Unspoken Histories of Mental Fortitude

It had not been explained to them so vividly before, and maybe not at all. I could see how painful it was for most of them to hear this, but I did not stop.
— Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying

On Day 10, Andrew took the backpackers to Whitney Plantation. Our guide, Ali, expressed concern for today’s youth as he delved into the unspoken histories of enslavement. His impressionable words of wisdom were addressed to other oppressed groups in today’s society, linking his views for universal growth to an individualistic level. I was left in awe because there were many collective forms of mental fortitude that the African American community has preserved in order to resist modern forms of enslavement. Ali’s passion for unity in diversity got me thinking of ways youth could begin to recognize enslavement so that they may brace themselves for the traumas with which they will be faced when they rise to the forefront of a mental revolution.

After reflecting on Ali’s words, I began to think about my Latino culture, and asking myself why it was so difficult for oppressed youth to unify in times of trauma. I took into account that disparate traditions may fracture generational modes of survivability. And if any preserved modes are altered by another’s perspective in survival, then the youth could become excluded from their community, shamed and blamed for unveiling unspoken traumas of the past. Regardless of the darker outcomes, I believe that it could cause a ripple effect purposed to guide the oppressed youth into a severe state of self-reflection, all the while assisting the older generation in coping with years of depression and anxieties. Under universal trauma, a “search” for one’s individuality, if analyzing both the weaker and stronger aspects of their self, could help them redefine their crucial role within their oppressed communities. Having concluded this, I had yet to be exposed to such a probable course of action.

On Day 20, we got meet Dr. Ernest J. Gaines, the author of A Lesson Before Dying. After an eye-opening Q&A in his living room, we learned that Dr. Gaines had purchased the land where his Aunt Augusteen had raised him and his twelve siblings. We also learned that the church in the garden was the very church where Dr. Gaines began his schooling as a child. In his novel, Professor Grant teaches in the plantation’s church, which made the personal significance all the more bittersweet. When we returned to Lafayette, I began to compile my quotations, and fell into a very intense analyzation of Grant’s compassion and frustrations when teaching at the plantation Church.


I understood that Grant’s compassion and frustrations welded the multitude of inter-communal and systematic ignorances in some complex way. What was most beautiful was the fact that he alone, in some respects, paved way for youth to identify traumas, providing for them the resources needed when it is time that they break through the oppressive barriers. Ernest J. Gaines did a beautiful job in expressing Grant’s frustrations with the lack of communal awareness in the need to assimilate to western knowledge; and his commitments to Jefferson equally translated another aspect in universal suffering. Though Miss Emma, Jefferson’s godmother, and Tante Lou, Grant’s aunt, were invested in Jefferson’s sense of humanity, it nonetheless demonstrated how important it was for the enslaved to come together when external threats attempted to disrupt their solidification in mental fortitude.


Oftentimes, when I learn about the most raw nature of enslavement, and African Americans’ development in mental fortitude, I criticize my Latino culture with good intentions. Although Latinos are known for their fiery passions and devotion to relationships that are rooted in raw and vicious forms of expression, the older generation, in my point of view, has a tendency to suppress their traumas. This enables them to dismiss the youth’s traumas when facing inherent forms of systematic oppression. As a queer Latino in the English field, I sometimes feel alone in the battle against my own community’s ignorances. I do not claim to know the answers to a progressive form of action, but I do observe with a severe perception how normalized forms of racism, sexism, homophobia and assimilation to western knowledge discourages Latino and queer youth from nurturing the most wounded parts of their self. The older generation is often times defensive and aggressive in protecting their corrupted modes of survivability and intimacy. And as a consequence for triggering old traumas, and unveiling those that emerged long before our time, they react towards youth in violent ways, demanding that we refrain from exercising the very abilities they were terrorized to harbor in fear. Grant represented the nexus of old and new. I thank Dr. Gaines for unapologetically expressing his frustrations and without losing sight of the importance of unity and intimacy.