Orlando, NYC

In the wake of the devastating attack in Orlando, the persistence of homophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, transphobia, structural racism. It seems incomprehensible. It seems devastatingly impossible to think. To think through and propose alternatives to this hate.

I don’t know. But I tried to think through in this piece, in Spanish, published in Revista Anfibia today. But I also want to note a couple articles in which I was quoted:

  1. The New York Times detailed some of the feelings at stake.
  2. The AP on the complexity of the current debate.
  3. The Tampa Bay Times on not losing sight of context.

IN ENGLISH

Vincent Cervantes for Religion Dispatches, on the theological dimensions.

And Richard Kim for The Nation, on why we can’t stop the music.

John P. Sundholm on why praying is not and has never been enough.

Alexander Chee for The Nation, an excellent reflection on the Courage of Being Queer.

Yezmin Villarreal on why Existing is Resisting.

Alan Paez Lopez on why we are not all Orlando. (which I wholeheartedly agree with).

Charlie Vázquez on Puerto Rican resilience and memory.

Tony Varona for HuffPo, on not erasing the Latino histories and bodies.

Another collection of 10 articles on #Orlando #PulseOrlando from the American Friends Service Committee.

NPR on the Latino voices.

Salvador Vidal-Ortiz for Feminist Reflections, on rethinking Orlando as América.

Ramón Rivera-Servera for The Atlantic, on the space of the queer Latino dance club.

Juana María Rodríguez for NBC, on embracing queer latinidad.

J. Jack Halberstam for Bully Bloggers, on who are ‘we’ after Orlando.

Eng-Beng Lim for Bully Bloggers, on the #OrlandoSyllabus.

José Quiroga for Bully Bloggers, on the nostalgia, complexity, and colonialism of Orlando.

Christopher Soto on Literary Hub, a poem on self and the unanswerable.

IN SPANISH/EN CASTELLANO

A fierce ally and colleague, Juliana Martínez on why the shooter is not a monster.

Hugo Córdova Quero for Pulse, on intersections and violence.

Liliana Viola for Página/12, on hate and reactions.

Santiago Castellanos for El Comercio, an interview on difference.

Larry La Fountain-Stokes for 80 grados, on the weight of violence.

Conversaciones del Cono Sur (Dossier)

Just a quick note to announce that the Dossier, Amor, sexualidad y género: Políticas del Cono Sur, which I edited with Fernando A. Blanco, has been published in the online journal of the Southern Cone Studies Section of LASA, Conversaciones del Cono Sur. 

It includes 4 essays that are condensed versions of papers presented at the 2014 LASA Congress in Chicago, and an introduction by the editors.

https://conosurconversaciones.wordpress.com/

Here is My Face: Native Erasure in Argentina

In 1903 Argentine intellectual Carlos Octavio Bunge published an audacious book, Nuestra América: Ensayo de Psicología social, in which he attempted to account for the dysfunction of Argentine politics at the turn of the century by tracing the continent’s history of racial mixing. His proto-eugenic text migrates from the Iberian Peninsula to the Americas, from 700AD to 1900, attributing determinist views of race and culture to Native peoples, Africans, and Europeans, and all the mixes in between.

About the indigenous population, Bunge writes, “El indio puro que vive oculto en sus bosques, tiende hoy a desaparecer, avergonzado, corrido, ofuscado, aniquilado por la civilización,” as he describes the two fundamental characteristics of the psychology of the indio as fatalism and vengeance.

Bunge, as with most of his positivist colleagues at the turn of the century, was overtly and wholeheartedly racist. The project of racial whitening, of ‘progress’, was never as strong or so pervasive as it was in Bunge’s day. From explicit policies of Indian extermination, known as La conquista del desierto, to the attempts to ‘repopulate’ the land stolen during that ‘conquest’ with ‘desirable’ immigrants (read Northern Europeans), the history of Argentina is based fundamentally, centrally, on land dispossession and native erasure.

So it was no surprise when this week, on the television program Intratables, the host, Santiago del Moro, was himself surprised to learn that a woman he had invited to comment on the situation of drug trafficking in her neighborhood, was not, as he assumed an immigrant from a “país limítrofe”.

It is no surprise that White immigration to Argentina has lost the ability to see the Native faces that, it remains assumed, were “annihilated by civilization”.

It is no surprise because civilization and indigeneity are antithetical in Argentina, as elsewhere.

It is no surprise because the legacies of genocide and cultural assimilation, in Argentina as elsewhere, are consistently reenacted with such phrases as “you, what country are you from?”

And yet, there is her face. For all to see. Filling a room shocked to silence by the realization of the weight of that question.

Del Moro did not forget that Argentina was once indigenous. His very being, his existence, requires that history be erased, subsumed under the national narrative of racial whitening. “Forgetting” the Indian is the condition of possibility for the Argentine nation.

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The interaction from to left to right:

Del Moro (l): Are you an immigrant? Where are you from?

Woman: Me? I am from Salta

Del Moro: ah, no…pffff…I thought you were from another country.

Woman: Thank God I am Argentine. –Why?

Woman: Because you forget that Argentines are also Coyas. Did you forget what Argentines looked like?  We are Coyas and this is the face we have.

On the Impossible Response

It was dark in the club. A cold night in Washington D.C. I had just given a presentation at an academic conference and was out with friends. And Beyoncé’s Formation had just roused the crowd into a collective gasping and celebration. I was walking down a winding staircase, glistening indigo fluorescence. And then, from above, that sound.

The sound of playing Indian as a child. The sound of bare-chested, war-painted braves riding into battle. That unmistakable mark of Hollywood sonority, of Tonto, of ecstatic, wagon-circling savages: the war whoop.

By the time I looked up into that darkness whoever it was had passed from view. But I did not need to see him. It was the pulsing rejection of my body, my hair, my presence. That sound.

And its not like it’s an ambiguous sound. It requires some effort. The hand to the mouth, the open mouth, the mouth that breathes that pitch just slightly above normal, a moment of tonality marked by the pulsating rhythm of colonial dread. That is the sound of death. Or, rather, of fear. It is the sound of imminent war. It may be the last sound you hear. At least in the movies.

What I have been trying to grasp, in the aftermath, as happens frequently in the wake of a micro (or actual) racist aggression, is what should I have done? What should I have said back to that man?

And the more I think of it, I wonder if there is anything, actually, that I could have said—uttered, intoned—that would have made me any more than what I was to that man in that moment: a body to parody, to mock, to shame, to strip of its ability to respond. It is an impossible response. When the interpolation as other is not the Althusserian, “Hey, you!” but instead a surreptitious, echoing epithet. It requires no turn, no response to the hail, and when you do turn, the source is gone, his power to elicit your response already evanescing as an insidious echo. Come back, master, I might have thought, I might have wanted, so that I can explain myself to you. But that was not the scene. Not demanding explanation but calcifying, freezing me in that nothingness.

Not Faggot, but Redskin. And the irony of this occurring in D.C. is not lost on me.

What I did do was haphazardly attempt to describe this event to a few other people, friends that I had gone out with. One of them said that people don’t do that anymore (make that sound), but apparently they do, they did. I left.

The next day I was supposed to go back to the conference, but instead I went to the Museum of the American Indian. I had been there before, two years ago, and remember not particularly liking it. I thought it lacked a political edge, that it was not as confrontational as I would have wanted about the American genocide and continued marginalization of Native people, about settler-colonialism.

And as I trudging up the spiral staircase to the third floor, I wandered into an exhibition by Kay Walkingstick, a Cherokee artist who only later in life (like me) came to grips with her Indigeneity. And I found myself sobbing in front of this image.

 
Her work was so timely, so intense, but also so much what I was wanting to feel. I think I wanted to cry, actually, I needed to. And the layering, the textures, the repetitive diptychs that her work presented kept me thinking about what type of response, between the abstract—feeling of my impossible reaction—and the representational—sign of my desire for reaction.

“Where are the generations? Where are the Children?” She asks.

And I could not take it. I could not take the feeling of history. That question that asks what Native life is actually possible? Where are those ancestors whose voice I will never hear?

Or what voice would they have used when I could not? What voice would they have had that might speak through me? And then I thought that it was not that theirs was absent, but simply that I have to be willing to hear it. That the voice of that past is only accessible if we are willing to listen for it. To hear instead of that war whoop the sounds of the forced removal, the sounds of memory, of the tears that they also shed, the sound of turning and looking but not being able to respond. The sound of Tsalagi. The sound of the sacred fire.

But I don’t hear this type of racist epithet very often. My lighter skin, my clothing, my education, my manner, tend to shield me from such slurs, and that is the privilege of passing. Until it isn’t.

The thing that I realized about the Museum, what I rethought this time, was its refusal of victimization. It is one thing to present two sides of history, as they did throughout, but it is another thing entirely not to name the things, the history, the bodies, the sounds, of the affect and the broken bodies, genealogies, of forced removal. One of last things I saw was a video installation entitled, “The ‘Indian Problem’,” which concludes with the following reflection by Suzan Shown Harjo: “we don’t make the case that there was genocide. We know there was, yet here we are.” Indeed. Yet here we are.

 

Notes on: Jugo del cuerpo

Jugo del cuerpo (October 25, 2015)

At Harbor gallery until December 5th.

It was the soft fluorescence that first caught my attention as I approached the back room. Was it going to be more sensual? More seedy than I had imagined?

But the collective exhibition Jugo del cuerpo had more to do with home than brothel. More to do with the situatedness of the body than with bodily excess.

It felt like being in someone else’s house. Being in someone’s kitchen, smelling their cooking, and not knowing why you’re there, or if you were invited, or what they are about to serve. What does it mean to taste someone else’s food?

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(photo cred: Leah Dixon via Facebook)

Before I read the program notes, and more on those in a sec, I thought, what does this hearth, this techno-illuminated hot plate, serve? A symbol not only of domesticity, quotidian in its formal register, but also performative in its gesture toward meals yet to serve, mouths yet to feed.

Quotidian but not only in the sense of the home. The lighting, in red and white, reaching back into Nicaragua’s Sandinista past, to the search for a socialist future in which no mouths would go unfed, in which no homes would lack, in which no hearths would remain unlit.

There was as much in this show about absence as there was about the possibility of a future. A stack of plastic chairs in the corner, arms severed: truncated, uncomfortable. Missing parts of a domestic scene in which the remaining element, what, to me at least, seemed like a bowl of refried black beans, turned out to be a mixture of volcanic ash and oil. From the very bowels of the earth extracted a viscous reminder of what land really means, of what the minerality of the earth really says about the grimy texture of our own quotidian relationships.

It’s strange to admit, but I thought this exhibition had a lot to do with the precariousness of family life. And this may be because I think about family a lot. But the mis-en-scène of the iterative hot plates, the dismembered plastic chairs, the inedible, indigestible substance that seemed to be all that was left to eat. Impossible relations. Impossible futures. Impossible because they are missing, or they never were, or they never were meant to be. Or because colonialism. Or because US intervention. Or because racism and the war on drugs or the Good Neighbor policy, or banana republics, or proletarian dreams of a future cut short by the inexorable weight of geopolitics.

A video installation accompanied, flashing images of the collective at work, flashes of landscapes, of homes, of the interactions that led to this vibrating if impossible moment.

In the end, I thought this was a show that resonated more with the sense of nostalgia that comes with years of unfulfilled promises, of chairs left vacant. Or maybe it had more to do with the premise of the collective: jugo del cuerpo. A play on words, a mistranslation, a circumlocution meant to signify sweat, sudor. The materiality of the body taken as a measure of what language cannot express, or fails to express adequately. What stories were to accompany this dinner? What connections were made possible through the cross cultural interaction? And what does the impossibility of expressing adequately the functions of the body do for imagining a way towards feeling rather than saying, essentializing, rather than comprehending?

Introducción a La sangre de la aurora (2013) de Claudia Salazar Jiménez

Yesterday we had the great pleasure of welcoming novelist and scholar Claudia Salazar Jiménez to Stony Brook University. She discussed her novel, La sangre de la aurora, and fielded some really great questions from undergrad and graduate students. Here is my introductory text/review of the novel.

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La sangre de la aurora

En una de las fiestas de Ana María Balducci, esas fiestas de no más de 12, Melanie, la fotoperiodista, interpelada sobre su trabajo reciente, responde lo siguiente, “Yo hago mi trabajo, investigo, capturo imágenes, trato de revelar lo que no se ha visto” (18).

No es uno de los momentos más impactantes de La sangre de la aurora. No representa uno de los varios momentos poéticos que sacude al lector. Que vibra con la intensidad desorientadora de las “bombas” que caen a mitad de una frase, que cortan el pensamiento, o los tajos corporales, los huesos rotos, futuros truncados. Sin embargo, me interesa presentar esta novela a partir de este gesto de Mel, “de revelar lo que no se ha visto” porque es en ese ejercicio político que, a mi modo de ver, se centran las cuestiones éticas de esta obra.

¿Qué es, al final de cuentas, lo que no se ha visto en un contexto de guerra? ¿Cuáles son los momentos indocumentados, las sonrisas perdidas, los cuerpos desaparecidos, los afectos que desvanecen en la espera constante de uno que no volverá? Otro vodka. Otra canción. Otro momento antes de partir. Otro roce de piernas. Otro muerte, otra bala, otro reportaje.

Lo que no se ha visto es también lo que no se puede ver, lo que no se puede expresar. Y creo que esta novela tiene mucho que ver precisamente con lo inefable, o, en otro registro, con lo imposible que es imaginarse al otro lado, más allá de tu propio horizonte, más allá de tu cuerpo, donde no llega la vista, donde no llega tu imaginación, donde no alcanza la empatía, allá lejos donde residen los subversivos, o los terrucos, o los campesinos, o cuando no se puede distinguir entre uno y otro.

Si bien algunos críticos de esta novela han citado una relación con la Antígona de Sófocles, con la ética de lo comunal en un momento impreciso de escenificación subjetiva, me parece, también hay una fuerte crítica de la posibilidad de una ética individual. Y aquí estoy pensando en Zizek—quien a su vez está pensando en Levinas—cuando el otro, el enemigo, en su imponderabilidad, su inconmensurabilidad con nuestro episteme, se vuelve tan ajeno, tan otro, que ningún encuentro con él es posible (Violence 55).

Para mí, esta novela registra la imposibilidad de los encuentros, de las imágenes, del amor, del otro, del yo. Una novela que te hace vibrar el cuerpo con estas imposibilidades. Si el otro es mi enemigo y lo tengo que destruir, ¿qué pasa si no sé distinguir entre aliado y enemigo? ¿Entre yo y otro? Es una novela del deseo imposible por ese roce, cuando esa brecha que se abre entre yo y tú se queda siempre abierta. Lo no visto. Lo que es imposible ver, sentir, tocar.

Claudia Salazar Jiménez estudió literatura en la Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, en Lima. Se recibió de NYU con un doctorado en Literatura Latinoamericana. Ha editado Escribir en Nueva York. Antología de narradores hispanoamericanos, y con Melissa Ghezzi, Voces para Lilith. Literatura contemporánea de temática lésbica en Sudamérica (2011). Sus relatos más cortos han sido publicados en varias revistas y antologías. La sangre de la aurora es su primera novela. Ganó el premio Las Américas de narrativa latinoamericana en el 2014. Pronto será traducida al inglés como Blood of the Dawn, y publicada por la editorial Deep Vellum. Una gran amiga y colega. Los dejo con Claudia.

In Search of an Authentic Indian: Notes on the Self

I started writing this in the aftermath of the Dolezal affair and have continued to write as the Andrea Smith story has taken off.* But it’s not about them. The various ways in which race and passing, cultural appropriation and calculation have been discussed has inspired this text. But it’s more like a personal essay and a confession. I have been at various points in my life White, Latino, and Native American. That is, I have claimed—with varying degrees of certainty, archival support, and agency—three different forms of ethnocultural belonging. (I know what you’re thinking. Just wait.) This is not to say that one day I imagined I was Latino and started calling myself that for the hell of it, or that I proposed to dupe an institution into accepting me as something I knew I was not. Rather, the way in which my racial ambiguity has played out over the course of my life has been highly informed by context, by language, by desire, by the way I imagined (myself) and was imagined (by others). The question of ambiguity is crucial in all of this because it speaks to a longer history of how racialized subjects are interpellated by the textures of ethnic identification. The thing that sticks in my mind from the recent coverage of Dolezal and Smith is the way in which deception lingers unresolved as the sign of racial violence. It signifies intent and malice. But what might oppose this deception, the hypocrisy that imbues these two stories? What might an authentic approach to racial ambiguity look like?

My father was adopted. That is the beginning of my racial ambiguity. He was adopted in San Antonio, Texas, by a White family, who took him to East Texas, where he was raised and typically introduced as their ‘adopted son’ in a close-nit, Leave it to Beaver-esque milieu. My father’s skin tone, somewhere between warm brown and caramel (the Spanish trigueño comes to mind), his formerly jet black—and for many years salt and pepper—hair, his high cheek bones, all pointed to a non-White (or at least not entirely White) ethnic origin. And he was adopted in San Antonio, a city with a majority Latino population. So…Latino? My father was probably Latino? But we didn’t have any real documentation to back this up. Nor did his adoptive parents say very much about the process. Perhaps they preferred not to talk or even imagine their son as a racialized subject; perhaps my father preferred the same. (Transracial was not yet a thing.) Perhaps he preferred just to exist, to belong to the cultural and affective community in which he was raised. That is, after all, what he knew, that was where he felt comfortable. The comfort of that silence is important. That silence that means not having to subject yourself to the violence of being something other than White. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism.

I am the biological son of this father, whose dark features were never really made explicit, but certainly pointed toward ‘ethnic’, and a mother who comes from a more typical Western European background. My maternal grandfather’s surname points to French ancestry; my maternal grandmother’s maiden name points to English heritage. My mother is clearly identifiable as White. I grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas, where the population is almost evenly divided between White and Latino—mostly Mexican-American or Chicano/a of various patterns of migration and generational history. Some families have been there for centuries, while others are recent arrivals. So culturally, it bears repeating, I grew up in an ostensibly White middle-class family. My parents have decent jobs. I went to a small liberal arts college with partial scholarships. I was able to study abroad. I eventually went to graduate school and am now a professor. I left college with no student loan debt. My parents were extremely supportive. That is a lot of privilege. I must admit that for this story to make any sense.

But what I want to revisit here are the moments when I was misidentified as part of that family. I remember the strangeness. I remember the desire to be the thing that other people thought I was. I remember the desire to embody that which I imagined I was. But I didn’t know. I didn’t have a term for what my body meant. I remember being in the grocery store and the checker asking if I was my mother’s ‘stepson’. Stepson? Why would he say that? “No, this is my son,” she replied. His discomfort. The way his neck flinched. What is the meaning of that gesture of recoil? What sort of expectation was I failing to live up to? Being at the beach as a child and sitting next to my blond-hair blue-eyed brother, and the double takes, the inquisitive, almost condescending, “who is this little guy?” The way my skin turned darker while his burned. Playing soccer growing up: “you’re not bad so you must be ‘Latin’”. (More recently I went to play soccer in Brooklyn with a group of mostly Anglophone Caribbean men who started calling me “Spanish man” rather than actually asking my name.) A boyfriend who once admitted that his first thought when he saw me was that I was “Mayan”. A jealous ex of a different boyfriend who asked mockingly, scornfully, “Well are you Mexican or are you Indian?” and laughed. My least favorite line of questioning, “Where are you from?” “No, where are your parents from?” “No, what is your nationality (read ethnicity)?” “No, what are you?” What are you? What kind of question is that? What story do I tell? My father was adopted, and I know I’m brownish, but my brother has fairer skin than I, and my mom is White, but I take after my father, and we don’t really know… But not knowing is not the same as fabricating. Not the same as consuming or appropriating or re-colonizing. Not the same as deceiving. 294052_10150857668495578_1812226166_n Eventually we decided to go through the process of opening the sealed records for my father’s adoption case. This was, not coincidentally, around the same moment when I was coming to grips with my own sexuality. My ethnic and erotic ambiguities were not far apart. We completed all the paper work, jumped through all the hoops. What did I hope to find out? What were these records going to show that memory and experience could not? What ambiguity would this resolve? They came one day in a large manila envelope, official looking, but not entirely hefty. Indian. The records list the race of my father’s mother as Indian and his father as White. So, what does this mean? What are you?

At this point I was already in graduate school in a Master’s program in Latin American studies. I spoke Spanish fluently. I had at times identified as Latino to other people, depending on the time I had to explain my ambiguity, my desire to be forthcoming with them, the context, the crowd. There were times when I knew I was being identified, racialized as such, and I just didn’t care enough to explain what I thought was an important and nuanced ethnic history. Maybe was exhausting. Sometimes you’re at a bar and you’re talking to someone you know you will never see again, and you just don’t have the time or the energy to go into all that. I know. I know. That is privilege, too. It’s a lot of privilege. And it’s a lot of privilege because it is not allowed the other way around.

But then we found out that my father’s mother was still alive. That she still lived in Oklahoma. And we called her. A few months later we were sitting in the lobby of a La Quinta Inn in Amarillo, Texas, and she walked in with one of her daughters, my aunt, my father’s half-sister. My grandmother was small, I remember thinking. Soft-spoken. She had a round gray perm. She had beautiful almond eyes. We had a different nose. We talked for about an hour about the weather, what had come of my father, about what she had done in her life. We talked about my academic successes and my brother’s professional advancement. We just talked. It was a first step. Allow me to recap: My father was born in the early 50s. His mother was Cherokee and his father was White, we found this out in the mid 2000s. She had been born on the Cherokee Nation and grew up speaking Cherokee, though she later attended the normal schools where she was forced to speak English. She told us matter-of-factly that she could only remember a few words at this point. We never reconnected with my White grandfather, though we knew that he had died years earlier. I think that says something also. My father was the product of something like a one-night stand when she was still a teenager but already working at a diner in the Oklahoma panhandle. He was in the military, she said. What are you? I thought this information would make it easier to explain myself to other people. I thought that if I could say “I’m Latino” or “I’m Indian” it would make it easier. But it didn’t. It hasn’t. The story is just longer, more “complicated”. We wanted to continue the relationship with my grandmother and to meet the rest of her family, so we made a trip to visit them in Oklahoma. It was a family reunion in the most sincere sense of that term. My parents, my brother, and I all went. And I remember feeling strange, like we were being grafted back on to their family tree. There is a scar there. Family. We talked about this with them. I met a cousin who speaks more Cherokee than the rest of the Oklahoma family. She wanted to learn and so she did. It reminded me of learning Spanish when I was young. We had barbeque and drank iced tea. My grandmother told more stories about her youth. I craved those stories. We still keep in touch with the Oklahoma relatives, in spite of my grandmother’s passing two years ago.

But while we were in Oklahoma we also went through the process of becoming citizens of the Cherokee Nation. First with the help of an amateur genealogist cousin (from my father’s adoptive family), and later confirming with my grandmother, who did have tribal citizenship, we were able to trace our descent to the “final rolls of the Five Civilized Tribes,” of 1907. Another archival process. We went to Tahlequah. I remember the garish gold letters on the Cherokee Capitol Building. I remember picking up my “White Card” declaring I have a ¼ blood quantum certified by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I remember the young man at the registration office commenting that that was more than 98% of enrolled Cherokees. I don’t know if that is true. Maybe it was hyperbole. Maybe it was meant to invite me to feel more Indian. IMG_6494 But what does that mean? What “cultural connection” do I have to this tribe? What claim can I ethically make to this past, to this family, to their stories? What right do I have to say that I am Indian, even though, now, legally (legally?) I am? I have not actually lived the experience of systemic racism, though I have certainly been racially abused for not being White enough.

But then again, maybe I have. Were it not for the social and economic exclusion that my grandmother experienced, her forced monolingualism, her forced acculturation, were it not for the stigma attached to a mixed-raced child like my father, then maybe I would not exist. It is very likely that I would not exist. Were it not for the accumulated weight of racism and the gross neglect of Indian communities in the US, I highly doubt that I would be here to write these words. The thing is that my body has a history that began long before me. My present—all of our presents—is imbued with the past, even if we do not know that past. The past doesn’t simply dissolve because we don’t know it. But what do we do in the face of this historicity? What do we do when we want to know what we are, but we do not have the ability to say? Many of these histories exist beyond the horizon of the archive. And this is “complicated”. Archiving blood has been—and continues to be—a very “complicated” thing to do. Indeed, blood quantums have served entirely sinister purposes over the course of world history, and they continue to serve to exclude and racialize and stigmatize. Tribal citizenship is not exempt from coloniality. It seems ironic, though, that precisely what I lacked—the archival legitimacy of my racial history, what provoked my own ambiguity, indeed my own ‘passing’—is also what has served to vilify Dolezal and Smith. To be sure, they made choices. They attempted to write themselves back into a history that was never theirs. That is violent. That is hypocritical. That is disingenuous and inauthentic.

In the end, I am writing this to attempt to be authentic to my experience of self in the face of this unknowing but also this new knowledge. It seems to me that to deny this legacy, this heritage, however distant and bureaucratic it has been, is to participate in the erasure of the Indian populations of the Americas. It is to continue to silence that history. It is inauthentic. My choice is not to do that. So I do say now that I am Indian. But I say those words with humility. I say those words knowing that they are part of a circuitous path toward Indigeneity. I say those words knowing that I do not speak Cherokee, knowing that I do not know so much about what it means to be Cherokee. But I also say those words knowing that not having access to our oral history is an authentic Indian experience. Knowing that not being able to care for your son, giving him up for adoption, was authentic for both my grandmother and my father. Wanting to be more than an archival Indian is authentic to my own life experience. I try to tell that more complicated story. Perhaps, in the end, this essay is my way of signaling the need to be honest with these complications. Because neither personal history, nor archival evidence, nor desire completely suffice. Because the ambiguity of race is not enough to justify the willful deception that dominates the narratives of Dolezal and Smith. I do not have the ability to belong to the Cherokee Nation in the same way as someone who grew up there. I do, however, have the ability to tell this story. In fact, this story is the most authentic thing I have to honor the trajectory of my own racial history. And it is in this spirit, in this unlikely sense of self, that I continue to imagine a more historically grounded sense of belonging to a community that was never meant to be mine, but which I approach slowly, openly. Authentically.

*I have continued to think about these issues since publishing this blog post in 2015. For that more recent work, see Joseph M. Pierce, “Adopted: Trace, Blood, and Native Authenticity.” Critical Ethnic Studies, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Fall 2017), pp. 57-76.