I see you, Selma.
I wasn’t in Selma this past weekend. As I’ve seen the images and reports its made me smile to remember a trip out there from a couple of years ago. During the Undocubus tour we were invited to Selma during our stop in Alabama, we were hosted by Alabama state Senator Hank Sanders and civil rights activist and artist Faya Rose Sanders Toure. When I saw the convergence of civil rights movement veterans, including people who were on the bridge on that bloody Sunday to young new activists to elected officials, reporters, hella famous people…I can only imagine the joy and pride of the people we met with. And for good reason. They been holding it down.
We were starting to get a little ragged by the time we got to Alabama years ago. Our bus had broken down all kinds of times. It was an average of about 20 people basically living (and ‘moving’ every few days) and working in a studio apartment together – 20 people who were between 18 – late 50’s. Being away from family, the accumulated stress of publicly coming out as undocumented and engaging in civil disobedience..all these things were in play.
But that didn’t matter much on that Sunday, because we knew it was a special invitation and we made our way to Selma from Alabama. They walked us across the bridge, obviously with much less fan fare. But it is as striking as in the pictures, as beautiful, as haunting. There were no police waiting on the other side.
What I remember most was after, when we all sat at a table and exchanged stories. And there was this one moment, when a woman, Joanne, began to talk about her activism but then she told a story about one Easter in her childhood during Segregation. There are two parts I remember most..Because Easter was a big deal in the community and for young girls, it was customary to get a brand new frock, bonnet, shoes and as we say in Spanish, estrenar and wear them to church on Easter Sunday. She said one day she and her mother were in a clothing store, looking at the girl’s dresses and that in her excitement she made a very serious mistake. She touched a dress. And by touching it, according the store attendant, she had tainted it. And therefore, her mother had to buy it. The dress wasn’t even her size. And they certainly couldn’t afford it. She said that the brand new they were used to came in a box from relatives in the North, used but brand new to them.
So then Chela, one of the Undocubus riders perks up and begins to tell Joanne that her story resonated with her. That while living in México, they lived in a very small town, also poor and that new clothes for them were boxes from the North, from family living in the U.S. And she talked about the same anticipation and excitement, the disappointment of a wrong size. It wasn’t Easter, but I’m sure there was some special moment pa’ estrenar.
Those stories and the others that were shared that day, they were separated by generations and thousands of miles. But there was a moment, where all those things were translated and understood simply through the magnitude of feeling.
I see you , Selma.
It is perhaps an even greater form of homage to recognize the anniversary of Bloody Sunday with not only a retelling of history, but to return to this site of struggle with the commitment to stand strong against the injustices of today, responding to the historic task each generation has to bend history towards justice.