I Am (text for Landed, performed with Li Chiao Ping Dance)
I am a woman. I am a Jew. I am a grandmother of four young boys: two are white, two are black. I am partially dependent on social security, and fully dependent on Medicare. I am one generation removed from my immigrant grandparents who escaped pogroms and fascists in Russia and Romania.
My conditions pre-exist me and my progeny.
Some of my beloved colleagues, and people that I mentor, are young African American women and men, some are immigrants – some undocumented. Recently, a yard sign down the block from my home in Durham, NC was set aflame. Words that had welcomed passersby in many languages melted into a heap of ash. Not long before that, teachers at our local Jewish day school calmly ushered children from the building. Officers never did find a bomb. I don’t know how to protect those whom I love, and this is causing me great anxiety. On an hourly basis. On a daily basis.
I am a political activist. I am white.
My mother Bess, a first generation American, was born to Romanian Jewish parents who survived the treacherous boat trip from to America, driven by promise. Or fear. Or both. Whispered family lore is that their first-born baby died during that crossing. Only recently, have I begun to allow myself to imagine burying a child at sea. The burden of it, the grief of it. The drowning of the promise.
My Romanian bubby with her tightly woven silver braid cascading down her curved spine, was a tiny woman of few words – even fewer in English. But she wielded enormous influence over her five children and her silent husband, Moishe. I’ll never know what they witnessed in Romania. What they experienced during the raids on peasants. They never spoke of it, not even in their Yiddish mother tongue.
We have a lot of secrets in our family.
My Russian grandmother Zalotta, peddled rags every day, on foot, up and down the hilly, cobblestone streets of Pittsburgh. She had two young children to feed –my father Abraham and his little sister May. Every night their mother would come home covered in steel mill soot that blanketed the city and smothered their lungs. She died at midlife. I can only imagine how lonely it was being an immigrant widow, with two small children, in America, at the turn of the 20th century.
I was born into a pre-existing family condition. I fear for my grandchildren –2 Jewish. 2 Black.