Reimagining “Success” in the Latinx Community & Ourselves

By: Stephanie Llanes

This past fall, I was asked to be a keynote speaker at the University of Georgia’s (UNG) Great Latino Debate. The planning committee asked me to speak about “my success as a Latina in America.” At first, I struggled trying to figure out what I would talk about. My life story? My experience as an Afro-Latina in my law school? My parents struggle? I then contemplated why they asked me to speak. Maybe it was because my degrees and credentials would lead the students at UNG to think that I am a “successful Latina in America.” But as I stood in front of them, part of me wanting to “inspire” them and part of me wanting to be real, I told them my truth. I told them that I wasn’t successful.

I can’t be successful when half of my brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico are living in poverty. I can’t be successful when cities like Detroit are stopping lower income Black and Brown communities from having access to water. I can’t be successful when Palestinian children are being bombed and people are telling themselves that they are doing it in the name of God or this is the only way they can be safe. I can’t be successful when children from Latin America are thrown in ice-cold cages in US detention centers for seeking refuge here. I can’t be successful while 12-year-old Tamir Rice is shot dead by a government agent for being a Black child playing with a toy gun.

I don’t know who came up with the idea that one can be successful while our brothers and sisters (here and abroad) are being killed, deported, locked up, and dehumanized. But that is not my definition of success. I am a part of my community and my community is a part of me. My community—we—will not be successful while so many of us are being targeted and hurt. I can’t be successful when the country that I live in is telling me that people who look like me, talk like me, and dance like me do not belong.

So how can we begin to think about what a successful Latinx community looks like?

The answer involves much more than just degrees and credentials. I think the answer to that question should involve love. A successful Latinx community involves a community that loves.

Here is what bell hooks has to say about love. She says “where there is domination love is impossible because domination is the opposite of love.”

The kind of love I am talking about is not the love that we see promoted on Valentine’s Day, or #relationshipgoals, or #powercouples, or #KingsAndQueens.

The kind of love I am talking about is love that is committed to loving those who have been deemed unlovable. To loving those we have been taught are inherently different than us. The kind of love I am talking about is love that is committed to justice. 

Building a community that loves is not just about feelings or a theory about life. This is practical and necessary if we are to live in a better world—a society that is fair and inclusive.

I told the students at UNG that I didn’t know exactly all the steps that would take us to our beloved community; where Latinxs, Blacks, and other marginalized people will be liberated and free, but I am willing to fight for it. Why? Because as Ella Baker told us, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.”