It is because of the strength of my ancestors, I am able to write this piece today. I, like so many others, am a product of colonialism. My experience as a member of the Diaspora only reinforces the state of my unhomeliness (as Bhaba puts it) in the Western world, even though my mother is from Puerto Rico and my biological father from Peru. Pero yo soy pura Latin@! The racial, historical and cultural legacy left behind by colonialism and slavery have shaped the way I was raised and what was meant for me as a second generation child in the United States.
Chicago, albeit heavily racially segregated, had me able from a young age able to understand multi-culturalism. My kindergarten was a school dedicated to assisting children who spoke Spanish and English, and getting them ready for predominately English speaking environments, since so many children of Latino families speak Spanish in the home exclusively. After that I was in grade schools with children whose families came from all over the world: India, China, Poland along with African American kids too. This exposure in school, on the city buses and streets to people and languages from all over taught me even though people aren’t exactly like you, y’all ain’t that different either. The move to the burbs later on when I was a teenager really is what turned me out. It was there I learned I was an undesirable outsider in my own nation of birth. My battles with self hate and radicalized sexism were not easy to over come, but now that I’m older, I’ve learned to protect myself and express my emotions through art and activism.
Manifest Destiny is a true story in all senses. The questions that begin the poem were in fact asked to me in a very rude, probing, and inquisitive manner. There are several artists who have manipulated audiences so that they understand their own colonial gaze upon Native and African bodies; these physical bodies are understood as objects. Since history is taught from such a twisted perspective it should be of no surprise to some that when whites, in this case a white American woman, ask questions about race or identity, it can be intrusive. It’s asked in such a manner that feels dehumanizing, especially given the history of settler colonialism, genocide and slavery. This brutal history is the foundation for current establish societies and economic structures of said societies (Hello Lloyd’s Bank). Let us not forget the Royal African Trade Company, prestigious British families (owning slaves and plantations all over the Caribbean) being the foundation of their wealth today, Europe and its hands in Africa (France just stopped their colonial tax on Haiti after 200 years)…and so many more examples of this nature. Europe, the UK, US, Caribbean and Latin America are all cut and sewn together with the same colonial cloth.
When I was asked what kind of native I was, I couldn’t truly answer with Taino, for Taino’s aren’t recognized by the United States Federal Government. Even if maternal DNA testing shows that 61% of people have Amerindian blood, doesn’t matter. There’s no blood quantizing the Puerto Rican indigenous status. Tainos exist in the heart and soul of the people. There’s no quick explanation for the tribe who greeted Colon, who wiped out the men with slavery and hard labor. We know Colon met “Indians”, but those in the US could never tell you who they were.
The questions in relation to my identity are heavy for there is no one worded answer. I am not just an American, for when I’m in America, those in power consider me and my people illegal. They treat us like leeches even though we didn’t ask to be invaded and acquired, kept in a perpetual colonial state. My color is natural and earth brown, yet I am told I should aspire to something lighter and brighter since society doesn’t find me beautiful. I’m to be cooking rice and beans and be ready to get fucked. I am not Black of sun, but West Africa is within me and lives through music, food and my mothers tight curls. I am not the daughter of a mighty Cacique, but Taino ancestors guide me and gave the people their true name: Boricua. I am not a Spaniard but they have had an affect on my life and the lives of my people. Manifest Destiny allowed me to express how complicated racial and national identity can be when forced to ignore the real of history of its making. It may seemingly be an easy question to answer, so long as my identity is a false consciousness created by a colonial framework.
Thanks so much to Marcia X for sharing this with us here at SALSA. Find out more about her work here: http://www.artistmarciax.com/