Dr. Yohana Agra Junker
Faculty Associate in Theology, Spirituality and the Arts
Pacific School of Religion
Entre o Sonho e a Sombra: Reflections on what we must Re-member
I would like to thank Interim President Uriah Kim and Associate Dean of Students at the Graduate Theological Union, Wendy Arce, for the invitation to think with you all today.In the process of gathering my thoughts and knowings of my body-spirit-place-time as Patrisia Gonzales puts it, I realized I have been writing a lot of letters to loved ones. Not typing. Writing them. Putting pen to paper. And that’s how I come to you today, through the ink that bleeds from my pen into this sheet, in an attempt to cut across the time/space/place/isolation divide we currently find ourselves in. We are surviving a global pandemic. No other graduating class at the GTU has lived through anything quite like this before. And we don’t know what kind of world we will enter into in a few months. What the toll will be on our bodies, spirit, communities, the environments, and all our relations. What I know deep in my bones, in my marrow, is that we are living between the shadow of the now and the possibilities of dreams. Mientras la sombra y el sueno, as Anzaldua puts it. And what I offer you today are reflections on ways to re-member important aspects of our academic trajectories.
You see, I share bell hooks sentiment that we come to theory, in part, because we are hurting. She writes in theory as liberatory praxis that she came to theory because of wounds and because of a necessity to comprehend and grasp what was happening around her and within her. I relate to hooks’ words in a very visceral way. I come from a country that is drenched in the waters of cishet patriarchy & sexism, colonialism, neo and extractivist capitalism, racism, white supremacy, phobias, violence, and trauma. I was born in Brazil into a period of military dictatorship. During this regime, repression, state violence, and martial law confiscated our right to assemble publicly, to access basic & dignifying human rights, to thicken the spaces of democratic engagement. And yet, theory and artistic production during this period gave rise and visibility to voices that transformed academia and the arts forever. It’s important to re-member them: Paulo Freire, Rubem Alves, Ailton Krenak, Ivone Gebara, Ana Maria Maiolino, Dilma Roussef,Lygia Clark, Lygia Fagundes, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil. The 70s and 80s were phenomenal places for generating meaning, stimulating interpretive strategies to make sense of the individual and communal; acknowledging the wounds and possibilities for existing and organizing in new ways. The universities, the arts were birthing new epistemes, were setting traps to totalitarian regimes. They were some of the most valuable laboratories for reinventing existence, creating new forms of thought, signaled by aesth/ethic innovation, as Laura Perez puts it. So not only were academics, writers, activists, artists such as ourselves imagining worlds differently, they were also rehearsing and expanding our possibilities for action. I believe we are charged with this responsibility today: to conjure up a new life where there seems to be no possibility for it.
To Laura Pérez, our academic work is impregnated with this charge…. Of re-membering, of synchronizing and aligning minds, bodies, spirits, the personal, the psychological, the communal so that we can take on the insurmountable task of acting in spheres that are social, cultural, religious, economic, geopolitical. Only with such an orientation will we be able to resist and elude, indeed, to dodge, death-dealing systems of domination, coercion, marginalization, wounding, and extinction. What I am trying to suggest is that we need to get conscientizades, to use Freire’s word. That we re-member our languages, our places, our lands, our ancestral traditions and wisdom that make us pulsate with vitality, that remind us of our desires, our longings, our hopes. That we re-member that our academic, creative, and spiritual practices are political, that the land beneath our feet and its peoples were colonized. That all beings—whether living or non-living—bear the right to a dignified and affectionate existence. That we can continue to commit to gathering the dismembered pieces of our stories, cultures, bodies, traditions so we can continue to imagine and create. Profusely. Dangerously. That we have the capacity to imagine, speculate, rehearse, and intimate this world differently. That, as Ailton Krenak reminds us, we can and must recover the profound bonds we have with the earth and all its beings through memory.
This compendium of resources reaches across time and place so as to sustain the subjectivities that imperialism and capitalism have tried to steal from us. May we, dear comrades, re-member that we bear the right to desire, care, joy, pleasure. And that they safeguard the cosmic nutrients that sustain life, and Nora Naranjo Morse puts it. May we remember the sound of the genuine within, as Howard Thurman advises us; And may Anzaldua continue to whisper into our ears these incantatory words: Write with your eyes like painters, ears like musicians, feet like dancers, tongues of fire. Do not let the ink coagulate in your pens. Until we meet again, dear ones, may we leap into the unknown with our wounds hopes, shadows, and dreams knowing that we carry Holy Electricity, Divine gossamer. I am sending you big congratulatory hugs right now!