essay

Café con Miel: Mariposas en Vuelo

Daniel Brittany Chávez*

It is a tall order to name the significance of Raul Moarquech Ferrera-Balanquet’s friendship and colleagueship in my art-life practice and process over the last three and a half years. In this brief attempt, I hope I can somehow do justice to Raul’s place in my life, heart and soul as he wraps up this chapter of his life and goes onto the next. We met as rival (I say this facetiously) school doctoral students (him at Duke and me at UNC-Chapel Hill) in the first year of my program (fall 2012) and his second year of his program (cultural studies and romance languages and literatures, respectively). We were first drawn together by an initiative I dreamt up through the Duke-UNC Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies called Queer Latin@ Migration Studies and Performance, hoping to generate community with Latinx Americanxs working on themes of queerness, performance practice, and migration. Raul responded immediately and we jumped on board of the organizing team of this work group together via email, and then immediately learned that we also happened to live one apartment down from one another in Durham, North Carolina. This helped our complex and overlapping worlds weave together into a beautiful mesh very rapidly.

We have shared institutional spaces, travel homes, performances, and home spaces, accompanying one another in the difficult and rewarding doctoral journey that is all-too-quickly coming to and end for each of us. However, I know that with Raul, I have a life-long companion in the larger journey that is a life project when you build decolonially. We have cried together, laughed from that deep belly place together, shared numerous discussions and debates together, shared many meals at home and away, vacuum cleaners, car rides, texts, phone calls and skypes, editorial remarks, spaces for critical thought, and countless other defining moments.

Mariposa Ancestral Memory
Mariposa Ancestral Memory (2013-2015). Ceremonial Media Performance.

In the last three and a half years, I have had the tremendous privilege of being a part of many of the life projects of Raul and to be artists in residencies we were both participating in. These moments include: my performance “El cuerpo que sabe: el camino de la mariposa” at UNC and part of the Consortium on Latin American and Caribbean Studies in early 2013, Raul’s performance “Mariposa Ancestral Memory” in 2013 at UNC-CH also as part of the Consortium Conference, Raul’s brain child and decade-long project Arte Nuevo InteractivA in Mérida, Yucatán, México (June 2013), artists, scholars and teachers in the Mayan Arts Festival in Mérida, Yucatán, México in fall of 2013, as colleagues in Catherine Walsh’s graduate seminar at Duke in the spring of 2014, participating artists and scholars in Decoloniality, Indigeneity @rt at Duke University in May of 2014, participating artists and scholars in Haceres Decoloniales in Bogotá, Colombia in July 2015, as panel contributor’s to Catherine Walsh’s panel “Pedagogías de (re)existencia/Pedagogías de liberación” looking towards the second tomo of Pedagogías Decoloniales as part of the Caribbean Philosophical Association’s Conference in June 2015, Shifting the Geography of Reason XII: Technologies of Liberation, and authors in his edited book, Andar Erótico Decolonial published by Ediciones del Signo in the summer of 2015, among many other crucial shared events and moments, large and small. Just reflecting back on these key moments for me, I find it impossible to deny that the events that I have participated in with Raul (as his initiatives and others’) have been the highlights of my doctoral career.

Raul and I are two monarch butterflies flying in a world in the process of decomposition. The monarch has been a metaphor across our performance practices and something we share that binds us together. We have each used the metaphor of the monarch across its many appropriations for: transit, ancestral memory, borderless migrations, transitioning bodies (gender, race, age, y demás), and performance memories. We have held shared meanings of the mariposa with one another, helped one another think through new iterations of our performance pieces, and have inspired one another in our expansive awareness of our transforming selves and realities. We have witnessed one another’s performance practices from up close and personal, breathed one another’s air, and watched them performed across multiple countries in drastically different contexts. With Raul, I have learned to be even more present, even more committed, even more critical and loving of myself, those who surround me, and every decision along my path. I have learned to live with a renewed purpose and to take every thing I write, create, speak, and act as part of a life process and life project. His love, his challenges, his feedback, and his loyalty have made me a better and stronger human in every sense of the word.

I have titled this brief dedicatory “café con miel” because Raul taught me how to drink my coffee with honey, estilo cubano. Raul always finds a way to add sweetness to naturally bitter tastes, people, and institutional realities. He understands how to make the systems that we have to work with and around work for us while walking decolonially on the paths that we choose. He demonstrates that the decolonial path is one to assume, to walk, and to constantly challenge ourselves to be coherent with. They are paths we can only build together, in conversation and in movement-flight. Raul is the reasons I am able to look upon the time in my doctoral career realizing that the doctorate gave me a space for profound life transformation in every single area of character, critical thought, artistic process and activist commitments. These are not things that are simply a given, especially in a more traditional academic program like my own. However, by generating the type of creative community that has happened around the work we have done together and across the interlocutors that matter to us in decolonial thinking, doing, and feeling, I have found profound purpose for choosing to go about my studies and my work in this way. I look back upon what my doctoral career has been so far and I find it to be the most fulfilling part of my life up until now. Raul is such a huge part of this journey that his place in my life is one of indisputable joy, respect, and gratitude.Raul is unapologetically brilliant, bold, and one of the fiercest leaders I have ever known. He is never a victim of any institutional violence because he crafts other ways of doing and being in the world – the ways that our decolonial mentors, teachers, friends and colleagues have taught and continue to teach us.

What I have found most beautiful about all that he has done in his time at Duke University is how he has consolidated/elaborated his “Estratégias Creativas Decoloniales empleadas en el proceso creativo de Mariposa Memoria Ancestral.” These strategies include:
o Entender la matriz Modernidad/Colonialidad
o Entender la Decolonialidad
o Transmodernidad
o Cimarronaje
o Apalanquear
o Ancestralidad
o Aesthesis Decolonial
o Vida Sensitiva /Decolonización de los sentidos
o Memoria Ancestral
o Re-Existencia
o Re-Recordar
o Re-imaginar
o Identidad en Diferencia / Identidad en Política
o Subjetividad Cosmo-sentipensante
o Cambiar la geografía del Conocimiento: Noj Karibe
o Sujetx Interétnicx
o Colaboraciones + Esfuerzos Comunitarios
o Investigaciones y aprendizajes desde el pensar indígena y afro descendiente
o Pedagogías decoloniales casa adentro de interactividad social en sitios específicos
o Elaboración de proceso creativos que recuperan la vida sensitiva indígena y afro descendiente

I find listing these strategies crucial because of the value they signal in creating from a space of life-project thinking and doing. Raul creates a space for himself and everyone around him that redefines academia as we know it and makes artistic interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary practices indispensable. These tactics create ways for completely reorganizing the way we think and do within and on the borders of institutionalized spaces as minoritarian subjects, makers, and thinkers. With these examples, minority is a space of profound agency and purposefulness.

I personally cannot imagine feeling so full and happy with my life and practice without his example, his friendship, his colleagueship and his love. If the decolonial path is one where we create the worlds we want to live and work in, then this is what that can look like. We are doing it.

To one of my dearest friends, congratulations on this major step in your journey. I love you very much, hermano mariposa.

Daniel Brittany Chávez
Performance Artist, Scholar, Artivist
Core Troupe Member, La Pocha Nostra
PhD Candidate in the Department of Communication Studies, UNC-Chapel Hill
http://www.danielbchavez.com