Tuesday, March 6, 2012
After resisting, feeling uncertain of how to start, I let myself fall, head over heels, into Nela Martinez's "spoken autobiography" today. I gave myself over to this amazing woman whose life spanned most of the twentieth century (and a little beyond), about whom I am giving a talk on campus next week.
I'd forgotten how absorbing it is when this happens. During the academic year, with a 4/4 course load, I get precious little time for real research. This year, my thousands of photographed images from Ecuadorian archives have sat, unexamined, with the excitement and urgency of the archives fading--not exactly from my memory, because I do still remember--but from my being.
But here I was, taken over in mind and spirit, completely seduced by both the story and its analytical possibilities. It's not like reading a bestselling novel, this experience. Reading a fun novel pushes me on rapidly to find out what happens next. Reading into history is a slow process, in which my mind sings with possibilities. I mark passages, put post-it notes on pages, and imagine how I can put it all into context and theory in order to say something meaningful of my own.
The work may be slow, but it's intoxicating, and it leaves me wishing I had more time and energy to pursue it.
And Nela? Born to the landowning class, she fell in love with and married a paralytic who shared her commitment to social justice, and she entered the world of radical politics with him. The marriage did not last, and after her divorce she had an affair (and son) with one of the leading members of the Ecuadorian Communist Party. Eventually, she found a true partner with whom she had three more children and spent decades. As to her accomplishments, Nela Martinez was one of the leading members of the Ecuadorian Communist Party, an ardent supporter of indigenous activism, and one of the founders of the Ecuadorian Feminine Alliance. She refused to get caught in the web of categories that separate us from alliances in search of true justice. She insisted that Communism address women, she set up a women's movement that accepted members from a wide variety of political ideologies, and she instinctively saw class as intertwined with race.
It was an inspired and inspiring journey today, and I look forward to continuing it, even as March break flies by me far too quickly. My own analysis of her life will form in different ways according to specific projects. For today, I got to just enjoy Nela.
What's got hold of your mind and imagination these days?