How Am I Entangled In the Wake?

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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

aragbo ayô

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...

(sing canto)


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.”

(sing canto)


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...

(sing canto)

MARIELLE FRANCO

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.

(sing canto)

 

WHITE-PASSING

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.

 

(sing canto)

I AM

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.

(A New) Artist Statement

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I am an immigrant living in the third space between cultures. A practitioner of ancestral and post-modern dances. A movement healer and a movement organizer. A border-crosser and bridge-builder. A dance-and-change-maker.  

I follow in the footsteps of other artivistas who came before me, Latin American artist-activists who could not afford to ignore or separate themselves from their countries’ dire political conditions. Dona Ivone Lara, Eduardo Galeano, Augusto Boal, Gilberto Gil, Gloria Anzaldúa, Martha Gonzalez. Like them, my art is my activism; my activism is my art.

As a Latina immigrant based in the United States, I find myself at an intersection of social struggles—including racism, sexism, and xenophobia. My collaborators, students, mentors, and co-organizers are movement-builders responding to these realities, fighting for racial justice, intersectional feminism, LGBTQ rights, and rights for immigrants and undocumented people. My contribution to these social movements is a movement practice for liberation.

My commitment is to build a movement through movement.

A movement that honors the Afro-Ameríndio (African and indigenous) ancestry of Latin America—through streets dances (like Samba de Roda, Casino Rueda Salsa, Cumbia and Reggeaton) and the spiritual dances of the orishás (Yoruba-derived deities present in Afro-Latin religious practices throughout the diaspora).

A movement of diasporic play. At once fluid and grounded. Rhythmic and spacious. Subtle and expansive. Rigorous and free. Impossible to master and full of possibility.

A movement that embodies the de-colonial and radically inclusive vision that guides social justice movements. That generates valuable knowledge about how to be in the world. That has a creative and symbiotic relationship with its politics— allowing the politics to ground the craft and the craft to further the politics. 

Through performances, classes, and on-going organization alongside communities, I am dedicated to instigating, supporting, and sustaining this vision.

The Crossroads: My Core Values in Dance

What do I value in my dance practice—what is non-negotiable?

What would I lose if I did not dance—why do I dance?

These questions, posed by the great Faustin Linyekula in a series of workshops and conversations mid MFA-program, unraveled a rich and deep reflection. By using the crossroads as a structuring logic, I created the below visual representation that helped me make sense of these questions.

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THE CROSSROADS   ✚

A space of in-betweeness. Liminality. Possibility.

The cross is a symbol we find again and again in spiritual practices throughout the world.

I am particularly interested in how it manifests in Afro-Latin cultures, whose spiritual ancestry is greatly rooted in the West African Yoruba tradition of Ifa. As my elders have taught me, the cross in Ifa (and its descendants, Candomblé, Lukumi, Voudon) symbolizes two spectrums that meet at the center, one spectrum that represents past <--> future and the other spirit <--> earth. A person is at their happiest/healthiest when they are in balance amongst these four points.

The cross also symbolizes Eshú, orishá (deity) of the crossroads. A trickster by nature, Eshú opens possibilities and communicates between earth and the divine.

In this organization, I am relating each of the four points to a core value of my dance practice and assigning them one of the four elements—Lineage (earth), Process (water), Tension (fire), and Liberation (air). And at the intersection, enacting as/with/through/alongside Eshú, is dance.

 

CORE VALUE: LINEAGE (earth)  🌱

Where do my dance practices come from? Who are my teachers and elders? How is my work living in relationship to those who have come before me, and indeed, paved the way for me?

This core value could also be called ancestry or a politics of citation. Understanding that dance does not (and cannot) exist in a vacuum, we must reflect and be responsible as dance artists for who and what we are citing in our work. To let go of this core value is to run the risk of cultural appropriation, plagiarism, or buying into the white capitalist notion of individualism, i.e. the “genius artist”.

 

CORE VALUE: PROCESS (water)  💦

To be in process is to be constantly shifting and evolving. Western capitalist culture places much greater value on product over process. It encourages constant “production” which requires a formulaic way of working that has little or no space for experimentation and failure. Without these two things, we run the risk of getting stuck in unhealthy and ineffective ways of working that are not aligned with our values (and probably running us into the ground).

Am I making space for process and reflection in my work? Am I open to the possibility of shifting the way I am working? How can I value question-asking over answer-seeking? Am I learning from past mistakes or simply re-enacting the same patterns for the sake of “saving time” and efficiency? In this moment, do I need to pause and reflect or fire up and go? 

Another way to think about this core value could be praxis. To be in praxis is to find fluidity and connection between practice and theory; to do-reflect-do-reflect-do continuously and cyclically.

 

CORE VALUE: TENSION (fire)  🔥

In Theater of the Oppressed, the person leading a workshop or creative process is never called a facilitator. They are called Jokers. This is because the word “facilitator” comes from the Latin word facil, meaning easy. A facilitator, then, is expected to bring ease into a process. Theater of the Oppressed is not interested in this. Instead, it is interested in what we might call “difficultaters”, people who are problematizing and questioning ideas so as to create as many alternatives possible. Playful, creative, provocative—a joker.

I start from the premise that systemic oppressions are always already present in our lives (“the personal is political” ring any bells?). So what would happen if we leaned into that tension instead of ignoring it? If we “stoked the fire” and never settled for final answers, but embraced (playful) criticality as a practice? Could we generate more strategies and possibilities for survival and resistance?

 

CORE VALUE: LIBERATION (air)  🌬

The orishá Oya is the deity of the winds and storms. She represents profound transformation. Not small changes, but irreversible shifts, like the kind that comes after a hurricane—it annihilates everything, forcing us to re-build from the ground up.

I am interested in a dance practice that is working towards this profound transformation, what I see as personal and collective liberation. Because as Audre Lorde said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own”.

To feel change like a powerful gust of wind, as thousands of people mobilize in the streets overnight.

To feel change subtly, as your breath slows down, air flowing through your nostrils, lungs and belly, returning you to your body.

To be free like element air.

Can our dance practice support, instigate, enact this?

 

THE INTERSECTION: DANCE (eshú)  ✚

Like Eshú, dance lives at the intersection of these four points.

When we are too firey in our work, we burn out. When we are too concerned with lineage, we get stuck. When we are too fluid, the work loses its shape. When we are too airy, we lose our ground.

Dance is the constant movement and interplay between all four values/elements.

Always tricking us, always surprising us.

Generating endless possibilities.