When times are tough, fear and anger are easy emotions on which to rely. We are afraid of hurting and of being hurt, so we hide behind vague and passive aggressive means of expression. We become unattached. We lash out and bear fangs for a sense of empowerment. No one wants to be the first to extend the olive branch. Compromise and understanding are afterthoughts. Compassion is for fools. Love is for the weak.
Or so it seems.
One way to combat the fear of being seen as frail or naïve when showing compassion or expressing love is through art. Art has always allowed space to be both triumphant and vulnerable in the face of such fear.
Turtle Island to Abya Yala: A Love Anthology of Art and Poetry by Native American and Latina women is an example of how the spirit and power of love can help to quell anger and anxiety in a society built from conquering and oppressing, where greed is the invisible hand that pushes us toward a more individualistic existence.
Nearly two-hundred pages in length, the theme of love is explored by over sixty Indigenous women in four sections: Flowers of Death: struggle and oppression, Counting Relations: family and ancestors, Slowly With You: love and relationships, and My Doctrine of Discovery: strength and transformations.
The anthology is not only a reflection on issues of racism, genocide, colonialism, domestic violence, substance abuse, and poverty, but is also a celebration of cultures, thoughts, dreams, stories, images, traditions, triumphs, relationships, and communities.
As explained in the preface by editor Mica Valdez, the anthology “is both inspired by the colorful, spirited art and poetry zine Mujeres de Maiz, a publication by women of color, and provoked by the lack of visibility of Native women in mainstream poetry publications, such as Poets & Writers Magazine.”
The anthology’s title, she adds, was collectively named by its contributors as a way to build community:
“Turtle Island” has signified North America for many First Nations peoples from North America and is derived from the Haudenosaunee / Iroquois creation story of Sky Woman and Turtle Island. “Abya Yala” is the name given by the Kuna Nation of Panama that is commonly used by many First Nations South American peoples to describe the continent known as America and signifies “land in its full maturity.”
Available locally at Laurel Book Store and Corazon Del Pueblo in Oakland, California, Gathering Tribes in Albany, California, Books Inc in Alameda, Modern Times Bookstore in San Francisco, and online at Malinalli Press, the artful collection speaks from the heart to show love and compassion are, indeed, beautiful sources of strength.
Ishmael A. Elias is a writer and teacher based in Oakland, Calif. He is completing his debut novel, the first chapter of which is due to appear in the upcoming "Cherokee Writers from the Flint Hills of Oklahoma: An Anthology" by the Cherokee Arts & Humanities Council.