Thursday, March 29, 2007

Who IS this woman?

Makin me wanna rock the mic once again..

Sunday, March 25, 2007


To whom it does concern:

You have a certain way of doing it. It began with the identical set of questions you had asked other women, students, about their personal lives. One woman who spoke didn’t let it get past the questions. I was in a slightly different position. The people I trust, the people who had changed my life have close relationships with you. I was familiar with your work in the community and had personal relationships with those who collaborated with you or worked under you. Students were ready to risk their university degrees for your cause, because they believed you were deep in the struggle. I was caught up in the fabricated glory of you. So I answered your questions without a second thought, and asked some myself, not knowing yet where this was going but not feeling threatened at all.

Each night, once a week on the same weekday after class you’d come upstairs and into my door or we’d go out to dinner, and the plan was to go over some work. This only happened two or three times. Other nights were continuations of the questioning with drawn out conversation. Flirting. You asked me about my general intentions. I told you I wanted nothing short of commitment. I was moving into a new cycle in my life, where I wanted to be patient with the next person. To wait a while. You said you were glad I was 25 at the time. That I had a certain maturity and certainty about my path. There was a clarity that developed through the late night conversations and the short moments of physical closeness.

There was that first night. Before a trip to some academic conference you were flying out to. We agreed it was cool for you to spend the night, so we could continue our talks. The late night came and went, and then came tiredness long past midnight. You told me to bring an extra pillow. I figured there wasn’t any harm. I reminded myself that there was a given mutual trust and respect.

Your hands. They caught me by surprise- attempting to find their ways into places I was not yet ready to give. I wanted to be held. But I was not asking for more than this. I pushed your hands away- several times. Eventually you stopped, turned around, and fell asleep facing the wall.

It was that second night. We studied at your house. The place that you were so thrilled to show me. This was yours. Your accomplishment. Your big privilege. Not mine. At times you would say we were privileged, that we could do whatever we wanted. Clearly you misunderstood who I was, and you were immersed in your acquisitions. There was an obsession about you. Always wanting to get published. To out-publish this person or that institution. Naïvely so, I got caught up in the glory of this world I confused for my own. I slipped outside myself to become enraptured with the idea of co-publishing with you. Of thinking that this was going to become part of what was going to define me. This was your way of doing things. It was not long before I discovered that your vision was never to incorporate my valuable thoughts into what was to be your accomplishment. Your big privilege. To have someone run around and look things up for you. Your academic maid. Xerox copies. Research. I was too busy for this. I had to defend my time. And even that night I couldn’t finish my own work, because yours needed feedback, processing, analysis, refinement. When I said I had work of my own to do, I caught you stopping yourself before you said my work was insignificant in light of yours. Blinded by the glory, I doubted that this was what I heard. But I look back into the image of that time, and that's exactly what was said.

Still, that second night you had your way of doing things. Between the work, there was the continuing conversation over tea. You said this could work. This secret affair. Someone would have to make compromises when it came time for me to make the decision to move back home, but we should try it. See if it’s worth it. See what comes out of it. You were seriously into me. You were feeling me. You were feeling this. You said this. And I reiterated what my intentions have been. I was not a fling. I was looking for the real thing and you responded saying you were looking for the same. I believed you. Caught up in the glory of it all. That second night continued. The drowsiness came in, but we were caught up in your bedroom. I was not so reluctant as the first night. I had your words with me. Still, it wasn’t easy. There was kissing and stopping. Touching and blocking. Reaching, and grabbing, and pushing away. Thinking. I had your words with me. Your words that so many had relied on for validation. Your words that were inquired into by academic experts supposedly in the struggle. Your words that have compelled others to question, think, and reason in new ways. Your words made it okay. They were worth something. They were worth all the faith I had in the work you do and the people who have worked with you. And so it happened your way. I took you for your words. This was your big accomplishment. Your big privilege. Your words have given you all the access. Power. Money. Sex. Reputation. Status. This was your way of doing things. And then came morning and the rest of the day as it usually comes to me. Work. School. Home. Sleep. The quiet war had started, yet I still didn’t know.

The next morning you had made your decision. You picked me up from my books and took me out to breakfast. Crepes, coffee, and home fried potatoes. This was your way of doing things. You said we couldn’t do it anymore. It was too risky. You could loose your place in the game. Your accomplishments. Your big privileges. The cause that you had everyone else so worked up for. We could just be friends. That morning you tried to dishonor the names of those who have been loyal to you, loyal to the struggle. You projected yourself onto them: saying that they’re caught up in their own privileges, that they’re not consistent with their words, that they don’t “ride” for you. We could still work together, you said. I looked at you. I had no words. You tried to draw them out of me, but I had not yet formulated cogent thoughts. I only knew I felt defeated. Back-stabbed. Used. You wanted me to be okay. Okay with this. Your decision.

The next week I had taken myself out of the glory of you and your world. I had slipped back into myself, finding myself angry at having abandoned my self. I looked at what had come over me. Recited your words in my memory. Replayed every action. Remembered every response you had for every word I said between us. Re/dis/covered your way with things. I called you. Texted you. There were no longer the prompt responses. I had some thoughts I wanted to share. You were too busy now. It was important, the words you tried to draw out of me- I found them. You called me from the doctor’s office, in a hurry. But, my words needed time. Respect. Space. Serious consideration. I was about to tell you something about yourself you couldn't see. Or so I thought. Something that called for reflection. Change.

Months went by with no replies. Days came and went with the usual school and work business, but now with this quiet war in my mind that I tried to ignore. Until a woman came up. She had her war too, and she had it with you. She was a random woman I didn't know who had spoken. I listened. I decided to speak too. Through this act of self-love, of speaking, of naming, I learned from other women who knew you closely, that this quiet war wasn’t just about me. There were a list of women who had their quiet wars with you too. I was enraged. Disgusted. Feeling more defeated than the morning you had made your decision. This was a way you had with other women too. It was systematic. I had been a bent up cog in your machine used to fabricate the false power you exude. My existence, my QUEENDOM had been diminished to that. And there was the struggle: a chariot used to carry you across the world with women of color for horses. I saw things now as they had been before me, as they continue to be for other women who fight these quiet wars. I spoke. Made it known. Swept the pile of dust from under the rug and into the wind of the world you share with your closest ones. The ones who validate you. The ones who should challenge you and your way with things.

This letter is not for you. This letter is for all the other women who fight these quiet wars. Every time I must face other students, other women, caught up in the glory, speaking about how great your lectures are, how innovative your academic articles are, how great it must have been to study with you, independently, I fight that quiet war. For every word I do not speak in these instances, my existence dissipates into the abyss hidden beneath the disillusionment of academic glory. I wish I could tell the world about what you do after your reputation is done doing its flaunting for the day in the ivory towers. How your integrity should be called into question. How that detailed letter you wrote to the colleges for me was not about me, but a copy and paste unfounded story about a different student. I bet you thought I wouldn't speak. How long would you think this game would play for? How long before you'd mess with the wrong QUEEN? But I know there is no design in place for healing and accountability. There is only punishment. And within revenge exists no change. No transformation for a colonized man of color in a white colonial system. No healing for the women of color who fight these quiet wars. I’m not interested in apologies. I won’t answer to any phone calls, letters, or emails about your excuses for the truth. I was there. The other women were there. Your character has already been determined by your actions. The conversation you must have is not with me or the other women you have dishonored. The conversation you must have is with yourself.

Rosa Cabrera

From the 5 Mindfulness Trainings you say you observe, the one you will not post on your big windows and walls:
The Third Training: Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I vow to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.

(This is a first draft of a work in progress. Constructive criticism welcomed!)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Letter to EOC and Avenues Project Leaders

Dear East Oakland Community and Avenues Project,

When I was about 5 or 6 years old, I used to look down at my feet and notice how near they seemed to my reach. I was well aware that in time that would change, and that with this change will come a number of phases and events in my life. I always tried to imagine in my head, as if looking back into a memory, what those events would look like and how I will respond to and become shaped by the challenges I would face. I knew at an earlier age that life was going to be hard, and that the choices I would make in my life would not be for my own selfish benefit. Today I look down at my size 9 feet, 5 foot 5 inches below, and look back at the years I’ve survived and how I’ve lived my life. As I break myself open, I count the rings and marks like a severed tree trunk, remembering the moments that have challenged and strengthened me throughout my life.

I’ve survived growing up in a home of unchallenged domestic violence, I’ve survived teaching for years in New York with no guidance and no support, I’ve survived cleaning bathrooms, floors, and windows in the San Francisco SOMA district in exchange for rent at a hostel after leaving my family and a crying mother in New York City at merely 20 years old, I’ve survived a physically abusive lover for two years, I’ve survived three universities through sacrificing having a life to keep up a damn 3.7 GPA, I’ve survived being sexually manipulated by a naïvely trusted professor and a high regarded community member, I’ve survived being a queer woman of color in a straight white man’s world. While all of these experiences have helped me, in harsh ways, to gain some of the strength and wisdom I need to stay unafraid to walk towards freedom, no event in my life has challenged me more, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, than East Oakland Community High School and the Avenues Project.

The opportunity came about in a way that felt unmistakably predestined along the proper path in my life. I went to a conference in Oakland on education and immigrant rights to meet Luis Garden Acosta of the Young Lords Party, and was drawn to Cesar Cruz and the Richmond Making Changes Freedom School instead. I knew right away that I wanted to see the dream I had been in the process of imagining when I learned about the grassroots movement taking place on a family’s backyard in Richmond. It was a necessary and fulfilling sacrifice to take the Bart twice a week from San Francisco to Richmond to learn what it meant to participate in creating my own freedom. Cesar then told me about a job offer he had in Oakland, and asked me about 4 or 5 times to come join him and teach during the school day and after school. I was an overtime student at San Francisco State and I didn’t think I’d be able to carry the weight. I’m glad though, that Cesar didn’t let me say no. I didn’t know at the time that this was the school that Jeff Duncan-Andrade, the professor I had admired for his dedication and expertise in urban education, had been talking about teaching in himself. I also didn’t know, that I would come across a number of community members that I would hold in high regard for the rest of my life. A lot of things seemed to have fallen into their places for a significant reason.

EOC/ Avenues has been the only place that has challenged me to the utmost depth thus far. It was the only place that had allowed me to push harder than ever to give birth to visions for curriculum structure, putting theory into practice, and become myself: an educator who uses text as AK47’s against the intellectual apartheid of this oppressive society. For years I had dreamed of building a space for young soldiers of color to grow intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally, and here I found that someone was dreaming the same dream, and there I was participating in it. I was dead scared. What if I would face a challenge I could not overcome? What if I couldn’t yet give my students the education they deserve? What if I would find that I wasn’t strong enough yet to be the person I had wanted to be? EOC was the only opportunity I’ve had thus far to put my inner self to the test. It was not only the space that has helped me grow as an educator, as a leader, and as a person true to herself, but it has also taught me how to grow. For this I am grateful. I am also grateful that this movement challenges what many say is unlikely or impossible. Because of somebody else’s dream, my own dream feels like a tangible reality. I no longer feel that I would doubt myself in my ability to realize my goal. I am not only more aware and have a clearer sense of what my weaknesses are, but I’ve gained a set of tools and truths that will help me continue the process of self-transformation and building strength. EOC has truly helped me understand that it is only through facing my weaknesses that I will rediscover myself in the process of becoming.

Through EOC I’ve also come to understand how symbols of power can co-opt or stagnate a movement. Being an overtime student confuses you. It tricks you into thinking you are gaining truth, through acquiring false power. Veracious truth and power come through the conquest for freedom, and there is nothing that taught me this more than understanding what it means to conquer the oppressor through the minds of our youth. Every lesson taught with success was a battle won. It is an amazing privilege to observe the transformation I helped create within my classroom. I don’t know many people in my past who would ever think that Black and Brown students would be able to apply Frantz Fanon, Paulo Freire, Stephen Haymes, Andrea Smith, and concepts of structural violence and symbolic violence to their everyday lives, let alone visual documentation. I’ve begun to discover the power of critical art. Because of my experience in this movement, I have already proven many people I will encounter in my future wrong. The EOC movement has pushed me to take a giant leap down my chosen path.

I am not looking forward to graduate school. I face the same frustrations that my students do in transitioning into an institution usurped by systematic intellectual apartheid. I know that no university institution in that system will push me further along the path of freedom more than the community of EOC can. I’m infuriated that so-called educational institutions that perpetuate sexist, racist, and homophobic notions are allowed to exist while EOC and Avenues are being allowed to shut down. I was counting on the fact that the continuing progress that EOC and the Avenues Project make would be a testament to the survival of my own dream. But I am also furious at myself when I choose my own work at SF State over my work at EOC. And I’m enraged at the fact that I’m choosing my family and community in New York over my family and community in Oakland; that I am not choosing to stay to take a leadership role in continuing this effort. Today, I am still not sure if I am making the right choice, and I continued to think up ways to stay another year, thinking maybe I could defer grad school for a year to support the transition for EOC and Avenues. I thought up ways that I could try to convince my mom, who has been trying to flee an abusive husband, to come live in Oakland with me for a year. Still, I don’t know if this would have been the right decision to make. But it seems that for some reason(s) unknown, our leaders have chosen to conclude the dream of EOC and Avenues. This decision breaks my heart and I am truly deeply affected by it, although I feel that I am not in a place to push one decision or another, due to the fact that I’ve committed myself to be bound for New York.

Still, I am grateful to have had the privilege to be a part of this movement. This is a legacy that will, without question or doubt, continue with me back home. It has instilled in me a sense of the realities I will face in birthing my own dream. It has given me the opportunity to begin understanding the discipline needed to sustain such a dream. I have become aware of the variety of skills and support needed to nurture such a dream, and most importantly, EOC has taught me not to doubt my own ability to manifest into being visions stemming from my own conviction of freedom as a destined journey for my people. I thank the leaders and the community of EOC and Avenues for the right of passage from a naïve dreamer and visionary into a more aware and better mentally and spiritually equipped warrior for freedom. Whether it be through the “South Bronx Community High School” or the “Harlem Making Changes Freedom School” my future challenges will not have been successful without the love, wisdom, and risk that it took to build East Oakland Community High School and the Avenues Project. With all my heart and soul I thank you.

Rosa Cabrera

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Thursday, March 01, 2007

EOC, Unstoppable!

They can take a building away,
but they cannot take away our community!