Sunday, December 27, 2009

Suitcases and Kujichagulia

I spend so much time living out of suitcases that in both my homes I store them within easy reach and within eyesight. Today's chore is to put the suitcase out of sight for the rest of my winter break - just so I can fool myself into thinking that I live in one place year round. (I would have done this earlier, but unwrapped Christmas presents needed to be hidden where the suitcase goes).

Today's Kwanzaa principle is kujichagulia. Years ago it took me a few tries before that word rattled off my tongue - Swahili is influenced by Arabic, but they are not that similar. Kujichagulia means self-determination. Each time I see that phrase I think about Israeli scholar Dov Ronen, who penned a book by the same title and introduced me to the idea of national self-determination in an Arab-Israeli politics class I took when I was twenty, the same age my son is now.


If I'm not paying attention, I mix this up with Emerson's essay on self-reliance. I suppose there is some connection; I think that it would be difficult to assert self-determination without at least some measure of self-reliance. Self-determination encompasses more - from nations to individuals - each choosing how to define oneself, sometimes in contrast to others' definitions, and sometimes in accordance with one's own.

My little Kwanzaa book suggests teaching kujichagulia by remembering the history of slavery and telling those gathered around to keep the dream alive. Important topics, to be sure, but I'm not giving my children a history lesson they already know or reciting slogans tonight.

Instead, I'll dip into my Kindle and share with them a few passages from Tracy Kidder's Strength in What Remains, the story of Deogratias, a young medical student in Burundi who escaped genocide and put his life together again in New York setting his sights towards medical school (and earning bachelors degrees in Chemistry and Philosophy from Columbia University in the process) while also working to establish a health clinic in his parents' home in Burundi.

This story will undoubtedly lead the kids to bring up the movie Hotel Rwanda and genocide, and then I'll slip in some Fanon and Said on colonialism, decolonization, and national self-determination.

We'll wrap it up with some conversation about what it means to determine your "self" and I'll throw in some ideas about physical self and mental self and self-conception and how others see you if the conversation stalls. (Not that it ever does in this Barelas casita - life is just one long conversation punctuated by appropriate silence).

Yeah. Just doing my part to raise educated citizens here in New Mexico.

The road to self-determination starts with education. Kujichagulia.

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