Tuesday, September 6, 2011
ON A SEARCH; Rediscovering my Land, my Home, my Roots
During the summer things always feel lighter. The sun landing softly on my face always makes me feel rejuvenated and centered.
I spent most of this summer on a search for a deeper understanding of who I am as a Black Panamanian woman, activist, educator, daughter, thinker and friend. You will hear me say, “I fell in love all over again “as I rediscover what I come from and how that has shaped me and many others. This summer was about love, my love for my people, my country, my family and you.
My search took me into a writing class where I was challenged to look deeper into the wording used to describe and express our work and the audience I was hoping to reach. A dear mentor, friend, voice of reason, in my life thought it was the right time for me to take this on. Having her as someone I can turn to, someone I can exhale with has been a shining moment of this summer.
My teacher was caring in her approach and thoughtful in her exchange with each of the students. My classmates were gentle and attentive. Some even made me cry at their willingness to learn more about my community. This was a turning point for me as I learned that they are Latinas who do not know about us but really want to learn and that they are allies who really want to understand our struggle. I also learned that my words touch other people of color as my South Asian classmate shared with me when I read these words out loud, “We are rejected by Latinas who do not embrace their Blackness because their skin doesn’t “match” while their history, language and experience in the US might.” I embraced the two women of African descent who became true sisters in the validation of a revolutionary voice.
I fell in love with writing all over again during this class. I loved my free writing exercises. One of the pieces became part of my training/presentations in the summer.
I was asked to teach part of the class “Exploring Culture through Narratives: Human Behavior and Clinical Perspectives”, at the Boston University School of Social Work, where my piece from the Afro-Latino Reader was a class assignment. What a gift it is to put something together that will highlight new information but also reveals a new self in each individual present. The Professors, Lisa Moore and Luz Lopez, were fabulous and open which made each student the same. It was wonderful to be in the space and see the exchange, feel the emotion and see them move through all of it. It was powerful!!! I walked away saying to myself, we can heal if the truth is presented with love and the intention is to love unconditionally.
I then spent a beautiful Saturday with Lou and Ummi of the Andover Bread Loaf Project. I just love both of these amazing human beings. This was my third year sharing our work with teachers from all over the country. This year was extra special. The teachers were willing to “go there” with me and we all came out knowing that spaces like these can exist and we can all learn and grow while we sit through our discomfort.
In both of these presentations I used some of the tools from my writing class. One was a free writing prompt exercise. After sharing the work and some of my journey, I then asked the participants to write about a “place you would like to go to” or “place you are afraid of.” I then shared my own piece in our exchange.
I want to take you to a place where bright things speak to your soul. On our walk, we will feel the sand beneath our feet and know that we are grounded in good intentions. We will see that road that will take us to a place of UNITY; we will name that St. SURVIVAL because we have made it to the crossroad that lifts our spirit. When we kneel to give thanks, we will hear the song in our heart connect with the sound of the river as we touch it lightly. What place is this? This is a placed called FREEDOM, Freedom to think about you, to see you, FREEDOM to love you.
The other tool I used was having students read my piece in the Reader out loud. I then asked, what words stood out for them? Each space had a different response based on their experiences. This process, also allowed me to see the piece in a different light.
Although these moments moved me to think, to feel in new ways, there was no deeper time this summer as my time at home filming the documentary and celebrating my birthday with my father, family and friends.
My first birthday gift came at the airport when Toshi surprised me by having Mr. Richards there to welcome me home. My search has brought me closer to this man who I lean on through good times and times of struggle. The way he moves, the way he speaks, is something I reach for on a daily basis.
One of the gifts of this journey is my friendship with Toshi, the director of the film. He makes everything feel so easy and not tasking. We worked long hours through rain, heat and me fumbling my lines and never did it become tense.
We spent some time filming in Panama Viejo and as we drove around the city, I kept asking myself, where are we? Where does our struggle show itself in these high buildings, this gap in wealth?
Another gift on this trip was my time with the Reina and Princesa Congo, Doña Alejandrina and Marcia. I could sit and listen to these special women all day. To hear the stories of the Afro-Colonials of Panama, their ancestors, created a sense a responsibility to support bringing attention to the needs of this community.
We then spent time in Portobelo. This is my space of silence, peace, of connecting with the ancestors of seeing myself in the faces of the people and sensing the presence of Guerreras in my being. When we stood in the jungles, I yelled out Ogun ye, as I felt the power of the warriors. When I spoke the words of the women who were abused and where the keepers of our secrets, I felt like a Queen. Their spirit inspires my audacity to believe!
I also had my first taste of “agua dulce”. I am still fascinated by this moment. Reaching down at this stream and tasting the cleanest and sweetest water ever. Mi Panama!!!
This time lead me to ask more questions. I then realized that my search includes my friends, their parents and a long history of struggle and resistance that needs to be told. I began interviewing many of them with the hope of bringing their voices into a paper I am working on.
My journal entry on this day was, “I give thanks for the gift of being from this special place, this rich soil, with an African beat. The world makes sense here. Narrating the film was my gift to Panama yet I realized on this trip, that Panama has given me a lasting gift; a treasure filled with truth, resiliency, pride and love, oh love. The faces of the people scream, “Yo soy Orgullosamente Pana”, and their smiles warm your soul. Their voices say, “I know you” and their embraces say, “I love you.”
This was a meaningful birthday. I have been thinking about this number since my mother passed away at this very age. I always wondered what I would be doing, what would it feel like. Being at home with my father I now have a better understanding of my parents and love them even more. I woke up and wrote these words, “I now know that my mother was young. Young in spirit and young in life and that my father stands with commitment because that is how I feel today. I see more, feel more and love more. I move with the depth that leads me on this search.”
Familia, as we begin preparing for the hustle and bustle of the fall, I will hold onto this special summer. A summer where I learned that words can heal, that being in the presence of those you love and care for feeds your soul. Seeing the essence of someone moving through life with humility inspires you to do the same, speaking the words of the ancestors builds resistance to anything that does not honor them and that the search to knowing self, embracing self is ongoing.
As we move through the following months I hope you all join us on the search to come together as a community, to love and support each other unconditionally, to learn more about yourself, your family and to share our story out loud so that it vibrates into the very being of our existence.
picture from the film "Cimanoraje en Panama" by Toshi Sakai