The body prompts memory and language, builds community and coalition. The body is a pedagogical devise, a location of recentering and recontextualizing the self and the stories that emanate from the self.
Cindy Cruz (2001, p. 668)
There are memories lingering in my body, words to be fleshed. I'm thinking about all of the cafecitos that have taken place on mom's kitchen table for over twenty-five years. There are certain building blocks that manifest from cafecito sessions: memories, words, and flesh.
Memories turned words.
Words turned flesh.
Flesh turned memories.
Stirring and cyclicality.
Carriers of testimonios are commonly referred to as testimonialistas, they are the individuals that offer stories (Delgado Bernal et al., 2012, p. 371). Stories, I've heard, are both methodological and theoretical (Riley-Mukavetz, 2014, p. 110). El testimonio is a type of story, I learned its gestures before I was able to understand the life lessons it left behind. El testimonio was a reliable source for documenting because it didn't require pen or paper, it demanded body. Many of the people that surrounded mom's kitchen table were [un]documented, as in sin papeles. Border crossings only allow for the carrying of a few items, most things get thrown away or are lost in transition. Bodies serve as vessels. El testimonio as presented on the kitchen table allowed for moments of simultaneous joy and pain. Some say that stories are medicinal, I am a firm believer in their healing properties because all that was repressed somehow found its way on mom's table through el testimonio (Levins Morales, 2019, p. 85).
To me, stories sound like the stuff of magic, they are accompanied by conjurings of the dead and living. Testimonios break the temporal order and don't only provide lessons on the past, they engage futures. Community is at the center of stories. The stories I share are all about home, about Compton, California, but because colonialism displaces, home is and isn't. Home ends up including borders, all things outside and in-between. Compton has historically served as a site for the dis-placed. There are no history books that premise Compton's Black and Latino inhabitants around colonialism and its ensuing ramifications. Briefly, I'm even thinking about the set distinctions between Latinidad and Blackness, binaries that don't delve into their unequivocal rootedness. What follows are truths: the present-day materiality of the city's racialized landscapes are tied to migration patterns, racially restrictive housing covenants, white flight, economic recession, and policing. Often, these colonial tactics that aim to symbolically and materially exclude present-day communities in Compton bring rise to palimpsestic histories. These truths have yet to make space for Indigenous populations such as the Kizh and Tongva which thereon assumes that sites such as Compton remained untouched and therefore uninhabited.
The TEST in this TESTimonialista is fitting; it asks for the testing of grounds in which I was raised but am not native to. El testimonio with its origins in Latin America speaks to me through lineage and unfolds on grounds in the United States of America that are new to me and my ancestors. Additionally, there lies the call of a revolutionary poetic that placed Compton on the map, hip-hop, more specifically rap. Hip-hop is a reckoning force in Compton with African-American and Caribbean roots; it told stories in a way that caught my attention as I found another place to call community amongst peers within the schools of the Compton Unified School District (CUSD). Stories, because of community, find a way to intertwine.
Stories are political and therefore intersectional, relational, historical, and memorable. Stories are revolutionary, particularly at a time in our country when we are being asked to not forget, to keep memory alive, because Black liberation and Indigenous sovereignty are not new efforts or dreams but longstanding and ongoing means towards survival. This testimonio, the fragments that I am going to share with you about my being in the city as I maneuver between sound, space, and place, are not the only truths, but some of many. I would argue that in the many, in these relationalities, is where we find meaning to our pasts and futures during uncertain and trying times. This is a test-test, y'all.
"REFUGEES OF A WORLD ON FIRE"
My parents made home on the corner of El Segundo y La Santa Fe, in an apartment building which housed a predominantly Latino community. My father, a Mexicano from Irapuato, Guanajuato was 27 years old then. Almost my age now. A tall and slender man whose white skin turned red from all those weekdays and weekends of working at la llantera for less than minimum wage. Now in his fifties, as we watch the uprising on a hot summer's day through our television screen, he tells the tale of a father who cautiously peers through the small apartment window. In 1992, in the city of Compton, my father watched armed bakers protect their panaderia while the nearby liquor store got looted.
My mother, a Mexicana from Querendaro, Michoacan was 22 years old then. Almost my brother's age now. A short and curvaceous woman whose brown skin began to lose its color from all those weekdays and weekends of staying inside the apartment building without dad to guide her around this, her new city. Now in her forties, as we watch the uprisings on a hot summer's day through our television screen, she tells the tale of a first-time mother learning to care for a child in an unknown territory. She learns from mothers in the apartment complex, remembers one of them making their way into the gates with boxes of diapers on hand. In 1992, in the city of Compton, my mother was reminded by my father about their "illegal statuses" and the consequences of being identified by the Los Angeles Police Department if they interfered in any way.
These are my parent's memories. I was too young to remember scenes from the Los Angeles Rebellions of 1992 in the city of Compton, and yet, their memories are part of my history. It's a history that spans across territories that are both known and unknown to me. A history that is as much interconnected with migration patterns stemming from my parent's homelands in México to that of Black residents of the city who made home in shared landscapes following the Great Migration. I am consumed by the memories, testimonies, and histories of Black and Mexican communities during 1992, our grounding in this time and space aligns our bodies within the configurations of a landscape that has historically deemed us expendable. Albeit through different means. Black lives always the first target. The Los Angeles Rebellions of 1992 are a moment in time where Black and non-Black Latinx memories and histories intersect. Haunting the movements of every last bystander, the allied, the survivor. Haunting every last written word complete or incomplete, as broken as it may be.
FRAGMENTS OF A DAUGHTER WITH AN UNDOCUMENTED LINEAGE
It doesn't take long for us―us with parents with undocumented statuses—to figure out that something is fucked. I learned that we were criminals at a young age. I repeat we and not my parent's solely. My amerikkkan citizenship status could not and would not protect me. My parent's undocumented statuses and its attached criminality also followed me. This makes me then believe that the problem is not my parents "legality," but the collective color of our shared otherness and its coinciding poverty.
I learned to fear at the age of five. My dad driving after a long day's work. Mom and I awaiting in our seats to crave our hunger on our way to Louis Burgers. The navy blue Monte Carlo car camouflaged with the night, but even the concealment of said night could not protect us. Three lights never hesitated to shine bright―red, white, and blue. Fourth of July colors, supposed freedom colors that represented something else entirely when placed on the roof of an LAPD vehicle.
Those born to undocumented parents know the drill. The radio is set to silent. The platica stops. Your mother's body stiffens, she reacts, turns to you, makes sure that you are properly seated y con el cinturón of course. To me this became a routine, I began to synthesize it into small words for rapid actions.
"¡Estefani el cinturón!"
Eventually, I would no longer need an alert from my father. I was on the lookout for cops. I no longer needed my mom to help me with my cinto either, but like all good moms do she always checked "por si acaso." I no longer grew startled when the cops would shine their red, white, and blue behind us or when they would cast their lights on my dad's face, my mom's face, or my own face. I no longer got shaky or panicky when my father was asked to step outside of the vehicle. I expected the car to be towed.
My dad would call his compadres. The money was gathered. A license holder obtained. The car would be out and about again. Until the red, white, and the blue would appear again.
"¡Estefani el cinturón!"
"FUCK THA POLICE"
Do you remember when you first heard "Fuck tha Police"? I will tell you now, it was not in my home. No way that would cross my parents' mouths. I mean, sure, we didn't have a good streak with the cops, but I grew up to respect all authority even in the midst of contradiction. I didn't hear "Fuck tha Police" until I was at the Compton Fashion Center, Cycadelic Records playing N.W.A. (1988). I mean, I'm sure I had heard it before, but not as clearly as that day.
Over ice cream, I asked Mom about the sound, and she said that was "musica de cholo." Thereafter, I began to bump into "Fuck tha Police" on the streets―laundromats, parking lots, and fast food joints. So much so that it soon became background noise until middle school, when a boy, who we will call Jay, bumped it as we were getting in line for lunch.
Jay had a bad streak, had continuously committed a punishable and therefore criminal act. Jay's crime? Always being late to school, just like someone we will call Aye. Jay and Aye were the complete opposite in my eyes. The most obvious was that Jay was Black and Aye was Mexicano, like he couldn't speak English Mexicano. Jay was bold and Aye was shy, but they both faced the same crime. Being late and thereon ditching in the bathrooms throwing spit balls on the roof until one day they were both seen listening to "Fuck tha Police" and humming away in harmony.
And I only offer this seemingly unimportant and mundane piece because I've been thinking. Maybe I learned autonomy and rebellion at a young age. Maybe fuck the police, just the phrase, called for me. Called for a first generation "Mexicana Americana" raised in Compton to undocumented parents. Called for me to make connections across communities Black, Mexicano, Centro Americano, Indigena communities contra el estado. Called for me in sweet sounds of abolition. Called for me in a way that made sense when no one was charged for the murder of Breonna Taylor. Called for me so much so that I could one day look back to the phrase and say to you―my city and city's like mine are not in need of empowerment or saving. We are doing just fine, but if you want to help then say "fuck tha police" with me and believe in abolition.
TEST-TEST-TESTIMONIALISTA: AN INTERLUDE INTO THE FUTURE
the streets remain the same uneven asphalt here concrete there potholes everywhere uneven and yet it seems that i'm no longer conceivable here test test test test test test test test like the heartbeat monitor hoping to save its grace before the flatline nowhere to be traced probably s l i p p e d into one of the city's potholes wormholes in disguise louis burgers a rubble of concrete with only its sky high sign to prove that it once existed la mas a laundromat no carniceria no money order station no treats from méxico the compton fashion center a walmart selling old english print compton shirts costumes for the outsiders the old lady's green-blue home the home sits there still but is now coated orange and she is no longer there to sell medicine on the sly my childhood home on 126 the kids they don't run on and about no marshell and i to be found eating loquats sharing smiles the horse stable with the marisco shack lucha libre a resting laughter stop all gone the streets remain the same uneven asphalt here concrete there potholes everywhere uneven and yet it seems that i'm no longer conceivable here test test test test test test test test
Cruz, Cindy. (2001). Towards an epistemology of a brown body. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 14(5), 657–669. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518390110059874
Delgado Bernal, Dolores, Rebeca Burciaga, & Judith Flores Carmona. (2012). Chicana/Latina testimonios: Mapping the methodological, pedagogical, and political. Equity and Excellence in Education, 45(3), 363–372. https://doi.org/10.1080/10665684.2012.698149
Levins Morales, Aurora. (2019). Medicine Stories: Essays for Radicals. Duke University Press.
N.W.A. (1988). Fuck tha police [Song]. On Straight outta compton. Ruthless.
Riley-Mukavetz, Andrea M. (2014). Towards a cultural rhetorics methodology: Making research matter with multi-generational women from the Little Traverse Bay Band. Rhetoric, Professional Communication and Globalization, 5(1), 108–125. https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/rpcg/vol5/iss1/6/