Sewing stories of the people and liberation

Some patches I made for friends for Christmas

Do you know what it is to have blood that sings? That burns with the stories that have yet to be told, that runs heavy and thick with the words it carries. I get frustrated sometimes, because I feel like I’m nothing but the things I want to communicate and say, a walking ocean of tales and feelings and experiences and hopes and dreams and wants, a culmination of centuries of these things. When I am not heard or am unable to name it all, I feel trapped within myself like I have everything and no time, no way. I feel like I’m about to burst.

So needless to say, its frustrating and anger-inducing when the platform you use, for better or worse, to express yourself the most, shuts you down. But that’s what happened last week Friday, when I got banned on Facebook for third time for speaking out against whiteness. This time, the ban was seven days.

Sarcasm isn’t allowed, but thanks for proving my point, I guess? #ControllingTheNarrative

Facebook is a platform whose creator claims to be in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but time and time again has shown how little they are actually committed to racial justice in online spaces. They harass and shut down activists’ pages and online spaces constantly, including my friend and Black activist and organizer Leslie Mac just recently. Their algorithm considers comments towards white people to break community standards but actual racism, threats and harassment towards people of color don't. They work with authorities to suppress and take down live video from activists of color on the regular. We can talk about diversity and discrimination and whatever other liberal buzzwords all the damn day long but if you actually call out or indict white people, then you’ve got problems.

This is, of course, reprehensible and discriminatory, but not new. Those who have power have the ability to silence and control our stories like that. In the past year, I’ve witnessed and experienced the increased suppression of stories (in all forms and through all mediums, including online ones) from communities of color, from Lansing to Flint to Standing Rock, by social media platforms, politicians, media and the state alike. I’ve watched people struggle with words across time, across language, across struggles and disenfranchisement.

While there’s much to say about how people of color, especially women of color (and very especially Black women), are not protected from online harassment and silencing, as I’ve watched this all happen, I realized I’ve been relying too much on other people’s language and framing and platforms, like Facebook, to tell my story. I’ve let others decide what it is I say, and how, and when. I’ve become too protective and fearful of my poetry and a sweetness I’ve found is much easier to hide than expose. And as a young writer, there’s ways I have learned to express myself (through Facebook rants and memes, hashtags and Twitter poems, screenshots and obsessively lurking crushes on instagram, through too many damn animal videos and emojis) that aren’t always the healthiest, there’s ways I’m taught to frame and understand myself, to speak about myself, to profit from my stories after exposing them, etc.

In short, I’m limiting myself. And in doing that, I am forgetting parts of myself too.

So, I started to do embroidery.

Originally, I was just going to hand make some presents for friends for Christmas and then I decided hell, I’ve got all this time I’m not spending on Facebook now, so why not do something with it?

I spent all of Christmas Eve watching Native movies and documentaries and making patches. It was a very relaxing and rewarding and I felt so satisfied and at peace when I was done, it was gratifying to hold the fruits of my labor.

Embroidery is extremely beneficial for two reasons. First is as a personal practice. I want to learn how to exist without the constant need to be on social media, work on being more patient and finishing what you’ve started, two things I am notoriously bad at. And second is to practice a new way of telling stories, ones that the police and Facebook cannot stifle or suppress.

“No DAPL” patch I made

It goes without saying that I don’t think it is wrong to use social media to do your activism and tell stories, to get paid for your writing or to gain esteem for the stories you tell. If anything, it’s about time women of color get the respect and compensation we deserve for our stories and our media. But I do not tell stories for those reasons. I tell them because that is how I anchor myself to this world that otherwise too easily leaves me swimming aimlessly in its streams. Getting paid for those stories is cool and being recognized as a storyteller is awesome, but I do it for more than that. I do it for my people, for other people, for my friends and family, and most importantly for myself.

Historically, the peoples I am from told stories to pass the time, to entertain, to pass down values and ideas. They were a cultural and social, not financial or social-climbing, act.

We have told stories in a multitude of ways, secret, through work, through food, through clothing, through worship, through dedication and loyalty, through our feet, with our hands, across centuries. We have learned about out people, our past and our values, and created new ones through a variety of mediums for thousands of years before the tools and platforms of today existed. And there’s something very particularly revelatory and illuminating about storytelling through embroidery.

The idea of creating or telling stories as you sew, of reflecting on them as you stitch, is very compelling to me. As is how my people have practices resilience and love through embroidery. What stories were told through weaving, stitching, lacing, that stay on after decades, centuries after words on paper might fade? What did we resist? Who did we clothe and protect? How did we hold and love through embroidery?

Ashley’s Sack

So I’ve sewn protest patches, Indigenous solidarity patches, a scene of the moon over still waters, a Dominican carnival mask. I’ve been intentional about the things I want to see and say and making exactly what I want, how I want. I’ll do more protest patches, some poems, maybe a joke or two. I’ll hate it, I’ll love it, I’ll share some and hide others, I’ll become frustrated and consider quitting, but I won’t.

The piece of a Diablo Cojuelo mask that I am working on currently

In the next year, I want to use embroidery to reflect and meditate more on the stories of my history, my present and my future.

For more information on Ashley’s sack, read here

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Writer. Community organizer. Errant punk. Ne’er do well. Fire starter. Email: Dominicanamalisima@gmail.com

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Briana L. Urena-Ravelo

Briana L. Urena-Ravelo

Writer. Community organizer. Errant punk. Ne’er do well. Fire starter. Email: Dominicanamalisima@gmail.com