It’s been a week since Charlottesville, Virginia, demonstrations and death. This was home for two years when I worked for the University of Virginia almost two decades ago. Charlottesville has always been this idyllic center of the universe where Mr. Jefferson’s Lawn spoke volumes of intellectual and cultural elitism, privilege and responsibility to nationhood.
Here, in Durham, North Carolina, where I live when I’m not in Oaxaca, the state we Southerners speak of as the humble valley between two mountains of conceit, I’m comforted by my collection of Oaxaca and Mexican folk art. It’s good to have comfort in these times of moral ineptitude by this nation’s leadership.
I call myself Southern because I’ve lived in the South since 1989. That almost qualifies me. I’m also a Californian, growing up there, and I lived for a good part of my middle years in South Bend, Indiana. All places have monuments to the fallen Confederacy. Symbolic of slavery.
I try not to be too political here. After all, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator is supposed to be about Oaxaca. You may fault me for writing this. But, in the interests of sharing with you where I’m “at” these days, it’s impossible for me to be here without writing. Sure, I can go back into my archives and give you pretty pictures, and Mexico travel advice.
David Alfaro Siqueiros, Torment and Apotheosis of Cuauhtémoc (detail), 1950-51
Yet, when I’m in Durham, USA, I also want to be here, now, and feel compelled to write.
The first week I was here, I saw “Motown, The Musical.” We sang along to The Supremes, Martha and the Vandalas, Smokey Robinson and The Jackson Five. Celebration Time. Dancing in the Streets.
The second week, I went to see “Detroit, The Movie.” Slam it in my face reminder that not nearly enough progress has been made.
Then Charlottesville happened. Proof that we haven’t come as far as we think we have.
I went to a vigil in Downtown Durham, where people of civility gathered to remember Heather Heyer and speak up against white supremacy, Neo-Nazi marchers wielding guns and knives, threats to family, friends and neighbors.
We were a diverse crowd — races and religions well-represented. Durham is 38% black, 43% white and 13% Latino. To live here is to respect one another.
Last Monday the Durham statue honoring the Confederacy came down. I didn’t know about it or I might have been there. Yesterday, the threat of a KKK rally brought hundreds to our city center. I stayed back. They did their job on me. I was afraid and decided I will fight a different way.
The debate is raging here about the statues. Some think it is part of history (Hollie says HERSTORY). This is what I wrote to a friend, who questions taking down the statues:
History is written by the victors. It is subjective based on who has power and control. The “history” of these monuments and the era they represent no longer hold true for Durham or Pittsboro, North Carolina, or anywhere that values human dignity and freedom. The statues, as others have said so well, need to come down and be moved to places where the “history” can be discussed in context. We need to teach our children and grandchildren about Jim Crow laws, oppression, loss of dignity and how to protect human rights. We cannot do that with a statue in front of a courthouse, facing north, out of context with who we are now as The New South. Peace.
In Oaxaca and throughout Mexico, we have similar injustices, statues to the heroes of the conquest. They were the annihilators, the destroyers. Yet, there are also monuments to Aztec heroes like Cuauhtemoc .Pre-Hispanic culture is being honored through archeological restoration. An attempt at reconciliation?
We know that Mexican brown and black people do not have the same access to education, health care and economic engagement, and there is plenty of civil discontent. Non-violent civil disobedience is guaranteed by the Mexican constitution.
In the USA, we could ask: Where are our monuments to the heroes who ran the Underground Railroad, who rescued Jews and Cambodians and Sudanese, to the Native American Tribal Leaders who lost their lives protecting their people?
My friend, Hollie Taylor Novak, has created Protest Pearls. She did this after the Women’s March. Most of the Heroines whose images are encased in pendants that dangle from fresh water pearls and chains are suffragettes and anti-slavery advocates, black women and white. Timely.
In these days, there is much to consider and act upon. Privilege means we can either turn our backs or step in to speak up.
Southern Poverty Law Center — AUGUST 19, 2017 — Silicon Valley role in funding white supremacy
And, the debate about Confederate Statues as art.