A Shared Past Should Unify Our Future

As soon as Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s tickets opened for sale, we bought them. My children had fallen in love with the mirrors they saw in the characters after the first movie: strong Black men and women of power and dignity.

I was excited to see how the director developed and highlighted the Mayan culture in the second one. I am more likely a descendant of the Incans than of the Mayans, but the connection to our Indigenous ancestry and pre-colonial cultures is something that binds those of us whose people were colonized by the Spanish conquistadors.

We loved the movie, as we thought we would. We loved the cinematography, the tribute to Chadwick, the portrayal of Black beauty and excellence in every decision. But I walked away with one gnawing uneasiness, which I later found out was a common thread among some BIPOC viewers: the pitting of two marginalized, oppressed groups against each other.

On social media there was robust discussion of who the “real” enemy was and how the system set up by the colonizers created the conditions that forced two marginalized groups to fight for power and position.

It rang true to life.

Recently, the kids and I watched a PBS documentary called Latino Americans. It recounts the history of Latinos in the USA, from the arrival of the first Spanish explorers to what is now Florida in 1565, to today’s demographic changes that have made Latinos the largest minority in this country.  

We were struck by how similar Latinos’ journeys for equality, civil rights, and justice have been to that of Black Americans: Martin Luther King Jr sending telegrams of encouragement and support to Cesar Chavez, as one man was fighting in the south and the other, in the west. Nine-year-old Sylvia Mendez’s brave work to integrate schools in California, almost a decade before Ruby Bridges courageously walked into a white Louisiana elementary school. The effect of the 1965 Civil Rights’ Act on the Latino community, and the influence Dr. Hector Garcia had on its passing through his political work with John F. Kennedy and later, Lyndon Johnson.

For every step Black Americans have taken towards racial justice, Latinos have kept the pace on their front. And yet, when we hear stories like the one about the Los Angeles City Council members’ racist and colorist comments, we realize how our shared historical and racial trauma have divided us into “us vs. them” instead of uniting us in solidarity.

The Black Panther movie reflected this reality: we have been pitted against each other by a system that tells us that we must step on each other to survive.

But we don’t have to be. We share the same struggles and the same hopes.

We are bound to each other by our common fight for equity. As MLK Jr. told Cesar Chavez in his 1966 telegram: “Our separate struggles are really one–a struggle for freedom, for dignity and for humanity.”

Our communities, and our allies, particularly those who are brothers and sisters in Christ, who understand God’s vision for a Kingdom both of the “now” and the “not-yet,” where the divisions that separate us no longer exist and we are all “one in Christ Jesus” as Paul tells the Galatians, need to work together against the real enemy: injustice and oppression.

I look forward to seeing if the directors of Black Panther pursue this message and turn the script on its head in the next installment.

By Gabriela Buitrón 

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