Reviewed & Recommended

Human Rights Defender Makrina Gudiel–steadfast pursuit of justice

I always leave the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) speaker’s tour feeling so inspired by the actions Guatemalans are taking to advocate for justice. GHRC’s 2014 spring tour with Makrina Gudiel was no exception. GHRC staff introduced Makrina by stating that “as a human rights defender, she is a “real-life hero.”

Makrina opened her talk by describing, in a gentle and calm voice, how a human rights defender “is a person who makes their life part of the social forum.” She identified two paths to becoming a human rights defender–one path was academic and analytical, and the other was auto-didactic and through lived experience. Growing up in Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, a sugar growing town in Guatemala’s south coast, she observed how the economic inequality on the sugar plantations created a system that pitted “the rich against the poor.” This realization sparked in her a desire to change the status quo, and by the time she was an adolescent, she joined her family advocating for labor rights.

When I heard her say the name of her town, Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa I felt a memory jolt–I had met with members from this community and learned about the assassination and disappearance of many of their family members during the Internal Armed Conflict. Sadly Makrina’s family was one of those to suffer such a loss–her beloved brother, Jose Miguel, was disappeared in 1983. Makrina later learned that the Guatemalan military had targeted her family as “Chumpas Rojas” (Red Jackets) because their labor advocacy was considered subversive. Furthermore, Jose Miguel’s entry was found in the Military Diary, a roster the Guatemalan military kept documenting those they kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. After Jose Miguel was disappeared, Makrina and her family went into exile in Mexico and the United States.

Jose Miguel Gudiel pictured in the Military Diary. Photo Source: The Guatemala Human Rights Commission

Jose Miguel Gudiel pictured in the Military Diary.             Photo Source: The Guatemala Human Rights Commission

Makrina and her family returned to Guatemala after the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, and her family brought her brother’s case to the Inter-American Commission in 2004. Soon thereafter, Makrina received a telephone call from a Kabil, a member of the Guatemalan military’s counter-insurgency unit, who told her, “you and your family will receive a visit from me this year.” Despite reporting this threat to the police, her father was murdered in December 2004. This crime was never adequately investigated, and Makrina recently testified before the Inter-American Court regarding her father’s murder in 2014.

Listening to Makrina tell her story, I was so struck by how she has channeled her tragic personal losses in “the social forum” as an active community organizer and a coordinator of the Network of Guatemalan Women Human Rights Defenders. GHRC staff expressed their concern that when Makrina returns to Guatemala, she will likely be threatened for her ongoing pursuit for justice for her father and brother’s deaths. I encourage everyone reading this article to frequently check in with GHRC regarding Makrina Gudiel, and to take a concrete step toward positive action by signing the petition to maintain the ban on US funding to the Guatemalan military.

Makrina Gudiel (left) and her family. Photo Source: "Porque queríamos salir de tanta pobreza" (106)

Makrina Gudiel (left) and her family. Photo Source: “Porque queríamos salir de tanta pobreza” (page 106)

Learn more about GHRC’s Spring 2014 Speakers Tour with Makrina Gudiel

1. “Makrina Gudiel: Seeking Justice for Crimes of the Past in Guatemala.”  http://www.ghrc-usa.org/get-involved/events/spring-2014-speakers-tour-makrina-gudiel/#Makrinabackground 

2.”Guatemala News Update: March 31-April 4, 2014.” http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/guatemala-news-update-march-31-april-4/

3. “Guatemalan Activist Calls for Solidarity in South Coast.” http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140403/NEWS/404030383

Learn more about the victims and survivors from Santa Lucia Cotz

1. “We Need Everyone to Know.” Impunity Watch. http://www.impunitywatch.org/html/index.php?alineaID=89 The organization Impunity Watch works closely with the community of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa. In this article. Impunity Watch provides background information about the violence that escalated in the murder and disappearance of many members of the community, as well as Santa Lucia Cotz’s efforts to commemorate their loved ones by writing Porque queríamos salir de tanta pobreza and painting a mural.

2. “Porque queríamos salir de tanta pobreza: la memorable historia de Santa Lucía Cotzumalguapa contada por sus protagonistas.” http://biblio3.url.edu.gt/Libros/2013/pqsalipobre.pdf This is the pdf version of the book the community Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa wrote to commemorate their family members who were assassinated and disappeared. The story of Makrina’s brother, Jose Miguel Gudiel, and father, Florentin Gudiel Ramos, which Makrina wrote, is on pages 104-106.

3.  “Painting Realized by Family Members of the Victims of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa.” http://www.impunitywatch.org/docs/ENGELSE_VERSIE_POSTER_MURAL_lowres.pdf  This document includes a picture of a beautiful mural painted by the victims’ family members, a short explanation of the Internal Armed Conflict, and the family members’ process of organizing themselves and pursuing justice. One of my favorite things about this document is that it includes quotes from the family members about how they chose to represent their loved ones in the mural.

 

New and Noteworthy: Windows to African American History

1. “Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761, A Cartographic Narrative.”  http://revolt.axismaps.com/map/

2. Malcolm X Diary & Family Lawsuit http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/11/malcolm_xs_daughter_to_release_his_diaries_this_week.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

3, Barlett’s Familiar Black Quotations http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/27/books/bartletts-familiar-black-quotations-covers-5000-years.html & http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=247166538

Mo’Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove

When I was growing up, I an effortless reader, a bookworm who loved to read for hours on end, losing myself in stories. Now, as an adult, I am saddened that it has become hard for me to find the time and attention span to devote to what was my beloved past time. I recently finished reading Mo’Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, the memoir of Ahmir Thompson aka “Questlove,” the Drummer for the Hip Hop Band The Roots, and was thrilled at how Mo’Meta Blues recaptured my love of reading from childhood, truly immersing me in what I had loved and continue to love about reading–exploring a new world, in this instance the world of Hip Hop.

Mo’Meta Blues did introduce me to people whose lives are so different from my own in a format that felt so unique–less of a memoir and more of a hip hop song that sampled  footnotes from Roots Manager Richard Nichols and emails exchanged between co-writer Ben Greenman and editor Ben Greenberg.  But Questlove also let me return to a place I have not visited in a while, Philly where I am from.

In addition to revisiting the city where I grew up, I also felt a musical nostalgia that brought me back to the first time I heard so many hip hop and R&B artists that make up the sound track of my adolescence. It was so funny reading about Questlove’s experiences attending CAPA (Philadelphia high school for Creative and Performing Arts) where he met Tariq Trotter “Black Thought” whom he created the Roots with as part of a rivalry against their classmates who “were always singing a capella in the bathroom,” classmates who later became R&B group Boyz II Men. It was so cool to read about the Roots performing with the Fugees, and think back to when I heard “Killing Me Softly” all over the radio and school hallways.

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Listen to The Roots & other Hip Hop artists

1. The Roots https://myspace.com/theroots This is the Root’s official MySpace page and includes a YouTube video archive as well as their music.

2. J Dilla https://myspace.com/jdilla I am embarrassed to admit that before reading Mo’Meta Blues, I never knew much about J Dilla and his legacy in what Questlove called the “new Renaissance of Hip Hop.”  After reading Mo’Meta Blues, it’s been a fascinating journey for me to explore J Dilla’s website, and learn about his life and powerful influences on so many artists from Questlove himself to Erykah Badu, Common, Kanye West… the list goes on and on. A moving story of coincidence that also unpacks J Dilla’s legacy was recently featured on the Snap Judgement Podcast: http://snapjudgment.org/j-dilla%E2%80%99s-lost-scrolls   

3. OkayPlayer http://www.okayplayer.com/ Okayplayer.com, created by Questlove in 1999, defines itself as “the original progressive urban music site” and  “premier digital destination for music connoisseurs worldwide.”

Read Mo’Meta Blues and Listen to the Interview that inspired me to read it

1. Thompson, Ahmir “Questlove” and Ben Greenman. Mo’Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove. June 2013.  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000I9S6AE/ref=atv_feed_catalog?tag=imdb-amazonvideo-20

2. “Questlove on Police Racial Profiling, Stop & Frisk, the Message He Took from Trayvon Martin Verdict.” Democracy Now. August 14, 2013.  This insightful interview cemented my crush on Questlove and finally prompted me to read Mo’Meta Blues.  http://www.democracynow.org/2013/8/14/questlove_on_police_racial_profiling_stop

Searching for Providence and Harvest of Empire

A few months ago, I read Patricia Foxen’s ethnography In Search of Providence: Transnational Mayan Identities. An ethnography is a descriptive work resulting from the study of human cultures, and Dr. Foxen has created an insightful analysis of Mayan K’iches’ who have emigrated from a rural Guatemalan farming community to Providence, Rhode Island after the Internal Armed Conflict. I found Dr. Foxen’s book fascinating, and so many parts spoke to my own personal heartfelt experiences. Her description of the Mayan K’iche’ communities in their “host community” of Providence reminded me of my experiences working with recently resettled refugees. Her analysis of K’iche’ in their “home community” in Guatemala gave me deep nostalgia for my experiences at the Mountain School.

Furthermore, I was intrigued by Foxen’s description of how the Maya K’iche’ use trickster behavior. According to Foxen, in El Quiche “the instability caused by poor weather and crops, an insecure economic environment, poor health, and social strife lead most K’iche’s to learn to be flexible and above all, listo (literally to be ready, or on one’s toes) for whatever opportunities present themselves” (194). Foxen elaborates on how as marginalized immigrants, K’iches’ leverage this coping mechanism to act as tricksters. 

Tricksters, present in many cultures’ folktales including those of the Maya K’iche’, usually appear as animals who are metaphors for how an oppressed people can use their position of weakness to outsmart their oppressors. Foxen gives examples of how K’iche’s acted as real life tricksters to survive the Guatemalan military’s brutal surveillance tactics, and later put these techniques to use when contending with “la migra, the police, and bosses” in the United States (195). Foxen noted that K’iche’ migrants take pride in their trickster abilities, which they see as part of their ethnic identity.   

Foxen’s study of May K’iche’s trickster behavior left a deep impression on me because I have studied tricksters in ancient folktales and in contemporary fiction, but had yet to delve deeply into how people in recent history have used trickster behavior. One work of contemporary fiction that I have studied that came to mind when reading In Search of Providence was Junot Diaz’s collection of vignettes Drown, which features Dominican immigrants acting as tricksters in order to adapt to their new lives in New Jersey. Diaz writes in English, and cleverly uses language to express the multiple worlds his characters are straddling. Drown begin with an epigraph by Gustavo Pérez Firmat that expresses this notion:

The fact that I

am writing to you in English 

already falsifies what I

wanted to tell you. 

My subject: 

how to explain to you that I

don’t belong to English 

though I belong nowhere else.

To give further insight into the ideas expressed in this poem Bilingual Blues, I have linked below for a second time to an interview where Junot Diaz and Francisco Goldman discuss how they grapple with living in “two linguistic spheres.”

Another book that I have recently read that address Central American migration to the United States is Juan Gonzalez’s revised edition of Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. I delighted in taking my time reading Harvest of Empire, slowing pulling back the lens to gain a broader perspective on Latin American history from the Spanish Colonization in the 1500s to the present day. Thus far, my knowledge had been focused on Guatemala. Recently, I have begun to learn more about El Salvador from living in a city with large Salvadoran population as a result of a wave of immigrants and refugees who fled their country’s Civil War in the 1980s.

I especially liked Part II Branches (Las Ramas) and Part III Harvest (La Cosecha) for their comprehensive view of the revolutions in Latin America throughout the 20th Century and the discussion of the contemporary immigration debate. One close-up I particularly enjoyed was Gonzalez’s discussion Puerto Rico. Gonzalez himself is Puerto Rican, and included anecdotes about his family and own life, which added a personal note to the sweeping narrative.

Learn more about the books and radio show discussed in this post

1. Foxen, Patricia. In Search of Providence: Transnational Mayan Identities. 2007. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0826515819/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

2. Gonzales, Juan. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America Revised Edition. 2011.  http://www.amazon.com/Harvest-Empire-History-Latinos-America/dp/0143119281

3.  Alarcón, Daniel. ”Junot y Francisco : En vivo desde Nueva York.” Radio Ambulante. February, 2013. http://radioambulante.org/es/

Lately reflecting on Trayvon Martin & What can a sincere white person do?

This post has been brewing in my mind since July, but I delayed writing and publishing these past three months–partly because I have been busy but also because I felt nervous about expressing myself on these issues. I learned today that my friend recently met one of my heroes, anti-racism educator Tim Wise, this past weekend. Thinking about all that this sincere white person does to undo racism has helped me find the will to share my thoughts.

Although I spent three months deliberating over publishing my reflection on Trayvon Martin’s death and the verdict of George Zimmerman’s trial for killing him, time has not remained as static as this page in my drafts folder.  George Zimmerman is back in the news for altercations between him and his ex-wife, and the ways in which privileged white women such as myself can dominate social justice movements, unintentionally overshadowing the voices of people of color, came into focus thanks to #solidarityisforwhitewomen.

But this post begins began back in July. Soon after George Zimmerman verdict was announced,  I read Ta-Nehisi’s Coate’s article “Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice,” which really spoke to what the verdict says about America, while also providing a great grounding of the laws surrounding the verdictCoates is so articulate in weaving together legal analysis and social insight, that instead of quoting or paraphrasing I will just provide the link and thanks to my friends who shared it with me: Coates, Ta-Nehisi.  The Atlantic. “Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice.” July 15, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/trayvon-martin-and-the-irony-of-american-justice/277782/

NPR’s Tell Me More has covered news involving Trayvon Martin since the winter of 2012, and I have appreciated the show’s focus on the trial and verdict. On July 15th, 2013, Tell Me More dedicated a full show to the verdict, and interviewed people from a variety of backgrounds who spoke about different aspects of the verdict, from the legal proceedings to more emotional perspectives regarding racial biases. One comment that stayed with me was from Jenee Desmond Harris, who writes for TheRoot.com, stating that “if Zimmerman is a racist…he is certainly not the old school kind.” (NPR Tell Me More. “Inside the Zimmerman Verdict.” July 15, 2013. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=202335038 )

Harris was mentioning the hue and cry of whether George Zimmerman is or isn’t racist and how those who insist that Zimmerman is not racist point to “new school” facets like his half Peruvian heritage, or dating and volunteering history. But the focus on Zimmerman’s ethnicity and actions obscure the unspoken internalized prejudices all of us Americans have from living in a country that is entrenched in biases against people of color. Biases that exist from the institutional on down to the individual level. These are the prejudices at play when Zimmerman saw and stalked Trayvon Martin, concluding after a glance at his skin that was a criminal threat, giving rise to the fear that prompted him to pull the trigger, ending an innocent life.

I have internalized racism too.  Part of my own efforts in trying to be a sincere white ally begins with acknowledging my own biases and doing my best to work against them.  A simple way that anyone can be introduced to their internalized biases is through the interactive website  “Project Implicit.”  (Project Implicit. 2013 https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/ )

A key part of trying to be a sincere ally begins with listening, listening to ourselves as we uncover our biases and listening to people of color. In Lois Mark Stalvey’s memoir, “The Education of a WASP,” Lois Stalvey listens to her African American friend Joanna recount a heartbreaking story from her childhood: how a boy with a developmental disability was lynched for allegedly harassing a white woman. Joanna tells Lois that the neighborhood watched after this boy, who was seldom alone and could not be guilty of the crime.  Lois listens to her friend cry, and realizes throughout history white people have enslaved, disenfranchised, and brutally killed African Americans, yet we feared them.”  (The Education of a WASP. 1989. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1752739.The_Education_of_a_WASP )

In closing, I am brought back to my post title and the author behind the phrase sincere white person.  A professor at my alma mater recently wrote “a love letter to white people”  in the Feminist Wire. ( Osmundson, Joseph. The Feminist Wire. “Love letter to white people.”  September 3, 2013.  http://thefeministwire.com/2013/09/love-letter-to-white-people/ ) and here is what Malcolm X has to say:  “I tell sincere white people, ‘Work in conjunction with us – each of us working among our own kind.’ Let sincere white individuals find all other white people they can who feel as they do – and let them form their own all-white groups, to work trying to convert other white people who are thinking and acting so racist. Let sincere white people go and teach non-violence to white people.” ( Alex Haley and Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 1964. pp. 383–384. https://www.facebook.com/TalkandAction/posts/10151165765347608 )

Exploring race in surreal fiction

When I was a child, I loved reading stories that involved magic and fantasy. The works of Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and Anne Lindbergh offered an escape from my mundane world and access into a vibrant imaginary one with infinite possibilities. All these years later, I still enjoy reading fantasy, yet now I am drawn to exploring how authors can use a surreal setting to comment on real elements in our society.  Lately, I have been interested in specifically looking at how issues of race and ethnicity play out in literature with surreal elements.

I mentioned the authors Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and Anne Lindbergh  because I loved the sense of adventure, imagination, and strong female characters in these books when I was young,  qualities also found in Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games Trilogy. In this series’ post-apocalyptic universe, heroine Katniss Everdeen, who participates in the “Hunger Games,” an annual competition where children compete in dangerous and deadly obstacles to win grains for their community, a vital prize in a famine stricken world.  Katniss is described somewhat racially ambiguously with “straight black hair, olive skin,” and she describes her features as characteristic of the people from the coal mining town “District 12″ where she lives, and notes that her blond and blue eyed mother and sister Primrose “always look out of place.”

These cues as well as indications of how Katniss is perceived by and interacts with those around her, led many people to read her as a woman of color. Yet for the movie adaptation, white actress Jennifer Lawrence was cast to play her. The website Racebending.com–a grassroots organization that advocates for the representation of people of color in entertainment media–has written a nuanced examination of this casting decision, and also quotes from a powerful essay written by a Guyanese law student titled “Why Katniss Everdeen is a woman of color.” Less ambiguously described is the character Rue, the twelve-year-old Hunger Games Tribute from District 11, who has “dark brown skin and eyes” and reminds Katniss of her little sister Primrose. However, a virulent outcry arose among many readers, who despite the aforementioned description, had visualized Rue as white.

These casting decisions and people’s reactions act as something of a litmus test by which fantasy reveals people’s attitudes regarding race. Surreal fiction can also be a forum where writers can delve into what such attitudes might signify, and I wish to share examples of how  renowned science fiction author Octavia Butler and contemporary author Danzy Senna use the literary trope of the “Gothic Double” to comment on race and ethnicity in American culture.The gothic double refers to a split in a character into two polar opposites, the classic example being the good/evil pair Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. These authors use this trope to convey different messages about race.

African American author Octavia Butler is groundbreaking for her prolific science and speculative fiction, featuring heroes and heroines of color. In fact, as I publish this post, the city of Seattle is debating dedicating a park in her honor. Butler lived out her final years in Seattle, and had a profound affect on young readers of color worldwide who had searched for someone who looked liked them. In 2006, I attended a Memorial Service for Octavia Butler led by my college’s Africana Studies department, and I remember the tribute from an  African American professor who described himself as a lonely kid in the library seeking refuge in science fiction, and finding empowerment in the worlds Butler created.

Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred uses the trope of the gothic double to evoke the effects of slavery and its brutal long arcing impact. 26-year-old African American aspiring author Dana is magically transported from her home in 1970s L.A. to a plantation in antebellum Maryland. After a few episodes time traveling between her home and the plantation, she deduces that she is summoned to the past each time to save the life of Rufus, the son of the plantation owner so that he will grow up to  father her ancestor Hagar.

One pair of gothic doubles is Dana and Alice Greenwood, the enslaved woman who is will be Hagar’s mother. Dana and Alice physically resemble each other although they have very different personalities as well as daily realities. At times they repeat the same words, and are further doubled by Rufus has a growing attachment to Dana as his savior and Alice as an object of his sexual desire.  A second pair of gothic doubles are Dana’s white husband Kevin and Rufus himself. This double unnerves me because Kevin is a loving husband, and when transported to the past with Dana he spends many years helping enslaved men and women escape to freedom. Yet Butler presents an uncanny pairing to Rufus, the eventual plantation owner.

There is so much more I could write about this chilling novel that fulfills  Butler aim of letting readers “really feel slavery” that it is hard to move on after a mere two paragraphs. But having already turned this post into a sprawling essay, I am going to move on…In “What’s the Matter with Helga and Dave” a short story in Danzy Sena’s collection You Are Free, Senna uses the gothic double to tweak  the microagression that occurs when people confuse one person of color for another under the ethos of “you all look the same.” The narrator, Rachel, is a biracial woman who appears white, is married and the new mother of a son with her husband Hewitt, a biracial man who appears black. Over the course of the story, Rachel and Hewitt’s interactions their neighbors–interracial couple Helga and Dave–begin as amusingly banal but then take a disturbing turn as Rachel and Helga become doubles of each other.

Learn more about the racial commentary of “The Hunger Games” 

1. Lee, Marissa. “Jennifer Lawrence cast as Katniss in ‘The Hunger Games.'” Racebending.com. March 19, 2011.  http://www.racebending.com/v4/featured/jennifer-lawrence-cast-as-katniss-in-the-hunger-games/

2. Hari Kondanbolu is a hilarious comedian whose work responds to issues of race in our culture. His sketch “Cocoa Butter” spells out the thought process of “white is the assumed default,” the chain of thinking that would lead readers to assume Katniss and Rue are white. Hari Kordanbolu “Cocoa Butter.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5_feKLhczE&list=PL60ABB8508554A11C

Learn more about “Kindred” and “You Are Free.”

1. Octavia, Butler.  Kindred. 1979. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0807083690/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

2. Senna, Danzy.  You Are Free: Stories. 2011. http://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Free-Danzy-Senna/dp/B006TQVHVK/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372811529&sr=1-3&keywords=danzy+senna

3. NPR Staff. “A Mixed Race Take On What It Means To Be ‘Free’.” Tell Me More. June 16, 2011. http://www.npr.org/2011/06/24/137395343/biracial-author-offers-lighthearted-disturbing-stories I first discovered You Are Free when I listened to this interview as part of Tell Me More’s “Summer Blend Book Series,” which featured fiction involving characters from multi-racial backgrounds.

Commemorating genocide through art, museum and memory

During my recent trips to Guatemala and Israel, I had the opportunity to visit two very distinct museums that commemorated two different genocides. The museum in the collective farming community of Sant’Anita La Union honors the guerrillas who fought in Guatemala’s 36 year Internal Armed Conflict (from 1960-1996), in which approximately 200,000 Guatemalans were killed.  Yad Vashem, located in Jerusalem, commemorates the Shoah or Holocaust (from 1933-1945) in which 6 million Jews perished.

Visiting both museums led me to reflect on these devastating genocides, and ways that the two cultures memorialized such profound losses. The contrast of Sant’Anita and Yad Vashem had been percolating in my mind for a while, but emerged to the forefront following my recent participation in an activist art project called “One Million Bones,” which convened people to array one million paper-mache and cardboard bones on the lawn of the National Mall as a tribute to past and present genocide victims and survivors around the world.

I joined the Guatemala Human Rights Commission in placing bones to honor the Guatemalan victims killed in the Ixil Triangle region. I was surprised at how moved I felt placing the bones–which were made of cardboard, gauze, and paper mache–on the National Mall lawn.  Some bones were painted in rainbow colors and others were inscribed with messages such as: “stay strong” and “rest in peace” yet despite their cartoonish appearance, I felt overwhelmingly sad reading the names of the Ixiles as I placed one bone at a time in honor of each victim. Placing the bones on the National Capitol Lawn also felt like a complex gesture–acknowledging the United State’s past role in funding the Guatemalan military during the genocide, and asking the United States to pay attention now to Guatemala’s pursuit of justice in the genocide trial of Efrain Rios Montt, the dictator in power when the massacres in the Ixil Triangle occurred.

This photography by Teru Kuwayama shows the One Million bones displayed on the National Mall Lawn as a tribute to genocide survivors past and present

This photography by Teru Kuwayama shows the One Million bones displayed on the National Mall Lawn as a tribute to genocide survivors past and present

My visit to Sant’Anita la Unión

Santa Anita la Unión is an organic coffee and banana growing community formed by ex-guerilla combatants. I visited Sant’Anita with my language school, PLQ, and in addition to touring the fields where the coffee grew and the facilities where it was roasted and packaged, the residents of Sant’Anita showed us their “guerrilla museum.” The one-room museum had a cracked wall from the recent earthquake, visible as our guide gestured to the framed photos of “our fallen comrades.” On the floor, a guerrilla’s camouflage uniform and radio were neatly displayed. Newspaper clippings explaining the unfolding history of the armed conflict hung on the other walls. I was most moved though by how our guide brought this room of artifacts to life with his sincere appreciation for his fellow ex-combatants and his community’s collective wish to preserve their memory.

This closeup of one of the main buildings at Sant'Anita was taken from an article about Guatemalan activist and Desgua co-founder Willy Barreno

This closeup of one of the main buildings at Sant’Anita was taken from an article about Guatemalan activist and Desgua co-founder Willy Barreno. The link to the article is included at the post’s conclusion.

My visit to Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem is physically imposing–built in the shape of an arrow to evoke how “the Shoah pierced our hearts,” our tour guide explained. The grounds are lavish, and surrounding the entrance are carob trees, planted in honor of the “righteous gentiles” who rescued Jews during the war. Inside, we walked a zigzag path from room to room, a route designed to mimic the unfolding years of 1933 until the establishment of Israel. What most moved me fell outside of tangible bounds, it was learning about how Jews used “trickster behavior” to help one another survive.

Trickster behavior can be explained as how people who are marginalized use their cleverness to subvert the rules that oppress them to attain power. Tricksters can span cultures, and examples of trickster figures can be found in Chinese mythology (the Monkey King), African American Folktales (Brer Rabbit), Brazilian Santeria (Eshu)–I could go on and on about representation of tricksters and how people can use trickster figures as metaphors to express and enact coded rebellion against the powers that oppress them.  Learning how Jews in Concentration Camps would subtly trick the Nazis to improve the living conditions for themselves and others so moved me because trickster behavior is a topic that deeply fascinates me. In fact, I wrote my undergraduate thesis on how Chinese and Latino immigrants  in three contemporary American works of fiction use “trickster language” to subvert the status quo and gain power. Because I have grown accustomed to thinking of myself as white and carrying around a knapsack of privilege whose contents I am oft ignorant of, I felt surprised and moved to consider trickster behavior in connection to myself and my own ethnic and religious identity.

Entrance way to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

Entrance way to Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

Learn more about the exhibitions discussed above 

1. One Million Bones. June 8-10, 2013. http://www.onemillionbones.org/the-project/ This link is to the official website for One Million Bones, and explains about the project and includes a photo gallery of people who have made the bones.

2. After participating in laying the bones on the National Lawn with the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC), GHRC received hateful comments from genocide deniers. GHRC has written this response on their blog. “GHRC Target of Hate for Commemorating Genocide Victims. Guatemalan Human Rights Updates. June 11, 2013.  http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/ghrc-target-of-hate-for-commemorating-victims-of-genocide/

2. Sant’Anita. May 24, 2013. http://www.santaanitafinca.com/ This is the official website for Sant’Anita farming collective.

3.  Mychalejko, Cyril. “Resurrecting the ‘Guatemalan Dream.'” August 31, 2009. http://upsidedownworld.org/main/guatemala-archives-33/2084-resurrecting-the-qguatemalan-dreamq  This article from Upside Down World is about Guatemalan activist and co-founder of DESGUA Willy Barreno, and also describes Sant’Anita la Union and information regarding the documentary “Voices of a Mountain.”

4. “Genocide in the Ixil Triangle.” Guatemala Human Rights Commission. June 13, 2013. http://www.ghrc-usa.org/resources/important-cases/genocide-cases/genocide-in-the-ixil-triangle/ This webpage from GHRC provides historical information regarding the massacres in the Ixil Triangle region during Guatemala’s Internal Armed Conflict.

5. Yad Vashem. May 24, 2013. http://www.yadvashem.org/ This is the official website for Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. The website contains a wealth of information about the Holocaust, including podcasts and a database to search for the names of victims and survivors as well as a virtual tour of the museum’s galleries.

 

Walk the Line & Burn Down the Ground

I love reading, and often wonder about how the voices of authors sound. Many times the narration I read in my head sounds quite different from the authors themselves.

I read Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away  years ago, and was delighted to hear June Cross’s voice in my ear on The Moth podcast. In both the book and the memoir, June describes growing up as the secret daughter of a white actress and black comedian during the 1950s. In the podcast “Walk the Line,” June describes attending a Johnny Cash concert with her mother, and how that experience gave her a way to “walk the line” and thus balance her African-American and white identities, which she had previously seen as separate, and believed that she had to choose between the two.

I discovered memoirist and actor Kambri Crews through the opposite path. I first heard “A Blind Ear,” in which Kambri, a child of deaf adults (CODA) shares a dramatic story that caused her to re-evaluate her understanding of her parents and their marriage. My interest piqued, I read her memoir, Burn Down the Ground.

The act of “burning down the ground” refers to a moment from Kabri’s childhood where  Kambri’s parents had to set a brush fire to clear the land where they built their home in rural Texas. Her father had explained that they needed to burn down the ground so that fresh new plants could spring up.  Burn Down the Ground is a metaphor for how Kambri balances her past and present.

Both memoirs and podcasts are compelling, linked together in my mind because of how the authors describe traversing barriers based on race and disability to forge their own identities.

Read and listen to June Cross

1. Cross, June. Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away. 2006. http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Daughter-Mixed-Race-Mother-Gave/dp/067088555X

2. “Walk the Line: Stories of Balancing Acts.” The Moth. 2011. http://www.podcasts.com/the_moth_podcast/episode/june_cross_secret_daughter

Read and listen to Kambri Crews

1. “A Blind Ear.” The Moth. Oct 23, 2012.http://www.podcasts.com/the_moth_podcast/episode/kambri_crews_a_blind_ear

2. Crews, Kambri. Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir. 2012. http://www.amazon.com/Burn-Down-Ground-A-Memoir/dp/0345516028