Feliz 2017, everyone, and farewell to 2016. Between Syria, Brexit, Orlando, and our electoral apocalypse, it’s hard to separate 2016 from its tragedies. So much rage, so much ache. And I doubt that the headlines of its first two weeks have allayed anyone’s anxiety about 2017. It feels like a thousand marbles are crashing down upon our heads at once, each one representing a different program or ideal that has long been a touchstone for many of us, now racing out of reach. As individuals, we cannot chase after all of them at once; indeed, we’d fall if we tried. But if we strategize about who runs where after what, we have a shot at maintaining our nation’s integrity.
I feel many emotions about 2017: fear, anxiety, dread. But hope is among them—a great deal, in fact. And I attribute that to being a writer. Even when my subject matter tends toward the brutal, I meet extraordinary people because of it. People of wisdom, people of grace. They are the fuel I will draw upon in the (4?) year(s) ahead. Before 2016 fades any further from memory, here are a few of its heroes/highlights/images.
My year started in Peru, a place of deep significance for my partner Jen. We climbed Huayna Picchu in the rain and then trekked four miles through cloud forest to the Temple of the Moon. A young alpaca suckled from his mother; a condor flew overhead. Remnants of the ancients, the ancestors, were all around.
Back in Lima, we joined up with friends who gave us a tour of the city. This is the year I began researching a new book about the world’s most devoted female artists, and I found their work everywhere, starting with our hostess, the amazing musician/composer Pauchi Sasaki.
Next stop was Austin, Texas, the city where I came into my own as a young student/activist/journalist a quarter-century ago. It is also where I became enamored with art: live music, street murals, spoken word, migas. I gave a talk about my forever Chicana Role Model, Michele Serros, at the MLA Convention.
I returned to another stomping ground, New York City, in March, to interview more artists for the new book, including the ballerina Wendy Whelan and Bijayini Satpathy and Surupa Sen, the principal dancers of the classical Indian ensemble, Nrityagram. They were holding a residency at the Baryshnikov Art Center, and invited Jen to compose a song.
A proud moment came later that month, when hundreds of Carolinians blocked the streets in protest of HB-2, the law so devastating to our LGBTQ community.
In April, I reunited with “Liu,” who you might remember from my first book, Around the Bloc. She was visiting Toronto with her family, so I flew out to greet them. Over an epic dim sum, we reminisced about our adventures in Beijing twenty years ago.
In May, the writer Sandra Cisneros traveled to North Carolina from her home in Mexico to accept an honorary doctorate from UNC for her contributions to literature (with classics like The House on Mango Street and Caramelo) and humanity. She loved our German Shepard Bobo and Jen’s sweet cabin in the woods.
That summer was a whirlwind of interviews that started in Bucharest, where I talked with eight visual artists about what it was like to create art in the time (or under the legacy) of totalitarianism….
….and walked the streets of Bucharest, where more art awaited at every corner.
Then on to Madrid, where I performed from my forthcoming book All the Agents & Saints at the International Congreso on Chicano Literature with my dear friend Santiago Vaquero-Vasquez, and ate exceptionally well.
The year’s highlight was a week in Kigali, Rwanda to behold the second annual Ubumuntu Art Festival, which celebrates the radical notion: “I am because you are, you are because I am: we are human together.” There, I interviewed the festival’s founder, Hope Azeda, a major figure in Rwandan theater, and women from Cambodia, Uganda, and Sri Lanka about making art in the legacy of genocide.
Somewhere along these summer travels, I tore my medial meniscus (knee cartilage) and developed a cyst. In September, a surgeon repaired it with seven sutures, which left me in crutches for one month and a brace for two. Never before had my mobility been impaired. It was scary, feeling so vulnerable. Full recovery has yet to occur, but friends (and writers) have kept me company in the interim.
And then came November. I hobbled out for the final campaign push, knocking on doors and making phone calls, then joined the thousands who gathered for Clinton’s final rally at midnight in Raleigh. We belted out “Living on a Prayer” with Lady Gaga and Jon Bon Jovi, truly believing we would be celebrating the election of our first female president the following evening….
Instead, I found myself weeping with sadness and shaking from fear at 3 am that Wednesday. It is hard to grasp the magnitude of what has happened; how radically life could change starting six days from now. Yet I feel the resistance rising all around me. New coalitions are forming here in the Tar Heel State, and I’m grateful to be a part of them. As for those thousand marbles falling, I’ve fixed my eyes on immigrant rights and will not let it out of my sight. Regrettably, my knee isn’t up for the Women’s March on Washington this Saturday, but I’ll be rallying in Raleigh that morning. We can do this, people. We must.
Peace and gratitude to each of you in 2017. I hope our paths cross soon.