Moonlight Won, and It was a Victory for People Who Are Not Seen

Okay, but, of course I have words about the Moonlight thing, even though please go read VSB and The Root and Black Girl Dangerous and Luvvie for sure before you even finish reading this because Moonlight isn’t mine.

So, I write. A little. A lot. I love writing. I write about things that I feel are important and I love stories.  Stories are among my favorite things in the world. They are embedded into what makes me a person. I love and live and breathe and need stories. They have helped me make sense of the world and have made me a better human being all around. They smooth out the rough edges in me, they make me stretch in my capacity to feel compassion, to consider a world outside of my own, to focus and center others who have a rougher time.

My grandmother was a writer. She taught me the importance of writing. But man, being a deportee and a woman and woman of color is a weird space to navigate in writing because it feels like no one cares. I feel like my mom reads my stuff (shout out to my moms, both of them) and a few of you. It all feels like an exercise in kindness.

I am cis gendered and heterosexual and can’t imagine how it feels for other folks. I try to read their words, because reading makes you empathetic and aware of others. It expands your world. I have carried the words of Janet Mock and Jennicet Gutierrez and Mia McKenzie and @QueerXiChisme (on Twitter) and @AdamantxYves (also on Twitter) and @anthoknees (Twitter too), among a bevy of others that don’t immediately come to the forefront because it is 2:21 am and I am running on feelings (lol it me).

I am so used to seeing good, diverse, important stories brushed aside from big platforms in favor of the same old shit. I have seen what feel like endless versions of white cishet dudes doing some variation of the same thing for the entirety of my life. I have wondered why it didn’t reflect the world I knew.

My favorite Junot Diaz quote talks about this. If you haven’t read Junot Diaz, go read him, ASAP and you’re welcome.  It is the quote that guides my work, like a north star of sorts. It reads:

“You guys know about vampires? … You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There’s this idea that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. And what I’ve always thought isn’t that monsters don’t have reflections in a mirror. It’s that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn’t see myself reflected at all. I was like, “Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don’t exist?” And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might see themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it.”

One of the things that has been hardest to reclaim through this deportation has been my own narrative. I was given 90 days to leave the States, and I tried to inform myself somehow and the only thing that I could find that approximated my story were expat books. I read them. I didn’t even have words about myself, and I felt sad because these books were guides on how to get what you wanted out of Mexico and then peace the f*ck out. That wasn’t my case. I had 10 years before I was even allowed to consider U.S. soil again and there was nothing to help me navigate that.

I read Lord of the Rings and dated specific lines. I understood the sorrow Frodo felt as he looked back upon the shire, not knowing when he would return or if he’d ever see it again. I dated those passages in my copy and wrote “I feel like this, I understand this” in neart little cursive writing. I was getting guidance from a mythical creature that still looked like a white dude. It was all I had.

I drowned a lot of the feelings I had about returning in that harmful Mormon ethos/ Boxer from “Animal Farm” mentality of just working harder and waiting for things to get better. I didn’t cry. I just threw myself on to ten million activities and ignored every knot inside me because I thought optimism and hard work would smooth it out.

About 4 years into my deportation I fell into a depression. I didn’t recognize it because I hadn’t read words that gave me the ability to maybe save myself (I have since rectified that mistake). I thought I was just really tired and maybe really lazy. I was diagnosed with depression. Nobody around me would have ever guessed and for the most part didn’t know. Through this depression, stories were my landline.

I learned how to say snippets of my own story without falling apart. I saw others grab on to it to navigate their own. I saw the surface in the ocean of my sorrow and I felt myself swim up.

My nephew died at the end of 2015. Typing that sentence still breaks something inside me. I find stories that make me forget. I have found stories that help me endure and stories that help me take the knots inside me and weave something beautiful. There is poetry that tells me that I too can be the master of my soul. There are stories that promise happiness after what feels like untenable pain.

After Zion died, I really wondered how I could go on- the entirety of my saving myself was to see my family together. I am never going to have this. Some days I can make peace with it. Somedays I sob. It always hurts.

While trying to figure this out, I pulled away. I became an anxious mess. I exercised to try and calm myself. It didn’t always work.

I found Jane The Virgin by accident. A friend made an off hand comment of how I was a pregnancy away from being Jane. I laughed and then went to watch it. I finished the whole first season in a week. Jane The Virgin saved me. There were episodes where I cried in relief because here was a brown girl who had a strong relationship with her mother and her grandmother. She was religious and kind and optimistic and she looked like me.

Jane gave me tools to navigate- she helped me reclaim my narrative because she helped me see that I existed. Someone saw me. I knew that someone saw me and I was reminded that I could find joy because someone like me was finding joy. Jane gave me hope of a happy ending. I believed her.

I still believe her, and I believe in me.

Tonight Moonlight won an Oscar. It won more than one Oscar, but I am going to focus specifically on The Best Picture Oscar and the Best Adapted Screenplay awards (although praise onto Mahershala Ali whose storytelling gift is a blessing to this world).

In their win for Best Adapted Screen Play, Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney gave an amazing speech that called people by name. Barry Jenkin’s said

I tell my students that I teach sometimes, be in love with the process, not the result, but I really wanted this result because a bagillion people are watching, and for all the people out there who feel like there’s no mirror for you, that your life isn’t reflected, the Academy has your back, the ACLU has your back, we have your back. And for four years, we will not leave you alone, we will not forget you.

Right after, McCraney said the following

Amen, brother. I just want to echo everything you just said and and all those things, but I also want to say thank god for my mother who proved to me through her struggles, and the struggles that Naomie Harris portrayed for all of you, that we can really be here and be somebody. Two boys from Liberty City up here on this stage representing 305. This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non gender-conforming who don’t see themselves, we are trying to show you you, and us. So thank you, thank you, this is for you.

Writing is a pretty lonely endeavor. But here we have Jenkins telling people that he saw them and that he was going to continue walking the walk for them. McCraney is a gay man, “Moonlight” was adapted from his play “In the Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue” which was based on his life as a black gay man growing up in Miami.

I haven’t had the chance to see Moonlight because I live in Mexico, and movies have weird arrival schedules (unless it’s Marvel, we get to see those a week before y’all, #blessed). McCraney was not only awarded and recognized for the merits of his story, it was a story based on his life experiences, and one that he used to shine some light on people who rarely get it- brown and black boys and girls and non gender-conforming folks.

I cried during his speech (I know I cry a lot but those who cry are necessary to those who never cry so you’re welcome) because for my brown girl ass, this was a moment. I felt like my story maybe was not so crazy. And I realized that maybe the light that was suddenly shinning in the corners of my heart cathedral was turning on for other folks. Black gay men who’d never had a mirror. Gender non conforming folks who don’t have a mirror. People who straddle multiple combinations of these intersections who don’t anways have words or ways to smooth out the gnarled bits inside them who now get a shot at it.

We are trying to show you you, and us.

And then Casey Affleck, sexual abuser, won over Denzel Washington.

The award for Best Picture was announced as awarded to La La Land. I felt that uncomfortable sadness that seems to accompany so many major events these last few months and called it a night.

And then it happened, and it was confusion and too many people on stage and confused looks and “I am not joking” right after thanking his blue eyed wife and Moonlight won. Moonlight won. This noise escaped from me that was a combination between crying and releasing that sadness from my heart- it was tears but also, a scream of sorts.

I have gone and showered and cried because this is a show that has always awarded the safest, most told and less original stories, the majority of the time (how else can you explain Leo’s bear sex win?). Here was a story that centered a black (!) gay (!!) man who was a drug dealer (!!!) with difficulties and tragedies and didn’t paint him as a villain (!!!!). This is revolutionary on so many damn levels, but the one I want to focus on is all the black LGBTQIA folks who got a mirror.

The Oscars are not a place where you see yourself. You see folks who, though well intentioned (sometimes anyway), are not interested in looking at you or creating a mirror outside of the ones reflecting them because that is the comfort zone. We live in a time where average white ladies get rewarded over Viola Davis; a black person must be extraordinary in order to be considered for a fraction of what a white person is. We could apply this measure to several intersection fo privilege: the disabled, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual folks, Trans folks, Gender non conforming folks, black folks, brown folks, undocummented folks. The list is long, and severely under represented (because Leo’s bears amirite) and exists in a world where they are constantly discredited and dismissed.

It’s easy to find yourself feeling isolated and drowned by the words you don’t have and don’t know you need. It is even easier to feel as though there is no worth to your existance.

I’ve stared at the precipice and wondered about my position in relation to it, only to walk myself back and on to a different path through the power of stories, of mirrors that allowed me a reflection. The world is a scary place where there are so few reflections of so many who need them, and tonight, in front of a bajillion people, they got one.

It gives me hope in a way that I cannot articulate- this thought of thousands and thousands of writers, and readers and workers and people who will have a glimmer of hope because they are seen by someone else as real and are offered the companionship that comes with that. It is the realization that people will know that they do not have to carry all of their burdens, that they can choose to share them with others and that they can be heard. That art that heals them exists for them.

We sorely need stories, and hope at this time. We need mirrors. Today we got one, and my heart heals a little because of it.

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