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Hello, Vocal community!
Here is my performance at the Nuyorican Poet's Café on May 19th, following the Friday Night Poetry Slam (during which they always host an open mic).
To explain the beginning of the video: Whenever it's someone's first time performing here, everyone in the audience shouts "VIRGIN!" Also, I was super nervous to be reading at that legendary location, hence any awkwardness in the opening haha.
I felt beyond excited to present my piece at the very place which first inspired me to seriously pursue poetry as a way of living. It's honestly my safe haven now. So happy that I had a good friend who pushed my cowardly self to sign up to perform, and recorded the entire thing ;)
I'm determined that one day I'll be up there during the actual Friday Night Poetry Slam. For now, I'm simply grateful to breathe the air of so many greats who came before me.
Below is the written version of the poem, graciously published by October Hill magazine (http://www.octoberhillmagazine.com/spring-2017; my piece starts on page 74).
Untitled: A Poem Inspired by, and Composed for, NYU's 2017 May Day Sanctuary
Being a minority entails
Struggling to live out
An existence without rights,
Struggling to outlive
Because maybe then progress really has been made
From the minute you are born you must walk over
I mean shootings,
I mean sexual assault,
I mean rape,
I mean compulsory sterilization,
I mean segregation,
Sorry, “separate but equal” institutionalization
I mean conversion camps
I mean concentration camps
I mean forced removals
I mean mass deportation
No, I mean mass incarceration
I mean wars on “Terror”
I mean egg shells…
You must walk over eggshells
Your body is in itself a weapon,
Be careful with how you choose to display it
For they will use it against you to criminalize
They will make you an “Other”, in order to dehumanize
And thus avoid the need to empathize
Baldwin explains it best:
“What the system does to the subjugated.
is to destroy his sense of reality”
With your new existence,
With your nonexistence,
You are encouraged by historical amnesiatic America,
Who likes to pick and choose her memories,
To forget past and present
Transgressions against the Self
But know that the past affects you, becomes you, is always threatening to consume you
Don’t let them act as if then and now aren’t the same moment
The experience of your ancestors—blood related and not—lives in your DNA
Prejudice, for you, is inherent to existence
Every day you are exposed to the scars of history,
Re-enacted accordingly in contemporary society,
And reflect on what has been, what is, what will always be
Same culture, different methods of subjugation
Don’t let them act as if then and now aren’t the same moment
As if then and now do not contain lapses in memory
Being a minority means having to be more aware than everyone else around you
Among the other crayons in the box, one dim white says:
“We are in an age of post-color...I don't see color",
But the other colors already knew that
Able bodied American says:
“There is opportunity for everyone in this country”
Paralyzed American says
“There is opportunity for those who are deemed fit enough to receive it”
The Hellish chant
“Make America Great Again”,
Comes with the implication that there was a point in time things were better
And this greatness is often predicated upon the subjugation of the minority
Who understands the true meaning behind this slogan
Who has been taught to take these sayings
With a grain of salt
Before it goes into the wound
Sad to say, but America has never been great
Langston Hughes knew this when he wrote:
“America never was America to me.
There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free’
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—”
Woman warrior Audre Lorde knew this, when she wrote:
“Traditionally, in American society,
it is the members of the oppressed, objectified groups who are expected to stretch out
and bridge the gap between the actualities of our lives
and the consciousness of our oppressor.
For, in order to survive, those of us for whom oppression is as American as apple pie
have always had to be watchers,
To become familiar with the language and manners of the oppressor,
even sometimes adopting them for illusion of protection.
Whenever the need for some pretense of communication arises,
Those who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our knowledge with them.
In other words, it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes.”
You will have to both give and take—
Give the lessons,
Take the oppression
Being a minority means
Nothing will ever be your own
Not even the way you identify;
You must share it with others
Those who are privileged will try to name you, like a pet
Try to define you in their own terms,
In order to better understand
How it is you exist
Being a minority means your existence is foiled via language alone
Through the pronouns “I” and “You”, they expose your being
Speaking at you, rather than to you
Speaking through you
And all of your struggles
Speaking over you
As they recreate History
Where, then, is the safest place when that place
Must be someplace other than in the body
Where do you go when you can’t exist in you?
When both outside and inside are equally dangerous?
I think it is time for minorities to reclaim their bodies as their own
And not the property of their oppressors;
Not something which only has value when juxtaposed
Against the “majority”
Not another “violent black man” killed by the police
whose actual life story never surfaces in the news,
Not another objectified female
transformed into an object-of-pleasure for the male gaze,
Not another “inhuman” transgendered person
Believed to be psychologically damaging to “the youth”,
Not another Jew
made out to be the enemy in antisemitism,
Not another paraplegic called “cripple”
written off as a waste of space,
Not another Native American
unrecognized, given no space in his or her or their original land,
Not another “Alien”
Figured as a rapist and intruder (most times both),
Not another terrorist
Not another broken egg shell
After all this time, I couldn’t find a sanctuary out there,
Some I made one in here