Important New Blog: Black and Missing But Not Forgotten

14 08 2007

This blog is dedicated to all the missing black women in America. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr once said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” If the media doesn’t step up – who will? Let these ladies know that we did not forget about them.

Deidre, “just a concerned Black woman,” has stepped up where mainstream media left off – by loving black women enough to notice when we disappear.  Many thanks to her for her work, and for her demonstration of what can be done, and must be done, for ourselves.  Stop by and support her today!


Welcome! As stated in my title, this blog is dedicated to all the missing black women of America. A couple of weeks ago I was reading a blog about a missing black woman named Stepha Henry. I did not know who she was [and was very embarrassed that I didn’t] but once I did more research on her – it was sad to see that she did not get the coverage she needed in the media because of the Paris Hilton case. [See next post for more info on Stepha Henry]

After I did my research on Henry, I tried googling “black missing females” and other variations of it to see if I can find a website or a blog just like this one. Unfortunately after a couple of hours I found little results. A couple days later I finally hit jackpot and found over 200 missing black females from the month of Jan 2007 until June 2007. Most of them we probably never heard of either because of lack of media attention or not enough exposure for them to be found.

So why am I doing this? Very simple. If I don’t do it who will? The media? Why wait for the media to do something like this when all it take is time, research and most of all dedication? Anybody can do this. Why not now? I think the families of these girls deserve for their loved ones to come home. This is just a small step towards making that happen. 🙂

In These Times: “Stories of Survival”

6 08 2007

original article located here

Features > June 29, 2007

Stories of Survival

NO! explores rape within the African-American community and fights society’s instinct to focus on the racism outside while turning a deaf ear to gender violence within

By Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell

The documentary NO! chips away at the myths and silence surrounding sexual assault it he black community

Filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons didn’t miss a beat when a white, female student told her at a 2003 Boston College screening of her documentary NO!, “Until I saw your film, I didn’t know that black women could be raped.” Simmons, a Philadelphia resident, calmly asked the young woman why she believed such a thing. The student replied that she didn’t think black women, simultaneously praised and pilloried for their strength, would stand for such a violation—as if sexual-violence victims are able to negotiate with attackers or deter them with a hefty serving of attitude.That wasn’t the case with Simmons, now 38, who was sexually assaulted in 1989, when she was a 19-year-old Temple University sophomore on a foreign exchange program to Mexico. A clandestine date—outside the dorm and the curfew hours—turned into a rape that left her pregnant and so devastated that she dropped out of college. Nor was that the case with the women whose stories Simmons has included in NO!, which explores rape within the African-American community.

Among them is a woman who was raped by her mentor, the university’s highest ranking black administrator; another whose fraternity boyfriend wouldn’t take no for an answer; and yet another who struggles with bulimia decades after her first boyfriend beat and raped her after she refused to have sex outside.

For Simmons, NO! has been a labor of love to make the film she wanted, regardless of how long it took. Simmons began filming interviews in 1994 with co-producer Tamara Xavier, but the documentary wasn’t released until 2006, largely because of the struggle to find $300,000 in necessary funding.

With NO!, Simmons hopes to chip away at the myths and disquieting silence surrounding sexual assault in the black community, which has traditionally been so attuned to racism outside that it has largely turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to gender violence within.

“There’s this notion,” says Simmons, “that when black women come forward [and say they’ve been raped], that we’re a traitor to the race. I wanted to show these women, their faces, their names. I understand privacy and shame, but shame should be on the perpetrators.”

Simmons followed the case of Desiree Washington, the beauty queen who accused boxer Mike Tyson of raping her in 1991 in his hotel room. (Tyson served three years in prison.) Then came the campaign to “save” Tyson and discredit Washington—complete with T-shirts proclaiming his innocence. In NO!, Simmons includes footage of Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan asking what Washington expected when she went to Tyson’s room as other faith leaders cackle in agreement.

Simmons wondered why those leaders and others never acknowledged that rape isn’t typically a crime committed by a stranger and that, for most black women, the perpetrator is an acquaintance who looks like them. The lack of critical reaction from the black community in the wake of the Washington case, combined with a 1994 trip to South Africa, where she met activists working on issues of sexual assault, galvanized her to make NO!. It is estimated that as many as half of all South African women will be raped in their lifetimes.

American women are also vulnerable to sexual assault. According to a study by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control, one in every six U.S. women will be subjected to sexual assault or an attempted assault during her lifetime. The organization’s “Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey” estimates that 18.8 percent of black women will survive a rape or attempted rape—making them only slightly more likely than the general population (17.6 percent) and white women (17.7 percent) to experience such a crime, but much less likely to be raped than Native Americans.

Numbers alone don’t express the full extent of rape or sexual assault in the black community—a topic that has probably been discussed more extensively in novels such as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple than in real life. Black women must deal with competing interests—protecting one’s self versus protecting the image of black men in a society where black men are the usual suspects of sexual crimes, facing the distrust of the police versus the need for personal security—that reduce the chance they will report rape.

With the help of anthropologist and former Spelman College President Johnnetta Cole, historian Beverly Guy-Sheftall and former Black Panther Elaine Brown, NO! examines the historical forces that foster sexual violence—and suppress dialogue about it—in black communities. In a country built on slavery, which was predicated on control of black labor and reproduction, black women have been regarded as perpetually sexually available or “unrapeable.” They have never fit easily into the “good girl” mold.

“I realized that I couldn’t talk about sexual assault in the African-American community without talking about slavery,” says Simmons. “If somebody owns you, how do you have the right to consent?”

NO! is generating discussion within the black community. In 2003, writer Kevin Powell (who is black) showed an unfinished cut to a crowd of hundreds—including many African-American men—on a wintry Friday night in Harlem. Men are a vital part of the solution, says Nia Wilson, the associate director of Spirit House, an arts and cultural nonprofit in Durham, N.C. “This is not about going after black men,” she says. “This is about uncovering something we need to address, and we need to address it together. Men are the only ones who can stop rape, no matter what we say, no matter how much light we shine on it.”

Wilson, who is black and a sexual-violence survivor, is also a member of UBUNTU, a coalition that combats racism and violence. Simmons allowed UBUNTU to use NO! to foster dialogue around North Carolina. Wilson recalls a screening for a white audience that was disengaged from the topic. All of the reactions Wilson had learned to expect—tears, outrage, personal testimonies—didn’t happen. The audience members acknowledged the violence, but their comments and lack of emotion told her that they couldn’t relate to this type of violence.

Wilson told the audience, “I can watch a Lifetime movie with a cast full of white people and cry because I’m conditioned to relate to you. But you are not conditioned to relate to me. You, especially this group who thinks you’re so politically correct, you cannot watch a movie with people with brown skin and see yourself.”

Bryan Proffitt, a 28-year-old white schoolteacher and UBUNTU member, says that talking about rape and race requires starting from a framework that acknowledges a history of interracial violence, white supremacy, male domination and myths that need debunking. “There’s always a good bit of anxiety about how white folks are going to see this film. ‘Oh, look, black guys are rapists. We knew that.’ We’ve always tried to be careful of framing this film beforehand because we recognize that white people come in with that particular narrative and we want to challenge that before they see it.”

Before each screening, the UBUNTU facilitator reads a statement that lists 27 reasons the film is being shown, including: “Because the stories of survivors of sexual assault are powerful and sacred.” “Because there are survivors here.” “Because this film holds us all accountable for the world that we comply with and perpetuate.”

This April, NO! was selected as a featured resource by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “Everywhere I’ve shown the film,” says Simmons, “someone comes up and discloses she’s a survivor. I could be the only black woman in the room—me and the women on the film—in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, women stand up and say, ‘This is my story.’”

For more information on NO!, visit

Beatriz Badikian-Gartler – I HEAR YOU SISTER: Women of Color Speak (to Each Other)

30 06 2007

I HEAR YOU SISTER: Women of Color Speak (to Each Other)
Beatriz Badikian-Gartler, Chicago
(2006) The International Fiction Review 33: 64-70



I first read the collection This Bridge Called My Back[i] in 1981 for a class I took on feminist philosophy. At that time, I let it wash over me, I let it enter me. It was one of several texts we had to read for the class. But soon, it became the only book that mattered. I read it, then discussed it in class and, when school was over, took it with me on a long journey through Europe. It became my friend and confidante during lonely nights in strange cities. I identified with the women and their writing; they became my compañeras who said the things I had been thinking of for years but had not been able to articulate. They showed me that what I had been and was feeling and thinking was not strange, unusual, crazy. They spoke for me and with me. Years later, in graduate school, I picked up This Bridge once again. It was for a class on African-American women writers and dialogics. And, when the professor spoke about Mae Henderson’s essay


Speaking in Tongues,”[ii] the proverbial light bulb flashed in my head. Anzaldua’s “Speaking in Tongues”[iii] came rushing out, flooding my mind with the connections between Latinas and African-American women, so obvious that I hadn’t seen them until then, so obvious to me now that I don’t understand why more work on this is not done.

Gloria Anzaldua’s “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers,” one of the essays in the collection, was written over a period of five days. The first section serves as an introduction to the problems that Third-World women writers face in the United States. The second section intersects Anzaldua’s privileged position as writer/teacher/publisher with her daily struggle against racism, sexism, and the Anglo-male-mainstream efforts to silence her. The third and final section offers readers a clear picture of the tasks at hand, the alternatives for the future.

This essay is a conversation between Anzaldua’s essay and the words of African-American women writers and scholars speaking through my elaborations and annotations. And, although dated, it is still relevant. Racism and sexism still live among us, still affect our daily lives. It is obviously a hypothetical conversation that needs to become a reality. For too long women of color in the United States have stayed in their communities, fought the same battles separately, and suffered similar casualties on their own. Yet, it is so transparently clear to me that we have much more in common than not. We are sisters in the struggle and must share the triumphs. Witness Anzaldua’s opening line: A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers: 21 mayo 80 Dear mujeres de color, companions in writing…. The epistolary form is always a dialogue, albeit one carried out in silence. It presumes a reader-or more than one. The use of the epistolary form by women of color, such as Alice Walker in The Color Purple, is explored in Mae Henderson’s essay “The Color Purple: Revisions and Redefinitions.”[iv]

Henderson posits this use as a subversion of the form created by men to write about women and, in the process, inscribe male control over literary images of women, a form later appropriated by white women writers as well. By choosing the epistolary style, Third-World women writers are “able to draw on a form which places [their] work in a tradition associated with women, allows a feminine narrative voice, and establishes a bond and intimacy between women.” Furthermore, Henderson


theorizes that “Walker’s use of the vernacular … has invested an old and somewhat rigid form with new life.”[v]

Similarly, Anzaldua’s use of Spanish functions as a vernacular: to breathe new life into an old body, subverting a traditional form with original and culturally specific forms, namely, the linguistic code switch between English and Spanish common in the Latino community. And Anzaldua continues: … I sit here naked in the sun typewriter against my knee trying to visualize you…. “What is at once characteristic and suggestive about black women’s writing is its interlocutory, or dialogic, character, reflecting not only a relationship with the ‘other(s),’ but an internal dialogue with the plural aspects of self that constitute the matrix of black female subjectivity,” writes Mae Henderson in her own “Speaking in Tongues.”[vi]

She envisions black women’s writing as, in the words of Bakhtin, “a unique collaboration with oneself,” claiming a dialogue with an imaginary other outside the self as well as with the varied aspects within herself. Similarly, Gloria Anzaldua imagines her companions while she writes: the Black woman who huddles over a desk in New York, the Chicana sitting on a porch in South Texas, the Indian woman walking to school, the Asian-American tugged in all directions by children and husband. These women are at once external to Anzaldua because of their racial, social, historical, and cultural variations and internal to her, representing “a dialectic of identity [of] those aspects of self shared with others.”[vii]

This “simultaneity of discourse,”[viii] as posited by Henderson, becomes a literal simultaneity when Anzaldua visualizes the women sitting down, attempting to write as if they were in the same room with her, sharing her struggle, almost becoming her. And then Anzaldua says: It is not easy writing this letter. It began as a poem, a long poem. I tried to turn it into an essay but the result was wooden, cold…. How to begin. How to approximate the intimacy and immediacy I want. What form? A letter, of course…. The African-American scholar Joyce Ann Joyce compares Black poststructuralist critics to their white counterparts in their adoption of an alienating discourse that speaks only “to a small, isolated audience,” calling their language “pseudoscientific.”[ix]


This need to communicate directly and deeply drives Anzaldua to the epistolary form, privileging it over other genres and styles. Later Anzaldua writes: … My dear hermanas, the dangers we face as women writers of color are not the same as those of white women though we have many in common…. We can’t transcend the dangers, can’t rise above them…. In describing the struggle of the Black creative writer, Joyce points out her need to “establish a connection between the self and many people outside that self”[xi] through language, sharing experiences that bond the women with the strongest possible ties. Anzaldua’s greeting as hermanas (sisters) declares one of the strongest bonds between women, second only to the bond between mothers and daughters. United by the dangers we face every day and unable to avoid them, we struggle together, creating alliances, useful in future struggles. Drawing the battle lines clearly, Anzaldua’s positioning allows all women writers of color to enter the conversation and, in the process, become visible. She writes: … Unlikely to be friends of people in high literary places, the beginning writer woman of color is invisible both in the white male mainstream world and in the white women’s feminist world, though in the latter this is gradually changing. The lesbian of color is not only invisible, she doesn’t even exist. Our speech, too, is inaudible. She calls this speech “speaking in tongues” and prefigures Henderson’s trope for the simultaneous “plurality of voices” and “multiplicity of discourses” present in the writings of African-American women.[xii]

Then Anzaldua adds: We speak in tongues like the outcast and the insane…. Although her attribution of this speech to the outcast and insane appears to deprivilege it, her own use of the language in her writing contradicts the superficially negative characterization. When her attention turns to white women, her position seems more ambivalent since they enjoy certain privileges in racial and ethnic terms yet struggle because of their gender. In the paragraphs that follow, Anzaldua addresses her teachers who did not allow her to speak her Spanish language, much less teach it, the language that reflects “our culture, our spirit.” When Alice Walker speaks of the creativity of black women in her essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” she offers the examples of numerous mothers and grandmothers, women who were not allowed to express their creativity in traditional forms and had to resort to gardening, cooking, sewing, in order to allow the creative spark to flourish.

Anzaldua’s indictment of the status quo continues in a poem that functions as a dialogue on three different levels: on a superficial level, the poem is addressed to the mainstream’s preconceived ideas about Third-World women based on their use of a different language; on a genre level, its inclusion in the essay becomes a


dialogue between creative writing and nonfiction writing; and finally, on a textual level, the figure of the “mother” in the poem, whose voice in the distance she cannot understand, connects her to Walker’s mother and grandmothers who “knew what we / must know / without knowing a page / of it / themselves”[xiii]

Anzaldua continues, by questioning her right to choose to become a writer, to believe she has something to contribute when everything and everyone around her seems to deny that. Her response: …I think, yes, perhaps if we go to the university…. They convince us that we must cultivate art for art’s sake…. Achieve in order to win the coveted title “literary writer” … above all do not be simple, direct, nor immediate…. In her essay “The Race for Theory,” African-American scholar Barbara Christian presents her critique of what she calls the “academic hegemony” and its language, which she describes as alienating, unnecessarily complicated, and just plain ugly.[xiv]

Anzaldua prefigures Christian’s position, stating that this type of abstract theoretical language only serves to isolate the writer/scholar from the masses. Simultaneously, however, Christian observes that theoretical and creative writing can serve as a political tool if they are rooted in practice, avoiding the pitfalls of elitism and exclusivity. By problematizing feminist theories that “do not take into account … that women are of many races and ethnic backgrounds,” theories that collapse all women of color into one single, monolithic category, ignoring distinctions,[xv]

Christian parallels Anzaldua’s stereotypical images of passive Black, Chinese, Chicana, and Indian women who know how to treat a man. Yet these women revolt: … When you come knocking on our doors with your rubber stamps to brand our faces … when you come with your branding irons to burn MY PROPERTY on our buttocks, we will vomit the guilt … we are tired of being your scapegoats…. Anzaldua’s image here mirrors Shirley Williams’s protagonist Dessa Rose; those identifying Rs branded on her thigh and hip by the slave owner constitute an act of discursive domination over Dessa’s body and relegate her to the status of object. Struggling to gain her subjectivity, Anzaldua questions her compelling need to write. Her answer: … Because the writing saves me …. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive…. In another mirroring effect, Barbara Christian declares, “what I write and how I write is done in order to save my own life.”[xvi]

The need to exist and to


affirm that existence drives both women to write. Furthermore, Anzaldua insists on being the one to write her own stories; to make myself (169), she adds, just like Sula does in Toni Morrison’s eponymous novel, who declares her need to make herself and not anyone else when confronted with the issue of marriage. Sula’s characteristic outspokenness and disregard for the objections of the community about her behavior complement Anzaldua’s need to write about the unmentionables (169), disregarding the outrage of censors and audience alike. Writing represents an act of resistance in Anzaldua’s life. Imposed definitions must be fought. The need to survive is stronger than the fear of surrendering: I’m scared of writing but I’m more scared of not writing (169), she proclaims in one line, yet in the next she questions herself on her merits, her qualifications. Her answer: … The act of writing is the act of making soul…. It is the quest for the self, for the center of the self, which we women of color have come to think as other – the dark, the feminine … we knew we were different, set apart, exiled… (169).

Anzaldua’s use of the metaphor of making soul not only echoes the by now familiar use of this image by African-American people but also foreshadows the next collection edited by Gloria Anzaldua, titled Making Face, Making Soul. Elaborating on this act of making soul, Anzaldua offers the images of “other,” “quest for self,” and “exile,” also by now familiar tropes in the writings of African-American women. Characters such as Sula, Janie, Celie, and others exemplify this quest for acceptance by the world outside and the world inside.

Their own communities, where they often return in search of solace and acceptance, are not always welcoming. Writing seems to be the answer for Anzaldua as well as for many of the Black women writers who, through their protagonists and in a dialectical fashion, attempt to uncover and discover the sites of oppression and repression while, simultaneously, creating a safe space for themselves. A few days later, in the section that follows, Gloria Anzaldua exhorts the women of color to write no matter what the difficulties may be. Situating herself in a relatively privileged position where she can “lie in bed” and write all day, her attention turns to those who should write while riding the bus or waiting in the welfare line, during meals or before going to sleep. “While you wash the floor … listen to the words chanting in your body” (170), she suggests, because writing is essential to survival. Finally, the concluding letter addresses the tasks at hand and places responsibility squarely on the women’s shoulders. Quoting Alice Walker’s words from “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” Anzaldua questions the fate of all the women who throughout history were not allowed to express their creativity, speculating that if they had been, they would have achieved the power required to defeat oppression.


 Writing that brings on change in the lives of poor children, women, people of color; writing that is born from real human beings and returns to them liberatory and useful: this is Anzaldua’s solution for what she and Barbara Christian and Joyce Ann Joyce see as the problem with detached, objective writing. In the last few lines, Anzaldua introduces the trope of the howl, “a form of speaking in tongues and a linguistic disruption that serves as the precondition for Sula’s entry into language” (33). This sound allows Sula’s expression of her subjectivity as a Black female, just as Anzaldua demands that women of color appropriate that howl and transform it into words, into a language that will free us materially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Gloria Anzaldua speaks to numerous interlocutors, on a multitude of levels, in several tongues. The African-American women respond-through my reading of their words-on a number of levels. Letters, poems, and journal entries included in the epistolary essay constitute a dialogue between genres. English is not the only tongue of choice; Spanish takes its rightful place in the writing. In this way, genres and languages meet and speak to each other as the women speak to each other, with each other. And they listen. We listen. We meet at a crossroad-in this case called academia-as Third-World women writers and critics; we meet at a wider space and open ourselves up and interact with one another freely. Their task, our task, is to unravel, explain, and transform our work into meaningful, useful, and empowering tools for our lives. This Bridge Called My Back has been one of these tools, a markedly important one in the trajectory of Third-World women writers.

This conversation ends here. But it must continue in real life. And it will.

1 Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, eds., This Bridge Called My Back, 2nd ed. (New York: Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, 1983).2 Mae Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics, and the Black Woman Writer’s Literary Tradition,” Changing Our Own Words, ed. Cheryl Wall (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989).

3 Gloria Anzaldua, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers,” This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua (New York: Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, 1983). Subsequent references are to this edition and are cited parenthetically in the text.

4 Mae Henderson, “The Color Purple: Revisions and Redefinitions,” Modern Critical Voices: Alice Walker, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1989)

5 Henderson, “The Color Purple” 68.

6 Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues” 18.

7 Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues” 19.

8 Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues” 20.

9 Joyce Ann Joyce, “The Black Canon: Reconstructing Black American Literary Criticism,” New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 18.2 (Winter 1987) 339.

10 Joyce 340.

11 Joyce 341.

12 Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues” 22-23.

13 Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” Ms. Magazine, May 1974, 105. Rpt. in Alice Walker: “Everyday Use,” ed. Barbara T. Christian (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994) vi: 39-49.

14 Barbara Christian, “The Race for Theory,” Making Face, Making Soul: Hacienda Caras, ed. Gloria Anzaldua (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Foundation Books, 1990) 339.

15 Christian 342.

16 Christian 343.

Sudy: ‘We are the Daughters’

26 06 2007

This beautiful poem was written by one of the Women of Color Bloggers at the AMC. Click the title link below to go to Sudy’s blog, A Womyn’s Ecdysis.

We Are the Daughters

I wrote this poem for myself, and for all the transforming women of color I met this weekend in Detroit. Mabuhay.

We Are the Daughters

We are the daughters of the forgotten, the skinned, the given-up in the trenches
by the roadside
We are the daughters once covered in blankets, helpless heaps
without shields
We are the beaten with sticks, paddles, belts, and bricks
We are the daughters of violence
And the violated
Our mothers knew the pain of childbirth without anesthesia
contractions throbbing with wariness
We are the daughters of doubters, the relentless uncertain
We are the first documented, freshly counted
The ones who knew community by faith, street, and fringe living
Not by gathering, similarity, or food
Our mothers and fathers are the immigrants – the forced travelers – thrown
We are the daughters with honor, without legacy
With riches, without inheritance
Our traditions are storytelling, sharing, remembering
Branding it in our minds because it will not be texted, printed, distributed, categorized, considered
We are the daughters of gates
Passing through with filthy, but functioning feet
We are the ones sacrificed, priced, shamed
We are all of these
We are all of these
Our troubles are less jagged than our mothers
Our survival less in question
Our thriving dependant upon more our will, not chance
We are the daughters of a thousand strokes of window washers
And poor wages
We are the daughters of cruel legislature, temporary amnesty, refugee camps, and collision
We are the daughters of grain, cotton, las floras, and sugar cane
We are the divergent behaviors, red with depression, pale with negligence
We are the mules of silence, withholding, and secrecy
Our tongues speak our history, hyphens
Bridging the borders of land and sea
We are speakeasies, the back alley ways
We know the gravel and dirt roads
The railroads sound in our dreams and whistles goodbye
We are the daughters of stopped clocks, crossovers, irreverence, heat
We flip paradoxes on the tips of our lashes, especially within ourselves
We look for madness, familiar
We are the daughters of failed government, tastes of sovereignty, uprising
We are the daughters of broken tsinelas, broken hearts, broken bones
We are the daughters of the vanished, the raped, the disappeared, the murdered
The long funerals, the lonely guitar, the rambling corner, the panic rooms
We are the daughters of slurs and political graffiti
We are the walkers through fresh basil gardens with our fathers
The orphaned sparrow
We are the sought prize of many, those waiting to kidnap us
To lure us with scholarships and jimmies
To convince us we deserve better, we are better
Than our ancestors who couldn’t read a coke bottle
Forget them, they say
They want us
They want us badly
To be human erasure for a war waged against our blood, our families
To slowly abolish the mass graves,
glossing over them with petals and dowry
Our deliverance eradicates the atrocities, the scratched signatures allowing the rapes
their misnomers, their wide eyed pretense
they want us to bow to the ivory tower, the one granting us degrees
they want us to forget the hours, lives, humanity that was stolen from our people
they want to shave us clean from any bandages, scars, proof of your imperialistic sodomy
they want us to forsake our memories and accept their offertory
our privilege circles our feet, hopscotching our destinies, leading us away
they want us to be grateful, but not mirror our mothers
or drink from the same clay cups, or splinter from the same broom
they want us to be fed, but hungry for more, and therefore compliant
they do not know that we are the daughters of hair, Brown, restless, and fight
they want to brainwash, inculcate us
but they do not remember our mother’s blood is not a drying stain, but a free flowing wound from which we still suckle and warm ourselves
we feed ourselves
we are the daughters of vision
and we are the thieves
stealing, taking, claiming, owning the
land, fish, air we righteously and already own
we take and give back to our foremothers, we kneel before our scrolls of imprisonment
We breathe easier
But we live with memorials and pledges
We invoke what we did not live through
We remember our reasons
Our mothers were never bought
And we cannot be sold
We are the daughters of a thousand dreams
we are both the fruition and bearers of completion
We are the daughters of swallowing caves
Erupting ground
cracking trees
and mulberry scents

We are the daughters the world hoped would die in the bellies of our mothers

We are the unlost, thrice self-found
And rejoicing

speaking wor(l)ds around our daughters…

3 05 2007

“I can remember watching, fascinated, as our mother talked with her mother, sisters, and women friends. The intimacy and intensity of their speech – the satisfaction they received from talking to one another, the pleasure, the joy.”

“It was in this world of woman speech, loud talk, angry words, women with tounges sharp, tender sweet tounges, touching our world with their words, that I made speech my birthright – and the right to voice, to authorship, a privilege I would not be denied. It was in that world and because of it that I came to dream of writing, to write.”(124)

bell hooks
Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black
Boston: South End Press (1989)

Beautiful!: A Revolutionary Childcare Story Via Zapagringo

1 05 2007

Once Upon a Time in Brooklyn
(created for the upcoming issue of Left Turn Magazine)

[Out of Brooklyn have sprung two inspiring models of community-based radical childcare. The organizers of Regeneración Childcare NYC weave their own experiences and those of Pachamama: the Bushwick Childcare Cooperative into an enchanting tale of communities taking care of each other in their own ways in the shadow of the Architects of Despair.]

Once upon a time… in a land called Argentina, there lived hundreds of thousands of people who found themselves with no work. In spite of this, they struggled and found ways to survive. Some formed Unemployed Workers Movements and, over time, were overcome by three beautiful feelings. Listening and speaking with each other, they felt “rage.” Rage was the feeling they felt when they learned that it wasn’t just by chance, but rather by design, that so many of them were out of work.

The unemployed workers called the designers of their most unfortunate situation the “Architects of Despair.” The Architects of Despair practiced a devastating magic—capitalism—that they had been casting intensely over the past decades, taking over all of Argentina’s industries and resources. The unemployed workers organized their rage and they forced the Architects of Despair to give them the things they needed to survive. In this way, the unemployed workers discovered a second feeling, “hope.”

But, even when “giving” the unemployed workers what they needed to survive, the Architects of Despair still found ways to take more things away from them. So the unemployed workers began creating their own ways to feed, teach and heal themselves. In taking care of each other in their own way, they discovered the third beautiful feeling, “dignity”.

Dignity, hope, and rage

With dignity, hope, and rage, the unemployed workers soon went from feeling invisible to having the eyes of the world upon them. In the final weeks of 2001, Argentina erupted in protest against all the damage the Architects of Despair had wrought upon the country. Some of the unemployed workers to reach out and connect with people struggling against the Architects of Despair in other parts of the world.

In 2004, Marcella and Xiomara, two unemployed women workers from movements in Argentina, traveled to the faraway land of Brooklyn. They exchanged stories and ideas with women from Critical Resistance, Sista II Sista, the Center for Immigrant Families, and Estación Libre. Moved by their exchanges, Xiomara and Marcella invited some women to visit them in Argentina during “Autonomous January.” The women returned to New York with much inspiration.

One woman, Sora of Sista II Sista, saw the unemployed workers’ dignity in their self-organization and was especially motivated. Sora had a two-year-old daughter named Sele, and she wanted to join with other mamas so they could organize themselves and care for each other and their children in a better way. Sora spoke to mamas in Sista II Sista and in her neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. She talked with Celia, who had two young children named Costanzeana and Gabriel. She also met Olivia, who was stuck in her home all day with her daughter Chantelle, feeling trapped, with no other mamas to support her.

Bushwick Childcare Cooperative

Organizing themselves and imagining strategies to defeat the Architects of Despair was not an easy task for these mamas. They came from different places and spoke different languages. Sora was from Chile; Olivia was a black woman whose family lived in Bushwick for as long as she could remember; Celia was from Ecuador, and there were other mamas who came from around the world. Despite their differences, they created a new organization called Pachamama: the Bushwick Childcare Cooperative.

Pachamama means something like “Mother Earth” in Aymara, an Incan language. It was a good name because it reflected the Latin American roots of many of the mothers, yet still had the word “mama” in it, so people who spoke English could understand the name too. With a room full of toys and games in the Sista II Sista office, and with lots of determination, they invited more mamas to join them in raising their children together…

“These kids are a handful!” Celia exclaimed one day, as Gabriel jammed his scooter into Chantelle’s bicycle, “We need some help!” “I’m sure there are people out there who would love to help us do childcare,” Olivia mused, “But how will we find them?” Sora quickly offered a solution, “We can ask our friends, and they can ask their friends… and someone will surely come!”

A few days later, a young woman knocked on the door. “Hi,” she said, “I’m Ramona, and I heard that you are looking for someone to help out with childcare. I just finished college—I’m new to the neighborhood. I would love to hang out with your kids!” On a sunny afternoon, Ramona went to the park with Costanzeana, Gabriel, Sele, and Chantelle. What fun they had! By the end of the day, Ramona was exhausted, but smiling. “When can I come again?” she asked. “As often as you like!” Olivia told her. And so Ramona did. She played with the kids, and talked with the mamas.

At Pachamama, Ramona felt part of a family. Yet she realized that the mamas worried about things that she, and her aunts, sisters, and cousins didn’t have to worry about—like not being able to speak English, or not being able to find work, or not having enough money to travel to see their mamas, or even to travel to Manhattan.

“Ramona!” Sora said one day. “What are you doing on Friday night? Some people are coming over so we can talk about how to fight the Architects of Despair. A lot of the people are mamas and papas. Could you come over and play with the kids?” Ramona was worried. With so many kids, she would not be able to play with them all at the same time, and they would all start fighting and running into the room where the adults were talking and disturb their conversation.

“We don’t want a space where kids feel that only adults can imagine ways to strengthen our communities and protect ourselves against the Architects of Despair,” Sora said, “and we don’t want adults to feel that either. We want to create a space where all of our imaginations help each other grow; but we realize that kids might get bored from sitting still the way that adults tend to do, so we set up the play room with toys and games.”

Seeds of Regeneración

Ramona was relieved to hear this, and even more relieved to meet Mitch. Mitch also came to play with kids whose parents were at the gathering. “Here in America, it seems like kids are hidden away while their parents work and organize,” Ramona said, “but many people we know do things differently.” Contemplating this, Mitch turned to Ramona, “Ramona, we both know so many mamas working to protect our communities against the Architects of Despair. I’m sure mamas are doing the same thing all over this city. And if there are mamas, there are kids…”

“Yes!” Ramona exclaimed, “and there are surely people all over this city who would love to play with kids while their mamas are organizing!” Mitch asked, “But how will we find people who will want to do childcare?” “If we ask our friends, and they ask their friends,” said Ramona, “Surely someone will come…”

And so they did. One day, Mitch and Ramona opened the doors of an unused office space and the room filled with people. Sora joined them; and together they told the story of the unemployed workers in Argentina, and Pachamama, and their hopes and dreams of dignity. The people felt inspired, and excited to do childcare. But after the people left the meeting, Mitch, Ramona and Sora all felt a little bit unsettled. “Everyone at the meeting was white!” complained Ramona.

“I wonder why…” pondered Mitch, “we did tell our friends to tell their friends that the kids and mamas we hang out with are mostly immigrants, or Spanish-speaking, or Black, or other folks of color…” Ramona suggested, “It seems like many of the people at our meeting are able to wander from place to place, and be involved with different projects, and are looking to feel connected to something, and feel that connecting to awesome mamas and awesome kids would be powerful.”

Excited, hopeful, and confused

“On the one hand it is exciting to flip the script on who serves who, by having white people take care of kids of color,” mused Sora, “but on the other hand, I really think it would be the wrong message to send to our kids that we can’t take care of our own, and that we need white people to come in and take care of our kids for us.” So Mitch, Ramona and Sora left their meeting hopeful, because so many people were excited about doing childcare, and confused because the people were so different than who they had imagined.

Pachamama was growing. The mamas were creating a space of love and holistic care for themselves and their families. They also organized other families and friends into “Imperialism is Bad for Children” contingents for the anti-war marches. Things went on like this at Pachamama for some time—families grew, babies were born and folks were listening and learning from each other every day.

But when the winter came, it started to feel too cold for the mamas to bring their kids all the way to Pachamama, and they decided to stay home instead. Back in Bushwick, Sora, Olivia and Celia were the only mamas still coming to Pachamama every day and caring for Sele, Chantelle, Gabriel and Costanzeana.

“You know what I think?” said Sora one day, “I think we should close Pachamama for a little bit, and just build within ourselves. Let’s figure out what we need to do to be strong within us before trying to organize the rest of the neighborhood, and the rest of the city.” Celia asked, “Could we teach ourselves about child development so that we know what games we should be playing with the kids to encourage their curiosity and growth?”

“Can we also learn how to take care of ourselves and each other better?” asked Olivia, “I feel sad a lot, and I would like to know if other mamas feel sad too, and I would like to know how they take care of themselves when they feel sad.” And so the mamas did just this. They met twice a week to learn about their kids, and to learn about themselves, and while they sat around the table and read books and drew diagrams and talked with each other, Ramona played with their kids.

In these months, many groups had asked Mitch and Ramona if they could play with their kids. Mitch and Ramona were always looking for more volunteers. Some of the volunteers spoke Spanish and were white. Some were people of color, and were looking to support other communities in struggle. Some did not grow up in the city, and were looking for communities to whom they could be accountable. Some had traveled to faraway places like Argentina and Chiapas and brought back visions of another world.

Over the months, they built a network of childcare volunteers and called it Regeneración. They work with kids and mothers to regenerate communities, relationships, and resistance. They would also honor their ancestors, elders, prisoners, and friends from all over the world.

Happily ever after?

And so the childcare crew in New York City had found its vision and name; and Pachamama reopened its doors in Brooklyn with renewed enthusiasm…and there was even word of other childcare collectives and childcare cooperatives popping up in other cities and towns. But something still didn’t feel right.

These groups and their friends, family and all the people they cared about around the world, were still suffering. And this was because the Architects of Despair were still very powerful. And so it was good that they were getting to know and trust each other more, and that they were building their power to organize themselves, to fight, and to take care of each other. And there was still much work (and play) to be done…

Written and illustrated by members of Regeneración Childcare NYC: Radhika Singh, M. Mayuran Tiruchelvam, RJ Maccani, Ileana Dulce Méndez-Peñate and Canek Peña-Vargas.

 via Zapagringo

From Lex: On May Day (J says: I love love love this one!)

1 05 2007

Since it is May Day, one day of many to celebrate the contributions and demand the rights of immigrant workers, it seems appropriate to share a historical precedent through which Women of Color in London organized at the intersections of immigration policy and sexual violence.

In November 1982 a broad coalition of organizations came together to put together a one day event (sound familiar yet?). The coalition included English Collective of Prostitutes, Housewives in Dialogue, Women Against Rape, Wages Due Lesbians and others who had collaborated to takeover a community center in their region (Camden). Only a few days after their first big event “Bringing it All Back Home:Black and Immigrant Women Speak out and Claim Our Rights”, the conference attendees supported the English Collective of Prostitutes as they occupied a local church to claim sanctuary from the constant police harassment and brutality they were experiencing. If you can’t tell…I am inspired and thrilled by the bravery of these women (mostly women of color, mostly with threatened immigration status) who not only demanded fair wages for the “private” labor of nurturing, but who also repeatedly took over public spaces and spoke out against sexual violence. this particular conference Women Against Rape released a statement entitled “Racism is Rapism” which explicitly calls out the way in which sexual assault impacts the most vulnerable among us through the same mechanisms as racism, classism and xenophobia:
“On arriving in another country, we have found ourselves threatened again by the tacism which stems directly from one government after another saying ‘you are not welcome, don’t expect any rights!’ Such policies set us up as easy targets and legitimise every kind of racist attack against us, whether from immigration officers, the police, the courts, employers or individual men.”

They also protest the absurdity of immigration laws that make residency contingent on staying with a husband and explain the complexity on going to the violent state to mitigate intra-community violence.

“We have been afraid to go to the police for help, particularly when attacks have comefrom within our own community, since we have seen how a woman’s cry forhelp has been usedas an excuse to rampage in our community, particularly if we are black.”

“We have seen how sexism combines with and reinforces racism….
As women we have all experienced, if not rape itself, then the threat or fear of rape. We know how rape has been used to limit our movement and our lives. We refuse to be locked into our homes or into our countries. A WOMAN’S PLACE IS EVERYWHERE!”

Just another example of the history we move in…