Language is ever-evolving. Like it’s own entity. Throughout time morphing and disintegrating. Giving structure to our ideas and visions. A brilliant tool of human consciousness, yet, limited. Words fail to capture it all. A sentence can be communicated clearly, but comprehension is not guaranteed. Even as I write this I wonder if you are understanding what I am trying to say. Words are markers. Dependent on reference points. Like love. You know the word, but the definition, that is felt.
In May 2020, in the height of the Pandemic, during the uprisings and protests going on throughout the world and USA. I put out a call on social media to Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) with "skin privilege" to get together to have the hard conversations and take responsibility for our part of the work in the racial justice movement. There was an outpour of messages and applicants. 8 members of my community were the first to respond. They happened to all be are healers, counselors, facilitators, and educators.
The healing began with ourselves. We had a vision of what the work could look like. We shared and processed and integrated our expertise, experiences, and intuitions into it. For 7 months we co-created something magical.
We realized immediately the limitations of words especially when it comes to identity. What did we call ourselves? Even in the identifier of BIPOC with skin privilege (as in our skin tones proximity to whiteness) we were all of diverse shades and backgrounds. We were not just Black or White or Indigenous. We were two of those, or all of those, or some of those but from a long time ago (our ancestors). We knew from the outpour of folks wanting to register for the workshop that there's a group of people needing this space, as we did. But what was the unifier? So we searched for words; words outside of white supremacy and colonization.
The word Latinx had recently evolved to Latine (because in Spanish the X is not pronounced), but we were calling in not just people descendants from Latin America. And Latine itself is a word of colonization, given to Latin American people by the Spanish colonizers.
People of Color (POC)? Has evolved to BIPOC to rightly distinguish Black folks and Indigenous folks. But we aren't just that. Around this same time, many activists and social media accounts were discussing that if your skin tone and features are in proximity to whiteness (“white-passing or white-presenting”) you do not get to call yourself BIPOC because you do not experience racism such as melanated folks do.
We considered Mestize or Mestizx; a newish term to replace Latinx, yet another word given by the Colonizer. Was that us?
Were we mixed race? But our mixedness could not always be identified. Some of us could only guess that generations back we had mixed ancestors.
I made a joke that we were People of Complexity. We laughed. Complexity. Those words rang truer than any other identifier.
There's something that feels vulnerable about admitting the complexity of my identities. As in I might be giving you permission to define me. If you look at me you might not know where I’m from. Many people might think I am of the white race because of my skin tone, yet culturally I am not white, and within a group of white people, I feel other. I am reminded of what Audre Lorde said “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
What I know about my identities is that when I am connected to my body, the way it dances has African drums in its heartbeat and Spanish guitars in the grooves. I know that when I connect to my intuition, there is Taino medicine in my spirit. I know that when I walk in the world I do not fear getting profiled and murdered by police, doors open for me in ways that I can’t even really grasp, my features and skin tone proximity to whiteness gives me privileges I am responsible for. All of these are true.
I am a Person of Complexity. Reclaiming the words. Reclaiming my identities. A bridge between all my ancestors. An opportunity for healing ancestors forward and backward. Part of my purpose is to recognize and heal the ways my colonizer ancestors live in me, as well as to heal the intergenerational trauma of the enslaved and massacred in me; to remember I belong in this world. I too deserve love and liberation.
If you feel represented here. Welcome to People of Complexity (POC): Decolonizing Identity and Reclaiming Ancestral Wisdom Workshop. It a 3 part healing workshop for folks of mixed-race ancestry, who identify as non-white, and often feel in between or like they don’t belong. In a trauma-informed container, we will do the inner decolonizing work and healing through ancestral rituals, embodiment practices, herbal allies, writing, and making space for nuanced and vulnerable conversations about identity. Click here for more information or check out my Instagram posts.
If you know someone that might feel represented here please share this with them. People of Complexity get to have space not just to heal ourselves, but to not take up space in places where Black and Indigenous folks need to be the priority.
If you are an ally and would like to contribute to the cause, we are fundraising scholarships for the workshop. Many People of Complexity face financial barriers and we would like to make the workshop accessible in a way that’s sustainable for the facilitators. You can donate here. Or send donations directly to:
Venmo - @rysse-guzman
Here are some words to communicate parts of who I am and some amazing work I am honored to co-create with extraordinary humans. Words are markers. Dependent on reference points. Like love. You know the word, but the definition, that is felt. Have I been felt?
In love and solidarity,