Final [Love] Letter: An Interwoven Audit Trail…
An Interwoven Audit Trail
of My Explorations of/with Court-Involved Youth
as Told Through Anzaldua’s Seven Stages of Knowing (conocimiento)
* See [Love] Letter V: A Note to Self for the introduction/context to this piece *
rupture, fragmentation, an ending, a beginning (el arrebato)
When two or more opposing accounts, perspectives or belief systems appear side by side, or intertwined, a kind of double or multiple ‘seeing’ results…these convergences compel you to critique your own perspective and assumptions. It leads to re-interpreting the story you imagined yourself living…
…Doing the kind of work we’ve been doing in YMEJ can cause ruptures, fragmentations; it can blur lines in what we know as ‘truths’ in our lives and what we think of as constituting ‘academics’ – the content, discussions, and realizations can be challenging and uncomfortable, but also life-changing in unprecedented ways—both in terms of how we come to think about ourselves as humans as well as how we might begin to see new possibilities for what learning in graduate school can (and perhaps should) look like…
…seeing through your culture separates you from the herd, exiles you from the tribe, wounds you psychologically and spiritually. Each rupture…is an awakening that causes you to question who you are, what the world is about. The urgency to know what you’re experiencing awakens the ability to shift attention and see through the surface of things and situations…
the site of transformation (nepantla)
The place where different perspectives come into conflict and where you question the basic ideas, tenets, and identities inherited from your family, your education, and your different cultures…it is the zone between changes where you struggle to find equilibrium between the outer expression of change and your inner relationship to it…perceiving something from two different angles creates a split in awareness…You can’t stand living according to the old terms—yesterday’s mode of consciousness pinches like an outgrown shoe
I didn’t realize how little I knew about court-involved youth, particularly those in the foster care system, until YMEJ. I didn’t realize how labels like “juvenile delinquent” and “incarcerated youth,” typically used to describe this population of young people, do not always accurately represent who these young people are or why they are in fact “tethered,” as Dr. Lalitha Vasudevan would say, to the court system. Using the term, “court-involved,” runs the same risk of reifying the [perceived] realities of this population, but it also has the semblance of a more stable, and less ‘charged’ experience. As Lalitha explained at the beginning of the semester, the label of ‘court-involved youth’ is meant to push us to think about the ‘what next’ for these young people; it is meant to reinforce in our thinking and practice that we are working to ultimately help them move out of the court-system altogether.
ignorance and the cost of knowing (the Coatlicue state)
Periods of being lost in chaos occur when you’re between ‘stories,’ before you shift from one set of perceptions and beliefs to another…During the Coatlicue phase, you thought you’d wandered off the path of conocimiento but this detour is part of the path. Your bodymindsoul is the hermetic vessel where transformation take place. The shift must be more than intellectual [it must be physical, emotional, spiritual].
Heavy—of great weight; difficult to lift or move.
Heavy, a tangible mass, like what we feel when lifting our grocery bags or a small child up from the group and into our arms,
allowing for the contents to settle,
finding their places on the shelves of our hips, in the nooks of our arms and caverns of our eyes…
…Suddenly, I was overcome by a string of emotions as a number of words, phrases and images came flooding into my mind: home, family, care, rupture, silence. We have mulled over these ideas for the past six weeks and while I have been able to engage with them and reflect on them through writing, media-making, and performance art in class, I realized I’d only been able to imagine what these ideas and circumstances might mean and feel like. But at this moment in the Part 90 waiting room, I felt the weight of it all. I felt guilt for never needing to question what “home” is or what it looks like. I felt sadness for children unable to be with their parents, and parents unable or unwilling to be with their children. And I was just sitting on a bench, watching them. I took a deep breath and reminded myself of why I was there, why it was important for me to be there and to know about the proceedings of family court, while working to un-know my own assumptions and mainstream narratives claiming to accurately portray realities of the foster care system…
the commitment, the crossing and conversation (el compromise)
Knowing that something in you, or of you, must die before something else can be born, you throw your old self into the ritual pyre, a passage by fire…
…I’ve seen the bruises on the pale, thin wrists of the young woman I mentor—painted on her by the handcuffs of police officers who arrested her in her living room, in front of her 9-year-old brother and 10-month-old sister; bruises from handcuffs of police officers who were responding to a 911 call from her mother requesting that someone remove her daughter from her home.
What do I say to this 15-year-old girl as she shows me the bruises and shares her side of the story? How do I listen to her and react to her when according to the “rules” I can only give this girl a “side-hug” for safety reasons?
What the hell do I say to her when with every passing moment I’m increasingly blinded by my own privilege? By the fact that I will more than likely never know what any of this actually feels like.
I rub her back quickly, a give her a side-hug, and all that comes out of my mouth is, “I’m sorry.” And she looks at me, with glassy eyes, and the corners of her mouth pull down like she’s holding the other side of a magnet below in her hands, and she nods.
And my mouth takes a similar shape, and my heart gets heavy, and there’s a sharp zing that pierces my core as I take a deep breath in an effort to push the tears that are threatening to fall back into my eyes.
I am not qualified for this shit…
new personal and collective stories (putting Coyolzauhqui together)
You shed your former bodymind and its outworn story like a snake its skin…After dismantling the body/self you re-compose it…When creating a personal narrative you also co-create the group/cultural story…The new narratives/accounts ‘trace the process of shifting from old ways of viewing reality to new perceptions. They depict your struggles, recount your losses, re-ignite your hope for recovery, and celebrate the workshops of the soul that nourish us with visions.
…They articulate unnamed, unvoiced, and repressed experiences and realities. The new versions of reality they offer demand that you employ alternative ways of knowing and re-wire your ways of seeing, thinking, feeling, and expressing.
I may not be qualified for this shit, but that’s alright because since my last love letter, I’ve realized that my lack of qualifications actually makes me one of the most qualified people to be having these experiences; to have these young people in my life. They are providing me with moments and glimmers of and access to realities other than mine, which wills lowly equip me with the ‘qualifications’ to know that this ‘shit’ can never truly be mastered; rather, it is in the experiences that we grow stronger and gain expertise in the willingness of unknowing[i]
a clash of realities (the blow up)
You overlook the fact that your self-image and history are not carved in stone, but drawn on sand and subject to the winds. A threat to your identifications and interpretations of reality enrages your ‘shadow beast,’ who views the new knowledge as an attack to your bodily integrity. New conocimiento (insights) threaten your sense of what’s ‘real’ when it’s up against what’s ‘real’ to the other. But it’s precisely this threat that triggers transformation…
…I have to (re)examine how the ‘physical structures of our seeing the patterns of thought these mechanisms create, among them spectating, consuming, and flattening, mis-take the world’[ii]
We must ask ourselves, “Does the multiplicity of seeing tragedy compound the horror or do the repetitive views overwhelm and desensitize?”[iii]
This is the ‘closest’ I’ve been to knowing someone who’s been shot, and I’m overwhelmingly aware of what a privilege it is for me to say that; for that to be my reality. It’s not a feeling of guilt or naiveté; it’s the weight of the awareness, of the borders and worlds that I am straddling right now. I’m working to reconcile my simultaneous locations in them all, but understanding that reconciliation is really neither feasible nor covetable.
Because straight up, this is difficult knowledge we’re dealing with.[iv] That’s not an excuse or prescription, but rather a description; a naming of place and space and time that deserves attention and love. Or else the knowledge will become dangerous and polarizing—more so than perhaps it already is…
All this said, I want you know, that I see you. Although at times I may be looking at you, at other times looking after you, please know that more than anything, I’m striving to see with you.[v]
shifting realities (acting out the vision or spiritual activism)
When a change occurs, your consciousness (awareness of your sense of self and your response to self, others, and surroundings) becomes cognizant that it has a point of view and the ability to act from choice…When you relate to others not as parts, problems, or useful commodities, but from a connectionist view, compassion triggers transformation. This shift occurs when you give up investment in your point of view and recognize the real situation free of projections—not filtered through your habitual defensive preoccupations…When an experience evokes similar feelings in both, you feel momentarily in sync. Like consciousness, conocimiento is about relatedness—to self, others, world.
While these love letters are about experiences I’ve had this year, they are not about me. The purpose of writing them is for me to occupy hybridized spaces in which to engage with ideas and experiences that up until this academic year, have been so far out of my realm of knowing. They’re love letters, as opposed to theoretically-founded or empirically-based papers, because there is a level of humanity, humility and reflexivity that I would never be able to reach or call upon in more traditional academic and analytic spaces.
For you, writing is an archetypal journey home to the self, un proceso de crear peuntes (bridges) to the next phase, next place, next culture, next reality. The thrust toward spiritual realization, health, freedom, and justice propels you to help rebuild the bridge to the world when you return ‘home.’
You realize that ‘home’ is that bridge, the in-between place of nepantla and constant transition, the most unsafe of all space…you don’t build bridges to safe and familiar territories…you have to risk the uncertainty of change. And nepantla is the only space where change happens…
If there is one thing that the young people I’ve worked with this year have helped to me to begin to understand, it’s the notion of resiliency. I’m working to strengthen my own in the process…
Through the act of writing you call, like the ancient chamana, the scattered pieces of your soul back to your body. You commence the arduous task of rebuilding yourself, composing a story that more accurately expresses your new identity. You see out allies and, together, begin building spiritual/political communities that struggle for personal growth and social justice…change requires more than words on a page—it takes perseverance, creative ingenuity, and acts of love.
…and I continue to be humbled…
[iv]Britzman, 1998, cited in Gaudelli, 2011