Monday, April 12, 2010

Shihuahua, the place from which I write

Below is the paper presented at the panel, “In the Place of Bones: Indigenous Place-Based Writing,” at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference in Denver, CO.

My gratitude and love to Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán for organizing these panels, and to the brilliant, sweet and fierce people who were a part of them... you are my conversion.

I am a child of the corn
I come from valleys far
from the land where people were
created from clay*

Yo soy fruto del desierto, a drop of sweat from the branch of a mesquite. A son of sierra miners and of desert farmers. Birthed in the once-orchard filled valley of San José, California, trained in the hot pecan groves of Eastern Aztlán, known also as Tejas.

A ustedes, les digo, bienvenidas. Y a ti.. bienvenido.

I am a trampled seed
pedacito de elote
stepped on and stabbed by the sons of my white fathers
inevitably sprung and cast aside by the crushing
of my mother’s womb*

My father has always said we do not belong in California we belong in Shihuahua. Sí, in Shihuahua. A place where, as layers of caliche, decades upon decades contain piles of structural, cultural, financial, educational and, of course, religious practices carving in stone that Tarahumara’s do not belong. A place where not even the chastising whip of the white tongue que es el español, can strip our lips from the Rarámuri etched onto the woven cords of our throats.

There is nothing mythical about Shihuahua, about the tree with a sign saying “Aquí murió Pancho Villa.” There is no mythology in the voices of children running up and down the overcrowded streets of Parral, extending their hands and whispering in a coy and angry voice: “Corima.” Children who will never see the inside of a classroom, whose parents will never be employed in the white-only industry of the region; children who will pee on the tree crippled by the wreckage of a car carrying the dying body of Pancho Villa. Shihuahua is not a land of a past that those of us carrying the colonizing scar of a lighter skin are trying to forget.

I am the manifestation of an occupied land
the rivers of my veins
by a plague as dangerous
as men determining the reproductive rights of
my sisters
as harmful
as the four religions that raped by my soul*

I am a Xicano, sí, with an X. This indigenously birthed brown body is the land on which I build bonitas fincas de adobe. Casitas that house the memory of stampedes of mining companies drilling and exploding all that stood in their way, leaving behind ruble, vestiges of a land who will not forget. My body is not separate from the arid terrain of Shihuahua. The topographic maps of mi tierra mark the high mountaintops of my curves, rising violently from the fluctuating valley of my back. My body is not separate from Shihuahua. On me, brown men go in search for berries, buscando liebres, building fires, building home.

I am a queer Xicano, sí, un joto. This indigenously birthed brown body carries the rivers that rip and roar through the arid valleys of farmland, of communities of hope, of kindergarten playgrounds. My veins, too, carry the plague of disease, of toxic waste, of bodies who will never be found, of bodies who will never be missed. My body is not separate from Shihuahua. My veins are extensions of el Río Parral that once a year, fed by the sudden storms of August, grows angry and large. As this river I swam in naked as a child, my veins will never be cleansed. Even as the stillness of clear water spring currents welcomes you, even as the dormant undetectable viral loads of my desire call to you, we are not clean.

I am of a rising people
gente con piel de nixtamal
lengua de huisache
manos de surco
y ojos de lechuza*

I am Antonia’s grandson, waking at 4am to grind the corn of the one inch-thick tortillas that will feed us during the winter, the poorest months of the year. I rise at 4am to grind a keyboard with the memories that will fill the quarter inch books you might read during the poorest months of your solitude. I am Antonia’s grandson, feeding wood into the fire of a stove of steel tight enough to hide the smoke, strong enough to hold the flames. I am the steel stove whose lips are no longer tight enough to hide the smoke of racism, of misogyny, of hope for a world where children run free; I am not strong enough to hold the flames. I am Antonia’s grandson, sinking her raw fingers into the steaming hot masa of tortillas, to lather them with chunks of year-old butter. I sink my raw fingers into the steaming hot masa of men, to lather them with chunks of 31-year old love.

I am my mother’s son
fed by her brown breasts
carried in her dark arms
protected by her black eyes
I am her only son*

Como siembra de temporal, my parents, too, were unsure if they were to birth children. As farmers who pray to the heavens in hopes that rain might descend with the coming season, and make way for the frail sprouts of a bean pod, mis padres prayed to San Lorenzo that, after two miscarriages, a child might be born. Yo soy frijol de temporal. I am the frail sprout that the April rain made way for. My body is not separate from Shihuahua. As the omnipresent god of the Christians, where I am, Shihuahua is.

In the pale and unwelcoming hallways of the academy I am a minero. In the oxymoronic board rooms of nonprofit organizations, yo soy campesino. On the beating dancefloors of the Castro, I am a matachín. In the frigid regulations of this conference, yo soy un poeta.

I am what the white picket fence
meant to keep out
I am in*

While my Rarámuri brother continues to run fiercely through the never-ending canyons of la Sierra Tarahumara, this Rarámuri walks quietly through the never-ending desert of blank pages. As the veredas, the trails, we followed on our way into las labores, the farmland, I continue to follow the pathways forged by my ancestors. Shihuahua is a place of bones, of untold burial grounds left during the revolution. A place of bones, where my ancestors lay buried under all-telling pecan trees that once gave shade to enslaving landowners, and today give shade to tired farmers. My body is not separate from Shihuahua, the place from which I write. My body is a place of bones, the land on which I write.

* Excerpts from “Testimonio Escrito Sobre Hojas de Maíz: My Joto Manifesto” in Santo de la Pata Alzada: Poems from the Queer/Xicano/Positive Pen [Evelyn Street Press, 2005]

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

AWP 2010: Indigenous and People of Color Writing Panels

AWP 2010: Indigenous and People of Color Writing Panels
organized by Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán

--In a Place of Bones: Indigenous Place-Based Writing--

Date & Location:
Friday, April 9, 2010, 4:30pm-5:45pm, Session F224
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level, Room 207

Deborah A. Miranda, Chip Livingston, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, ku'ualoha ho'omanawanui, Elaine Chukan Brown, & Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano

Indigenous poets, novelists, nonfiction writers, and editors from North America, the Pacific, and Latinoámerica examine the ways place shapes and guides our writing. From the South to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears to the missions of California and coasts of Alaska, and from the edge of the U.S.-México frontera to the encroached-upon, urbanized spaces of NYC and Hawai'i, we will discuss the connections between Nations and narration, our bodies (of work) and the lands from which we are born.

This panel is a diverse multigenerational and multinational gathering of womanist and queer Native writers of Esselen/Chumash, Mvskoke, Kanien'kehaka/Onodowaga/Puerto Rican, Kanaka Maoli, Aleut/Inupiat, and Xicano/Rarámuri heritage. This panel will be of interest to Indigenous, queer, womanist, and other audiences of color, as well as other writers and editors seeking to help dislodge the Eurocentrism prevalent in the growing number of place-based writing journals available today.

--Decolonial Poetics: Womanist, Indigenous, and Queer Poets of Color on the Art of Decolonization--

Date & Location:
Thursday, April 8, 2010, 9am-10:15am, Session R117
Colorado Convention Center, Street Level, Rooms 301/302

Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, ku'ualoha ho'omanawanui, Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano, Susan Deer Cloud, Lisa Suhair Majaj, Ching-In Chen, & Tamiko Beyer

As poets of color, many of us see art playing a vital role in the decolonization of our bodies, cultures, and landbases. In what ways do we use writing as an act of re-creation, as means, alongside other forms of activism, organizing, and spirituality, by which to undo centuries of white supremacist, capitalist, and heteropatriarchal intrusions into the workings of our communities? How does poetry serve to decolonize our lives, and how must we decolonize our poetic traditions in order to live?

Weaving together important conversations in radical arts traditions in Indigenous, womanist, and queer people of color communities, this assemblage of writers will discuss the ways we engage in poetic decolonization. From issues of form, genre, and content to multilinguality, orality, and voice; narrativity and performance to gender, sexuality, race, and class; allusions and the specificity and multiplicity of audience to issues of the erotic, we will show and share the craft(s) of our creation.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why Did Justin Have to Kiss a White Boy?

I’ll admit I long lost faith and interest in Ugly Betty. I know I’m a bad Latino. Or, as Betty would say: “Laiteeno.” But, besides Wilhelmina’s fabulousness (and she is fabulous), I couldn’t stomach Betty’s lines. My main problem with Betty is that I don’t believe America Ferrera is acting. I know that assimilation is real and I don’t mean to pass judgment on how colonization manifests itself in our lives, but I also rather not watch how one of our most prominent Latina figures on such a widely viewed spot is so, well… yeah.

When I heard that Ugly Betty was in its last season, I mourned for a second than quickly tossed my lament into the sarcasm bin. Resigned to live with non-Latina Latinas on Greys Anatomy and Bones (yes, I’m this nerdy), I did not commit to supporting Betty in her final days on TV. That is, until I heard about the kiss…

When I first heard rumors that Justin (Ugly Betty’s nephew) had kissed a boy, I immediately jumped on Google searching for the video. After one try, there it was. I sat patiently, tapping my foot and arched over my laptop waiting for it to happen. I was initially disappointed when Justin kissed a girl (and he liked iiiiit – ok, no Katy Perry jokes as I find her song lyrics hugely problematic), not because he had kissed a girl, but because I was waiting for the boy-on-boy.

During the eternal foot-tapping seconds I had flashbacks of my middle-school crushes (yes, plural — I was platonically slutty) and how hopeful I was as a teenager. I also remembered how even my hope was harnessed by the limitations of my environment, my upbringing and my understanding of what was acceptable.

And then it happened! No, not for me… for Justin! He got his kiss!

I had to put aside years of training and race consciousness to simply enjoy the moment as it was. A young brown boy was kissing a boy on national TV, nothing else. After all, this alone was monumental. But there was more to it and my critical race-lens remained active, even as I tried to censure it.

While my brain and heart were having it out in my furious attempt to have one of Sandra Bullock’s blind sides, my gut had its own uncensored reaction. What I’m about to write will likely strike outrage, which I superficially understand. So, here it goes…

“Why’d he have to go kiss a white boy?!”

There, I said it. Now, let me explain.

I know my critical race contemporaries will kick me for prefacing, but this is going out into an LGBT world that seems to mostly have a 19th century critical race analysis. My preface:

I have nothing against white people… Some of my best friends are white. When they come to my house, I even let them use my bathroom. (From the book: “I’m not racist, I swear!”) My concerns and critical response is not about white people, it’s about whiteness and its superiority over all else. Don’t believe me? Turn your TV to a Spanish-language channel and count the blondes in proportion to the dark-skinned brunets; then look at the actual demographics of the Spanish-speaking world (yes, we have our güeras, but no, you are not the majority the way Univision portrays you to be).

Now onto what will likely be perceived as a racist and ungrateful rant from an angry Mexican…

No matter how I cut it, a brown boy kissing a boy is phenomenal. A brown boy kissing a boy on national television is groundbreaking. As with Ricky Martin’s coming out, the reverberations of this kiss will have impacts on more boys than we will ever know of. I am profoundly grateful to Salma Hayek, Ventana Rosa, the writers, the actors, the production crew (I don’t know that world and I know I’m missing people), and the network and sponsors for standing behind the kiss.

My happiness and gratefulness aside, my gut’s reaction was about the context, the history and the legacies on which this kiss stands.

Let me share a story: During the Mexican revolution, el Plan de Ayala (look it up, I wont school you here) granted land ownership to “men and their wives.” Meaning, women had to be bound (yes, I said bound) to their (yes, I said their) husbands in order to access the land that would otherwise be granted to a Mexican with a penis.

In 2010, queer people of color struggle against our own invisibility as the worlds around us often portray all things LGBT as white and all things of color as straight. In the case of Mexican women, vaginas seemed to have canceled them out and rendered them invisible under “El Plan.” For queer people of color, the complexity of our own identities as queer and of color, specifically, also renders us transparent to the point that LGBT leadership sees right through us in its efforts to seek out alliances with people of color.

Now what does this have to do with Justin kissing a white boy?

I do not assume that Ugly Betty is a direct product of or blindly endorsed by the LGBT movement, but, let’s face it, who will be the ones at the forefront celebrating the kiss? Exactly. I must question the legacies surrounding the dancehall of my celebration.

Queer people of color, for decades, have struggled to find themselves reflected in the LGBT world. Even as I came out in 1999, all the literature readily available to me was about Kansas boys who found their liberation in the Castro. This story, which I honor as a true, meaningful and necessary story, is not my story. The Castro, a powerful, historical and important space, is not my space (although it’s found me stumbling one too many nights).

My problem isn’t with white LGBT books, story lines and locations. My problem is that these are too often positioned in lieu of the stories and realities of people of color, of immigrants, of poor and working class folk, of women, and the list goes on.

If I hadn’t spent the majority of my life witnessing brown boys seeking justification in the arms of white men while simultaneously denouncing the boys who mirror their skin and their experiences, I wouldn’t have an issue with the kiss. If pro-LGBT campaigns would portray people of color on their own, without having to be bound (yes, I said bound) to white partners in their portrayal, as well as mixed-race couples, I wouldn’t have an issue with the kiss. If people of color were not relegated to positions of “Diversity” in national organizations, and organizations would instead be founded by multi-racial and race-conscious womanist groups and thus birthing inherently diverse spaces, I wouldn’t have an issue with the kiss. If my name wouldn’t constantly be followed by the terms: spicy, sultry, exotic, feisty, hot or “how do you say that, again,” I wouldn’t have an issue with the kiss.

I do not live in such a world, and until that day comes, I take issue with the kiss.

There, I said it.