Tuesday, February 19, 2008

After awaking to the announcement that Castro has officially stepped away from leadership in Cuba, I walked dazed and confused into my kitchen to drink some coffee and contemplate a world without Castro's leadership. I've actually been thinking about this since August 2006, when he first got sick and I was in the D.R. wondering what kinds of shifts and destablizations might arise in the waters around us.

Ultimately, I have concluded in my short life time that the deep seat of radical social change does not rest in placing power with the nation state, but rather with the people. Call it what you want. Anarchy. Socialism. Whatever. I believe in the power of people organizing in small communities. And I don't believe in borders or the nation-state. It's not that I have always stood in this place. I would say I've been here for about 14 years. I used to be a huge nationalist - it came with the political territory in which I was raised. But, after emerging and standing on my own two feet, I have come to determine that the nation-state can only move us so far before it falls into a replication of the colonial framework that gave rise to it in the first place.

Cherrie Moraga's Mexican Medea examines this very tension between political identity and the nation-state, spiritual practice and religious ideology.

I am grateful to Castro for what he set into motion, along with the hundreds of people - including black and indigenous people - that were fighting alongside him. And, I have been disappointed with the Cuban nation-state policies and how they have affected black Cubans, and queer Cubans - best exemplified with the Marielitos. Any reading of history that reaches for truth, I believe must address the complexities, achievements and inadequacies of our deeply human social-political and economic systems. Thanks to Castro and Guevara, and the EZLN and and and all the revolutionaries throughout the continent, we have evidence, models and examples of revolutions against capitalist economic structures. And, still, I believe: we must move into even newer, more radical analyses.

All this passed through my brain as I drank my Bustelo laced with cinnamon. And then I got in my car and the first news report I heard started like this (Renee Montaine - NPR):

"This morning we look at the history of Presidents' slave chefs, and the history of African-Americans cooking for U.S. Presidents."


And I heard his name: Hercules. Sharron Conrad goes on to discuss how Hercules cooked for the first president of the United States, George Washington. Jessica Harris states how he was noted for being a dandy (really?). And how, when George Washington returned to Mt Vernon (NY) from Washington DC, Hercules ran away. Well, yeah.

This was after the interview with Zephyr Wright, still living, who cooked for LBJ who, she states, "The first night that I met President Johnson, he was late as usual. He was always late for meals .... Now there have been times that he'd get on the phone himself and call me and ask me how long would it take to get something ready for the whole Cabinet and sometimes he'd walk in with them and you didn't even know he's coming." She goes onto to re-tell how when LBJ moved back to Texas, he expressed his regret that she wouldn't be joining him.

So, are we to remember our rightful place: as cooks in the White House? See, it's more complex than a simple binary reading of history. For one, I think it's fantastic to give name/face and place to the rich legacy of African-American chefs. But, at the same time, knowing the complexity of a time when African-American leadership is still questioned as a viable reality really makes me wonder what the producers at NPR were thinking with this segment.

Hmm...2008 - a year of many, many changes.


Jen said...

Break it down, break it on down. How *does* that NPR-quirky African American History Month bit play right now, in this nation-state? Thank you.

Speaking (as we were, offline) of inauthentic relationships...I was so struck when I heard that story by the repeated surprise of the white people over the centuries: what? you don't want to come with me?

k. terumi shorb said...

dude, i know it's your partner who is the textile artist, but you are certainly a weaver and a knitter. i'd choose a complex and inconsistent cloth woven by you over the ticky-tacky ones we're led to believe are "credible" any day. yours will ultimately keep me warmer.