Ohlone Land

Image / Santa Clara University, 1933 (Image source Archive of California

I stopped writing poetry and stories a long time ago. But recently, I was tasked to celebrate a high point in my life. I chose to write about my Pan African Student graduation in 2003. I still cry when I think about that day and the ten years it took me to get my degree, from DeAnza, to Foothill, to Santa Clara.  There is much to be said, but sometimes through poetry or fiction we can say what can’t be said. So, here’s my poem:

 

Below ground in Ohlone land,
I was an interloper at a prestigious campus
In 1994, a community college drop out.
Searching shelves of tightly packed books
Reading authors whose quills were still wet as the
System connecting El Camino Real collapsed

Cum.
Laude.
Was possible.
Even with fits and restarts.
With failures and repeats.
Even with my world crumbling around me.
And so I earned my Kinte cloth—class of 2003.
While our kindred from the Motherland laugh at us
For making such pretentions
As wearing the cloth of kings.
But this struggle was noble.
And the imported cloth deepened its worth.
I had shed blood for this and it cost endless tears

I told my story, the daughter of a broken purple heart and
A pretty coloured girl whose teacher
Assured her Negros were of inferior intelligence.
I attained something that disproved their theories.
I am the child of the enslaved African
And the self loathing bastard who
Was a product of a violation.
I am the child of those who toiled
The soil from Georgia to Garden state
We could never have nothing. Not for long.
No, not even our bodies.
But this degree. Right here. They could never take that away.
For a moment, one brief moment, I felt free to breathe
Right there on Ohlone land.

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