Academic journal article
By Rowe, Aimee Carrillo
Biography , Vol. 34, No. 3
As a queer Xicana feminist scholar, writer, and person living in the world, I live in proximity to trauma. My people--all the people I come from: white and black, indigenous and mestizo--have been traumatized by imperial conquest. My Mexican Rancho ancestors took land from the indigenous people of Southern California, and Anglos, to this day, take land from us. But when you build your house on stolen land, on the bones of those you've conquered, souls become restless. And when you excavate the stories of our people, you are bound to encounter trauma. When you do the work of recovery, you have to go through trauma: you drop into the worst of the wound. Like the vulture, you pick among the rotting flesh of lives cast aside in order to set things right: to recover those stories and the real people behind them, to remind us in the present where we've been and who we come from, and to heal the wounds--not only our own, but also those of the ancestors.
The thing I'm afraid of feels like possession. Were you afraid of the Exorcist when you were a child? Something beyond yourself coming in, taking over, turning you evil? Something about the Catholic mysticism of my upbringing made that film especially frightening for me. After I watched it on our tiny black-and-white television, I remember feeling haunted by something hovering around me, something I couldn't see, but something near, something that wanted inside. When I'd take a shower or carry the garbage down the long dark driveway at night, I worried I was particularly vulnerable. I wondered if, alone and naked, something might possess me. My body would turn poisonous and I would lose control of my mind. I would do and say things harmful, terrifying. Like the girl in the film--her uncontrollable anger and violence, her greenish skin, her voice so gravelly and low it hardly seemed like her own as she stabbed herself with a crucifix shouting, "Fuck me Jesus!" I remember feeling so terrified by her profaning the sacred. I remember hearing stories like that from the Bible, too, and Jesus would exorcize people. Possession seemed quite real, possible, and frighteningly close.
I wish there were a trick, some foolproof way to protect myself from the terror I sometimes feel. And yet I find I must continue the work of excavating the layers of imperial trauma into which I was born and in which I continue to find myself, and those who came before and will come after me, all immersed.
How do you hold trauma, without letting it hold you?
The hills behind mom's house stretch out like a wide tan carpet, or like the expansive back of a great elephant. Wall to wall, its parched skin stretches out as far as you can see. Just miles of rolling brown folds, dotted with sage and buckwheat and a few markers--a big granite rock here, where the hawk sits; a dry creekbed there, where hummingbirds buzz and coyotes slink around at the edges of day and night. This is where I grew up: playing king of the hill, pretending to ride motorcycles, galloping around on a shaggy cream-colored pony, eating pomegranates and grapes that hung over neighbors' fences. Sometimes we'd find other people's cast-offs: beer bottles, an old desk, a stack of Playboy and Hustler.
I might idealize these hills. When it rains, they smell like wet sage and sweet grass. This smell cuts straight through layers of memory, bringing me home, transporting me to a time in between now and then, child and adult, human and animal, ancestor and descendant.
This summer I'm walking in the hills with this woman I met on tango. wire. My friends call her Halle Berry, owing to her smooth wet-sand skin, chiseled cheekbones, straight white teeth, and full lips. Her upright gait exudes a sense of confidence belied by her wide dark eyes, windows to a hauntingly fragile soul. Even though she's just survived cancer, her muscles ripple along her legs as she walks, her short-cropped black hair hugs her head like a snug layer of protection. …