What I am about to tell you is a lie but it is the utter truth.
I remember when I first encountered the white man. At first, I could not believe the rumors. People with pale skin and hairy limbs, it could not be possible. And yet there they were. I remember the councils that we had before their arrival. Some of us wanted to welcome them and learn from them, use them against our enemies. But the curanderos, the wise ones, told us that nothing good would come of our meeting. If only we had listened.
I remember those first men. White skin that was weather beaten and sun burnt. I remember their arrogance and their hard metal. I remember how they looked at us with disgust and contempt. And yet I could not understand why. We had done them no harm. But most of all, I remember their guns. The sound it made like a relámpago, thunder that could rip the sky in two.
I remembered the chaos that followed their arrival. The pestilence brought by the whites that our curanderos could not cure. I remember the battles and the pillaging. I remember seeing my people enslaved and fighting against themselves. I saw my people betray our own cause.
I remember the violence and raping of my sisters. I remember my own rape. I remember running, trying to escape my pursuers. I remember the crashing gunshots and yelling in that foreign, guttural tongue. I remember the fear, the terror that I felt as when I knew there was no escape. I remember crashing through the brush and I remember stopping when I saw Her, Mictecacihuatl. She was dressed in rags, her fleshless skull grinning at me and yet knowing that she possessed an infinite sadness for me, for our people. She knew as much as I that there was no escape for any of us.
I sensed more than felt what killed me and I was off.
Running. Through the ravaged city streets. It hasn’t been 10 years since our subjugation and still nuestra ciudad, nuestra pueblo, is in ruins. I was running from my white john. He refused to pay me, so I kicked him in the nuts. He didn’t like that.
I could feel him behind me, his sword unsheathed. It seemed like he wanted to enter me a second time. I wasn’t going to let him. I took a quick left, and then a right and a right again. This part of the city was winding and confusing, it would be easy for anyone who hasn’t lived here their whole lives to get lost.
But somehow, my knowledge of the city had failed me and after the second right, I was lost. Perhaps it was destruction that still littered the streets. Or perhaps it was all the white invaders inhabiting homes that had once belonged to friends, family of mine. Or perhaps it was los Dioses, spitting on me again.
I heard the heavy footsteps of his boots behind me and knew that I needed to keep moving. I started forward, narrowly missing a fruit stand. I darted around a corner, hugging the wall. He rushed past me, not even giving me a backwards glance. I grinned. Another white man fooled.
I looked up at the rapidly setting sun and knew that I didn’t have enough time to find another john, nor did I want to risk getting caught. I sighed as I began to pick my way in the direction I thought my home was, knowing that I would go hungry tonight, again.
As I was walking down the ally I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It looked like a woman, clad in rags. She was impossibly thin, impossibly old. Her skin was stretched so taut over her bones that it almost seemed as if she didn’t have any skin. I turned my head to look and saw that there was nothing there.
And I was struck once again at how different my life was today than it was ten years ago. And as I remembered those hard years that I suffered and the hardness of my life now, I felt it come on again. That heart-stopping, head-pounding panic that starts in the gut and rips its way up my chest into my head and back down into my heart. I fell to my knees and clutched at my head, leaning against the wall. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. The only thing that was real was the panic, the fear.
I knew I had to breathe.
Por el Hueco
Breathe. It was so hard to breathe. Cramped inside this van, people stacked upon people. No room to move, no room to even think. The heat of the summer sun made the walls of the van scald to the touch; it was unbearable. But the worst part was the smell. The smell of the people pressed together. The smell of sweat, of feces, of fear. The smell of death.
And all the while worrying. Worrying that la migra will catch us. That I will be sent back to my war-torn country with no opportunity to do anything but die. Worrying that I will end up like my brothers, killed or exploited. Worrying about what lay ahead of me, in Ameríca. Knowing that my life there will be just as hard. But what choice do I have?
After centuries of economic co-dependence and exploitation, there was no choice. My country is a war-ravaged slum and my only chance at living a life that I want, without fear of death by starvation or worse, is to go North. And the only way to get there is by risking my life.
But I had hope. Hope that, despite all my worrying and the hardship that I knew awaited me, I would survive this harrowing journey and arrive in Ameríca. I had hope that I would be able to make my own life for myself. I had hope that I would happy and most of all safe.
I had hope.
Sometime later, we stopped. The heat had abated so I knew that it was dark. Something didn’t feel right. I felt like we had stopped too soon. I heard voices outside and my heart nearly stopped. I couldn’t tell if they were the voices of the truck drivers or of others. I could feel the tenseness of the van triple. The stopping and the voices could only mean one thing.
We were caught.
The door flew open. The sudden brightness of the flashlight, after so much darkness, blinded me. People were being pulled out of the van roughly. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to escape too. They grabbed me by the arms and shoulders, hauled me bodily off the van and dumped me unceremoniously onto the ground.
The night was clear. The half moon already high in the sky, providing some illumination of the surroundings. Desolation and scrub land as far as I could see. When they got all of us out they told us that they were leaving us here. That we needed to walk the rest of the way. They had guns pointed at us, to emphasize the gravity of their words.
But I had had enough.
I had enough of being thrown around like some rag doll, with no say or input into what was to be done with me. I was through with others controlling my own destiny. I was finished with being powerless.
I pulled out the makeshift knife that I had hidden in my boot and cried that there were more of us than there was of them, that we could take them and force them to take us further North. We wouldn’t be stranded here to die.
I rushed forward and stumbled, for the enemy that I was rushing had suddenly become Her. La Santisima Muerte. Our Holy Lady of Death. I stopped, agape. I heard the gunshot, but I did not feel the bullet enter me. I collapsed to the ground and it seemed that her bony hand caressed my face. I felt no pain. And as my lifeblood spilled upon the earth, I was at peace. I felt myself rise again and take Her hand.
And I wandered
Wandered. Through the corridors of academia. Wandered lost through rooms full of white liberal academics that told me the way things were, the way things are, the way things will become.
But their story rang hollow in my ears. For their stories were not my stories. They did not tell my story. They could not tell my story.
They could not understand what it meant to be colonized, for they were the colonizer. They could not understand what it meant to be subjugated, exploited because they were the exploiter. They could not know how it felt to die a thousand little deaths everyday because they were the murderers.
And yet I clung to it. I clung to the structure and the proponents of that structure. Because it was safe. I clung to it because I was “accepted”. I had numbed myself to all those small deaths. I felt comfortable in that nagging discomfort that something was wrong. That nagging thought that, yes they said they accepted me as their equal, but they acted in these subtle ways that told me that I was still their property, their play thing. They were humoring me.
But most of all I clung to it because I had forgotten all the old ways of knowing. I had forgotten all of the olds ways of being. Forgot the memories and the scars that my body held, down the deepest strand of DNA. Forgotten the feel my mi madre teirra underneath my feet. I forgot where I came from. Forgot the miles that my people traversed to get here, so far north. Forgot the Diaspora that comes with colonization.
Olvidé a mi famila.
But this state of numbness, this state of forgetfulness could last for only so long.
In a dream, She came to me. Dressed in sumptuous robes the color of midnight; she touched her skinless finger to my forehead. And I remembered. Remembered the lives of mi madres antepasado. The lives of those strong women on whose shoulders I stand on. Remembered the truth of my blood, my body, my spirit. In that dream, I was awake.
Now awakened, I could not return to the sterile, white halls of academia. I could not return to the cold, dispassionate nature of those people, those rooms. I needed the warmth of family, the heat of community.
I needed the understanding of those who know as I know, who feel as I feel.
And I knew, in that family, in that community is where we can truly decolonize our bodies. It is only when we remember our beloved dead, when we reach into the past and know as they knew, feel as they felt, live as they lived, that we can heal the wound that colonization has inflicted on us. It is only by returning to that point of spiritual origin that we can throw off the chains of mind and soul.
And reclaim what is ours.