Diaspora Lost in The West: A Place of Disorder
by Castina Charles
This is an interview of revolutionary poet, songwriter, and activist Fania Simon, on her latest book Diaspora Lost in The West: A Place of Disorder. It was conducted by poet Castina Charles, author of Baad Ass Poetry DISCUSSION OF DIASPORA LOST IN THE WEST: A PLACE OF DISORDER
C.C.First I would like to start this discussion off by stating that it is such an honor and a privilege to work with such an immensely talented and prolific artist such as yourself. Your work is always moving, in both the intellectual and spiritual sense, and this book is a wonderful example of this.
As both a contributor and reader of this text what I found to be most profound is your thorough analysis of racial issues within the community. As we both know this type of issue is rarely discussed, and it is for that reason I believe Diaspora Lost In The West is breaking new ground. Because of this I would like to thoroughly break this book down, from top to bottom, since I know that everything presented in this text is deliberate. So let me start off with my first question, the title. What made you decide to call the book Diaspora Lost in The West: A Place of Disorder? What type of message did you want to come across?
F.S:Thank you Castina.
Well, I named the book Diaspora Lost in The West: A Place of Disorder because I wanted a captivating title to convey the message that we are not "all right" in the west. The title is my road map into the message. Also, it is like a warning to my readers that I would be going inside the Diaspora soul in order to bring to the surface many issues, which I feel we need to deal with in order to grow as a people. But most significantly, if we are a bunch of Diaspora people that are Lost in the West: A Place of Disorder, then isnít it logical that we try to find ourselves? How do we start? Thatís the message I tried to get across in this title.
C.C: Okay, now lets talk about the images you have-the front and back cover. Tell the readers the historic significance of the images, and how it relates to the poetry in the text.
F.S:The image in the front cover is the picture of a Slave Port in Widah, Benin West Africa. This slave port is called La Porte De No Retoure, which translates in English THE DOOR OF NO RETURN. It is the final exit from Africa to the entrance of hell for millions of African ancestors. Our ancestors were kidnapped, chained, and sold into the west and paradoxically, the door was called the Door of No Return since our oppressors knew once our fore parents walked through that door they would be conquered and lose their freedom, their land, family, language ectÖHowever, today we are the Diaspora; the descendent of enslaved African people. Wouldnít it be nice for us Diaspora children to really pay homage by returning and turn the door of no return to THE DOOR OF "DIASPORA returns?" Do we have the urge to go back and rewrite history for our own advancement? Many of us have become something else. We forget that we started from somewhere outside of the west. And so we disconnect ourselves from our history and breathe only for the west.
The back cover is the ocean where oppressors would load their ships and take our ancestors away to the west. From cover to cover I wanted to show or remind the readers of that cruel passage and also encourage them to go back to Africa and unite with our roots. We need to see and feel what it was like for our fore parents as they walked through the doorway to hell.
C.C:In describing the book one word comes to mind: revolutionary. I use that term deliberately. A revolution is that which revolts against the order or the perceived order of things. I feel that Diaspora Lost In the West: A Place of Disorder is revolting against the spiritual and mental segregation within the Black community. It is a revolt against the plantation mentality. Would you agree? What was your intention behind writing this book?
F.S:Yes I agree with you. This book is really a mirror before us (Diaspora) and I ask my brothers and sisters in the west to examine ourselves and see the way we are in dealing with each other. For example, if I had a dime for every time a brother or a sister told me to go back to Haiti, I would be rich by now. Or if I had a dime for every time a brother or sister told me that I did not look Haitian, I would be more than rich. This is to show the intensity of our division. Mentally, we segregate against each other based on nationality, religion, skin color, hair texture, language, old money new money, class ectÖ And I can honestly say that we are on a plantation, however the masters are not all white.
I believe in my people. I know they can do better if they want to. I wish we would kill the hypocrisy and admit that our family does not stick together. Why do we continue to chant "family sticks together" if we keep on discriminating against our brothers and sisters from other countries in the west? Arenít they family? We complain about racist whites then we turn around and shed black on black bigotry on our own people.
C.C: Now itís time to go inside the book. In this part of the discussion I want to focus on the thematic structure of the book. This book has many themes, but I will mention the ones that immediately jumped out at me as I was reading the text; feel free to add to this list if you want. The four main themes I want to look at are hypocrisy; Africa; Haiti and blackness.
The first issue hypocrisy I feel is MAJOR, it is prevalent throughout the entire text, the sense of hypocrisy amongst blacks, this pretense of "family unity" as you title it, when in reality what truly exists is this separatist mindset. Since I know your work to be intensely personal can you describe for us, how your own experiences have inspired you. What made you want to challenge the hypocrisy? I know this theme spills over into the other themes such as Africa and Haiti, so you may include that in your discussion as well.
F.S.Yes, we do have a separatist mindset. We are very tribal and it reflects in everything that we do. For example, we claim to love Africa but when a Diaspora millionaire gives millions to Africa (her motherland), many of us come up with many other reasons why the money should be spent in the west instead of Africa (our motherland). But my question is: when is this " romance" going to end in order for real African love to kick in? See, when we love something we should want it to prosper. Hereís another example, look at Haiti; we need a lot of help, and we enabled others to gain their freedom, but when we need their help, we are left alone to die in the sun. Where are our brothers and sisters? Donít they see our pain? Look at the way our 200 years of "liberty" went down the drain in 2004? Just imagine if black people from all over stood up on that day and came to Haitiís rescue -that would have been so powerful and together we would have sent a message to the world that "hey, donít you mess with Haiti. Weíll stick together and write history." But NO!!! Thatís not what happened. Haiti was left alone swimming in violence and in tears.
I want the Diaspora to remember that Haiti helped abolish physical slavery in the west and everyone benefited from Haitiís contributionÖHaitians did not only free themselves but they went aboard and gave their lives to help free many other countries including the United States. Itís because of us Louisiana was sold to the state. But look at us today; when we need help do we get it? NO! Anyway, this book is not about Haitian Diaspora vs. African American Diaspora but it is about all of us dwelling in the west and our need to find a way to connect as children of Africa. We need to work towards finding a way to take back our victory from ignorance.
C.C: Now lets talk about Africa. Throughout your work you express this intense love affair of Africa, as it is the subject matter of many of your poems. You make a point however to distinguish between authentic love and fake love, and you express on many instances a sort of disgust for the latter. For example in your poem "Romancing Africa" I feel you attack this issue head on. Could you tell us, what do you feel is the problem here?
F.S: Hereís the problem. Just like a man who wants to seduce a woman or a woman who wants to attract a man, sheíll cook for him, buy him gifts just to have a moment with him but does she really love him? I donít think Africa is looking for a one-night stand for any Diaspora child and I donít think Africa is looking for a romance that is in season. I think Africa is in need of people who are willing to pick up the pieces for the sake of our heritage. I think true love (not false pride) is to claim our heritage and contribute towards its development Öbut if a person canít make an effort to contribute why does he or she continue to wear the African booboos, lock the hair, beat the drum, change the Massaís name yet keep the plantation mentality? Why not decentralize the mind and revolutionize the way of thinking. I think thatís the key. I may not know much, but I believe with all my heart that "being African" is much more than fashion.
C.C:Haiti is another significant theme here, and one in which I feel the issue of intra-discrimination comes into play. As a woman who immigrated to this country at a young age many of the issues, such as discrimination, are personal to you. How have your experiences impacted your work? Do you feel that the discrimination against Haitians from various groups is at the crux of what you are trying to address here, as far as the separatist mentality?
F.S:Yes the discrimination we face from various black groups does have an impact in what I am trying to say, because I think it hurts more when one is being discriminated against by your own people. When I was in elementary school in New Jersey, I remember being told by my African American foster sister to "Go back to Africa." And I remember yelling these words; "Iím taking you with me. Your family needs to see you too." See, I was around 12 years old and even then I knew we were family. But since the oppressors dropped my side of the family in Hispaniola/Haiti, and I was born on that colony, my foster parents did not consider me family. I was considered as "the voodoo child, boatpeople, aids girl, and stinking Haitian or h2o (Haitian body odor)Ö" On some occasions I was even told to "go back to Jamaica" as if geographically speaking Jamaica was in Haiti.
See, I want to help erase that kind of mentality and encourage simple logic. I want us to remember that our ancestors passed through that same DOOR OF NO RETURN. And we need to help each other. I know once we free the mind, everything else will follow.
C.C: To take this issue further I want to ask you, do you feel that Haitians are de-humanized by other groups? In "Katrina is Choking Me" you mention Hurricane Jeanne and how the world was virtually silent on this devastation. So many people were killed, but because the people in question were "Haitian" it was if didnít matter. Tell us, what compelled you to write this poem? What made you decide to speak out?
F.S:That poem was inspired by Mos Defís piece "Katrina Clap." The moment I saw that video, words from within me started to attack me, so I began to write the anger I felt about the way Hurricane Jeanne wiped parts of Haiti out and many of our brothers and sisters did not say a word. Many did nothing to help. They did not lend a helping hand.
In my province alone, thousands of people included children drowned. I have family members who died form this hurricane but we had no one. We cried back into the emptiness of our souls.
I say many people in the Diaspora discriminate against us because we are no longer the pearl of the islands. But I want to remind them that poverty is not a crime and we should not get the death sentence for being poor. My argument is this: If we really love who we are and if we really love our heritage, why do we look the other way when another Diaspora child is in need? Why not help keep the entire family on its feet? Why not do it for the sake of mother Africa? After all, Haitian people are not adopted children of Africa. We endured slavery, fought to free others and today we are paying the price while others continue to prosper. Today we are still in bondage because of our victory 1804. We were brave enough to free ourselves and influence the world, but today history turned on us. We are desperately seeking that "family unity." Brief story
I remember when I was a child in Haiti and I used to see white missionaries building schools, building churches, orphanages and cafeterias ectÖand I used to ask my dad this question:
"In these white peopleís country, do they also have people who look like me living there?" and he would say yes, and I would say, "Well, how come they donít come to visit us and to help us?"
See even then I felt the problem but was not grown-up enough to understand it as a "separation" issue. Anyway in this book, I am letting my brothers and sisters know that I crave family unity for all my brothers and sisters around the world and I know there are some people who feel the same way.
C.C: Black seems to be a major symbol used throughout the book. The phrase "black on black" appears often. I feel that you play around with that word, at moments referring to the actual color, and in others use it in reference to race. I would like you to unpack that term for me. What do you think is the significance of the word "black" and how as a poet do you play around with its varied meanings?
F.S: Black has many different meanings in this book (from the color of the unknown, the color of the skin and even ignorance). However, they relate. Also, I use black because black is original. We came from the unknown, the source and then the source called on the light. [Ref: Let there be light] Hence, I want to remind my brothers and sisters of that powerful fact because I feel that we are sleeping on our power and we need to be revived.
Black is like a prize to me and I wish it was seen as such in the eyes of my people here in the west. I know if we understand who we are, if we understand our connection to the source, we would do betterónot to please the ego but to please the maker. We would contribute collectively to humanity. But please keep in mind, I am not preaching supremacy. I am addressing the importance of embracing our history and understanding the making of our western identity.
But most of all, I am addressing family unity and the power we would have if we unite. Thatís the ultimate message here. I am saying, letís kill the plantation lifestyle and push forward to uplift ourselves. If we did that we would show the world TRUE power of unity.
In my eyes, there is no valid reason why we should discriminate and abandon each other. See, I know I am not dreaming about something that canít happen because I know it can happen because whenever we are in crises such as police brutality, we do come together. We march together all across the Brooklyn bridge seeking "justice" without caring about the nationality, religion, language of the brother or sister marching beside usÖTherefore, why must we wait for a racial tragedy to happen before we come together? We need to understand that THE MOVEMENT IS GLOBAL. NOT TRIBAL.
C.C:Okay I think its time to examine the stylistic aspect of your poetry. I have read a large amount of your poems, and have come to recognize your own unique style. However as I started reading this book, I noticed that your work has taken on a new form. There appears to me, to be an incredible sense of freedom, and I feel that you have become much more bolder in your speech as if "the shackles have been removed from your feet." Is this just me, or is their some truth to this observation? Do you feel that this particular book is somewhat different, from all your other books?
F.S:Yes you are correct. Spiritually, "the shackles have been removed" and for the first time in my life, I feel free. Right through the pressure, I was able to drop my load in order to embrace life. And if anyone reads about my life story in Sofiís Load, he or she will see that I have been a fighter all my lifeótrying to keep my neck above the sea. But sis, since childhood my hunger was to be heard by my people. As an observer, I could see so many things going on around me, which also affected my life, but I was somehow unable to let it out because I feared criticism. I judged that it was not right for me to hold back and not give my 100% to humanity because of the fear of being judged, but now I know that that wasnít the problem. It just wasnít the time. But Castina you are right, this project is different. I feel bolder and confident in delivering this message. However, the credit goes to God because He is in charge. In addition, I have to say that you Castina have helped me because finally God sent me a talented sistah who understands the mission and the message. Your cheers are like a booster to my spirit.
C.C:Thank you sis.
All right it is a must that we move on to your poetry, because no amount of discussion would be significant without addressing the sheer beauty of your words. You have such an incredible way with language, an aspect that makes your work poetic in the truest sense. For this reason Iíve selected three passages from a few of my favorite poems that I feel stand out for their beauty but more so the message behind the words. Iíd like you to go over these passages and break it down for the audience? What are the issues you are addressing?
Letís start off with "Honor Yourself: A Quick Wordy Story" In this piece you brilliantly use repetition to make the audience feel the full affect of your words. After every anecdote you discuss, you punctuate it with
"Oh friends!/ Now do you see what I mean?/Subjectivity/Negativity
Lost of identity/ In his eyes/Nationality/Rates higher/ Than family unity."
Now this phrase varies somewhat, however the overall content remains the same. Can you tell us, what is behind that phrase? What is the message you want to come across?
F.S:I am placing the imaginary mirror in front of us, as I remind our people to honor themselves because if they do, they will involuntarily respect themselves. Back in many different provinces in Haiti, when someone visits and knocks on your door, he or she must say, "honor?" and the person inside the house must respond, "respect!" meaning: I honor your territory. And because of that gesture the other person will gladly ask him or her to enter because he or she came in the name of respect. This form of salutation is also practiced in the Jamaican community among the Rastafarians. They greet each other by saying "RESPECT SISTREN."
Actually, I think this is a simple logic passed down to us from our ancestors, and if we apply this "honor/respect" technique, we would begin to value and reconnect with each other. But to answer the question, that particular passage is describing three or four specific occasions when ignorance crossed my path where a Jamaican lady, a Trinidadian lady, an African American lady reminded me of my place. But one interesting part was when a Haitian person began to throw his own discriminating views in my face about me writing so much about Africa. He voiced his disapproval, because he saw that as a sign of me "rejecting my Haitian identity." At the end of each story I use repetition to show the reader how these people value nationality, religious convictions, and ignorance more than Africa or blackness or family unity.
C.C:In the "Remembrance of the Forgotten Rain" you state
"So what if I fall?/ The Sun will give me energy/ And Iíll rise again/
If I fall, Iíll rise/ Cause I have faith/ Please forget me not!/
I rain/ I slip/ I fall/ I rise."
When I read those words I feel as if you are speaking of some personal tribulation, and your ability to overcome whatever is placed before you, because some higher spiritual authority guides you. Am I correct in this assertion?
F.S:Yes almost everything I write about is from my own experiences and in that poem I wanted my readers to know that they should never be afraid of falling because "falling" has no power to keep them down. Itís up to them to get up or stay down.
See, life is my best teacher and through the years I have met people who pray for my fall, but that is like a joke to me, because I have experienced worse than a fall and came out more than a conqueror. Some say itís arrogance when I testify, but I just donít know how not to tell it. I am a living testimony and everyday God is blessing me. I say this as humbly as I can. I am not afraid to fall, because if I fall I will get up. See, people who wish me evil probably donít know that I died, went to hell and God got me out. Hence, falling seems like a piece of cake, because I have Him leading my path. Iím sorry, but I donít know how not to stand up bold and give Him the glory.
In that poem I wanted people to know that falling is nothing, because the power within me will just keep pushing me forward. I have no doubt about this. Hence, I am like a child playing in the rain. I know in life I will slip. I will fall and I will rise. I will wash the mud off my hands and knees and stand. This is all part of life. Girl, I donít want to get started because I will not be able to stop but trust me after being raped, after being shot, after rejection, after being cast away by family and friends, after being conned and discriminated against, I still stand and I thank God.
This is the same faith I want to share. I want us to stand and claim our stolen throne. I want us to remember that we do have power and we can do great things. All we need to do is come together under a common ground.
C.C:And finally in the poem "The Movie: Who Shall Save Us From Black on Black Crime?" you take an interesting new direction tackling the issue of drugs in the black community. You state
"Oh modern plantation!/ I hear about civil union/ I hear about civil freedom/
I hear civil this and civil that/But you killed your civic sense of duty/
As you pack syringes/ And cook rocks in the hood."
Now although this particular poem goes into a variety of issues, your focus on drugs is highly significant. What made you want to go into that?
F.S: I went into it because I feel if I was talking about problems in our community and did not address our #1 killer, than my job would be incomplete. But in relation to the title at hand, I am telling my brothers and sisters, just because the oppressors are selling drugs wholesale, that doesnít mean that it is okay for us to sell retail. I say this because I feel by selling drugs we too play a huge part in killing the family.
I think black drug dealers are also taking part in our death because they know that drugs will never uplift us. Hence, how can we grow and prosper if drugs are eating our body and soul? How can we have a revolution of the mind if we are on crack? We need to decentralize our brain-not clog it up with things to self-destruct. I stand firm that if we all make this commitment to work positively towards our advancementóthrough education and action, we would be better off.
C.C:Finally, to the last issue, one, which I would like to close this discussion with you. I feel that no discussion on any work of yours would be complete without going into spiritual matters. You are in the deepest part of your being a spiritual person, as it pervades all aspects of your life, and it most certainly prevalent in your poetry. Could you tell us how would you define spirituality and how does it manifest itself in your poetry?
F.S.I grew up in a religious family but my parents are also spiritual people, especially my mom. She was connected to the unknown in such a way that religious people could not fully understand her gift. And even as a child, when people tried to feed me religion, I would rebel and question things; I questioned them so much that I used to get hit for being what they called "stubborn or evil" But I always listened and analyzed things for myself and I knew deep inside my gut that there was something deeper than religion. I saw this spiritual relationship in my mother, and it helped me to identify my own spirituality within myself. As a child, I watched my mom lay hands on the sick and make them well again. Although I know I was born with my gifts, I still like to say that my momís faith was the seed that bloomed on the inside of me. It is a fact that anyone can be religious but it takes faith to stay connected.
And in relation to my poetry, songs, memoir, movie scripts, children story ectÖI can humbly say: a spiritual person canít take spirituality out of his or her message, because faith is the foundation of the message...
C.C.Well Fania, as usual it is a pleasure talking to you, and I would like to thank you for allowing me this wonderful opportunity to discuss your amazing work Diaspora Lost In The West: A Place of Disorder .
Thank you my sistah. You are a clear example of harmonyís beauty.
Together, weíll bridge the gap that divides our people.
Diaspora Lost In The West: A Place of Disorder is available at both Amazon.com and Lulu.com. To order a copy, please visit these sites
Fania Simon is the founder of Bois Caiman Books. She is the author of several books including Sofi's Load, a fascinating memoir about her trials and tribulations growing up in Haiti, No Means No: The Aftermath. a book detailing the global movement against child abuse and rape.
As a humanitarian, Fania is dedicated to bringing to the forefront the voice of the disenfranchised and abused. Through her work, she hopes to motivate individuals, and help bring forth a revolution of the mind. Diaspora Lost In The West: A Place of Disorder is the latest in this author's amazing body of work.
For more information please visit the author's website at www.faniasimon.com
Other books by Fania Simon:
2-Poetry In Haiti
3-No Means No: The Aftermath
4-Surviving Loving A Ghost
5-Obedience is Better Than Sacrifice
6-Haiku's Poetry & More
7-Yesayah Poetry; Applying The Secret
8-Let Loose a Voice from The Caribbean Soul:A Poet's Journey Through Time, Transformation and Change
All books are available for purchase at Amazon or can be bought directly on her site - yesayah , posted 04/06/07