I was born on January 20th, 1986, the first ever observed Martin Luther King Day. It was also the 13th anniversary of Amilcar Cabral’s assassination. The fact that this year’s birthday, my 27th, fell on Obama’s second inauguration meant I had a particular responsibility in reflecting on the role these figures have had on my life.
I meant to write this post weeks ago.
But now it’s the 24th. Of February. So forgive the not-so-timeliness of this post but hey, nowadays, it’s hard to carve out the time to write. (I remember having regular “writing time” set aside in my life. Imagine that! Writing time. And you know what I did with that? I wasted it wanting to be a writer. But that’s another post).
I tried to write about my birthday on my birthday, but my daughter had other plans. She walked over to me as I sat on the floor, watching the inauguration for “inspiration” and took the pen out of my hand. She then made her first-ever drawing in my journal. Watching her scribble for the first time was such a joy.
She drew with what she had in front of her. Red, and Black. Elegua colors. In the place where words should have been. In the physical place where I was trying to, in many ways, force a memory into being.
There are no mistakes. There are no coincidences.
I put away the journal, pulled out the crayons and well, here we are.
A few days after the inauguration I still had nothing on paper. I ended up dictating my “post” into my radioactive smart phone while holding my daughter on my hip (who was at the time feverish and crying with teething pain), mulling over a dinner that was sorta-kinda-not-at-all-close-to-being-done.
None of the “delicately massaged” thoughts came out. Instead, I had an incomprehensible auto-corrected rant about trying to cook with a teething toddler and how Rachel Ray doesn’t do shit.
But things take time. And as Amilcar said, “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.”
I’m not going to lie, parenting and writing are hard things to balance, and I never feel I am giving enough of my energy and time to either my daughter or my art. It’s not enough to just be in the room with a child. And it is not enough to simply write. Writing is part of a greater, spiritual practice for me. It’s where I connect with God, the Ancestors, the Orishas, and with Struggle. I’m learning how parenting does this as well.
It’s all too easy to compartmentalize our lives, especially given we live in a crazy mechanized, capitalist not-world. As a mother, I’ve done my best to return to my ancestral ways: breast feeding, baby wearing, lots of one-on-one time, that sort of thing. Like raising children, Art has always been more than just an activity. It is an essential component of who we are as people and as community. It’s part of our natural law. Amilcar always got that. He understood that and made it part of anti-colonial struggle. He did not compartmentalize revolution from art, and therefore from spirit.
Being born in a post-civil rights era US meant MLK would be a prominent figure in my life. My mother has always told me stories about the 50s and 60s, the riots, the segregation, how things have changed. MLK’s memory helped shape my own world-view and still does, but in different ways. It wasn’t until senior year of college, when I read his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that I finally got it. And I was pissed. Pissed at liberals who have managed to water down his philosophies, turning him into this “kumbaya” figure that is more absurd than dignified. They orchestrated the memory of a militant man into fluff, into a figure they can “adore”, while making themselves feel better about their own racism in the process.
And then there is Amilcar. Amilcar Cabral, who lead the anti-colonial resistance movement in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde against the Portuguese. Amilcar who spoke of “returning to the source”, of the importance of culture within resistance. Amilcar who made a point to directly engage and speak with those who tried to hurt or overthrow his leadership. He had tremendous faith in our individual and collective ability to grow. On January 20th, 1973, he was assassinated by one of his own.
Both of these men had an incredible depth of understanding and trust of the human spirit. But, here in the US at least, one is revered and commemorated more than the other. The memory of MLK, not he himself, has become “acceptable” to the mainstream “American” audience while Amilcar Cabral remains, in most circles, a nearly invisible Black face.
And so begs the question:
What does it mean to be remembered?
A memory is not just our own. It is a collective act. It gets passed on to our children, and their children. Not just through stories, or history books, but in way we walk, what we eat, the way we clear our throats or stir during sleep. The things we remember, and project involuntarily are in many ways the most important.
As a mother, I hope I can give my child the tools to be able to question and to remember. To put back together all the pieces, lost, and found.