Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chicanisma: Letters to Abuelita and Reclaiming My History

 Eva Rivera is a proud lesbian Chicana, daughter, sister and sex worker who can walk in 6 inch heels and twirl naked on a pole in front of total strangers but is still viciously afraid of moths. She hails from Fresno, CA and is a poet and aspiring film maker. You can find her more personal writing on her blog

Part of my journey healing my intense self-hatred was learning what words I could reclaim for myself. Labels, which others had dumped on me, were cast aside for titles that I wear with honor. Over time, the first generous out-pouring of pride was a necessary salve for me to begin to heal. Now, I carry that sense of pride still, but without the newness that made me incredibly defensive in the beginning when I still felt wounded and was protecting and bandaging those wounds. With the renewed vigor of anti-immigrant campaigns, the closeness of the Dream Act passing, I feel the featherings of defensiveness again. I struggle with where I fit in exactly. I am not an immigrant though the daughter of one. As a Chicana, I feel the need to fight for something so vital to maintaining our culture and identity.

I try to do something often that honors my ancestors and what they have passed on to me. This is very hard to do sometimes because white colonization has made it difficult for my family to value their own history and pass it on. Internalized racism, sexism and a legacy of violence on my mother's side has broken apart my family in so many pieces and in such intense ways that now when I try to put pieces together it simply is too unbearable for anyone to work on. 

I cannot speak with my maternal grandmother (I don't know my maternal grandfather). Beyond a few phrases, I don't speak Spanish (I am learning now) and she speaks no English. As a matter of fact, she hasn't spoken to any of her grandchildren because none of us speak Spanish. In my case, my mother spoke it to me but I was untaught by my white paternal grandmother who would chastise me for speaking it. Because I refuse to let my history just dissolve without attempting to learn it, I have been writing letters to my grandmother in Spanish. I use dictionaries and double-check with my mom to make sure it makes some sense. At first I asked my grandmother simple questions and just took time appreciating the communication. When I started asking her about our family history, I got back empty responses. I thought maybe she didn't understand my broken Spanish but after talking to my mom about it, realized that her family past is just too painful for her to rehash. Now, my grandmother is quiet on subjects of family. My mother knows only what she remembers as a child and no one else will speak.
For now, I am focusing on building a strong relationship with my grandmother. We still write back and forth and talk about our lives now and plans for the future. We share what we are able to. I am thankful for that. There are many questions I have. I want to fill in the gaps of our fragmented history. I feel like asking for answers is sapping my grandmothers energy and if she wants to tell me someday, she will. I am grateful to build a new history for the next generation of my family.

For myself, I rely on the knowledge and struggles of those who came before me. it is one of the only tangible histories I have to draw from. The history of struggle that my predecessors lived through is my history also.  I celebrate these struggles, triumphs and moments and will always have respect and hope for the future of our fight for justice and equality. This is one of the reasons why immigrant rights and justice is so central in my mind- not only because I do come from a family of immigrants- also because every struggle for equality carries a history with it. Those who fear and hate "illegal immigrants" also hate the history they are bringing with them and wish to destroy the culture and the memories of those of us already here.