“Nobody can teach me who I am. You can describe parts of me, but who I am – and what I need – is something I have to find out myself.”
― Chinua Achebe, African Writer and Novelist

Achebe’s words are paramount when analyzing, reading and understanding minor-literature. One of the many reasons for minor-literature is to create and present voices of the under-represented and the silenced. It is also a political movement, as well. It is one’s need to be heard. It is one’s need to be seen. It is one’s need to be acknowledged. It is one’s need to be understood. These are the reasons for minor-literature.

As a Black-American-female, I believe it is important for my narrative to be heard, as well as the next person that is silenced or under-represented. It is this need to vocalize their everyday experiences. It has been documented in various parts of the world at various times by the minority wanting to have their voices heard and acknowledged. This is extremely moving and revolutionary. It is merely due to the fact that an individual or a group recognizes the importance of having their experiences heard.

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”
― Maya Angelou

In many ways, silenced and under-represented groups are writing and creating their own space within their various cultures and societies because they have a story to tell.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou

And like this beautiful quote by Angelou, we all have stories that we want to tell. However, if we never tell that story then we will forever have this feeling of agony inside of us. The need of revealing your experiences is not unique to the human-experience. The oral-tradition is the oldest form of human-communication. As human-beings, we told stories orally and became story-tellers. We sat around and told the stories of those before us and those of our generation. We knew we had a story to tell and we told it. And just like those that came before us, we have an obligation to create our narratives and to make a space for every voice out there.

So, in starting off ‘minor-literature’ week, I want to start with a story that really touched me.

I recently read “Yo Soy Chicano” by: David F.Gomez. In this autobiographical piece, I found myself looking at myself in the mirror. David Gomez, a son of two Mexican-immigrants, grew up in a mostly White, working-class area in southwest Los Angeles, California.

In his early schooling, Gomez described his experience with school as being “a terribly destructive experience, for it stripped away my identity as a Mexicano and alienated me from my own people, including my parents” (6). In reading the first line of this short-story, I knew I was going to enjoy this piece of literature. For so long, I have heard how education is the end-all-be-all to having a successful life. However, Gomez’s experience(s) with school was a means of socialization by the various institutions that he would enter into for education. He continues to describe his early-schooling experience as being “predominantly White, at least 85 percent or more. The rest of us were either Mexican, Black, or Oriental, but mostly Mexican. Everything that was of value or importance in school was White and clean” (6). In helping his audience to understand the process of socialization, Gomez further stated that “the teachers either ignored our Mexican heritage completely or referred to us condescendingly as “Spanish”. At first it annoyed me to be called Spanish because Papa had strictly taught us to say, “Soy puro Mexicano” when asked what we were”. At this point in his life, Gomez was being taught at home self-confidence and the beauty of his heritage while being ignored at school because of his identity. His identity became a source of shame and interrogation by the individuals that all students would be expected to look up to- teachers. However, this was not the case. He would describe his predominate impression as being that “Mexicans had no legitimate place in the White world. If we Mexicans wanted to survive at all, we would have to become White. And I wanted to be White” (6).

As Gomez progressed in school, he would continue to describe his isolation from his Mexican-identity. To be accurate, his Chicano-identity. He remembered a time in which his mother came to pick him up from school in the third-grade and being ’embarrassed’ by his mother’s Spanish. So, one day the bell had rung to dismiss students from school and just like any other day, he would go outside to wait for his mother to pick him up. However, this day was different. Gomez’s mother came into the school, went to his class and called out, “David, apurate, te ‘stoy esperando!”. His mother wanted him to hurry because she was waiting on him, but unfortunately, he was ashamed and proceeded to tell his mother to speak English. So, at this point in the story, Gomez felt almost estranged from his native-tongue of Spanish, which was spoken at home.

In having parents with roots in Mexico, he would visit Tijuana or Mexicali. In visiting his family back in Mexico, he would further continue on in his socialization of disconnecting from his identity. In feeling disconnected from his Mexican-American identity, Gomez stated that “I became aware of feeling that what my family had to offer-language,customs, food, ways of looking at the world vacations in Baja California- was not very good in comparison with the other world in which I lived” (8). At this point in his life, Gomez definitely felt removed from his culture and thoroughly attracted to White-culture. To illustrate this point, “there was one little boy who was in the third grade with me. I wanted him to be my friend because he seemed to embody all that I admired and believed was best. He had blond hair, bright blue eyes, and rosy cheeks” (8). As a 22 years old,Black-American reader, I can definitely say that this form of socialization is detrimental. Gomez grew up in educational-institutions that taught self-hate and racial-superiority, which bred the isolation of minorities from themselves. This is still the case for many minorities, despite this story being decades old. It is this removal from one’s culture that creates self-hatred. For most young children and teenagers, school is the one place that you would spend most of your time. This is the one place in which you begin the socialization process. It can and may just break or make you.

In looking at his overall experiences, he stated that “like many Mexican American children, my experiences made a peripheral person of me. My Anglo-White experiences at school so completely conflicted with my Mexican-brown experiences at home that I rejected one for the other only to find that I couldn’t fully participate in either” (10). So, I must admit that I just wanted to hug Gomez at this point in his autobiographical piece. I just wanted to reach out and tell him that the struggle is real, but to never give up. I think many minorities and racially-mixed individuals undergo this exact same experience. It is this issue of trying to fit within dominant-society and your own reality. However, you end up finding yourself at the outskirts of these two spaces that you frequently enter and exit out of on a daily-basis. It is exactly this statement by Gomez that makes minor-literature so important. It poses serious concerns and questions about identity. Personally, I am constantly trying to obtain and strive for the ‘authentic self’ because of all of the external pressures for me to be something other than myself. At one point in my life, similar to Gomez, I hated by Blackness. I hated my hair. I hated the fact that I wasn’t White. I had even dyed my hair blonde, in order to look White. I believe at one point, I even purchased skin-lightener to get a fairer complexion. The bad part of this is how other Black people would encourage this detrimental cycle of hating your Blackness. I would be told how beautiful I was because I was light-skinned. Also, I would be told that I had ‘good’ hair and that the boys would ‘like’ and ‘love’ me. So, I would always take these words as being truth because not only was dominant-society pushing it onto minorities, but even minorities were pushing it upon each other. I never understood how socialization worked until I realized its effects upon me. On one-hand, I would be told that I wasn’t ‘Black’ enough or that I was ‘too-White’ so I struggled for a good portion of my life trying to fit in the worlds that I would enter and re-enter on a daily-basis. It creates an incomplete, fragmented, and disconnected identity. It really does. I’ve never been comfortable with this issue of trying to fit in with this or that group, but it is challenging when you’re being cornered by your own group and by dominant-society.

However, I will continue on with Mr. Gomez. To go into an excellent example of my own personal feelings about this issue of identity, he described his experience as being similar to many minorities. He stated that “I was indeed a ‘Mexican-American,’ a hyphenated person who was somehow both Mexican and American yet neither a Mexican nor an American in any clearly defined sense” (10). Many minorities and racially-mixed individuals hold similar views to Gomez. It is this sense of trying to define one’s self on one’s own terms without the interference of someone else’s definition, but it is fairly difficult. There is always this ongoing struggle to figure out one’s identity and how it works or doesn’t work. In some ways, one must decide for themselves who and what they want to be.

He continued to say that “sometimes when the brown world intruded into the White I felt divided within myself, but usually I ended up choosing the White world. Most of the time, I was simply a displaced person who, in his better moments should have realized he was trying to be someone or something he actually was not. I believed that I was White, a belief that left permanent scars on my consciousness because it uprooted me from my familia and created in me the false and deceptive impression that I was really accepted and belonged in the White world” (11).

I will let that marinade on the mind for a moment. Yes, let it just marinade for a bit. There is more to come about this issue of socialization and being marginalized.

To complete his total transformation, he stated that ” I gave many people the impression of being weak because I have been a marginal, peripheral person in dominant society for so long that unconsciously I assumed all the characteristics that the dominant group expected of me” (11)

And to completely break a person, you need not to break them down physically, but mentally. In no part of this autobiographical piece he spoke about being physically abused, but in every part of the piece he spoke about being mental-subjugation of self-hatred. He was mentally oppressed and isolated from himself.

And at the end of the piece, he graduated college and felt “I had indeed become the gabacho I so desperately wanted to be” (17).

As I read the piece and came to the end, I sat in awe. I was just taken aback. In many ways, I was reading a story about me. Yes, it is 2014, but the issue of identity is still major. Identity isn’t just about race. No, it is about the full and entire person.

So, in reading this piece of minor-literature, I felt extremely compelled to share it with others. I feel it is important to think about when we discuss issues of: class, race, nationalism, culture(s), mainstream society, and identity.

So, if you enjoyed this, then stay tuned for more minor-literature to come.

Advertisements

What is Minor-Literature?

In the Fall of 2013, I took a course at my university called “East Central Europe”. It was a fascinating course and caused me to think deeply about: history, identity, culture(s), language(s) and borders. In going through the history of this part of the world, I loved the interdisciplinary-nature of the course. We looked at Europe through various lenses and from various fields of study. As an English-major, I loved the various readings we would have about: Nazism, Communism, the Intelligentsia, and etc. However, I was struck when learning about ‘minor-literature’. I’ve never heard this term until my last semester of my undergraduate-program. So, in celebration of my love for literature, I want to dedicate the next week to minor-literature.

Before starting this week on minor-literature, I will share a little background information about the advent and emergence of minor-literature.

Caveat: This was a paper I had wrote for my class. So, please refrain from getting bored with the formal-tone of the paper.

The Emergence of Minor Literature: An Analysis of “Birds” by Bruno Schulz and “Jackals and Arabs” by Franza Kafka

In the twentieth-century within East Central Europe, there emerged minor literature. Minor literature is deemed as being political since subject peoples aren’t sovereign, usually within a periphery. Additionally, this form of literature usually provokes and anticipates political action. Strikingly, this literature has a concern of the people. Minor literature stands to serve as an advocate for groups and individuals that aren’t being represented. In understanding the complexity of minor literature within twentieth-century East Century Europe, it is important to look at two writers from similar backgrounds with two different styles of writing- Bruno Schulz and Franz Kafka. In looking at the two various writing-styles of Schulz and Kafka, I will examine as a literary-critic how Schulz “Birds” and Kafka’s “Jackals and Arabs” adds to the creation of minor-literature in advocating for groups that aren’t represented within their individual societies in twentieth-century East Central Europe.
In understanding the role of minor literature in the lives of each of these writers, it is integral to understand their backgrounds and the social-issues surrounding their writings. Kafka was born in 1883 and lived until 1924. He lived a relatively sedentary life and lived most of his life in Prague. Additionally, he had lived closely with his family and could free himself from them. In his life-time, Kafka published very few of this works. His fame began in the 1930’s, but this was halted by Nazism. Most of Kafka’s writings were: existentialist, theological and modernist. Kafka was Jewish, German and Czech. He lived in the Czech Republic as a participant in German culture in the Austria-Hungary Empire. He spoken very clear and lucid German. However, most of his writings aren’t explicitly Jewish.
Similarly, Schulz was Jewish. He was born in 1892 and died in 1942. He was born in Drohobych, near Lviv, which is currently the Ukraine. Schulz did have knowledge of Kafka’s work and was influenced by Proust and Thomas Manh. Schulz was first protected by a Nazi named Landau. Additionally, Schulz mostly wrote short-stories. However, Schulz writings are different from Kafka’s in many ways. Kafka’s writings doesn’t use metaphors in a visual sense nor does Kafka use animal-fables which is seen throughout Shulz’ minor literature.
In looking at one of Kafka’s writings, the “Jackals and the Arabs” presents an interesting look at violence and its cycle. The short-story starts in the deserts of Arabia, in which a European man is approached by Jackals, talking to him in human-form about a long-standing quarrel. Kafka writes that “a swarming of jackals all around us” in relations to the European-man that was approached by this group of animals (252). In being approached by the group of Jackals, the man is told that “the north has the intelligence that is not found here among the Arabs. Not a spark of intelligence can be struck from their cold haughtiness” (Kafka, pg 253). In reading this story, critics may deem this statement as being racist and not indicative of a whole race of individuals. However, this passage written by Kafka could indicate perpetuating feelings by some Jews during this time-period. In looking at the passage above, it is important to see a form of tension that is built up within the group of jackals. In continuing within the passage, “they kill animals in order to eat them and they scorn carrion” (Kafka, pg 255). Kafka is letting readers understand at this point in the story that the Arabs are supposedly killing animals, specifically Jackals. So, the Jackals tells the European man that “…we will draw their blood and the quarrel will end” (Kafka, pg 253). In this part of the story, one may ask about the role of minor-literature and how it relates to the discord present between the Jackals and the Arabs. Kafka is known for his allegorical-style in presenting his literature, thus it is note-worthy to deduce from his readings the social-context in which he is writing in during their time-period in which he wrote a piece of literary-work. Some literary-critics would argue that Kafka is referring to the Jewish-Muslim discord while others would state that this discord would’ve been too early. However, Kafka adds within the story that the Jackals are seeking revenge and sought out the help of the European-man to avenge for the Arab’s mass-murdering of animals by stating that “…with the help of your all-powerful hands, cut their throats with these scissors” (255). This story could easily represent discord between a core and its periphery, especially in the context that the jackals felt as if their autonomy and lives were at risk. Also, one must remember that minor literature anticipates as political action and functions as a voice for the under-represented.
However, in the literary-work presented by Schulz, the chapter “Birds” in The Street of Crocodiles, presents an interesting looking at life within the periphery. Schulz’ style of composition is less-allegorical and more straight-forward than Kafka’s text, “Jackals and Arabs”. In this chapter of the novel, the audience finds a father that is becoming aloof from the family-unit as he withdraws within his own world. In order to illustrate Schulz’ difference(s) in composition, he begins the chapter by stating that “…the yellow-days of winter, filled with boredom. The rust-colored earth was covered with a threadbare, meager tablecloths of snow full of holes” (45). In this first sentence of the chapter, Schulz’ composition shows the audience the importance of imagery. In letting the audience know the mental and physical-state of the father, Schulz writes that the father “…grew more and more remote from practical affairs. When my mother, worried and unhappy about his condition tried to draw him into a conversation about business, about the payments due at the end of the month, he listened absent-minded, anxiety showed in his abstracted look” (46). In this story, the head-of-the-household was deteriorately gradually over-time. And that “at that time, we noticed for the first time father’s passionate interest in animals. To begin with, it was the passion of the huntsman and the artist rolled into one” (Schulz, pg 47). In looking at this passage specifically, Schulz differentiates himself from Kafka’s in his usage of animals. He compares the father to this child-like state. More importantly, “it soon became necessary to move my father to two rooms at the top of the house which had served as storage rooms,” thus letting the audience understand that the father was becoming less and less involved the family and this is similar to the core-periphery relationship. The periphery is indeed suffering from the influence and the lack of autonomy that most cores provide. And towards the end “a moment later, my father came downstairs- a broken man, an exiled king who had lost his throne and his kingdom” (Schulz). Schulz is allowing us to see the struggle as being an individual and even head-of-the-household within a periphery.
In concluding, these two different authors provide a look into minor-literature and its importance. It provides for under-represented individuals to gain a voice and to become political-advocates. It allows for political-action to be brought up.

Works Cited:
1. Schulz, Bruno. The Street of Crocodiles. [New York]: Penguin, 1977. Print.
2. Kafka, Franz, and Nahum N. Glatzer. Complete Stories. New York: Schocken, 1983. Print.

Motivating the World:  Inspiration from the Sunnah of the Beloved Prophet Muhammad

Assalamu alaykom everyone,

It is known in Islamic-history during the time of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that he went from Makkah to the mosque in Jerusalem and ascended through the heavens on the buraq. In his ascenscion (Al-Mi’raj), he met the different prophets (peace be upon them all) and from this ascension the daily prayers were established. After detailing this account to the people, nobody believed him except for his bestfriend, Abu Bakr as-Sadiqque (May Allah be pleased with him). Abu Bakr as-Sadiqque told the people to believe in what the messenger had said because he know that the messenger would only speak the truth. In hearing this from Abu Bakr as-Sadiqque, the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was confident and reassured in his mission. However, this was not the first time that the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) received motivation from others. One of the first incidents in Islamic-history in which this happened was at the beginning of his prophet-hood. Upon becoming a prophet, Muhammad (peace be upon him) would feel frightened by the Angel Gabriel and had ran to his wife Khadijah bint Khuwaylid (May Allah be pleased with her) for comfort and support. Khadijah comforted, supported and believed in her husband and the messenger. She told him that Allah wouldn’t do this to him and that he should go forth in what Allah had given him. In hearing this, Muhammad rose from his terrified state and delivered a message that is still being heard today. Furthermore, his motivation continously reaches from the grave because from his example we can learn how to strive despite our own obstacles and problems.

In dealing with our own problems in life, we can find solace in knowing that our own beloved prophet was just like us. He was like you and I. He underwent trials and tribulations. He went through phases in which he needed that gentle hand and that reassuring voice. This example should create warmth in our hearts. It should penetrate beneath the deep depths of our own woes and sorrows. We should build strength from his life. Additionally, this man was not just a man but a prophet. So, in knowing that a prophet can experience these most human-experiences just allows us to see that being a human isn’t without its own struggles and strife. However, we can help one another and be that Khadijah or Abu Bakr. We can be that to our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, spouses, children and etc. Never believe you can’t be that confidant because you can.
As we encounter the world on a daily-basis, I would simply say to be a source of motivation for others. We all need that. The world is a scary, confusing and frightening place to live. In understanding this reality, we have to cling to one another like limbs on a tree. We can only be our own enemies. Our enemies are not the other, but ourselves. We have to conquer our ownselves and strive against our lower-desires. Just love. Take the hand of your neighbor and strive. Rise against oppression. Struggle against injustices. When you find yourself reading the newspaper, a newsletter, an email, or watching the news about war, strife and oppression just remember that you can be that motivation for the wounded, the voiceless, and the oppressed. Wet your tongue with sweet words of motivation and strength.

Remember what Allah says in the interpretation of the meaning:

“And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, – none but persons of the greatest good fortune.” (Quran 41:35).

Allah is telling us to remain patient and to remember that goodness will come, inshALLAH. In the prophet-hood of the messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) he had to remain patient and to trust in Allah. He had to struggle and have self-restraint, but he didn’t give up. He found motivation from others and he became a man of great influence upon a whole society and then the whole world, alhumdulilah. Islam has provided great examples for us to look towards in our times of loneliness, doubt, uncertainty, and distress. Never believe that being a human-being means being perfect, but realize that one must remain patient and seek Allah in all his or her affairs.
Our lives will continue to unfold in various directions with various events. So, cling to what is true. Find motivation from others or be a source of motivation. Turn to the Qur’an and turn to the example of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). See the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as not only a messenger, but as a human-being that experienced the ups and downs of life just like you and I. He underwent the ups and downs of life and still delivered a mighty message for those that came before and those now. So, remember that we can only be our own enemies. Never give up on yourself and never give up on others.

Beauty of a Queen

With my Niqab

Some are mesmerized by the beauty of a diamond

While others are tantalized by the appearance of a shiny star

Muslimahs

Queens

Elevated to a status unlike any other woman

Unforeseen for most women in the 6th century

Treated like property to be traded and exchanged

Held at a worth less than a penny

Held at a status of nothiness

Muslimahs

Queens

Truly an example for others to emulate

Women of opinions

Women of choice

Women of power

Women of status

A time in which women were told they were less than queens, treated like slaves to men, not given the right to financial independence, not given the choice to choose her husband, choice to divorce, choice to be alive because she was female….

Muslimahs

Women of status

Women of  Status