I LOVE ME, I LOVE ME NOT
FEBRUARY 10 – MARCH 19, 2017
I love me, I love me not
by: Cristine Brache
Annotated by: manuel arturo abreu
Last December, while in Miami, I took some boxes out of storage to locate and transfer VHS home videos onto my computer. I found nine videos. The first video I played, “1 Families Chrismas” had been recorded over in its entirety with random HBO movies from the nineties. Unremarkably flat ones that I’ve never heard of, commercials included. If I could describe what it feels like to be a first generation American, with parents from Puerto Rico and Cuba, it would be like this: HBO colonizing a VHS cassette recording of an immigrant family’s Chrismas in Hialeah, Florida.
It’s troublesome to search for pieces of your past and find no evidence of existence. National Geographic conducted a study, sampling DNA from different biogeographical regions. In Puerto Rico, they sampled some twenty thousand people and found that a large portion of their DNA consisted of Native American ancestry, likely to be Taíno or Ciboney. All of it was female. They were unable to find any traces of male Native American DNA in a single one of their subjects. 1 I want my family’s history to play linearly like a film. I want my ancestors to be the characters in the beginning except no one gets enslaved or sold. Women don’t get stolen and raped and men are not erased. Violence is embedded in the Caribbean. 2 It is embedded in me. I walk around with it and I don’t understand what aspect of that violence my body comprises. Did my blood inflict it or was my blood subjected to it? Erased and written upon, then erased again. My blood does not have memory. It has cultural amnesia. Like amnesia, it continues to flow unaware of where it’s been. It is a clock without hands. I don’t know how to be counted. I want to be the happy ending. 3 The other reference DNA populations are primarily from their biogeographical region with a mix of surrounding areas. For example, the average British person’s DNA can be described as follows, 69% British and Irish, 12% Scandinavian, 9% Western and Central European, 5% Southern European, 2% Eastern European, and 2% of the Jewish Diaspora. In contrast to my own which, after reviewing the results I was sadly reminded of my violent imprint: 77% Southern European, 11% Western and Central African, 7% Native American, 2% Scandinavian, and 2% North African. 4 The internal violence of colonialism can be heard through the sound of my voice. It is me feeling like I’ve perfected my American English accent but still having my Puerto Rican accent detected and exoticized in rural and smaller cities in the U.S., no matter how hard I’ve tried to neutralize it. It can also be heard each time I visit my family in Puerto Rico when they tease me and call me a gringa because they notice the slightest American in my Spanish. I am denied authentic acceptance from both sides. I feel like parts of me identify with Puerto Rican culture more than I do with American, but I also feel the opposite and neither. What I am today is contradictory.
Western history assumes that Taíno people are extinct. Taíno people say they aren’t but they won’t tell us anything else. It’s a power play. If they tell us, they know we’ll take them away. I am not Taíno even if I am a descendant. I’d be foolish to think I haven’t been coerced into the hesitant position of a colonizer, after all, most of my blood is colonial. By giving my feelings and experience a name I am allowing them to be taken from me. In making you aware of it I know your instinct tells you you can take it and make it work for you.
With each pass, from vessel to vessel.
1 We look to the numbers because we think them incapable of lying. This may be the case but only because numbers are correlatively incapable of telling the truth. They just are, like wind or metaphor. We are taught to ascribe greater objectivity to them, to see mathematical processes as irrefutable—that each time, without fail, they can be proven or falsified with enough rigor. But sooner or later the house of Badiou’s claim that “math = ontology” will reveal itself as built on quicksand, and each proof will betray its own performative investments.
2 The ostensible melancholy of the mestizo context -- the colonial imprint of southern european genes and values onto Caribbean and South American peoples and territories -- is such a revelation. Caught between the injunctions to honor our ancestors (all our ancestors, including the white ones) and absolve our roles in contemporary settler colonialism, mixed people find ourselves drawn to the veneer of concreteness and objectivity offered by such services as on-demand DNA tests. Surely the numbers will settle the unseen visions and heard silences, the touchless rememberings and unshowable reveries of the “mestizo experience,” validating the cultural bounty of Portuguese and Spaniard colonization while also divesting mestizaje from it. In a more specifically Caribbean context, these tests only play into the nationalist blood myth (“one-third Euro, one-third Afro, one-third Indio”) and its continuation of southern european cultural ideals. Blood myth logic serves to absolve the contemporary Caribbean of its participation in colonialism, when in fact the imperative political horizon for us is divestment from American governance by debt. Our convoluted racial imaginary only hinders this, and allows the continued oppression of Caribbean minorities (Afrocaribbeans, indigenous people, the rural poor) by arguing that ‘we are all the same.’
3 The situation looks different for each Caribbean Latin American nation. But the overall sense of displacement and melancholia felt by Caribbean mestizos , particularly in diaspora, resonates with many. The fantasy Brache describes -- “I want to be the happy ending” -- is exactly the catch-22 of mestizo melancholy and its desire to absolve itself from its own coloniality: how can one wish to continue existing as an embodiment of the past, while simultaneously wishing the past never happened? If colonialism never happened, there could be no Caribbean. This quixotic ontological conceit can often end up sublimating into imaginative identification with one’s ancestry. We see this in many neo-Taino and other pretend-native Caribbean organizations and individuals, who rely on the colonial narrative of complete Taino extinction in order to argue for themselves as its revivalists. This too is simply a micro-version of the blood myth. 4 In order to pursue this libidinal economy (which she both sincerely, abjectly felt and disinterestedly sought to dissect), Brache paid for a DNA test -- National Geographic’s Genogrƒaphic Project. Not coincidentally, the term “mestizo” has eugenic origins. Supremacist philosopher Jose Vasconcelos invented the term to describe a “cosmic race” an embodiment of the horizon of human development. Human mixing would allow an improvement on “the white race [which] has brought the world to a state in which all human types and cultures will be.able to fuse with each other,” organizing “the moral and material basis for the union of all men... the fruit of all the previous ones and amelioration of everything past.” Over time, “the uglier stocks will give way to the more handsome ... The Indian, by grafting onto the related race, would take the jump of millions of years that separate [him] from our times, and in a few decades of aesthetic eugenics, the black may disappear ...” (Vasconcelos 1925: 72) 5 The Caribbean blood myth is thus laid bare as a project to mold a mixed stock in the image of whiteness, prizing the whiter mestizo over the black and native. Mestizo melancholy in this light is but a species of white fragility, a hope for colorblindness in a contemporary Caribbean context where people with European descent hold the most power and have the most ties to America. In embodying and analyzing the phenomenon of mestizo melancholy, Brache speaks to the gutted identities of islands colonized twice over by southern Europe and the United States.
6 Brache presents works that speak to the coloniality of mestizx identity, with its simultaneous assimilatory striving and inexorable sense of loss: a maple domino table with colonial-style legs features porcelain Hoyle-clone playing cards instead of dominos on the raised playing area, which has been coated in the “flesh” tones of silicone. Dealt blackjack style, the cards all feature the same two images: Brache herself photoshopped as the queen and king of hearts. Oxeye daisies, classically peeled petal by petal by pining europeans for the “they love me, they love me not” roulette game, take the place of poker chips and hourglass sand. Interpellations of white feminine fragility and stereotyped nonwhite resistance leave a disturbing residue of semantic vertigo on the work in the show, with Brache exploring the affective investments of the twee abject and objecthood as imprint or cross-section of historical process. In lieu of providing answers or palatable, easily categorized discomfort, she seeks to embody Trinh T. Minh-Ha’s claim that “one can render the troubling complexities of a situation and still be very specific in one’s fight without being totalising.”