Exploring the relationship between imaginative language and belonging
Written for the Institute for Inquiry and Poetics, University of Arizona Poetry Center
Join us for An Evening with Luis Rodriguez, Luivette Resto, Michael Warr & Peter J. Harris hosted by Literary Director Diana Delgado, on December 10 at 6:00 PM, Arizona Time.
How does one belong in a time of not belonging? Or find a language for this? Wars, poverty, and climate disasters have forced increasing numbers of people across the globe from their land-based homes. Being uprooted—a refugee—is endemic to our times. And even if one has a home, the alienations linked to survival, or lack thereof, continue to intensify. Most people feel like exiles in their own land.
The underlying basis for wars, poverty, and climate disasters—contributed by industrial and post-industrial development—are human action or inaction. In other words, these are “monsters” of our own making.
From time immemorial, human beings had stories, poems, teachings, and such to steer them along any road of development, even when the paths were not carved out. We had long-standing truths and lessons to draw on —including ancestral knowledge and mythic imaginations.
For example, human beings throughout history have honored the four key connections that have kept us whole and on common ground—regardless of nation or territory. They are 1) the connection to nature, its laws, rhythms, patterns that have allowed for critical human growth across millennia; 2) the connection to one’s own nature, the internal gifts, geniuses, and “story” to be lived out; 3) the connection to others as “we are all related” or “you are the other me,” or as the Golden Rule summarizes, “treat others as you want to be treated”; 4) and the connection—however this may be best expressed for time and place—to the Divine.
The ties or separations from these, and the ordeals this may engender, have been integral to our collective stories. Today being disconnected is contributing to a fear-based, hate-filled, and tumultuous world. To be modern is to be lost.
Capitalism, which has governed our societies for at least 500 years (from pre-capitalist formations to the shifts from agriculture to mechanical industry to digital technology) has one fundamental concern: the drive for maximum profits. This drive, which is counter to all major texts, scriptures, and stories, oral or written, is now our norm.
While more wealth has been created under capitalism than in any other economic/political system, it has also produced deep poverty, climate change, war economies, and social injustices within countries and across borders. This includes a widening wealth gap between a smaller number of people and the vast majority.
For “maximum profits” to make sense, a fabricated sense of scarcity had to be established. Under scarcity, the main mode of exchange and interaction is competition, not cooperation. The healthy and safe wellbeing of everyone and the earth is sacrificed for “the strong will survive,” “I’ll get mine before you get yours,” or “kill or be killed.” Competition is society’s fetish.
It’s a world of winners and losers. Not only that but the wealth and wellness of a few is dependent on most people barely scraping by. Winners win because losers lose.
In recent months, 25 million people filled the streets in protests for Black Lives Matter following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The call to end mass incarceration and to defund police stirred local, state, and national governments to their cores. The idea stems from two-tiered policing, one for Black and Brown people, and another for white people (except the poorest). But the counter to this is there can’t be complete justice for Blacks without taking away from everybody else. Somehow, strangely, this response is based on our supposed limits—instead of what’s immensely possible. There continues to be those who say being pro-Black, pro-social justice, is just not “American.” Again, restricting what imaginations and capacities exist to extend and strengthen the US Constitution and beyond.
Think also about the Mexicans and Central Americans, among others, stuck on the U.S.-Mexico border. They are in cages, refugee camps, or like ghosts floating on the impoverished Mexican side or as low-wage workers on the U.S. side. In the past four decades, many of these migrants included Mayans from southern Mexico or Guatemala; Mixtecos or Zapotecos from Oaxaca; Nahuas from central Mexico or El Salvador; and other indigenous peoples throughout the continent that still maintain language and cultural ties to their tribe or nation.
They have roots to this land that go back tens of thousands of years. Yet these brown people—color of the earth they walk on—are now the “strangers,” “foreigners,” the “aliens.” They no longer belong because of made-up borders, a complicated documentation process, and arguments there are not enough jobs or social resources to go around. These arguments don’t have to be true. They just have to fit the well-spun scarcity narrative.
On top of this, the majority of Mexicans and Central Americans are de-“Indianized.” Over 500 years of conquest and colonialism in what is called Meso-America has forced them to “forget” who they are. They are now labeled “Hispanics” or “Latinos” based on European/colonial trappings. Many are called mestizos, mixed-blood, which stems from the Spanish hierarchal casta system that determined people’s worth based on how much of this “blood” or that “blood” they may have had.
What a rotten way to classify people! Yet our society clings to these fictions of identity, of superiority and inferiority. Belonging has become less meaningful, except in how class and race are used to divide and disaffect.
In this climate, we have a revival of “America First.” The rise of nationalism, often called white nationalism (as if “white” were a nation), demand the most expansive interests succumb to the most narrow. Yet, this does not guarantee the United States will do better. The only guarantee of that is to make sure all nations have the means to do well—especially with the organic abundance abounding in properly adhering to the four key connections.
It’s okay to love your country. But you have to love the world more. If humanity across the globe were on an equitable footing, again with collective and healthy wellbeing enshrined for all, that includes the United States.
The naked and unregulated competition between nations, classes, belief systems, and races only make life precarious for everyone. There are circumstances where competition is appropriate. But the guiding principle should be to strive for overall balance and harmony. This means governing and working aligned with nature, deriving healthy sustenance from earth, sun, water, and air, and relating meaningfully to oneself, each other, and spirit.
Regardless of the real and wondrous cultural/language/religious differences between us, this is how, in the end, we all belong.