Reid Gómez

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Emancipation Proclamation

It's more than a year since I've blogged on the black blog—this work will be unlike the others.  Much has passed and I'm feeling a little Jennifer Holiday—I am changing.

I spent last night with Beckett's Stories and Texts For Nothing.  "I do not know where to begin nor where to end, that's the truth of the matter." 

I chose today to reinstate this blogspot for several reasons.  Today marks the 151st anniversary of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. 

According to Webster emancipate means:  "to set free (a slave, etc.); release from bondage, servitude, or serfdom 2.  to free from restraint or influence, as of convention 3. Law to release (a child) from parental control and supervision —SYN. see FREE.

I planned to make some new and relevant comment about Joint Resolution 65, and the fact that Navajo slaves continued to be held in bondage for 5 years after Lincoln's 1863 proclamation.  If you're interested in that troll this blog, there are many such statements.

Lincoln looms large in this archive

As I've been writing through this long December I've been remembering the many ways Americans have celebrated the birth of Christ over the years:  the mass execution of the Dakota 38, and Wounded Knee among them.  Good Spanish Colonial subject that I am, I look forward to the Day of the Kings and to the Man To Send Rain Clouds.  For now I write.

Today is also the day I used to spend at Baba Ellegua's Bimbe in Oakland.  I look toward open roads, more than freedom—aware that total freedom is a pathological concept.  It's up to me, knowing I must continue to act as a person with relations.  Though the last few years have left me feeling like one of Harlow's monkeys—less an experimental subject of love at goon park than someone having to navigate the ilk of domestic violence, alcoholism and drug abuse; nonetheless someone with no home to go home to.

For some that type of homelessness is the defining characteristic of the slave, the genealogical isolate—the fragmented kinship structures that are lost to something (time, colonization, extermination, slavery) that is difficult to describe, especially as it shapes our narrative strength to escape the story of our birth (metaphysical, ancestral and physical) and our journey narratives.

I already celebrated the New Year, in October, but I ask myself to pursue new beginnings today, gearing up for the lunar year (the second New Year I personally celebrate with similar intention and reverence)—and in that I choose to allow this site to transform itself into something I'm not quite sure of.  I am changing—thinking of the promise of writing, that it may take you somewhere you may never return from.  In light and beauty. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

In Regard To Those Remaining Unclaimed

144 years ago today, John Ward, obedient servant and Special Indian Agent wrote a forty five page letter regarding "The Navajo Problem."

In beautiful handwriting, with certain s-s that give the impression of f-s, agent Ward outlined several suggestions for managing the Navajo after our return from Hwéeldi.

Bind them on all sides. Enclose them within military posts. Maintain a full company of well mounted militia and employ fifteen Pueblo or "well disposed Navajo Indians" as guides for itinerants and explorers. Pay them. Arm them with proper guns and two horses.

"At least at the commencement of the scheme."

He follows with details.

Details about the 1200 Wild Indians, largely Apache.

Details about Carson's attack on da'ak'eh, requiring three hundred men most of one day to destroy the fields of the Valley de Chelly.

Details about the likelihood of conversion, his recommendation: start with our children. Turn them over to the Catholics and their imposing ceremonies—their peculiar training, and ease at secluded living gives them a certain advantage over other denominations and temperaments.

On page 37 he reaches the question of orphans. "I would here suggest, that orphan children should have the first privilege."

What is the nature of this privilege?

"Many of the captives in question, particularly the grown ones, must now be Orphans, and are perhaps without even any near relatives to take care and provide for them properly. Whilst others are unwilling to go back to the tribe."

By page 39 he's mulling over these circumstances and the fate of these children. What is to be done with them? Turn them over to the first Navajo that claims them? What if these claims are short in coming? What if the Navajo just claim random youth for their own profit and domestic needs—and turn around and enslave them?

Clearly Ward is speaking of mores and motivations he's familiar with, and to a great extent, endorses: "Besides, it is not reasonably to be expected, that any family in the country having any such captives, will be willing to give them up, upon the mere representation of a Navajo Indian; Humanity itself would prevent it."

What is reasonably to be expected?

What is the character of mere representation? By what manipulations does one leave such low and insignificant impressions upon another? Mere representations?

By what means would humanity itself prevent it? Whose humanity is he addressing?

Even if these concerns could be adequately addressed to the satisfaction of this agent, the Peace commission and the Peace commissioner Ward expresses additional concerns, for the safety of the settlers, a sort of question of homeland security. The captives, in their position as slave, would necessarily know a great deal about the families they were owned by, among this knowledge would be intimate details about the people, their style and habit of life, their herds, their preferred grazing practices and locations. This knowledge would make the captives, if returned, a great asset to the Navajo should there be another war, another war for land, or for free movement on the land. These facts, considerable as they are, needed to be addressed by the agent and by the colonial governments (state and federal).

"This question will be a troublesome one until duly settled. The Navajoes will continue to claim their people, and on the other hand, the citizens to refuse to give them up."

Ward's letter is rich and concludes with the promise to deliver the souls of "those remaining unclaimed, in possession of the agent, or unwilling to remain with their people" [if they can even be identified] to "such Christian persons as would be willing to take charge and provide for them properly."

In reading this letter today I cannot help but consider the relevance of reach and Ward's concern that the Navajo would continue to claim their people. It is clear and indisputable that "the citizens" (of New Mexico and the United States) would refuse to give those remaining unclaimed, in possession of the government, or such Christian persons taking charge of them, up for any reason or ransom. But what could alter a person, and disfigure them so completely, that they would become beyond (our) reach, beyond (our) ability to recognize them, and allow us to cut them lose, and surrender their souls to their owners.

This is one question that all natal isolates must answer. It is the same question those who retain possession of their lines must answer also. It is a question of origins. It is a question of relations, bought and sold.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Life As Stranger

In 1992 I read Silko's Almanac of the Dead. While reading I threw the book across the room. I hated it. I hated the vile necromancers. I hated the destroyers. I hated the medical industry for abusing the dead, the homeless, and those beings who fail to meet their qualifications of a person.

In 2002 I nearly died, several times, from a perforated appendix that went undiagnosed for two weeks. I thought, "give me a monkey heart, I don't care. I want to live. I can't believe I never finished my novel" (I actually thought that as I was going under.)

During the years in between then and now, I've rehabilitated, some, and located a new normal. I also finished that novel, and a third, and started a fourth.

In 2010 I got a funky result from my monthly blood work. I was put on the wait list for several specialty clinics, and an ultrasound. 2011 brought: shingles, two ultrasounds, one CT, two MRIs, hundreds of blood tests, five specialty clinics, three radiologists, nine surgeons (explaining why my death was imminent, that if I did not let them do what they wanted to do to me I would die, maybe over the weekend, and that the surgery I needed would kill me), two same day surgical procedures, one stay over procedure, one ER visit, three primary care physicians (one wonderful) and organ failure. I knew my boat was sinking. All I could say was, if I'm going to die today, I don't want to die like this.

We lost our apartment. I left the city, where I've lived for 43 years, and hit the road, out of the system.

Dehumanization experienced in the clinic.

"The burlesque situation conceals a question that is actually quite profound. Will an adult systematically treated as an adolescent eventually lose the sense of his true age? More generally will man become what others see and treat him as, or will he muster the strength, despite everything and everyone, to salvage his identity?" (Kundera on Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke)

Being the object of ridicule and contempt produces a profound fatigue.

Take this for what it is, a brave attempt to emerge from nightmares from which I cannot awake.

To hear the secret, barely audible voice of the soul of things and to get inside it.

Writing a novel takes up a whole era in a writer's life, and when the labor is done she no longer is the person she was at the start.

The most basic level of respect you can give another individual is to allow them to be an individual. Saying, not only am I not going to kill you, but I am going to support you.

Everyone has their own purpose, this is mine.

This process extends to the world that exists beyond national language. How do we relate? What do we share? All of us who have lost family, all of us who have experienced the time when everything became enemy. Those who lost all kin and all claim to kin through slavery or extermination. We face the question: How do we live now?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Life or Honor: Life As Stranger

The novelist doesn't give answers.
The novelist asks questions.
That is what I do.
This is who I am.
My life is language.
My world stories.

My Grandfather fed the family, saying, "look what my stories grew." This is an approach to life. Stories maintain peoples, recording entire cultures.

I offer scope, not certainties.

"There is a price exacted from those who live in a place where they are rejected and openly hated by their neighbors: loss of confidence in one's identity and its corollary, the unending need for self-reinvention." (Banville on Kafka)

Do you chose life or honor?

That is the central question of the slave.
At some point each slave made that choice, they either made it themself, or they had it made for them.
Slavery is the primal act of submission.
The dishonor of slavery is not specific but generalized. It becomes a heritage we pass down. A legacy.
Slavery is the most immediate human expression of the inability to defend oneself or to secure one's livelihood.
Dishonor is not part of the "institution" itself, but a result of having no being, except as an expression of another (you exist, not because you are a person, but because you are property).
My work has always been concerned with unclaimed bodies, and the loss of kinship, with being an orphan, an adoptee, a slave, and having no relations, with being rejected or unrecognized, and having no place within a family or humanity within society.

Some say we can never know the lives of the nameless and their descendants, but we are related to them. We descend from them too. And daily, we face the same choice: life or honor.

Many say it is a universal belief that choosing life over honor betrays a degraded mind.

Yet, I agree with Molloy: "And I for my part have always preferred Slavery to death. I mean being put to death."

If you want to follow me, fund this project.

The substance of this project originates in my fundamental belief in original art and artists, and the essential connection between artists and audience.

I am not turning my back on audience. I believe in you. This Kickstarter moment is what creates this art. If I do not reach my funding goal I will not receive one dollar of anything pledged. This is an all or nothing program. I will not and cannot do this alone. I need you.

This is my philosophy, it is true and honest.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Life or Honor: Life As Stranger

Writing a novel takes up a whole era in a writer's life, and when the labor is done she no longer is the person she was at the start.

Join me- support my new project Life or Honor: Life As Stranger - let's make it happen.

Friday, July 27, 2012

excerpt from The Legacy of Navajo Slaves

Taking the point of the view of the slave, manumission by the state is commonly viewed as the most complete method. State manumission seemed to granted the slave, or newly freedman, the fullest integration into society, without the consent of his master. This is what occurred with the Emancipation Proclamation issued on January 1, 1863. It is crucial to remember that this proclamation was not applied to Indian slaves, because "[t]he system of servitude prevalent in the American Southwest—peonage and Indian slavery—. . .were never regarded as involuntary servitude, as in the case of Negro slavery." (p. 178, Bailey) Union soldiers reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19th,1865, bringing with them the news that the civil war had ended and slaves were freed— this date is still celebrated as Juneteenth, "the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States"—yet Indian slaves, Navajos among them, were still being held in bondage. Even after Joint Resolution No. 65 was passed on July 27, 1868, five years after the Emancipation Proclamation, giving "General William T. Sherman power/authority to use the most efficient means at his disposal to reclaim from bondage the women and children of Navajo and other tribes; then held in bondage and return them to their respective reservations." (p. 186, Bailey) New Mexicans resisted and fought, successfully, to maintain their hold, culturally and legally upon their slaves. Revealing that "[l]aw . . .is merely that complex of rules which has the coercive power of the state behind it." (p. 26, Patterson)

"For the most part, Indians carried to Rio Grande settlements and sold into slavery were lost forever to both tribe and kinsmen—as no treaty clause could induce New Mexicans to release property they had paid as high as $200 per head for." (p. 126, Bailey)

In his book, Indian Slave Trade in the Southwest, Lynn Bailey articulates one of the arguments against manumission: "Often Mexican families held second and third generation captives. They had lost their native language, customs and habits. No longer were they Indian; in all respects they were like their masters. To uproot these individuals was indeed a crime, and to send them to an Indian reservation was virtually exiling them to an alien land and people. Many Indian children, taken captive in infancy, had been adopted into Mexican families, baptized and brought up as Catholics. The protestations of New Mexicans against giving up such Indians were loud— and not without some degree of merit. To release these children into the hands of the military to be placed upon a reservation, would do them great injustice. These peons were Indian only in blood—they were Mexican in habit, speech and tradition." Bailey's argument illuminates the principal philosophy at work in the slavery program.

New Mexican families argued that Navajos didn't have the same feeling for their children as more civilized peoples, that as primitives and heathens, we wer incapable of such attachment. Their argument fails in every area. They ignore the fact that Navajo slaves and captives were mentioned in every treaty and treaty negotiation between 1846 and 1868: the Treaty of Ojo del Oso 1846 (1.5 yrs before Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848, which required that Mexican slaves be returned but made no parallel demand for the return of Indian slaves held by Old or New Mexicans), the Newby Treaty 1848 (slave raids), the Treaty of 1849/Washington Treaty (first ratified by US), the Treaty of Laguna Negra 1855, the Bonneville Treaty of 1858, Canby Treaty of 1861 (slave raids/Mescaleros), and the Naaltsoos Sání of 1868 (Note to self: Also Treaty at Jemez, July 15, 1839 and the "worthless treaty at Santa Domingo "to alleviate any resentment Navajo Chieftans had against the Mexicans" on March 10, 1841). They also ignore the fact that for over 20 years Navajos sought permission to formally track down the women and children that were stolen and sold. Eventually United States investigators admitted that Navajos were not only capable of but clearly expressed love for and devotion to their children.

Bailey's words clearly reveal the colonial desire to eradicate Indigenous people and Indigenous ways, and expose the popular belief about the existence and character of an Indian race— a theory that continues to dominate popular, academic and legal minds today. This idea of an Indian race, and the particular nature of this race, is rooted in the desire to wipe this race from the earth, and nourished by a desperate and clinging certainty that Indians will ultimately disappear. The simple and widely accepted notion that you could transform Navajos into Mexicans, Mexicans into Hispanics and Hispanics into Americans shaped the backbone of this history and continues to shape relations between peoples in the southwest today. Now poof, they are gone.

This piece is excerpted from a talk I gave at the University of California at Berkeley on November 30, 2010. I offer it today to commemorate the passing of J.R. No. 65, today in 1868.

I believe we must admit that the process of creating slaves who become New Mexicans who become Americans through an immediate and irreversible deracination program is devastatingly comparable to what the United States is still engaging in today.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

For What It's Worth

Yesterday the Axe fell on the novel, and how to be a competent reader. Today it falls on Obsolescence. Though every place remembers, not every person seems to matter.

How do we attempt a dialogue where no voice is done the 'slightest violence'?

I write about us those who are loathed and detested. I have a responsibility, K'é, to support my relatives; I live inside it.

While researching obsolescence I wrote to the archivist at Yad Vashem to inquire about their database. The frozen sea presents dangers I am well aware of. Losing your way is one. Drowning, another. My search for depth forces me to attend to connection. Often we don't recognize the scope and manner of our shared experiences and shared relations. I was afraid of focusing attention on the Vad Vashem memorial without fully understanding their politics. Natalie Goldberg introduced me to the memorial as she was Writing Down the Bones. I'm obsessed with the unremembered—we do more than forget them, we throw them into a pile we decide is, for some reason, beyond our scope, irrelevant or impossible.

Clearly I am a believer who does not believe everything.

"The 'enemy,' whoever they may be, are surely somehow in us all as well as out there, and whatever literal propositions they may want to offer us about our lives would not be flatly dismissed but rather heard and incorporated."
Wayne C. Booth, introduction to Mikhail Bakhtin's Problem of Dostoevsky's Poetics

We are many. Those people who have survived extermination. Those who have walked long walks to death camps. Those who had their fields scorched and burned, and their livestock slaughtered. Those who have survived deliberate and strategic starvation. We are among them. They are us: ancestors and living. I see their faces in the mirror. I see them in Egun. I see them when I walk down to Sixth Street and Market. Yet so many peoples cannot see; they refuse vision. I am deeply pained by the inability we have to recognize each other. I have felt this pain since I was young and living with domestic and sexual violence. One thing, then, was clear to me. Everything was happening, right there, in the open. It was the people who refused to see it.

Recognition takes vision and strength. You cannot recognize while speaking from wounds. You must breathe. Vision requires the perspective provided by breath.

The reply I received from Zvi Berheardt, the Reference and Information Services representative of Yad Vashem was deeply disappointing. "Yad Vashem defines the Shoah as relating only to those the Nazis saw as Jews." While it does continue, "This does not mean, in any way, that we denigrate the many other victims of Nazism." with a reference link to their working definition of The Hololcaust. I still felt denigrated. I considered my next step carefully. My entire project is about connection. I'm taken by the horrors of the second world war largely because they so completely illuminate the consequence of hate and the failure of humanity.

"No one knew what to do with the life that had been saved." (Appelfeld, Beyond Despair)

Throughout time people have been faced with the opportunity to survive and the question of what shape life might take. I read Aharon Appelfeld and David Grossman in an effort to see. What choice can be made the morning after?

"In dialogue, annihilation of the opponent also annihilates the very dialogic sphere in which discourse lives. . .this sphere is very fragile and easily destroyed (the slightest violence is sufficient, the slightest reference to authority. . ." (M. Bakhtin)

Authority: 1. a) the power or right to give commands, enforce obedience, take action or make final decisions b) the position of one having such power 3. power or influence resulting from knowledge

I am not looking for authority. Authority says I do not exist.

If we move beyond "mostly sayin', 'hooray for our side'" we might see something in ourselves, something we need as we face the choices we must make, every day, every one.

The response from Yad Vashem is important. I see us in them. I see their choices. I measure our choices by the light and shadow they cast. Shik'éí, my relatives, immediate relatives, clans: the Navajo, Pueblo, Mexican, Congolese and African American. I not only ask who can we be, but who do we want to become?

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I believe we can be more beautiful than broken. Devotion to language and literature, stories and storytelling, writing and reading will restore humanity and heal severed relations. There is no alibi in being.