On Feb. 19, the UC Santa Barbara MultiCultural Center hosted Andrew Jolivétte — a poet and a professor in and the chair of the UC San Diego Department of Ethnic Studies — to explore cultural convergences between Black and Indigenous communities and the role of contemporary movements in moving them toward kinship building, abolition and joy production.
The event, titled “Black Lives, Indigenous Lives: From Mattering to Thriving,” was one of the latest installments to the MultiCultural Center (MCC)’s 17-year-long diversity series and was co-sponsored by the UCSB Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Discrimination Prevention and the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity.
The event began with a Chumash land acknowledgement and then segued into a performance by Mia Lopez, who sang an Indigenous song known traditionally as an “ancestor song.” Lopez is an Indigenous educator, the former tribal chair of the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation and a cultural consultant to UCSB.
“Every moment that we get to be together with our Indigenous brothers and sisters from all over the world is where we all get to talk about our histories and bring them back to life. We are not surviving. We are thriving,” Lopez said. “We did not come back. We have always been here.”
Esmeralda Quintero-Cubillan, a fourth-year political science, sociology and environmental studies triple major and Associate Students off-campus senator, introduced Jolivétte. He began with a poem.
“Black futures are Black joy. Black circuits are the routes, the routes to liberation, the routes to exhalation,” Jolivétte said. “You there, Black freedom, I see you; you there, Black circuitry, I see you; you there, Black futurity, I see you. You are Black joy, you are Black joy, you are Black joy.”
Jolivétte, who is Black and Indigenous, said he uses poetry as a vehicle for expressing emotion because, “as a Black, native, Creole, mixed-race person, that is what we feel. We’re a feeling people, and so much we’ve been trained to not feel, to disassociate.”
“Sometimes we don’t talk about not just the land that was dispossessed or taken, but also the labor [and] our bodies,” Jolivétte continued. “When we think about California Indians and the missions and that toxic history that has been poisoned into our youth generation after generation, that is a lie. That is something that they’ve tried to etch into our memories.”
To find joy and meaning, Jolivétte revisits history through a lens of resiliency and perseverance.
“We have never stopped stewarding the land. We have never stopped following our original instructions,” Jolivétte said. “Even in those slave fields, people still found ways to sing and find joy, right? Even in the darkest and most ugliest of times, we have found joy and we have thrived.”
Jolivétte suggested that marginalized communities move toward what he called a “relational embodiment” to push back against cultural genocide and cultural dissolution to facilitate a future of thriving.
“In other words, everything boils down to, ‘Oh, are you biologically this?’” Jolivétte said. “We have all these people talking about DNA tests, or who’s a real Indian, or light skinned Black people, dark skinned Black people, all these things that we — not we, someone else — conjured up so that we would then take that on and internalize it and believe that toxic language.”
“But when we have relational accountability, or relational embodiment, it means that we take back in our own bodies, our own roots, our relationships to one another, and we refuse to let people rupture and disrupt our own teachings,” he continued.
Jolivétte then presented a poem about the COVID-19 pandemic, speaking to its duality for ethnic fraud, health care and racial inequality and “our ability to push back … to not live in our trauma, to live in our thrivance.”
“Infection: no cure. Weaponized: anti-Black. Mask: off. But who wears the mask? Not Black boys, not Black trans women, not Breonna, not Ahmaud, not George, not Harlem nor Hunter’s Point nor Ninth Ward,” Jolivétte said, reciting his poem.
“What about Tuskegee? What about running face sickness, smallpox, but what about our grandmothers? Where were the masks hidden inside diseased slave ships, upon dead bodies?” he continued. “Where was the work before? Where was the freedom before? White men with guns and sheets, but not 1850, it’s 2021 and January 6 … white men went to the capital of this colonial nation and terrorized it. They are not settlers, they are terrorists.”
During a question-and-answer session near the end of the event, Jolivétte fielded audience inquiries about navigating Indigenous research at Western universities, improving K-12 ethnic studies programs, identity formation and paper genocides.
To finish the event on a note of empowerment, hope and optimism for the future, Jolivétte called on attendees to continue standing up for cultural and racial injustice.
“All of you here who are present, those who were here, those who left already: All of our ancestors [are] protecting us and guiding us. Not only that, but they are helping us to thrive,” he said, “because our lives are more than just mattering.”