Eight. Seven. Thousands. Millions. I'm losing count. I know I shouldn't. I know that Yom Hashoah will soon be upon us, and the names will be read so that we do not forget. But I'm losing count. Of all the bodies becoming sand, becoming mortar and sedimentary layers to this bloody colonial and post-colonial history. How could the earth not revolt with all the blood feeding its soils, soils which are then quickly cemented over like tombs? How could the skies not open up with all the ashes of ancestors reaching for the Sun, like faces turned to warmth in the darkness? How could the water not revolt, with all the weights in its depths.
I haven't lost sight of my ideals. A world where everyone can have food to eat...more importantly, that we all have a space of land in which to grow this food. Clean water. A shelter that keeps us warm. Access to the wonders of knowledge, history, art and human exchanges. Healers to tend to our wounds. These are not, at first glance, seemingly impossible. And then I recall Israel-Palestine. Lebanon. Iraq. Afghanistan. The Sudan. South Africa. Nigeria. Colombia. Haiti. The occupied United States. And I remember the thousands. millions (I'm losing count) of people without food, clean water, shelter, or access to knowledge, history, art or healing medicine. For whom these ideals don't just feel impossible, but right now, actually are.
I wish my heart's desires could outweigh the desires of those who wage war in my name. Yes, this is the idealist in me. But, I'm also clear it's just a wish.
How to restore the spirit? I learned from a wise friend, that sometimes, in addition to the fight, I must also remember the celebration.
Last night, I went to a talk with Analouise Keating - someone who has arduously documented and discussed the works of Gloria Anzaldua. Last night she spoke of "status quo stories" and "nepantla". Keating came up with the notion of "status quo stories" - stories/narratives that are spoken to justify things as they have always been. Like, "We've always used water from that well (even though now it's toxic) because that's just the way it's always been." And then she spoke of Anzaldua's "nepantla" - a Nahuatl word for the site, the body, the space in which bridge-crossing happens, in which transformation becomes possible, in which borders are crossed. Keating was discussing the need for a transformation in (inter)disciplinary thinking in the academy. But I think her concepts are useful in life: when do we make the choice to retreat behind our borders, and when do we choose to cross into an un-defined center, a space in which all is possible?
This talk came at a time when I am finally able to put language to my aesthetic: My aesthetic is that of transgression. Transgression of rules, norms, forms, expectations, history, and all of that. An aesthetic that lives in the undefined cracks. Yes. That's where I like to live. I'm finally clear about that.
After Keating's talk, I went to a student production of Machado's "Broken Eggs". It was a hard play to watch, here in Baton Rouge. Knowing that the Director, Femi Euba - a highly lauded Nigerian Director - had probably struggled with the young, white cast for a basic respectability. His staging was fantastic. The play's text is brilliant - highly critical of class, gender, heterosexuality, race, anti-Semitism and nationalism. Yet, I sat in my chair aware that the actors were not able to be vulnerable enough to give the Latin@ characters dignity. And that the audience was laughing at moments of anti-Semitism that were actually not intended to be funny, but rather, were moments meant to illuminate and critique the ways in which whiteness has been constructed in this country.
Oh, I could go on, but my hosts here in Baton Rouge are preparing an egg salad sandwich and I'm going to go help them make it. And try to keep my idealism in tact. Even though I've lost count. I've lost count.