August 2009 Archives
Ruiz de Burton reminds me of my tia Chata (not her real name) who was aware of racial and gendered oppression but could not see how she contributed to this oppression. How could tia Chata tell me that our gente deserved to be treated equally in this country while also telling me that Black people did not? How could she tell me that I could grow up to do anything and yet say my goal was to marry and obey my husband? How could she teach me to be proud of our Mexican indigenous heritage and then later tell me not to stay out in the sun too long because I might begin to look like an Indian? When I'd discuss this paradox with friends, I'd find out that some of their Latina/o relatives or parents would transmit similar conflicting directives. They would all nod their heads when I'd say, "Tia Chata said she was relieved when her grandson was born 'guero' and not dark so he wouldn't look Black or Indian." Intraracial racism and gendered oppression has continued to be both troubling and fascinating to me. Fascinating because I seek to understand all the intricate sociological, familial, psychological, and political history that would lead Tia Chala not to question her own oppositional thinking.
Enter a recovered and newly edited Ruiz de Burton novel in 1992 when I was just beginning graduate school. Here was a woman whose nineteenth-century writings reminded me of what tia Chata was saying in the twentieth. After reading Ruiz de Burton's novels, The Squatter and the Don and Who Would Have Thought It? I realized that she had to be one of the focal points of my academic study. By studying her, I began to understand how Tia Chata--and all of us--are complicit in racist and gendered narratives.
Discussing additional works of writers/theorists such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera; Judith Butler, Gender Trouble; Peggy McIntosh; Paula Gunn Allen; Joy Harjo; Barbara Christian, Black Feminist Criticism; Chela Sandoval The Methodology of the Oppressed; Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights were key to analyzing Ruiz de Burton's work.
Today, her work is extremely important given the public conversations regarding Obama's presidency, our conflicts abroad. As for my tia Chata, I cannot change my tia--only love her. The only person I can change is myself and that will take a lifetime.
Josslyn Luckett is following her passion! She and her mom, Barbara (as I write this) are driving cross-country from Los Angeles to Massachusetts. Josslyn is Cambridge bound! She's about to begin graduate studies at the Harvard Divinity School where she will be studying jazz and its connections to various beliefs, spiritualities and cultures.
On Wednesday Josslyn and her mom left L.A.. Yesterday they left Denver, Colorado and arrived at our house here in Lincoln, Nebraska around 6p.m. Dinner: Homemade pesto (on green beans and tofu), mandan corn from our vegetable garden, salad, lovely red wine and a flurry of exuberant conversation! As soon as we began to talk about the next journey in Josslyn's life--her studies in jazz and spirituality--she became a burst of wondrous, inspiring energy!
"I believe in the unifying principle of swing," she said, "a gathering of people across difference."
Josslyn sees these unifying principles of jazz among, for example, Native, Santeria, Muslim, Jewish, Mexican, African, Christian music. Her ultimate goal is to create The Duke Ellington Center for the Study of Sacred Jazz. Josslyn's eyes light up when she says this. She imagines a non-denominational building where all people (and she means ALL--spiritual eclectics, followers of liberation theology, aetheists, fundamentalists, baptists, agnostics, Buddhists, etc.) will feel welcome to gather for the music, for interfaith conversations.
"What do you hear now as you say this, Josslyn?"
"I hear John Coltrane singing 'Love Supreme.'"
Watching Josslyn talk about this is wonderful. She's on fire with her passion for jazz!
Jazz: native to North America, created by slaves. Jazz was a medium of survival and since then it has become the fabric of what we term American music expanding to international/world music. It is transhemispheric. During our conversation, I remembered my trip to Juchitan, Oaxaca a few years ago. I was standing on the street corner, lured there by music! A funeral procession was passing, led by about eight musicians playing trumpets, el guitarron, vihuelas, violins. It was a slow and mournful melody I had not heard before. Walking behind the musicians were family and friends. Behind them was a flatbed truck with an open coffin in the back. More family and friends followed behind the truck. Then I remembered a similar experience in Tangier, Africa. I was awakened early in the morning to lively chants and drumming approaching my hotel. I went to the window and saw a crowd coming down the cobblestone street: so many people in multicolored robes dancing in circles or following in lively step. Six people were carrying a shrouded body on a bier (a wooden flat frame or board). What I had seen opened up another conversation regarding funereal music and ritual. Josslyn excitedly pointed out the Mexican and Muslim rituals and especially the musical sounds that connect with New Orleans jazz funerals and the dirge. Even the choice of musical instruments has connections. The vihuela, a popular Mexican instrument, for example, is similar to North African instruments such as the timple.
"Jazz is everywhere."
This morning it was difficult to say goodbye. We woke up to my favorite early morning thunderstorms. But by 8a.m., we had finished breakfast, the storms had passed, and Josslyn and Barbara were packed and ready to go. Their next stop: friends in Chicago! Josslyn--I wish you much success on your new journey!
If you'd like to keep up with Josslyn's adventures in Cambridge, click on her blog at: jazzhallelujah.blogspot.com
As for me, this is my very first blog entry and I welcome and thank you for reading. I look forward to my connections with all of you. I leave you with one of my favorite jazz collaborators (we played it last night!): Joni Mitchell's 2007 album, Shine.
Lyrics from "If" (Joni adapted this song from Rudyard Kipling's If):
If you can keep your head
While all about you
People are losing theirs . . .
If you can wait
And not get tired of waiting . . .
Don't deal in lies . . .
Don't give in to hating back . . .
If you can dream
And not make dreams your master . . .
If you can fill the journey
Of a minute
With sixty seconds worth of wonder and delight
The Earth is yours
And Everything that's in it
But more than that
You'll be alright
You'll be alright
'Cause you've got the fight
You've got the insight
You've got the fight
You've got the insight