Wishing I had accepted that invitation to the Inauguration!
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-=[ Graceland ]=-
“You can’t walk alone. Many have given the illusion but none have really walked alone. Man is not made that way. Each man is bedded in his people, their history, their culture, and their values.”
— Peter Abrahams (1919– ) South African novelist
I was recently having a conversation with my mother and I remember hearing her voice catch a little as she described to me her feelings the night of The Election.
My parents were the first to teach me the importance of community and service. They were “community organizers” before there was ever such a phrase. Some of my earliest memories are of my parents organizing rent strikes or teaching other Puerto Ricans their rights as citizens. My first experiences of community service was going with elders who didn’t speak English well and act as a translator. It was then, as a child, that I learned that the elders so respected in my community were dismissed as idiots out there — in the larger social context.
I grew up in a different time.A time of political activism and fighting for change. I remember the demonstrations to open up the NY colleges to minorities. I remember Puerto Rican parents, many of whom disagreed with their children, how they would come with food and provisions while their children held sit-ins and practiced democracy.
I come from a humble — even shy — race that became a radical people by necessity.
I was raised elbow-to-elbow with African Americans and my culture is decidedly urban Latino — a Nuyorican. I wear the label proudly for it was once used as a pejorative. I come to service from a long line of radicals — I stand proudly on the shoulders of a long history.
Today a black man will take the oath of office on the steps of an infrastructure that was built on the backs African Americans and other Americans of color.
Today on steps built by enslaved African Americans, who were not paid for their labor, a black man will take the oath of the Presidency of the United States. More ironically, it was enslaved African Americans who put the statue of Freedom at the top of the great symbol of democracy, the Capitol building. This statue was of a Native American woman-warrior dressed in flowing robe and helmet. Those who cast the statue were African American laborers who did not possess the freedom they were helping celebrate. Moreover, the indigenous peoples represented in this statue to freedom were in the process of being eliminated.
This is a story that has been forgotten by almost all Americans, but its consequences and implications continue to reverberate throughout U.S. society and its basic institutions. Its daily life rhythms are still riddled with the practices of white racism, an institutional reality with deep roots in the past and major consequences for all Americans in the present.
Many will not miss the symbolism today and I’m sure reactionary forces will seize on this symbolism in order to try to pass it off as reality, but be certain: the work hasn’t even begun. I know many will say that I shouldn’t speak of this today, that it’s a time to celebrate and that we must put aside our past in favor of a brighter future. My response to them will be that if we don’t know where we came from, how the fuck will we know where we’re headed?
If it is true that crisis is the coming together of danger and opportunity, then I pray that we’re up to the task, because the crisis we’re now facing will not be undone until we come face to face with our past and build a future on a bedrock of true democracy rather than the myths we tell ourselves.