Brown Girl Manifesto          

I.  A performative utterance:  each utterance of the first-person “I” as the speaking subject combats the history of oppression which extends to me.  Through the spoken word, the “I” critiques, questions, corrects, annotates, examines, mocks, derides, offends, and talks back at the prevailing culture.
   When I perform my poetry, the “I” speaks not only as the “poet” but also through enacted “difference”—through a body inscribed by historical determinations: brown (dirty), immigrant (illegal alien), girl (unwanted, illegitimate).  An “I” as the brown-girl body who faces her audience stands there vulnerable to the perennial history of pre/mis-conceptions, racism, and hatred.  (If we think the brown-girl figure is no longer viewed by historical determinations, then we are in denial of our role in her existence in the global situation.)

II. Who is this “I” that is not “I”?  The sex that is not one.  She who is not allowed to speak.  Like the old world feminist that I am (who represents something larger than myself—why should I not have ambitions for an art that is political?), should I not want to speak on behalf of the marked brown-girl:

the veiled “subaltern” from the (un) “Holy Lands”?  the girl who is burned for a better dowry? the 24-year-old undocumented worker whom you both need and despise who died in the desert south of Dateland, Arizona traveling across the border? the nameless girl amongst thousands toiling in the factories in Gwangdong? a nameless girl murdered near the maquiladoras in Juarez?  The perennial girl orphan, starving, crying, pushed from refugee camp to refugee camp?  The most annoying of all, she is also your immigrant neighbor, the one with the screaming baby on her hip; the one you despise most of all, because her very existence, her moving into the neighborhood, has brought down the value of the real estate.

III. The speaking subject is always an oppositional voice.  If the majority says, “no dogs allowed,” she says “grrr” and wags her tail and bites the man in the ass and won’t let go. If the majority says, “we don’t want you, immigrant, we’ll send you back,” the speaking subject writes on the walls of Angel Island, “I shall stay firm, I shall endure; I shall not be erased.”

IV. Artistic subjectivity:      the “I” authorizes first-person subjectivity and enables artistic expression, which differs from autobiography.  A brown-girl subject is not necessarily for sociological or ethnographical inquiry.  
          My grandmother is in the kitchen making dumplings.  Yum, you say, what are the ancient ingredients – better yet, what ancient rites are you conducting?  Don’t you perform ancient rites in the kitchen?– let me bring my notepad, and my camcorder – this is important  research ( I’ll get tenure).  
But wait a minute, this is poetry.  My grandmother is in the kitchen making dumplings out of General Iwane Matsui’s liver,  and we have entered the realm of magical realism.
         Perhaps you better not stay in that kitchen and get the hell outta there!
   Why should Maxine’s “cutting the frenum” be forever subjected to the litmus test of an “authentic” autobiographical (ethnographical) experience when even Gregor Samsa gets to speak?  Why is a cockroach a speaking subject (laconic, nonetheless, decrying “mother, mother”)?  The ethnographers never question whether or not he is a descendent of other cockroaches. But seriously, why should you get to imagine yourself as Luke Skywalker and I can’t imagine myself as the Woman Warrior?  Aren’t Chinese girls allowed to have a surreal imagination?

V. The speaking subject is also the lyric poet:  am I making art or am I only producing material for your ethnographical interest?  Am I not also spewing out sonnets, palindromes, epigrams, rondeaus, haiku, renku, ballades, jueju, fu, ghazals, prophetic hallucinations and all the sweet and wild brilliant variations of the above?  Am I not the poet of witness?  Do I not take after Nellie Sachs and Paul Celan trying to describe the horrors of the Holocaust, meanwhile inventing a new lyric, which questions the possibility/impossibility of poetry after the most heinous episodes of history.  Am I not a descendent of Qu Yuan, whose lyric intensity caused him to drown himself in the Mi Lo River in protest?  And the descendent of the courageous Feminist poet Qiu Jin, who recited a poem on the path to her own beheading?

VI. A Call for Unity.  Brothers and sisters of the revolution: contemplate for a moment, are we really now in a “post-identity, post-racial, post-feminist era—and all is groovy and color blind—equal work equal pay, equal justice for all?  We are in the first term of the first black presidency in the U.S.A.  Are we therefore all emancipated and free?  Do we all have a stake in the American dream?  Do we all have a place at the table (or do we still have to cook it for you, serve it and wipe the floor after you too, and sit quietly in the dark kitchen while you delight in that lush banquet)?

     Why am I still standing here trying to answer to you:
hegemonic economy, mordant philosophers! poebiz mongers! treacherous cognoscenti!  cultural  flesh-traders, fascist (es)states! trickster patriarchs! pallid leaseholders, cleaver-wielding grandmothers! erst-while dreamers, readers, overlords:  yeah you,  you are never fucking satisfied!

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