November 25, 2014

My Ferguson Story

I didn't want to leave the house today.

After last night's news of the failed successful non-indictment of Michael Brown's killer, I just didn't want to see people going about their lives. I didn't want to hear helpless sighs and patronizing conversations about healing or moving forward. I didnt want to hear people's mouths shooting details of the riots or debating the character of a dead boy.

But I had an engagement at the Kansas City Art Institute and I promised a friend that I'd attend. So I dragged my brown ass to downtown KCMO and roamed the campus like someone's lost father as I looked for the venue.

Inside the small auditorium students gathered displaying their work, sharing food, and ... they were living. They were laughing and having fun. It kinda bothered me. I mean, how dare they?

As I looked closer I could see the students were Latino. The art was Latino. The food was Latino. My cheeks started to burn and my chest tightened.

I realized this is where I needed to be. I needed to be around the young creative energy of my own culture, not locked away in my house Tweeting and posting my outrage.

As part if the event, the organizers asked my friend Maria and I to read a few poems. Not having brought my notebook, I briefly panicked but then I remembered I'd uploaded some poems to my Google Drive for just such an occasion.

I read one of my fat poems, I'm Big and I'm Brown All the Way Down; my poem about being the first to go to college, F1RST; and my signature poem, Madre de los Campos.

After that poem, which deals with my frustration as a young kid at being a farmworker, I wanted to talk to about Ferguson. I needed to talk about it. I was experiencing the same frustration as the boy in my poem but at the same time I felt the safety and comfort of the room.

We talked about our art. We talked about how we long to create beauty and joy through our work but that there is also beauty in pain. We have a gift and sometimes that gift requires sitting in our pain, processing it, and putting it through the artist's lens.

It means taking what's inside our hearts, inside our heads and on our tongues and putting it in words, on canvas, or in clay -- that's our ability, our gift. It's our super power. In doing so, we can help others process their feelings. We can stand as examples to young people on creative ways to deal with these difficult emotions that make so many turn to, and live in, rage or to simply shut down -- shut down like I wanted to do hours earlier.

I don't know what will come from the meeting today. Hopefully it will be the beginning of new partnerships and collaborations for area Latinos in the arts.

But for now, for this moment, it's what I needed. I needed to be among brown and black faces who connected in a safe space surrounded by and sharing our creative energy.

That's my Ferguson story.