We Ain’t Even ‘posed to Be (Here): The Brown Boy Considers Mississippi On His First Day
I swore we would not begin in history, but I am a remixer of promises where it suits me which is a pretty way of saying that I knew that was a lie when I swore it to myself. It is a morning in the thick suck of August in a future I would have called a lie less than a year ago, not just a lie but a bold lie. That I might at the end of the indisputably hardest thus far year of my life be an MFA candidate, Black as I am, Brown as I am? Unlikely. That I might do so in Mississippi was something for which dialogue around the South had never truly prepared me.
Where my family and the concept and reality of South have historically met is always a matter of flight. I am what some might call African American and I call Black on my father’s side. 136 miles from where I sit our kin were slaves, not in the metaphorical or generalized sense but that 136 miles and several generations ago my father’s side of the family were considered to be chattel in Greenville, Mississippi. They escaped during the Great Migration under threat of violence and death, under threat of tar and feather. Similarly, I am Latino, Dominican specifically and the grandson of an Abuelo who fled the Dominican Republic to escape the brutal Trujillo regime. Under a genocidal government (backed by US Foreign Policy, shouts out to the Cold War and Colonialism) he mounted a plane to New York, settled in Washington Heights and this is how my mother was born. When I say South, I am always speaking of wings, I am always speaking of what brought me here.
And so now here I am, 23 and once having failed out of a college that even in the supposedly illuminated North, the supposedly progressive North, the supposedly safe North made a practice of making me feel unwelcome, unsafe, monstrous in my own body. Why then, asked so many of my family, mentees, and friends have I moved South where we have been taught that there is so much to be afraid of? I am here because of what I do not know, what many I love do not know, which is indeed what is possible in the South for a body like mine. In the brief time I have been here, I know at least one word is possible, Home.
Each day I rise, don my head phones and blast something elegant and irreverent on my way out the door. Often Kanye West, because over the course of time I find it almost impossible to slouch or look at my feet while Watch the Throne is on. I think as I walk to the bus stop of my mother, her teeth clenched as I told her of my intention to apply to Ole Miss how I heard all the myth pull her breath loose at that exact moment. How she swore quietly in Spanish as if losing a lottery ticket by a single number, my father silent in the background of the phone, dreaming of his own visit to Mississippi as a young man about my age, how his fingers ached at the sight of cotton. I think of them, who have carried me so far, I think of Chicago where I am from and how far from what I have always known to be Home even when I can no longer see it everyday. I think of Philly, most recently Home, I count the miles each day with the soft touch that can only be nostalgia. How many have carried me here to this moment? How many gave up things both like time and like a body so that I might choose this life? So many I don’t dare to count but I remember and that is how I know I will not fail.
On my walk into campus to set things down in my office and get ready for the start of the day I cannot help but smile, my mother’s smile, as I think of my name on the door of my office. Mine, my space claimed here in the South. I pass a building named after Trent Lott, I think of how hard he fought to keep Black folk in a perpetual state of harm, how this does not preclude his name from being on a building I walk past every day. Around this time “Niggas in Paris” has reached a crescendo, Jay-Z barks “We ain’t even ‘posed to be here/ball so hard since we here” And I cannot help but smile, my mother’s smile, carried once more to a strange and new land. I think “U mad?” towards Trent Lott, towards the administrators who neglected me and the teachers and friends who said I would never be taken seriously as a writer because __________, towards history as I have known it and bled for it. Yeah, we ain’t even ‘posed to be here, and yet, I am.