The Year of Ourselves, Each Other, and the Other Side of Mourning
a personal look back to way before 2016, and what it means for now and us, in the minutes, days, and years to come
“We are not idealized wild things.We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.”
— Joan Didion
If you lived through 2016 you’ve shaken hands with a crashing glacier, or maybe found yourself under its resulting tidal wave. Another year of mourning black and brown bodies, another year of watching our land destroyed by people, and another year of our people being exploited, war disguised as other names, and global displacement at an all time high. But in these times the people rise, they show up, they build and create. Is there a time when we haven’t had to, at this point it’s woven into our DNA, for better. For worse.
But it was also year we were able to celebrate art created by our gente, receiving acknowledgement by the masses, conversations of diversity and inclusivity evolving into action, not validated by whiteness but whiteness stepping down, retiring for better. The new generation of artivists joined the elders to become tired of ‘just talking’. 2016 can be defined by doing.
Politics is personal
Behind the mourning are stories of attempts at resilience. For me, and us, 2016 became the year of midlife nesting, and the attempting, trying, and reaching for extensions of us, the royal us. But always just barely missing the chance to hold us in our hands. Missing the chance to think of this body as anything but broken. Attempts that meant many visits to the doctor, where nurse practitioners morphed into something less and became the space between an inhale and an exhale, learning to use waiting rooms for places to meditate, and repetitious talks with friends, prayers and support from family, but no matter the results — who wouldn’t want the talk and prayers? Those are always welcome. But also, what does it mean to be a womxn in a man’s world, and a man in a womxn-trying-to-become-a-mother’s world, and what does it mean to not fit into those constructs. Some carry the weight of both, or none, or all, and we should always hold a space in our hearts for them. I’ve also learned that men can also carry empty wombs, and they desire, long, mourn and grieve just the same. But the burdens and pain that our bodies hold, to continue trying, are as deep as the stories our mothers and grandmothers carry. Those stories are the ones that need freeing.
Attempts at responding to the small gifts the world brings, because maybe it will allow us the room to heal. Somewhere in the mourning, 2016 was the year I married the love of my life. I don’t think marriage and nesting are obligatorily compatible, so I wrote this in an entirely different paragraph. The joy from celebrating love doesn’t come from anything singular, the celebrating is the gift of friendship and sharing what we know best, ourselves, and our love. I’ve recently met so many people who question what the term community means. They say it’s overused or misused. It’s my belief that a marriage begins without end, grounded in community.
late 14c., from Old French comunité “community, commonness, everybody”
from Latin communitatem (nominative communitas) “community, society, fellowship, friendly intercourse; courtesy, condescension, affability,” from communis “common, public, shared by all or many,” a community of relations or feelings. (1)
A.K.A. strength in numbers. (2)
And who are we, ourselves, aside from the mourning, the celebrating, the trying, the fighting, or maybe those things make up who we are. This was also the year I started things that needed continuing, because this world has a way of resurfacing the skin we leave behind. I went back to school, and back to therapy to make order of the accidental remembering I forever tried to forget. The upside down, long before the election. This in turn has brought me closer to understanding, and to community, to those who are struggling, fighting with all they have. 2016 reminded me of all of our stories, which made the election especially hard to swallow.
The election made a different kind of upside down, like a ‘we’re in this together’ kind, but not like a ‘nothing was ever upside down before’ kind. What has been apparent to so many for so long suddenly became apparent to those who call themselves allies. In the name of malcontent or uncomfortableness. How dare they feel uncomfortable. Or maybe, we should be glad they feel uncomfortable, because it never worked when we fought the battles alone. All of these battles, will be harder to fight in the years to come.
The private is political.
When I was ten years old, three years after I left foster care, I created an elaborate origin story, had my neighbors believing that I was from an undiscovered planet near Mars and that my family would pick me up and take me back home every other Thursday at 2 a.m.. Thursdays were perfect because who would get up that late on a school day. The story was centered around an aluminum rock that was given to me by my then (3) undocumented father who worked as a foreman at an aluminum extrusion factory. One weekend he took me to the Alhambra plant so that I can operate the forklift, that’s when he gave me the aluminum rock. I only saw him every so often, ‘every other weekend’ agreements don’t always work out. If two couldn’t get it together when they were married, it makes sense that they wouldn't when divorced. My mother divorced him when I was two, because by 20 years old she had had enough abuse, in a lifetime of trauma. Thankfully I never knew that man, the divorce and our resulting estrangement devastated him enough to change his ways. The man I know now has been my constant of understanding, generosity, and unconditional love. Inspiring and wise. And it isn’t that he happens to be an immigrant, his story is because he’s a black-brown “immigrant”(4) from Tijuana, BC, México. But still — my birth certificate says my father is a white man from Texas. Rather than believe this is proof that history is made of lies, I hold my birth certificate as a story of survival. These are our stories. Ourselves. These are the stories we will have to share in the years to come, because the personal is political.
This year I discovered how common it is for children to make up stories as a way to escape their reality, to make it better, and to survive. I’m okay with knowing that the younger me wasn’t necessarily happy, but I was trying, and now I’m more than trying.
In the past six years I’ve un, de, and re-learned what responsibility, emotion, strength, friendship and relationship, love, patience, and kindness mean — and all of those definitions involve an “I.” I went from living in defeat and emotional isolation, to this otherworldly place I’m in now. But I’ve also had to learn how to hate, or something like that, how to feel anger, and in the process I’ve learned an entirely different kind of sadness.
I learned that our stories don’t get better, and this isn’t about change or forgiveness. Our stories become shared, and we learn how to overcome challenges in different ways. And if so many of us come from sadness, challenges greater than what we, ourselves, can overcome, how do we defeat what’s to come in 2017? Through community. Strength in numbers. A world where our neighbors aren’t left to fight on their own. And in the mourning, grief, and trying, we must find joy where we can, because this is how we survive together.
1. Online. Etymology Dictionary.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Web. 18 Dec. 2016.
2. “Etymology of the Word “community”” Etymology of the Word “community” Web. 18 Dec. 2016.
3. I still don’t know his current status. When asked he shrugs and says, “Well, kind of.” He’s my father, yet there remains so many secrets. The dream I have of traveling with him to Tijuana, like I did when I was a one year old in 1978 when they didn’t check papers at the border, to visit his remaining family, for him to visit his hometown again after all these years, might never come true. And this is life.
4. Immigrant as the institutional word for displaced indigenous. Indigenous migrants. Migrant. present participle of migrare “to remove, depart, to move from one place to another.” Movement. noun 1. an act of changing physical location or position or of having this changed. Dancing.
Reading List / Links
- We Carry It Into Our Future By Chiwan Choi
- Resources: What We Can Do Now courtesy Entropy
- How to support Standing Rock and confront what it means to live on stolen land By Berkley Carnine and Liza Minno Bloom
- Aftermath: Sixteen Writers on Trump’s America, New Yorker
- Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South By Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
- The Latinx Directory: Research Centers & Institutions
- Whiteness Reading List, Duke University Women’s Center
- Race and Ethnicity Undergraduate Reading List, Verso Books
- Race Forward: Racial Justice Through Media, Research and Activism
- The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
- Indigenous Environmental Network
- The Feminist Wire
- Syrian Writers, Artists, and Journalists Speak Out Against US and Russian Policy, The Nation
PS. It’s 2017, can we stop using the term “minority.”
1530s, “condition of being smaller,” from Middle French minorité (15c.), or directly from Medieval Latin minoritatem (nominative minoritas)
noun, plural minorities.
1. the smaller part or number; a number, part, or amount forming lessthan half of the whole.