Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sometimes, I think I horrify younger, aspiring organizers.

I have often found myself standing in front of younger organizers from very privileged backgrounds, similar though distinct from my own, who are trying really hard to do the right things in the right way. I feel like some mean old witch of the west when I open my mouth. Like I'm going to really burst their bubbles.

"Yeah, before a core group of bad ass immigrant rights organizers laid it on hard, unions were notorious for their racism. Did I say, were?"

"If you want to truly understand yourself as an organizer in this country - and you're from the northeast, go to the midwest, move to the south and then - if you can survive all of that as a yankee, then go to california."

"Boston is the most segregated city in America."

"Unions are amazing, AND why did my friend who dedicated hella years of her life to being a union organizer then get dropped by the union when she asked for domestic partner health benefits for her partner who was diagnosed with cancer?"

"I prefer southern racism to northeastern liberalism."

The young babes stare at me, their mouths agape. I feel horrible. Like I've dropped cold water on a hot plate and it's just jumping back all over the place. It's not that I'm being a grump, really it's not. It's just that...well, it's complicated. It's wrong to go into organizing thinking that things are simple. They're not. They are messy. I'm thinking about messiness as an organizing principle. Being willing to deal with the mess. How do we reconcile these histories of disenfranchisement? of selling out the ones who threaten what little we hold onto? How do we enter spaces of practice without the arrogance that is SO characteristic of the northeast that it's a stereotype?

And it's not that I'm burnt. I mean, I am. I was burnt years ago on the whole model of organizing that guides most efforts in this country (read: Alinsky. read: suck the marrow out of the young. read: models that are not sustainable for the long haul). AND, I still think collective action is the most powerful tool we have.

I came into organizing in the northeast, was disturbed by the west and found home in the south. Go figure. It's not that I'm okay with segregation, but I don't like being around racist people. So, if it means that I live with people who hold similar values, yay. I don't like that Texas has five police forces, but I love Texas. I do. I love that Texas is a state of people of color, and even though we do not yet hold all the strings, we are fierce and present and strong, and change is deep and felt when it happens. Take Fuerza Unida as just one example.

The poor babes. I went on a diatribe tonight, about 40 minutes I think, about Texas. I'd had two glasses of Shiraz. It wasn't pretty. The two 20 something union organizers were flabbergasted when I suggested that unions are not the only, nor primary, structure to serve communities of color. And they were equally flabbergasted with my assertion that the northeast is more segregated than the south. Oh, and that unions have a history of anti-LGBT politics. oops.

Layer onto all of this the irony that earlier in the evening, I had been sitting downstairs looking for the gays - I found the theatre party instead, which by the way was full of gays - but I digress...

I was sitting at the bar down stairs looking for the gays. I see two black women with dreds at the counter. I think, maybe? But I watch, listen, observe. No. They are not gay. At all. In fact, they are with the two men on either side of them. Pedro Martinez comes on the screen. The Yankees are playing the Phillies. I text JM as a moment of irony, since she's a die hard Mets fan and actually almost stopped talking to me when she found out I like the Yankees (watching the yankees! thinking of you. lol. just kidding. love you. xo) One of the women goes, "Now where is he from?" Cause, of course, Pedro is sporting the jerry curls (can someone get it out on the APB that even though the 80s came and went and came and went and came and g-d why don't they just GO, jerry curls were ALWAYS a bad a idea???!!), and he sticks out as strictly not...i'm letting you complete this sentence.

So, I assume her partner says, "D.R." cause next thing you know the woman is talking about the D.R.

"D.R.? I've been there. You can buy any girl you want there."

I can't hear the men. Only the women.

"Me, no I wouldn't buy a man, but I'd sure have sex with one if someone else bought him."

Really? Really?


So, I just watch, listen, think about the fact that we're in The Study - this upscale hotel with an upscale pretense of a bar in the middle of New Haven on a Thursday night and really I'm just looking for the gays when I know they are down the street at the working class bar called Partners where I've hung out every time I go straight crazy, and listening to two black women talk about how they would sleep with a bought ANYTHING.

I'm not against sex work. Really, truly I'm not. I just think it's intense how casual it can be to talk about buying anyone. And how flesh is once again reduced to sex.


So, I watch the rest of the baseball game, actually enjoying it, and then infiltrate the Yale Rep after party. I feel at home in the midst of all the theatre folks. I am at home. After my brief "What the fuck am I doing in a PhD in Anthro?" moment, cured by the satay and the first glass of Shiraz, I actually start a conversation with one of the theatre folk and have a blast. I could almost believe that I had found the gays, since so many of the theatre folk were of that inclination. Alas.

And then, it's over. And I start heading out the door. And then I see them: the non-theatre gays. They are really there. Turns out, they were in the PENTHOUSE. Of course. How could I have made such a mistake?

So I head upstairs with AL, who has agreed to join me in my debut entrance to Yale gay anything. And there they are. The doors to the Penthouse open, the view is stunning and the room is full of...boys. And then I see them.

And I proceed to horrify them over my second glass of Shiraz. And then say goodnight.

I stumble home across New Haven streets up to my apartment where I text AL. She had to leave for the sake of homework. I stayed, talking about something. Feeling old. Like some drunken organizing veteran sharing war stories.

I think next time, I'll just stick with the theatre gays. Leave the Penthouse organizers to their own conversation. Oh, and talk about something else.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A music video by our girl Bessie Smith (1929). Who says MTV broke new frontiers?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What do Victorian undergarments, Yemanya and Spaceships have in common?

Everything if you are in Atlantis. Halfway through the performances and music, I realized that I was witnessing Atlantis come rise up to the surface: music and the Zulu Nation, Afrika Bambaata playing witness to the Aleijuan violin syncopating blue red Bjork lights. The Shape Shifters Specimen Monstah Black, Yozmit reigning on the stage as dj lynnee denise and sabin blaizin parted waters the trailing voices of imani uzuri, karma and hanifah carrying us all across the depths.

I love house music. And I love art. I love the Monstah coming out, his spaceship carrying him through the depths dancing with jellyfish trailing up to the surface to greet us with his shark jaws. I love the freedom of black brown beautiful bodies emerging from their victorian tresses, and the shaking of starlight and star dust onto the surface of our mother earth.

Axe to the ascendent Atlantis supah stars who brought us home tonight.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I think, in my mind, I have officially become an adopted Tejana. Meaning, the bad-ass folks in Texas have brought me over to the other side of the Texas-US border and I really love it in nepantla land. I really do. Sure, I was only in Texas for three years, but they were a meaningful three years. I'm going back. I decided that's where home is.

For those who know me, this is quite a HUMONGOUS statement. The fact that I call anyplace, geographical place, home, is first of all unprecedented. That, combined with the fact that it's Texas, and not some big city...well, yes, I admit: I'm a country girl. I am. I like being surrounded by trees and creeks and hills and stars and cows. I like slow traffic when I'm not in a rush. And I like that people ride their horses to the 7-11 and that everyone says HELLO when they see you.

I'm in New Haven now. That's right. New Haven, Connecticut. I'm supposed to be here for three or five years or something like that. Getting my PhD at Yale. That part's exciting, at least. Though after picking up my course readings for my intro classes (Rosseau, Durkheim, etc), I realized that a little Vinnie Deloria was in order first. And thank G-D I have classes in such topics as Black feminism, Queer Ethnographies, etc...add a little seasoning to the cardboard (how can Durkheim still be relevant in 2009??!!!! anyways... I won't write the guy off completely. after all, I still have to read it).

I've had a weird day today. I even posted that as my status on facebook. It started off with a brass sky at 7am - I've only ever seen that color sky in Samira Abbassy's paintings. I think it was dust from the harmattan carried over by the hurricane whose fingers just gently swept past us. It was such an odd color, a color I've rarely seen that I woke up from a deep dream and stared, then freaked out about not having any stores of water therefore jumping out of bed, filling my biggest pot with water, and then nodding off again only waking two hours later to a bright white light coming through my window. The sky was blue. I stumbled into the kitchen and stared blankly at the pot of water, pouring some into a smaller pot to make coffee.

kts has asked me to write a poem for her opera. I'm not sure she'll use any of what I create - which is always a risk in creative collaborations - but I decided to give it a go today. So, I sat down, water boiling on the stove, and began reading through the heart sutra....

gone, gone
gone beyond
gone completely beyond
Praise to awakening

This is one translation of the sanskrit (transliterated below):

gate, gate paaragate paarasamgate bodhi svaaha

I was captivated, but me being me, I had to first play with the sound of the text before actually uncovering its meaning through the vehicle of poetry. It was fun. I came up with a gangsta version of Deus and Boddhi sattva coming to terms with each other, using only sounds from the sanskrit transliteration of the heart sutra and latin version of the Gloria...

Deus et Boddhisattva rasa ruupam

Et skandhaah! Sambodim tad Deus in terra “Boddhisattvas cum yathaa magnum!” Samskaaram, sama duhkha. Deus tollis, “Laudamus! Boddhisattva –yaa iha nobis terra filius te cittaavarana. Yaa gate samjnaate naandyaa. Pax yaa un gratius Altissiumus et gandha! Na. Amen. ‘ Boddhisattva, cakshuh satyam "Evem eva omnipotens, sma dharmaah Deus. Pax." et Gloria, Agnus, Shaari – et propter miserere. Peccata miserere.

You have to read it aloud to understand any of it. And yeah - it's gangsta and COMPLETELY sacreligious. I'm just warning you.

So, I spent three delicious hours writing poems, ideas for poems, concepts, uncovering my own heart and its truth, its attachments, its yearning. I came up with several silly poems, and then a couple that might actually be worth something when I'm done with them. It was only after this that I looked at the Gloria...realizing that if I'm to write about the Blessed Mother Buddha/Earth I must also write about Pater noster...omnipotens.

Oi vey.

In this raw state, I decided to put down the pen and call the truck rental company I used to drive from Austin to New Haven. New Haven is actually VERY gangsta. The Budget truck company tried to swindle me for having the truck towed from their property...and then charged me a gas/key replacement fee AFTER I turned in the key. Long story short, I had to get on the phone and the woman on the other end of the line was totally RUDE. This poor poet, in a raw and vulnerable state, couldn't hack it. I just had to ask her, "Are you having a bad day?"

If that wasn't enough, the previous resident from my current apartment showed up asking me - no wait - telling me to take care of her WEIRD. And then, I left the apartment. I won't go into details. It was bizarre. Some guy in the store making shady deals with his landlord

"Look, I need to take a shower. You need to turn the hot water back on. I have a wedding at 4pm."

and then

"I know, but I don't have time for this. What do you need?"

"Okay, 6 bags of cement. I can find that. 6 bags cement and you'll turn my hot water back on? Fine. It's a deal."


At least, I hope, everybody in that deal's gonna be happy and nobody gets hurt, right?

Well, I decided that I needed to chill out - avoid any further business kinda interactions. My vulnerable poet self was not feeling up to people. So, I went home, packed up a picnic and a couple of books and went to the New Haven Green for the Jazz Festival. Does Austin have a Jazz Festival? Well, it looks like one's in the planning stages...but the one today, here in New Haven, was great. Shawn Monteiro was singing when I got there - she has a voice rich and deep like Nina Simone's. It was pure joy to sit on the grass and listen to her. She sang some beautiful songs. Even made the breeze pick up.

And it stayed good - Hamiett Bluiett played - and he's a light that just bounces all over the stage. He was dressed all in white, moving here and there, talking with musicians, playing in this mic and that one. He was a lot of fun to watch. I read Alexis De Veaux's "The Tapestry" while the groups were on break. And then the night closed out with Bobby Sanabria...THAT was awesome.

Bobby opens up with a prayer to Yemanya and enter audience right none other than Yemanya herself - a big, Mandinga queen wrapped in a white sheet dancing to Yemanya in front of all the stupified New Haven crowd. S/he just tore it up, shimmying shoulders, greeting the children - oh s/he was so BEAUTIFUL to watch. I was sad when the police chased Yemanya out of the park - just reminded me our kind is not always welcome, that our genderqueer black bodies are constantly under surveillance. S/he was dancing so beautifully, and unexpectedly. I tried to rationalize it all by praying for the child's safety. And then Bobbie brought out Ogun with a full percussive jazz rendition of Olu Talade. If that wasn't enough and the incredible, legendary percussionist Candido - who is 88 years old, walked out with a cane and then played like he was 15.

I left with when the band was playing a traditional merengue and danced back to my apartment - happy to be alive, and feeling a whole lot better about the day. Now I'm here - ready to write another poem, to settle into the night.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wow. It's been ages since I've posted. I haven't really had time. That's always arguable, but really: in my case, it's true. I've been swamped with work. Part of it has been my choice to spend an hour in the garden versus an hour in front of the computer, blogging. I love gardening. I love the garden here at Alma de Mujer Center for Social Change.

And speaking of life is about to become something I can't even imagine. I got into a PhD program at Yale University up in New England. It seems I have some New England karma to resolve. I'm bracing myself for the cold, but also making plans to migrate South for days, weeks, months at a time. February is such a short month, I may sneeze and watch it pass. But on the up and up, I'm getting excited.

Two weeks left working here at Alma de Mujer. Just two weeks. And I leave Austin on August 12th. AAH!! I can't believe it. It finally hit me yesterday. I started packing today, starting with the books, of course. It was wild to pass my hand over books I haven't looked at in years. It seems that I always go back to the old favorites when I'm in need of comfort these days. I dusted off the cover of Petals of Blood and then ceremoniously placed it inside a brown box put together just for this purpose. I did the same with the other several hundred issues.

And then, I was tired. So I came out to the land and danced for a little bit, watered the garden and then sat outside to enjoy the sunset.

New Haven, what secret spots will you offer in the dead cold of winter? Will your leaves grace my cheek in the Fall? Will my heart jump with the joy of flowers in the Spring? Can you beat a daily summer high of 108 degrees, like my new found home of Austin?

Austin...I will miss Austin. We've had a drought for two years, but I remember when there was water in the river and Flower & I would go in the afternoon and swim in its currents. I've recently discovered kayaking. I'm going tomorrow. It's awesome. And then, there are the breakfast tacos. And the Red House happy hours. Austin has given me theatre. And amazing friends. Amazing people in general. I'm going to miss it.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Save the date, pass the word:


Saturday July 18, 2009 - 8pm

at the historic Victory Grill

1104 E. 11th Street, Austin, TX

$20.00 (includes after-party)

a play about house music, that is:

dancing and loving as though your life depends on it

love groove magic


Written by Ana-Maurine Lara
Co-directed by Matt Richardson & Ana-Maurine Lara


Dino Foxx
as Mother Majestic

Her Children:

Saray Rosales
as Parker
Wura-Natasha Ogunji as Essex
Alix Chapman as Ms Opal
KT Shorb as Flash Gorgeous

Liz Westbrook & Mel Cofer as Thugs

and, of course

DJ Lynnee Denise as The DJ

Meta(physical) production by Sheree Ross. Choreography by Annelize Machado. Dramaturgy by Jennifer Margulies & Surabhi Kukke. Costume Design by Senalka McDonald.

With thanks to ALLGO for their support.

For more information, contact the artist at zorashorse_at_yahoo_dot_com

Monday, March 30, 2009

From the website about the film "Sugar Babies".

It is estimated that there are 280,000 ethnic Haitians living in the Dominican Republic with no form of identification. (United States Agency for International Development)

It is estimated that 30,000 Haitians illegally enter the Dominican Republic each year to work in the sugar industry, facilitated by the Dominican government. These live in migrant labor camps called bateys under “horrifying” conditions. (Miami Herald)

Currently, there are 400 bateys (migrant labor camps) in the Dominican Republic. (Amnesty International)

Sixteen percent of the bateys registered in the State Sugar Council do not receive any type of medical assistance. (The United Nations Development Programme)

Only seven percent of registered bateys have a dispensary or rural clinic. (The United Nations Development Programme)

Children in one third of the bateys lack access to education. (The United Nations Development Programme)

One third of batey inhabitants do not know how to read or write. (The United Nations Development Programme)

Two thirds of batey inhabitants lack access to a water filtration system and direct access to a river. (The United Nations Development Programme)

In the batey, the pay – instead of salary – is…insufficient to provide even one dignified meal per day, and children many times must eat the very cane cut by their parents in the sugar cane fields. Their undocumented state renders them unable to leave the batey territory, the only place where…Dominican immigration authorities do not enter to check on immigration status, nor threaten batey residents with deportation. (Miami Herald)

An immigration law passed in 2004 – and later upheld by the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court – denies citizenship to children of Haitian migrants by forcing parents to fulfill a considerable number of nearly impossible requirements. (Amnesty International)

The lack of identity documents – leaves the children socially immobile and unable to gain access to education, unless it’s to the severely limited batey schools where studies beyond a fourth grade level are practically non-existent. (Miami Herald)

In the last ten years, the Dominican government has expelled tens of thousands of Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans thought to be ethnically Haitian, rounding up in the bateys and on the streets (Amnesty International)

Two out of every three spoonfuls of sugar consumed in the United States was produced by the Fanjul Group, which is the majority shareholder of Domino Sugar.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Note: This is the correct version. Peace.

Praise Song for the Day

A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business,

walking past each other, catching each other’s

eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is

noise and bramble, thorn and din, each

one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning

a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,

repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,

with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,

with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky.

A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words

spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,

words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark

the will of some one and then others, who said

I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.

We need to find a place where we are safe.

We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.

Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,

who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built

brick by brick the glittering edifices

they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.

Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,

the figuring-it- out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,

others by first do no harm or take no more

than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,

love that casts a widening pool of light,

love with no need to pre-empt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,

any thing can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be published on February 6, 2009.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I feel sometimes that my blog has become a running obituary. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Jorge Macchi, for example, used the obituary pages from the Buenos Aires newspaper to construct a city of paper in which stars and crosses were all that remained. And loss is part of life. It’s all that strange ying/yang cycle of creation. But I am surprised by how easy it is for me to not visit this place, to forget to chronicle life’s thoughts – I’ve been so busy. I never thought I’d hear myself say that.

In any case, I’m going to stop beating around the drum. I’m very sad about the death of Ana Sisnett, tocaya, artista, poeta, activista, elder, grandmother, drummer, Scorpio.

She was to be featured in the Austin Salon this past November, but was ill. We drummed for her instead. She’s been fighting ovarian cancer since 2006, when she was diagnosed. Like most artists, she was uninsured, and like most artists, was at the mercy of her community’s goodwill. Luckily, the City of Austin provided good services for her and her community has loved her very much.

My friend K.M. first told me about Ana, and that I should meet her. That she too is an Afro-Latina artist and writer. S.B. showed me a painting she had done of two mermaids. When I was first in Austin in Spring 2006, there was a poetry reading and fundraiser for her, but I didn’t get to go. And so it was that I met her in the Fall of 2006. We met at Chango’s and had tacos together and learned about each other’s work and history. At a fundraiser for Ana later that Fall, I first heard Lourdes Perez – an extraordinary Boricua folk singer with a long history in Austin and I first saw how much Ana is dearly loved. She started freenet – an organization devoted to providing access to technology to low-income people. She believed, deeply, in the power that art has to give life. Not to save it but to give it. Her paintings and poetry alike are bright collages of color and flavors, of energy coming together in a dance of memory, place, love and body. Ana was an elder. She always made a point of showing me her daughter and her granddaughter’s paintings, of listening to their music, of understanding the importance of the generations.

When we first met, we laughed about being tocaya – connected by name, and thus by spirit. I recall how many times, J.M. has told me she was sending me a text that ended up going to Ana Sisnett instead or vice versa. That is the tocaya essence – it is easy to be confused.

Last Saturday, as I stood next to her, I said Tocaya loudly, whispered into her ear, “I love you, Ana.” and kissed her goodbye. In that moment, I realized that I was also saying goodbye to all the women ancestors in my own family with whom I did not have that opportunity. And that soon, Ana would be joining them, and maybe, just maybe she could carry some of that love to them, too. Here is a poem for Ana.


Baila the rhythms of Panama and Barbados


Caribbean salsa dancing in your bones


as smoothly as mainland heat


as easily as sweet plantain

ta-ta tata ta-ta

and rice and peace


Baila the rhythms of paint on canvas


of pen on paper


of hand on drum


of laughter and a raised eyebrow


step back, shake a shoulder

Takiti takata

shimmer and shine with that sexy groove

Tun-tun tuku-tun Tun-tun tuku-tan

Takiti Takiti ta

Tun-tun taka ta

Tun-tun tuku-tun

Takiti Takiti Takiti

Ta Ta Ta.