“Joy is an act of resistance”
- Toi Derricotte from the poem THE TELLY CYCLE
The global turmoil of the past three years has been an attack on our physical health, a confrontation of our hopes, principles and values, and ultimately an extreme pressure test of our resilience. Approaching this holiday season, we are frankly living in a bizarre world. The wide ranging consequences of the ongoing pandemic, the overarching significance of the brutal murder of George Floyd, election deniers threatening democracy, the dissolution of Roe v. Wade, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the election of an heir to the fascist party in Italy, the fatal beating of Mahsa Amini by morality police in Iran, and last but not least, the escalating climate crisis. How can you not feel whiplashed? But, guess what? By the grace of the Universe, we are still here, living this life, and that is the most sincere reason that we must seek out, create and seize moments of joy.
“The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers, which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.”
– Audre Lorde
I hail from one of the most joyous regions on this planet. Caribbean islands are known for their natural beauty and resources, vibrant island life, iconic music, delicious food and charming people. Despite rich cultural heritages, many Caribbean cultures have been defined by oppressive colonial experiences, political unrest, devastating natural disasters and stagarring poverty. One has to ask: how have the citizens of these small countries sustained their joyful magic?
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
– Audre Lorde
Between birth and age 6, when I moved to the US, I lived in Rockfort, a lower-middle class community infamous for violence located in Kingston, Jamaica. While I attended primary school, Jamaica experienced political tension and violent demonstrations as a result of mounting social-economic fallout after the 1976 general elections. Consequently, my memories of walks to and from my primary school with my doting grand-aunt are juxtaposed by those of routine stops by the military police, guns drawn and tension high. But, in the face of such jarring experiences, aunt Irie (“Irie” is the Jamaican term for everything is alright and fine) continued her nurturing ways without skipping a noticeable beat. Perhaps, for her, affection was a way to calm my nerves as I entered school, as well as hers as she headed back into our neighborhood. Or maybe her acts of loving indulgence served as an innate survival mechanism, designed to resist events of alarm and threat. No matter how scary these moments were for my 6-year-old mind, curfews, military checkpoints and related chaos hold far less mental space compared to the memories of my loving family, kind neighbors, and vacations to Portland, Port Antonio, where my family originates. Yes, I appreciate the scientific arguments on the brain’s ability to suppress stressful memories. However, I can honestly say that there is little trauma related to that part of my early existence.
Even after emigrating to the US, where I observed my mother toiling away at the American dream, one obstacle and struggle after another, I found joy within the self-assembled “village” she built with our fellow Caribbean immigrants. Weekend-long brunches, dinners and after-hour parties at our neighbor’s homes. Mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles dancing to rub-a-dub, calypso and kompa, literally shedding the weight and burdens of their weeks with every turn and step. This is where I learned to rejoice and to be present in the throes of life. This is where I learned to share, to entertain, to host with my heart.
In this issue, our guests Isolde Brielmaier (Tamu’s Cafe) and Vanessa Hong (Our Hair, Don’t Care) each stressed the importance of BIPOC individuals consistently asserting our presence once within these racist structures designed to exclude us. As you will see, both women’s line of thinking inherently includes the act of embracing our joy in every area of our lives - privately and professionally. Historically, through legislature, the US government limited BIPOC communities' right to congregate, stifling our freedom to fraternize, celebrate and express joy. Over the past four decades, our displays of joy and celebration were policed and stereotyped in the media as showy, gaudy or over-the-top, and even today our joyful content is often criticized or questioned on social media platforms. Within our own communities, a complicated relationship with wealth and prosperity constantly checks our output of joy, dictated by cultural norms and feeling like we don’t deserve the softer things in life.
Pretty Birds, these last few years have been a literal minefield of emotions caused by loss, grief, uncertainty, fear and trauma. It is necessary for us to unleash our joy as we head into the 2022 holiday season and into 2023. Let’s resist our tendency to downplay our happiness, for joy and cheer are truly contagious. Positivity has the potential to travel great distances, and your high vibrations, the power to lift more souls than you know. Let’s agree that we are not showing off by living the lives we've worked hard to create. Rather, we are offering our gratitude for what we’ve accomplished. If you adore giving gifts, make a list that’s twice as long this season and include some of your community members who are in need of a treat. If you love hosting, go all out and plan a dream holiday gathering, spare no whimsy! Creating magical moments is an act of self care! If you are a party animal, be the life of the party, dance till dawn, on the streets, like no one and everyone's watching. Joy to the world!