Watching Your City Burn from Abroad

Vigil for George Floyd at the U.S. embassy in Mexico city. Photo credit: Elina Castillo.

Since I’ve moved to Mexico City in the fall, my Tuesday mornings have always started the same. At 7:15 am my alarm rings and promptly I get up. Quickly, I put on some clothes that I left on the floor the night before, find my slippers and start to head out the room, all without waking my fiancée. 

As I quietly exit the bedroom, a man yells in Spanish as he rings a large bell. It’s garbage day. 

I take down our trash downstairs. I toss them in the trash can along with our elderly landlords’ trash that they left out for me the night prior. They’ve been super scared of COVID-19, and they’ve helped me acclimate to a new country, so I happily offered to help out with outdoor chores, like taking out the trash and watering the enormous garden in front of the house. 

It’s now 7:30 am, and I’m dragging the garbage bin to the street. On time as always, a green garbage truck pulls up in front the house. As I approach the truck, I’m greeted by the garbagemen, “¡Buenos días!, ¿cómo estás, mi rey?” 

Good morning. How are you, my king? They always say. I used to laugh at it, because who says that? But with time I grew to appreciate it. Kings recognize kings and that’s facts. 

The men are good people. Always cordial, cracking jokes, playing banda at maximum volume and saying, “Hey” to folks. Unlike some Mexicans in the street that can’t stop staring at me, because they hadn’t seen a Black person before, these boys have always showed me love and I give them love in return. 

Most mornings we strike up a conversation about soccer or basketball. Even with sports being suspended due to COVID-19, we still find ways to talk about sports. On this particular morning, they ask me if I’ve been seeing the news coming out of the United States. I never told them where I was from, so I finally tell them that I’m from Minnesota, where George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. 

One of them replies, “Este racismo en los Estados Unidos es terrible para los negros. Es bueno que estás aquí, mi rey. Aquí puedes ser negro y nadie te va hacer nada. Quédate aquí.” 

Racism in the states is too pervasive, it’s best you stay in Mexico, he said. 

If only I could tell him that racism and police brutality exists here, too. Maybe not always for me, but for many darker skin Mexicans, afro-mexicans, indigenous communities, other black Latinxs and other Blacks that live in Mexico. I let him slide cause he meant no harm, say thanks and drag my trash bin back to the court. “Cuídate, mi rey,” they say as they toss more trash into the truck. 

Their words, “Be careful, my king,” keep ringing in my head.

For now, I’m safe, but what about my brothers and sisters back home protesting during a global pandemic, for their lives to matter? What about my mother, who’s been scared to death, because she’s been reliving the trauma of having witnessed the killing of our Black neighbor, Chris, by two Minneapolis Police officers?

Chris’ death has been on my mind lately. At the time, I was 8-years-old, and my mother and I were living off 24th and Chicago–14 blocks from where George Floyd was killed. Like Floyd, Chris died with a police officer knee to his neck, and another on his back. Also like Floyd, and Eric Garner, before him, Chris’ last words were “I can’t breathe.”

The parallels between these two officer killings on unarmed black men has made it hard for me to focus and unmotivated to do anything other than observe and witness what was happening.

I’ve watched as protestors took to the streets once more, as they have done countless times before to cry out “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice, no peace.” I watched as protestors and impersonators of the movement backed up the latter, setting Minneapolis and St. Paul on fire. 

I was no longer a lone witness, now, the whole world was watching.

I’m not going to condemn the rioters, nor am I going to say that burning down our communities is good. All there is to be said is that buildings come and go, but Black lives do not. 

In less than 48 hours after the fires, I watched as members of the community came together, donating money, food and their time to clean up the community, all while continuing the fight against police brutality.

I watched as a fire that started in Minneapolis quickly became a worldwide movement against police brutality and racism. A fight to ensure that my Black life and that of my partner, my Black brothers, sisters and non-binary folks across the world mattered. 

I’ve been witness to all of this from my bed and couch in Mexico City, endlessly scrolling through social media for updates. Stopping only when my eyes and thumbs got tired, or when my partner has managed to take my phone away from me.   

It’s pained me to not be at home right now and do some reporting on the community, or even volunteer in the healing efforts. It’s pained me to only be a witness. I’ve donated money to different funds and orgs, but it’s not the same as being fully present.

Guilt and shame swallowed me whole for not being at home during this unrest. The embarrassment kept me glued to the phone, watching and watching, as if there was nothing else I could do. 

It took some time, but I finally reminded myself that there was something that I can do right now. 

Inspired by writer James Baldwin, who often saw himself as a witness rather than an actor during the civil rights movement, I remembered that it is my job, as both a journalist and co-founder of a tech and media company that works to serve Black businesses and Creatives, to document our fight against police brutality and racial injustice.

This is why Plugged has decided to start our blog, “Views from the Revolution,” a space where Black community members in Minneapolis, across the country and worldwide, can document their observations, thoughts and experiences during this time. 

As protesters around the world continue to hit the streets for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and the countless other Black lives that have been taken too soon, we’re inviting community members (business owners, writers, musicians, politicians, doctors, etc.) to help us document our fight for change. 

This is no time for silence and sitting idle. Our voices matter. Our thoughts matter. Our art matters. Our lives matter. The fight is larger than police brutality, it’s challenging every system that upholds racist ideals and practices. 

Our revolution may not be televised, but it will be documented. 

Jeffrey Bissoy is an East Side St. Paul native, by way of Cameroon. He’s a former producer with MPR News and APM Reports Fellow. He is a contributor to Sahan Journal, The Current, A Wolf Among Wolves and The Plug. He is the co-founder of Plugged.

If you’re interested in sharing your experience or artwork, please email us at [email protected] or DM us on Twitter or Instagram, @thepluggedapp. Subscribe and follow us on our social channels!  Stay Plugged! 

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