Exchange

Somewhere near the Williamsburg Bridge I went to my first Candela dance party conjured by Xiomara Henry, aka DJ Bembona. One of my favorite DJs (besides my dad), if there’s a chance for me to check out her set, I take it. I went and sat in front of a set of drums, a medium and deep sounding djembe near Nasha, a water defender and sister friend who was in town and started to jam. To the point where out of towners that that we were a part of the show. To the point where some folks got mad if we took a break for our hands, or a drink, or some other (valid) reason. The thing is, I’ve never played a djembe in this lifetime before, but I told them that my trick was to play like I was dancing. To find that back beat, or the beat that isn’t there, and just go. Higher self knew what to do.

In thinking a little deeper about the offerings I gravitate towards, I can come to a few realizations easily. They’re pro-Black, preferably explicit with their reverence. But I also often lean towards Afrobeat or AfroLatinx prescribed parties. I found a home in that intersection as a product of the crossroads of being a part of the African Diaspora but it took a new perspective to understand how it happened.

Moving requires a lot of things, but one of the critical things is access to the home at any given time. At first, the main key we needed to get in the building had been copied several times, badly, and I had to go get a new one. I turned the corner of Knickerbocker and Myrtle and went to a hardware store that was open, and, the owner assuming I was Latina, began to greet me in Spanish. My Spanish that has been influenced by an Colombian roommate and several Dominican, Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian femmes replied, stated that I needed a single key made and the conversation went on to pay for the key. As I was saying pasa un buen dia, he asked me where I was from. My shortened translation simply stated “mi padre es de Guyana y San Kitts y mi madre es de la Sur (my dad is from Guyana and St Kitts and my mom is from the South)”, and I asked where he where he was from. In finding out that he was a proud Boricua, like a lot of folks in my new neighborhood, he says “ahh somos vecinos, es Caribena (ahh we’re neighbors, you’re Caribbean)”.

He was right, and without knowing it, put into words why I felt at home at Candela. Or why it took hanging out with my AfroLatinx friends to understand my own Caribbean culture. Colonization says we all have different experiences with Blackness, language and culture. My grandmother, father and uncle came here from the islands in 1968. It’s the height of the Black Power movement, and they land in Harlem. Not quite across 110th Street like the song goes, but down the road nonetheless near 104th and Columbus. Being from Guyana and St Kitts, both former British colonies, this part of my tribe came to New York with accents. My uncle was younger, and could kind of switch back and forth, but my grandmother was the queen and refused to code switch. Helen Veronica had that accent until the day she became an ancestor. She was also quick to correct you if you thought she was Jamaican, saying “mi nuh no damn Jamaican people always think that!” The other Black kids, of African-American culture, not understanding why my father spoke the way he did, teased him and there went said accent.

But what my dad held onto was the music, reggae, calypso and soca. Those beats lead to the Afro influences that he heard from the Boricuas he learned how to salsa from. The folks that put him on to Santana, and the stories from his mother about the time she and his father hung out with Celia Cruz and that there’s a painting to prove it. Celia therefore had a special spot in my father’s extensive CD collection, and although I can’t be completely sure, I think she might of been singing La Vida Es Un Carnaval when my dad taught me how to salsa.

Meeting my vecinxs as an adult reminded me the ways in which exchanges are made across people like my father experienced. The relationship between the music and the people that are moved by it. But then that made me think about that same exchange across intimate relationships. But also how the exchange of culture facilitates and fosters levels of kinship that we don’t necessarily see at first glance. It reminded me how a capoeira master once told me that as a Black woman, I have more of an ancestral claim to the practice then the folks I was training with at the time. That being melaninated the way that I am made me closer to the source, an herdera (gift). That I’ve been fortunate to witness many AfroLatinx folks claim their Blackness and hold space with others to navigate everything that reclamation meant across generations. That it makes sense on a lot of levels that my grandfather, who didn’t make the journey to the states, spoke Spanish at the docks down in Georgetown.

My father being my first and always favorite DJ has spoiled me in a lot of ways. But him being my first love alongside my mother has also spoiled me. It sets the bar pretty damn high, and leads to me getting checked pretty often when I forget where that bar is. Being a Scorpio, my dad hit me with the following on Father’s Day and it’s stuck with me ever since; “Veronica, why do you attract needy men?” I quickly replied I saying that they were needy boys, but nonetheless he was right. My response to support folks can often lead to me giving more in a relationship of any kind, but particularly intimate ones. That the some of these exchanges I was engaging in weren’t balanced and that some of them were not in a position to find that same backbeat I found on the djembe with ease.

My Aquarius Moon got the message loud and clear and started to look across the power grid to see what needed to be cut. No notice. Not a single utterance because I had given too many sounds that fell conveniently deaf. Those are the spots that look like summer of 1977. The majority of the spots that are beaming are the generators that I keep to myself though, which allowed me to see the spots that surprised me. The spots that had been more consistent than I had anticipated, allowing me to reroute the electricity there instead and to see that they had energy to give from a place of abundance as well. It was a reminder for me to not start anything that I couldn’t finish and to not ask for anything that I could not give.

Anyone in my life, in this moment, is put to this same challenge. Don’t start anything you cannot finish. Do not ask for anything you cannot give. Because there are wrinkles in those exchanges. I’m moving towards a space where there is fluid movement that still facilitates an even trade. Sou sous with people that trust themselves enough to trust me. Higher self knows what to do because everyone is invited but only a few will make it. Word is born. 

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“Don’t get into this cycle of solitude where you lose your ability to connect intimately for the sake of your higher purpose.” - Maryam Hasnaa

 

“today's victory was understanding men a little better.

Men who cannot take responsibility for themselves.

Men who demand that you care for them, yet refuse to do the same thing back.

Men who don't know what emotional labor even is.

Men who have never been held to a higher standard.

Men who are hurting deeply.

Men who want to be free.

Men who are brave enough to ask for love.

Men who want to figure out what love truly means for them.

Men who are kind enough to say they'll watch out for me cause I'm new on the block.

And through understanding your humanity even when I'm pissed as all hell and fighting so hard for my dignity in your presence, I gain something. I gain the knowledge that it's possible for me to be as connected to you as I am to the women who hold up my life. Particularly the one holding me up 24/7: Myself.” - Saudi Garcia

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