Like birth, there tends to be this expectation to marvel over the romance of rematriation, omitting the “gory” details. So many of us rematriators post images of rainbows and sunsets. These are the parts that bring joy, affirmation. The parts that sustain us. We may not feel safe enough, connected enough to share the traumatic parts. It is easier to post about sunsets and rainbows, even at the risk of giving a one-sided view of rematriation. It doesn’t bare the complexity, the totality of what this really is. Like detox from Babylon. Like decolonizing from the inside out.
In movement work we focus on the political decolonizing we hope to bring about. But not enough focus is placed on the decolonizing that must occur in our own bodies. The healing that forges the path towards liberating. Aligning to the lands set off that process. Rematriation, the return to the womb, the mother, evokes long lines of stoic Black and Indigenous Caribbean matriarchs and midwives. Their essence still pulsing with the land to ensure we drop the baggage of all that doesn’t serve us. They preside over us with that tough love, handing out more cocotazos than hugs.
Rematriation is initiation. A recalibration, realignment to this place. A purging of colonizer ways. A clearing of the colonial lens. A severing from colonial conditioning. By choice or “a la cañona.” We surrender to the ways of the matriarch, this motherland and all the matriarchs birthed from her soils. We return to the womb. Often thinking of ourselves as rejected, unwanted, we are actually called to the tribe of miracle children charged with resurrecting our nationhood. Invited to celebrate island birthdays. Epic carnivals of bouncy houses and cotton candy, food trucks parked in marquesinas serving tripletas and burgers. Comparsa drums sounding, reverberating through valleys. At least that’s how my neighbors do it. Over the top displays of lives worth celebrating like the righteously obnoxious sea of Boricua flags blanketing the five boroughs on the day of our parade. Exaggeration of pride justified, sanctified. Testament to our having survived the horrors of genocide.
I remember the documentary La Operación (1982) by Ana María Garcia and that awful scene where the mayor of Barceloneta assesses the sterilization campaign in his municipio. He proudly cites the 1970 census as proof of its success, indicating no population increase. He then goes on to discuss schools in various barrios of his municipality that didn’t have children for enrollment in the early grades because of the number of women who had been sterilized.
These warped views persist today with the puppet government’s continued disregard for the decline of its own population. The most important resource of any country is its people. Our young people leave in droves to make a living, resulting in an aging population left here without their children or grandchildren. A colonial government with no interest it seems in recruiting back the folks it lost. No incentive for them or the children of its Diaspora. They would rather replace them with wealthy foreigners. No consideration of the realities seen today in Hawaii and Guam. No efforts to retain our population.
Colonial self-loath manifests in myriad ways, from this mayor believing sterilizing women was a good deed, to the (ousted governor) Ricky leaks revealing heartless jokes about the displaced and the dead in the wake of Hurricane María. It manifests in corrupt puppet politicians overlooking zoning laws and natural resource regulation to sell our lands to exploitive, destructive developers. Neither our wombs or the womb-lands are sacred to the colonizer and their colonial-conditioned subjects.
Women as recent as my own mother were sterilized. Still, enough of us survived. Enough of us are returning, reconnecting to the womb, to the land of all the islands of this archipelago and its surrounding waters. Reconnecting to our ancestral ways, to the plants, ancestral medicine, and practices. How much ancestral medicine and personal decolonizing will it take to restore ourselves, restore how it was and what we were before conquest? And is that the mission? Or are we to envision something more expansive, born from what we now know on top of all the ancestral wisdom resurrected from their bones and our own?
As I wrote in my Rematriating Borikén manifesto, “We the survivors of genocide who swam through fallopian tubes not yet tied but soon to be cut:” I swam. That little egg made its way through the fallopian tubes and that ovum became me right before sterilization. What if my mom had chosen to sterilize after my sister’s pregnancy?
But we are here, I am here. Or as my brother would say: Here I is!
And just as I am here, I could not have been here. A simple realization that asserts my existence as a weapon in undoing the effects of genocide. Is this why I am the one who honored the midwife lineage of my mother’s mother’s mother by choosing to birth at home with a midwife? At the time I had no idea that I had a history of midwives in my family. But my bones knew. My genes and cells knew. My womb knew that it was from a lineage of ancestral mothers who attended births in la Playa de Ponce. Rematriation is remembering. Even before returning, memories awaken throughout our bodies. Re-entering the womb, we remember fully.
Gracias a Sandra Guzmán por recordar y por el recordatorio.
Brooklyn-born and raised, Yasmín Hernández rematriated to her ancestral homeland of Borikén in 2014. Her practice as an artist, writer, activist is rooted in these islands and their Diasporas, our suppressed histories, healing, and liberation. CucubaNación in Mayagüez is Yasmin’s art space dedicated to Boricua bioluminescence. She shares her art at yasminhernandezart.com and chronicles the journey home at rematriatingboriken.com .
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