Aurora Levins Morales

Puerto Rican Jewish writer

Aurora Levins Morales (born February 24, 1954) is a Puerto Rican Jewish writer and poet. She is significant within Latina feminism and Third World feminism as well as other social justice movements.

Quotes edit

  • It's the perversion of sexuality that frightens me. It's the way the women around me exude a sexiness that has nothing to do with the heart. Of course Latin Women love as well as any other women... but while the chilliest Anglo-Saxon repression of sex pretends it simply doesn't exist, Latin repression says it's a filthy fact of life, use it for what it's worth... shake it in his face, wear it as a decoy. It's all over the floor and it's cold and savage. It's the hatred of the powerless, turned crooked.
  • The relationship between mother and daughter stands in the center of what I fear most in our culture. Heal that wound and we change the world. A revolution capable of healing our wounds. If we're the ones who can imagine it, if we're the ones who dream about it, if we're the ones who need it most, then no one else can do it. We're the ones.
    • "...And Even Fidel Can't Change That"
  • Not one of those books that ignore us could have been written without our shopping, baking, mending, ironing, typing, making coffee, comforting. Without our caring for the children, minding the store, getting in the crop, making their businesses pay. This is our story, and the truth of our lives will overthrow them.
    • Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriquenas (1997)
  • Let's get one thing straight. Puerto Rico was parda, negra, mulata, mestiza. Not a country of Spaniards at all. We outnumbered them, year after year.
    • Remedios: Stories of Earth and Iron from the History of Puertorriquenas (1997)
  • sediment has no nationality. Sediment drifts from place to place, on currents of water and air, on muskrat fur and the feathers of Indigo Buntings. It travels without passports, visas, or allegiances.
  • We cannot be owned. We cannot own each other. And there is no such thing as a particle of US soil.
  • he [their father] taught us to think have a big picture sense of change. And to know that you can't always tell in the moment if you're winning or losing. That, that's something that history determines. And so for me, that has always made it less upsetting when we face defeats. Cause I know that sometimes defeats do lead to victories, and end up sabotaging much bigger ones, and you know, that it's a much bigger and more complex picture than we think.

Getting Home Alive with Rosario Morales (1986) edit

  • The first rule I remember learning was never to harm or deface a book. The second was never to cross a picket line.
  • I am shaking with rage that I cannot stop what is being done. That it is being done in the name of protecting Jews. That there are those who will believe that it is in my interest as a Jew, that by being a Jew I have agreed to these acts committed in my name. A logjam of emotions, and beneath, an icy river of fear.
  • I have learned that suffering does not improve people, that slavery does not ennoble us for freedom, that oppression springs from oppression, echoing the twisted lessons we learn from our pain.
  • now it seems to me that Zionism asks too little, not too much! They have traded in that City of the vision for a cramped fortress tower, believing that Jews will always be persecuted, hunted. That most of humanity couldn't care less if it happened again. Would let it happen. Knowing some of humanity would even applaud. Believing there is no other way for Jews to survive. I want to shout it at them from the rooftops, to cry it out loud: you have never asked for enough! Zionism, at least as it's lived today, accepts anti-Semitism, says it's permanent in the world: As long as there are Jews, there will be Jew-haters, Jew-killers, so we'll build a wall of bodies around us and live behind it, a menace to our neighbors, trying to feel safe. I stand here and cry out to you: "Come out of the trenches! Ask for it all! I demand for myself, and my children who will also be Jews, and for you, too, my soldiering kin, a world where fortresses are unknown and unnecessary."
  • we could be allies, the Arabs and we, two persecuted peoples rooted in the same land, the same customs, food, language. The task is the most difficult one, the most terrifying, the one requiring the most daring leap from the cliff of this present bloody moment.
  • I know I have dreamt this dream: Jews and Arabs moving in unison, dispossessing the warriors, building new villages on the sites of the old, changing the face of the land, the shape of history, the look of the future.
  • I want to see a flowering of Arab and Jewish cultures in a country without racism or anti-Semitism, without rich or poor or spat-upon: everyone beneath the vine and fig tree living in peace and unafraid. A homeland for each and every one of us between the mountains and the sea. A multilingual, multireligious, many-colored and peopled land where the orange tree blooms for all. I will not surrender this vision for any lesser compromise. No separate-but-equal armed camps turning their backs on each other across a pitted buffer zone. No Palestinian exile burning with dreams of return, injustice embittering generations of children who yearn always for the place of their ancestors: next year in the Galilee. No graveyard the size of a nation, Palestinian blood burning the ground and steaming up each morning, reeking of death. No fortress-state of Jews against all the rest of the world, generations of children growing up soldiers, believing themselves holy, believing there is no one outside the walls, believing fear is the only force that binds people together. I will accept nothing less than freedom.

Medicine Stories: Essays for Radicals (1998 and 2019) edit

First edition published 1998, revised and expanded edition published 2019. Quotes from 2019 edition unless noted otherwise

  • In the work I do, repetition is a method, a rhythm of meaning that must be maintained, a beat to my message. ("Libation")
  • what I dream of. Multitudes of women, all kinds of women, arguing, disagreeing, fighting it out, lifting our thoughts up out of the fields and cities and prisons and homes, not to carry the sky but to fill it, making our own wind, strong enough to topple towers and pollinate a whole new world into bloom. ("My Feminism")
  • How many know that the UN Commission on the Status of Women is the work of Latin American and Caribbean feminists, leaders in a Pan-American women's movement between the two world wars? It was these women, Minerva Bernardino from the Dominican Republic, Amalia Castillo de Ledon from Mexico, Isabel P. Vidal from Uruguay, and Bertha Lutz from Brazil, not white US feminists fighting overly narrowly conceived gender equality, who helped to establish the category of women as a global class whose human rights need defending. ("My Feminism")
  • This is a moment that organizers strive for, when the systemic forces behind individual misery become clear, when people's dissatisfactions turn outward, away from self-blame, blame of other oppressed people, blame of "human nature," and toward the workings of an unjust society. ("The Power of Story")
  • Listening to, analyzing, creating, and disseminating stories, and doing so with courage, keenness, skill, and cunning, with the clear purpose of changing human consciousness in the direction of choosing justice-this is what organizing is all about. ("The Power of Story")
  • All organisms are inherently sovereign. All organisms resist harm and repair damage. This is our nature. And our nature is to tell stories about it. Because the story of what is broken becomes something whole. The story of what was forgotten becomes memory. The story of how we survived becomes communal medicine. The story of what we lost becomes new soil. The story of how we are the same as everyone and the story of how we are unique are a braided lifeline. ("The Truths Our Bodies Tell")
  • If disability is defined as people who, because of variations in our body-minds, can't be efficiently exploited, the last thing we need is better access to exploitation, greater integration into a profit-driven society that is driving thousands of species toward mass extinction and making the planet uninhabitable for humans. The last thing we need is more opportunities to do our part in keeping the interlocking wheels of class, white supremacy, heteromale supremacy, and imperialism turning. This doesn't mean that we don't fight for what we need in order to survive, that we don't fight for the crappy job or inadequate benefits that will keep us alive for now. Life jackets keep us from drowning, but the only lasting access is universal inclusion, which means universal justice. ("The Truths Our Bodies Tell")
  • If we can teach the history of racism in the United States as a history of the shifting needs of empire and class, as a history of both impositions and choices, alliances and betrayals, a history with roots far outside and long before the first colonial encounters, if we can hold the tension between disbelief in race and belief in what racism does to us, we will enable more and more young people to remake old and seemingly immutable decisions about where their interests lie and with whom. ("What Race Isn't: Teaching about Racism")
  • Those who make up the rules of Good English try earnestly or contemptuously to edit us into conformity, convinced that when we talk a different talk it's because we are educationally or genetically impaired. ("On Not Writing English")
  • All peoples under attack learn the languages of those who can do us harm. We are multilingual of necessity. Those of us who, by using that language successfully, gain access to a small piece of public ground must fight continually to push our authenticity into print, onto the airwaves, into the classroom, out from the podium. ("On Not Writing English")
  • Deciding that we are in fact accountable frees us to act. ("Raícism: Rootedness as Spiritual and Political Practice")
  • European Americans in this country need to find out against whom their whiteness has been structured, both historically and in the present. ("Raícism: Rootedness as Spiritual and Political Practice")
  • The intellectual traditions I come from create theory out of shared lives instead of sending away for it. My thinking grew directly out of listening to my own discomforts, finding out who shared them, who validated them, and in exchanging stories about common experiences, finding patterns, systems, explanations of how and why things happened. This is the central process of consciousness raising, of collective testimonio. ("Certified Organic Intellectual")
    • essay also in Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios By Latina Feminist Group (2001)
  • Unnecessarily specialized language is used to humiliate those who are not supposed to feel entitled. It sells the illusion that only those who can wield it can think. ("Certified Organic Intellectual")
  • In the eighteen years since I wrote "The Tribe of Guarayamín," there have been significant changes in in the politics of indigenous identity in the Americas. Most powerful among them is the resurgence of Latin American sovereignty, with a strong core of indigenous leadership, much of it female. Evo Morales, an Aymara man, is president of Bolivia, with a new Constitution that renames it as a plurinational state, in recognition of its indigenous nations. Universities, radio stations, courtrooms carry on their business in indigenous languages, and long idle lands of latifundista families have been reclaimed and distributed to campesinxs, some of whom have become, under the new indigenous autonomy laws, self-governing communities for the first time in five hundred years. ("Taíno Citizenship")
  • Boycotts and divestment are honorable tools of moral persuasion through financial choice. ("BDS and Me")
  • What dishonors my relatives is the fact of checkpoints in their names, of mass arrests, collective punishment, home demolitions, the theft of territory and resources, to rid the land of Palestinian people, so it can be farmed and built on by Israeli Jewish settlers. I am one of many Jews who believe only justice will bring peace, and who face tremendous pressure and personal attacks for saying so. Today, my Jewish kin who believe repression is the price of survival are acting on old fears of standing alone against terrible threats. ("BDS and Me")
  • A real assessment of the history of Puerto Rican-Jewish relations has to begin by examining the relationships already in place among Christian, Muslim, and Jewish residents of Iberia long before 1492. It must consider the Jews of North Africa, from Egypt to Morocco. It must take into account the Jewish seafaring merchants of Majorca, conquered by Aragon in 1344, and the school of mostly Jewish cartographers and cosmographers, now at the service of Christian aristocrats, whose maps, charts, and compasses made possible the seizure of the Canary Islands, in what became the dress rehearsal for both American genocides and plantation slavery. ("Puerto Ricans and Jews")
  • Only when we fully and honestly examine our histories and the power dynamics we have inherited from them can we truly decide to throw our lot in with each other, not for the short term but for the widest possible vision of a liberated future. ("Puerto Ricans and Jews")
  • Taking responsibility for our place in the social relations of power doesn't mean volunteering to go under. It means dedicating ourselves and our resources to unmaking the structures of inequality, jumping from the burning building of piracy into a net held by many hands. ("Class Privilege and Loss")
  • We can't surrender whiteness or maleness, heterosexuality, or the reality of having been born into money, but we can dismantle the lies we have been taught about what those things mean, consciously build relationships of equality and respect with people who are not privileged where we are, assume they know more about that piece of the social landscape than we do, and learn from them. How to acknowledge the injury privilege does to those who have it as well as those who lack it, how to make it clear, to ourselves and to those who have what we do not, that relying on each other instead of our unearned extras is ultimately joyful and deeply rewarding, that the real losses happened long ago, when the privilege was accepted-these are fundamental questions for a much needed theory of solidarity, of how to reweave the torn fabric of our interdependence. ("Class Privilege and Loss")
  • Last word: Nowadays there is a lot of talk of the patria grande, the greater American homeland, and the unifying dreams of Bolívar, but I have never trusted that word patria. Nations emerged when the obedience and loyalty once sworn to individual aristocrats had to be transferred to an entire class, and it's not a coincidence that patria comes from the same root as "patriarch," "patrimony," "patriarchy." The loyalty I swear is not to nations or governments. My loyalty is to a far broader and deeper integration. I am faithful to the web of vital connections between all that lives, and being faithful to that web requires practicing ecological ethics, requires defending whoever needs it, requires interweaving intimate and communal sovereignties in what could perhaps be called the matria, from the same root as matriz, "womb," the reestablishment of kinship. Only so, spinning and weaving that fine, strong, relational gauze, will we be able to bind our wounds, mine, those of my people, and those of my planet. ("Histerimonia" p203)
  • Radical collective memory is a major threat to the status quo. Those of us who are elders need to take seriously our soil-building responsibilities, not by lecturing the young but by engaging in deep conversations, listening to their burning concerns, questions, and confusions and offering up our segment of the long road for consideration. In a time of geographic mobility, fractured memory, and the instant media reshaping of events, many of the younger radicals I talk with are hungry for intergenerational relationships. They need access to our experience, not as a set of instructions but as a mineral-rich environment in which to grow. ("Building Radical Soil")

"Ecology is Everything" edit

  • The ecological crisis we find ourselves in is in fact a crisis of human relations, with each other and with the entire planet. It is a crisis created by a set of false assumptions about reality, the same assumptions that drive all systems of oppression. That greed and domination are the inherent driving forces of human existence and, therefore, that warfare, conquest, enslavement, exploitation, the looting of other people and of the entire ecosystem are natural and inevitable, and therefore must be okay.
  • it's essential that we understand this: every struggle is an ecological struggle.
  • For human society to be sustainable on earth, it must become inclusive, must take into account the well-being of each one of us.
  • In order to create ecologically viable societies and avoid our own extinction, we will have to build social movements that include all humans in our vision of environmentalism and our entire ecosystem in our vision of social justice.
  • Profit is built on inequality, which is incompatible with sustainability.
  • I believe that we have it in us to rise to this moment, to end the failed experiment of greed, restore the streams of our creative power, and establish a global culture of reciprocity and generosity as the beating heart of human life on earth.

”Bigger is Better” edit

  • ...injustice is traumatic. It does real damage to our bodies, our relationships, our emotions and intellects. We're all trying our best, hampered by millennia of PTSD.
  • My personal medicine bag and tool kit have been gathered over a lifetime of activism. Here are the main ingredients...Cultivate Hope...Practice Consciousness Raising...Build Solidarity...Collectivize My Struggles...Connect with My Ecosystem
  • Of every proposal for any kind of social action I ask whether it will increase the sum of human solidarity, because solidarity is the antidote to oppression, which always seeks to dehumanize and divide us.
  • I remember that history is wide and deep, that there are many other lives being lived around me, and that generations stretch backward and forward from my moment in time. How I live my life right now extends the impact of ancestors and enriches the soil my descendants will plant their own lives in. Thinking this way makes the difficulties of the moment shrink against that grand background.

"Identity and Solidarity" edit

  • Each one of us is tipped low on some scales, higher on others; each one of us is arbitrarily robbed and rewarded, punished and privileged for attributes beyond our control. But the injustice of the robbery and punishment is far more obvious to us than the injustice of our unearned privileges and rewards.
  • The foundational crime of this country is indigenous genocide.
  • The work of identifying and removing the invasive and parasitic beliefs about each other that we have been deliberately infected with can be painful and mortifying, but it is also joyful beyond measure. When the fog is burned off, what remains is an illuminated social landscape, where the entire geology of our lives is laid bare. This is the landscape of solidarity, where no life is a distraction, where we move in and out of our necessary home spaces, continually expanding the area of the liberated commons, that world-in-creation where all of our identities simultaneously mean everything and nothing because every excuse for injustice is gone.

"False Memories: Trauma and Liberation" edit

  • The structures of unequal power are many-layered and complex in the ways they function in the world. But at its root, oppression is really quite simple. It's about looting. The rest is made up of the rules and institutions, rituals and agreements, mythologies, rationales and overt bullying by means of which small groups of people keep a firm grasp on way more than their share of the world's resources.
  • In a massive act of projection, they [slavers] often described the African people who did every stitch of their work for them as lazy; seriously believed that slaves needed European people to set them tasks and make them useful.
  • consider the almost hallucinatory fantasies of wealthy members of Congress that teenage African-American welfare mothers, a small minority of the welfare-receiving population, and consuming a minuscule fraction of the public budget, are responsible for bankrupting the economy, growing rich at public expense by having babies in order to pad their AFDC checks. Excluded from decent employment and denied the most basic necessities so as not to slow down the astronomical rise in income of the top 10 percent, these young women are held publicly accountable for the pillaging of our common resources by the greedy.
  • Who could bear to hold privilege that meant the suffering and death of others if they had not been trained from early childhood to see these others as unreal and undeserving? Who would tolerate for even an hour the inhuman conditions imposed by the privileged if they had not been trained from early childhood to feel themselves not fully entitled to life?
  • Memory, individual and collective, is one of the most important sites of social struggle. The "false memory" movement of the 1990s that sought to deny authority over memory to sexual abuse survivors; escalating attacks on teaching the history and literature of indigenous people and People of Color, that frame sharing any information about oppression or the cultures of the oppressed as violence against "Western civilization"; Holocaust denial that pretends the attempted Nazi genocide against primarily European Jews, Roma, lesbian, gay, and disabled people never took place; the bizarre pseudoscience of misogynist politicians claiming that pregnancy results only from consensual sex-these are all examples of the attempted erasure of collective memory and knowledge and represent backlashes against powerful popular movements attempting to wrest control of history from the ruling class.
  • As in the case of the false memory movement, the privileged accuse the disempowered of oppressing them. Teaching the histories, cultures, and thought of the 99 percent violates the "freedom" of privileged white heterosexual men by forcing them to participate in a world in which their interests and perceptions are not the exclusive priority of everyone.
  • The denial of our interrelatedness is killing this planet and too many of its people.
  • Recovery from trauma requires creating and telling another story about the experience of violence and the nature of the participants, a story powerful enough to restore a sense of our own humanity to the abused.
  • Healing takes place in community, in the telling and the bearing witness, in the naming of trauma and in the grief and rage and defiance that follow.
  • While the false memory theoreticians attempt to establish that pain is ahistoric and traumas leave no trace of themselves in our lives, the traumatized keep finding ways to insist that pain has documentable origins, that when someone is hit, it hurts, and that injuries leave scars.
  • Racism frames violence within communities of color as inherent to our identities because it denies the cumulative impact of genocide, slavery, lynching, and other forms of organized violence, enforced poverty and segregation, and the systematic denial of opportunities. It is only by recognizing the traumatic impact of oppression that we come to see that all violence, all dysfunction arises from historical causes. It was the identification of those sources that radicalized former street gangs, giving rise to powerful movements like the Black Panthers and the Young Lords.
  • Just as the individual recovering from abuse must reconstruct the story of her undeserved suffering in a way that gives it new meaning, and herself a rebuilt and invulnerable sense of worth, the victims of collective abuse need ways to reconstruct history that restore a sense of our inherent value as human beings and immunize us against the elite mythology that our only worth is in our ability to make them rich.
  • Only through mourning can we reconnect to the love in our lives and lose our fascination with the ones who harmed us.
  • It is part of our task as revolutionary people, people who want deep-rooted, change, to be as whole as it is possible for us to be.

"The Historian as Curandera" edit

  • One of the first things a colonizing power, a new ruling class, or a repressive regime does is attack the sense of history of those they wish to dominate by attempting to take over and control their relationships to their own past...A strong sense of their own history among the dominated undermines the project of domination. It provides an alternative story, one in which oppression is the result of human behavior, of historical events and choices, and not natural law.
  • History is the story we tell ourselves about how the past explains our present, and how the ways in which we tell it are shaped by contemporary needs.
  • All historians have points of view. All of us use some process of selection by which we choose which stories we consider important and interesting. We do history from some perspective, within some particular worldview. Storytelling is not neutral. Curandera historians make this explicit, openly naming our partisanship, our intent to influence how people think.
  • One element of imperial history is that events tend to be seen as caused by extraordinary personalities acting on one another without showing us the social roots and contexts of those actions. For example, many of the great discoveries and inventions we are taught about in elementary and high school were being pursued by many people at once, but the individual who received the patent is described as a lone explorer rather than part of a group effort. Rosa Parks didn't "get tired" one day and start the Montgomery bus boycott. She was a trained organizer, and her role, as well as the time and place of the boycott, was the result of careful planning by a group of civil rights activists. Just as medicinal history must restore individuality to anonymous masses of people, it must also restore social context to individuals singled out as the actors of history.

"The Politics of Childhood" edit

  • Childhood is the one political condition, the one disenfranchised group through which all people pass. The one constituency of the oppressed in

which all surviving members eventually stop being members and have the option of becoming administrators of the same conditions for new members.

  • The oppression of children is the wheel that keeps all other oppressions turning. Without it, misery would have to be imposed afresh on each new generation instead of being passed down like a hereditary illness. Children enter the world full of expectation and hope. They are not jaded. They are not cynical or resigned. They see clearly what custom has made invisible to us and are outraged by all injustices, no matter how small. It is through the agency of former children that the revolutionary potential of current children is held in check.
  • Without any form of political representation, children remain in many senses the property of the adults in their lives.
  • We tolerate and accept for children a level of disenfranchisement that we would protest for any other constituency. Childhood is the standard for acceptable powerlessness. "They're just like children" is the classic statement of paternalistic racism and patriarchy. "Don't treat me like a child" is the outraged cry of the disrespected. We talk about the ways in which various groups are not admitted to full adulthood, how women were, and in many places still are, permanent legal minors, how the colonized are considered naïve, not ready for self-governance, deprived of sovereignty with the same air of protectiveness we extend to children.
  • the arguments against the enfranchisement of children are identical to those used to oppose suffrage for women, immigrants, former slaves, the illiterate, and the poor in general. "They are innocent and cannot understand politics. They will be taken advantage of and manipulated by the political interests of those more sophisticated than they. They aren't ready for the responsibility." But what readies people for responsibility is being allowed to take some. People become informed and savvy about those areas of life where they can exercise some power. It is powerlessness that creates passivity. When children are treated with respect, given choices, and expected to have opinions that matter, they develop opinions and make choices. I wonder what it must have been like, what dignity it must have conferred on children of the Iroquois Confederacy that any child over three was welcome to speak about matters of group importance in the tribal council. One of the most politicizing experiences of my life was the summer I spent in Cuba when I was fourteen. Overnight I found myself in a country in which fourteen-year-olds could make major life decisions-for instance, to join the merchant marine, drill with the militia, or choose special vocational training without parental permission.
  • All solidarity movements must work hard to counteract the pull to think for the constituencies they ally themselves with. Those with privilege often have a hard time abandoning the conviction that they are more competent than those they want to support. As adults, we need to listen to children more than we talk to them. We must back the initiative of children themselves, secure resources and share skills, respect their right and ability to lead themselves, and learn to let them lead us. This process, more than anything, will bring into our awareness and let us begin to repair the disempowerments of our own childhoods. As we do so, we will begin dismantling one of the most powerful ways that oppression reproduces itself.

"Forked Tongues: On Not Speaking Spanish" edit

  • Storytelling is a basic human activity, with which we simultaneously make and understand the world and our place in it.
  • we write from necessity, that our writing is a form of cultural and spiritual self-defense. To live surrounded by a popular culture in which we do not appear is a form of spiritual erasure that leaves us vulnerable to all the assaults a society can commit against those it does not recognize. Not to be recognized, not to find oneself in history or in film or on television or in books or in popular songs or in what is studied at school leads to the psychic disaster of ceasing to recognize oneself. Our literature is documentation of an existence that doesn't matter a damn to those in charge. And like the forged passports of my paternal Jewish relatives, from time to time it saves our lives.
  • This is why we write: to see ourselves on the page. To confirm our presence. To clear a space where we can examine the lives we live, not as the sexy girlfriends, petty crooks, and crime victims of TV cop shows, and not as statistical profiles in which hardship, bravery, and resourcefulness lose all personality, but in our own physical and emotional reality. Where we can pull apart and explore this complex relationship we have with the island of our origins and kinship and this vast many-peopled country in which we are writing a new chapter of Puerto-Ricanhood. This necessity gives shape to our literature, to our urgent poetry of the streets, our ever so autobiographical fiction, our legends of collective identity. Most of what we write, we write under pressure.
  • language is born from history.

"Speaking of Antisemitism" edit

  • in the public discourses of anti-semitism, losing relatives to the Nazis is often wielded as a kind of moral authority that exempts us from the challenge to think critically. I have been accused of betraying the Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis because, like the past six generations of my family, I believe our safety lies in the solidarity of working people, and not in a Zionist state. I have been accused of being a retroactive Nazi collaborator by people who claim that dead children accuse me. I am at peace with my ghosts. In none of my lineages do my ancestors demand that I build gated homelands. They say Protect all the people, cherish every land, build freedom for everyone.
  • Racism is like a millstone, a crushing weight that relentlessly presses down on people intended to be a permanent underclass. Its purpose is to press profit from us, right to the edge of extermination and beyond. The oppression of Jews is a conjuring trick, a pressure valve, a shunt that redirects the rage of working people away from the 1 percent, a hidden mechanism, a set-up that works by misdirection, that uses privilege to hide the gears. Unlike racism, at least some of its targets must be seen to prosper, must be well paid and highly visible. The goal is not to crush us; it's to have us available for crushing.
  • I am a native of an occupied colony being systematically stripped of everything that supports life, and I know exactly what I am looking at in Palestine. I too am a thirsty resident in a land of privatized water, of massive land grabs, toxic waste disposal, a majority of my people unable to live in my country, citizen of a continent famous for invasions, occupations, death squads. I am familiar with the pornographic distortions of marketing through which oppression is sanitized, with shiny brochures that proclaim Puerto Rico to be paradise and Israel the home and hearth of freedom. I am a Latin American, so when I see soldiers shooting at children and calling them terrorists, I know what that is. I once wrote, "I am a colonial subject with a stone in my hand when I watch the news. I am a fierce Puerto Rican Jew holding out a rose to Palestine."
  • Jews fleeing the hardships of Christian Europe could have built something quite different in a place with centuries of coexistence, could have come as respectful migrants, to be neighbors, not conquerors. But whatever it could have been, what we have now is this devastation, which, along with everything else, is also bloody reenactment: the grandchildren of ghettoized Jews patrol the borders of Gaza and build walls, descendants of pogrom survivors carry out collective punishments and random executions, and Jews privileged by what they have built speak of "dirty Arabs" in the exact same tone of voice in which the Christians of Europe said "dirty Jews."
  • In my grandmother's village, there was a three-cornered argument about what, if anything, would save the Jews. The Orthodox said it was in God's hands. The Zionists said only Jews could be counted on to stand by Jews, and we needed a defensible territory of our own where we called the shots. The communists and socialists and anarchists who slipped in and out of the shtetls, handing out precious pamphlets to be passed around and hidden, said only an alliance of all the working people can dismantle our oppression and everyone else's. As a boy, my father took part in that identical debate on the Boardwalk in Brooklyn. But after the Holocaust, after the Nazis destroyed so much of the world of European Jews, after the solidarity that existed was not enough, and the old Russian antisemitism that had been punished as a crime against socialism became a part of Soviet policy, after all that, the three-cornered debate went lopsided with despair, and now the Zionist minority of my father's childhood has grown to dominate all debate, aggressively silencing dissent.
  • In the face of a widespread belief that domination is the most trustworthy answer to fear, I am fighting for both the freedom of Palestine and the souls of Jews.
  • I am fighting for an end to the recycling of pain. I am fighting for my own deepest source of hope, the belief in human solidarity, in our ability to decide that we will expand our hearts and our sense of kinship to include each other and resist the urge to contract in fear, to huddle and bare our teeth and lash out. When I speak out for the humanity of Palestine I am defending the humanity of everyone, including all Jews. When I stand firmly against the hidden reservoirs of antisemitism that bubble up when the ruling class needs them to, when I tell my gentile friends not to get distracted from the white Christian male 1 percent, to stay the course and stay clear, I am standing for accuracy, for clarity, for revealing the structures of domination that crush our world, including the people of Palestine.

"Nadie la Tiene: Land, Ecology, and Nationalism" edit

  • How can you own something that changes under your hands, that is so fully alive? Ecology undermines ownership.
  • "national soil" is a nonsensical idea. Places have history, but soil does not have nationality. Just as the air we breathe has been breathed by millions of others first and will go on to be breathed by millions more; just as water falls, travels, evaporates, circulates moisture around the planet-so the land itself migrates.
  • Land and blood. Mystical powers that never change their identity so that a speck of Mississippi mud and an individual red blood cell are both seen as carrying unalterable identity, permanent membership in human cultures. This is the mysticism that allows fascist movements to call up images of long-dispersed and -recombined ancestral peoples like the ancient Aryans and Romans, or entirely mythic genetic strains like White Race, and then scream for genocide to return them to a state of purity. The reality is that people circulate like dust, intermingling and re-forming, all of us equally ancient on this Earth, all equally made of the fragments of long-exploded stars, and if, by some unlikely miracle, a branch of our ancestors has lived in the same place for a thousand years, this does not make them more real than the ones who have continued circulating for that same millennium. All of us have been here since people were people. All of us belong on Earth.
  • So, what about the stealing of land? What about all the colonized places on Earth? What of indigenous peoples forcibly removed by invaders? The crime here is a deeper and more lasting one than theft, akin in some ways to enslavement. Before land can be stolen, it must become property. The relationships built over time between the land and the human members of its ecosystem must be severed just as ties of family and village and co-humanity were severed so that slavers could enslave. The indigenous peoples of the Americas did not own land in the European sense. They lived with and from the land and counted it as a relative.
  • Earth-centered cultures everywhere held our kinship with land and animals and plants as core knowledge, central to living. The land had to be soaked with blood and that knowledge, those cultures shattered, before private ownership could be erected. It wasn't just theft.
  • Because the land is alive, our relationship with it is real. We are kin to the land, love it, know it, become intimate with its ways, sometimes over many generations. Surely such kinship and love must be honored. Nationalism does not honor it. Nationalism is about gaining control, not about loving land. But it wears the cloak of that love, strips it from its sensual and practical roots and raises it into a banner for armies. The land invoked as a battle cry is not the same land that smells of sage or turns blue in the dusk or clings thickly to our boots after rain. That land is less than nothing to the speech makers.
  • Ownership shatters ecology. For the land to survive, for us to survive, it must cease to be property. It cannot continue to sustain us for much longer under the weight of such a merciless use. We know this. We know the insatiable hunger for profit that drives that use and the disempowerment that accommodates it. We don't yet know how to make it stop.

"Torturers" edit

  • Torturers are made, not born. We know enough about the repetitive cycles of violence, enough about the training of secret police and death squads, special military units and spies to know that the way you learn to torture is by being tortured.
  • To me the choice seems difficult and clear: either we are committed to making a world in which all people are of value, everyone redeemable, or we surrender to the idea that some of us are truly better and more deserving of life than others, and once we open the door to that possibility, we cannot control it. If we are willing to say that some people don't matter, that some people are unaffordable for the planet, that some people's actions have placed them beyond the pale, then what forgiveness is there for any of us if we commit errors, even crimes? If we agree to accept limits on who is included in humanity, then we will become more and more like those we oppose.
  • A fully just society in which human potential is never despised or thrown away is possible only if that invitation to a restoration of integrity and community is always open.
  • All of us have had failures of integrity. I believe part of what makes it so hard to consider perpetrators as part of our constituency is that we cannot bear to examine the ways we resemble them. Until we confront the moments when we have been co-opted, coerced or seduced into harming others, we will be vulnerable to defensive self-righteousness.
  • I am holding out for a radical refusal to compromise on the possibility of any one of us to heal, make new moral choices, make amends, and reclaim kinship with those we have harmed. A justice that is truly restorative.
  • There is a place for righteous rage at the torturers and a place to demand accountability and hard work. But punishment is not a tool of liberation. It is the powerless exercise of violence by those who can think of nothing better. It is the refusal to acknowledge our kinship with those who hurt us. It is a laying down of our vision, and ultimately, if we cannot overcome the urge to punish, our vision, which is what truly distinguishes us from those we oppose, will die.

“Circle Unbroken: The Politics of Inclusion” edit

  • Only a feminism that fully integrates the expertise of all women, that does not indulge in a hierarchy of liberation agendas, will be capable of bringing large numbers of women together in long-term alliance. Therefore the theory we need to be developing is that which helps us understand the relationships between our different and multifaceted lives, with all their specific struggles and resources. Rather than build unity through simplification, we must learn to embrace multiple rallying points and understand their inherent interdependence. Such a theory needs to shed the metaphor of "intersections" of oppression and assume a much more organic interpenetration of institutional systems of power. The idea of intersection treats the social categories "woman," "working class," "lesbian," "person of color," and so on as if it were possible to separate someone's womanness from her class position, her “racial" or ethnic position, and so on. But these social categories do not exist anywhere in their "pure" state. Every woman is a woman of some class, some ethnicity, some sexual orientation, some country. The notion that working-class, colonized Women of Color suffer from triple jeopardy has always bothered me, because the implication is that racism and class oppression have no effect on those who are privileged by it. There is no such thing as single jeopardy. The only way to believe that the isms are separable is by ignoring privilege-so that upper-class, heterosexual, European and US white women are thought about only in the context of gender, as if people existed only in the categories in which they are oppressed. Social categories don't intersect like separate geometric planes. Each one is wholly dependent on all the others for its existence. For a liberation theory to be useful, it must address the way systems of oppression and privilege saturate each other, are mutually necessary, have no independent existence.
  • The concept of internalized oppression, that collective historical trauma has powerful and lasting effects on individuals and communities, provides the most important insights into the behavior of oppressed people. Seeing how internalized institutional abuse affects people's choices allows me to explain their actions as separate from their potential-to say that people make the best choices of which they are capable at any particular moment.
  • In order to successfully build a politics of inclusion, we need to map the ways in which our own thinking has been affected by our individual, familial, and cultural histories of oppression and resistance. The process of consciousness raising, of naming the specific ways in which our particular experiences of inequity traumatized us, is an invaluable theorizing tool. There are few things as powerful as identifying the manufacturer's mark on what we have perceived as our personal demons.
  • Full inclusion requires us to root out all the ways in which we have been tricked into collusion with the oppression of others, and all of us have. It requires us to move beyond our comfort zones. I once heard Bernice Reagon say that being in coalition meant working with people we didn't much like, and we might need to vomit over it for a while, but we had to do it anyway.
  • Solidarity is not a matter of altruism. Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in oppression of others, and from the deep recognition of our most expansive self-interest. From the recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable.

"Tai: A Yom Kippur Sermon, 5778/2017" edit

  • Joy is to mood as stars are to the weather, a constant to steer by, sometimes hidden by storm clouds but high above them, untouched by wind or rain.
  • Trauma is not the opposite of joy; it's the husk around its seed. The more we face into the world, the more we let ourselves know how other people live, the more we learn about not only their pain and rage but also their love and resilience, their defiance and hope, and it's from that full spectrum of knowing that we fill in the details and colors of the world we want. There is a joy that rises from being with what's true, even when that truth includes the terrible.
  • To live a lifetime of audacity, dwelling in the place where joy meets justice, year after year, can only be sustained by being so in love with a vision of what's possible that we no longer flirt with despair.
  • Imagine that seeking the sources of audacity in our lives, choosing to know whatever we must to find it, we discover that there is nothing to defend. Whatever the harm done to us and the real wounds of it, our scars are not treasures to be hoarded. Whatever our complicity in the deprivation of others, whatever we've allowed ourselves, in the name of comfort or fear, to accept instead of freedom, is not worth having, that injustice was already here when we were born, that it's much bigger and older than our mistakes, that claiming each other is much better than lying low.

"Introduction: The Political is Personal" (1998) edit

  • I have tried to integrate healing myself and healing the world.
  • I understood that excavating and revealing the truth about my experiences of abuse, and the sense of empowerment and release that process brought me, was the same process as excavating and telling the truth about the centuries of invasion, enslavement, patriarchal rule, accommodation, collaboration and resistance. The healing came from the same source.
  • abuse is the local eruption of systemic oppression, and oppression the accumulation of millions of small systematic abuses.
  • However the abuse is perpetrated, the result is the same: abuse does not make sense in the context of our humanity, so when we are abused, we must either find an explanation that restores our dignity or we will at some level accept that we are less than human and lose ourselves, and our capacity to resist, in the experience of victimhood.
  • I call the work I do "cultural activism" because it does battle in the arena of culture, over the stories we tell ourselves and each other of why the world is as it is. It's a struggle for the imaginations of oppressed people, for our capacity to see ourselves as human when we are being treated inhumanely. Cultural activism is not separate from the work of organizing people to do specific things. In fact, successful organizing depends on this transformation of vision; the most significant outcome of most organizing campaigns is the transformation that takes place in people who participate.
  • The reality is that when we are unable to mobilize people on their own behalf, the difficulty is usually at the level of vision. Either we ourselves have been unable to see the people with whom we are working as fully human and have treated them as victims instead of allies, or we have failed to engage their imaginations and spirits powerfully enough.
  • Cultural work, the work of infusing people's imaginations with possibility, with the belief in a bigger future, is the essential fuel of revolutionary fire.

"Walking the Talk, Dancing to the Music: the Sustainable Activist Life" (1998) edit

  • Sustainable activism is not simply a matter of organizing energy and applying it to tasks. Anyone can do that in a crisis, in a pinch, for a while. Long-term activism requires more or less reliable, ongoing sources of hopefulness, faith, joy and trust because it is a matter of believing in and working for possibilities that are nowhere in sight.
  • we need to find ways to live as if what we want to build were already here.
  • We live in a society that offers us cheap imitations, that devalues the spiritual in favor of consumption or empty religious forms devoid of spirit, that substitutes the individual for the personal and offers us entertainment and addiction instead of living art. And in order to sustain ourselves, in order to fully tap our power to make social change and do the work we want to do in the world, not for the duration of one crisis after another, but for fifty or sixty years, what we need is the restoration of these profound sources of nourishment: connection with spirit, connection with the personal and connection with the creative. Only such a base gives us the flexibility to adapt to changing conditions, to stay hopeful in times of setback, to balance patience and persistence and choose our battles wisely.
  • The spiritual is whatever allows us to notice the miraculous nature of life, how it keeps coming back, asserting itself in the midst of destruction. Whatever allows us to notice that life is in fact bigger than all the mean-spirited cruelties and brutalities of unjust societies. Something large enough to entrust our sense of future to, so that we don't become mired in struggle.
  • Our society is individualistic to the point of insanity. Concern for the common good is ridiculed as naive, and the skills of people from more communally oriented cultures are seen as liabilities.
  • Love is subversive, undermining the propaganda of narrow self-interest. Love emphasizes connection, responsibility and the joy we take in each other. Therefore love (as opposed to unthinking devotion) is a danger to the status quo and we have been taught to find it embarrassing.
  • Art, like dreaming, is something so necessary to internal balance that people deprived of it go a little wacky. Art is the collective dreamplace, the reservoir of our deepest understandings and desires and hopes, as essential as water. In recognition of this fact, the marketplace offers us entertainment, hoping to replace the wild and forested interior of our souls with potted plastic plants. Just as we dream-whether we want to or not, whether we long for or fear our dreaming-people make art and are drawn to art.
  • Every vital social movement immediately begins to generate art-songs, poetry, posters, murals, novels-an outpouring of the creativity that people will create from even the smallest crumbs of hope.
  • art, like sex, is an essential and affirming part of aliveness, it cannot be totally repressed. So, as best they can, our rulers steal it, commodify it and return it in barely recognizable form, sanitized, rootless, artificial, or they try to medicate away the need, substituting addiction.
  • We who believe in freedom, whose daily lives are made up of the clash between what we want for this world and the violent greed that surrounds us, need a culture rich in our people's dreams to keep us sane.
  • Human beings seek integrity like water seeks its level, grow toward creative and just solutions like plants grow toward sunlight, sometimes by crooked paths, but always reaching.

"Radical Pleasure: Sex and the End of Victimhood" (1998) edit

  • We are so vulnerable in our pleasures and desires.
  • the seductiveness of the victim role; the thin satisfactions that come from a permanent attitude of outrage...Victimhood absolves us from having to decide to have good lives. It allows us to stay small and wounded instead of spacious, powerful and whole. We don't have to face up to our own responsibility for taking charge of things, for changing the world and ourselves. We can place our choices about being vulnerable and intimate and effective in the hands of our abusers. We can stay powerless and send them the bill.
  • To shamelessly insist that our bodies are for our own delight and connection with others clearly defies the predatory appropriations of incestuous relatives and rapists; but it also defies the poisoning of our food and water and air with chemicals that give us cancer and enrich the already obscenely wealthy, the theft of our lives in harsh labor, our bodies used up to fill bank accounts already bloated, the massive abduction of our young people to be hurled at each other as weapons for the defense and expansion of those bank accounts-all the ways in which our deep pleasure in living has been cut off so as not to interfere with the profitability of our bodies. Because the closer I come to that bright, hot center of pleasure and trust, the less I can tolerate its captivity, and the less afraid I am to be powerful, in a world that is in desperate need of unrepentant joy.

"My Name is This Story" edit

In Telling to Live: Latina Feminist Testimonios (2001)

  • I grew up in a Marxist home at a time of international decolonization struggles, my imagination filled with Cuba and Vietnam, Angola and Guinea-Bissau, Chou En-Lai's China and the Bolivia of El Che. I grew up listening to groups of young men talking excitedly about strategy and theory in our living room, while women sat silent, or, if they spoke, were ignored. I grew up with a mother who was a feminist without a movement, who moved farther and farther from those meetings where her comments kept being attributed to my father. I also grew up in a barrio with very few options for women, where intelligence and curiosity were restricted to the daily struggles and the doings of one's neighbors, without room to make other choices than young and plentiful childbearing, agricultural and household labor, food stamps and a pot of gandules.
  • The Chicago I landed in in 1967 was on fire with the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, antiwar activism, and the explosion of what was called the women's movement. If Pablo Neruda taught me that a poet could be passionately engaged in politics and write eloquently about it, it was white feminist women like Susan Griffin, Marge Piercy, Adrienne Rich, and Alta who taught me that writing about typing, housework, motherhood, the tangle of sex could be as powerful and gut-wrenching, as tender and exquisite as anything else in literature that my life was worthy. At the same time, the white women around me and my mother, both of us members of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, said things like "Mexican women don't need feminism because they are at the heart of their families and already have the power and support they need. Black women find empowerment in the fight against racism, not sexism. The movement is white because we're the only ones who need it." They could not yet envision a feminism shaped by the needs of brown women. Nevertheless, white feminism began the process of giving me voice.
  • It was not until 1978 that I found my first community of women of color writers. A group of us had all taken summer jobs interviewing randomly selected women in San Francisco on their experiences of sexual assault, and we were the interviewers sent into the Mission District, Chinatown, Filmore. In protesting the racism within the project, in sharing the stories we were gathering, and their weight on our hearts, we found each other. Cherríe Moraga, Kitty Tsui, Luisah Teish, Luz Guerra. Each of us led to others. Finally, I began having the conversations I hungered for most. I remember us laughing until our sides hurt, gathered around a potluck of our favorite home foods, about all the lies we had been told about ourselves and each other's people, a healing cleansing laughter that fed our poetry.
  • It is the writing of U.S. women of color, a handful of clear-headed white women, mostly Jewish, a few men who engage gender, mostly gay, that sustains me and gives me context.
  • This tribe called "women of color" is not an ethnicity. It is one of the inventions of solidarity, an alliance, a political necessity that is not the given name of every female with dark skin and a colonized tongue, but rather a choice about how to resist and with whom.
  • Feminism has nearly as long a history in Puerto Rico as in the United States, but colonialism has prevented the full-grown development of movements, cultures, and communities of resistance that have been possible for women in the United States,
  • this is how it comes home. That not only does my sense of myself cross many national boundaries, but my sense of Puerto Rico has also opened up, multiplied, shed mythology, and become itself international.

Oral History Interview (2005) edit

  • The Cuban press, every day there were articles about Africa and Latin America and Asia, and people were educated. They knew what the political struggles in different African countries were. They knew about — you know, you’d go through the Daily International page and it was like, in Chad, this is happening. In Burundi, this is happening. In Costa Rica — it was like somebody had pulled back the veils and there was a whole world out there.
  • One of my proudest credentials as a writer is to know that my poem “Child of the Americas” was plastered on bathroom walls in a small school in Michigan as graffiti, in an attempt to get people thinking about racism.
  • I grew up within the anti-colonial movements of that period. I knew about the Algerian revolution. My father has this amazing mind for history and politics and would tell stories all the time. I knew about the Algerian revolution. I knew about Vietnam. We received Peking Review. I read children’s stories from China, stories from the Cuban Revolution. I had a sense of us being part of a global movement of people with whom I felt a tremendous sense of kinship. I also thought all radicals were Jewish. I was really shocked to discover that Pete Seeger was not Jewish...It was shocking to find out that there were right-wing Jews and that there were so many people who were not Jews who were radicals.
  • ("Is the racism of the women’s movement dominant in your recollection and experience of the women’s movement?") Yes, but my own ability to think about it clearly didn’t emerge until there were other women of color around. I was a new immigrant as well, and the strangeness of the United States, period, overwhelmed some of the other things that I was thinking about.
  • On the strength of what happened with This Bridge Called My Back, I was suddenly credentialed. Suddenly I had the authority to speak about my own life and get paid a lot of money by a university to do so. Because that book had broken into — had been picked up by women’s studies all over the country and was being taught. As a high school dropout I suddenly was an authority, I was an expert, and I was getting called up and asked to come speak about being both Jewish and Puerto Rican, about being an immigrant, about the particular position that I held. And it was a very odd experience to go from complete outsider to academia to being brought in as a lecturer and being paid hundreds of dollars.

Kindling: Writings on the Body (2013) edit

  • Our bodies are in the mix of everything we call political. (p 10)
  • We are turning the world out of prehistory into that morning that will be ours, when everyone on earth will wake up unafraid. (p 29)
  • If there was widespread recognition that many people are depressed because oppression makes us miserable, and that large numbers of people are getting sick because of the reckless use of toxic chemicals for profit, more of us might become inspired to organize, and resist the policies that make us sick and sad. (In the article "some thoughts on environmental illness")
  • Listen with your body. Let your body speak.

Quotes about Aurora Levins Morales edit

  • An essay on Lebanon, written just after the invasion of that country by Israeli troops in 1982, by the Jewish-Puerto Rican writer Aurora Morales came closest to expressing my own rage and grief.
    • Bettina Aptheker Tapestries of Life: Women's Work, Women's Consciousness, and the Meaning of Daily Experience (1989)
  • Aurora’s writing is itself alchemy, balancing emotional nuance with rich historical context, simultaneously speaking in an intimate personal voice and for a collective we. She offers us vulnerable, power-filled lyricism that moves the audience to new understandings of their own lives as she claims her body’s pleasures and pain. Her writing moves me like no other.”
  • As Aurora Levins Morales teaches us, "The stories we tell about our suffering define what we can imagine doing about it." Currently the prevailing story told about sexual violence is that our suffering can be fixed by the criminal legal system. Legal remedies such as restraining orders and criminal charges are the primary forms of redress offered to survivors of violence and harm. This limited range of remedies frequently forecloses our consideration of other possible ways to address sexual harm. Abolition is the praxis that gives us room for new visions and allows us to write new stories-together. But it is hard, hard work.
  • disability justice. It’s a framework that embraces abolition. And that is to say, it demands nothing less than the overthrow of all forms of ableism, you know, and the structures that support it. So, the difference between disability justice and disability rights is that disability justice says, you know, we’ve got to deal with racism, sexism, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, that these are the forms of oppression that make even disability differential. And so, if you think about the way that we responded to the COVID-19 crisis, for example, and to this day how we’re still responding to it, that disabled people who are Black and Brown and poor, undocumented, Indigenous, queer, gender nonconforming, they’re the ones that end up getting differential care, sometimes less care, sometimes inhumane care. They’re the ones who end up incarcerated, end up homeless, end up jobless, housing insecure. And that’s what disability justice tells us. And for me, I was forced to really come to terms with it by a number of folks who really were involved in the disability justice movement, who really forced me to think deeper about, like, what is a radical freedom dream, you know? Aurora Levins Morales, for example, is one who’s a really important disability justice activist who really kind of pulled my coattails on this.
  • Twenty years ago I first read Medicine Stories and had my mind blown by the elegant, virtuosic way Aurora Levins Morales imagined a theory interweaving childhood sexual abuse survival, Indigenous sovereignty, anticlassism, and deep Latinx queer anticolonial ecological justice. Twenty years later, her analysis is even more rich and full of fruit, revising and expanding her work to encompass Standing Rock and the global fight for water and land liberation, survivorhood, and disability justice.
  • Aurora Levins Morales's work should absolutely be supported. She has an impeccable progressive and visionary politic. Her prose has the literary eloquence of a pure poetry.

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