Like many others in our country, I have been feeling an enormous amount of rage, anxiety and defeat because of our political situation. I may have talked a big game about us showing up and raising our voices, but the news was starting to break me down a few weeks ago and I had begun to feel paralyzed.
Now with these new executive orders, I am saddened and enraged even more, but I can manage. I have been able to face it. And it’s because of a special night I had just a few weeks ago.
First, some context. I had planned a trip to Guatemala last November to celebrate my 29th birthday. Guatemala is the country that my mother emigrated from and to be honest, I had never made the effort to understand what her experience as an immigrant was like. She passed a few years ago and I felt like making this trip might at least help me understand where she came from. In the current political climate, this has felt especially important to me.
But I was not able to go. Two days after Donald Trump was elected. My father suffered a stroke and I took a six-week leave to Nevada to care for him. (He is doing much better now and we even have come up with the joke: “Hospital bills covered: Thanks Obama! Stroke: Thanks Trump being elected!”)
The world was really feeling heavy on my shoulders, as I’m sure it has for all of us, and I felt totally defeated. Was everything just becoming hopeless? My inspiration was beginning to wane and depression was taking over.
I returned to San Francisco just in time to receive an invitation to the Jan. 14 opening reception for the El Tecolote photography exhibition, “Latino Life,” at Acción Latina’s Juan R. Fuentes Gallery. And as much as I wasn’t up to going to a social event, Acción Latina has become a community for me, a community that has welcomed me with open arms. My heart was telling me to go, so I listened.
Art receptions make me nervous because in general they have a reputation of being “stuffy.” But as soon I got there, I remembered that it wasn’t just any art reception, it was an art reception celebrating Latino life, which meant music, dancing, cerveza and a lot of love.
This was clear as soon as I walked through the door. It was already very crowded, the band (sin nombre) was beginning to set up to play and people were chatting.
I stood at the front door for a moment to take in all the images displayed across the walls of the gallery. I saw a flamenco dancer, a church, bloody handcuffs—each photo told a unique story and if I stood long enough in front of one, the story would begin to play out in my mind. As the stories of all these images swirled in my head, I began to feel a deep connection. The experience that I have so desired to understand was right there in front of me: the experience of the immigrant, the refugee, of my mother.
My heart started pounding and I suddenly felt very present, and inspired. Too much time had gone by since I had felt that little spark of inspiration.
It wasn’t Guatemala, but it felt damn near close enough when Banda Sin Nombre started playing and everyone began dancing and celebrating. The music was so good that you had to dance, any worry about looking awkward went out the window. I couldn’t help but feel a deep sense of solidarity. That connection stayed with me for the rest of the night. Because we had less than a week until Inauguration Day and here we were, dancing and living life. I called my dad after to tell him I had listened to music and danced and saw the most beautiful pictures.
That night as I refilled my empty gas tank, I was reminded that community is what matters and community is what will sustain us through these hard times. I was reminded that stories need to continue to be told on paper and through photos so we can connect and inspire each other. Most importantly, I was reminded that sometimes you really just need to go dance in a room full of Latinos to get your spirits up.
Story by: Elizabeth Veras-Holland