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On Fire

August 15, 2008

I’m back. Back from Central Oregon. Back in Regular-Internet-Access Land. And it’s time to get this blog back in order because it looks like I lost my readership over the last month. We’ll see what I can do about that.

Anyway, I spent the last month working at an arts camp. Of course, that statement does no justice whatsoever to the work I was really a part of – because this place is far beyond an “Arts Camp.” We serve primarily “at-risk” kids (I still hate that term, but it gets my point across) in a sort of relationship-based program that echoes the style of the school I teach at. It’s not hippies in the woods (although there’s some of that). We bring hip-hop and consciousness, as well. We work with the kids year-round to keep them in school and safe. We bring artists from diverse backgrounds (we actually have professional artists of color that teach there). We work hard to represent the kids we work with.

So, all that said, we have a contingent of Native American kids (from the Warm Springs res) that come to camp each year (our kids are about half from Central Oregon, half from Portland). And, luckily for us, we have a Native American staff member, as well (Klamath tribe). We’ll call him “S.” S just so happens to be a good friend of mine (a bond formed in the last four years of us working together at this camp). The two of us actually get confused by kids (and staff, sometimes). Not because we look like each other (because we don’t, at all – not even similar body-types), but because of our skin-tones and racial “ambiguity.” We’re not black. We’re not white. So we must be the same thing.

Obviously, I have no qualms talking about race with people. Neither does he. And we both love bringing up issues of race and cultural diversity with the folks around us (especially when educating “well-meaning white folks”). We also both feel that kids are smart enough to be exposed to a bit of unvarnished truth from time to time – and that kids of color NEED that.

And so, we collaborated on a spoken-word piece that we performed at camp (for the kids, staff, and – best of all – donors and board members) that I’m going to share here. Granted, it hits much harder when performed out loud, but reading it gets the point across. His lines are those in normal type. Mine are in italics. Lines that we speak together are in bold.

Nothing more to be said. Enjoy:

I’m angry that my people are still suffering
From genocidal tactics and unnecessary killing
Unwilling to share with us our own homeland
Banned from the sacred places we used to roam
Home is no longer here among our war parties

And hardly mentioned in that history is the part my own played
Hair in coolie braids, train tracks run over our backs – until none of HIS land remained
The only truly successful colony – made with the blood of my people and slaves
Then claimed as “free” by those with European names

Treaties were broken, remaining only to cause us pain
So much has been taken, barely leaving us with a name
Fame has been given to cowardly cowboys
Who got their strength from numbers no value in the coup
True to nothing least of all their word
It wasn’t a voice that leapt from their tongues though; it was more like a poisonous disease
Or maybe it was a disease working its way through our water with ease
Teasing us with false promises
The land and water weren’t enough though
Next they ravaged the plains and took the buffalo
Now many were starving and thirsty
Our land plagued, animals slaughtered, and our water dirty
Soon they would be coming in great numbers
Promised freedom and all the riches they could lust for
Their true intentions lied with the cavalry and George Armstrong Custer
Under false pretenses they started killing using all the strength they could muster
They wanted to rid the land of us savages it mattered not if they were women or children
They tried to kill us all. They had such hate for our red skin

And within few textbooks will you read our suffering
Ever hear about the Rape of Nanking?
That’s rhetorical, because I know you didn’t
Hundreds of thousands died in weeks – but nobody was listening
Rape, murder, torture – but Western ears heard not a word
You know the Holocaust – God rest their souls
But Asian lives lost – and y’all just shrug your shoulders
Burmese slaughtered right now, crying out – and half the world just moves right on

Been suffering far too long
They tried to have my entire race erased through genocide
Historical trauma left to take care of the rest through homicide and suicide
We were forced onto reservations without hesitation
Devastation ensued as we were moved from territory to territory
Our freedom fading like a distant memory
Sovereignty has been the common goal
But it has been hard, because as a whole we have been relocated and terminated
Our culture deemed uncivilized until it was generalized that we were one with the land and people became fascinated

Culturally appropriated –
Sip green tea in a Buddhist monastery with a neck-tat of Chinese calligraphy
Do they really even know what it means?
“Pan-Asian” only exists in their restaurants, we’re completely different ethnicities
While the less-palatable aspects of Asian-ness are cast aside
Like those “submissive” Asian women, tried, used, and made trophy wives
Fetishes as dimly veiled racism mixed with sexism
Call me “exotic” one more time, and we’ll see that I don’t need kung-fu to show how I feel about Orientalism

Alcoholism became our trademark, or what we were famous for
More to get away from the memories of abuse and neglect that have been trickling down from generation to generation

Caucasian barbarians brought us opium to enslave us in our own nation
Bigger guns deemed more “civilized” by Western “civilization”
And now they call us “foreign” and fight immigration
Because our labor isn’t cheap enough when we’re here
Keep us far away, so they can wear their slick sweat-shop gear
Without feeling sick inside
Because they don’t have to see the blood that gets ripped from yellow hands
Then drips into all the unnecessary garbage they buy

And yet here I am with my head held high
Setting a good example for young Natives to live by

And I – I just want you to broaden your minds
Mostly with love, sometimes with fire – I remind everyone about history’s true racial ties

Showing them the positive standards and morals in which I live my life
So that one day I might be the one they look to in moments of strife

And I can be a strong Asian voice to help the shy ones to rise
Helping them realize we can stand up and non-violently fight
Exclusion by the majority

Constantly thriving to be a positive member in my under represented minority
Hoping one day I’ll be a brown role model in a position of authority.

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2 comments

  1. YAY ! I am so glad you posted this piece, and super excited to read what you add to this blog, you know i love deep conversations, observations, insights- especially around major societal identifiers like race, class, gender, sexuality, etc…

    I love that you and S. not only co-wrote a piece, but also performed it together! And no worries, we’re all part of the new “Black”. GO TEAM!


  2. this is f’ing brilliant. can’t wait to hear it live!



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