[Love] Letter V: A Note to Self

loveletterV

September 16, 2014

I’m not gonna lie.

I only skimmed through the piece. It’s the second week of the semester, I’m still settling in, getting back into ‘school-mode.’

Plus, I’ve read Gloria Anzaldua’s chapter, “now let us shift,”

like three times,

like 10 years ago in my undergrad women’s studies classes, but still, I’ve read it.

She writes beautifully and I know she’s been a powerful feminist/scholar/writer/activist for many, particularly women of color; but I’m not always sure where I fit in with the text then, or if I do or can at all…

I have not felt the weight of a bridge on my back [1]—nor has my sister or my mother—to defend or disrupt narratives about the color of my skin, about my family or my “culture”. I have not been told that the burden of race and racism rests with “my people”. I have not felt my body and identity being pushed out to the margins, to peripheral, tertiary spaces of Otherness…

…I often struggle with trying to find my place—both personal and ideological—with/in the work of feminists of color. I constantly question, what am I ‘allowed’ to identify with, to internalize, to share? And what do I have no right to feel, to process, to weave into my own feminist identity and narrative by my sheer association to whiteness and its indelible ties to the dominant discourses of ‘feminism’ in this country? Do I risk misappropriating or co-opting ideas that resonate with and move me, but that do not belong to me, by braiding the brilliant words of Anzaldua, hooks, Lorde, and Collins into my personal narratives? Even if I know their reckonings are coming from places and spaces that do not speak to my experiences or the socially constructed aspects of my identity?

In this second week of “Youth, Media & Educational Justice,” the topic is “inquiry/ethos.” We’ve engaged readings about teacher research, challenging notions of silence and participation, and ‘knowing’ for the session. I find myself negotiating familiar internal conflicts as we dive into the readings…

I’m hearing Anzaldua in unprecedented and powerful ways as her writing is discussed, synthesized, and loved by a handful of women of color in my class who have a relationship to these words that I never will. But I listen deeply and see new multimodal texts created right before my eyes, between women and words, and they’re beautiful. I listen, and learn, and will persist in considering my engagement with these writings…

…I will not claim to reclaim borderlands, but I will say that I’m working to negotiate boundaries. I’m committed to exploring and developing this hybridized identity of mine—to make sense of my own contradictions and confusions, while also recognizing, perhaps even celebrating, my intersections—to occupy a type of nepantla [2] in ways that do not unintentionally cause me to reinforce power structures or enter into a space because I simply can or feel I have the right to… 

May 1, 2014

Ironically, I’ve been thinking a lot about introductions as I prepare for the conclusion of this semester, and more importantly, with the conclusion of a full year immersed in the intersections of youth, media, and educational justice. I’ve been pondering the phenomenology of ‘the introduction’: it’s how we begin something, set a precedent, establish a foundational understanding; sometimes we introduce with a vision of trajectory and how the beginning might inform the end, and other times we let the paths emerge.

Earlier this week, my printed copy of Gloria Anzaldua’s chapter, “now let us shift,” fell out of a manila folder as I was transporting a stack of materials from my desk to my bookshelf. As I picked it up from the floor, a sentence on the bottom left of the page caught my eye, “You struggle each day to know the world you live in, to come to grips with the problems of life…” The words struck an internal chord, causing physiological and emotional reverberations throughout my entire body. Without pause, I lowered myself to the floor and spent the next hour and a half combing through Anzaldua’s brilliance, genuinely seeing her words for the first time. As I read, I was overwhelmed by the ways in which these words were so deeply and accurately narrating the journey that I’ve been on for the last eight months.

Anzaldua focuses on this notion of conocimiento, the Spanish word for knowledge and skill, to think about the power and possibilities of/for transformation. Conocimiento “…comes from opening all of your senses, consciously inhabiting your body and decoding its symptoms…[it’s] that aspect of consciousness urging you to act on the knowledge gained.” [3]

The realization was almost too much to process in the moment. I read these words in a way I never have before, I found myself effortlessly weaving my year of highs and lows, inspirations and doubts, frustrations and recommitments to this work, through the seven stages of conocimiento:  

rupture, fragmentation…an ending, a beginning (el arrebato)

torn between ways (nepantla)

ignorance and the cost of knowing (the Coatlicue state)

the commitment, the crossing and conversation (el compromiso)

new personal and collective stories (putting Coyolxauhqui together)

a clash of realities (the blow up)

acting out the vision or spiritual activism (shifting realities)

Conocimiento is reached via creative arts (writing, art-making, dancing, healing, teaching, meditation, and spiritual activism). By engaging in these practices, you “embed your experiences” in a larger frame of reference, enabling you to better connect with the experiences of others. I now understand why Anzaldua was chosen as one of our first texts; she was there to provide insight, advice, support and healing to us before we even set out on our journey, before we even knew we would need it.

*           *           *

Over the course of the last seven months, I’ve made four separate and conscious decisions to share my love letters as they’ve emerged, every one bubbling up out of me following a moment, an interaction, or an observation that hit me so hard that the only way I could process it was to write; to document in a way that would allow me to recalibrate my reality two clicks to the right, three clicks to the left, and moving forward knowing that I am and will forever be changed. I am a different adult, educator, daughter, sister, friend.  These changes are ‘strengthenings’ that will help me be a better spouse and mother when I have children of my own; to practice critical humility–remaining open to discovering that our knowledge is partial and evolving while at the same time being committed and confident about our knowledge and action in the world.[4]

Breaking out of your mental and emotional prison and deepening the range of perception enables you to link inner reflection and vision—the mental, emotional, instinctive, imagined, spiritual, and subtle bodily awareness—with social, political action and lived experiences to generate subversive knowledges. These conocimientos challenge official and conventional ways of looking at the world, ways set up by those benefiting from such constructions…[5]

This fifth letter is different in format and content–it’s not a reactionary response, but rather a critical reflection–and I’ve chosen not to share it with a wider audience immediately. This one stays with me and YMEJ until after our inquiry exhibition on the last day of class. As we meet for the last time it, in some ways, feels like I’m being pushed out the front door of a place I have come to think of as a home—that is always warm and cozy and safe—into the bitter cold of night without a winter coat.

I’m feeling vulnerable and I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to continue to navigate and negotiate this new knowledge and aspect of my identity. But I know that I am forever changed and committed to ideas, and people, and systems in ways that I never thought possible. I am forever changed and forever grateful.

YMEJ Cohort 2013-2014, you are my family and I love you.

Always,

Em

 

 

 


 

[1] http://curadicalreading.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/cherrc3ade-moraga-gloria-anzaldc3baa-this-bridge-called-my-back-writings-by-radical-women-of-color.pdf

[2] nepantla: the overlapping space between different perceptions and belief systems (p.541); the ‘site of transformation,’ the place where different perspectives come into conflict and where you quest the basic ideas, tenants, and identities inherited from your family, your education, and your different cultures (p.547)

[3] pp. 541, 577

[4] The European-American Collaborative Challenging Whiteness (2005)

[5] pp.541-542