I have learned over long, hard decades, the power of a personal story deeply embedded in context. What I am setting out to do is to tell the story of my body, my aging, ailing, female, Caribbean Jewish, immigrant, disabled, queer, art-making, epileptic, childbirth-scarred body—and to deepen that story with history and widen it with ecology and global vision, until in encompasses everything I am burning to write and speak and make art about.
And the vision of what I want to do has changed the shape of the house, the strategy for funding it, the network of collaborators I’m building, and what I dream about at night. But most of all, it’s given me back that sense of anticipation, of knowing that I’m living inside an epic tale of adventure, where messages and teachers are everywhere, and neither time, nor effort, nor any experience at all, is ever wasted.
This time, though, I’m not setting out alone. At fifty-seven, I exist in a rich, dense mat of relationships, able to chart a course in which adventure co-exists with planning, where amidst the magic of happenstance, messages can also be asked for, and teachers encountered by design. The encounters I am planning for are with people whose passions overlap with mine, with organizations that can make good use of my brief presence, with archivists and librarians who can put their fingertips on things I need to know, and also with landscapes, from the closest we have to pristine, to those as scarred and ailing as the sickest among us.
Body Map #1 © 2011 Aurora Levins Morales
Another song has been running through my head lately, Canción Con Todos as sung by the late, beloved Mercedes Sosa.
Siento al caminar
toda la piel de América en mi piel
y anda en mi sangre un río
que libera en mi voz
Which, roughly translated, means:
I feel, as I walk
all the skin of América in my skin
and a river runs in my blood
that looses its flood
through my voice.
In 1986 I wrote, in the poem “Child of the Americas” “I am of latinoamerica, rooted in the history of my continent: I speak from that body.” The personal story at the heart of this project, the story of my body-mind, of health and illness, physical diversity and disability, is so deeply rooted into the landscapes, natural and social, of my continent, that for me, they are inseparable.
So the roadmap I dream about is also full of anatomy charts, a passage across salt flats and immune responses, mountain ranges and neurotransmission. The questions I am asking are about ecology and health, yes, but also about my colonized homeland and health, about being a female bodied and female identified human in the 21st century and health, about inherited traumas from the yucayeques of my Taino ancestors and the shtetls of central Ukraine passed on in altered gene expression, about class and health, the obvious and the not so obvious, about single motherhood and health.
And beyond all these layered maps, stacked transparencies of meaning I have laid over my medical charts and diagrams, there are the questions that set me crossing borders into new sections of the atlas, places I cannot yet physically go, but that I visit virtually several times a day, whose collective name, ALBA, means "dawn," just like mine: What can we possibly mean by health in a world where so much is deliberately done to destroy it? How can we talk about health and not talk about war, or the conspiracies of international trade, or the continuing success of slavery as a source of massive profits? Or to flip the question on its head, as the grassroots revolutionaries of Latin America and their chosen heads of state have done, in societies that value life, human and otherwise, above profit, what might health become?
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