Revolutionary Mothering: An Interview In Letters

 well, theresa turned eight years old last week.  and i have backpacked through tear gas and couchsurfed through revolutions.  i have also cried harder and longer in fear and anger and loneliness, more than i could have ever imagined possible.  i have been more scared and more fearless, loved harder and had bones broken and pride broken and god, its been weary. i did what i wanted, but im not sure if id truly knew the price this world would extract for doing so, if i still would have done it.

–Mai’a Williams

Sarah Maria Medina

12/04/2015 Sunday

S.C.D.L.C, Chiapas, México

Dear Mai’a,

I’m writing to you from barrio Guadalupe, from a little house that rests alongside the road that runs past the farm lands. For the past few nights, after my daughter slept, I read chapters from your book, Revolutionary Mothering, all the while firecrackers popping off from the church up the hill. As I read the essays, poems and plays by the different mamas included in the anthology, I found myself humming, snapping, nodding, “Yes, damn, yes.” Someone was finally saying the words I’ve been searching for, and I was so filled with emotion, because, at the same time I was feeling so blessed to hold all these powerful mama stories in my hands, I was grieving the absence of this book from when I was a teenager. Grieving back to when at eighteen, I looked out on my future, and had to decide whether or not to keep my first pregnancy. Only fathered by my Puerto Rican pops weekends and summers, raised by a white mother on a riverboat, I was well politicked on feminist abortion rights, but so badly needed to hear about reproductive integrity, about the racism in overpopulation discourse, about the forced sterilization of Indigenous and Puerto Rican women. I found these discourses, but not until later, and they were articles that I came across because I searched hard for them through old microfilms at Hunter in New York, when I was looking at the Young Lordettes’ histories (the women of the Young Lords). I wish that your anthology had existed then, and am so hopeful for all the mamas who will find this book in their future. – I just had to pause my letter to you, and run up to our little herb garden, from where my daughter was calling me. “Mama,” she was shouting. A flower had bloomed, one that we hadn’t planted. It turned out to be a lily, and she felt that was a blessing as her name means water lily in Taino. – Yes, this anthology you having lovingly pieced together with your co-editors, Alexis* and China**, gives me hope. Now it’s evening and time to heat up the boiler for our baths. The dogs of the barrio are howling, and the birds that live in the tree across from our house are singing out their last songs.

Bless,

Sarah Maria

*

Mai'a Williams

Dear Sarah Maria,

i am so sorry for this letter coming so late.  when i first read it was the day before i was moving from quito, ecuador, back to the states. there were half-filled boxes and maletas and a thousand tiny things to do before the flight.

then we arrived in minnesota and it was time for theresa’s birthday party on the 19th of april.  i am always nervous about christmas and birthday for her.  i am not very good at making celebrations for people.  the presents, the decorations, the balloons, the food.  i am better at telling strange stories and taking us on strange adventures.  at dancing with her one in the morning on top of a roof to salsa and reggaeton.

then i fell ill for the past week.  some virus.

and now i am finally writing you.

when we first dreamed of revolutionary mothering as an anthology, i said to lex, i want it to be the book i was looking for when i was pregnant.  the book that would tell me that this wasnt easy.  when i was pregnant i didnt feel like a madonna, like some glowing ethereal creature.  i felt heavy and tired and nauseous and tired and hungry and tired.  i felt like i was preparing to go to war.  i remember my in laws and my mother and my husband and well everyone around me telling me with words and looks that i was now going to settle down, have a little house with a little yard and a little life with a little child, and i would see that would be enough for me.  all of my big dreams of traveling and revolution and backpacking through war zones and dancing late at night to the sounds of live fire and live bands would have to be put aside.

well, theresa turned eight years old last week.  and i have backpacked through tear gas and couchsurfed through revolutions.  i have also cried harder and longer in fear and anger and loneliness, more than i could have ever imagined possible.  i have been more scared and more fearless, loved harder and had bones broken and pride broken and god, its been weary. i did what i wanted, but im not sure if id truly knew the price this world would extract for doing so, if i still would have done it.

when theresa was 6 months old, we moved to san cristobal de las casas and studied spanish for a couple of months and lived there for 6 months, until we ran out of money.  i loved it.  it was 2008 and i carried theresa in a rebozo and breastfed her in bars and hung out with zapatista women.  theresa, of course, doesnt remember any of this, so she is determined that we should go back there to live, now that we are done with ecuador.

so tell me about being a mama in chiapas, and maybe someday we will meet each other face to face in southern mexico.

with much love,

mai’a

*

28/04/2015

Mexico City, DF, Mexico

Dear Mai’a,

I am writing to you from a little hotel room we rent sometimes when we come to Mexico City, when we need to escape everyone and everything for a few days. The sunlight is pouring in through the yellow drapes from the balcony, and I’m sitting on the hardwood floors in the only spot that has Wi-Fi in our room.

We came to DF this week for a poetry reading in a Queer Festival of Languages, and there has been something so liberating for me to have my poems translated into Spanish, almost as if they take on a new life of their own, become a story that is no longer just my own. And that is why, this letter is also arriving later than I wanted it to.

I like so much your description of your immediate community suggesting in small ways that you would settle down in a little house once your daughter was born, and how you sought the opposite, carried her through countries in the midst of their revolutions, danced with her across rooftops to Reggaeton and Salsa, sought new words to explain oppression and racism and liberation. This is beautiful and inspiring, and I too would have loved to have held your book in my hands as I was pregnant, and also as I was leaving the little cabin the forest that my daughter spent her first months in, because sometimes I feel sad that she has had so little stability, so many houses. But then when I read your words, I feel inspired by this community of other mothers that extends out across the world from us, that have chosen another way of raising their child, and I feel less alone in this.

For me, living in Mexico, has offered me the space from the wounds I suffered when I grew up in the States, and this space has offered me the time to grow as a poet and writer, to turn my wounds into stories, into art. And this is something I also like about Revolutionary Mothering, that it doesn’t stop at the essay form, but that there is also a play, and poems and art. And that mothering includes queer ball culture and other radical inclusions of what it means to mutha our children and our communities.

I like to imagine you with Theresa tucked into your rebozo in Chiapas, meeting with the strong Zapatista women. We have travelled up the mountainside to visit their caracol. And have been blessed with being surrounded with such an openness about child raising, an inclusion of children within the public sphere, such as how normal nursing is in public here in the mountains.

You inspire me Mai’a. How are you and Theresa settling into Minnesota? Are your wings readying to fly away again?

Until our paths cross,

Bless,

Sarah Maria

*

dear sarah maria,

it is my turn to apologize for the late reply.

summer has finally come to minnesota, the days get longer and longer and the evenings are filled with the smell of sweet grass and the sound of birds and insects.  it has been so many years since i had summer in the states.  oddly familiar and yet bringing back all these memories of being a kid, riding bikes and reading books in the back yard.  picking dandelions and capturing fire flies in small glass jars.

sometimes i feel bad too that theresa has had so little stability. god, so many apartments, countries, languages, friends, sets of clothes, political realities. but then, last year, i was talking with china, another editor of the revolutionary mothering anthology, and she talked about moving so often with her daughter.  often times out of economic necessity.  and i met her daughter, who is in her twenties, and who is awesome.

and when i hung out with china, i saw so much of myself in her.  she was the punk rock mom, back when there was no such thing as punk rock moms.  i am the global activist mom, in a time when there is no such thing as such.

and now, of course, there are punk rock moms!  there are books and magazines and blogs and fashion dedicated to the punk rock mom lifestyle.  and maybe, a couple of decades from now, there will be global activist moms networks and co-ops and shared housing and poetry readings.  it seems almost inevitable, as the world on the one hand grows smaller and on the other hand as it becomes clearer that our survival requires that we fight for this planet and the most marginalized among us.  whether that be plant or animal, icebergs or babies.

oh!  i can just imagine how amazing it must be to hear your poems translated into another language, especially spanish which is a language which has its own rhythm and poetic life.  how beautiful.  every time i write to you, i just want to pack up and go to mexico.  i still havent seen frida’s house.

i am sad that this may be my last letter to you in this series.  i have thoroughly enjoyed this.  it marks my transition from ecuador to minnesota.  i have no idea what we are going to do next or where.  this summer, theresa is taking ballet and hip hop classes.  i applied to a montessori school for her near her father’s house in case we are here in the fall.  i bought a 1970s shwinn coaster bike so i can get around this small college town.  i am writing a lot in dollar store notebooks in downtown cafes and taking my health seriously for the first time in years.

perhaps we will see each other in mexico.

la lucha continua,

mai’a

ps did you see this weird lil interview that lex did with me about revolutionary motherhood?  if not, here you go…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJy7Djn_6bc

abrazos!

Here is Maia’s website: https://about.me/maiawilliams

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