“Yet in leaving home I did not lose touch with my origins because lo mexicano is in my system. I am a turtle, wherever I go I carry ‘home’ on my back.” –Gloria Anzaldúa
These photos are bittersweet for me. I was excited to first see the sign “Nos Cuidamos” because they represented the unity of neighbors; it showed a political will to at least refrain from calling on the police. A sign that neighbors placed in their windows meant artists live here and families know each other. Lovely! And the cream-colored flowers against Spring’s blue sky. Beautiful!
This street always reminded me of an older activist whom I interviewed in his home, which used to be on that same street. How he lived there with his son, whose dinosaur toys lined the bedroom window next to his father’s chests of old Black Panther and Red Guard newspapers. I remember the grey winter day that I pulled up to the blue house and knocked suspiciously on the door of a man I had never met in person. I was there to interview him, so with radical trust I entered the house. It was filled from top to bottom with historical relics: political posters lined the walls, trunks of postcards and newspapers. I remember how in our conversation, he was interrupted by a phone call asking him to help refine slogans for banners at an Oscar Grant march. I was impressed by the history he carried in him and with him and by the history he was helping to make.
Several years later, as I resettled in Oakland after college, he faced foreclosure on his home. It was a big deal—foreclosures were beginning to make more of the news headlines. Yet we could not talk of this. It felt almost forbidden for me to ask how he was doing against this seemingly shameful challenge. I think of him, his past and current political work, and the foreclosure every time I walk down that street.
The other picture is of flowers in front of a beautifully renovated home one block away. I had snuck into the backyard of this house one day when I noticed the gate was left open. I raised my head and marveled at the towering redwood tree in the backyard, and I was breathless looking at its beautifully landscaped garden. I couldn’t imagine all this in a place where people were losing their homes or stretching their wallets to pay rent. How dare they renovate a home when around them were families of color fencing themselves behind security bars?
I remember conversations with a friend about how if we were to buy homes, our parents would most likely be the ones living in them, that we do not have families who can front even the initial costs of a home. We would be the ones providing for them. As Vietnamese women, we seem to run up against this question often—how do we provide both for ourselves and so many others? It is a question that makes our line of work that much more challenging. The demands of teaching and community organizing seem to tug at the same painful cultural traditions of sacrifice and respect for elders. Granted, these traditions are also beautiful beliefs and ideals that have a time and place.
I thought about how we wouldn’t be buying homes though, just houses. How can we re-create home here? What would those houses need?
Gloria Anzaldúa wrote that we must be like turtles, carry our homes on our backs wherever we go. This takes so much strength and wisdom. Turtles and tortoises’ heavy shells protect them. And they can even outlive human lives. She also writes that while she carries “home,” she is afraid of going home. Her answer then is to re-create a home under feminist architecture.
As I walked down these streets after a brief rain, I noticed snails inching to find their way back to green pastures. I wonder what happens if we are not yet turtles but more like snails, attempting to carry our home under weak shells? What happens when the downpour of rainstorms lead us astray to concrete sidewalks, a new rougher place where those with power easily stomp us out? How can we help make sure that our communities are not snails attempting to carry our homes, but brave, wise turtles carrying redefined homes?