by Priscilla Ferreira
My partner and I crossed the portal into this extreme 2020 at the Second International Gathering of Women Who Struggle, organized by the insurgentas Zapatista Women in the Caracol Whirlwind of Our Words, Zapatista Mountains in Resistance and Rebellion, Chiapas Mexico. Of the many Zapatista mantras of invocation that las compañeras reprised insistently, one continues to echo strongly in our spirits: We want a world “where all worlds fit” and for that “tenemos que organizarnos! organizarnos! organizarnos entre mujeres que somos, compañeras!”
This mantra resounded from under balaclavas and paliacates (kerchief/scarfs covering the face), the symbol of the Indigenous Zapatista struggle. The mask, the Zapatistas state, is to hide their individual faces as they rise up in everyday life, in their liberated territory as rebellious, autonomous, self-determined and imaginative communities against historical oppression, neoliberalism, and forgetfulness.
Little did we know that mantra was also a prophecy. Ordinary people of all calendars and geographies would soon have to hide behind masks to protect the breath of life, only leaving eyes visible to see the tentacles of the white-supremacist-heteropatriarchal capitalist hydra reaching for necks and imaginations.
At the gathering, we were impressed by the military uniform of the milicianas Zapatistas – boots and ski masks, bows and arrows adorned with flowers. We asked ourselves what militancy had to do with militarism. And what la lucha had to do with flowers. We wondered how and why, oftentimes, from within our luchas and militancy, the tentacles of the hydra emerge to try to suffocate us, setting us in a constant state of attack and self-defensiveness in spaces we call ours, throwing us off-guard.
“Lucha! Lucha! Lucha!” was the other mantra that resonated with the loud vibration of painful first-hand and empathetic accounts of feminicide, lesbophobia, transphobia, forced marriage, domestic violence, machofacismos, ecocide of body-lands.
We crossed the US border to celebrate January 1, 2020 and listened to the prophetic advice of survivors, the Council of Indigenous Zapatista Elders. We bathed in the waterfalls of Sierra de Lacondona and asked Doña Oshun, the orisha of fresh waters, to cleanse our deep listening channels so we could hear clearly the elders’ consejos para organizarnos. Intuition, as well as Sharpe’s wake work analytics, had given us hints of what our queer Afro-Latina selves might view through the 2020 portal. We praised Oshun to guide us in navigating this violently conforming world of “one-size-fits-all.” We praised Oshun to protect us from the ripple effects of the wake (of the slave ship), and to console us in the wake/vigil of many beloved and unknown lives to be taken by both virus and virulent racial, gender-based and sexual violence. We also asked for guidance in the awakening work towards building “the world where all worlds fit” as we reclaim our practice of radical autonomy.
Shortly after, not only death-threatening pandemics would force us to stop. The vital force of Ashé would also call us to stop. Slow down. Breathe carefully and with conscience. Breathe in the remembrance of collectivity, of community. Breathe out toxicities and breathe in ancestral insight to reclaim knowledge of land-based medicines, and regain agency over our bodies, wombs, affections, sexuality, scholarship and imagination in our small acts and choices, loud or quiet, alone or in assembly, when and as possible.
Since then, shelter in place and pandemic travel bans have us stayed put; lots of tuning in, little of turning up. There is news going around about an upcoming shotgun wedding between xenophobia and elections, and our queer Afro-Latina outfits do not seem to quite match the old-fashioned VIP party list, so we might have to keep an eye on our spam box for an RSVP.
In the meantime, Doña Yemanjá, the Great Mother, has us well-sheltered by her shore. When the sun rises, her tides echo ancestral advice from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. At sunset, Doña Yansã – orisha of the winds – whirlwinds sacred words: “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” It seems that James Baldwin first decoded this message from her.
We have placed the paliacate we brought from the Zapatista Caracol Whirlwinds of Our Words on our altar as a daily reminder that it’s time to protect ourselves, and to love ourselves and one another radically and with radical autonomy. It’s time to hide ourselves to be seen, silence ourselves to be heard, and to keep moving like the caracoles (snails), slowly but surely moving forward in our organizing.
We have been working, reading, writing, and creating remotely. But we have been closer to ourselves, to one another, and to our people. We are breathing in the remembrance of the grandeur of the simplicity of our people and place. We are observing life cycles in full presence and meditating through ups and downs of our people’s despair, recovery, and hope. We have been decoding insights into the interdependence of Life and Death, and spending quality inner time while taking time away from decaying normalcies.
Estamos inspirando, respirando e aspirando. We are steadfast in the flow, and still in the Whirlwind.
Priscilla Ferreira is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies and the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies at UT. She is a popular educator and queer Afro-Brazilian feminist activist-scholar. She is an engaged geographer interested in Latinx geographies, Black social economies, Black urban geographies, and decolonial pedagogical praxis.