Aurora Levins Morales
Aurora Levins Morales (born February 24, 1954) is a Puerto Rican Jewish writer and poet. She is significant within Latina feminism and Third World feminism as well as other social justice movements.
- Not one of those books that ignore us could have been written without our shopping, baking, mending, ironing, typing, making coffee, comforting. Without our caring for the children, minding the store, getting in the crop, making their businesses pay. This is our story, and the truth of our lives will overthrow them.
- Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriquenas (1997)
- Let's get one thing straight. Puerto Rico was parda, negra, mulata, mestiza. Not a country of Spaniards at all. We outnumbered them, year after year.
- Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriquenas (1997)
- sediment has no nationality. Sediment drifts from place to place, on currents of water and air, on muskrat fur and the feathers of Indigo Buntings. It travels without passports, visas, or allegiances.
- Preface to Silt: Prose Poems (2019)
- We cannot be owned. We cannot own each other. And there is no such thing as a particle of US soil.
- Preface to Silt: Prose Poems (2019)
Getting Home Alive with Rosario Morales (1986)
- The first rule I remember learning was never to harm or deface a book. The second was never to cross a picket line.
- She [my mother, Rosario Morales] taught me to love the women: Jane Austen, Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, Virginia Woolf, and later we would trade the titles of new books on the phone: Doris Lessing, Agnes Smedley, Charlotte Bronte's Shirley, June Jordan, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker.
- I am shaking with rage that I cannot stop what is being done. That it is being done in the name of protecting Jews. That there are those who will believe that it is in my interest as a Jew, that by being a Jew I have agreed to these acts committed in my name. A logjam of emotions, and beneath, an icy river of fear.
- I have learned that suffering does not improve people, that slavery does not ennoble us for freedom, that oppression springs from oppression, echoing the twisted lessons we learn from our pain.
- Most of us, we, the Jewish Left, disengaged ourselves, removed its hand from our shoulder, denied it was related to us, separated ourselves: it isn't ours, we hastened to explain. We're as anti as anyone. And I, who read Tricontinental magazine from cover to cover, who read voraciously about the history and upheavals of Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, the guerrilla movements of Colombia and Laos, read reports on the death of Che in Bolivia on torture and mineral deposits in Brasil, who wanted to know my world whatever it contained, skipped over the articles about the Middle East, saying it was all "too complicated," that I couldn't make sense of it. And gentile friends who could unravel 500-page tomes of economic theory agreed with me that anti-Semitism was just too complex, and I continued to feel that anyone else's pain would be easier.
- But now it seems to me that Zionism asks too little, not too much! They have traded in that City of the vision for a cramped fortress tower, believing that Jews will always be persecuted, hunted. That most of humanity couldn't care less if it happened again. Would let it happen. Knowing some of humanity would even applaud. Believing there is no other way for Jews to survive. I want to shout it at them from the rooftops, to cry it out loud: you have never asked for enough! Zionism, at least as it's lived today, accepts anti-Semitism, says it's permanent in the world: As long as there are Jews, there will be Jew-haters, Jew-killers, so we'll build a wall of bodies around us and live behind it, a menace to our neighbors, trying to feel safe. I stand here and cry out to you: "Come out of the trenches! Ask for it all! I demand for myself, and my children who will also be Jews, and for you, too, my soldiering kin, a world where fortresses are unknown and unnecessary."
- we could be allies, the Arabs and we, two persecuted peoples rooted in the same land, the same customs, food, language. The task is the most difficult one, the most terrifying, the one requiring the most daring leap from the cliff of this present bloody moment.
- I know I have dreamt this dream: Jews and Arabs moving in unison, dispossessing the warriors, building new villages on the sites of the old, changing the face of the land, the shape of history, the look of the future.
- I want to see a flowering of Arab and Jewish cultures in a country without racism or anti-Semitism, without rich or poor or spat-upon: everyone beneath the vine and fig tree living in peace and unafraid. A homeland for each and every one of us between the mountains and the sea. A multilingual, multireligious, many-colored and peopled land where the orange tree blooms for all. I will not surrender this vision for any lesser compromise. No separate-but-equal armed camps turning their backs on each other across a pitted buffer zone. No Palestinian exile burning with dreams of return, injustice embittering generations of children who yearn always for the place of their ancestors: next year in the Galilee. No graveyard the size of a nation, Palestinian blood burning the ground and steaming up each morning, reeking of death. No fortress-state of Jews against all the rest of the world, generations of children growing up soldiers, believing themselves holy, believing there is no one outside the walls, believing fear is the only force that binds people together. I will accept nothing less than freedom.
Medicine Stories (1998)
- I have tried to integrate healing myself and healing the world.
- I understood that excavating and revealing the truth about my experiences of abuse, and the sense of empowerment and release that process brought me, was the same process as excavating and telling the truth about the centuries of invasion, enslavement, patriarchal rule, accommodation, collaboration and resistance. The healing came from the same source.
- Whether it takes place in the supposedly private context of sexual abuse or the public and allegedly impersonal arenas of colonialism, patriarchy or a profoundly racist class society, the traumatic experience of being dehumanized and exploited strips people of their stories, of the explanations that make sense of their lives. Instead, it imposes on us the self-justifying mythologies of the perpetrators. We are left adrift, the connection between cause and effect severed so that we are unable to identify the sources of our pain.
- abuse is the local eruption of systemic oppression, and oppression the accumulation of millions of small systematic abuses.
- However the abuse is perpetrated, the result is the same: abuse does not make sense in the context of our humanity, so when we are abused, we must either find an explanation that restores our dignity or we will at some level accept that we are less than human and lose ourselves, and our capacity to resist, in the experience of victimhood.
- I call the work I do "cultural activism" because it does battle in the arena of culture, over the stories we tell ourselves and each other of why the world is as it is. It's a struggle for the imaginations of oppressed people, for our capacity to see ourselves as human when we are being treated inhumanely. Cultural activism is not separate from the work of organizing people to do specific things. In fact, successful organizing depends on this transformation of vision; the most significant outcome of most organizing campaigns is the transformation that takes place in people who participate.
- The reality is that when we are unable to mobilize people on their own behalf, the difficulty is usually at the level of vision. Either we ourselves have been unable to see the people with whom we are working as fully human and have treated them as victims instead of allies, or we have failed to engage their imaginations and spirits powerfully enough.
- Cultural work, the work of infusing people's imaginations with possibility, with the belief in a bigger future, is the essential fuel of revolutionary fire.
"Puerto Ricans and Jews"
- Puerto Ricans and Jews have a long and complex history, but unlike the history of Black-Jewish relations, there has been very little in the way of public discussion of the nature or meaning of our relationship.
- For Puerto Ricans, as for all Latin Americans, the eight centuries of relatively tolerant Moslem rule in southern Spain, the Christian reconquest of the peninsula and the subsequent violent persecution of both Moslems and Jews are a largely unexamined part of our inheritance.
- A real assessment of the history of Puerto Rican-Jewish relations has to begin by examining the relationships that were already in place between Christian and Jewish residents of Iberia long before 1492.
- In the sixth grade, my English teacher, Miss Rivera trained at the Catholic teacher's college in Ponce, told our class that Jews get up every morning, spit on our money and then count it. She had never, to her knowledge, met a Jew in her life until my mother's angry note made her realize that one of her favorite students was one.
- any real understanding of contemporary relations between our peoples needs to begin with the deep roots of anti-Semitism in Spain and its American colonies.
- In a pattern repeated in Europe for centuries, the white Protestant elite used Jews as despised agents, middle persons, buffers. Just as my Lithuanian Jewish ancestors were given land in the Ukraine as a kind of living insulation against Turkish invasion; just as Eastern European Jews were employed to collect taxes from hungry Christian peasants who could have been potential allies against the aristocracy, so in the United States, Jews were being offered conditional privileges of "whiteness," with greater access to upward mobility, in exchange for abandoning alliances with other oppressed groups, particularly people of color...While some Jews accepted this option early on, many did not.
- During the first three decades of the 20th century, many Jews were strongly active in a multi-ethnic labor movement and in anarchist, socialist and communist organizing that prioritized identification with the poor and working classes across cultural lines.
- The Communist Party provided one of the few venues under segregation where Black and white intellectuals could meet and talk politics, and the Party generated and supported many interracial couples.
- In 1933, ILGWU organizer Rose Pesotta, herself a Jewish immigrant from Russia, spent months organizing Mexican women garment workers in Los Angeles. Her preconceptions were stereotyped, assuming that Mexican women would be passive, intimidated by the sexism of Mexican men, and therefore hard to organize. While she did face difficulties, they were not as great as expected and her campaign had some significant successes. She came to rely on Mexican women as the backbone of her West Coast organizing and took the male leadership down to the local jails so they could hear the spirit with which the mexicanas sang from their cells. The following year she went to Puerto Rico to organize women garment workers there. The meetings were full, although women often fainted from hunger while she spoke. She began bringing baskets of food to the meetings and would ask before she spoke if anyone had not eaten. She was deeply moved by the circumstances of Puerto Rican women workers and continued to speak about their living and working conditions for many years. In 1944 she wrote several articles about poverty and working conditions in Puerto Rico for New York newspapers.
- The history of New York Jewish and Puerto Rican activism is full of personal and political relationships between our communities. Puerto Rican writer and organizer Jesus Colón, whose second wife, Clara, was Jewish, lived next door to my aunt Eva Levins, and both were active in the Communist Party. In 1943, one month after Jewish partisans in the Warsaw ghetto rose up against the Nazis and managed to drive them from the ghetto, Colón wrote a column in a Spanish-language newspaper, criticizing anti-Semitism in the Latino community.
- In recent years, the identification of many U.S. nationalist people of color with Palestinian liberation and the failure of the U.S.-Jewish community as a whole to take a firm stand against racist and colonialist Israeli policies have been added factors in obscuring places of potential alliance.
- Only by examining fully and honestly the history of our relations can we make decisions about throwing our lot in with each other, not for the short-term gains of opportunism, but for the widest possible vision of our future.
"Radical Pleasure: Sex and the End of Victimhood"
- I am a person who was sexually abused and tortured as a child. I no longer define myself in terms of my survival of this experience, but what I learned from surviving it is central to my political and spiritual practice.
- We are so vulnerable in our pleasures and desires.
- the seductiveness of the victim role; the thin satisfactions that come from a permanent attitude of outrage.
- Victimhood absolves us from having to decide to have good lives. It allows us to stay small and wounded instead of spacious, powerful and whole. We don't have to face up to our own responsibility for taking charge of things, for changing the world and ourselves. We can place our choices about being vulnerable and intimate and effective in the hands of our abusers. We can stay powerless and send them the bill.
- To shamelessly insist that our bodies are for our own delight and connection with others clearly defies the predatory appropriations of incestuous relatives and rapists; but it also defies the poisoning of our food and water and air with chemicals that give us cancer and enrich the already obscenely wealthy, the theft of our lives in harsh labor, our bodies used up to fill bank accounts already bloated, the massive abduction of our young people to be hurled at each other as weapons for the defense and expansion of those bank accounts-all the ways in which our deep pleasure in living has been cut off so as not to interfere with the profitability of our bodies. Because the closer I come to that bright, hot center of pleasure and trust, the less I can tolerate its captivity, and the less afraid I am to be powerful, in a world that is in desperate need of unrepentant joy.
"On Not Writing English"
- Good English, as I understand it, is a set of agreements about which words make sense, what they mean and in what order they need to be used in order to keep making sense. It's an attempt to make sure that we understand each other. This is a reasonable goal. But the group that makes up these agreements and sets them down in rule books is a tiny fraction of the multitudes of people who successfully communicate in the English language each and every day. What's more, these legislators of language, like those of government, are almost exclusively male, white and wealthy, unlike the majority of English speakers. They are people with social power, and as is the wont of such folk, they set things up according to their own very specific needs and then declare those needs universal: if it isn't the language we speak, it isn't English.
- Those who make up the rules of Good English try earnestly or contemptuously to edit us into conformity, convinced that when we talk a different talk it's because we are educationally or genetically impaired.
- All peoples under attack learn the languages of those who can do us harm. We are multilingual of necessity. Those of us who, by using that language successfully, gain access to a small piece of public ground must fight continually to push our authenticity into print, onto the airwaves, into the classroom, out from the podium. We walk the narrow line of strategy, wielding Good English like a club against the self-absorbed arrogance of those who want to hear only themselves speak, clearing spaces where we can broadcast our home voices, the kitchen talk and backyard talk, street and front-porch talk that will choke us if we swallow it for too long.
"False Memories: Trauma and Liberation"
- The structures of unequal power are many-layered and complex in the ways they function in the world. But at its root, oppression is really quite simple. It's about looting. The rest is made up of the rules and institutions, rituals and agreements, mythologies, rationales and overt bullying by means of which small groups of people keep a firm grasp on way more than their share of the world's resources.
- In a massive act of projection, they (slavers) often described the African people who did every stitch of their work for them as lazy; seriously believed that slaves needed European people to set them tasks and make them useful.
- Or consider the almost hallucinatory fantasies of wealthy members of Congress that teenage African-American welfare mothers, a small minority of the welfare-receiving population, and consuming a minuscule fraction of the public budget, are responsible for bankrupting the economy, growing rich at public expense by having babies in order to pad their AFDC checks. Excluded from decent employment and denied the most basic necessities so as not to slow down the astronomical rise in income of the top 10 percent, these young women are held publicly accountable for the pillaging of our common resources by the greedy.
- Who could bear to hold privilege that meant the suffering and death of others if they had not been trained from early childhood to see these others as not real? Who would tolerate, for even an hour, the inhuman conditions imposed by the privileged, if they had not been trained from early childhood to feel themselves not fully entitled to life?
- Memory, individual and collective, is clearly a significant site of social struggle. The "false memory" movement that seeks to deny authority over memory to sexual abuse survivors; escalating attacks on multicultural education, particularly in the teaching of history; revisions of Holocaust history that deny it took place, are all examples of current public debates over control of memory. All involve a backlash against powerful popular movements to reclaim authority.
- in the case of the false memory movement, the privileged accuse the disempowered of oppressing them. Multiculturalism violates the "freedom" of privileged white heterosexual men by forcing them to participate in a world in which their interests and perceptions are not the exclusive priority of everyone.
- The denial of our interrelatedness is killing this planet and too many of its people.
- Recovery from trauma requires creating and telling another story about the experience of violence and the nature of the participants, a story powerful enough to restore a sense of our own humanity to the abused.
- Healing takes place in community, in the telling and the bearing witness, in the naming of trauma and in the grief and rage and defiance that follow.
- While the false memory theoreticians attempt to establish that pain is ahistoric and traumas leave no trace of themselves in our lives, the traumatized keep finding ways to insist that pain has documentable origins, that when someone is hit, it hurts, and that injuries leave scars.
- Just as the individual recovering from abuse must reconstruct the story of her undeserved suffering in a way that gives it new meaning, and herself a rebuilt and invulnerable sense of worth, the victims of collective abuse need ways to reconstruct history in a way that restores a sense of our inherent value as human beings, not simply in our usefulness to the goals of the elites.
- Only through mourning can we reconnect to the love in our lives and lose our fascination with the ones who harmed us.
- It is part of our task as revolutionary people, people who want deep-rooted, change, to be as whole as it is possible for us to be.
"The Historian as Curandera"
- One of the first things a colonizing power or repressive regime does is attack the sense of history of those they wish to dominate by attempting to take over and control their relationships to their own past.
- A strong sense of their own history among the oppressed undermines the project of domination. It provides an alternative story, one in which oppression is the result of events and choices, not natural law.
- The role of a socially committed historian is to use history, not so much to document the past as to restore to the dehistoricized a sense of identity and possibility. Such "medicinal" histories seek to re-establish the connections between peoples and their histories, to reveal the mechanisms of power, the steps by which their current condition of oppression was achieved through a series of decisions made by real people to dispossess them; but also to reveal the multiplicity, creativity and persistence of resistance among the oppressed.
- History is the story we tell ourselves about how the past explains our present, and how the ways in which we tell it are shaped by contemporary needs.
- All historians have points of view. All of us use some process of selection through which we choose which stories we consider important and interesting. We do history from some perspective, within some particular worldview. Storytelling is not neutral. Curandera historians make this explicit, openly naming our partisanship, our intent to influence how people think.
"The Politics of Childhood"
- Childhood is the one political condition, the one disenfranchised group through which all people pass. The one constituency of the oppressed in which all surviving members eventually stop being members and have the option of becoming administrators of the same conditions for new members.
- The oppression of children is the wheel that keeps all other oppressions turning. Without it, misery would have to be imposed afresh on each new generation, instead of being passed down like a heritage of disease. Children enter the world full of expectation and hope. They are not jaded. They are not cynical or resigned. They see clearly what custom has made invisible to us, and are outraged by all injustices, no matter how small.
- It is through the agency of former children that the revolutionary potential of each generation of children is held in check.
- Without any form of political representation, children remain in many senses the property of the adults in their lives. It is illegal for them to run away. The fact that many parents are deeply loving, fair and committed to their children's well-being does not change the fact that this is largely a matter of luck for the child, that she or he has almost no control over the conditions of daily life.
- We tolerate and accept for children a level of disenfranchisement that we would protest for any other constituency. Childhood is the standard for acceptable powerlessness. "They're just like children" is the classic statement of paternalistic racism and patriarchy. "Don't treat me like a child" is the outraged cry of the disrespected.
- what readies people for responsibility is being allowed to take some. People become informed and savvy about those areas of life where they can exercise some power. It is powerlessness that creates passivity. When children are treated with respect, given choice and expected to have opinions that matter, they have opinions and make choices. I wonder what it must have been like, what dignity it must have conferred on children of the Iroquois Confederacy that child over three was welcome to speak about matters of any group importance in the tribal councils.
- One of the most politicizing experiences of my life was the summer I spent in Cuba when I was fourteen. I found myself in a country in which fourteen-year-olds could make life decisions for themselves-to join the merchant marine, drill in the militia, choose special training-without parental permission.
"Forked Tongues: On Not Speaking Spanish"
- Storytelling is a basic human activity with which we simultaneously make and understand the world and our place in it.
- the first and most important thing to understand is that we write from necessity; that our writing is a form of cultural and spiritual self-defense. To live surrounded by a popular culture in which we do not appear is a form of spiritual erasure that leaves us vulnerable to all the assaults a society can commit against those it does not recognize. Not to be recognized, not to find oneself in history, or in film, or on television, or in books, or in popular songs, or in what is studied at school leads to the psychic disaster of ceasing to recognize oneself. Our literature is documentation of an existence that doesn't matter a damn to those in charge. And like the forged passports of my paternal Jewish relatives, from time to time it saves our lives.
- This is why we write: to see ourselves on the page. To confirm our presence. To clear a space where we can examine the lives we live, not as the sexy girlfriends, petty crooks and crime victims of TV cop shows, and not as statistical profiles in which hardship, bravery and resourcefulness lose all personality, but in our own physical and emotional reality. Where we can pull apart and explore this complex relationship we have with the island of our origins and kinship, and this vast many-peopled country in which we are writing a new chapter of Puerto Ricanhood. This necessity gives shape to our literature, to our urgent poetry of the streets, our ever-so-autobiographical fiction, our legends of collective identity. Most of what we write, we write under pressure.
- language is born from history.
- City people are used to nonconformity, and it's easy to live all kinds of lives, the rumors of which will never reach your parents' living room. This liberalism of urban life persists, even in a period of social repression such as we have experienced in recent years, and it provides vital support for the development of a wider range of gender identities and sexual behaviors among immigrant Puerto Ricans, women and men.
"Certified Organic Intellectual"
- My thinking grew directly out of listening to my own discomforts, finding out who shared them, who validated them, and in exchanging stories about common experiences, finding patterns, systems, explanations of how and why things happened. This is the central process of consciousness raising, of collective testimonio.
- I grew up as the tropical branch of a tribe of working-class Jewish thinkers who were critiquing the canons of their day from the shtetls of Eastern Europe, arguing about identity politics and coalitions, assimilation and solidarity way back into the last century.
- In the women's consciousness-raising groups I belonged to in the early 1970s, we shared personal and very emotional stories of what it had really been like to live as women, examining our experiences with men and with other women in our families, sexual relationships, workplaces and schools, in the health care system and in surviving the general societal contempt and violence toward us. As we told our stories we found validation that our experiences and our reactions to them were common to many of us, that our perceptions, thoughts, and feelings made sense to other women. We then used that shared experience as a source of authority.
- My discovery of a community of womanist of color writers, artists, thinkers was probably the most profound validation I've ever received of my right to exist, to know, to name my own reality.
- as academic feminism drifts further and further from its activist roots, as the elite gobbledygook of postmodernist jargon makes it less and less acceptable to speak comprehensibly, I have more and more often found my trust in myself under assault.
- The language in which ideas are expressed is never neutral. The language people use reveals important information about who they identify with, what their intentions are, for whom they are writing or speaking. The packaging is the product being sold and does exactly what it was designed for. Unnecessarily specialized language is used to humiliate those who are not supposed to feel entitled. It sells the illusion that only those who can wield it can think.
- Language is wedded to content, and the content I seek is theory and intellectual practice that will be of use to me in an activist scholarship whose priorities are, above all, democratizing.
- looking back, I remember my life in the feminist movement of the early 1980s. At conference after conference I would stand in the hall trying to choose between the workshop or caucus for women of color and the one for Jews. I remember how every doorway I tried to enter required leaving some part of myself behind. In those hallways, I began meeting other women, the complexity of whose lives defied the simplifications of identity politics. In conversation with them I found the only reflections of my full reality. Much of the feminist theory I tried to read in graduate school was written in rooms whose doors were too narrow. They required me to leave myself and my deepest intellectual passions outside.
- It is this process I teach: listen to your hunger, listen to the hunger of others, learn from experienced cooks, taste as you go, use fresh ingredients, know your supplier, and buy organic.
"Raícism: Rootedness as Spiritual and Political Practice"
- Raícism's intent is to pierce the immense, mind-deadening denial that permeates daily life the United States, that drowns our deepest grief and horror about the founding and ongoing atrocities of racism, class and patriarchy in an endless chatter about trivialities.
- Oppression buries the actual lives of real and contradictory people in the crude generalizations of bigotry and punishes us for not matching the caricature, refusing all evidence of who we actually are in defiance of its tidy categories. It is a blunt instrument, used for bashing, not only our dangerous complexities, but also the ancient and permanent fact of our involvement with each other.
- Deciding that we are in fact accountable frees us to act.
- For people committed to liberation to claim our descent from the perpetrators is a renewal of faith in human beings. If slavers, invaders, committers of genocide, inquisitors can beget abolitionists, resistance fighters, healers, community builders, then anyone can transform an inheritance of privilege or of victimization into something more fertile than either.
- European Americans in this country need to find out in relationship to whom they became white.
- Questions about our place within the megastructures of racism become intimate and carry personality. It becomes possible to see the choices we make right now as extensions of those inherited ones, and to choose more courageously as a result.
"What Racism Isn't: Teaching Racism"
- If we can teach the history of racism in the United States as the history of the shifting needs of empire, as a history of both impositions and choices, alliances and betrayals, a history with roots far outside and long before the first colonial encounters, if we can hold the tension between disbelief in race and belief in what racism does to us, we will enable more and more young people to remake old and seemingly immutable decisions about where their interests lie and with whom.
"Class Privilege and Loss"
- Privilege replaces relationships with things, community with isolated privacy.
- I kept encountering the same desperate refusal of most people to examine the places in their lives where they were privileged. The easier place by far was the place of rage. The high moral ground of the righteously angry victim is in some ways a comforting place, but a place of far greater power is the willingness to examine and dismantle our own privileges and take full responsibility for remaking the world so that neither we nor anyone else can hold it again.
"Nadie la Tiene: Land, Ecology and Nationalism"
- How can you own something that changes under your hands, that is so fully alive. Ecology undermines ownership.
- "national soil" is a nonsensical statement. Places have history, but soil does not have nationality. Just as the air we breathe has been breathed by millions of others first and will go on to be breathed by millions more; just as water falls, travels, evaporates, circulates moisture around the planet-so the land itself migrates.
- The reality is that people circulate like dust, intermingling and reforming, all of us equally ancient on this earth, all equally made of the fragments of long-exploded stars, and if, by some unlikely miracle, a branch of our ancestors has lived in the same place for a thousand years, this does not make them more real than the ones who have continued circulating for that same millennium. All of us have been here since people were people. All of us belong on earth.
- Before land can be stolen, it must become property.
- Earth-centered cultures everywhere held our kinship with land and animals and plants as core knowledge, central to living. The land had to be soaked with blood and that knowledge, those cultures shattered, before private ownership could be erected. It wasn't just theft.
- We are all kin to the land, love it, know it, become intimate with its ways, sometimes over many generations. Surely such kinship and love must be honored. Nationalism does not honor it. Nationalism is about gaining control, not about loving land. But it wears the cloak of that love, strips it from its sensual and practical roots and raises it into a banner for armies. The land invoked as a battle cry is not the same land that smells of sage, or turns blue in the dusk, or clings thickly to our boots after rain. That land is less than nothing to the speech makers.
- It is the land we can be mobilized to recapture because, with its fences and mortgages and deeds, it has been the symbol of our dispossession.
- Ownership shatters ecology. For the land to survive, for us to survive, it must cease to be property. It cannot continue to sustain us for much longer under the weight of such merciless use. We know this. We know the insatiable hunger for profit that drives that use and the disempowerment that accommodates to it. We don't yet know how to make it stop.
- Torturers are made, not born. We know enough about the repetitive cycles of violence, enough about the training of secret police and death squads, special military units and spies, to know that the way you learn to torture is through torture.
- If we agree to accept limits on who is included in humanity, then we will become more and more like those we oppose.
- A fully just society in which human potential is never despised or thrown away is only possible if that invitation is always open.
- All of us have had failures of integrity. I believe part of what makes it so hard to consider perpetrators as part of our constituency is that we cannot bear to examine the ways in which we resemble them. Until we confront the moments when we have been co-opted, coerced or seduced into harming others, we will be vulnerable to becoming defensively self-righteous.
- I am holding out for a radical refusal to compromise on the possibility of any one of us to heal, make new moral choices, make amends and reclaim kinship with those we have harmed.
- There is a place for righteous rage at the torturers, and a place to demand accountability and hard work. But punishment is not a tool of liberation; it is the powerless exercise of violence by those who can think of nothing better. It is the refusal to acknowledge our kinship with those who hurt us. It is a laying down of our vision, and ultimately, if we cannot overcome it, our vision, which is what truly distinguishes us from those we oppose, will die.
“Circle Unbroken: The Politics of Inclusion”
- Historically, attempts to create unity across difference have depended, by and large, on the strategy of a lowest-common-denominator goal, with all other agendas and aspirations put on hold. The inevitable result is that when that limited goal is won, this temporary alliance, no matter how powerful it has been in the short run, collapses.
- Only a feminism that is inclusive, that fully integrates the expertise of all women, that does not indulge in a hierarchy of liberation agendas will be capable of bringing large numbers of women together in long-term alliance. Therefore, the theory we need to be developing is one that helps us understand the relationships among our different and multifaceted lives with all their specific struggles and resources. Rather than build unity through simplification, we must learn to embrace multiple rallying points and understand their inherent interdependence.
- For me, the concept of internalized oppression provides the most important insights into the behavior of oppressed people. Seeing how internalized institutional abuse affects people's choices allows me to explain people's actions as separate from their potential-to say that people make the best choices they can at any particular moment.
- In building a politics of inclusion, we need to map the ways in which our own thinking has been affected by oppression. The process of consciousness raising, of naming the specific ways in which our particular experiences of inequity traumatized us, is an invaluable theorizing tool. There are few things as powerful as identifying the manufacturer's mark on what we have perceived as our personal demons. From this process we can emerge with compassionate respect for our own and each other's creativity in the face of often incomplete and inaccurate information, and extract lessons about what has and hasn't been effective, without needing to shame our earlier selves. This in turn will give us the tools we need to find points of connection with people whose experiences are very different from our own, and whose choices we may be inclined to judge.
- Solidarity is not a matter of altruism. Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, and from the deep recognition of our most expansive self-interest. From the recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable.
"Walking the Talk, Dancing to the Music: the Sustainable Activist Life"
- Sustainable activism is not simply a matter of organizing energy and applying it to tasks. Anyone can do that in a crisis, in a pinch, for a while. Long-term activism requires more or less reliable, ongoing sources of hopefulness, faith, joy and trust because it is a matter of believing in and working for possibilities that are nowhere in sight.
- we need to find ways to live as if what we want to build were already here.
- We live in a society that offers us cheap imitations, that devalues the spiritual in favor of consumption or empty religious forms devoid of spirit, that substitutes the individual for the personal and offers us entertainment and addiction instead of living art. And in order to sustain ourselves, in order to fully tap our power to make social change and do the work we want to do in the world, not for the duration of one crisis after another, but for fifty or sixty years, what we need is the restoration of these profound sources of nourishment: connection with spirit, connection with the personal and connection with the creative. Only such a base gives us the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions, to stay hopeful in times of setback, to balance patience and persistence and choose our battles wisely.
- The spiritual is whatever allows us to notice the miraculous nature of life, how it keeps coming back, asserting itself in the midst of destruction. Whatever allows us to notice that life is in fact bigger than all the mean-spirited cruelties and brutalities of unjust societies. Something large enough to entrust our sense of future to, so that we don't become mired in struggle.
- It doesn't seem to matter what the source is, but without some sense of abundance, people get overwhelmed and lose their compassion and good judgment in urgency.
- Our society is individualistic to the point of insanity. Concern for the common good is ridiculed as naive, and the skills of people from more communally oriented cultures are seen as liabilities.
- What is marketed as the personal is an endless array of techniques that attempt to compensate us for our loss of meaningful work and intimate relationships,
- Love is subversive, undermining the propaganda of narrow self-interest. Love emphasizes connection, responsibility and the joy we take in each other. Therefore love (as opposed to unthinking devotion) is a danger to the status quo and we have been taught to find it embarrassing.
- Art, like dreaming, is something so necessary to internal balance that people deprived of it go a little wacky. Art is the collective dreamplace, the reservoir of our deepest understandings and desires and hopes, as essential as water. In recognition of this fact, the marketplace offers us entertainment, hoping to replace the wild and forested interior of our souls with potted plastic plants. Just as we dream-whether we want to or not, whether we long for or fear our dreaming-people make art and are drawn to art.
- Every vital social movement immediately begins to generate art-songs, poetry, posters, murals, novels-an outpouring of the creativity that people will create from even the smallest crumbs of hope.
- art, like sex, is an essential and affirming part of aliveness, it cannot be totally repressed. So, as best they can, our rulers steal it, commodify it and return it in barely recognizable form, sanitized, rootless, artificial, or they try to medicate away the need, substituting addiction.
- We who believe in freedom, whose daily lives are made up of the clash between what we want for this world and the violent greed that surrounds us, need a culture rich in our people's dreams to keep us sane.
- Human beings seek integrity like water seeks its level, grow toward creative and just solutions like plants grow toward sunlight, sometimes by crooked paths, but always reaching.
From the 2019 edition
- In the work I do, repetition is a method, a rhythm of meaning that must be maintained, a beat to my message.
- How many know that the UN Commission on the Status of Women is the work of Latin American and Caribbean feminists, leaders in a Pan-American women's movement between the two world wars? It was these women, Minerva Bernardino from the Dominican Republic, Amalia Castillo de Ledon from Mexico, Isabel P. Vidal from Uruguay, and Bertha Lutz from Brazil, not white US feminists fighting overly narrowly conceived gender equality, who helped to establish the category of women as a global class whose human rights need defending. ("My Feminism")
- I am at peace with my ghosts. In none of my lineages do my ancestors demand that I build gated homelands. They say Protect all the people, cherish every land, build freedom for everyone. ("Speaking about Antisemitism")
- Boycotts and divestment are honorable tools of moral persuasion through financial choice. ("BDS and Me")
- In the eighteen years since I wrote "The Tribe of Guarayamín," there have been significant changes in in the politics of indigenous identity in the Americas. Most powerful among them is the resurgence of Latin American sovereignty, with a strong core of indigenous leadership, much of it female. Evo Morales, an Aymara man, is president of Bolivia, with a new Constitution that renames it as a plurinational state, in recognition of its indigenous nations. Universities, radio stations, courtrooms carry on their business in indigenous languages, and long idle lands of latifundista families have been reclaimed and distributed to campesinxs, some of whom have become, under the new indigenous autonomy laws, self-governing communities for the first time in five hundred years.
- Last word: Nowadays there is a lot of talk of the patria grande, the greater American homeland, and the unifying dreams of Bolívar, but I have never trusted that word patria. Nations emerged when the obedience and loyalty once sworn to individual aristocrats had to be transferred to an entire class, and it's not a coincidence that patria comes from the same root as "patriarch," "patrimony," "patriarchy." The loyalty I swear is not to nations or governments. My loyalty is to a far broader and deeper integration. I am faithful to the web of vital connections between all that lives, and being faithful to that web requires practicing ecological ethics, requires defending whoever needs it, requires interweaving intimate and communal sovereignties in what could perhaps be called the matria, from the same root as matriz, "womb," the reestablishment of kinship. Only so, spinning and
weaving that fine, strong, relational gauze, will we be able to bind our wounds, mine, those of my people, and those of my planet. ("Histerimonia" p203)
"My Name is This Story"
In Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios (2001)
- I grew up in a Marxist home at a time of international decolonization struggles, my imagination filled with Cuba and Vietnam, Angola and Guinea-Bissau, Chou En-Lai's China and the Bolivia of El Che. I grew up listening to groups of young men talking excitedly about strategy and theory in our living room, while women sat silent, or, if they spoke, were ignored. I grew up with a mother who was a feminist without a movement, who moved farther and farther from those meetings where her comments kept being attributed to my father. I also grew up in a barrio with very few options for women, where intelligence and curiosity were restricted to the daily struggles and the doings of one's neighbors, without room to make other choices than young and plentiful childbearing, agricultural and household labor, food stamps and a pot of gandules.
- The Chicago I landed in in 1967 was on fire with the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, antiwar activism, and the explosion of what was called the women's movement. If Pablo Neruda taught me that a poet could be passionately engaged in politics and write eloquently about it, it was white feminist women like Susan Griffin, Marge Piercy, Adrienne Rich, and Alta who taught me that writing about typing, housework, motherhood, the tangle of sex could be as powerful and gut-wrenching, as tender and exquisite as anything else in literature that my life was worthy. At the same time, the white women around me and my mother, both of us members of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, said things like "Mexican women don't need feminism because they are at the heart of their families and already have the power and support they need. Black women find empowerment in the fight against racism, not sexism. The movement is white because we're the only ones who need it." They could not yet envision a feminism shaped by the needs of brown women. Nevertheless, white feminism began the process of giving me voice.
- It was not until 1978 that I found my first community of women of color writers. A group of us had all taken summer jobs interviewing randomly selected women in San Francisco on their experiences of sexual assault, and we were the interviewers sent into the Mission District, Chinatown, Filmore. In protesting the racism within the project, in sharing the stories we were gathering, and their weight on our hearts, we found each other. Cherríe Moraga, Kitty Tsui, Luisah Teish, Luz Guerra. Each of us led to others. Finally, I began having the conversations I hungered for most. I remember us laughing until our sides hurt, gathered around a potluck of our favorite home foods, about all the lies we had been told about ourselves and each other's people, a healing cleansing laughter that fed our poetry.
- It is the writing of U.S. women of color, a handful of clear-headed white women, mostly Jewish, a few men who engage gender, mostly gay, that sustains me and gives me context.
- This tribe called "women of color" is not an ethnicity. It is one of the inventions of solidarity, an alliance, a political necessity that is not the given name of every female with dark skin and a colonized tongue, but rather a choice about how to resist and with whom.
- Feminism has nearly as long a history in Puerto Rico as in the United States, but colonialism has prevented the full-grown development of movements, cultures, and communities of resistance that have been possible for women in the United States,
- this is how it comes home. That not only does my sense of myself cross many national boundaries, but my sense of Puerto Rico has also opened up, multiplied, shed mythology, and become itself international.
Oral History Interview (2005)
- The Cuban press, every day there were articles about Africa and Latin America and Asia, and people were educated. They knew what the political struggles in different African countries were. They knew about — you know, you’d go through the Daily International page and it was like, in Chad, this is happening. In Burundi, this is happening. In Costa Rica — it was like somebody had pulled back the veils and there was a whole world out there.
- One of my proudest credentials as a writer is to know that my poem “Child of the Americas” was plastered on bathroom walls in a small school in Michigan as graffiti, in an attempt to get people thinking about racism.
- I grew up within the anti-colonial movements of that period. I knew about the Algerian revolution. My father has this amazing mind for history and politics and would tell stories all the time. I knew about the Algerian revolution. I knew about Vietnam. We received Peking Review. I read children’s stories from China, stories from the Cuban Revolution. I had a sense of us being part of a global movement of people with whom I felt a tremendous sense of kinship. I also thought all radicals were Jewish. I was really shocked to discover that Pete Seeger was not Jewish...It was shocking to find out that there were right-wing Jews and that there were so many people who were not Jews who were radicals. I think I probably thought Fidel [Castro] was Jewish. He had the beard, like my dad.
- Yes, but my own ability to think about it clearly didn’t emerge until there were other women of color around. I was a new immigrant as well, and the strangeness of the United States, period, overwhelmed some of the other things that I was thinking about.
- "Is the racism of the women’s movement dominant in your recollection and experience of the women’s movement?"
- I got hired on to Diana Russell’s study of the incidence of rape in San Francisco, which was a groundbreaking study. It was the first study about the prevalence, and a randomized study in the city and I was one of a group of women of color who were hired to do the interviewing in communities of color. So there was the sensitivity to understand that you couldn’t send white interviewers into all of those places, but there was also a certain kind of tokenizing that went on within that as well, and it was a who’s who of women of color writers that were emerging over the next ten years into much more prominence. That’s where I met Cherríe Moraga, Luisah Teish, Kitty Tsui, who was certainly known locally. Luz Guerra was in that group...I remember sitting around. We called ourselves Dial-A-Token. We were like joking about how we were all finding ourselves on stage at all these events organized by white women’s organizations who wanted one of each of different categories of women of color and that maybe we should just start an agency called Dial-A-Token.
- On the strength of what happened with This Bridge, I was suddenly credentialed. Suddenly I had the authority to speak about my own life and get paid a lot of money by a university to do so. Because that book had broken into — had been picked up by women’s studies all over the country and was being taught. As a high school dropout I suddenly was an authority, I was an expert, and I was getting called up and asked to come speak about being both Jewish and Puerto Rican, about being an immigrant, about the particular position that I held. And it was a very odd experience to go from complete outsider to academia to being brought in as a lecturer and being paid hundreds of dollars.
- I’m doing it as a poet...weaving together — you know, the fact that Gloria Anzaldúa died of diabetes and that Helen Rodriguez died of lung cancer: sugar, tobacco, coffee are the products that are grown on the land that I came from and in a lot of colonized Latin America and certainly in the Caribbean, parts of South America and Central America. And the poisons that were used to grow that, the slave labor behind it — you know, there’s a whole complicated legacy there. Sugar is involved in — diabetes is epidemic in the Latino community, particularly in Latina women. It’s higher on the list of top ten causes of death than it is for other constituencies. So there’s something we need to talk about in how we nourish ourselves and how our nourishment is interfered with. You know, basically, sickness comes from oppression and health comes from liberation is the core message there, but I want to talk about the details. So I’m in the process of integrating my illness into my work more because I’ve spent years struggling to work in spite of — and it’s not viable.
Kindling: Writings on the Body (2013)
- Our bodies are in the mix of everything we call political. (p 10)
- We are turning the world out of prehistory into that morning that will be ours, when everyone on earth will wake up unafraid. (p 29)
- If there was widespread recognition that many people are depressed because oppression makes us miserable, and that large numbers of people are getting sick because of the reckless use of toxic chemicals for profit, more of us might become inspired to organize, and resist the policies that make us sick and sad. (In the article "some thoughts on environmental illness")
- Listen with your body. Let your body speak.
Quotes about Aurora Levins Morales
- An essay on Lebanon, written just after the invasion of that country by Israeli troops in 1982, by the Jewish-Puerto Rican writer Aurora Morales came closest to expressing my own rage and grief. | have endeavored to share all of these experiences with my students, while also acquainting them with the history of anti-Semitism (some of whom had never heard of it!) and our resistance to it.
- Bettina Aptheker Tapestries of Life: Women's Work, Women's Consciousness, and the Meaning of Daily Experience (1989)
- As Aurora Levins Morales teaches us, "The stories we tell about our suffering define what we can imagine doing about it." Currently the prevailing story told about sexual violence is that our suffering can be fixed by the criminal legal system. Legal remedies such as restraining orders and criminal charges are the primary forms of redress offered to survivors of violence and harm. This limited range of remedies frequently forecloses our consideration of other possible ways to address sexual harm. Abolition is the praxis that gives us room for new visions and allows us to write new stories-together. But it is hard, hard work.
- Mariame Kaba, We Do This Til We Free Us (2021)
- disability justice. It’s a framework that embraces abolition. And that is to say, it demands nothing less than the overthrow of all forms of ableism, you know, and the structures that support it. So, the difference between disability justice and disability rights is that disability justice says, you know, we’ve got to deal with racism, sexism, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, that these are the forms of oppression that make even disability differential. And so, if you think about the way that we responded to the COVID-19 crisis, for example, and to this day how we’re still responding to it, that disabled people who are Black and Brown and poor, undocumented, Indigenous, queer, gender nonconforming, they’re the ones that end up getting differential care, sometimes less care, sometimes inhumane care. They’re the ones who end up incarcerated, end up homeless, end up jobless, housing insecure. And that’s what disability justice tells us. And for me, I was forced to really come to terms with it by a number of folks who really were involved in the disability justice movement, who really forced me to think deeper about, like, what is a radical freedom dream, you know? Aurora Levins Morales, for example, is one who’s a really important disability justice activist who really kind of pulled my coattails on this.
- Twenty years ago I first read Medicine Stories and had my mind blown by the elegant, virtuosic way Aurora Levins Morales imagined a theory interweaving childhood sexual abuse survival, Indigenous sovereignty, anticlassism, and deep Latinx queer anticolonial ecological justice. Twenty years later, her analysis is even more rich and full of fruit, revising and expanding her work to encompass Standing Rock and the global fight for water and land liberation, survivorhood, and disability justice.
- Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, blurb for Medicine Stories: Essays for Radicals (2019)
- Aurora Levins Morales's work should absolutely be supported. She has an impeccable progressive and visionary politic. Her prose has the literary eloquence of a pure poetry.
- Cherríe Moraga, blurb for Medicine Stories: Essays for Radicals (2019)