Speech at the Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz Center Harlem, NYC


By Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

2 October 2011

Yesterday I imagined our friend and comrade Drucilla Cornell addressing the crowd gathered outside Wall Street : “Do not be afraid to speak of revolution !” she said.

Since no microphones and no speakers were allowed in the area, the people assembled passed on the message by word of mouth, from one to another, quietly, almost silently. By word of mouth, quietly, almost silently, the message reached Tahrir Square in Cairo, the streets of Santiago de Chile, Pretoria in South Africa, Bogotá, Parliament Square in London, Plaza Catalunya in Barcelona, and Syntagma Square in Athens. With every voice added to the chorus, quietly, almost silently, the people realized that the dawn of a new humanity had come to pass.

Then I woke up.

We know that from North Africa to Europe, and from Latin America to the United States, two things have become clear :

First, that the powers that be have lost their right to be ;

Second, that the current project, to turn the world into an archipelago of islands of affluence surrounded by the oceans of the wretched of the earth is a catastrophe.

Yesterday, thousands of people took to the streets of New Mexico, Los Angeles, Seattle and elsewhere in support of the occupation of Wall Street. I would like to think that, in our own modest way, some of us gathered together in New Brunswick, not far from here, not only to read the signs of catastrophe but also, as our comrades Lewis and Jean Ana Gordon would have it, to respond to the questions such signs pose before us.

Two such questions press our soul, and their weight is such that they threaten to keep us quiet and silent.

First, given the world in which we live, one in which the powers of the West play the role of “white knight” in Libya and elsewhere, as Mireille Fanon Mendés-France put it so eloquently, all the while they continue to plunder and destroy their social basis at home, what hope is there that we will ever free ourselves from the downward cycle of history as catastrophe ?

Second, where are the masses, as opposed to the tamed multitudes, able to carry out the task of reinventing humanity ?

The answer to the first question was provided some fifty years ago by the persons whose legacy we celebrate today, Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X. According to them, we must go beyond national consciousness and recover the memories, the stories, and the myths that will wake up once more a cosmopolitan political consciousness. And how do we do that ? As Malcolm X, my childhood hero said, it is through reading and writing that we can open the new vistas of the world that we need here and now, for the stories we write and read, and pass on to one another by voice of mouth, quietly, almost silently, will awake inside us, as he put it, “some long dormant craving to be mentally alive”.

What is it to be mentally alive ? It is, my friends, to be free, to flight from unfreedom into maroonage, as Edouard Glissant wrote. And to do that is not only to scape, but also to build maroon villages, places outside of caged colleges and universities, outside of dependent nations, where our stories can be told once more, and shared in common. This is how we recover the commons and with that our common humanity.

I have written a book titled What If Latin America Ruled the World ? precisely with that aim in mind : to re-tell the story of the Latino peoples of the Americas, Amerindians, Afro-Latin Americans, Hispanics. For me, that story began long ago, when pre-Columbian peoples created the Amazon and invented cities in the water and the mountains that conquerors and colonizer could not imagine, let alone describe. And because the latter had no language to describe or explain what they saw in Tenochtitlan and Cuzco, but also among the peoples of the Algonquian Federation, they simply denied their existence, rendered invisible the Mexica, the Inca Quechuas and Aymarás, and then proceeded to realize that invisibility and that of the African peoples arriving in the Americas, bringing such peoples to the brink of extinction.

And yet, from the brink of extinction and inexistence, they stood up and fought ; they were defeated many times but never vanquished, and fought continuously, from the very moment the colonizers arrived and, as you can see in Bolivia and elsewhere in Latin America today, continue to fight.

This is the answer to the second question that signs of catastrophe posed to us, who will reinvent humanity ? Humanity will be invented in and through struggle. We must turn the squares, the streets, the Latino Academy of Arts and Sciences that Nelson Maldonado-Torres has dreamed of, and Boa de Sousa Santos’s University of the World Social Forum into sites of struggle.

And so, in celebration of the legacy of Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz what we must do is to read and re-write our stories, and then take to the streets, the plazas and the new places of arts and sciences, and this time, together –this hermano Latino with my brothers and sisters here in the US- moving ahead and as loudly as we can shout to the world, what Dessalines shouted in Haiti back in 1804 :

“In Haiti you are Black before you are a citizen, and this is how we all become human !”

Many thanks.

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