Monday, October 26, 2015

The Write to Heal

It is no secret that I recently had the most amazing weekend of my life alongside 5 other Afro-Latinas at a writer's retreat in Galveston. I have been living off the high from the weekend for days. If you follow me on FB or Twitter or read last week's blog, you know how energized and empowered that weekend made me feel. Never, and I mean never, have I felt so connected to a group of people I rarely knew. Never, and I mean never have I finally felt like I belonged somewhere. Never, and I mean never have I ever felt so understood. For the first time in 7 years, being sick wasn't what defined me. And that made it feel like I could finally breathe. 

It's one thing to try and build a community of support in the virtual world. And it's actually quite easy to do so. But to actually come together and share our experiences, our stories our deepest fears and desires, and our written work...nothing..nothing is more powerful than that.
I won't go into great detail about all that we did or said or shared. Some things are meant to be kept between sisters (yes, that's what they are to me now, sisters). But I will share a few things that I walked away with from that well as a few pics of the best moments.
The Women

1. Hair. We all have issues with our hair. Whether we're Dominican, Cuban or Afro-Mejicana, our hair is something we all have to learn how to love if we are ever to be truly happy with ourselves. It can define us and destroy us if we let it. There is a love/hate relationship many of us have with our hair from the moment we are young girls until the day we die. I've known for years that I am not alone in this struggle (a struggle I have finally overcome since I really do LOVE my hair finally) but it's always nice to hear others empathize and relate to your plight.

2. Identity. All of us identify as Afro-Latina,
but we are all at different points in our journeys. Some have fully embraced their "African" roots, while others don't even have proof they are of African descent but something within tells them so. Some of us still feel more "Latina" than African (me), and have a hard time embracing and accepting our blackness (in the African-American sense of things) if only because we've been told all our lives one of two or both things 1)Blackness is wrong, evil, dirty or "other" 2) You are not "black enough" if I needed a card to prove it or something, because I "sound too white," have "good" hair, and speak Spanish...hazme el favor.

Cafe Bustelo in da HOUSE!
What I came to understand is that most, if not all Afro-Latinas are stuck in the beautiful but often isolating world of grey when it comes to identity. The light-skinned Latinos don't like to acknowledge us (especially in the media, but even in our own countries), and black folks in America are quick to say we don't understand their struggles. It's a tricky space to live in, and we often feel like we have to pick a side...but the strength with which some of these women claimed their identity left me feeling more empowered and willing to do so myself. I am who and what I say I am, and no one can say any different..and I don't have to prove it to anyone either.

The last and probably most profound piece of identity that I came to that weekend (Thanks to Icess), was the "where I'm from piece." Something that I've struggled with for decades. As a military brat I thought I could never answer that question simply. But I think I am one step closer to a true answer. Truth be told, I am from...the South. Yep. There, I said it. Most of my experiences in life have been with a southerner's point of view. All the states I've lived in have been southern states, and I've spent so much time in TX already, I may as well say I'm from here.

The Retreat House!
I came to the realization that I hesitated to admit to my southerness because of all that it implied. Slavery. Discrimination. Racism. Hate. Violence. Women as property. Not that those things don't exist in the north, but the south has such a dense and torrid history. I didn't want to carry the baggage of what it meant to"be from the south." Truth be told though, after some reflection and writing by the water on the last day at the retreat, I'm kind of proud to be from the south now. Yes, it has a turbulent history and it hasn't been kind to people like me, but Southern hospitality is a real thing and I have been shown so much love from so many people here in the south, that I can't simply ignore that.

I feel connected to the landscape, the architecture, the arts and culture, the food, the music (even the Rodeo) and the people. The south is home and I think I'm finally ok with that.

3. Anger. We are all angry. And that's ok. Though we resist and hate the stereotype of the "mad angry black woman" we understand and accept that our anger is justified and necessary. We have every right to be pissed. About A LOT. Low wages. Inequality- everywhere. The way were are treated like "exotic" objects to be conquered and sexualized. Street, work, and overall life harassment from people who feel entitled to us and our bodies. All of that and MORE. We are angry, and we are forced at times to carry that anger with grace and humility when all we really want to do in the words of Ntozake Shange "is scream, and holler, and break things and tell you all your truths to your face and [not] be sorry for none of it." But that isn't alwyas possible. So what do WE as Afro-Latina writers do instead, when we can't fully express our rage? We write. And that is how we learn to heal. We did a lot of healing that weekend.

4. Anxiety, Sadness, Fear. We are all vulnerable and feel just as deeply as anyone else. Just because we are angry doesn't mean we are not afraid. It doesn't mean we are not deeply sad or anxious. All of those emotions exist within us simultaneous and that alone is often maddening. We are afraid of how we will be treated and received by others. We are anxious about our next step in life because we don't know where our feet will land at times. We are saddened by the fact that so little has changed to improve the lives of our gente both in the US and in our countries of origin. We carry all of this in our hearts and on our backs and if someone were to ask us why, why do you carry all of this around? Like Anne Carson, I believe we would simply have to reply:

"Where would you want me to put it down?"

The Beach...
5. Peace & Joy. Even amidst all the chaos and noise in our lives we all were able to find a little peace and a little joy that weekend that I believe all of us have carried with us moving forward.

6. Family. We became a family that weekend. We ate together. Laughed together. Cried (well at least I did) together. Shared stories together. We even went shopping! It was easy to be around these women and we have continued our conversations and our community online. Some of us our poets and memoirists, while others are playwrights and fiction writers. The genres didn't matter, our love and passion for the writing is what brought us together and will keep us together.

We are looking forward to coming together again soon, and you can join us! Our lovely organizer Icess Fernandez has coordinated a Live Stream Reading of our latest work coming up November 18th, 7pmCST/8pmET. You have to register for the online event to get the link. You will hear written selections from all 6 ladies (including me) that attended the retreat. You don't want to miss this!

No comments:

Post a Comment