The Last Taino Indian Has Not Yet Been Born

Photographer: Kiki Vassilakis
Photographer: Kiki Vassilakis

the other day a sister asked me
what does the diaspora feel like?
a question i’ve never thought of before
yet it invoked fleeting memories of
a home that was out of my reach
like the sand slipping through my fingers on the island of Borinken
i grasp at something that will never be mine

it’s a complicated blend of
lineage and forced genocide
of comfort and violation

it feels like love letters never sent
to a home that always offered dinner
but not belonging

just like the time my partner’s family
wrote me off as too angry
too rude
too expressive
because people like me should let the white folks discuss politics

it feels like never being black enough
or brown enough
or white enough
stuck between here and there
but never whole enough for both

it feels like the time you
forced yourself inside of me
because you thought you had a right
to re-colonize this body
it almost broke me

BUT ALMOST DOESN’T COUNT

resiliency runs in my blood
blood that my ancestors shed at the hands
of murderers and rapists
but i am the living testament
to surviving
to revolting
to existing when no one else wants you to

there’s a myth you probably learned as fact in grade school:
all of the Tainos were wiped out
conquered by columbus himself
an old civilization lost to disease and war

IT’S A FUCKING LIE

the diaspora continues with me

Stop Asking Me to Dry Your White Tears

It has been a rough two weeks. Like, hide-in-my-bed-and-never-leave two weeks. America has chosen a known white supremacist to be president. This cannot be real life. But it is. And we are all trying to deal with the trauma and pain that this election has created. I love that there have been multiple community gatherings to express the fear, anxiety and next steps that will need to be taken to ensure safety.

But I don’t like what those spaces have continued to support, which is inherently white supremacy. When white people enter spaces like this, they often take up way too much space to talk about how they are individually affected, ignoring the black and brown voices in the room. Then they end up crying and expect those same people to continue to hold emotional space for them.

During my weekly staff meeting at work, white people took up so much space to cry and talk about their feelings, completely ignoring the real and continuous trauma that black and brown people are experiencing. Through their intentions to be a ‘good white ally’, they effectively silenced the voices most affected (one of those voices being my own). It immediately turned into a space for white people to feel guilty, instead of holding safe space for our black and brown employees.

Let’s make something clear: black and brown people with multiple intersections of identities are the ones who will be the most affected. Not white people.

I need white people to stop crying and instead, hold space for us. I need white people to realize that they are not the only people in the room suffering and that many people are legitimately afraid for their lives and for their families. I really need white people to do better and stop re-traumatizing us by expecting the most affected to hold emotional space for those who caused us to arrive here in the first place. This is because of you and your ancestors – white people – and ya’ll need to get it together. If I am expected to represent the entire Latinx community, then I am going to do the same for white people: 53% of white women voted for Trump, and I am holding white people entirely accountable for this obvious fuck-up.

I do not have time to hear you cry about sad you are. I do not have the energy to console you after all your friends voted for Trump. I am still dealing with my own ancestral trauma, which started the day Columbus landed on the island of Borinken. We have been dealing with this shit for centuries, and now you, white people, are just waking up.

It’s about damn time.

So please, do me a favor: dry your white tears, get your white friends together, and support the black and brown people who have already been doing this work for years. We’ve been waiting for you to do your part. Ya’ll just need to take the first step.

Solitary Confinement: Not Just a Black Man’s Problem

In a special report released on April 22, 2015, Juan E. Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, found that prolonged solitary confinement (in excess of 15 days) is torture. This torture happens EVERY DAY in the United States. And in the state of New York, there are no limits on the total time a person can spend in isolated confinement. To make it worse, Black people represent about 60% of people in solitary. Mass incarceration is far more reaching that just police brutality-it includes these finger like systems meant to target people of color and the poor.

There’s something missing in all of these reports on solitary confinement-the high population of women of color and trans women of color placed in solitary for way more than 15 days (some have been in for more than 2 decades). Pregnant women and new mothers are often placed in solitary confinement, and trans folk are often sent there “for their own protection.” This population also suffers additional abuse from staff while in prison. Solitary confinement has the worst effects on our most vulnerable populations, and these stories need to be elevated at the same level as stories coming from men of color.

We can go even deeper into this issue. Many organizations commit to ending the school-to-prison pipeline, but there’s a similar issue that is rarely talked about-the sexual abuse-to-prison pipleline, which disproportionately effects girls of color and LGBTQ teens of color. A study released in 2015 revealed that girls who are sent into the juvenile justice system have typically experienced overwhelmingly high rates of sexual violence.The most common crimes for which girls are arrested (running away, substance abuse, and truancy) are also the most common symptoms of abuse. And these same girls are funneled into a system that continues to abuse them and retraumatize them. Since children or those with mental illness are disproportionatley placed in solitary (again, for their own well being), I can’t even imagine what this type of torture does to a young, undeveloped mind. The most vulnerable populations reported severe emotional and psychological consequences, including self-harm and attempted suicide.

Take a step further. These same individuals are then released into the community with exacerbated trauma symptoms, and with little exposure to the world outside of prison. The period immediately after release is when girls are at the highest risk of recidivism and serious harm, and reentry services are rarely, if at all, provided. This is a mental health crisis. This is a juvenile justice crisis. This is a women’s rights crisis. This is a LGBTQIA crisis. This is a racial justice crisis. When we are fighting to end mass incarceration, we have to attack this huge monster from every angle; from brutality in the streets to the ongoing violence that happens behind those bars; from the school system to the capitalist system; from mi barrio a tu barrio. To bring an end to these injustice systems, we need to center our movements around the most vulnerable and oppressed.

When we do this, we will win.

solitary confinement72
Artwork by Laura Wilson

Are you as angry as I am, and want to get involved? GO YOU!
Check out New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement if you’re in NY state.
And if you’re in Albany, NY check out Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration, which is a group dedicated to dismantling the injustice systems.
For other states that are fighting against torture, check out:
http://www.solitarywatch.com
http://www.aclu.org/torture-in-us-prisons
http://www.nycjac.org
http://www.correctionalassociation.org
http://www.boxedinny.org

Justice, Justice We Will Pursue

chanukahaction.org
Image from chanukahaction.org, Artwork by Zoe Cohen (zoecohen.com)

Happy Chanukah! Hanukah! Hanukkah! However you want to spell it, this Chanukah (I like this spelling) has a very special and deep meaning for what is happening in the world right now. Although the story of Chanukah is not real, it still has a lesson that can be applied to black/brown/poor/queer/minority people: change will come, we must keep fighting. We cannot give up hope.

The short story: The Jewish people of Israel were living under Greek rule, and were forbidden to practice Judaism or study Torah (this part of the story is true). Some continued to study Torah and continue tradition, but if they were visited by the Greek army, they would pull out their dreidels and pretend to play a game. Soon, the Maccabean Revolt happened, and The Maccabees, despite all odds, defeated the Greek armies and took back the Second Temple.

The victorious Jewish people decided to rededicate their Temple to G-d by lighting a holy menorah. They soon realized that they only had enough oil for one night, but the small amount of oil lasted for eight entire nights. A miracle happened there. So we celebrate this miracle, and we hope for the miracles that are to come. But hope alone will not bring us the freedom and justice we so deeply desire. We need to be like the Maccabees-it’s time to fight back.

And this lesson isn’t just in a made up story. It’s also in the Torah itself: “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deutoronomy 16:20). It is literally our calling as a Jewish people to stand with the oppressed. Like the stranger in our midst, it is our duty to support and help others. I believe that we, as well as MANY others, will join this fight for a better tomorrow, for all people. Many have tried and continue to try to eradicate us, with “us” being the black/brown/poor/queer/minority people of this Earth. Let’s continue this legacy of resilience and resistance.

We will fight for $15 and a union for all low-wage workers. We will fight to end police brutality, mass incarceration, and we will fight until black lives really do matter. We will fight to end gender-based violence. We will fight for the rights of immigrants and refugees and end all occupations. We will smash the patriarchy. We will fight until this oppressive system of capitalism is burned to the ground.

During this festival of lights, we celebrate our existence as black/brown/poor/queer/minority people. We are still here. They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.

And we won’t stop growing.

these bridges/still hold us

to my white feminist sisters/sisters that use my back/to break the glass ceiling/ceiling that can only be shattered/by you/not me/sister that will never be your sister/sister outsider

do not hang pictures of me/on your wall/wall of phony solidarity/solidarity only meant for/your sisters/sisters that rewrite herstory/herstory that first belonged to me

resist the urge to tell me/how to vote/how to act/how to live/live in your world/world of white castles/castles never meant for me/sister please listen/listen when my words fall/from my mouth/truth that cant be whitewashed/no matter how hard you try/try to hear your sisters/sisters suffering/sisters dying/by your silence

but i will not be silent/i have nothing but my words/words escape me/and i am struggling/to find them in the dark/but its hard when your sisters/targets plastered to their backs/backs that broke under the whip/thrown to the ground in bikinis/jaws are broken/lives are taken after traffic stops

its tiring you know/a vigil is being planned/my gut tells me its not enough/when will it be enough/i am desperately trying to find/solace in a poem/words alone/will not do them justice/liberty sisters/my sisters keeper/all i can do is/say her name/over and over/say her name/again and again

image

Artwork by Ariela Aisa

The Sneaky Power of White Privilege

On Sunday, July 12th, the New York Times printed an entire article about how awesome Amy Schumer is. And I puked a little in my mouth. The article, titled “The Sneaky Power of Amy Schumer” should have been called “The Not So Sneaky Power of White Privilege.”

The article as a whole is literally a love letter to Schumer. Melena Ryzik, the writer, states “By giving selfies and boy bands the same political and comic weight as rape and reproductive rights, Ms. Schumer, 34, has emerged as a feminist hero, able to transform from the butt of her own jokes to a savvy debunker of double standards.”

Let’s not forget the video where Schumer uses black bodies in the background, as a joke. Let’s not forget her degrading jokes focused on Latinos. Racism is not funny, but it seems that since Schumer is white, she gets to do what she wants. And it’s pretty clear that white feminists drool over her and her privilege.

When Schumer was confronted about her derogatory comments towards Latino men, she defended herself. White people take heed: if people of color tell you something is racist, you should probably listen. She later apologized, but only after claiming that she’s a “taboo buster.” The taboo that Latino men are all rapists? I think she would get along great with Donald Trump.

I am so done with Amy Schumer. In classic white feminist fashion, she defended her racist jokes, and then was hailed as a feminist leader. Why is this ok for white feminists? It seems that when women of color are outraged, white feminists come to Shumer’s rescue, saying that we all need to be able to take a joke. News flash: you do not get to decide what is offensive to me. I am offended. Women of color are offended. If that is not enough to see that something is wrong, then you have some serious work to do.

If your feminism is not intersectional, Amy, then gtfo. I want no part of it.

Nobody Has Hands Like Hers

my mami’s hands are
always soft
like the reindeer named Twinkles
who i cuddled with at night
she would make up bedtime stories
about Twinkles
my imagination growing
like a sunflower
her hands have carried me
through loss
through happiness
through debilitating depression

when i was a young girl
she sliced her finger
open on a pair
of kitchen scissors
i watched a crimson ocean
flow out
of those hands
that i loved
that i adored
that i needed

i wailed as my papi
held a kitchen rag turning red
because i was sure those hands
were done for
and i cried because those hands
were precious to me
were life to me
were everything to me

and now my mother’s hands
care diligently for my papi
whose chest was opened
to rid his heart of disease
and her hands
still lift me
still hold me
still love me
when i cant find the light on
the other side

nobody has hands like hers

image

Artwork by Laura Wilson

Your Silence is Violence

Black people are being shot in historic churches and assaulted by police at pool parties. Black Haitians are being deported from the Dominican Republic. It literally feels like there is no safe place for people of color.

I am scared. I am sad. I am angry. I am numb.

I have been pretty open about my anger, and also very honest when discussing white supremacy and privilege. I am horrified that there is no outrage from the white community. You have the nerve to say “all lives matter” when we say “black lives matter. If all lives mattered to you, why are you so quiet? Your silence is violence, and it perpetuates anti-black racism.

An old (white) friend sent me a message yesterday, saying something along the lines of “I know that guy was racist who killed 9 people, but I’m not racist. I don’t live that life. I’m not the same as him.”

YOU’RE MISSING THE POINT.

I am calling you out to pull you in. Understanding that racism is systemic, not just an individual trait, is a huge part in grasping the core of this issue: white people are not showing up for people of color. If we want to see any change, white people need to do better. When a person of color commits an act of terror, there is always an expectation for that community to apologize and repent. Why is is not the same for the white community? I expect an apology. I expect action. I expect the community to look inwards and address the deep-seeded racism that perpetuates these acts of violence.

I shared this article with my old friend, hoping that it would help them see their own white fragility playing out, as well as their belief in individualism. Let’s just say, I don’t think she got it (and it really isn’t my job, as a person of color, to explain systemic racism to a white person—do your homework). The conversation soon turned into “I’m actually a minority where I live, so I know what it’s like” with some other white bullshit sprinkled in there. And this scared me to my bones.
image

How can we move forward, together, when the white population cannot even realize how much they benefit from the system that was built by white people, for white people? I am tired. It is exhausting to wake up every morning and hope that one of your people hasn’t been murdered in the night. It is exhausting to constantly have to explain to white people why black lives matter. It is exhausting to always have to educate white people about their own ignorance.

So I’m not doing it anymore. I need to do some self-preservation if I am going to continue the work I do to dismantle the oppressive system. I do not have time to explain to white people how they benefit from systemic racism, and how that has been playing out since the begining of our history. I simply do not have the energy anymore.

The conversation with my friend/not sure if we are friends anymore ended with her asking me this (in a hostile way that was not appreciated): what exactly do you want white people to do?
Look inwards. Look at your own privilege. The first step to eradicating racism is acknowledging that the entire system we live in reeks with racism and white supremacy.
Acknowledge that you, as a white person, benefit from this system in multiple ways.
Acknowledge that you have yet to go to a black lives matter protest because those issues “don’t really affect you” (which is a delusion-they do).
Acknowledge that people of color are suffering, and think about how your community can combat that. Call out racism when you see it. Don’t let your white friends get away with it. Be our ally in this fight.

Once that happens, then we can start fighting this racist system, together.

Illustration by Sarah Helene Green

Diasporic Love

i see you
to be seen is to be heard
to be heard is to be loved
and i love you
i love you from my veins to my memories that
carry this trauma
these stories
this diaspora

i feel you
our histories entwine with our
touch
our pain melts together
like a candle in a dark room
brown skin to brown skin
survivor to survivor
warrior to warrior
i will fight with you

you see me
and it is like giving me breath
from your lungs
you hear me
and
i never want to be silenced again
you love me
and it is as if my bones
carved with colonization
begin to heal

Cruella DeVille

my mother named it Cruella DeVille
when i could not find the words to
describe the elephants that were
sitting on my chest
crushing my bones and squeezing
the very life out of me

my doctor named it depression and anxiety
but i still prefered Cruella
to describe the days when
i tasted loneliness in the morning
and emptiness at night
Cruella and i became good friends

i warned you about her
i warned you about the
monster living inside of me
that showed its ugly face
from time to time

and like an angry wolf she came in the night
when i wasn’t looking hard enough
for her presence
she made herself comfortable
in the pit of my soul

she consumed me again
you held my hand as Cruella
invaded my thoughts
invaded our love
invaded our home
and i loved you for staying anyways
and i hated you for staying anyways
only because you still saw the
sparkle in me
when i could not even love myself
i let her in
and Cruella DeVille ate us alive

image

 

Artwork by Ariela Perez-Wallach