a ritual-improvisational score in response to Christina Sharpe’s “In The Wake: On Blackness and Being”
(begin by greeting water. take time. sing canto para Iemanjá…)
awa aabo a yô
iemonja awa aabo a yô aia
iemonja aragbo ayô aia
iyaagba odê ire sê
a ki é iemonja
a koko pe ilé gbe a ô
odofi a sa we re ô
a sa we lé
a sa we lé odo fi a asa weleô
a sa we lé
a sa we lé odo fi a asa weleô
(continue greeting and noticing water, as I improvise some version of the below text…)
WHO IS IEMANJÁ
Iemanjá is the deity of the ocean in Yoruba West African-based religions. You find her in Nigeria, Cuba, Haiti, Brazil... she is the protector and mother of the seas. In countries surrounded by water she is everywhere. Iemanjá is the mother of all living things. She is unconditional love, the kind that goes as deep and vast as the ocean. She brings us consciousness, as the bearer of all life. Serene when she wants to be, deadly when she needs to be, she is the fierce protector. Her breasts are large and abundant, representing her ability to feed and nurture all her children...
MY RELATIONSHIP TO IEMANJÁ
I’ve been making offerings to Iemanjá since I was little. On most New Year’s, going to the beach in Rio de Janeiro, wearing white and throwing palmas into the ocean. Not sure who, maybe my mother or Tia Zeneidinha, taught me to throw them. Throw some as gratitude, to thank Iemanjá for all her blessings the past year, and throw some as wishes, for what I’d like her to bring me the next year. Years upon years of thank you’s, wishes, offerings, palmas, e mais palmas...
I knew Iemanjá before I knew of orixá. Before I knew Iemanjá was an orixá, and that orixá (or orisha) is the name given to deities of Yoruba West African-based religions, like Candomblé in Brazil. African ancestry is everywhere in Brazil, sometimes so deeply encoded in daily life that people don’t realize what they’re looking at, who it comes from…
Brazil is the blackest country in the world outside of the African continent. It is the country with the largest population of black and African descendant people outside of the African continent. It is impossible to claim any kind of Brazilian identity without claiming some piece of blackness. There is no Brazil outside of blackness.
“All thought is black thought.”
HISTORY OF SLAVERY IN BRAZIL
Brazil was the last country in the world to abolish transatlantic slavery in 1888. Instead of paying reparations to its black population, a way to lift people out of illiteracy and poverty, the government, composed of an entirely white Brazilian elite, thought it was best to encourage European and Japanese migrants to supplement the newly disappeared work force. Migrants from Portugal, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Japan came by the thousands during the 1900’s. Leaving black Brazilians to struggle in favelas (slums) and forgotten rural areas (o interior) across the country.
My family is a direct result of these racist laws.
On my mom’s side, ancestors immigrated from Germany and Portugal with this wave. On my dad’s side, Arab, African and indigenous ancestors mixed with lighter skinned one to fulfill on the promise of embranquecimento... embranquecer a raça (to whiten the race), melhorar a raça (to better the race).
In my family today we find traces of that history, in skin tones and hair textures, the way we call my hair “good hair” and my cousin’s curls “bad hair”, the way women in my family desperately dye their hair blonde, go on diets to make their butts smaller, how we dote on blonde blue eyed grandchildren because they are so beautiful...
On March 14, 2018 City Councilwoman Marielle Franco was highjacked in her car and murdered in the middle of the street on her way home from a community organizing meeting. Marielle was from the Maré favela, the largest slum in the city of Rio. She was a black queer woman, the first in her family to get a college degree and the most voted for city council person in all of Rio’s history.
Marielle was a dear friend and close partner of Center for Theater of the Oppressed, who I’ve been working with for 7 years. I heard her speak on panels, captivate entire rooms of people. I saw her at events, meetings, hallways…
In 2016, President Dilma, the first woman president in Brazil, was illegally impeached and accused of false crimes without proof of evidence. And people would say to me “were lost, we’re doomed”. I would say, “no, we’re not. Look at Marielle”.
Last year Brazil elected Jair Bolsonaro as president, a fascist right-wing sexist racist homophob, who has publicly said, and I quote:
“the problem with the military dictatorship in Brazil is that they tortured people instead of killing them.”
“I’d rather have a dead son than a gay son.”
“You (talking to a fellow woman senator on the senator floor) don’t even deserve to be raped.”
Jean Wyllys, the second-ever openly gay politician in Brazilian history, had his life threatened so many times since Bolsonaro took office that he left his seat in Congress and fled the country. Marcia Tiburi, noted feminist scholar and writer, did the same. Both white Brazilians, fleeing for fear that what happened to Marielle would happen to them.
To be a white-passing person of color in the United States is a weird thing.
Mostly people see you as whatever makes them feel more comfortable. One of my best friends, a Chicana from the Bay Area, once told me that just by looking at me, she’d never think I was white. To her, I was visibly Latina. A few months ago, my white Jewish mother-in-law told me she didn’t see me as a woman of color—because I am, in her words, “no different from her”. As a 14 yr old Brazilian girl whose family had just moved to the US via the white suburbs of Chicago, I had to learn quickly to make white people feel comfortable. It doesn’t surprise me my mother-in-law feels comfortable telling me this.
I will not be white washed.
I am not white.
I am branca.
I am white passing.
I am mestiça.
I am Latinx.
I am entangled in the wake.