Post 185.

HazelBrwownStamp

It’s the stories that I love.

Stories told by women who spent decades pressing for social change, and stories of solidarity by men sometimes almost twice my age. Stories that challenge myths that women of two generations ago were less radical than now and myths that feminist men didn’t exist throughout our history.

I love the stories of activists who came before because they bring our history to life, to their own lives, with laughter and commiseration, with passion and pain, with irony and unexpected twists, making us learn more about successful strategies or forgotten beginnings or our responsibilities to our future.

I love their stories because these efforts, connections and memories are our legacy, as much as the lasting reforms they created, or gains which we must still protect, are our legacy. They are a legacy because too often we think that it takes people who others consider political leaders, or people with university degrees, or those who seem to have more privilege or power to challenge everyday injustices.

Yet, stories by indomitable citizens of all classes and creeds remind us that is not true. These are stories by people who get up and do, working together to provide help or change unequal rules. Such collective love and labour by citizens is also ‘politics’ because it aims to defend their dreams for an emancipated nation and region, and their commitment to equality, independence and rights for women. These stories remind that the struggle for government by the people and for the people is not new.

Fearless Politics: The Life and Times of Hazel Brown is just the conference for those of you who also love everyday stories of those around us who got up and did, just like we do or wish to. The public is invited to attend and participate in this gathering to honour a woman who has spent four decades tirelessly fighting for social change, along with hundreds of others whose names should not be forgotten. But, helping us to remember is precisely what stories do.

Hazel’s own stories include sitting in Port of Spain City Council meetings when she was a child as she waited for the Mayor to sign her report book, because in those days the Council sponsored children’s education. It is here she began to understand government, reminding us maybe we should take our children to watch these meetings as part of their civic empowerment and critical education. Her story of running for election in the 1970s along with women of the Housewives Association of Trinidad and Tobago is a lesson in strategy for those thinking about politics today.There’s hope in working with women to buy, iron, exchange and affordably sell used schoolbooks. Then, heartbreak in her plan for a solar powered radio station that was undermined and never came to be. And there will be more than her stories.

Speaking on Saturday are long time activists in areas from women’s health to community and consumer rights, from sustainable food provision, including solar cooking and grow box agriculture, to women’s political participation and leadership, and from Baby Doll mas to the National Gender Policy.

This conference is for anyone who wishes to know more about struggles for social justice, artists and cultural workers interested in social transformation, activists of all eras and issues, and citizens whose dream for our world remains greater equality, justice, sustainability, cooperation and peace.

Come for stories about roads walked and paths still to be cut, in the spirit of our fearless legacy. This column was published prior to the conference, Fearless Politics: The Life and Times of Hazel Brown. Videos, photos and other conference information are available on the IGDS website and Youtube page. http://sta.uwi.edu/conferences/15/fearlesspolitics/index.asp. https://www.youtube.com/user/igdsuwistaugustine

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Post 60.

The amazing thing about watching Ziya blossom is seeing the family features that she has inherited appear and disappear on her face. Some days, her eyebrows look exactly like my grandmother’s, some days a side-look makes her a little replica of her dad’s mother when she was younger. Her eyes sometimes seem to be like my moms and, at other times, like mine, which look like my dad’s. There’s more. Even in the womb, she had her dad’s profile, his chin, lips and nose and yet sometimes her lips seem astonishingly like mine for a girl that looks almost nothing like me. She’s got my great-grandmother’s ears and, when they stand next to each other, she looks exactly like a tiny version of Stone’s sister. In some lights, her skin colour blends seamlessly with mine and, in others, she’s a shade that exactly mimics that same aunt. One little body looking today like one family group and tomorrow like another, whose genes would locate them many thousands of miles from each other. Such a complex legacy, interwoven with the inheritance of more than three continents, reflected in one tiny face.

Afganistan, Africa, India, Europe and who knows where else are all hers to call her own. Her ancestors crossed a multitude of waters, from all kinds of positions of power, and in a country like Trinidad and Tobago, she doesn’t have to choose. My great-grandfather, Abdul Aziz came from Afganistan in 1883. Stone has African as well as European bloods brought together through the conflicts and consummations that were part of colonisation in the Caribbean. The rest of my family came, through indentureship, from India and it’s in Trinidad that they came to identify as Indian, with all its contemporary, local and politicised meanings. My family has long been Muslim, Stone’s Christian and I have a feeling that Zi is going to be an inventor of her own traditions.

She has neither of our names. She has both. I wanted anyone anywhere to know she’s from someplace where the currents of many dark oceans cross – and her mom was a feminist and her dad supported an idea he knew was important. Stone thought that Hosein-Livingstone was too long for your typical form, but Ziya’s ancestors all travelled on long, long voyages. Those seventeen letters and that hypen are hardly enough stepping-stones to trace back the paths that led to who she is today. If forms don’t provide enough space, well, she’ll just have to continue writing her story in the spaces outside of the boxes and in the margins of the page.

Because I spend the majority of the days of the week at work, I come home in the evenings and sometimes think that Zi’s face has completely changed. I notice the little shifts like seeing a seedling sprout in stop motion. Recently, I visited Zi’s great-grandmother for her 89th birthday, and for the first time the four generations were together. I wished then I could connect her tendrils to the twisting vines of every one of her ancestors, just so she could trace the stories, experiences, knowledge and selves that spring to life as she grows into a unique embodiment of our world.