Phoenix, AZ, auntie Pita & uncle Sixto’s house, circa 1992
Mama used to tell me this story about when I was a baby, under two years old most likely. I woke up from sleep in the middle of the night and would not stop crying. I was my parent’s first born, so naturally they were attempting new things daily. This night, they tried everything from bottles of milk, pacifiers, stories, cuddles, singing, rocking, music, moving from one room to another, until they decided to take me on a drive. It wasn’t until my mama took my hand in the car, from the passenger’s seat to my car seat in the back, and started softly caressing the tips of my fingers did I stop crying and finally rest.
They say physical touch is one of the single most important aspects of baby-raising. A language made physical, the brilliance of infant brains and brilliance of infant bodies are made stronger through touch. Aside from the rise of oxytocin, a hormone released during (but not limited to) cuddling and physical contact, the histories communicated through touch is unique. Further more, endemic knowledge of brown mxthers is unparalleled, influencing future generations through a multitude of expressions.
Throughout my childhood up until I was a teenager and before I moved out of her house, this was a ritual my mom and I would do. We would relax at home and watch movies with my two younger sisters on weekends while my dad was at work or out of town and she would take my hand in her’s, lacing histories into me through tenderness. When we were walking together in public places, unknowingly or not, she would trace circles around my fingertips and I was immediately calmed. Between our busy schedules, after Sunday housework, during late-night conversations in her bed while some Lifetime movie played in the background, this was a gift she gave me.
It’s no wonder I became a writer, the weaving of stories through fingertips seems more native to me than anything.
Me, mom, & dad, probably age 1.5, but my mom’s style is fire
There are undervalued and underappreciated acts that black and brown womxn do daily for the survival of their loved ones and the families they build. It’s often times less about coming to new conclusions with these acts and more about tapping into deep-rooted histories. We learn through story-telling, through traditions, through reworking traditions, through acts of love. We survive and we thrive through going against the grain. My mother was instilling and rebuilding these traditions of survival within me, unspoken resiliency.
The fact that I am alive today is in part to my mother’s courage in the face of colonial politics. Assimilation and violent imperialism has played its part in our lives but that is for another day. Today is about appreciation, about hands, about comfort, about strength.
December 1990, my first Christmas
The creek, baby days
Hands, for me, are often times an incredible depiction of someone’s authenticity. I was fortunate to be born with typical body parts for a human baby: two legs and ten toes, two arms and ten fingers, all my organs were healthy and working, I had a full head of black black hair, I was born a day late. (Sorry For Making You Wait, Mama, & Sorry For Trying To Come Too Early: The Saga.) But hands have always been the portal to souls, touch, a gateway to spirit, growth by means of the non-verbal.
I’ll say it again: The fact that I am alive today is in part to my mother and her intelligence. This wisdom and celebration of matriarchs and femmes in black and brown communities is the reason for the survival of our people. It is deeper than biology. There are vital roles played, relationships that span through time and space and generations. I would not be around to tell my stories today if it weren’t for the mujerxs in my life. To that baby in the back seat screaming her lungs out, we hear you, and we urge you to keep screaming. To the mama in the front seat thinking too hard about how to comfort, we see you, and we know you have infinite knowledge within your bones. To the ancestors in our histories passing knowledge down through traumas and wisdoms, we feel you, and we know you will continue to guide us.
To my mother’s hands, you saved me.
Flintstone’s Bedrock City, Williams, AZ, circa 1993 probably