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Ricardo Menéndez March: Rallying For Change

Thu 9 Feb 2017 In: People View at Wayback View at NDHA

We live in a nation of diverse communities, one which has a history of standing up for what we believe in and coming together as one to have our voices heard.   Ricardo Menéndez March speaking at the No Ban, No Wall rally in Auckland's Aotea Square Photo: Aatir Zaidi On Wednesday evening a crowd gathered in Auckland’s Aotea Square to carry on this tradition, vocally opposing the racist rhetoric perpetuated by newly Inaugurated US President Donald Trump and to protest both the Muslim Ban and the construction of a border wall between Mexico and the United States. People coming together. Those who have known no other home than New Zealand and those who we welcome from other places, who now reside in New Zealand whether by choice or circumstance. New Zealand-born citizens, migrants, refugees and those passing through. A familiar face in the crowd, Ricardo Menéndez March stood to speak. This is clearly a path he has walked many times before, no occasion any less important than another. He stood, not only as a Mexican man who immigrated to New Zealand eleven years ago, but acknowledging his identity as Mestizo, queer and educated. Just like all of us, no part of his identity exists in isolation. Speaking from the heart, his passion evident in every word. This is a man of mana. A fellow Mexican woman tautoko’s from the crowd, “el pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido” The people, united, will never be defeated. This is a sentiment Ricardo fiercely advocates for in his work - it is this belief in championing inclusivity and empowering all members of our diverse communities that has led him to politics.He is making history as the very first Latin American to run for New Zealand Parliament. Recently elected as the Green Party Candidate for Mt Roskill, not only is he openly queer, but a vocal advocate for the queer and gender diverse communities, indigenous rights and migrant rights. A staunch activist and advocate, his passion is evident in everything he does. Ricardo grew up in a politically aware environment, which he says was partly due to both of his parents being politically active in their youth. “But also because I was brought up in Tijuana,” he says, “which is by the US-Mexico border and has experienced increased militarisation in the past few decades.” “I didn’t become politically active however, until a few months before the 2014 General Election, which was the first election where I was able to cast a vote here in Aotearoa. I remember the anti-immigration sentiments expressed by some politicians in relation to the housing crisis, blaming immigration numbers for rising house prices. “As someone who at the time was earning close to minimum wage and living paycheck to paycheck, I felt I needed to not only speak up, but be part of a counter narrative to the sort of xenophobic narratives that pit migrants against other marginalised groups. I became involved with the Green Party as they represent a progressive alternative to our broken economic system economic system that favours a few, and disadvantages most.” Ricardo representing the Green Party at the Auckland Women's March in January. It is this economic system which Ricardo says impacts migrants here in New Zealand and he’d like to see strong legislation put in place which protects migrant workers from exploitation. As a former international student, he also recognises that one of the biggest barriers he faced was financial and sees this as an area that also needs attention. He says “The current student visa laws allow you to only work for 20 hours a week, and while international students are expected to have funds in their account to live while they study, the reality is that this does not always allow them to cover for their costs of living, especially for those studying in Auckland.” Regarding indigenous rights here in New Zealand - another of Ricardo’s areas of passion - he says “The New Zealand Government still has a long way to go to genuinely engage with Te Tiriti and acknowledge the rights of Tangata Whenua. “The development of heritage sites in Ihumatao through the Special Housing Act is yet another sad example of the Government not recognising the rights to the land that belong to Māori. The development of our cities and communities should not - and cannot come at - the expense of taonga.” Hailing from Mexico, Ricardo began to come out to friends back home at age 17 and came out to his dad a year later. He says life in Mexico for queer and gender diverse people is still very difficult and many people are stigmatised because of their identity. “Many still fall victim to hate crimes, which often go unreported due to the impunity and corruption in Mexico,” he says. “While there may have been some advances with progressive legislation in some parts of Mexico in the last few years, there is still a lot of work to do to shift discriminatory attitudes. As an example; thousands of people organised and marched against same-sex marriage legislation last year, in the name of family values.” While we are a world away here in New Zealand, Ricardo says there are still queer and gender diverse rights issues that he would like to see addressed in Parliament. “Legislators need to take into account the fact that gender discrimination goes against human rights - and the Government needs to take this seriously when responding to issues like the wage gap, for example. It's about understanding how gender discrimination takes place in many aspects of our legislation by failing to address it. “I’d also really like to see increased funding for gender related medical services - which should include funding for training health practitioners,” he says. “It is imperative that access to gender related medical services be extended to our prison population, too. I'd also like to see the development of specific health programmes in partnership with rainbow communities.” He says “MPs should always place our queer and gender diverse communities at the forefront when addressing these issues, and should actively support those that are championing LGBTQIA+ rights.” Just as urgent though, is the need to open up a conversation about racism within the sexuality and gender diverse communities - an area that hits home for Ricardo. As people from diverse communities came together in Aotea Square to oppose racist rhetoric, it is now time for people from within the sexuality and gender diverse communities to come together and do the same. Ricardo says that sadly he is one of the many who have personally experienced racism from within the queer and gender diverse communities here. “I’ve experienced a range of micro-agressions due to my accent and ethnic background,” he says. “It is not uncommon for people within the queer community to also make assumptions about me based on my racial identity and this is in part due to the way members from the latinx community are ill-represented in the mainstream media.” He says that now is the time for the sexuality and gender diverse communities to be addressing issues of racism and to empower every member of these communities. “As a community fighting for our rights, I think we ought to have conversations about how we can build solidarity movements with those that are affected by racism and xenophobia,” he says. “The liberation of our queer and gender diverse communities won't happen if only a proportion of members of that group feel empowered. The emasculation of Asian men and hypersexualisation of Black men are two examples of dehumanising narratives that we need to challenge. Increasing the number of spaces where we can have these conversations is a great start, and I think those of us who have found a platform to speak on LGBTQIA+ rights should contribute to it.” With this, Ricardo reaffirms the importance of the type of action seen in Aotea Square alongside policy change. “Movements of resistance built on both solidarity and bold demands for progressive change are essential to ensure that legislators are held accountable. “Historically, real systemic change has always come from these kinds of movements, not through the good will of those who are in positions of power. Coming from grassroots activism, I know that I am accountable to my communities who are fighting every day for a more inclusive society. If in Parliament, I know that I will draw inspiration from the work they do to ensure than any legislation that I put forward is in accord with the demands of the people. It worries me when I see politicians who are not held accountable to the people who are affected by the discriminatory systems they are trying to change.” He says stemming from the political realm, the Green Party has its own Rainbow Network, The Rainbow Greens, that “has made good progress in creating safe spaces to talk about positive, meaningful policy for trans members of the LGBTQIA+ community”. “The work that current and former Green MPs Jan Logie and Kevin Hague has been instrumental in raising the visibility of the issues our queer and gender diverse communities face,” he says. Outside of politics, he says queer and gender diverse communities need to support the work that groups and initiatives such as EquAsian and Love Live Fono do. “There are already groups championing inclusivity among our communities, but we need to listen to their demands and be committed to enacting them,” he urges. El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido.     Sarah Murphy - 9th February 2017

Credit: Sarah Murphy

First published: Thursday, 9th February 2017 - 10:29am

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