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Brown in Chicago – Decolonizing our roots and future

With the Logan Square Neighborhood Association

LSNA’s youth organizing work is founded on the values of racial justice. Youth are vital leaders in the push for both policy and cultural responses to the violence of displacement.[1] Displacement destroys culture. Youth leaders find themselves in a neighborhood experiencing swift racial and economic transition that feels violent and painful. They no longer feel welcomed in their neighborhood hangouts or feel secure that their parents (working-class immigrants) will be able to keep pace with the rising rents and property taxes. For our youth the fact that gentrification is a racialized process is common sense. They see the buying power young white people have in their community, and LSNA’s organizers help deepen their analysis through workshops that emphasize the historical housing policies in Chicago that created the Black and Latino ghettos of our city.

This July a group of seventeen youth leaders with the Logan Square Neighborhood Association started a journey to fight the erasure of displacement by documenting their families’ migrations from Latin America to Chicago.  Youth leaders were also commissioned by their abuelitas and parents as they submitted DNA ancestry kits to see where their families’ journeys actually started. Our ancestry results capture the mixing of people’s brought violently together in 1492.  Our Mexican students –the great majority of the group–carry between 60-90% indigenous ancestry.  Africa is also present with us—all of our youth came back with some African ancestry. And our young people from the Caribbean have between 15-35% African ancestry.  We suddenly feel ancient and feel the weight of the loss of our indigenous and African identities–colonization is also erasure of one’s stories.

 

In partnership with the Genealogy and Storytelling Project LSNA youth will:

  1. Uncover the history of migration and displacement and the impact they have on their lives today;
  2. Boldly claim their own place in history as part of the Latin-American and Pan-African Diaspora;
  3. Dismantle the dominant narrative of white supremacy within the specific process of gentrification and more broadly;
  4. Engage more Latinx[2] families to celebrate their place and histories in the community as one weapon against displacement.

[1] In the past year, 110 youth have been involved in LSNA’s anti-gentrification work taking significant roles in outreach efforts to residents, develogeneology commissions 3.JPEGping actions, introducing new strategies and concepts, and meeting with local officials about the need to create policy solutions to address rising displacement.

[2] Latinx= The “x” makes Latino, a masculine identifier, gender-neutral. The “x” also encompasses genders outside of that limiting man-woman binary. Pronounced “La-teen-ex.

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12/2/17 Session #5

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This morning was very anticipated by our youth and their families to complete and submit our 23andMe DNA kits! Over breakfast we were able to share with the families our process of the Brown In Chicago project from the previous year and what this new group of participants. At the end we held a small candle lighting ceremony and invited the parents/families to share a “wish” they have for their children as they anticipate their results over the next 4-6 weeks. Many parents expressed gratitude to be apart of this project, wished their children to feel more proud and confident about their culture and many blessings and we learn to honor our ancestors and history.

11/18/17 Session #4

All that you touch

You change.

All that you change

Changes you.

The only lasting truth

Is Change
God is change.

-Octavia Butler


2017 has thus far shown us many changes in which we perceive who can hold power and who can facilitate change. This is felt from a macro level of our shifting government and climate, to the everyday changes we are experiencing within our own communities and developmentally within our own lives.  Today we focused on introducing the topic of POC futurism and what that means to our own identities in relation to our place our communities and at large. Science fiction almost typically is demonstrated to center such themes of whiteness, patriarchy, imperialism, heteronormativity and competition. These stories imagine our future colonizing other territories and planets due the destructive force these themes reflect and shape our current way of living.

It is through looking to our past and understanding our history we can begin to uncover that we have not always survived in a world that does not center patriarchy, capitalism and other marginalizing forces. Science Fiction allows the freedom to reimagine our futures but if we cultivate and rebuild with these structures we will not be sustainable. Such as Audre Lorde claims, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” So who and what values do we center for for our future? For the future of our generations? We need to begin to imagining a new way to organize life, our relationships to each other, to power and the earth so that we do not continue to perpetuate destruction.

We can begin this process to imagine change by writing ourselves into the future, foreseeing our survival and how we will thrive through the changes.  Visionary Fiction writer Walidah Imarisha explains, “Any time we try to envision a different world—without poverty, prisons, capitalism, war—we are engaging in science fiction. When we can dream those realities together, that’s when we can begin to build them right here and now.” The conditions that we live in today were once born from the imagination of others. So who is to say we cannot do the same to dream for a better future?

We invited our group today to spend time writing and answering the following prompt:
Imagine, you meet your ancestor, either the one who migrated or even further back, and you look just like one another. Let’s write about that encounter.


What challenges do they face? What’s their character like? What do they sound like? What are their dreams? What are their assets? Their fears? What’s their magic? What do they think about the US? What do they think you about you? Your life? Your identities? Your struggles? Your fight for social justice? What questions do they have for you?What’s different about your lives? What’s the same about your lives? What power did they pass on to you?

Below are pieces that were written today:

Evelyn
La Mama looked just like me. Hopefully, but full of pain. She didn’t know how her eleven children would survive in the world. They lived in poverty, something she worked against since she could remember. But she always took the time to show her children compassion. She used to say, “here take the food off my plate, I will be skinny for you.” Her children saw her fears, they knew how hard she worked. She wanted her children to live happy, to survive the world they were born into. She prayed and prayed but realized but realized it wasn’t enough. She had heard of an Inca’s secret journey, which many said, “with a sacrifice of the heart would grant the seeker anything they desired.” So La Mama told me, “there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my children and their future!” She began her journey into the mountains after having fed her children and only half a bread in her stomach. She had to take her youngest because she couldn’t stand to be separated from her mother.

The road was cold, lonely, and many people along the way told La Mama that she would never find the secret passage. They asked her “why are you going when you know it’s going to be hard.” “Why don’t you just go home, don’t waste your time!! But she ignored them held tightly to her last born and kept moving. At nightfall as she finally put her baby to sleep on a couple of panchos on the rocky road. She cried.- She said this was the time she began to ask the night abyss surrounding her. “What if I can’t find it? What if it’s not real? She couldn’t imagine the passage, she couldn’t even fathom the idea of a solution out of poverty. She kept long into the night of a solution out of poverty. She wept long into the night, she cried herself to sleep. When she woke her daughter was gone. La Mama began screaming her name, angry at herself for believing in the secret passage. She just wanted to find her daughter and leave the unforgiving mountains.

In the distance she heard the echo of her daughter’s voice. She followed it, the sand led her into a cave just above her camp. She heard her daughter laughing and happy, her heart finally felt like it was back in her chest. She walked deeper into the cave unable to see a thing. She tripped over a rock and hit her head and immediately began to bleed. Out of her spilled blood unto the floor a red rose formed and more buds bloomed around La Mama. The bloodied ground shined bright red and lead her deeper into the cave, where she found her child unharmed and sleeping.

Suddenly, a shadowy, small figure emerged from above her child. La Mama was frightened and quickly grasped her child to safety. The figured stood very still and stared back at La Mama, then the child and gazed back at La Mama. The figure then spoke, “ why are you here?” La Mama replied, “I came to look for my child. The figure replied, “why did you venture this far away from your home and people?. La Mama explained, I came into the mountains in hopes to find the secret passage.” The shadow questioned, “why?” La Mama bursted into tears and after a few deep breaths to compose herself she exclaimed, “I want my children to have a future and survive and live long prosperous life! In the world of U.S Colonialism, Ecuador is losing so much, making it impossible to survive. People like us, brown, poor, and “uneducated”, live to work the lands and resources so others who benefit from this system can then harvest our labor and live comfortably. “I just want comfort and security for my children.”

I believe my children will become a force in the world for people like us. I want them to be in place where they can help others. I believe in my children and I would do anything for them.” The figure didn’t say anything as La Mama’s steady stream of tears began to fill and flood the cave with her sorrow. The figure touched her sleeping child’s forehead and said, “Mama, your children will all survive, flourish and give back to their community. This I can promise you. You need not to travel far and wide to fulfill this wish.” It is within, it will always be within your life.

 

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Brittany F.

We meet during a Puerto Rican Parade. I was walking around with a piña colada in hand and I see a reflection of myself. I stared back and began to make silly faces. But the image didn’t move. I approached closer and it turned out to be another person. “Oh my bad,” I said, “it’s a mirror.” I explained. After that, we talked a little bit more and it turns out that we’re related. She’s my great, great great, great grandmother. She told me how she got here and the reasons why she wanted to bother herself as a person. She migrated on a boat and started working as an entertainer. She would do dances, concerts, and play instruments. Even tell stories.

I would ask her what was her favorite instrument and she would respond with the drum. According to her, the drum was very important because it represented life because of the beat. The beat was the heart of everything back home. It would begin a story and end it. That’s why she loves it. I told her that the drums are my favorite. After that, she has been teaching me how l live with the drum in my heart. “As long as you keep a steady beat nothing will stop you.”

Anaiza Cartagena

A conversation with an ancestor

Challenges they face?

Taking care of her children and her sister’s children. Trying to support them.

What is their character like?

Reserved and welcoming

Voice?

Raspy

Dreams?

Make people around her happy.

Fears?

This lady has seen it all, ain’t nobody got time for that.

Magic

Her charm.

Thoughts about the U.S?

She tries to get through the day, some people are too rude and she just doesn’t like the people.

Thoughts about me?

She loves me, she crocheted a whole blanket for me.

Thoughts about my life

She’s not opposed to anything that I’m doing, she just wants me to make the right decisions.

My identities?

She accepts who I am?

My struggles?

She would tell me that I shouldn’t be struggling because I am so young.

Questions I would ask:

How did you feel when your sister abandoned her family?

Why did you feel the need to take in my grandmother?

Did you feel like it was your responsibility?

 

Garrick Baker

I can imagine all the difficulties he’s going through like traveling, food, water, and asking for money from people. Their character is brave and strong because no matter what he keeps going always looking at the bright side instead of seeing the bad. His dream is to start a family in the U.S. in order to make a change within this country because I see so much negativity. Despite being in a country that is supposed to be a “land of opportunity” for newcomers. His fears was going back and dying while he is on this journey.

Did someone threatened to send you back if you don’t do anything wrong? Were their people offering you things like coffee, socks, or food? Who did you look up to? Is there an item you’ve treasured for so long and what does it mean to you? How was it there in that country you came from? What made you leave there? His magic was to make people laugh and happy and make them comfortable with another.

 

Lucas V

When I meet with Rafael, I’d imagine the challenges they face or he faces in his family to just to meet basic needs such as work and living. With what’s going on in Puerto Rico right now, it’s a matter of survival and keeping a positive mindset. Their character would be cheerful but determined, just like my dad’s. Their fear would be just keeping family safe and happy. Their magic is creating conversation  and making people smile. They think of the United States as a place of sovereignty but more of as a place of opportunity, not home. They see me as grown, smart, and the will to do, what I want and need to do. My life is filled with work, lots of fun, and being busy in school, going to have a great education. My identity is a mixture of Boriqua but also very  Americanized. My struggles would be making it well in school by staying out of problems such as drugs and women. He hopes I would carry on and know my culture as I should with that of America. They’d ask about my school and how it was, as well as how my job is. Generally, they’d see my family is too, with my profession.

Our lives are different because of how fortunate I am with education. An easy job, family close by, and tons of technology, and mostly support. What’s the same is our foods, culture, and I  believe that’s it. The power they passed to me is that of what privilege it is to be here and live in Chicago in Humboldt Park.

Leanesse Castillo

If I could spend one day with one of my ancestors they would be as crazy as the rest of my family. They would be funny, straight forward, no sugar coating and very outgoing. We would tell stories and laugh and have a good time, show me their cooking skills and the way they do things. The things they loved to do things. The things they love to do and what made them happy, they can tell me how much my great grandparents drove them crazy. They tell me about their background, what they have been through, their conflicts, why they did the things they did.

Just for a day for them to show me differently because I’m not like them, well not all the time. I think they did pass down the anger and attitude and loudness down to me but also the goofy and big hearted personality down to me.

11/11/18 Session #3

But I who am bound by my mirror
as well as my bed
see causes in colour
as well as sex
and sit here wondering
which me will survive
all these liberations.
-Audre Lorde

We opened today’s meeting inviting students to imagine all the ways our ancestors  have worked for their liberation, imagine all the ways they are still figuring out, and see yourself in them. Recognize the hustle to get free. Beyond what stereotypes, see them as a freedom fighter and change maker. Now see it in yourself. In pairs we each broke off a spent a few minutes sharing ways in which you’ve created in your life that you’re proud of? On answer that stood out was a student I paired off with as he shared his experience in creating a Help the Homeless, a yearly project that collects funds to buy brand new warm clothes for folks living through homelessness in neighborhood of Humboldt Park.

We spent the rest of our gathering to learn from Dr. Mumm about Chicago migration history and begin to piece where our family’s experience may lie based on when, why, and how we got to the U.S and ended up in Chicago. None of these experiences are monolithic but are fascinating to thread the similarities and motivations as to why they migrated. Typically, in our U.S history curriculum at school we are limited to focus on how pilgrims migrated to U.S and people of color were imported as slaves. We center slavery as the beginning of history of for many while erasing the legacies they brought with them. Being able to contextualize push and pull factors of why many of our families moved here which was due to the political influence of the U.S on our home countries. For example, learning about such policies/ programs like the Bracero Program  for Mexicans and Operation Bootstrap in Puerto Rico gives us more insight on how migration isn’t merely a choice but a choice of survival. It’s exciting during the beginning stages of this process because as we begin to piece together more information from our families we can begin to draw more connections and map ourselves within history with more integrity.

10/28/17 Session #2

“To survive the Borderlands

you must live sin fronteras

be a crossroads.”-  Gloria Anzaldua

On this chilly Saturday a few days before Halloween and dia de los muertos we met for a more relaxed session to spend more time allowing youth to get to know each other. As we go further into our programming a certain degree of trust and respect is needs to develop to ensure emotional safety and confidentiality as we begin to learn more about our family history and experiences. We read two poems,  To Live in the Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldua and Ending Poem by  Aurora Levins Morales and Rosario Morales. All Latina poets who express their feeling of ambiguity as they navigate life through two cultures, the ones they are living in and the ones they came from. We are challenged to hold and cross these two very different worlds in our everyday lives never feeling like we are “enough of” or validated by.

An example during discussion was when I shared how at times I never felt “Latina” enough and embarrassed my mother chose not to teach me Spanish. Growing up my mother explained to me that we “live in America” so my priority is to learn English. This often made me feel left out till this day and left with feelings of inadequacy because I have to carefully choose how to communicate with others rather than naturally joining in on some chisme. As I got older my mom explained to me how happy she was that I grew up loving to read and stay in school because she struggled as a kid in school with due to the language barrier and made her hate education. After I shared that, another student exclaimed “wow, I thought I was the only one, I never heard anyone say that before.”

The poems reflection of living between two worlds inspired me invite students to celebrate dia de los muertos, which highlights this notion duality between life and death. Many in the U.S seem to simply dia de los muertos as another type of “Halloween” celebrated by Mexican and Latinx cultures. We wanted to spend time learning more about what this celebration really means and how it honors our ancestors. From the first Brown in Chicago group, one of our culminating projects was to create a large altar to honor our passed loved ones and to highlight members of our family that first migrated to the U.S. This alter includes pictures, trinkets, candles, flowers and hand painted sugar skulls. We spend over an hour listening to salsa and adding pictures, more skulls and little notes of intention and cleaning the altar as we joined new ancestors to our LSNA familia.

We ended the meeting early to walk over and support Faces of Logan Square, a free 2-day community festival that supported local artesanas to sell beautiful pieces of jewelry, clothing and other creations that are handmade. We ended our meeting with the chance to watch indigenous folklorico dancers perform.

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10/7/17 Session #1

Hands/minds, they are carving out
A sanctuary. Use these weapons
Against them. Use your given gifts
—they are not stone

              —Luis Rodriguez

Our first meeting of Brown in Chicago 2.0 invited new and a few returning youth leaders and students from within our community of Logan Square, Humboldt Park and Hermosa neighborhoods. These folx range from ages 16-25 years old and hold a wealth of knowledge and experiences of their own. We began with checking in with our full names with an emphasis to honor our family’s name with respect and full enunciation. Many of us have experienced “whitewashing”our names in school or to others in order to make it more palatable and easier for others to say comfortably . We want to honor names and take the time to say them as they were intended because we believe there is power within holding our own names with integrity.

Next, we opened our discussion and asked to share what was calling them to learn more about yourself and your ancestors? A few of the responses included feeling sad about seeing the degrees of separation from their ancestors’ culture through each generation that slowly neglects, forgets, or hide parts of those memories and traditions. A few students expressed how “messy” their backgrounds felt because they either didn’t know much about the cultures or how to connect. We read a poem called The Calling- Luis Rodriguez that depicts the reflections of a young political prisoner who was wrongfully jailed and used that experience as a catalyst to change his life.

We then unpacked further what our own identities mean to us and teased out the differences between, race, ethnicity and what other roles and identifiers are important to us. Around the room we had sheets of paper with a word printed to represent an identifier and instructed youth to stand next to the racial &/or cultural identities you relate to (Boricua, Latina/o, Latinx, Spanish people, Chicana/o, Black, White, African American, Person of Color, Mixed, etc.) Here are a few of the reflections the youth reported:

Latinx

  • Is inclusive of individuals, I identify as a queer Latinx and that I have both Masculine and Femme aspects about myself.
  • “It’s a mess but a little bit of everything.”

Black

  • I don’t know Spanish, only a little, and I have accepted its not bad to be where you are from”

Boricua

  • “Grew up with this identity more, I connect more to this side of my family.”  

Indigena

  • “I am half Colombian and half Ecuadorian, growing up I learned spanish and Quechua at the same time. I remember a girl in the 4th grade told me I didn’t speak Spanish right. Later in life I appreciate the Quechua dialect when I speak Spanish because it makes me feel closer to my grandparents.”

Chicanx

  • “Learning about chicanismo lead me to find chicano underground hip-hop.
  • “When I was younger I used to be teased by my cousins for my English accent when I spoke Spanish to them. I feel like I  am living between two worlds and Chicanismo embraces who I am.”

Mexican

  • “ I feel like I am living in between two worlds, I am not Mexican enough to have confidence with my Spanish. Our grandparents that migrated here had to embrace our cultures (U.S Culture). I recognize now that we had to assimilate in order to adjust living here. I haven’t been back to Mexico in 15 years and I wonder if I am still tied to that culture?
  • “I identify as Mexican American (my mom is Texan) but have heard varied definition of what a Mexican American means.”
  • “Sometimes I feel so Americanized and that I should be more Hispanic. I don’t connect with my culture because I wasn’t educated enough to engage with it.”

Mixed

  • “I was born and raised in Chicago. I identify mostly with being Puerto Rican from my mom’s side of my family. My dad left us when I was younger and his family is from the Dominican Republic so I never had a chance to learn that culture (or have an interest in that side of my family since he left us when we were so young. But now that I am older I can’t deny that part of myself.”

We ended our session with a check out to see what was coming up for students. Many reactions ranged from excitement to gratitude for having a unique space to learn more about our family history and ourselves. Some of the shared responses explained that,  “This group feels welcoming, never had a setting to talk about our families, stories, or even history.  What I learn here is going to be great for my future.” Or, “School is draining physically and mentally. This project is important for me to feel supported.” There is power that comes from connecting and reflecting deeply within ourselves as we navigate through our communities and politics that are quickly shifting. The U.S was built at the expense of people of color, immigrants and those who do not benefit from privilege. Over many centuries of reinforcing these ideas that uphold capitalism, patriarchy and racism has taught our families and ancestors to feel shame and less power for not holding these values. Being able to discover the truth of our family’s stories and struggles while taking it a step further to vocalize and share these pieces of history allows us to explore parts of our inherited wisdom and power that is waiting to become awoken.