Family Of Survivors is a multidisciplinary project that began November, 2016. In three parts, the project consisted of family interviews, short reflections based on those interviews and the creation of a family tree. Through the interviews with extended family members and examining photographs and texts, my goal was to find alternate ways to tell stories of my family members that work in opposition to the overarching narrative of my community, which normally documents my family as successful colonizers and successful Americans, and erases the parts of my family that are indigenous to this continent and African.
The piece ultimately works as manifestation of all the information I have gathered which shows how alternate modes of archiving can work to uncover the erased bodies using my own family’s history.
EXCERPT FROM "WHY WORRY ABOUT DEBT
IF THE WORLD IS ENDING?"
I’ve been having a lot of apocalyptic dreams recently— dreams where people are hiding underground, landscapes are wastelands and entire civilizations are told to swallow poison. Even on days when I’m feeling light and energetic, there’s an underlying distraction to me that has as much to do with 4G speed as it has to do with conquistadores and slavery. For me— I think— right now is the confluence of post-truth and truth: the temporal and spatial rupture of our trauma. When our violence towards one another lives in a space of clarity. (“Violence no one can confuse for anything but violence.”1)
And in a way, the collapse is beautiful. I read a zine a few months ago by my friend, AnaKaren Ortiz Varela, and in it she writes, “Recuerdo que tengo un apellido porque un continente entero fué violado”. The honesty of it filled me up, and it took me back to holy week in 2015, on a love-void beach thinking about how every woman in my blood-line must have experienced rape— it literally is who we are.
It is the maintenance of slavery and settler-colonialism in the Americas. It is what we have always experienced in our relationships. It’s us writing about Malinche and Anacaona when we really want to write about ourselves. It’s the reason I’m the color I am. It’s the reason this tree has gaps.
EXCERPT FROM "PUERTO RICO: MORE LIKE
PALESTINE THAN NEW MEXICO"
My dad recently texted early, reminding me of a morning when we all lived together in the house on Campbell Road. The text described Alma, Che and I in the kitchen on a Sunday — him cooking breakfast and the three of us on the floor listening to KUNM’s “Children Hour.” It wasn’t until I had been gone for three years and had lost most of my friends that I realized how much he must have missed San Juan. How the side gazes and dry air must have felt so alien that telling me about Puerto Rican’s connection with Palestinians was just as much about occupation as it was about isolation— probably why he spent hours every day filling up containers with plantains and beans.
When I was young, my dad would wake me up in the morning singing. I’m 21 and I still wake up some days wishing I lived in a house surrounded by all my family and friends and neighbors — not in a hustle-obsessed metropolis where I have to go by myself to the hospital when I’m sick. When Nati and I got back from our trip to Cuba a few weeks ago, she told me this life isn’t worth what has been taken from us. It echoed what this guy, Etián, told me about not wanting to ever move to the United States. “¿Pa que? ¿Una casa? ¿Un caro? Si allá no se entiende conexion espiritu tiempo.”
The [be]longing I feel has never been about living in-between, because it’s not about the in-between— it’s about the physical removal and the cyclical taking.
March 2nd marked 100 years of citizenship for Puerto Ricans, so I wonder why my father doesn’t feel the distrust I feel. I wonder why, even as a third-generation proud independentista, the United States for him still has not fallen. Super powers can’t possibly last this long. In New Mexico, my dad was often the Blackest person in the room.
EXCERPT FROM "I’M NOT JEWISH,
BUT MY ANCESTORS ARE"
Grandma Dolores was the most Catholic person I've ever known and when I was in 7th grade she realized she was a descendent of Jews. She found out when she had been asked to translate at the court downtown for a woman in hysterics. She remembered recognizing the language being spoken but didn’t know how. The language, Ladino— a Hebrew/ Spanish hybrid— had been spoken by her great aunts when she was younger. A language, like a culture, so hidden that we eventually forgot.
She used to ask me a lot if I wanted to go back to my roots and begin integrating Catholicism into my life. I was also like, “I’ll think about it,” but by the age of fourteen was already furious with both my parents for indoctrinating me into their God-less world. I felt like I didn’t have a choice— there is no going back once you believe something. And I just hoped something happens after I die.
A year before she got the stomach cancer, my grandmother, in a departure from her normal suggestion of going to Church with her, told me to spend more energy on my own people— “not immigrants, not Indians.” The confession dissolved hierarchies and I raised my voice, which in turn made her cry. I remember because it didn’t feel like 2013; it was the 1960s, she was completely alone, and no one understood her or wanted to understand her. I told her I come from both immigrants and Indians and she told me she was crying was because she was remembering the time when she was ill. In my mind, I still still go back and forth deciding if her tears were naïveté or shame.
EXCERPT FROM "UPWARD MOBILITY IN MY FAMILY
COMES FROM THE UNITED STATES MILITARY"
I remember my mom picking me up with Grandpa Joe in the front seat and driving me down Central so that he could point out all the newly renovated buildings and parks that were once places he used to hang out. He showed us where they used to have dances and where he used to go to school and told us about how he used to be too embarrassed to bring tortillas and beans to lunch because then everyone would know he wasn’t anglo. That was the only thing I understood at the time.
The fact that Spanish was all of my grandparents’ first language is incredible. That someone who grew up in the depression helping his mom sell plastic flowers and eating beans for most meals could raise four kids and all of them graduate from high school not knowing Spanish. That by the 1950’s, my grandparents had their own house in the Albuquerque Heights where they lived with (only) four children. That through this anti- poor military, a poor non-Anglo from New Mexico was able to achieve the American Dream. That’s America.
It’s just as America as Puerto Ricans becoming citizens so they could fight in World War I. Abuela Margo’s dad, I learned recently, died not in war, but at the base, where he served in the early 1900s. He had slept with a white woman and was killed as punishment — his body found in a river. Apple pie America.
"LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT RAPE"
I once turned a quick corner, ran into my friend’s extended hand and immediately started crying from the shock. I was twenty years old and laughed at because, “Luna, you never been hit? That didn’t hurt.” And perhaps that moment itself is the discovery of what pain is and how to move through it— the recognition that my ancestors were lynched, raped and beaten in the most brutal ways that have been passed down from Catholic conversion and the Transatlantic trade, yet at twenty years old the left side of my face stung for the first time because my family doesn’t hit each other anymore.
Both my grandfathers suffered from bullet holes through their organs so I could be here and I’m still here— so maybe America has not succeeded.