My name is Cuautli Verastegui, and if there’s one aspect of life I understand, it’s conflict; my first name is Nahuatl or Aztec, and my last name is Spanish, representing a history of bloodshed; my mother is a devout Christian, and my father is an Atheist; and, I live in a world where people’s quest for power results in death and suffering.
But I don’t want my name associated with conflict, with killing, with war. I want my name associated with peace. Instead of thinking of the bloodshed amongst the Native Americans and the Spaniards, I want my name associated with the wonderful Latin culture that has flourished from this history, with the fact that love triumphs over everything. Instead of thinking of the fighting amongst my parents’ peoples, I like to think of the four loving children they created. Instead of thinking of how rich, powerful people are corrupt, I want to think about how a simple personal choice can change all of that. I want my name to represent the peace, love, and beauty that can be reached on this earth, even if our pasts are haunted by the opposite.
We’ve all heard this narrative before. We all know that peace is good and that war, violence, and oppression is bad. Because at the end of the day, all everyone wants is to have the right to live life: to smile, to laugh, to be happy, and to enjoy watching our loved ones do the same.
But I’m scared to act. I’m smart enough, white enough, and charismatic enough to live a good life in this deeply flawed nation. However, I’m brown enough to feel the fear this campaign season and election has blown in like a bad wind.
A president-elect who supports deporting 11 million immigrants and dividing two countries by a wall, as a Hispanic, I cannot support that; a president-elect who supports institutionalized racism with stop and frisk; as a minority, I cannot support that; a president who wants to place a ban on Muslim Immigrants, gropes women and only cares about their appearance, does not support LGBTQ rights, the list goes on and on, as a decent citizen, I cannot support those ideas nor the impulses that drive them.
I’m here to tell you that I’ve found courage. This courage comes from deep within. From a source that’s never ending, and its seeds will sprout hope.
When I was four, I lived in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. If you’ve never been there, there’s a lot of dust. Occasionally, huge windstorms would sweep the dust across the city, making it unsafe to breathe outside. But when you’re four you have no consciousness of safety, only your mother does, and she’d keep us playing inside. However, one day I got an idea. What if my older brother Ricky and I didn’t go outside to play, but went outside to stop the sandstorms? It was just like the stories of Moses parting the Red Sea my mother had read to me. The logic was sound to any four-year-old. And so, that’s what my brother and I did. We went outside and yelled at the wind, “Para!” And we did stop the wind that day, it seemed to us. Of course it picked up because it was putting up a good fight. However, when the wind did pick up, we’d simply yell louder, stronger, and somehow more courageously.
Until today, I have never had more courage then when I was four yelling at the wind to stop.
Now, I am sitting in a computer lab—hoping that this story, this message, these words, this idea that I have carried with me for 15 years will transfer to you. Because words can be powerful. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is an action, even if it is small?
I’m here to tell you that I will begin to hold a sign reading: “An Advertisement For Peace.” This is my way, a small action but only a beginning, to saturate the world with Peace.
The question is, when that moment comes when you know how to contribute to a peaceful change, what will you do? Will your fears overwhelm you? Or will you act?
We can stop this wind. We can find the courage. We will be loud. We will get louder, until our voices are heard, and we are met with actions not simply promises and words.