Monday, March 24, 2014

"They Are Trying to Kill Us": On Rituals and Sisterhood

A wave of pain took place within me this past week. Pain that I soon realized was shared by my brown sisters. Pain that once overcome will only result in massive growth, love, understanding and hermandad.

I'm usually not spiritual but I do practice certain "rituals" in order to feel better and help calm myself, probably out of habit. For example, I started praying again as a way to reflect on my day rather than as a way to ask for something from some sort of mythical higher being. I started doing little things such as lighting candles while writing, using incense to calm the energy in the room, saying daily affirmations as a way to cleanse my mind from all the "toxic" that is thrown its way.

But sometimes, these healing rituals aren't enough when performed alone. Last week I was having a physical reaction to the changes happening in my life: I was anxious throughout the day. I felt scared, alone, in pain, forgotten, nostalgic, confused and unable to keep my composure. I knew that the solution was to reach out and ask to be held. And this brings me to write about the importance of rituals and sisterhood.

On Thursday night, I reached out to some hermanas who revealed that they too were feeling pain. We got together and opened up about being tired of harassment, about being tired of dealing with the bullshit of life. We held each other, and cried in each other's arms. That first night, as my hermana held me in her arms in that coffee shop where we met, I felt safe, warm, loved...and not alone. And that in itself, that sisterhood is revolutionary in a society where we're told that we can only be held by men for their own sexual pleasures.

The next night, we met up with another friend who also opened up about her recent experiences. For the first time I heard the truth as I had never heard it before:

 "Didn't you know? They are trying to kill us".

As women of color, we are not even supposed to be here. We shouldn't even be alive.

Our cultures have been forgotten, erased, invalidated. Our ancestry has been wiped out. We spoke of wanting to read about Taino culture or about Mayan culture, but most of the accounts left are all given by colonizers. There is almost nothing coming from within. And the marginalized native communities that have made it to today are in constant struggle to keep their land. In Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano writes about "the nobodies", he says that according to the current mainstream narrative, these are people who:

"Who don't speak languages, but dialects.Who don't have religions, but superstitions.Who don't create art, but handicrafts.Who don't have culture, but folklore.Who are not human beings, but human resources.Who do not have faces, but arms.Who do not have names, but numbers.Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the police blotter of the local paper.The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them"

And as women who are part of this "nobody", we live in constant struggle: we make less, we are sterilized in prisons, we are fetishized, we are essentially turned into commodifications; we are harassed even in spaces that are supposed to be safe and the burden to overcome this harassment falls on us.

As I reflect on my own life, my own struggles, and my mother's struggle, and my sister's struggle, and my grandmother's struggle, I am filled with anger but also respect. We have overcome so much.

I felt so guilty about being in the U.S. when I first came here: Who was I to come to a foreign land in pursuit of better opportunities? Why couldn't I stay in Dominican Republic and pursue opportunities there? I had been conditioned to think like a nationalist conservative, and these feelings and lack of understanding of the history of colonization and U.S. imperialism were essentially killing me from the inside. The religious Catholic beliefs that I grew up with--that life is about suffering and that I had to marry a man, and that I was to wait until marriage to have sex, and the virgin-whore dichotomy--were killing me and stripping me of any autonomy over my own body and my own life.

They are trying to kill us sisters. And yet we survive by virtue of our strength. And we must make this survival a collective process. We must include healing practices in our activist spaces and in our communities.

Yes, healing can be messy and nobody wants to deal with it. It comes with tears, with physical pain, with internalized guilt, it comes with addiction and it comes with shame; and we must be able to rely on each other to help pick up these pieces together rather than continue carrying this burden inside.We must not apologize for acknowledging this pain and seeking help. There is so much strength in asking to be held.

As I hugged my sisters who are with me in this struggle, as we held each other, the narrative became one of empowerment.

Don't tell me that I need to be satisfied with what I've earned. Don't tell me that I cannot be sad. Don't tell me that I'm ungrateful. Don't tell me that I am broken or sick for feeling depressed.

I am not broken. I am not ungrateful nor needy nor incapable.

I am powerful and completely aware.

I know what I need...I need to be held. I need to feel another person's breath. I need understanding. I need patience. I need empathy. I need support.

And so, in the midst of Spring Solstice,

We rose in strength as we felt each other's pain.
We rose in love as we felt each other's pain.
We rose in knowledge and courage as we felt each other's pain.
And we will continue not just surviving, but also resisting and fighting.

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