ESP – ENG
Since this loss, my writing feels frantic. My pen hand anxious. I feel anxiety in each word, wanting to get it out: my thoughts and my ideas, my story. I’m fearful that when I finish this piece, the thought police will swoop in and add this to their collection—my collection, of me. So I apologize if you have ever loved my writings, and now feel like this is not me. Because it is me, years later, having served over a year in solitary confinement right now, with no end in sight.
After being placed on strip (that is when the pigs take all my clothes and property as a punishment), after losing a partner, after losing my mind a few times. After being sprayed with a few bottles of chemical agents. After losing comrades, after gaining and meeting comrades, after finding love again. After losing and changing so many of my philosophies, and gaining new perspectives. And even after wrapping a sheet around my throat. I’m going to try and write about all of this. It will probably be a series of blogs and essays and conversations. I’m even thinking that I will have to flush every word that I write down the toilet, every single day. I’m worried that I will no longer have this tomorrow. Will it even exist? Will it ever get transcribed? Will anyone ever know who I am? Does it even fucking matter?
This essay is about me—the contradictions I face. The things I am learning. This is the bloody savage in the mirror. This is not going to be a chronological account of my life, but a very scattered view. And hopefully by the end, you, I, we have a picture of who I am. But please don’t hold your breath, because we might be even more confused at the end of this piece than we were at the beginning. So walk with me.
Have you ever felt like an impostor? I never knew what impostor syndrome was up until recently. I’ve felt like I was a liar in my skin. My skin.
So let me back up. I was born to a non-English-speaking Colombian mother and a liberal hippie Irish white father in Los Angeles, California. My whole life I was raised around my Colombian family—a huge family. Some undocumented, some married into this “Amerikkkan dream” to eventually leave the so-called united states again, but all Colombian as fuck, whatever that means. My white father always made sure that I knew I was ethnically Latino, to be proud of that culture. That is, up until the divorce, an extremely ugly battle that pitted me and my sister against each other, forced to pick sides. It was either be “Latino” and Brown with my mom and stay in the same hood I grew up in, or it was be white and live with my dad on, what felt like, the other side of the world.
I was 10 years old at the time, and chose my mom and my friends. And my dad held that against me for most of my life. We lived well for a year from the money after the divorce my mom got, but my mom’s lack of English and lack of an “american education” had her out of a job. We ended up moving to the apartments, which I loved: an Afro-Caribbean and Latin American hood of me and the homies. This is why I stayed, right?
In the hood, growing up within a fusion of Latin American and Afro-Caribbean represented cultures and gangs, I, like so many, considered and believed the various understandings of Latin American/Latinx, Hispanic, or Chicanx was a race. The so-called Brown race. My whole life, I saw and thought that being Colombian meant being Brown. And when I say my whole life, I mean a whole 30 years of it. In my neighborhood, we all had curly hair, Afros and braids, all spoke broken Spanish that our mothers hated; when the pigs came they would cuff all of us, take all of our bandanas, jump on all of us. And together we formed, or started to believe a form of Brown force. I thought “Brown” meant “Latin-American diaspora.” I thought it meant “not Black, but not white. Just everyone else. Me and the homies.”
Getting locked up a few days after turning 17, being sentenced to life, I did what most young, Latin American, Black and Brown man-children do: join a prison gang. I have always been in neighborhood gangs of young Latin America and Afro-Caribbeans, since I was about 11 years old. So, it seemed like this is what I was supposed to do: join the biggest Latino gang at the time. I was embraced—after a test of heart and a few missions, of course.
This is where I started to become radicalized. This is where the ideology of Brown force, a unified Latin American front, started to really set in. There was only two struggles in my eyes: the Black struggle against the so-called United States, and the Brown/Latin American struggle against the so-called United States. The “struggle” being: the life of those that were criminalized by the state, because of their skin color and ethnicities, the displaced people of the global south. A class of poor, Black and Brown folks, that had to learn to survive by any means necessary. And the other side was white supremacy.
Even though my father was white, I never thought or saw myself as white. I had curly hair, not like his straight hair; my skin got tan in the sun, not burnt like his; my eyes are brown, his are blue; my hair is brown, not like his light-colored hair. To him, I was just a burden child support check. I was everything he was not. So I had to be Latino. I had to be Brown, right? The pigs never treated me white. The state never gave me a break. Getting sent to juvenile programs and detention centers since I was 12, 13 years old. Everyone in my school was Black and Brown. In the seventh grade I remember being wanded every day getting off of the bus. Police patrolled my school. I am lighter than some Brown homies, especially after doing a lot of time in confinement, but I’m not white, am I?
A few years ago, I started to get on Twitter. I started to be invited to radical conversations because of my radical posts. I joined a prisoner-led organization of radical minds and started learning about the revolution in depth. Comrades started to support me in my views and helped hone my radical theory. At this point of my prison sentence, I have already suffered years of torture, physical and mental, by the pigs that run the prisons. Was thrown on SHU units (heightened level of security and surveillance in confinement for extended periods at a time) because of alleged leader position of rank. Studied George Jackson and Che Guevara. Supported the Gaza Strip and Cuba. Was anti-imperialist as fuck.
I started to give shape to my ideas, such as “abolition of the prison-industrial slave complex,” but at this point, I also learned that Latin American or “Latino” was not a race. Was not the Brown race that I believed in for so many years. That the “Latin American” identity—created by the European colonizer—lumped tribes, countries, and races together, that left no room for self-determination or meaningful lived experiences within the southern hemisphere of Turtle Island, and the displaced Third World people in North America.
Also, I started to realize that we—the “Latin American” diaspora—are not all on the same side when it comes to political ideologies as well. Where I believed Brown and Latin American meant actively fighting white supremacy, the colonizers and imperialism, I started to see this was not the case for all Latin American folks. I guess, low-key, I knew this. I can’t tell you how many of mis hermanos were anti-Black. So many sounded like white supremacists, their whole family hated Fidel and Che, and the socialistas, comunistas. Claimed their Spaniard conquistador heritage.
It was so confusing for me because I had to call them my brothers, but our beliefs were so different. Except for when a race riot breaks out in the prison yard, then everyone knows what side they’re on. Shit, these days, I don’t even know if that term “race riot” is correct. Because in prison, Latinos, no matter what race, have always stuck together. “Mi Gente.” This is what I believed Brown was in the first place.
Yet even given such revelations, I still identified as Brown. I supported Black/New African liberation fronts, Black Marxists, and Black anarchists from a Third World Brown struggle standpoint. I was proclaiming to be an internationalist with Third World goals, and a leader in the Brown force movements inside. I was anti-colonial, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-whiteness, with a bunch more anti’s to throw in there. But I’m sure you get the point.
Now, at this point I have been held for a year in confinement, a year of repression—this time not for my alleged gang status, but for my radical politics. It has been a year of being trapped in a cell, with maybe 20 hours of sunlight in 13 months. I don’t know if it’s the mirror on my wall or the mirror in my head that started to whisper that I am not Brown. That I have never been Brown. That I am the same light skin dude taking up more space than anyone fucking needs, that every word that I’ve written was a lie, that if the comrades see you now, you will get exposed, that you are an impostor that never needs to write another word or do another interview. That you need to just go back to gangbanging, because you might just be everything you claim to hate. The movement does not need your voice. And this vortex in my head continues deeper, and darker with every thought. I was at a point in my life ready to give up everything I was working towards, because I did not want to take up space where I didn’t belong.
However, before I do anything rash these days, I bring my ideas to some comrades who I hold dear that have helped me form my radical ideas, and who have constantly supported me; as well as bringing these thoughts to my partner who is a Black New Afrikan and Afro-Caribbean revolutionary comrade. And I was bombarded with so many questions to help figure this out. This “Who am I? Where do I fit in?” Questions about my ideas of race, color, culture, political views; questions about Latin American xenophobia in the so-called united states, the Latin American diaspora and indigenous cultures.
Some comrades expressed the same conflictions, and some just told me to shut the fuck up. Or even one time: “I have never looked at you like a white boy, stop tripping.” And all of them wanted me to write this. To write this down. I don’t know if this is what they were expecting, or if even it makes any sense. I don’t know if I’ve figured any of this out.
So who am I? Let’s try this again. I am an anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-white supremacist gangbanger. I am a radical politicized prisoner, organizing and fighting the beast with every breath. I am an Abolitionist. A supporter of the Black Liberation New Afrikan struggle. I am a Third World, Brown, Latin American, mixed, Colombian revolutionary. And maybe after a year in the hole, I might be the lightest shade of brown acceptable, but I know after 33 years, no one has ever told me that I was not Brown, or asked me to stop saying that I was, or that I am. I’m going to end this with something that I have to remind myself of constantly: just like everything else in the carceral state, even the mirrors inside tell lies.
Text: komrade underground*. Artwork: Daniel.
Utopix has an ongoing collaboration with the Imprisoned Abolitionist Collective (IAC) to produce content on past and present struggles to be distributed in US prisons. The IAC is a group of incarcerated people dedicated to exposing and fighting against the oppressive prison industrial complex in the US.
*komrade underground is a third world revolutionary prisoner, urban guerrilla and student of dragon philosophy.