Community building requires community healing. And what does that look like?

"Staying ‘home’ and not venturing out from our own group comes from woundedness, and stagnates our growth. To bridge means loosening our borders, not closing off to others….To bridge is to attempt community, and for that we must risk being open to personal, political, and spiritual intimacy, to risk being wounded."- Gloria Anzaldua

"Quedarse en la casa'' y no aventurarse fuera de nuestro propio grupo viene donde estamos heridos y proviene nuestro crecimiento. Para hacer puentes signifa que abriemos mas de nuestras fronteras y que no cierremos a otros… Para hacer puentes es intentar comunidad, y para eso tenemos que corre el riesgo de ser abierto a personal, político y espiritual intimidad, a correr el riesgo de ser heridos. "
Gloria Anzaldua

Everybody is waiting for the movement to happen ! And we dont realize we are the movement. Its me and you coming together and having some honest and maybe painful truthtelling between us. But there is probably some beautiful thing we will create together as a result. I want to speak to each person in my community.Let's get the party going.

Todo el mundo está esperando a que el movimiento a ocurrir! Y nosotros no darse cuenta de que somos el movimiento. Comienza la communidad cuando usted y yo tienemos algunos conversaciones doloroso pero verdarosos . Pero es probable que algunos bellos cosas que es probablemente vamos a crear juntos . Quiero hablar con cada person en mi communidad.Vamos a comienzar esta fiesta !

Monday, November 24, 2008


Para Sabrina, Randi, Maria Christina, Miguela, y todas mis jotas de Tejas, Califas, where ever...dondequiera


this is dedicated to my beloved Xicana dykes ,
to the lonely ones who don't have anybody,
to the ones they don't have us

and especially

for the ones that don't want to labeled anything

etc.... etc..


There was a time when finding you was a longing that seemed would never happen.

I say it many times to myself.

Dreams do come true.

You all are my dream come true.

You all are so precious.
Mas que el maize.

Our worth is not material.

Somos de puro corazon.

Do you love me, jota?

Do you hold that


from me ?

Do lie and keep that secret from

yo self?


I am another yourself ,guerca!

I am yours and you are mine.


and only you h

can cut me so easily g

and yet with so little, i

you empower me and lift me h


I got your back.

I watch out for you.

Xicana Dykes are always always

on my mind.

I love you Xicana






Eres mi jota

mi homey




sexy cabrona.

Soy la keeper de mi seezter

do you have my back, manita?

Will you would do the same for all of us.

All of us.



Its not easy finding each other.

Some of us will never find us.

Some of will never know.

They will never know what the gringos call community.

Some of us will never what its like

to be a tribe

to be home.

You are home to me

Home is where we heal.
Sometimes cabronas
nomas neccisito hablar contigo y un puertoricana wont do
Jota, I love you.
And I havent been smokingor drinking.
I am for the real.
All we have is us.

I am not asking for loyalty, diva.
Be real.
Tell me the shit.

I rely on you to give me truth.

Its is the air we breathe
Its what makes us nothing into something.

I love you, Xicana.

You are another me

and you really
all that matters to me.

I pray that you one day soon

you will see

how much I matter to you too.

One day you will learn

you hurt yourself more when you hurt me.

Until then,

we are all



copyright 2008 by Ari Marta Chagoya

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Welcome to the tree of life. Welcome to the tree of life. Let's climb the vines of each other's minds and go out on a limb of love together where we can more easily rub elbows with eternity as we carve each other's names into a heart of light etched from the funny bone of the moon.

One drink from this cup of destiny and you'll disappear with me into the mystery of why our hearts refuse to be apart and so keep on sending each other love letters of light in the form of falling stars, fireflies and your smile to light up the night. While our souls dance the hula hoop with the sparkling rings of Saturn. One kiss, just one kiss is enough to have us giving birth to planets and dancing, toe-to-toe, with the sun.

So, come on in dear one and let's make out with life like we mean it. Just dive in to this infinite womb of belonging with me and you're likely to become a love crazed lunatic whose lips are wet and always ready for a candy communion kiss. Wet with wonder as all our tears somehow become a chorus of tenderness that is always singing so sweetly into the ears of every broken heart saying, “Your salvation is already within you. Your salvation is already within you.”

So, just play hooky from your “have to's.” You know you want to. So, play hooky from your “have to's” and take one more sip of these ruby red lips. We'll become the voice of the wilderness and the innocence of every creature playing hide-and-seek with the one behind the billion blazing suns pulsating in the indescribability of each movement of lip and tongue.

Quickly, while noone else is looking, let's slip into the shadows of another dimension together where our daydreams are making love to our fantasies and giving birth to whole new realities inside each breath and heartbeat.

A frontier of forgiveness where your happiness is my Garden of Eden. The paradise of smiling lips is where we tongue wrestle each other's tenderness into luminous star shine waterfalls whilpooling their way into infinities glowing, giggling naval.

As a shameless display of my affection for you I have graffitied your essence into every cosmos, river, tree, rock, atom with the skill of an ancient artist. For you, my dear, I have willingly jumped off the cliff of consciousness without a parachute of reason. Diving, face first, into the even horizon of every black hole. Fishing for bits and pieces of forgotten truth, which I have fashioned for you here as this priceless verse and golden honesty.

Now here I am upon bended knee proposing, “Will you marry freedom with me?” Will you marry freedom with me? Come on. Let's elope into ecstasy. We can have a honeymoon on the blissful shores of Venus, complete with angel winged excursions into the mystic oasis of Mars. Or better yet, take one more drink with me from that fountain of fascination and let's become the intoxicating wine of intimacy and spike the whole world's reservoirs with equal parts of magic and mischief until everyone is naked of the need to fit in.

Naked of the need to fit in and marathoning themselves into kamikaze kissing and hugging contests where everyone wins in the end. If we love each other without shame everyone wins in the end.

So, come here you. Come in close and let's start a lovolution with our lips and leave this dry world drowning in the drink of a desire to kiss this life like it were a love affair and every being our beloved.

Let's kiss this life like it were a love affair and every being our beloved.

So, there's a sweet, tender drink from this overflowing heart.

from a podcast transcript that can be found at:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Queering the Movimiento-Gregg Barrios's Theater of the Repressed, Recovered, and Revolutionized

By B.V. Olguín

When bleached-blond Danny De La Paz rollerbladed onto a minimalist stage at Our Lady of the Lake University on August 13, 2005, wearing a glass tiara, a muscle T-shirt, and tight, bulging shorts while Brian Adams’ campy anthem “Heaven” played in the background, you knew this wasn’t gonna be just another Chicano gangbanger story.

The actor who debuted as the ill-fated cholo Chuco in the classic gang saga Boulevard Nights, and later played a fratricidal Mexican Mafia assassin in American Me, is all grown up and out of the closet in Gregg Barrios’s play I-DJ Mofomixmaster.

De La Paz opened the one-night stand with an adaptation from Hamlet:
“Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue.”
With a perfectly delivered comic pause and femme aside, he deadpans: “Weren’t you expecting Shakesqueer?”

This seemingly dissonant appropriation of the Bard’s classic work of existential angst to explore the 1970s Los Angeles dance-club scene enables a provocative queering of Chicano identity and even British literary history.

“After all, Hamlet is a play within a play,” De La Paz’s character reminds us. “How queer is that?!”

Barrios’s Shakespeare gloss provided an unexpectedly good staging device for a drama about an aging DJ who recalls how his search for validation as a Chicano on West Coast airways coincided with his coming out. The storyline is simple yet profound: A young gay Chicano wants to proclaim his existence by joining the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and ’70s — el Movimiento — but his fellow Chicano activists respond by paraphrasing Eldridge Cleaver’s outrageous party line, that the only position for a woman or a fag in our movement is the lateral position.

The play documents a burgeoning love between the DJ and his neophyte (played by South San Antonio high-school student Jimmy Villa), who resist the binary logic of the axiom that to be Queer means not to be Chicano. After the romance is broken up by a different type of gangbanging — a viscerally disturbing rape scene — the play’s action unravels into a dark yet illuminating exploration of Chicano ontology. I-DJ is nothing less than a Chicano re-staging of Plato’s Symposium: The mascara-wearing Chicano DJ played by De La Paz does a lip-sync of Peter Frampton’s “Show Me the Way” while offering metaphysical meditations on the intersections of love, art, Chicano identity, and the ecstatic nature of true knowledge.

This theatrical dialogue with the highly masculine culture of the barrios of the Southwest, and the multiple communities within and beyond — whites, queers of all races, Chicano nationalists — is Gregg Barrios’s signature style in an oeuvre that spans six decades, five genres, and thousands of literary publications and journalism bylines. Barrios has made an art out of creating unlikely fusions and uncovering unexpected influences, collaborations, and liaisons.

Yet the adage that a genius is always unappreciated in his own backyard seems to hold true for Barrios. While I-DJ was published in 2007 in the 15th-anniversary double issue of the venerable Ollantay theater magazine, an expanded re-staging of this play still has not found a home despite the playwright’s success at attracting a Hollywood actor to play the lead role.
Until recently, the same was true of Barrios’s other theatrical works, even as his poetry received early recognition with the 1982 publication of his first collection, Puro Rollo. Prior to his recent hit play, Rancho Pancho (reviewed in the Current’s September 10-16, 2008 issue), Barrios had resigned himself to interstitial anonymity.

“I guess it must be my message,” he said in a recent interview. “Because it doesn’t fit neatly into any pre-established categories, few people want to stage my work. It’s too Chicano for the white venues, not Chicano enough for the Chicano venues, too queer for straight ones, not queer enough for the queer spaces, and just too much of this and not enough of that for everyone else.”

He may be right. Barrios’s work lies at the intersection of so many traditions, political perspectives, and identities it is hard to position it squarely within any single one. Yet Barrios isn’t exactly correct when he complains about a “brownout” and “closeting of Chicano theater” in San Antonio; he has produced two other plays locally, one of which was developed in a short-lived collaboration with the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Gateway Grant. But one thing is certain: You either love Barrios’s work for its eclectic cultural fusions and unexpected storylines, or you hate it precisely because of these features.

It's all a matter of perspective

Gregg Barrios was born in Victoria, Texas, on Halloween 1945, and his first contact with the arts was at home. His father, Gregorio Barrios Sr., was a photographer and film projectionist in Victoria in the 1950s and ’60s. His photography recently was published in a father-and-son pairing in Dagobert Gilb’s bilingual multimedia text, Hecho en Tejas: An Anthology of Texas Mexican Literature.
Barrios recalls how his father taught him about the most important element in all literary and visual arts: perspective.
“My father’s studio was next to the downtown bus station, which naturally attracted sojourners from the lower strata of society because it is the most economical way to travel,” he said. “There were bums, prostitutes, hustlers, quick-change artists, pachucos and street toughs, unemployed workers, and just ordinary working-class folks of all races trying to get from one place to another in their daily grind of survival.”
Barrios recalls how “[I] peeked into my father’s dark room once and found photos he had developed of naked men and women ... My father had become something of a fixer, as people would come to him for help with all sorts of problems and activities, legal and not-so-legal. I saw it all from my own little perch in the corner. This was my introduction to the world, from the margins and the bottom up.”
This early exposure to society’s outcasts lead to a lifelong quest for communion with the masses, but Barrios claims his poetry, theater, and journalism have always avoided a condescending or exoticist view. Rather, he seeks to understand and accurately represent his subjects as their ally, as one “who shares similar pains as well as broader joie de vivre.”
It’s also telling that Barrios’s first book review, written when he was a 16-year-old high-school student, was of The Gay Place, Billy Lee Brammer’s thinly veiled roman à clef of Lyndon Johnson’s reign in Pink Dome. His selection is revealing for his innocent belief that as a Chicano in early ’60s South Texas he could pontificate on any topic or author of his choosing. Apparently, no one ever got around to telling Barrios that he could not claim a place in the center and the margins simultaneously, so he just did it.
Having witnessed the fate of the masses excluded from educational opportunities by the cruelly efficient calculations of a capitalist economy, Barrios took a gamble on the Air Force so he could use the G.I. Bill to fund his education. Even though the word “Vietnam” was becoming commonplace, he enlisted in 1962 and for three years served as a combat medic in the 859th Medical Group. Luckily for Barrios, he was stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin — with occasional temporary-duty assignments to pick up severely wounded soldiers from hospitals in Germany. This allowed him to attend class at the University of Texas at Austin as a part-time student.
During his time in Austin, Barrios was involved in the underground newspaper The Rag, infamous for its irreverent political commentary and cultural critiques. He also co-founded the Cinema 40 Film Club, for which he is recognized in Esquire magazine film critic Dwight Macdonald’s 1969 memoir, On Movies:
“While I was in Texas I caught up on my movies, avant-garde and rear-guard ... I was able to see for the first time some films by Warhol and Anger, both programs being put on by Cinema 40, a film club operated with great enterprise by a senior named Gregory Barrios.”
Like most film buffs of the era, Barrios eventually made a pilgrimage to Andy Warhol’s notorious Manhattan Factory. Under Warhol’s tutelage, in 1967 Barrios made his own experimental film, titled BONY (Boys of New York). Shot in both black-and-white and color with a 16-millimeter Roloflex Camera, Barrios’s film captures a day in the life of the Warhol “superstars” — the poet Gerard Melanga and Rene Ricard (the poet and art critic who “discovered” Jean Michel Basquiat) — during which they meet Leonard Cohen and Vogue model Ivy Nicholson.
BONY is archived at UCLA and is included on Chon Noriega’s list of 100 Best Chicano Films. Barrios has since shown his films in San Antonio and elsewhere, paired with an excerpt of Warhol’s epic 25-hour, four-channel projection **** (Four Stars), which Warhol gave Barrios with the express challenge to put it to new use by showing it in different settings. Gemini Ink hosted one of these collaborative screenings in 2003.
Barrios eventually earned a degree in English and accepted his first teaching job in Crystal City in 1970, where his art found new purpose: el Movimiento!
¡Dale gas, carnal!
Like its contemporary, the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and ’70s, Chicano Movement art took a combative tone predicated on opposition to racist white capitalist American society. Barrios took his characteristic interstitial approach, positioning himself within the Movimiento and the effort to complicate models of culture and identity that would later come to fruition in works by Chicana Renaissance writers in the 1980s such as Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga.
He even anticipated the post-Movimiento hybrid poetics that filmmakers, writers, and critics as diverse as Jimmy Mendiola, Marisela Norte, and Alfred Arteaga have shown to be a hallmark of the New Latino Aesthetic. Georges Bizet’s classic 19th-century opera Carmen was transformed in Barrios’s 1975 rendition, which he conspicuously titled, Carmen: A Chicano Rock Opera. It was co-directed by Ruth Zarate and performed by his Crystal City High School student cast.
Barrios even anticipated John Sayles’ 1984 The Brother From Another Planet with his own 1976 sci-fi play, Stranger in a Strange Land. His 1977 reprise of Andrew Webber’s Evita, which includes a post-mortem cameo by Che Guevara, an icon of the Chicano Movement, was also recast as a Chicano rock opera. The production was covered by the San Antonio Express in a May 24, 1977, feature by Ben King Jr., who quotes the young Barrios:
“We are trying to show there’s more in Crystal City than the politics. We’re trying to reinforce our culture ... Our goal is to show the Chicano has the ability to express himself in several ways, besides politics.”
Barrios was responding to national and international attention to the grueling grassroots battle by the Raza Unida Party against the oppressive local government. He was attempting to restore some sense of normalcy for his students in the aftermath of the famous student “blowouts” (as student boycotts of classes were known), while at the same time using culture as the site for consciousness-raising.
But in Cristal, as the city came to be known, politics infused everything, as was dramatically illustrated in another struggle: the infamous “gas crisis” of 1977. The “gas crisis” was directly related to the oil embargo of the 1970s, but specifically refers to the conflict between the Lo-Vaca Gathering Company (a private utility vendor) and the new, all-Chicano Crystal City Council. The Council, attempting to respond to its new mandate to represent its poor constituency, rejected the new higher price the company demanded for gas. The city insisted on a lower rate enshrined in its previous contract. With the support of a Texas Supreme Court ruling, the company eventually cut off all natural gas supplies to Crystal City for more than a decade.
Prior to the gas cut-off, Barrios and other educators and artists traveled the country to publicize the struggle and drum up support. Barrios spoke to the Coalition for Economic Survival in Los Angeles as a guest of liberal politico Tom Hayden, whose wife at the time — Jane Fonda — donated a shipment of solar panels to Crystal City to help the citizens survive the brutally cold winter of 1977. Barrios was invited as a non-member guest to address the Communist Party National Convention in Santa Monica, where he received a standing ovation after his speech about the popular revolt against monopoly capitalism. Angela Davis, then a prominent member of the CP, subsequently wrote a short preface to the 1977 published version of Barrios’s play about the struggle, Dale Gas Cristal!
In the spirit of the era, Barrios also staged a play about another outlaw — the infamous San Antonio gangster Fred Gomez Carrasco. To call the play “controversial” is an understatement. Drawing from Teatro Campesino’s agitprop theater form known as the Acto, the actors in ¡Carrasco! — the same Crystal City High School Students of his other plays — provocatively kidnap Governor Dolph Briscoe and Lady Bird Johnson in response to the allegation that the Texas Rangers executed Carrasco during his violent 1974 prison-break attempt.
Barrios continued his work as an educator, literary provocateur, and journalist after accepting a new teaching position in Los Angeles, where he lived from 1982 to 1999. He retired from teaching in 1999 and relocated to San Antonio, where he began a new teaching career, while continuing his journalism first with the San Antonio Express-News as the book editor, then as editorial-page editor for the Spanish-language Rumbo. He retired anew to focus on his own creative writing, but continues to be involved in journalism as a watchdog and regular contributor to the Current and other publications.
“Gregg is both a creative force in his own right — witness his body of dramatic work — and an observant journalist and critic interested in the work of others and the personalities and driving forces behind their work,” wrote Robert Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News and Barrios’s former boss, via email. “He also lets us know when we fall short in our own coverage. We don’t always agree with him, but oftentimes he is right and we are better for it.”
With Barrios, you either love him or hate him. But you can’t deny his presence and provocations.
Coloring the canon
True to his simultaneous insider-outsider status, Barrios doesn’t respect zero-sum cultural propositions, but this doesn’t mean he won’t air dirty laundry. And Barrios is fond of chisme and a good off-color joke, especially if he can make a play out of it.
His provocatively titled Dark Horse/Pale Rider, which premiered at the San Pedro Playhouse Cellar Theater, immediately alludes to the theme of miscegenation. It focuses on Texas writer Katherine Anne Porter’s interest in, um, Mexican rural themes, as critics have called it. Barrios dug deeper in archives to find evidence of Porter’s predilection for mounting dark brown studs, then using them in her celebrated stories.
The play received mixed reviews, with some vocal Chicano educators asking why Barrios “wasted an opportunity” by writing about a white writer. “Don’t we already have enough of that shit?” quipped one educator who requested anonymity.
These critics miss the point, however: Barrios’s work uncovers the Chicano presence in the Eurocentric canon. He was much more successful at rendering this issue in Rancho Pancho. An unusual amount of copy has been devoted to this play in newspapers from San Antonio to New Orleans to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where the play has run to overwhelming acclaim.
The premise again is both simple and profound: Barrios posits that Tennessee Williams pimped his Mexican-American lover’s life to create characters and storylines. The bombshell is Barrios’s claim, backed up by reams of archival documents, photos, and interviews, that Williams’ archetypal character Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire is modeled on Pancho Gonzalez, with whom Tennessee had a similarly turbulent relationship.
Sandra Cisneros, perhaps San Antonio’s most famous writer and a personal friend of Barrios, suggested the title he eventually used for the play. She was ecstatic at the opening night of Rancho Pancho last month.
“His play is such a pleasure for those of us educated — and indoctrinated — in English Departments to revere the canon as just a white male thing,” said Cisneros. “He gives us new reasons to love the canon because we now know we have always been part of it.”
Despite this celebratory reception among Latina/o writers who know the sting of academic exclusion first hand, an important question remains: What are the ideological implications of a Chicano writer claiming inclusion in an American literary canon built in part on the U.S. imperialist takeover of Mexican territory?
In his groundbreaking 1971 manifesto, Calibán, renowned Cuban cultural critic Roberto Fernandez Retamar aptly notes that literary canons are extensions of political power. He uses the villain of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest as a third-world hero and archetype to rhetorically propose that students in the Americas could do without the European and White American canons if this continues to require the effacement of Mesoamerican, Black, Mestizo and populist canons of the rest of the Americas.
Again, Barrios, a student of Martí as much as Melville, rejects the binary:
“My perspective is that it is a both/and situation.”
He proves his point in his next two plays, Hard Candy, and a restructured and expanded ¡Carrasco!, which he currently is polishing for initial readings in San Antonio next year.
Hard Candy memorializes burlesque performer Candy Barr, who was born Juanita Dale Slusher in 1935 in Edna, Texas. She worked for Jack Ruby in his club in Texas, and later was mobster Mickey Cohen’s lover. (She expands JFK conspiracy theories by claiming to have seen Ruby with Lee Harvey Oswald at her home two weeks before Ruby shot Oswald.)
In an extension of the “prostitute with a heart of gold” storyline, Barrios’s focus is on Slusher’s life outside her status as a “kept woman” of the mob — as the author of a poetry collection, A Gentle Mind ... Confused (Dulce Press, 1972) and a humanist. Slusher transcended boundaries and taboos. She maintained life-long friendships with Barrios as well as Mexican American outlaws such as prison poet Ricardo Sánchez.
“She was the first really public sexual outlaw, a star of a porn film and an iconoclast and bohemian. Were she alive today,” Barrios maintains, “she’d be celebrated very much like the early Madonna was revered and reviled.”
Barrios’s reprise of Carrasco’s violent rise and fall is less about the man and more about the struggle to give meaning to a community that was in such dire straights it lionized him as a social bandit fighting evil racist whites with his pistol in his hand, similar to 19th-century heroes like Jacinto Treviño, who are still celebrated in the popular ballads known as corridos.
Barrios’s play also is informed by his access to the Carrasco diary, which he translated. He has yet to find a publisher. One renowned Texas publisher politely rejected the piece with a note stating, “Gregg, we are awaiting a great work from you. However, Carrasco does little to make our people look good.”
The enigmatic book-selling sage of San Antonio
While some theater critics are predicting Rancho Pancho will eventually find its way into the off-Broadway circuit where real theater still is being produced on occasion, Barrios is less concerned with fame than with the wonderful world of books and film.
Rosemary Catacalos, executive director of literary organization Gemini Ink, where Barrios has taught classes on writing book reviews and plays, testifies to Barrios’s role as a bibliophile.
“Gregg’s ability to speak to so many diverse aspects of writing makes him a journeyman, in the old sense of being a well-rounded craftsman,” says Catacalos.
Barrios’s work also has made its way into the academy. His early articles on Chicano film are credited with recovering San Antonio film pioneer Efrain Gutierrez as the very first Chicano filmmaker. He has devoted a considerable amount of time, effort, and money to collecting vintage film posters and the films they advertise, signed first-edition books from authors all over the world, and of course, Chicano texts.
After restarting and retiring anew from his teaching and journalism careers, Barrios has finally found what he calls “my dream job”: he works as a part-time bookseller at a local chain bookstore, where he can be found in the literature section.
On a recent weekday afternoon, standing between the stacks, he was asked what is the role of the artist in society. As usual, he resisted an easy answer. Instead, he recommended a book by Vaclav Havel, another by Gabriel García Márquez, another by Carlos Fuentes, and then another by his all-time-favorite Chicano sexual-outlaw author, John Rechy (City of Night). And so on.
He does this four or five days a week, recommending title after title until his shift is over, and it is time for him to drive home. A recent heart attack gave him a new sense of urgency to bring closure to his lingering projects, but he continues to sneak in a new idea every now and then. “I’ll probably die dreaming of the outlines of another play,” he says with a wry smile. •

B.V. Olguín is a published poet, San Antonio educator, and frequent contributor to the San Antonio Current.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Bridge Conversation on Planning the Revolution over Collards

By Javiera Benavente

This is a conversation between Tufara Waller Muhammad and Javiera Benavente. It is part of “Bridge Conversations: People Who Live and Work in Multiple Worlds,” a series of 19 conversations commissioned by the Center for Civic Participation’s Arts & Democracy Project and the Community Arts Network. These conversations highlight a diverse group of people — including artists, community activists, educators, funders, political leaders and scholars — who are building bridges and creating hybrid and integrated programs, strategies and lives. They illustrate how some of the most creative strategies for positive social change live in the intersections of disciplines, sectors, cultures and generations.
The Highlander Center is a residential popular-education and researchorganization based on a 106-acre farm in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, 25 miles east of Knoxville, Tennessee. Since 1932, Highlander has gathered workers, grassroots leaders, community organizers, educators and researchers to address the most pressing social, environmental and economic problems facing the people of the South. Highlander sponsors educational programs and research into community problems, as well as a residential Workshop Center for social-change organizations and workers active in the South and internationally. Generations of activists have come to Highlander to learn, teach and prepare to participate in struggles for justice. Highlander's work is rooted in the belief that in a truly just and democratic society the policies shaping political and economic life must be informed by equal concern for and participation by all people. Guided by this belief, the Center helps communities that suffer from unfair government policies and big-business practices as they voice their concerns and join with others to form movements for change.
Tufara Waller Muhammad coordinates Highlander's Cultural Program and supports the work of the We Shall Overcome Fund. As a cultural organizer for more than 15 years, Waller Muhammad combines art and activism to help people deepen their relationships with each other, demystify complex problems, nurture and sustain their communities and strengthen their work for justice. Tufara has worked with the Arkansas Equality Network on its "Safe Schools Campaign," with ACORN on housing and Community Reinvestment Act issues, and with the Women's Project on the "Hate-Free Arkansas” campaign and as the lead organizer with the African American Women’s Institute. In 2005, she participated in a leadership training program at the University of Zambia sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, and in 2007 she was part of the planning team for, and the only American participant on, a bus caravan modeled on the Freedom Rides of the Civil Rights Movement that started in South Africa and brought 235 poor and working people from nine countries to Kenya for the World Social Forum. Waller Muhammad is an accomplished vocalist who has preformed with Kashmere, an R&B Soul band, and the Essie Neal Blues Band. For three years, she hosted The Sankofa Sessions show on KABF 88.3, a grassroots progressive alternative to the established radio outlets in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her writing has been published in a number of books and journals, including Black Magnolias, Bum Rush The Page: A Def Poetry Jam, and The Writious Literary Magazine; and her visual art works have been exhibited at the Aida Ayers Art Gallery and auctioned at the Women's Project Annual Art Show in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Javiera Benavente is an artist, popular educator and cultural organizer with more than 15 years of experience working with youth, women and Latino/a communities in the United States. She began organizing as a high-school student in Ann Arbor, Mich., where she co-founded SEED (Students Educating Each other about Discrimination), a social-justice education program run by and for young people. Benavente received a B.A. in Latino/a and Latin American Studies and Community Studies at UC Santa Cruz. While at UCSC, she organized for affordable public higher education and against the expansion of the prison industrial complex, and worked with working-class women in Santa Cruz County and Santiago, Chile, to address issues of violence against women in their communities. She credits much of what she knows about organizing to these experiences. A movement-based performance maker and storyteller, Benavente is interested in the relationship between physical movement, intuitive ways of knowing and creative expression. She received her theater training at Double Edge Theatre, where she also worked as an associate artist creating performances, touring and training students. She is currently a cultural organizer with the Arts & Democracy Project at the Center for Civic Participation and a member of Food for Thought Books Collective, a worker-owned bookstore in Amherst, Mass. She is originally from Santiago, Chile and lives in Northampton, Mass.

This essay is based on a telephone conversation Tufara Waller Muhammad and I had in late April 2008. Prior to the conversation, Tufara had shared some concerns with me about participating in this project and I was surprised to learn that she didn’t think she fit into its framework. I met Tufara for the first time in November 2007 during a three-day gathering of artists, activists, organizers and cultural workers who had come together in Jackson, Miss., to talk about different approaches to integrating art and culture with organizing. During the course of gathering, it became clear to me that Tufara had a great deal of insight to share about the value and challenges of being a bridge between sectors, communities and cultures.
As we talked in March, and later in April, I came to understand that for Tufara being a “bridge person” is such an integral part of her work as an organizer, that it was strange to separate it out and examine it as if it were a unique feature of what she does. Tufara also shared her discomfort with being singled out to participate in this project and share her experience and knowledge.
Again, I was surprised. I was excited about this project and it had not occurred to me that the proposition to have this conversation might create discomfort for some people. I believed that this project was valuable and needed to articulate why. What value does a conversation like ours have? What is the value of this series of conversations? What is the value of sharing them publicly?
My response went something like this: I think it is important for us, as organizers, to be transparent about the work that we do, to be explicit about the values and visions we bring to our work, and to share what we are learning along the way. This is especially true if our approach to organizing is facilitative; if it is about bridge building. I believe the only way we can create positive social change is through an open process of reflection, deliberation, action. That is why I think these conversations are important, and that is why I think it is important for us to share publicly what we learn through conversations like these, and identify ourselves as part of the conversation: so that we can find each other. At the same time, I think it is critical that we acknowledge that much, if not all, of what we learn happens in community, with other people, and that this knowledge is collective knowledge. We need to honor the people and communities that have taught us what we know.
With that said, we agreed to have this conversation, though Tufara’s questions remained.

Talk about your experience being a bridge between sectors, communities and cultures.
Every organizer should be using art and culture as a strategy to help people build bridges. I come from a school of Southern organizing where the organizers need to be invisible and the focus is placed on the people we work for. Sometimes this creates conflict with the art world because artists want to be in the spotlight.
This is why I’ve questioned whether or not this conversation is even appropriate.
I think what you are talking about has a lot to do with organizers following the leadership of the people they are working with and playing a facilitative role, rather than a leadership role. I think this is the work of bridge building. While this can create conflict with some artists who are invested in getting a certain kind of recognition for their work, you are still committed to integrating art and culture into your work as an organizer. This isn’t the case with many organizers. Why do think that is?
Sometimes people don’t (use art) because they feel intimidated. Even if they don’t mean to, sometimes artists make it seem like art is something that people can’t do themselves, that there are skills that you need. It’s complicated because if you create situations where organizers and people can (be artistic) themselves without being dependent on a professional artist, then artists work themselves out of a job.
That is a very interesting point — that some artists who work in communities hold on to their power as artists for fear that if they pass it on, they will no longer be needed. I think this is very similar to a dynamic that happens with social-service providers and organizers who, while they come at the work from very different places, make a living by virtue of the fact that injustice exists in the world. Sometimes, we hold onto the power we gain by being gatekeepers between communities and outside resources and, in the process, we perpetuate some of the very injustices that we want to dismantle. Because if we create a world in which injustice doesn’t exist, we won’t be necessary anymore, we will also be out of a job and then what will we do? I think it is really tricky when this work of creating social change becomes our livelihood. It is not always easy to navigate the sometimes competing interests of the movement and our own individual needs.
What do artists need to know about working with organizers and communities?
I have formal training in different (artistic) genres and have operated solely as an artist. I’ve toured as an artist. But I identify myself as an organizer and because I’ve done both, I realize that there are certain things that people need in order to work effectively.
Artists need to learn about the community. Three-week short-term residencies are ineffective because they don’t give folks the time to build relationships. There is no such thing as microwave relationships. Artists need to get in there with the community, they need to get in and work with the community on an issue, get dirty with them, share a meal with them so that then a bridge can be built with them. This work is about long- term collaboration.
Some artists doing community-based work are only interested in doing research, learning and taking from the community rather than giving something back to the community. This kind of work doesn’t inspire people and it’s just as bad as global conglomerates like Wal-Mart taking from the community and not giving back anything that is of any real value to the community. I only work with artists who have a political analysis and clear intentions.
[Tufara explained to me that her work as an organizer is primarily about bringing people together. When community members ask her to help them address an issue or set of issues, the first step is to put together a team of people that can work with the community. These people can come from within the community or outside the community. Either way, there is a balance that needs to be present and Tufara has an equation for working this out.]
She explains:
As an organizer, the hardest part of my work is thinking about who I’m going to bring together in a room. Something happens organically there. The magic is about who you put in the room. Once you get the right people together, you let it go. You’ve done your job. You go on and build the next bridge. It becomes the people’s project.
The equation needs to include an organizer, an educator (popular or formal), a person of faith and an artist. Within this equation, you need to try to make sure you have a young person and an old person, so that it’s intergenerational. The team can include more than four people, but it needs to be balanced in terms of power. Artists are an important part of this equation, but they need to have a political analysis because we are building a movement here, we are trying to change the world.
If you are working on environmental-justice issues, for example, everyone needs to understand the issues, the community and its values and culture. You might work with an artist from the community but you might also partner with an artist from outside the community who has experience working with similar issues. For example, you can bring in a White artist from a mining community in West Virginia to work with Black folks in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley. Perhaps the community in the deep South is not used to working with White people, so you bring a White artist who has experience working with Black people. This is not just about artists presenting their work (to the community), this is about (the artist) being the connector, the bridge. Everyone in the equation needs to be willing to be a bridge, which is a long and in-depth process that takes time. A lot of artists don’t want to work in this deep way.
While I agree that some artists are not interested in making the long-term investment that this way of working requires, I also believe that many organizers aren’t willing to make this kind of investment either. I think that this is one of the barriers to organizers working with artists. The truth is that art, deep and resonant art, takes time to make, and if you are going to make it in community, with community, it takes even longer, and if you are going to align this art with an organizing campaign, then you have your work cut out for you. So, I think this is why some organizers shy away from working with artists in any deep and meaningful way, because it is a long and complex process.
I come from a long organizing tradition that includes the Ella Baker Schools, and people like Hollis Watkins and Bernice Johnson Reagon, among others, where art and culture have always been a part of organizing. When I started working outside the South, the thing that freaked me out was organizing with no cultural or artistic component. I didn’t realize that it didn’t happen everywhere until I left the South. For me, the cultural piece is integral to organizing but for some people it is frivolous.
I think that a disconnect happened with the industry of professional organizing. Before that, folks organized out of necessity.
And art and culture were a part of that because people often came together at the end of long days of hard work and it was essential to have food, music, dance, something for people to enjoy and that gave them physical, emotional and spiritual sustenance. Organizing doesn’t do that alone.
When organizing became people’s jobs, this shifted. When someone else determines the bridges that you build, when it is a directive from the organization you work for, rather than an organic need emerging from the community you work with— this is corporate organizing and it doesn’t work. You try to fit people and relationships into a specific timeline — like we have control over time, or over the way people connect, like we control when trees bloom. This organizing, I feel, is not holistic. It burns people out because it doesn’t allow people to grow and heal and develop together as a group.
This makes so much sense to me and I think it is a large part of why I have moved away from being a full-time organizer. When I had organizing jobs I often felt beholden to outside forces that had little to do with the needs and desires of the people and communities I was working with. Maintaining financial support for the work without compromising its integrity was a constant struggle and it often left me feeling empty.
That’s why I’m trying to integrate my work as an artist, organizer and, most recently, as a collective member of Food For Thought Books, a worker-owned bookstore. This way I can bring all the resources I have to addressing the issues that affect my multiple communities.
Sometimes money stifles people; we think if we don’t have it we can’t do the necessary work. But, we need to remember that we are building something bigger than this capitalist system. We are building a new world and a new way of thinking.
What advice would you give other folks interested in this holistic approach to organizing that includes art and culture?
When you come from the outside of the community you want to work in, you need to cultivate the ground, give people time, and make sure that people are ready to move with you. It is important to know the community you are working with, to know their reality, to be invited in by some members of the community. If some of the people in the group are looking for help outside their community, you know they are ready to move.
It is important to survey what already exists in a community before you get there. There may be an artist there that you can work with. Once you have identified the people in the equation, conversations have to happen among these people before you bring more folks together. Do they share the same values? Do they want to do the same things? If a part of the equation is missing in the community, who can they bring in from the outside?
What can be done to institutionalize what folks know about integrating art and culture with organizing?
The political education work that Alternate ROOTS does and the cultural organizing workshop that took place at the Mississippi Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement Gathering are important parts of institutionalizing this work. It helps people see that this as a useful methodology, that we are not just a bunch of hippies who want to dance in the middle of the room, even though some of us are and that is necessary.
There is a great skit that Kathie deNobriga and Nayo Watkins would do about artists working in communities. In the skit, Kathie would play a community artist coming into a community from the outside and Nayo would play a member of the community. Kathie, the artist, would tell the people about a beautiful exercise that she wanted them to do. In response, Nayo would say, “But we don’t have any street lights and the kids keep getting run over.”
It is really important for community artists to be knowledgeable enough about the local community and their issues in order to be able to inspire people in a way that is related to what is affecting them right then and there. Artists need to be shape shifters who can realize when something isn’t working and be able to shift their agenda in order to address the immediate needs of the community.
When people are hungry, it is hard for them to focus on “expressing themselves." So, maybe what you need to do is take the art and make it about the children and the darkness, and show it to the city council, and dedicate it to the kids who got run over. Maybe you need to shift your agenda and meet people where they are at.
You need to know what is going on in a community; you need to be invited in by the community, and you need to take the time to sit down and eat with the community, because the revolution is going to be planned over collards, it is going to be planned over food. That is how our people get together.
Original CAN/API publication: June 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


275 Reasons to Celebrate
1. Margie Gomez 2. Aristeo Gomez (QEPD) 3. Miranda Gomez 4. Ted Gomez 5. Breanna Herrera 6. Cecilia Epstein 7. Michelle Krupkin 8. Denise Douce 9. Debbie Reighn 10. David Kendall 11. Kendra Bochner 12. Liz Belile 13. Lorna Dee Cervantes 14. Patrisia Gonzalez 15. Roberto Rodriguez 16. Richard Loranger 17. Cecilia Gonzalez 18. Donna Hoffman 19. Ginger Webb (John too!) 20. Elaine Wolff 21. Ari Chagoya 22. Chandra Washington 23. Ernest Garcia 24. Sheelah Murthy 25. Patricia Greene 26. Rose Imperato 27. Nicholas Schriber 28. Rene Renteria 29. Raul R. Salinas 30. Radames Ortiz 31. Ray Santisteban 32. Tonantzin Canestaro-Garcia 33. Teresa Taylor 34. Diana Garcia 35. Allyson Lipkin 36. Irma Andrade 37. Andrea “Gaia” Melendez 38. Lydia Armendariz 39 Enrique Cabrera 40. Cesar Hernandez (Dulce too!)41. BC Harrison 42. Jennifer Cardenas 43. Tamara Ford (Stan too!) 44. Frieda Werden 45. Julia Apodaca (Dani too!)4 6. Lourdes Perez 47. Annette D’armata 48. Amanda Plaisance 49. Emily Kenyon 50. Brackin Firecracker 51. Aida Salazar (John too!) 52. Claudia Martinez 53. Maria Elena Fernandez 54. Diana Delgado 55. Cheri Popoff 56. Rod Lindsey 57. Mark Gee 58. Dave Haller 59. Danny Solis 60. Robert Karimi 61. Lisa Gill 62. Sarah West 63. Darryl Cropper 64. Astrid Zometa 65. Leticia Llinares Hernandez 66. Richard Ray Whitman 67. Kathianne Osborne 68. Tony Gilchriest 69. Mitch Rayes 70. Kenn Rodriguez 71. Mary Mier (Ron too!) 72. Eugene Jaceldo (and the other bros. Jaceldo) 73. Mariposa 74. SXIP 75. Andrew Baron 76. Sheila Contreras7 7. Kamala Platt 78. Zeek Kruzich 79. Jordan Green 80. Teresa Marrero 81. Carol Pankratz 82. Kim DeLozier 83. Crystal Dozier 84. Greg Johnson 85. Rose Ann Meredith 86. Shani Abell 87. Jason Eklund 88. Kathy & Dani O’Brien 89. Kat Thornton (Ken too!) 90. Lisa Feather Wheeler 91. Violet Ramirez & family92. Raul Avila 93. Clebo Rainey (Naomi too!) 94. Ricardo Garza 95. Gerald Youngblood 96. Da’Shade Moonbeam 97. Zell Miller 98. Rich Perin99. Vicki Grise 100. Ana Sisnett 101. Bronmin Shumway (Kirk too!) 102. Chris & Tamitha Curiel 103. Karen X 104. Kelsie Torres Pelham (Derek too!) 105. Mitch Torres Parker (Bysshe too!) 106. Gabriela Lomonaco 107. Claudia Acosta 108. Natasha Carrizosa 109. Wendy Vestal 110. Devin Adams (QEPD) 111. Linda Curcio 112. ir’ene lara silva 113. Moises Silva114. Diana Puma 115. Linus Strekfus116. Andrea Griemel117. Eduardo Garza118. Irma Mayorga119. Sandra Cisneros120. Lisa Suarez 121. Rosie Gonzalez 122. Robert Tatum 123. Amalia Ortiz 124. Amelia Montes 125. Marisela Barrera 126. Laura Varela 127. Jane Madrigal 128. Rene Valdez 129. Jackie Cuevas (Jen too!)130. Tony Diaz131. Maria Limon132. Anel Flores133. Vicente Lozano134. Anthony Flores 135. Anthony Douglas 136. AJ Houston 137. Gracey Tune 138. Will Richey 139. Zack Prince 140. Melissa Kane 141. Ruben Salazar 142. Jose Vargas 143. Ronald Shannon Jackson 144. Rajendra Narendra 145. Geetha Patil 146. Andrea Gonzalez 147. Bryce Milligan 148. Tim Cloward149. Jennifer Hill150. Lori Thomson151. Junanne Peck152. Kendall McCook (Ginny too!) 153. Kell Robertson 154. Marcos Flores (Sadanid too!) 155. Dagoberto Gilb 156. Shawn Truitt 157. Arleen Polite 158. Akwasi Evans 159. Mary Krenek 160. Doug Zachary 161. Carl Webb 162. Firesong 163. P.O. W. (Poet on Watch) 164. Peter Ortiz 165. Nailah Sankofa166. Eva Lindsey167. R.V. Adams168. Valerie Bridgman-Davis 169. Phil West170. Tchiya Amet171. Torrence Gettrell172. Pat Payne173. Logan Phillips 174. Liliana Valenzuela175. Shermakaye Bass 176. Luis Tames 177. Ben Olguin 178. Anita Pantin 179. Sherry Milam180. Victoria Zapata Klein 181. Randy Koch 182. Sashua Muniz (where are you?)183. David Moorman184. Amanda Winters 185. Hillary Thomas1 86. Debbie Ursini187. Viola Valdez188. Angelique (Jason too!)189. Yvonne Duque190. Natalia Dominguez191. Rupert Gloria192. Patricia Urbina (Donald too!)193. Lupe Mendez 194. Yolanda Reyes 195. Alvaro Rios 196. Marco Iniguez (Brenda too!)197. Manolo Callahan (Monica too!) 198. Rodney Garza (Dava too!) 199. Eli & Maria (the entire Madmedia crew) 200. Haldun Morgan 201. Jose Ruben de Leon 202. Pilar Rodriguez 203. Laney Yarber 204. Mav McNabb 205. Zoe Pardee 206. Judy Gordon 207. Christina Byrnes 208. m.m. harris 209. Machete 210. J.P. Markarian 211. Cri Rivera 212. Ramsey Sprague 213. Sahai214. Gren215. Rachella Parks Washington 216. Vik Bahl 217. Matt Stringer 218. Samira 219. Susan Libby220. Mary Porter 221. Vicky Meek 222. Babs & Lama Tamang 223. Janne Bryan224. Martha Whitehouse 225. Diane Wood226. Karen Foley227. John Singleton 228. Octavio Solis229. W. Joe Hoppe 230. Norma Cantu 231. Heriberto G 232. Luis J. Rodriguez 233. Kazuko (where are you?) 234. Nadja Hamilton 235. Sylvia Orozco 236. Herlinda Zamora 237. Sonia Santana (Tom too!) 238. Robyn Medina Winnett239. JoAnne Reyes-Boitel240. Maria Solano241. Clint Niosi 242. Rachel Loera 243. Nathan Kite 244. “big” Jerry of Tesuque Village Market 245. Lupe Cedillos 246. Lee Daniel 247. Rick Linklater 248. Bill Daniel 249. Emily (from Headlands Center for the Arts)250. Ron (from UNL-Nebraska)251. Quincy Miller252. Emmet Campos253. Isabella Russell-Ides 254. Al Santangelo (where are you?) 255. Vicki Monks 256. Joe Dale 257. Paul S. Flores258. Marc Pinate259. Brecht Andersch260. Levi Romero261. Pasha Allsup (QEPD)262. David Zamora Casas 263. Sandra & Victor Payan 264. Francisco Aragon 265. Ken Hunt (QEPD) 266. She: Bike/Spoke/Love cast & crew 267. Dunya Dianne McPherson 268. Beatriz Terrazas 269. Michael “MD” Meyer (QEPD)270. Rodrigo Pessoa 271. Layne Calabro272. Lorenzo Thomas (QEPD) 273. Oscar Escalante 274. Michael Nye (Naomi too!) 275. Charles Dreyfus (Lila too!)

About a year ago, after a night-time shift at the library, I sat down to relax with a bottle of Heinecken and started a list of all the good friends and companions and colleagues who've stuck with me and supported me & encouraged me & partied with me & created with me through the decades of my life. I started this list as a sort of meditation, to remind myself of the wonderful gift of friendship that I have had with so many amazing people.

Today, on my birthday (9/30), I am feeling so blessed and lucky to have had all of you in my life.With many of these folks: I've traveled or hiked or biked; shared tables & conversation until the wee hours of the morning; collaborated and performed on stages from Madison to San Francisco; distilled life's lessons and exchanged recipes for survival; and corresponded via chapbooks, mixtapes, cd demos, long philosophical emails, and cut-up collages.

I have spent the night in the homes of 74 of you folks, indulging in your amazing libraries of music and literature, and having curious adventures in your hood.When I broke my left foot in February, some of you mailed me care packages (Jen and Jackie--thanks!); brought over home-cooked meals and wine (Kat & Ken--thanks!); carried me to and from work when I couldn't drive (Ramsey, Lila, Dani O--thanks!).When I emerged from my 2.5 day bedroom closet ordeal in May, many of you emailed and phoned me with messages of concern, love, and disbelief. (I'm still sorting through the impact of that closeted experience--stay tuned for a book, movie, or stage show about this...definitely)

So, on this anniversay day of my birth, I want to say that I love you for caring, and I thank you for being my friend, colleague, and companion. You are my tribe.And finally, cuz I AM a POET--a short poem:

friend power is strong
i have no need for candle
you have lit my path

Tammy Gomez
September 30, 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How Do Children See Race?

by Dr. Marguerite A. Wright

Printed with permission from Dr. Marguerite A. Wright's book I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla, available here.

Note: This section, titled "Do White Children See Race Differently?" concludes the first section of Dr. Wright's book, in which she outlines the developmental steps in which young children first perceive skin color and race, and the meanings they attach to these attributes. Dr. Wright has outlined her advice on how to raise black and biracial children (and indeed, all children) with as little racial bias as possible in our race-conscious world, and ends her section on preschoolers with this passage. We highly recommend the book to parents of every ethnic background.

Johnny Lee, a white man who was a former imperial wizard and a founder and recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan Youth Corps, vividly remembers his experience when he was five and saw a black man for the first time. Johnny said to his father, "Look, Daddy, there's a chocolate-covered man." Daddy replied, "No, son, that's a nigger." Lee said that it was at that moment that "the seeds of hatred" were planted that resulted in his life in the Klan, a life he later repudiated.

Unlike young Johnny, white children who have not been sensitized to race ascribe little importance to skin color.

Relatively few studies have been done on how children of other races, including whites, become aware of racial differences. Those available suggest that skin color is not as salient an issue for white children at the early grade-school stage of development as it is for blacks. It is understandable that young white children do not tend to regard skin color as important, since racial prejudice is generally not a factor in their lives.

I am impressed by how little race seems to matter to many of the white young grade-schoolers I encounter. Most of them, from families of friends and acquaintances, attend integrated schools or live in mixed-race communities. Their answers to my question about race are similar to Ian's, a six-year-old white youngster. Ian described the colors of the white and black people as, respectively, "whitish" and "brownish"; he can identify the "Chinese" people and says that he has friends who speak Spanish, although he doesn't have a special name for them. Like black children who do not come from racially obsessed families, Ian did not spontaneously describe or categorize people by skin color or race. Despite my repeated promptings, Ian could not think of a single way, other than skin color, in which blacks and whites differed. Although his level of understanding about how people get their color and his awareness of the existence of different racial groups was similar to that of black children, skin color did not seem as emotional an issue for him as it was for some blacks.

I have heard of Latino and Asian children for whom "race" became an emotional issue when they were subjected to teasing and other mean behavior because of their accents, their limited fluency in English, their different types of dress or the lunches they bring to school. Fortunately, however, most early grade-schoolers, regardless of race, do not seem to have stereotypes of themselves or of people who are different colors. Like preschoolers, they are inclined to see people as individuals rather than as members of a group--color, racial or otherwise. Because of this developmental advantage, these early years are an optimum time for children of different races to get to know each other, before they become aware of the stereotypes that in time will rob them of their racial innocence.

I suspect that children in other countries with a history of racial discrimination develop race awareness in ways similar to American children. Several years ago, I met a lovely white six-year-old at the home of friends of friends while visiting Australia. From the start, she seemed very comfortable with me, unlike a few of the adults, all gracious people, who it seemed to me were trying a little too hard to appear at ease with a black person. Circumstances led to my spending much of the afternoon talking and playing games with her. It wasn't until much time had passed and we rejoined the adults' conversation that she began to ask me about myself.

First, she asked questions about my skin color (like "How did your skin color become brown?" and "Will it change back?"). Next, she asked me about my full lips. Her parents understandably were discomfited by her questions and took turns trying to dissuade her from asking me anything else. Actually, it was quite amusing. The parents were growing increasingly tense trying not to offend me, while their daughter, oblivious to their discomfort, became increasingly more persistent in her questioning. To make matters worse, their guest was not being very cooperative with the parents' efforts to restrain their daughter.

In spite of my assurances that I didn't mind answering the questions, the parents continued to try various strategies to silence their daughter, all the while doing their utmost not to appear anxious. Eventually, they found some pretext to escort her from the room. She had never seen, much less talked to, a black person before, and her curiosity was perfectly normal. I knew that to her, skin color and lip shape were just physical attributes, not the hot potatoes they were to her parents. When we said good-bye later that day, I felt a tinge of sadness; I wondered if I visited her again several years in the future whether she would see my color more than she would see me.

Even at this stage of development, children who have not been exposed to the racial prejudices of their family and society retain the remarkable gift of obliviousness to the social baggage attached to race. Dr. Laura Schlessinger, author and nationally syndicated talk show host, once told a marvelous story on her show about a childhood incident that illustrates this point. When she was a girl, she had a piano teacher named Charlie. Whenever he came to her home to give her piano lessons, he greeted her younger sister by hoisting her on his shoulders. One day, about a year after Laura had been taking lessons, Charlie did not hoist her sister on his shoulders. Instead, he bent down and gave her a candy. Her sister said, "Charlie, your hands are black!" This was the first time her sister had noticed Charlie's skin color despite all the time they has known each other. Although she had been oblivious to his different skin color when she was younger, as she grew older, she was developmentally able to see the difference. Dr. Schlessinger concluded: "Racism is not congenital; it has to be learned."

Inoculating Our Children Against Racism

by Patty Wipfler

Children are not, by nature, racist. Nor are they born with damaging assumptions about people in any definable group. We all begin with a winning trust in others, an expectation that people will be good to each other, and that life with others will be safe and fun. When a child feels close to his parents, gets to play freely with lots of laughter, gets plenty of affection, and has sensible limits set by grown-ups who don't attack him, a young person can feel at home with himself, and relaxed with others.

Contrary to popular belief, children have a keen inborn sense of justice. They are built to protest loudly when they or someone else is being treated badly. This sense of justice runs deep. You probably can remember times in your childhood when you or someone you cared about was attacked, verbally or physically. You didn't have to be told that this treatment was wrong and should be stopped immediately. You just knew. We don't have to teach children respect for people of other races and abilities: we simply need to preserve their trust in themselves and others, and their inborn sense of justice. If a child feel safe and strong, he will respond with indignation to racism, whether it's directed at him or at someone else. He will know that the racist attitude he has witnessed is poison, and won't adopt it as his own.

Treating Children with Respect

Children are able to retain their keen sense of justice if they are treated with respect. Respectful treatment that inoculates a child against racism means several very specific things:

  • The child is appreciated for who he is, regardless of what he can or can't do.

  • The child is not typecast: generalizations like "shy," "loud," "bossy," are not used, and put-downs like "bratty," "whiny," and "stupid" are also off-limits.

  • The child's curiosity is supported: when questions are asked about why people look or act the way they do, those questions are warmly answered at a level the child can understand. In other words, it's OK to be interested in all aspects of being human.

  • The child is not compared to others, and judgments like "bad," "good," "better," and "best" aren't used to classify him or other people. This means, for instance, that when asked why some people have to go to jail, saying that those people have done something seriously hurtful to someone else, not that those are bad people. Or asking a child who is kicking others under the dinner table to wrap his legs around the chair legs, rather than telling him he's a bad boy.

  • The child is not intimidated for having upsets about the things that matter to him. In particular, the child is allowed to express feelings with crying, tantrums, and "freedom of the mouth" while crying or tantruming. You, as parent, will often set limits that upset your child: that's your job, and it's an important one. However, your child's job is then to blast away the bad feelings that those limits bring forth, so he can recover his sense that you care and that his life is a good one. Crying, tantruming, and raging with permission, during the upset, to tell you fully how he feels, is a healing and cleansing process which restores your child's sense that his life is good, and his trust in you and others.

  • The child is not hit, slapped, threatened with physical attack, or shamed and blamed verbally. This kind of attack by adults on children leaves big emotional scars on children, and impresses them with the notion that some people deserve to be called "bad" and then mistreated.

In short, what makes children vulnerable to racism is to treat children like we are better than they are, we know better than they do, we are more important than they are, our feelings have more validity than their feelings.

Racism "Piggybacks" on Early Mistreatment and Fears

Racist attitudes and stereotypes, and, for children of color, the internalizing of racist attitudes, are what we call "piggyback hurts." The mechanism of racism works like this:

  • A child has bad experiences, either at the hands of adults or during threatening accidents or illnesses. He carries feelings of being terrified, separate, helpless, and unable to fight for himself. These feelings can be kicked into play by small incidents like not getting the first turn at bat, or losing his lunch pail, or having heard a fight between his parents. His fears make him withdraw at times, and at other times, those fears make him aggressive and angry.

  • When any child witnesses racism, it scares him. The racism fastens onto fears that have cracked a child's confidence in himself and others, like a secondary infection invades an open wound. He doesn't feel good enough or strong enough to reject racist mistreatment and protest it. So the words, tones, and attitudes are imprinted in his mind, along with another dose of fear.

  • If he is a child of color, his fears have propped the door open for the racist tones, words, and stereotypes to enter his mind and become part of how he thinks about himself and his people. When he feels upset, separate, afraid, or angry, he will believe the racist content. A child of color who is feeling upset will act out the oppressor role of racism, targeting either himself or other children of color.

  • A white child's fears also make him vulnerable to adopting racist tones, words, and stereotypes. When a white child feels separate, scared, or disconnected, he tries to escape these feelings by playing out the oppressor role he has been frightened by. The intensity of his actions will reflect how deep the fears are that the child carried before the racism he witnessed gave those fears a racial twist.

Listen to the Feelings to Heal the Child

The key activity parents can adopt is to LISTEN to children's feelings so that they can heal from their fears and upsets, no matter what the content of these upsets.

  • When a child has been hurt in an interaction with another child, whether racist content was part of the incident or not, both children need to talk about what happened, and supported to cry, tantrum, or rage. Support the child's inborn sense that you care and people can be trusted to be good at heart with messages like, "You can talk to her about this," "What do you want to say to her?," "How did that feel to you?," "I'm so sorry you two had trouble--you're both so fine," "Let's finish getting mad right now, so you don't have to always be mad at her," "I'll help you talk to her in a little while, when you're ready."

  • Don't assume that because a racial epithet was used, or because the children who collided are of different races, that this is a racial incident. It's much better for children if we deal with them as individuals, not as members of a racial group. Children don't relate to the concept of racial identity until they are 8 to 10 years old, and even then, the antidote to racism is seeing and caring about the person.

  • Role play so that your child gets to play-act at having the upper hand with the child he felt hurt by. Pillow fights are great for helping your child playfully take a powerful role in sticking up for himself. Don't worry about "bad" words and epithets when you're giving him this time to vent. See what you can do to promote laughter. Laughter while in the more powerful role releases children's fears and helps them regain their sense of connection to you. They need to know you care about them before they can have faith in anyone else in their world.

Protect Children from Exposure to Racism

The two most powerful purveyors of racism in our children's lives are the media and the adults they know. Since racism scares children, the older they are before they encounter it, the more able they are to understand that only people who are afraid would act like that.

Since fairy tales, TV, videos, and video games all are full of messages of fear, and fear lays fertile ground for the isms, it makes sense to strictly limit our children's exposure to infection from these sources. This will make your family different from other families: being different is great practice for standing up, kindly and firmly, for ourselves and what we believe.

Parents of color can work to interrupt internalized racism, the use of racial put-downs by people of color toward other people of color. This means standing up to family members who say, "Aw, you know I don't mean anything by it!," and, "Hey, he's going to hear this anyway. Might as well hear it from me!" We also have to keep working through the hatred of ourselves that is usually the root cause of those put-downs. Children are not "toughened up" by racism coming from their folks. They are hurt and confused by it. Fear and anger grow between them and their loved ones who treat them this way, however well-intentioned they are.

White parents can acknowledge their own fears and talk about them openly and regularly with a good listener. We feel so separate, so afraid, so empty of culture, and often, so superior. We've been forced into those feelings. The only way out is to notice our own uptightness, find a listener (NOT a person of color), and try to locate the real feelings behind the tightness. We also need to know that our fears need not stop us from getting to know people of color, from making friends, from making the mistakes that are necessary for us to learn new people and new things.

All parents can build friendships with people who are different from them. Friendship--relaxed, unguarded human contact--is at the heart of undoing racism and every other ism. We isolate our children when we leave it to them to make friends with people from diverse backgrounds. The most powerful modeling we can do is to reach out and bumble around until we've managed to trust and enjoy people who are different from us. White people can encourage each other and be listeners for each other in these efforts; people of color can support each other, too, and listen to the pain and memories of bad experiences that will inevitably arise as steps toward friendship are bravely taken.

All parents can refer to others as individuals, and not by race. We can keep acknowledging that people act thoughtlessly because, once upon a time, they were themselves harshly treated, and they haven't had the chance to heal. A policy of dealing with difficult incidents, detail by detail, with faith that the people involved can certainly work out their upsets and come to understand each other is one which can disarm stereotyping. We need to work on our own feelings of worry and fear to stay hopeful for our children, and active in taking initiative to help people see each other as friends and allies.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


A Message for all women

This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago.
Remember, it was not until 1920
that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed
nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking
for the vote.

(Lucy Burns)
And by the end of the night, they were barely alive.
Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing
went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of
'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'
They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above
her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping
for air.
(Dora Lewis)
They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her
head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate,
Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack.
Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging,
beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.
Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917,
when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his
guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because
they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right
to vote.
For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their
food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.
(Alice Paul)
When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks
until word was smuggled out to the press.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because-
-why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work?
Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?
Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new
movie 'Iron Jawed Angels.' It is a graphic depiction of the battle
these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling
booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.
All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the
actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote.
Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege.
Sometimes it was inconvenient.
My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women's history,
saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk
about it, she looked angry. She was--with herself. 'One thought
kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,' she said.
'What would those women think of the way I use, or don't use,
my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just
younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.' The
right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her 'all over again.'
HBO released the movie on video and DVD . I wish all history,
social studies and government teachers would include the movie in
their curriculum I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere
else women gather. I realize this isn't our usual idea of socializing,
but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think
a little shock therapy is in order.
It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy.
The doctor admonished the men: 'Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.'
Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know.
We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so
hard for by these very courageous women. Whether you vote democratic, republican or independent party - remember to vote.
History is being made.
Read more:

Monday, September 1, 2008


Xicanism@: Xicana/o Love

These are the thoughts of one xicano trying to make sense from so much non-sense. This is the sense of the idealist and dreamer, of the rebellious and enamorado. Con coraje, wich means both ‘courage’ and ‘anger.’ The courage and anger that come from love, from the desire to touch/connect with others. Un abrir del corazón a los corazones de otros.

I propose the following definition of Xicana/o: A Xican@ is someone who struggles for the well being of others and mother earth. Xicana/o is a holistic nurturing open identity, one that emphasizes healing of our historical/personal traumas in community. A Xicano/a is an indigenous person; indigenous means that we understand that we belong to mother earth and that we recognize our interconnectedness with all living things.

More than cultural pride (as important as this is) the revolutionary/decolonial potency of xicanismo is our ethical commitments. Our commitment to ending all oppression (read: domination, exploitation, exclusion), and bringing about a world “where many worlds fit, and where the one who governs governs-by-obeying” as the Zapatistas say. Living Xicanimsm@ requires a sense of knowing where we stand in the world and in history. The Xicano/a does not fight for liberation-decolonization on his/her own, but understands that until all oppressed communities are free (especially those more oppressed than us) no-one is free.
from a link:

Thursday, August 21, 2008


In the Toltec tradition, three fundamental masteries guide us to our true nature, which is happiness, freedom and love. The first is the Mastery of Awareness. The Toltecs said, "Let us see ourselves with truth." It is the first step toward freedom, because we cannot be free if we don't know what we are, or what kind of freedom we are looking for. The second is the Mastery of Transformation which shows us how to change the dream of our life by changing our agreements and beliefs. The Mastery of Love is the result of the first two masteries. Love is LIFE itself. When we master Love, we align with the Spirit of Life passing through us. When we master Awareness, Transformation, and Love, we reclaim our divinity and become one with God. This the goal of the Toltec. ... Excerpt from The Mastery of Love ©1999 by Miguel Angel Ruiz, M.D.


1. Be Impeccable With Your Word Speak with integrity.
Say only what you mean.
Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others.
Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don't Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you.
What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream.
When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don't Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want.
Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.
Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

from the Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Miguel Ruiz

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Uses of the Erotic by AUDRE LORDE

There are many kinds of power, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. For women, this has meant a suppression of the erotic as a considered source of power and information within our lives.

We have been taught to suspect this resource, vilified, abused, and devalued within western society. On the one hand, the superficially erotic has been encouraged as a sign of female inferiority; on the other hand, women have been made to suffer and to feel both contemptible and suspect by virtue of its existence.

It is a short step from there to the false belief that only by the suppression of the erotic within our lives and consciousness can women be truly strong. But that strength is illusory, for it is fashioned within the context of male models of power.

As women, we have come to distrust that power which rises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge. We have been warned against it all our lives by the male world, which values this depth of feeling enough to keep women around in order to exercise it in the service of men, but which fears this same depth too much to examine the possibilities of it within themselves. So women are maintained at a distant/inferior position to be psychically milked, much the same way ants maintain colonies of aphids to provide a life-giving substance for their masters.

But the erotic offers a well of replenishing and provocative force to the woman who does not fear its revelation, nor succumb to the belief that sensation is enough.

The erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women. It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, and plasticized sensation. For this reason, we have turned away from the exploration and consideration of the erotic as a source of power and information, confusing it with the pornographic. But pornography is a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it represents the suppression of true feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling.

The erotic is a measure between our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.

It is never easy to demand the most from ourselves, from our lives, from our work. To encourage excellence is to go beyond the encouraged mediocrity of our society is to encourage excellence. But giving in to the fear of feeling and working to capacity is a luxury only the unintentional can afford, and the unintentional are those who do not wish to guide their own destinies.

This internal requirement toward excellence which we learn from the erotic must not be misconstrued as demanding the impossible from ourselves nor from others. Such a demand incapacitates everyone in the process. For the erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing. Once we know the extent to which we are capable of feeling that sense of satisfaction and completion, we can then observe which of our various life endeavors bring us closest to that fullness.

The aim of each thing which we do is to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible. Within the celebration of the erotic in all our endeavors, my work becomes a conscious decision - a longed-for bed which I enter gratefully and from which I rise up empowered.

Of course, women so empowered are dangerous. So we are taught to separate the erotic from most vital areas of our lives other than sex. And the lack of concern for the erotic root and satisfactions of our work is felt in our disaffection from so much of what we do. For instance, how often do we truly love our work even at its most difficult?

The principal horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, or which defines human need to the exclusion of the psychic and emotional components of that need - the principal horror of such a system is that it robs our work of its erotic value, its erotic power and life appeal and fulfillment. Such a system reduces work to a travesty of necessities, a duty by which we earn bread or oblivion for ourselves and those we love. But this is tantamount to blinding a painter and then telling her to improve her work, and to enjoy the act of painting. It is not only next to impossible, it is also profoundly cruel.

As women, we need to examine the ways in which our world can be truly different. I am speaking here of the necessity for reassessing the quality of all the aspects of our lives and of our work, and of how we move toward and through them.

The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects - born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.

There are frequent attempts to equate pornography and eroticism, two diametrically opposed uses of the sexual. Because of these attempts, it has become fashionable to separate the spiritual (psychic and emotional) from the political, to see them as contradictory or antithetical. "What do you mean, a poetic revolutionary, a meditating gunrunner?" In the same way, we have attempted to separate the spiritual and the political is also false, resulting from an incomplete attention to our erotic knowledge. For the bridge which connects them is formed by the erotic - the sensual - those physical, emotional, and psychic expressions of what is deepest and strongest and richest within each of us, being shared: the passions of love, in its deepest meanings.

Beyond the superficial, the considered phrase, "It feels right to me," acknowledges the strength of the erotic into a true knowledge, for what that means is the first and most powerful guiding light toward any understanding. And understanding is a handmaiden which can only wait upon, or clarify, that knowledge, deeply born. The erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of all our deepest knowledge.

The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.

Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy, in the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, harkening to its deepest rhythms so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, or examining an idea.

That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife.

This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.

During World War II, we bought sealed plastic packets of white, uncolored margarine, with a tiny, intense pellet of yellow coloring perched like a topaz just inside the clear skin of the bag. We would leave the margarine out for a while to soften, and then we would pinch the little pellet to break it inside the bag, releasing the rich yellowness into the soft pale mass of margarine. Then taking it carefully between our fingers, we would knead it gently back and forth, over and over, until the color had spread throughout the whole pound bag of margarine, thoroughly coloring it.

I find the erotic such a kernel within myself. When released from its intense and constrained pellet, it flows through and colors my life with a kind of energy that heightens and sensitizes and strengthens all my experience.

We have been raised to fear the yes within ourselves, our deepest cravings. But, once recognized, those which do not enhance our future lose their power and can be altered. The fear of our deepest cravings keeps them suspect and indiscriminately powerful, for to suppress any truth is to give it strength beyond endurance. The fear that we cannot grow beyond whatever distortions we may find within ourselves keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, externally defined, and leads us to accept many facets of our own oppression as women.

When we live outside ourselves, and by that I mean on external directives only rather than from our internal knowledge and needs, when we live away from those erotic guides from within ourselves, then our lives are limited by external and alien forms, and we conform to the needs of a structure that is not based on human need, let alone an individual's. But when we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense. For as we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering, and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like the only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within.

In touch with the erotic, I become less willing to accept powerlessness, or those other supplied states of being which are not native to me, such as resignation, despair, self-effacement, depression, self-denial.

And yes, there is a hierarchy. There is a difference between painting a black fence and writing a poem, but only one of quantity. And there is, for me, no difference between writing a good poem and moving into sunlight against the body of a woman I love.

This brings me to the last consideration of the erotic. To share the power of each other's feelings is different from using another's feelings as we would use a Kleenex. When we look the other way from our experience, erotic or otherwise, we use rather than share the feelings of those others who participate in the experience with us. And use without consent of the used is abuse.

In order to be utilized, our erotic feelings must be recognized. The need for sharing deep feeling is a human need. But within the european-american tradition, this need is satisfied by certain proscribed erotic comings-together. These occasions are almost always characterized by a simultaneous looking away, a pretense of calling them something else, whether a religion, a fit, mob violence, or even playing doctor. And this misnaming of the need and the deed give rise to that distortion which results in pornography and obscenity - the abuse of feeling.

When we look away from the importance of the erotic in the development and sustenance of our power, or when we look away from ourselves as we satisfy our erotic needs in concert with others, we use each other as objects of satisfaction rather than share our joy in the satisfying, rather than make connection with our similarities and our differences. To refuse to be able that might seem, is to deny a large part of the experience, and to allow ourselves to be reduced to the pornographic, the abused, and the absurd.

The erotic cannot be felt secondhand. As a Black lesbian feminist, I have a particular feeling, knowledge, and understanding for those sisters with whom I have danced hard, played, or even fought. This deep participation has often been the forerunner for joint concerted actions not possible before.

But this erotic charge is not easily shared by women who continue to operate under an exclusively european-american male tradition. I know it was not available to me when I was trying to adapt my consciousness to this mode of living and sensation.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Connected and Vunerable
Posted by: A.H.M.K. in Guest Blogging
I know Im not alone; Im not the only one thinking these things. Recently I read This Bridge Called My Back and I was so grateful to the women who exposed their frustrations, insecurities, and anger. Their words provided company in lonely places in my brain. I was so grateful that they were having thoughts and feelings then, that they are pertinent to me now. Over 21 years aren’t separating us at all.
Merle Woo’s “Letter to Ma” written in January of 1980 especially influenced me to make writing personal. It exposes Merle’s relationship to her mother:
I believe there are chasms between us. When you say, ‘I support you, honey, in everything you do…I know you mean except my speaking out and writing of my anger at all those things that have caused those chasms (140). I desperately want you to understand me and my work, Ma, to know what I am doing! When you distort what I say, like thinking I am against all ‘caucasians’ or that I am ashamed of Dad, then I feel more frustration and want to slash out, not at you, but those external forces which keep us apart. What deepens the chasms between us are out different reactions to those forces (141).
I found comfort in those pages- connecting with the intimacy the author. There are more layers and perspectives, though, than the ‘safe’ pages of This Bridge, and dwelling in the theories of it. We have to move forward.In the preface of This Bridge We Call Home Gloria E. Anzaldua addresses why it’s important to progress into another mind frame:
Twenty-one years ago we struggled with the recognition of difference within the context of commonality. Today we grapple with the recognition of commonality within the context of difference. While “This Bridge Called My Back” displaced whiteness, “This Bridge We Call Home” carries this displacement further. It questions the terms of white and women of color by showing that whiteness may not be applied to all whites, as some possess women-of-color consciousness, just as some women of color bear white consciousness…. Today, categories of race and gender are more permeable and flexible than they were…(2).
I, like many others, think thinks every day that im not proud of- things I would not say out loud because they are damaging and rooted in miseducation. But the embarrassing things I feel are useful to expose, I do. Why? Because I think about how much I respect those who speak their heart, mind, fears, weaknesses and biases.We have such a long way to go; the least we can do is not to be alone in our miseducation. There is a theory out there that encourages separating the person from her patterns, anger, disillusionment, distress, and all the other shit that futher separates us.
While, im not able to do make those separations all the time, I still believe in the basic idea that people are good and that our environment beautifully and seamlessly inlays division and mistrust of eachother.
If class doesn’t separate us, then race.If not race, then age.If not age, then sex.Sex, then sexuality.Sexuality, then gender. Gender then awareness.If not this, then that until I’m standing alone wondering why I feel so damn lonely.
Im angry. Angry with people who don’t understand what’s happening right under our noses,Angry with middle and owning classes unaware of privilege and luxury,Angry with people who don’t think their racist,(And because this just happened) Angry with people who trick me into eating meat when they know I don’t eat it!
Staying angry is a stagnant place.; it further solidifies separation between each other. I feel, though, that anger is part of the journey- that it allows passage into another place. This place allows one to see the separation of a person and the pattern- an opening beyond a ‘safe’ space for conscious women.
Later in the preface, Gloria Anzaldua addresses safe spaces and urges:
Staying ‘home’ and not venturing out from our own group comes from woundedness, and stagnates our growth. To bridge means loosening our borders, not closing off to others….To bridge is to attempt community, and for that we must risk being open to personal, political, and spiritual intimacy, to risk being wounded(3).
I am completely on board, intellectually, but in daily practice, I loose stamina quickly. There is much work to be done. So let’s not be stagnant.
I hope these thoughts make sense to some one out there and gives the courage to feel less alone and continue making progress.
cross posted in Texas and Egypt