I look down at my phone and see an Instagram story. It catches my eye. This is not very unique for me, but I get in these rabbit holes chasing interesting stories. Maybe because it’s fall 2021, and the kid’s schooling is back online.
For me, meandering through other people’s vacations, or sipping extra coffee when I know it will be rough on my digestive track, is an easy distraction. What I see is an announcement for an upcoming local event. The main speaker will be from a group listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group.”
I look away.
I turn back.
If I read more, I know I will want to say something, do something. The last time I did, I lost my friends, alienated family, and watched my children’s playdates disappear.
In late December 2014, three letters arrived in one package. We came home late; the kids had fallen asleep on the car ride home. After depositing them in each of their beds, Luis and I sprawled out on our worn couches. I remember Luis stretching, me opening the letters. Do you know that feeling when your heart races in unknown anticipation? That was me.
Pitter, patter. Pitter, patter.
Quickly scanning each letter, a ringing in my ears began. Luis kept looking at me, prompting me to speak, but my mouth wouldn’t open. I didn’t know if there were screams inside. I didn’t know if there were words. I didn’t know.
I quickly rushed through an explanation. He snatched the letters out of my hand, and both of us sat, stunned.
After filing a police report against a sexual perpetrator in our local police jurisdiction, we had sighed relief. In those days, my report was meant to free me, to let my voice stand for what happened in my childhood, and maybe, just maybe, to protect other children. At the same time I knew full well that local municipal police rarely do much. However, a therapist had convinced me it was the best way to go and that I owed it to others. So, it felt “safe” to file a report in our small rural county, knowing the perpetrator was far away and would likely never see it.
The letters I received were filled with various explanations, but they boiled down to threats to keep me silenced. I remember looking at my husband and knowing our house payment was barely on time, the electric bill was too much from month to month, and I was trying to work cleaning or other side jobs to bring in extra cash for the family. What more could be taken from us? Would this threat materialize into other consequences for our family?
I folded each of the letters and placed them in the envelope. I wondered who I could call. No one. I had a new therapist, but what did she know? The last one got me into this mess, and I didn’t really want an additional opinion.
Sleep avoided me.
Sometime during the night another kind of breathing arrived, where I felt my lungs expand, my voice return, and a bit of audacity resurrect.
The next night my husband and I avoided television after the kids were in bed. Instead, we sat down to music and a pile of tacos.
“What do we do?” echoed between us.
Would we shrink back? Would we try to avoid any and all contact with the local community we had been a part of?
I knew to do something—to say something else—would mean that we would be further removed from the circles we had been in and that whatever I did this time had to be for me. It had to be for my health. For my life. For my ability to be free.
I visited various friends, got advice, landed on legal services, and filed a “no contact order.” It shocked the perpetrator and my former community.
I went to court. I went with a lawyer and a couple of friends, and eventually I told the new therapist.
We lost the case. The judge told me that it was harassment but not enough to create a pattern of harassment. According to the local law, if the perpetrator contacted me again, at that time I would qualify for a “no contact order.” I lost.
And I still won. I walked into a court with a handful of people and the truth on my side and stood against a more wealthy and powerful adversary. I used my voice to say “enough,” to draw a line in the sand regarding how much violation I would put up with in my personal life and in the life of my family.
It’s now 2021, and another perpetrator of racial hate and violence towards marginalized communities is being celebrated and hosted by a large, local nonprofit.
My voice is valuable. Fighting for justice is worthy enough.
Cesar Chavez says, “It is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. He gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on earth. It is an awesome opportunity.”
Danielle S. Castillejo grew up in the swirl of a mixed identity, with a German father and a Mexican mother. With her four children in school full time, she applied to graduate school at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Before her second year of graduate school, she was invited to explore her story through a Story Workshop at The Allender Center. She went on to complete Levels 1 and 2 of the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care and the Externship. Since our culture has experienced such an intense ripping and cultural identity crisis, Danielle addresses internalized racism and its effects personally, in her family, and in her community. She encourages other healing practitioners to do the same. Danielle began this process with her MA in Counseling Psychology and studies at The Allender Center. Danielle loves the anticipation of spring and summer in the Pacific Northwest, with the return of long days and sunlight absent in the dark winters. You can easily find Danielle out on a trail or working in her yard. You can also find her online at www.daniellescastillejo.com.