Just a few days ago, Lucy Flores published an essay detailing an uncomfortable experience she had with then-Vice President Joe Biden at a campaign rally in Nevada in 2014. She used the words “gross, uneasy, and confused” to recount how it made her feel.
And she described something that many Latinas – across industries, I’m sure – can relate to: feeling powerless.
To be clear, this isn’t an essay about Joe Biden. In fact, I find his name to be the least interesting part of this story. Many Latinas can substitute Biden for many we’ve been warned about: powerful men, colleagues, or even that random dude in the club who doesn’t understand nor care about your personal space.
This is about centering Latinas like Lucy, who have had, and will continue to have, a range of uncomfortable experiences with men, only to be discredited by Latinos in our own community.
For some reason, it was important to dig into the photo archives to find proof to suggest she was lying.
Since the publication of her essay, two Latino men who represent the past and current leadership (Henry R. Muñoz is a co-founder) of Latino Victory Project made it a point to de-center Lucy from her experience, claiming she couldn’t be telling the truth based on “photographic documentation.” Despite countless articles and pieces of photographic evidence showcasing Biden’s creepy behavior with women, somehow, Flores couldn’t possibly be believed. For some reason, it was important to dig into the photo archives to find proof to suggest she was lying about something that’s not all that hard to believe in the first place.
Instead, we should believe the chorus of white women’s voices marshaled in to defend the former Vice President’s reputation as a crusading hero for the rights of women everywhere. As if the weight of their voices is more significant and credible than a Latina who dared to say something as simple as “I felt uncomfortable.” Historically, we know how white women’s voices have been weaponized against us, so this tactic shouldn’t be surprising.
We need to talk about this.
It’s not enough to “believe women” when it’s politically expedient. It’s important to believe women, particularly women of color, when they are clearly looking to spark a conversation about accountability – including from those in our own community. Lucy’s story should mark the beginning of an important conversation that needs to be had: What happens when Latinas feel uncomfortable, and how are we treated by men in our community the moment we say that out loud?
It’s not enough to “believe women” when it’s politically expedient.
It’s misleading to suggest, as some would have it, that we can’t talk about the range of harassment, weird experiences, and assault that Latinas, and women and non-binary folks more largely, experience. We can and should talk about it all. It’s hella condescending to suggest that we can only talk about rape when we know how messy and gray life can often be. Our suffering, no matter the degree, shouldn’t be measured by satisfying a sick urge to see spectacle.
We should refuse the false pretense that a woman is only credible when she’s been viciously raped or assaulted, and that we have the photographic evidence to show it. We should center Latinas when they say something as simple and straightforward as: “I’m not suggesting that Biden broke any laws, but the transgressions that society deems minor (or doesn’t even see as transgressions) often feel considerable to the person on the receiving end. That imbalance of power and attention is the whole point – and the whole problem.”
Instead of debating the merits of a man who is openly known as ‘Creepy Uncle Joe’ – again, fill in the blank with any man who fits the bill – what Lucy points out above is actually the conversation we should be having.
What about the Latinas who don’t have power and visibility? What about gender non-conforming Latinas? Trans Latinas? Unpaid interns and campaign volunteers? These are the most vulnerable individuals amongst us in these political spaces.
Political spaces, as many of us know, are often treated as playgrounds for men to justify their sinvergüenza behavior, often at our expense. We need to learn to hang, and not be so dramatic. After all, this is all part of the job.
By shutting down and dismissing the stories of Latinas like Lucy, Latino men are signaling that they are the gatekeepers to our community. People outside our community, particularly white folk, trust their voices because they seem to control access to what happens on the inside. But the question remains, who else is silenced when Lucy is?