This is the text of the piece I wrote for Mangos With Chili's Beloved: A Requiem for Our Dead, which premiered this past Saturday at The Living Room Project, West Oakland, CA. It was, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful shows we've done. It felt amazing to hold the show at a Black queer/trans owned healing space. The room was thick with spirits.
Because folks asked, I'm posting my letter to Gloria here. Enjoy.
Kit Quan, one of Anzaldúa's oldest friends and writing comadres, explained, "Gloria always told me that she was going to stick around for 20 more years. She struggled with diabetes and all its complications daily... but she was so well read on the disease... and worked so hard at managing her blood sugars that I believed we still had more time."
you can be the smartest crip in the world and still die.
hey ma. how you doing?
you died eight years ago.
we both have, had, un/usual bodies. and we live in these times in them.
it's October, the day before Halloween. yesterday, a giant storm smashed into the caribbean and all up the east coast. the photos of the subway looked like what I've spent my entire life thinking the end of the world would look like, my generation, growing up on rising waters, climate change, crumbling cities, everyone swarming for a generator and gas and dried food. my friends spend their days using facebook on phones to find gas and able bodied people who can walk 12 stories of dark stairwell to take and replace exhausted batteries for our friend who is on the 12th floor with his ventilator. for the past month I have been waiting to find out if i have ovarian or uterine cancer or not, without health insurence. I stayed up last night til 2:30 am clicking updates on my Facebook close friends feed, looking for updates about the nuclear power plants in Jersey, prisoners stuck on Rikers Island who were not evacuated, and disabled people left in hospitals and nursing homes. I did this while I wrote the outline for an all day disabiltiy training an organization wants to hire me to do. The power was out in aurora's rehab facillity, the food she can eat spoiled. A friend posted shots of Erik Drooker's graphic novel, flood, where New York is completely submerged by water, saying, we read that in bed in 1995.
17 years ago this possibility teased us, now it's a reality I am facing and I have sometimes a lot and sometimes little faith that we will all unite to take care of each other, survive and make something better.
Gloria, I want capitalism to be over already. I want the white capitalists colonialist ableist patriarchy to be over already. I want there to be guaranteed annual income for everyone, a little extra for those who are immune and energy compromised and can only work flexibly and part time. I want guarranteed fre personal care attendent service for everyone who is disabled, older, has kids or needs it. I want health care that is free to everyone, where no one will ever have to raise money on the internet for an ultrasound, IV antibiotics or a new wheelchair to replace the one that was stolen by another desperate crip. Or, as i had to last week, argue with a medical receptionist who doesn't want to give me the transvaginal ultrasound that was ordered by the PA at the queer free clinic, who looks at me and Manish and says blankly, "It's $165 per body part, how many are you getting done?" I wonder if she's counting the ovaries as one or two.
1979: Gloria decides to devote life to writing, takes series of part-time lecturer and writer in residence jobs to buy as much time to write as possible.
1991: Gloria wins NEA grant, uses it to buy house in Santa Cruz by her beloved ocean, Yemaya, so she can visit it daily.
A quote from Borderlands: “It is dark and damp and has been raining all day. i love days like this. as i lie in bed i am able to dive inward. perhaps today i will write from the deep core.”
Me too, ma. In these words, I know and feel, your queer disabled woman of color artist hustle. I have worked so many hustles. housecleaner tarot card reader shipping and receiving mini mart cashier test subject landscaper phone sex operator telemarketer flyer girl small time mover crisis hotline counselor, abortion counselor, rape crisis hotline supervisor, admin assistent, tenant hotline eviction counselor, writing teacher, anti-oppression workshop teacher performance artist gynecological teaching associae college lecturer guest lecturer bookstore clerk artistic collective co director transcriber standardized patient journalist
I have felt myself blessed. I have filled a savings account and emptied it whenever anyone needed rent. I have run up credit cards. I have run on debt and payed it off. I have been on income based repayment for forever. I have passed a twenty dollar bill back and forth across the movement. I have driven friends to the hospital and been driven to the hospital.
I have had to work part time and flexible and okay or salvagable when I get sick over and over again. I have done that and called myself lucky. i have travelled all over the country, had marvelous adventures, had lean times and hard times and better times and mostly been so glad that i have a life where i can afford coffee, value village shoes and time to write , where i can have marvelous adventures, where i can be part of changing the world.
I have been banking on the end of this world to happen so I would have a retirement fund, though.
Gloria, yesterday I taught the clinical breast exam to med students. I brag about how hot shit i feel. I know how to teach the tits like whoa and if they listen, they will learn how to detect breast cancer in their patients. I stood there and let these students feel up my tits medically, and i realized i would be getting a $340 check in a couple weeks, and once they graduated, they would be making $150,000 a year. i thought, I should go to fucking medical school.
And this is what I wonder as I look to you and your cohort of marvelous queer women of color poets who died in your 50s and 60s. I look to you more than I do to my biological family for answers. guideposts. life pathways. the miracles we make.
So what do we do, wequeer people of color artists? do we have a full time job and do this on the side? if we do that, do we stop doing the writing eventually? Do do we get academic jobs, hang on by hook or by crook, doing essential war work keeping alive every brilliant student not supposed to be there, but the micro and macro aggressions build up and give us cancer and mental unhealth? Do we get an NEA and buy a house? does our lover take it when we break up cause it's in their name? do all our books go out of print when the small press goes bust? These are all true life stories, based on actual events.
My friend said to me recently, hey, Leah, we're the success stories! nobody ever told us it would mean we were still this broke.
dear gloria: i listen for your echo. my life like so many stands in the outline of yours. there's that quote: the dead give up their bodies, the sick amongst us get practice, but i don't think thats exactly correct. I am, we are, living in the altered, everyday normal states of our disabled bodies.
I want to read to you from the letter Aurora Levins Morales wrote to you- you were in This Bridge together- which is anthologized in El Mundo Zurdo:
Selected Works from the Meetings of The Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldúa, 2007 & 2009, as part of "Sweet Dark Places: Writings on Gloria Anzaldua and Disability", which Aurora, Qwo-Li Driskill and myself wrote pieces for. I come back to this piece again and again. I come back to Aurora's words now:
"What I’m really interested in is that state you named after your ancestral goddess, the Coatlicue state, in which a shattering lets in light. Of course being Boricua not Mexica I call it the Guabancex and Oyá state, after the storm goddesses, the deities of creative destruction, of my Taíno and West African ancestors. The landscape of my homeland is regularly uprooted by hurricanes, those wild, whirling, spirals of wind and water spreading out vast arms out to pluck trees and houses and lives from solid land, drive bits of metal right through tree trunks and take giant bites out of cement.
In the structure of a hurricane, the strongest, deadliest winds are closest to the core, but the core itself is clear, calm, full of light. Illness has been one long hurricane season for me, chunks of cement and metal roofing flying through the air, big trees made into heaps of splinters and shredded roots. What takes me to the core, to the place of new insight is listening with all my being to the voice of my own flesh, which is often an unbearable task. What lets me bear it is political, is a deep, ecological sense of the web in which my flesh is caught, where the profound isolation of chronic illness forces me to extend my awareness beyond individual suffering, beyond the chronic pain of my muscles and joints, the endless exhaustion, the mind-bending build up of toxins where nausea and nightmare meet, dragging me from my bed at three am to lift cups of bitter tinctures my lips with cramping hands, and leach the poison from my own liver.
In the steepest pitch, the darkest hour, in the ring of deadly wind, the only salvation is to expand, to embrace every revelation of my struggling cells, to resist the impulse to flee, and hold in my awareness both things: the planetary web of life force of which I am part, and the cruel machinery that assaults us: how greed strips and poisons landscapes and immune systems with equal disregard, how contempt for women, and the vastly profitable medical-industrial complex conspire to write off as hysterical hundreds of thousands of us bearing witness through decades in bed, while we’re told all we need is a change of attitude.
To think, for example, not just about the side effects of anti-seizure drugs, or the need for stable sleep, but also society’s hatred of unruly bodies, the frequent killing of epileptics by cops, and those 20th century eugenicists who built “colonies” to protect society from our bad seed, yes, the same people who sterilized 37 % of all Puerto Rican women of child-bearing age, the same people who traveled to Nazi Germany to lecture about building a master race.
When my body feels as if it’s tearing itself apart, when I’m in the nightmare condition, shaking and nauseated, my vision full of flashing lights, my legs too weak to stand, the only path out is deeper."
There is basically no place in the world to do what we do. except the secret places. the abandonned land. the mined places, our bodies in bed and on the line and sending texts about gas, writing poetry, supporting each other, sharing gas and food. and the world's unexpected changes.
The only way out is deeper. The only way out is what we construct, together. Out of the bones of our best wildest dreams, our cripbrownfemme knowledge. Out of the arc of the bones of your life.
Gloria, lend us your world changing light as we stand at the center of this great shattering that lets in light. The shattering of our bodies. The shattering of the world. All that we don't know yet. All that we yet have to make.
Love you, mama. And thank you.
PS: If you like Aurora's words, she is currently struggling health wise, and is trying to raise money to cover the costs of in-home rehab to help her walk again, after a series of ableist doctors misdiagnosed somethings going on with her spine. She says, "Since I wrote my call, I spent 10 days in the hospital. turns out i had severely bulging discs pinching nerves in my pelvis, and while I've had some relief from steroid injections, it's still possible I may need surgery, which means more pain, more hospital time, more narcotics I'll have to withdraw from later, and an even longer period of recovery. at this point I've lost a lot of muscle mass from being in bed for 6 weeks. My legs are skinny and wobbly and won't hold me up."
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, she experienced "24 hour power outage, no kitchens, still in turmoil because a lot of food went bad" and she is currently staying in a rehab center. Your contributions at this time are deeply felt and appreciated. Please continue to spread the word - blog, tweet, re-post to Facebook, email your friends and family. Let's keep the momentum going - pa'lante!
You can read more here: http://www.qwoc.org/2012/10/lgbt-elders-disability-and-community-care-call-to-support-queer-brown-activist-aurora-levins-morales/.
The Chipin is here: http://supportauroralevinsmorales.chipin.com/support-aurora-levins-morales. Please support if you can!
as of september 2010, I'm committing to post one new piece a week (disability and travel may remix this intention.) all this work is shared under a Creative Commons license- credit if you share, no commercial use allowed.
This work by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.