Race-work, Race-love

Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Cleansing, Aguanile, Ayahuasca: The healing of a Latina Race-Worker

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2011 at 1:53 am

Birthdays remind me of starting fresh. Starting new. Cleansing. Aguanile. Ayahuasca. To begin again.

The different ways in which people cleanse, especially racialized people, connect me intimately to what it means to be Latina. The different rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations — many I have yet to discover — are all a part of my racial history. Learning about some of these practices and engaging in some of them myself, I have understood that the cleansing of the mind, body, and spirit is also a process of forgiveness and healing.

The cleansing began a year ago. For years my father said “Educate yourself. So that if the day ever comes when you need to kick a man out of your life, when he leaves, you will be fine.” The day came. I was in my home. I had my degrees. And I had enough of the mistreatment.

I come from a history of mistreated women. For years, the women in my family have found ways to survive their mistreatment and they believed wholeheartedly that the way to keep their little girls from being in the same position was to help us get degrees and to keep silent about their own past.

Until I opened up about my own hurt. In opening up, I learned the value of sharing in the process of cleansing. When you share, you heal. In turn, I was beginning to understand my mother. I began to know my grandmother. I began to undo their mistreatment.

The men in my family – often the ones who initiated the hurt – talked about education as a way of female liberation. My father in particular was intent on helping us obtain the highest education possible. He believed that education was a woman’s armor. His daughters were “mujercitas “– little women – and therefore still vulnerable to men’s abuse.

Almost as if I willed it into existence, I fulfilled his premonition. I would become so educated, so self sufficient that I could kick a man out of my house if I needed to.

After three years of mistreatment, I had enough. GET OUT! I yelled. GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! YOU WILL NEVER HURT ME AGAIN!

But it didn’t feel good. The fact that I had to get to that point meant something about me. I also knew that at that moment I was doing something for my mother, my grandmother – and hopefully changing the energy around mistreatment of the women in my family forever.

My aguanile, my ayahuasca, came in that instant.

So I began the journey in a number of ways. Some ways I found by accident, other ways on purpose – all necessary.

I learned that to cleanse, I had to learn to let go. Physically, this meant get rid of things I no longer needed in my home. Reminders of a painful past, clothes I no longer wanted, expired food in my cupboards– could sound silly but possibly the easiest way to cleanse.

Then, my body. A change in my diet. Working out regularly. Dancing. Natural body cleansers. Your body is your temple. How can you receive the messages of what the world wants you to do if it lands inside an unhealthy body?

Then my past. This is the most difficult. Reconnecting with people in the past that I hurt and who hurt me. Reviewing with them honestly my role in their pain, their role in my pain. And asking for forgiveness. A life review. Not easy. But doable, necessary, and important to my aguanile, to my ayahuasca, to my cleansing.

In all this cleansing, comes a clearing, an understanding of what my life has been and what I would like for my life to look like. Once I surrendered to the idea that this is my life, these are my circumstances, I came to realize that I want to dedicate my life to undoing the mistreatment of women and undoing racism. As self-involved cleansing can be, the cleansing opens up the possibilities of what you can contribute to the world. The work begins here.

I enrolled in an Undoing Racism workshop. Two days and a half of discussing the origins of the terms race, racism, and power. The room was filled with almost 30 people of all races who were interested in understanding how to undo racism. I learned that it is a similar to my own personal journey of cleansing. Remove the lies about racism. Review the history of race and racism. Confront your contribution to that pain. Accept the circumstances. Begin the work.

As a researcher and writer about race and love, I never really attended diversity workshops. Truthfully, I don’t trust them. I chose to attend this one because not so long ago I realized that I want to dedicate the next part of my life to really understand what I mean when I say race-worker. I understand race-worker to mean a person who attempts to distribute resources along the lines of race with a specific focus on marginalized groups. I do this specifically by enrolling and graduating students of color in higher education. I also do this through my writing. But my soul has begun to search for another dimension of this race-work and today I learned that this dimension involved organizing people around anti-racism principles. What does this mean? I have yet to find out.

What I do know is that I ended up at this workshop because I was inspired to attend after meeting a woman named Esperanza Martell. We were discussing my work around race and how I have been conscious of the development of these thoughts as early as five years old. And I realized I was still angry with my father, as I was speaking to her, and believed that he particularly inspired my race consciousness because he held negative beliefs about people of color. I called him a racist. At that point she stopped me. She said, “First, you must understand that you have a lot of healing to do in this area. Second, you must stop calling your father a racist. He is not a racist. He suffers from internalized racial oppression and this affects all people of color in one way or another. Including you.”

In that moment my healing with my dad, forgiving my father commenced. And I realized that I want to do for people what she has done for me. Perhaps, if I weren’t knowledgeable about race and racism, I wouldn’t have understood instantly what she was speaking about. My father could not be a racist. He was a man of color in the US and by definition meant that he held no power to perpetuate dominant value systems in this country. What I did know is that I wanted to forgive my dad and forgive myself for not fully understanding the destructive powers of racism — so powerful that it created a huge distance between my father and me. I want to give back that humanity to others what Esperanza Martell gave to me. So when she suggested I begin with the Undoing Racism workshop I thought to look into it. I thought this was a good start.

Indeed, another birthday passes, a year since my cleansing started, and I thought this process of cleansing, aguanile, ayahuasca was meant for me – and it is – but I am starting to understand that in my own healing, my own cleansing, comes an understanding of how I can use my life to help cleanse the world too and help rid the world if its ills.

My intention is to undo racism. My intention is to undo the mistreatment of the women in my family. How I do this – perhaps another birthday will tell. The healing continues. The race-work begins.

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