Everything is complicated. Black Lives Matter DC has denounced the painting of the giant yellow letters on the street leading to the White House as “performative distraction…to appease white liberals.” As one of those white liberals, I am saddened by this. It is so hard to know how to get to the justice and systemic change that Norma is talking about.
My soul demands it
by Norma L. Hernandez, College Place, Washington
In the first month of 2015, I learned I had Stage II HER2+ Advanced Aggressive breast cancer. To save my life, I accepted the grueling treatment: eighteen months of chemo and radiation. By the time I had surgery, the cancer was all gone. Victory! I quickly learned, however, that cancer never actually goes away.
Five years later, the physical toll of such aggressive treatment has devastated me. At first, I thought that I just needed a change of pace—I was about to turn fifty after all. I moved out of the big city where I’d lived for over thirty years and across the state to rural Eastern Washington for a slower and less stressful type of life. Sounds pretty good, right?
What I did not know was my body was fighting against me. The treatment to kill the cancer woke up an autoimmune disease. So here I sit today, wanting to live life to the fullest, in such physical pain that often it is all I think about. I am a fighter though: I have had to fight all my life to get out of generational poverty and addictions that burdened my parents and ancestors. So, this is just another battle to win, right?
I moved for a slower pace of life but, turns out, I am not a slower-pace-of-life type of girl. I quickly immersed myself in my community. My husband and I started a small business, I took on a new job as the number two, joined the board of a very active community non-profit, and the cherry on top—ran for mayor and won. A successful transition, right?
I am exhausted—mentally and physically. I just want to turn off all the noise in my life. I do not want to make decisions that impact other people’s lives. I do not want to be the person who hates our political and social climates so much that getting involved was all that was left. I do not want to be that woman of color who speaks for the underrepresented and vulnerable. I do not want to be the primary financial supporter of my family. I do not want to care about bees. I do not want to be the person that signs the emergency declarations that order parks to close when a pandemic changes our way of life. I do not want to care. I just want to rest. You are feeling my stress, right?
Today, Americans are fighting for our souls. The longstanding silence and dismissiveness of violence against African Americans by law enforcement is now screaming with pain and tears at such a volume that the world has noticed. Once again, I find myself stepping up. I have been given a position that demands that I speak up and fight for justice for all the George Floyds and all the sons and daughters who have been abused by the original sins this country was built on. Silence is not an option; my heart will not allow it. You hear my shame and anger, right?
As I sat reflecting on this honestly, I realized something—I love who I am and what I do. I love the contributions I make to society. I love influencing women to be stronger and more confident. I love giving Latinos something to be proud of and to aspire to. I love being able to care for my family and know that my children will never know poverty. I love being part of a system that makes a city a community. I love watching my garden produce fresh healthy food. I love that we adopted another (#4) cutie from the animal shelter and gave her a loving stable home. I love looking at the beautiful blooms that bees thrive off of. I love that I have a voice that combines with all the other voices that have had enough and now are together shouting for justice and systemic change. I love it all! I am crazy, right?
Maybe I do know why I do it. Cancer was not going to be the end of me. Cancer was not going to stop me from my destiny. Cancer forced me to live a life worthy of the precious air I unconsciously breathe. The same precious air that another human being had slowly squeezed out of him as he cried out for his mother. Therefore, every day I get up, push through the pain and mental exhaustion, and fight for a life worth living, and I thank God for every single second he gives me in it, because I know, I painfully know, how easily it could be taken from me. I do it because my soul demands it of me.