to look at that makes a difference.

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Jessica Salgado

Jessica Salgado

Jessica Salgado was born and raised in Long Beach. She is currently a journalism student at California State University, Long Beach.