Coming Back

The event at iFest went really well. Thanks to everybody who came out! This is a copy of the piece I read:

I’m coming back—I remember—as the plane comes in from the East Coast, the air is transparent, I can see the bayous, the wetlands, the coastal marshes leading out into the Gulf of Mexico, then Anahuac and the San Jacinto monument near Baytown. Then hitting the refineries, the plumes of white smoke so high and so dense they obscure the view from the airplanes window, looking ahead of me into Downtown Houston, a dense smog of chemical byproducts and looking back, clarity.

Getting off the airplane, walking out of the terminal and the thickness of the dirty, gasoline scented air envelops my body, crushing it a little, revenge, flooding the lungs with hot, heavy moisture. I gasp for breath, and know that this can be a home.

I moved back to Houston in 2001, to the city I was born but not where I grew up. I moved into a cramped one bedroom apartment in my dad’s old neighborhood, in the East End. The first day, I set up an altar in the corner of the main room.

I put everything on the altar, a rickety cobblers bench from my grandma: candy-raver bracelets from my teenage days, Arabic tea glasses from an ex-boyfriend, a small ceramic flute shaped like a bird, ANC flags, pictures of me in drag...

But mostly the altar was home to random relics of my family: my paternal grandfather’s decommissioned police badges and a rifle he used to go hunting. Pictures of Telephone Road, of the signs from the 50’s for the Jimmy Menutis Club. A photo of an old family ranch in Lockhart in Central Texas clipped from a 1950s newspaper; the headline reads “Mystery Farm.” A photo of my maternal great-grandmother in Mexico on vacation. A stocky, thick woman, she wears thick glasses, sensible black heels, a black skirt with matching jacket, a black hat with a tousle of black tulle hanging off her hat on her back. An indigenous woman half her height looks on in seeming disbelief at this white woman all in black, she wears a dress that reaches the dirt road they are walking on, a serape covers her head, an apron draped across her front . Mountains loom in the background.

It’s all a mystery. I can’t look away from these things, they’re proof to me of my conflicted place in the world.

My mother always says, “Remember who you are,” probably the one comment that really identifies her class, well-to-do white Southerners who doggedly pass their status and their privilege on to their children. Of course, my mother doesn’t mean this when she says it. She means, don’t get into trouble, don’t be mean to people or let them be mean to you.

When I moved back to the East End, I said, look, I not only want to remember who I am, I want to discover this place anew.

***

I took down my altar in 2003 when I realized the past had become present, altars are built for the dead, not for something alive in my life. All the objects covered with dust, grime and dirt. A dark untouched, untouchable corner. One day, in a bittersweet emotional flood, I threw everything into boxes and stowed them away in a storage closet.

Now, the past is present, the present is past is future always. Living in a house a few blocks from the bungalow my grandparents built in the 1920s and my parents sold in the seventies. In the taqueria on the corner, Por Mis Cazuelas, where we buy our morning tacos. In Candé’s hair salon where my cut hair falls on the floor, the same floor my father swept when it was the New System Laundry. Riding bikes down the abandoned railline, now a hike and bike path, small houses abut to the trail, backyard clotheslines, barbecues, old ladies sitting in chairs watching the pedestrian traffic. These same houses where my dad’s family first settled when they arrived to Houston in a duplex in Magnolia on Avenue H. Walking with my boyfriend in the park under the Lockwood bridge over Buffalo Bayou, at the very place where it starts to widen into the Ship Channel. Laying on the newly placed blocks of sod and playing with a lone ladybug in the Spring before the heat hits. The park is built on ground that used to be a Taxi Station that my police officer grandfather patrolled in the thirties.

But I can’t be too wildly nostalgic. The privilege and status is born from oppression, wrought out of a bloody history.

The past rears its ugly head every day. When students walk out and a city condemns them for their foolishness, instead of celebrating their involvement. When a mentally ill man is killed by the police and no real changes result and the killings continue. Yesterday was the anniversary of the battle of San Jacinto, of Texas independence from Mexico, anti-immigrant protestors commemorated the event with signs reading, Texas is not a Mexican Colony. The past lives on. The streets are still maintained wildly better than River Oaks, the Bush family dynasty’s retirement community. Traveling down perfect streets in River Oaks, palm trees, Christmas lights twinkling yearround. But in every community meeting across the city, the complaints pour out. Back in the hood, back in the barrio, there are open ditches, sewage backs up, the sidewalks jut and expand as trees push them up. Kids walk in the street to get to school and get hit.

I have a vision here, somewhere between the beauties of our present moment and the raw injustice of the conflicts rooted in this city, the city itself a product of a blood-stained, broken history.

Somewhere in there—a way to recognize. I have no special claim to this place, I don’t want to be in the center. The view from the margins, the bedraggled outsider watching the palaces, the skyscrapers. What Houston has given me is a sense of place, a sense of root. But staying stuck in geneology and legacies defeats the purpose.

Walk out. The kids had it right. Walk Out. One of these days, we’ll just walk out and keep on walking. And it’ll be one hot sweaty August (or April) day, the kind that soaks you in sweat and in wetness, the sun beating down, and we’ll walk out, scurrying to catch patches of shade where it’s a little bit cooler...

2 comentarios:

Bill dijo...

Nice. You made a place for sure.

TXMuse dijo...

Any chance of you sharing the Telephone Road photos?
Thanks,
Vicki