I have a song on my IPod that makes me tear up almost every time I hear it. Whenever I’m feeling like I need a reality check or I need a pick-up I play it because it reminds me of what I’m doing, why I’m here, and what I can hope for some day.
In 2008 I was pretty emotionally invested in the Obama campaign. I even volunteered for the campaign on voting day and ended up standing on a street corner with a big sign urging people to vote for him. I went door to door canvassing to try to help people get to the polls. I wanted Obama to win because he had a platform which I supported, but more importantly I wanted him to win because he was a bi-racial man. I know that might sound small or naïve, but that’s where I am. Before Richardson dropped out I wanted him to win because he is from New Mexico and he’s Latino. That’s just how I roll.
The day after the election, Oprah had Will.i.am on her show, where he debuted his new song about the election. The song is so raw, yet it captures the day so well. The day after Obama was voted president.
I went to sleep last night, tired from the fight. I’ve been fighting for tomorrow all my life. Yeah, I woke up this morning, feeling brand new, ‘cause the dreams that I’ve been dreaming have finally come true. It’s a new day.
I can identify with this. I understand fighting for tomorrow, going to bed weary and waking up weary but ready to fight again. I spend a lot of time in my career scheming my plan to continue the fight. I fantasize about the day when I can wake up to a dream realized.
It’s been a long time coming. Up the mountain kept running. Songs of freedom kept humming. Channeling Harriet Tubman, Kennedy, Lincoln, and King. We gotta invest that dream. It feels like we’re swimming upstream. It feels like we’re stuck in between a rock and a hard place, we’ve been through the heartaches and lived through the darkest days….
There is such dark history in this country. America’s past is filled with horrifying memories of darkness interspersed with brilliant flames of inspiration, goodness, and visions of a just humanity. Whenever I hear this part of the song I’m filled with yearning for that inspiration, and I’m filled with deep and unsettling jealousy for Black Americans, because they have this history rich with powerful and influential leaders, and this history rich with resistance and small victories.
If you and I made it this far, well then, Hey! We can make it all the way. And they said “No we can’t” and we said “Yes we can.” Remember, it’s you and me, together. It’s a new day.
We’ve come so far together. In the early years of the United States, Black slaves sought refuge with American Indian tribes in the southeast and northeast. The civil rights movement was important for all Americans, not just Black Americans. Latinos mobilized during this time and formed important labor groups which helped change the way migrant workers were treated. American Indians mobilized and tried to reclaim land lost to broken treaties. In more recent history Japanese Americans were finally recognized for their struggles during the second world war, some Native peoples received justice in the form of recognition that our lives were destroyed through U.S. policies. Sometimes the deepest and most profound gesture is that of offering an apology, and we get that occasionally, through dribs and drabs of federal policy. But it's never enough.
It’s been a long time waiting. Waiting for this moment. Been a long time praying. Praying for this moment. We hope for this moment, and now that we own it, for life I will hold it, and I’ll never let it go.
Oh, how I want this. I want the federal government to stand up and say “We deliberately and with much forethought did every thing we possibly could to eliminate Native peoples from this country. And we’re deeply, terribly sorry. We fucked up in a big way. We created such a huge mess, it’s going to take an enormous amount of work to try to even start to fix this, and we’re dedicated to fixing the problems we created. “ I want the federal government to say, “Although we can’t bring back your grandparents and great grandparents, we want to fix things now so that your problems will not continue. We accept our role in creating the devastating health problems, the overwhelming poverty, and the choking suicide in your adolescents, the diabetes, and unacceptable death rates in your communities. That’s our fault, and we’re now going to do what we can to fix it. We’re going to funnel money and resources into this problem we created so that it will never happen again.”
It’s for fathers, our brothers, our friend who fought for freedom. Our sisters, our mothers, who did for us to be in this moment. Stop and cherish this moment. Stop and cherish this time. It’s time for unity, for us and we, that’s you and me, together.
I cherish the fact that we as Americans have done something we thought impossible. We brought together hope and history and made something good. I do cherish this.
‘Cause we weren’t fighting for nothing. And the soldiers weren’t fighting for nothing. No, Martin wasn’t dreaming for nothing. And Lincoln didn’t change it for nothing. And children weren’t crying for nothing.
It’s a new day.
The thing is, when I hear this song I feel like our people are fighting for nothing. We’re fighting and dreaming and crying and things aren’t getting any better.
I spend my days reading and writing about this incredible disparity in survival between American Indians and non-Hispanic whites. In New Mexico more than half (55%) of Natives die from cancer, where less than a third of non-Hispanic whites will die from the disease. Same cancers, but the differences (among others) are that Natives don’t get the health care they need to get the early diagnoses and the prompt treatment, and that Natives still see cancer as inevitably fatal, where non-Hispanic whites see it as possibly fatal but still worth going to the doctor about. We have serious issues, and I’m fighting an uphill battle. There are lots of us footsoldiers in this war against healthcare disparities, but for all our efforts it sure doesn’t feel like we’re getting anywhere.
I can’t wait for our new day to come. I can’t wait to feel like our grandfathers and grandmothers endured their struggle so we could see a new day. I can’t wait to feel anything but overwhelming despair over the problems in our people today. We’re strong and we’ve made it this far, but will we ever be able to talk about our history as a terrible past and not part of our present? I can’t wait until we can sing of our resistance in the form of our own victory song.