Being a Titi was one of my first titles the moment I was born. Having five older sisters, I was born with a good amount of sobrinos. Aside from my regular Titi duties of taking care of my fifteen nieces and nephews and making sure they stay out of trouble, from birth until now I’ve been teaching them about my disability and how to treat disabled people. It was not only important for them as Latinx kids to know about disability, but as I got older I realized it’s important we teach Latinx kids that Disabled Latinx exists.
We all know when kids are young, they’re still learning boundaries and sometimes accidents can happen where someone could get hurt.
Photo courtesy of Andrea Lausell
Since a majority of my nieces and nephews are close to my age, they became my buddies I’d play with whenever they’d visit. From the start, I knew that I had to make sure they never accidentally hit my back. The smallest smack to my back causes me pain and in some cases temporarily stops me from having use of my legs. So making sure that sobrinos learned to be careful around me was a top priority while also making sure they didn’t have a fear of playing with me. But even though for my age my vocabulary was very medical thanks to being in and out of the hospital, I knew my nieces and nephews wouldn’t understand the medical lingo. So depending on their age, I explained my disability in a way that would make sense to them.
When they were very little, I knew big words wouldn’t help them understand that my back needed to be safe. But visually they understood much more, so I would show them my scar and they would ask me what was wrong. I would respond by explaining that it was a wound that needed to be cared for gently. That was all that it took for them to understand, with occasional reminders. As they got older is when we told them more details about my Spina Bifida and my surgeries and I was able to fully explain to them my needs and how they can be an ally to me. While also explaining that my disability wasn’t bad but something that should be celebrated because it made me who I was.
Most of my sobrinos now are teenagers or are in their twenties, so they’re pretty good at understanding my needs as their Disabled Titi and standing up for disability rights.
Photo courtesy of Andrea Lausell
But now as an adult meeting other Latinx families that aren’t my own, I’ve realized that my family has become an outlier in the Latinx community. Unlike my family where disability wasn’t something surprising or new, I realized a lot of Latinx families don’t talk about disability with their kids and then those kids grow up to be the people who express their shock with me when they find out I’m disabled y Latina!
My adult years have been filled with explaining to strangers about my identities as if I were a mythical creature but so much time would have been saved if we as a community didn’t shy away from teaching our kids about disability in the first place. There’s a fear that acknowledging disability as part of the natural diversity of people means that we accept that being disabled is okay. So we hide disability as much as we can. I remember an ex novio of mine sharing a story of when he was a young child visiting family in Mexico, he had a cousin who was disabled but he didn’t know much about his cousin. His family would hide his cousin in another room and not let the kids play with him out of shame and maybe protecting the abled kids. We pass down the idea to kids that something is wrong and believe that kids will understand disability is wrong better than just explaining what disability is and allowing them to speak to Disabled Latinx. But because we hide everything, kids grow up with prejudices against people who are disabled but that can change.
That same ex novio had twin cousins who were young that visited us often. One day one of the twins noticed the scar on my back and asked me about. Their entire family didn’t know how to answer but because of my past experience, I was able to explain to them. I told them the name of my disability, made sure to explain that I was disabled and that my scar was there because I had a surgery to help “fix” my back. I made it clear that I was available to answer any questions they might have at any time, and ultimately they did come to me with questions.
Most Latinx families don’t give their kids room to ask questions for fear that they might insult a disabled person or out of their own uncomfortableness with disabilities.
The thing is, if we treat our kids with respect and respect their natural openness to learn, we can explain disability to them in a way they will understand. Especially if we let disabled family members explain to kids what their disability is. After all, Disabled Latinx were once kids as well and had to learn about their disability too, so they’ll be able to make sure kids understand.
If we teach our young kids about Disabled people, especially Disabled Latinx, we teach them that there’s nothing wrong with being disabled. We teach them compassion for the diversity of people and most importantly when we teach them from a young age how to be allies. They will learn to not only stand up for human rights but disability rights. They will grow up to help us all fight for a better future for everyone. Children will be able to understand and learn to accept different identities from their own when you explain disability to them. It just needs to be explained in a way that reflects their age at the moment so they can understand. How my family taught and continues to teach the young kids in our family about disability, has been proof of that. We’ve never shied away from my identities and how they impacted our family. We’ve allowed my sobrinos to ask questions if they didn’t understand aspects of my disability. We’d let them come to visit me in the hospital and see my scar as beautiful and not a tragedy.
Most of my sobrinos are adults now and I’m very proud of the powerful and compassionate Latinx they’ve become. I’ve seen them become open and accepting to everyone they’ve come in contact with. I’ve seen them support and love their Disabled Titi and stand beside me as I fight for accessibility and Disability rights. My sobrinos wouldn’t have been the amazing Latinx people they are today if my mother and I didn’t teach them to learn and embrace my disability. There is too much hate, fear, and violence in this world from our community towards Disabled Latinx. Still, if we teach our children young, the generation that will grow up to replace us that everyone is different and that disability is part of that diversity and there’s nothing wrong with it, we allow our future generations to continue a bit better than where we left off. We owe our future generations that, our disabled and abled Latinx generations.