Tuesday, April 12, 2011

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Arnoldo García
April 10-15

Reading poetry: an act of self-determination, self-emancipation

Mini-reviews of
A River Dies of Thirst and Absence Presence by Mahmoud Darwish
A life of reinvention: Malcolm X by Manning Marable

We are all Palestine.

Mahmoud Darwish is one of Palestine's most preeminent poets. Starting out as a national liberation poet, Darwish came under Israeli security surveillance before he was even ten years old. Darwish's writings transformed Paletine's national liberation movement and struggle into a natural human liberation movement, a universal call for humanity wherever she is found and for a place to be Palestinian, for Palestine. Palestine and her people's freedom cause transformed Mahmoud Darwish, from a child-poet to a consciousness, a word-producer, an image instigator, a revolution in human consciousness, to becoming an elder of humanity -- because he spoke out, lived, wrote, imagined, protested, organized in poetry and in action, for the Palestinian cause.

Mahmoud Darwish passed away in 2008 after a heart operation in Texas. Born in 1941, his family and community lived through the "great catastrophe," the "Nakba." His family snuck back into their country and became "present absent," i.e. strangers in their own lands. For a mexicano-chicano with purépecha roots, this is the condition of all Indigenous people -- strangers in our own lands.

The conditions & life of Palestinians parallels that of Indigenous people and so-called "immigrants" (people of color and Indigenous peoples born outside the " U.S.") in the U.S. Undocumented workers and other peoples, derogatorily called "illegals," are "present absent." We have been treated as strangers in our lands. Immigrants, Indigenous peoples and Palestinians, literally, need a world revolution so that we can retake our rightful places on earth.

Darwish writes with a deep passion and multiple senses of beauty and peoplehood. In ten years, in a hundred years, Darwish's oeuvre will be mistaken as testament for the human condition. I fear that given the neo-liberal jaggernaut -- the ongoing attempt to privatize everything: rights, services, air, water, soil, DNA ... -- eventually all workers, people of color, queer, women, Indigenous people and other humans who don't speak English, humans without property, wealth, assets or the right birth certificate or passport will become strangers in their own world: present but not recognized, the illegals of the world.

Mahmoud Darwish writes the life of Palestine and her people's struggles for self-determination and land the life of anyone who has ever experienced displacement, invisibility, dehumanization. How can a "river die of thirst"?

Yet capitalist-drive consumption is driving humanity into the grave as the privatization of air, water, soil -- and even culture, identity, voice, human-ness -- literally dries up rivers and places eco-systems, species and human communities on the endangered and extinct lists.

Darwish draws out many contradictions of the human class and land battles for self-determination and people-hood in "A River Dies of Thirst." Like Absence Presence, his last work, this book of his journal entries is a canto and a letter to humanity, that human survival should not be based or result in the destruction of other humans; that human community cannot be made by destroying other human communities; that the destiny and survival of many nations and peoples across the world is intimately linked to Palestine's survival and return.

"A River Dies of Thirst" like Darwish's "Memory for Forgetfulness" needs to be read and re-read many times. Each time I pick up either of these two books a new insight a new voice a new book new words, new poems appears in his pages. A river dies of thirst, a poet dies for lack of land and his people dispersed across the globe, strangers in their lands, un-human in other countries. How will this story end?

That's the challenge we must take on -- to determine how the story of neoliberalism will end and how our story will begin. In the meantime, read Darwish, then organize and dream for the revolution to be human.


We are all Malcolm X.
The subtitle of Manning Marable's Malcolm X biography, A life of reinvention: Malcolm X, fits all our communities. Like Malcolm and because Malcolm is part of our communities, our communities have had to self-transform in the face of crushing exploitation and dispersions. We have had to re-invent ourselves to survive and thrive; yet, we cannot and will not forget who we are, where we came from, how we got here and where we need to go.

Malcolm X was first Malcolm Little, petty criminal, drug pusher and user, who didn't take kindly to work and women. By the time he becomes an adult he is imprisoned. Their he undergoes a spiritual transformation and becomes a member of the Nation of Islam, who eventually becomes the leading voice and messenger of the Honorable Elijah Mohammed -- a phrase he coined for showing respect and follow-ship for Mr. Mohammed -- to someone who is outcast again by the NOI and eventually pays the price with his life. This sounds easy enough, but once you read A life of reinvention: Malcolm X , this was never a foregone conclusion. Malcolm X lived and developed a new way of being principled, austere, ascetic, dedicated to the emancipation of his people. Every community and people has many examples of Malcolm X's in their midst: Emiliano Zapata, Indigenous revolutionary leader of Mexico, who through their vision and work foresaw a different outcome, a different people coming together, to make deep changes and a new history. Zapata like Malcolm X were killed in their prime.

Malcolm X changed because the people, his people, he saw as his base, his leadership, his force change. If Malcolm X had lived to old-age, we would have seen his people include African Americans and all the outcasts, the working class, the under-class, the undocumented, the Indigenous people robbed of their lands, women, LGBTQ. But this is just my speculation, my envisioning of the land he opened up for those who followed to cultivate and till.

Manning presents Malcolm X's chronology as one where in successive periods and turning points, forks in the road, Malcolm X made choices with a self-determined, iron will that makes him stand out. Malcolm became a new man, a new human, as a result of unforeseen ordeals. People of African descent in the U.S. have had to re-invent themselves from slavery to freedom, from racial segregation to racial integration, from underground spiritual struggles to overt organizing from the pulpit, for racial justice and communal liberation to self-determination. The struggle for freedom is also a struggle for identity. All politics -- whether it's Democrats, Republicans, Committees of Correspondence, Tea partiers, Indigenous, Hispanic, Xicano, Black, LGTBQ -- have identity

Malcom X's life and words model the best way to become the change you want to be. I have just begun reading, about 100 pages into the tome (4-12-11) and what comes through is that he was human, specifically a Black man in the U.S. growing up under harsh conditions created by racial segregation and a nascent movements for civil rights and Black self-determination.

Malcom X's story isn't over and keeps getting retold everyday: 60% of all prisoners in the U.S. are African American and Latinos. If Malcolm Little overcame the criminalization and branding and became Malcolm X then all our brothers and sisters can transform themselves too, re-invent themselves and our country, by bringing about new relationships between peoples, genders and classes based on mutuality, justice and human rights.

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