Marcela Ventura ’21 Educates Her Latinx Family on Why They Should Support Black Lives Matter

Marcela Ventura ’21 Educates Her Latinx Family on Why They Should Support Black Lives Matter

Marcela Ventura ’21 Educates Her Latinx Family on Why They Should Support Black Lives Matter

Our country has a painful history of racial injustice. It’s a history we need to reckon with, and cruel ideology that we can no longer deny still exists. Our communities of color regularly navigate hostile spaces, face overt acts of racism, and experience racial microaggressions that attack their dignity and their humanity. But silence is complicity. That’s why John Jay students, faculty, and staff are finding ways to protest anti-Black behavior and systemic racism. We’re supporting each other, examining our own feelings and actions, and actively fighting unjust treatment throughout our society.

Marcela Ventura ’21, a Criminology major with minors in Interdisciplinary Studies and English, who grew up in Peru and Jersey City, New Jersey, never really thought deeply about racism. But then, this past January, while touring Civil Rights museums and memorials during the Honors Program’s trip to Alabama, Ventura’s eyes were opened. “I’ve been alive for 20 years, and for most of my life, I had no clue what racism was,” she says. “I’m not white, but I was unaware of the deep-rooted discrimination Black people have faced and continue to face.” In her essay, Ventura describes not only her journey to understanding the trauma of anti-Black racism, but how she guided her mother to a realization of her own.

This past January I was fortunate enough to go on a Civil Rights tour in Alabama with the Honors Program—not knowing that a couple months later, I would be witnessing the brutal murder of George Floyd. In Montgomery, Alabama, at The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, I saw coffin-like metal pieces hanging from the ceiling, displaying the names of people murdered due to the color of their skin. In Selma, Alabama I saw photographs of kids younger than me, marching and protesting, demanding that people acknowledge their rights and recognize that their lives mattered. Those brave kids were in high school—or even middle school—but they demanded change. I thought of them when I started to see my Instagram fill with videos of George Floyd being murdered. I thought of them when I started seeing Black Lives Matter posts. And I thought of George Floyd’s name being added to the memorial when I decided to take action.

I began reposting information on my page, but I knew that wasn’t enough. The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement kept growing and people started to protest, but at home no one was saying anything about it. While there’s only three people in my home, I was a bit scared to bring it up, since my dad has a tendency to make racist comments. It wasn’t until my mom said, “Why is there all this fuss about Blacks, but no one mentions the struggles of Hispanics,” that I realized how I could really support the BLM movement—by educating those around me.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

“It wasn’t until my mom said, ‘Why is there all this fuss about Blacks, but no one mentions the struggles of Hispanics,’ that I realized how I could really support the BLM movement—by educating those around me.” —Marcela Ventura

My mother is an educated person who I constantly look up to, but she did not get it. When I came back from Alabama, she didn’t really understand my transformative experience, no matter how hard I attempted to explain it to her. I understood why she didn’t get it; I didn’t get it either when I first learned about the Civil Rights Movement back in middle school. My dad, who had lived in the U.S. for a long time and witnessed the Civil Rights Movement, was more understanding, but more work had to be done to educate my mom.

One afternoon as we were having lunch, I decided to put on 13th, a film on Netflix that explores the long history of racial inequality that African-Americans have faced. I was told about the film for a while, but I never got to watch it myself. I thought it was a perfect time to see it. For an hour and 40 minutes, the three of us sat looking up at our TV in the kitchen. My dad would make comments on how he remembered certain events, while my mom just sat there in silence surprised at the segregation signs and at the image of Emmett Till. I asked my mom to imagine having to bury me at the age of 14—with my face bludgeoned like his—just because my skin was a shade darker than hers. My mom’s eyes spoke for her. I knew she finally understood the importance of the movement.

“I asked my mom to imagine having to bury me at the age of 14—with my face bludgeoned like his—just because my skin was a shade darker than hers. My mom’s eyes spoke for her.” —Marcela Ventura

After the movie, I told my parents that I wanted to hang signs outside the house since the protests I had heard about were in New York City, and it was still risky to take public transportation from New Jersey. I got my parents’ support, but I still warned them and I prepared myself for any possible backlash. I realized that it was my chance to educate others who might not be in my social media and that it was my chance to stand up. As I was making the posters to hang outside my home, I decided to make some in Spanish. After talking with a couple of my Hispanic friends, I realized they were also struggling to educate their parents. I was lucky that my mom understood English, so she was able to understand a majority of the film, but not all of my friend’s parents were that knowledgeable in the English language.

I put the signs outside my home and there were days that I would just sit and watch how people reacted to them. I saw a couple of people actually stop and read them. I began to send my family information in Spanish because, just like me, they needed to be educated. While it took me a couple of years to realize that racism was a global issue that affected any dark skin person from any ethnicity or nationality, it was not too late to try to educate others.

I had a couple of family members who wanted to talk to me about the movement and learn more about it. My aunt from Peru realized that racism and colorism was strongly embedded in Peruvian culture, to the point where people did not even know what racism was. My grandfather gave me the courage to keep going, and he gave me a couple of techniques that I could use to inform others.

I wanted to spread the knowledge that I gained, so I created a week for my sorority to inform other organizations about the BLM movement and anti-Black racism, and we’re working to keep that energy alive. The week included a day where you had to educate someone—it could be a family member or even someone living abroad—about the fight to stop institutional racism. 

Ventura in Montgomery, Alabama
Ventura in Montgomery, Alabama

“Seeing my mom screaming next to me for Black Lives Matter was exhilarating. Seeing her hold up the sign I had made helped me realize just how far she had come.” —Marcela Ventura

On June 6, I planned to go to a protest with a friend and my mom decided to come with us for safety purposes. Then, my friend’s mom decided to come as well. Seeing my mom screaming next to me for Black Lives Matter was exhilarating. Seeing her hold up the sign I had made helped me realize just how far she had come. Seeing her listen intently as a young woman spoke about her experience made me proud of her. After the protest was over, listening to my mom talk about how moved she was and how inspired she was by the diversity of the protesters, gave me hope that real change can happen.