This Isn’t My First Coup. But It Is the First One I Have A Problem With
This isn’t my first coup. I’m a third-generation, mixed-race Chicana, which if you know North American history, means it should be my first. But it isn’t. You see, like countless pochas before me, I majored in Spanish and studied abroad south of the US-Mexican border as part of an identity claim. Yeah, I was that bitch. Although my latinidad stayed the same, I did have the quintessential Latin American experience – a coup!
Back then, Ecuador’s President was one Lucio Gutiérrez. He’d run on a pro-Indigenous, anti-corruption platform but quickly ditched it. When I arrived to study in Quito, the capital, everyone was furious about Gutiérrez’s interference with the judiciary. People poured into the streets, waving the Ecuadorian flag, banging on pots and pans. Gutiérrez announced a state of emergency but because no one would enforce his order, he revoked it less than 24 hours later, looking like a fool.
On April 20, 2005, after weeks of protest, the Ecuadorian Congress voted to impeach Gutiérrez and rather than face consequences, he tried to flee the country. I remember the day he attempted to escape clearly. I was living in the Northeast part of Quito by the airport. My university was on the opposite side. I’d tried to go to class, which usually required multiple buses, but transit was interrupted. The buses stopped running. The city shut down. The university alerted students that classes were cancelled. Crowds blocked my path, preventing me from returning home while also ensuring that Gutiérrez couldn’t board a plane. I met up with some friends to wait it out. I called my parents and told them I was ok.
This was democracy in action! I was impressed by how everyday Ecuadorians claimed their country and their flag. This was their nation and they were going to make sure it reflected their values. No faction monopolized patriotism or national symbols. The people claimed these.
Obviously, January 6, 2021 and the days since it have felt nothing like that. This time it’s my country and I’m furious, ashamed, and frustrated. When pro-Trump white supremacists stormed the US Capitol, they were trying to halt our democratic process, to overthrow rather than enact the will of a multi-racial electorate.
As a Chicana, I’ve grown up with conflicting feelings about the US but it is my home. It’s the only place I’ve ever voted (and you bet your ass I voted in this election). So much of the US lore we learn in school is that we’re a model democracy, an exceptional society where all are equal. To that I say, ha!
Growing up, my parents made sure to counter this public school propaganda with the real history of the US: that as much as we believe ourselves the “land of the free,” we’re a nation founded on slavery and genocide. That when it comes to democracy, we restrict political involvement by race, thus enfranchising white people and disenfranchising Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color. It’s no secret that the US has long undermined self-governance in Latin America while pretending to be the greatest exporter of democracy in human history. I recall an aphorism attributed to Porfirio Diíaz, “Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States.”
With that lens, I see this coup attempt as evidence of how weak US institutions, beliefs, and democracy truly are. Power-brokers at Twitter and other social media platforms could have kicked Trump and his white supremacist buddies off their sites YEARS ago. We were certainly asking them to when Trump was just a reality show host spreading the racist birther conspiracy. They choose money over our social fabric.
The mainstream media is guilty of the same behavior. Since Biden and Harris won, publications like the New York Times have done an about face, now labelling Trump’s lies as just that, lies. Every time they mention his claims of electoral fraud, whether in a headline or the body of a piece, they now seem to issue disclaimers. What if such publications had done that for every bald-faced lie told by Trump and the Republican Party? Maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess.
These companies’ willingness to profit off the Trump machine gave cover to Americans to vote for him. They could point to numerous institutions who amplified Trump’s lies and borrow sympathetic alibis, the most popular being myth of Trump voter as primarily animated by economic anxiety. Bigots could pretend that they were voting with their pocketbooks or bibles in mind instead of according to their prejudices. And I’m not just talking Anglos here – far too many Latinxs support Trump, showing they’d rather collude with whiteness than stand in solidarity with more marginalized people of color.
It’s time for repercussions, not reconciliation. Look at any ex-dictatorship in Latin America to find out why. Unless you hold bad actors accountable, societies don’t progress. These repercussions cannot be limited to sending Trump, his cronies, and his bloodthirsty street fighters to jail, although I am in favor of that. We’ve got to disrupt the US’s slow slide towards a tech oligarchy where companies, not our government, hold the real power. We need to continue the work of Stacey Abrams, spreading change from Georgia to all 50 states, colonies, and districts, ensuring that we have a system where all people, particularly Black and Indigenous people, have the same access to the representation as white folks. We’ve got to change the very fabric of our democracy or we won’t have one. It’s that simple. Take it from me – this isn’t my first coup.
A writer and activist, Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of latinamedia.co, uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media. A rehabilitated English major, she’s a member of the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association and writes at the intersection of race, gender, and pop culture. Her words can be found in Glamour, Latino Rebels, Remezcla, Shondaland, and lost grocery lists. Finally and most importantly, her abuelita made the best tamales this world has ever seen. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @cescobarandrade.