“As immigrant artists for whom so much has been sacrificed, so many dreams have been deferred, we already doubt so much. Who do we think we are? We think we are people who risked not existing at all. People who might have had a mother and father killed, either by a government or nature, even before we were born. Some of us think we are accidents of literacy. I do.”
— Edwidge Danticat,
Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work
I create, I write, because it is what I’ve always done. It is something that adds a distinct layer of nuance, complexity, observation, and love for life that no other action or behavior can imitate—it’s similar to one’s decision to fall in love, get married, or have children. Writing adds something to my life that nothing else can. It has saved my life. Like Alice Walker has said, “It is, in the end, the saving of lives that we writers are about.”
I’m a writer from a lineage of accidental literacy. I’m a writer who cannot escape her political inclinations because who she is—her positionality as a queer (bisexual), high-femme cis-woman who is a writer, activist, editor, professor—manifests into a political statement. I hold firm to the belief that the political is the personal, but I believe that the artist must find a balance to everything. Stories are always more universal and—at the same time—more specific than this. They’re about falling in love. Or a relationship between a brother and sister. About searching for one’s place. Or the leaves that fall to the ground in autumn. About springtime, winter’s coldness, summer’s whimsicality—about beginnings and endings and the process in-between.
This is why I affix myself to James Baldwin’s call to all artists: our burden is to disturb the peace. Because the artist thinks-feels the most extreme states of the human condition (birth, love, and death), we fight with society like a lover and expose its unwillingness to witness its oppression, its loneliness, its refusal to see truth and its addiction to shadows. This witnessing fortifies our burden “to create dangerously,” as Edwidge Danticat says, to use our words as “disobedience to a directive.”
I write about my experiences living in the world as a brown body, as someone who has been ‘diagnosed’ with C-PTSD, which is the thing the beast the knife but also the friend-enemy I carry with me everywhere, this cavity, this questioning, this replaying of moments, this anxiety, this snapping, this grief, but also this humanness, this inhumanness that makes me human.
I grapple with what the poet Ronaldo Wilson once asked me — what is the multiplicity in anger? in rage? in trauma? in joy? Isn’t there a little rage in joy?
I write against what the novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen once said about the aesthetics of New Criticism, of neorealism, how the dynamics of realism molds a rendering of the physical world as translation (prove to me, the oppressor, the one who embodies the majority, that you, who embodies the minority, are ‘human,’ that you act, feel, know, experience as I do), and how this aesthetics is funneled through the machina of our oppressive systems. For me, I believe this is the crux of what the novelist Chimamanda Adichie defined as the “Danger of the Single Story,” how incomplete stereotypes become whole definitions of marginalized bodies, dictate our epistemological experiences, how we move about and are defined as in the world, and how the single story always deals with power—with institutional, socioeconomic, imperial power (like Hollywood). I once said at a Critical PinXyism panel during the 2017 Ethnic Studies National Association Conference, “To me, writing is the praxis. The theory plus practice which enables us to gain what Paulo Freire calls ‘critical consciousness,’ which is the process of becoming fully human. When I create a character, I must ask myself: are they fully human? Could I meet them on the street and fall in love and hate with them?” This is what I mean: my work will not translate for the oppressor, but I must write/convey true humans, fully embodied, with complications and nuances that dismantle the single story, not because they either uplift us or speak of trauma, but because these narratives are the way my brown body experiences the world. It is much like how Frida Kahlo disdained the establishment’s definition of her work as surrealism: what she painted was not falsification, was not the ‘imagined,’ was not the ‘dream-world,’ was not, simply put, surreal; it was how she maneuvered, how she moved through, how she existed within the confines of our oppressive world.
In the same vein, what I write is not translation; it is remembrance.
I write to remember, to give homage, to reclaim, to re-remember, to excavate, to allow catharsis, to purify, to let go, to “justifiably” forget, to move on, to live. I write about my family’s silenced memories. I write about my own. And that is political warfare.