At this stage in my research, I find myself still trying to properly fashion the skeleton for this body of work to surround. I thought I knew where I wanted my research to go when I applied for the Chronicling Resistance Fellowship. After receiving the fellowship and talking with archivists at a couple of different archives, I felt those mapped out plans start to fray at the edges. I had a plan… and this pandemic had another.
Currently, I feel like I’m back at the drawing board, though I’m not starting completely from scratch, but I’m seeking out alternative routes to the same, or similar, destinations. Project deliverables I created for myself that I was once certain would have happened by now have transformed into cold, empty pots on a back burner: they are still useful, but have nothing to offer me right now. To counter this, I’ve revisited books and essays I used for research in older projects and I’m observing threads of similarities between my former research and my present research.
I’m unsure of what the end product will be at this point, but I’m eager to see how re-reading these books will unfold.
One of the books I’m revisiting from past research is Diana Taylor’s The Archive and The Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memories in the Americas. To me, performance is a large part of the global practice of resistance being chronicled by those who are marginalized. Not just artful performances in times of protest, like Fannie Lou Hamer singing at a rally, but the sociocultural performances of some regular-degular everyday acts as well. Taylor is a performance studies scholar, so her work delves into the many layers of performance, and I’m appreciative of that. I’m considering also acquiring another book of hers that I haven’t read yet, but I feel could be useful to my research goals, entitled, Negotiating Performance: Gender, Sexuality, and Theatricality in Latin/o America.
There is a long list of things that are guiding me through this research process. One of them is having the chance to do the work that my younger self needed to see in the world. By younger self, I don’t necessarily mean a far-removed, pre-teen self, but a not-so-distant, bright-eyed, young adult self who decided to go back to college in 2010. That version of me, full of endless hope, deserves the honesty and integrity in this self-guided research process that academia didn’t provide.
My undergraduate major was anthropology. In all of the methodology I was taught when exploring archival materials, none of my professors encouraged self-love and love for community as part of my toolkit. I was ushered away from engaging in work that documented the communities to which I belonged and loved, and, instead, the department head of anthropology insisted I do work centered on “the other.”
It was evident to me, as I continued through my education, that this “other” that my professors spoke of was me and people like me: Black and brown human beings around the world trying to survive under the violence of global colonialism. The anthropological methods I was being taught were pushing me to be a voyeur into the lives of other people’s cultures and encouraging me to decide I had the expertise to tell the rest of the world who other people are. I couldn’t do it. My heart just wouldn’t let me. I turned the lens of all of my research projects inward and I gave myself additional homework on top of the homework I had—to make sure that our otherized voices were heard directly from our own mouths.
I took time to study the work of indigenous scholars from around the world to better understand the ways that I, as a person of African American and Afro-Boricua heritage, could respectfully embark on socially-engaged autoethnography. I examined and presented on the Black feminist ethnographic work of Zora Neale Hurston, only to be told by a professor that Hurston—a Black woman anthropologist—was no anthropologist, nor a feminist. Despite this glaring racism and purposeful lack of support from professors, I continued to do this work at the college and outside of the walls of the college, eventually earning my bachelor’s in 2015.
I haven’t stopped doing this work. I want to say that I’m doing my research in spite of those negative academic experiences, but I’m not. I do this current work with those experiences at the forefront of my mind because they are the reasons why cultural advocacy work is necessary. As I encounter the gaps in the archives and the spaces where I have to look closely for the people like me, I remember those hateful moments, but I also remember the abundance of love that I deserve and that fellow systematically otherized people deserve as well. Love and community care will always outweigh hatred.
When I’m asked, “What’s guiding you through this research process?” the answer is love. Self-love, first and foremost, and love for those I am in community with. I think it’s important to come into this work with love, understanding, and integrity. The passion and sincerity will shine through in the quality of the end product.
Copyright 2021 by Wit López. All rights reserved.
Wit López (they/them) is an award-winning multidisciplinary maker, performer, writer, advocate, and public speaker based in Philadelphia. Through the use of various media, their work is tied together by exploring the use of absurdity and Black Absurdism as tools for radical joy, healing, and empathy. In 2019, Wit was awarded an Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Arts for Visual Art for their practice in fiber art and woodworking, and an innovative Cultural Advocacy Fellowship at CCCADI in Harlem, NY. They were also one of 10 recipients of the Leeway Foundation Transformation Award for 2019. To support their curatorial work of organizing the QT Noir Arts Festival, Wit has received 2018 and 2019 Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grants.