In light of the most recent violence against African Heritage people and communities, I have hesitated to post references to my project I Am My White Ancestors. Yet I see articles and pleas on social media discussing the role of white people and I have seen requests from African Heritage people for whites to own their whiteness. So I felt compelled to add my voice.Read More
Here I am with my dear friend Tereza Bottman, who is on my advisory board for I Am My White Ancestors. She is a core member of the Portland chapter of SURJ, Show Up for Racial Justice. I have asked Tereza to help me pick the winner of our raffle from the 13 people who donated $50 and above to the campaign. We are standing in the soon to be opened Columbia International Cup, a coffee and sandwich shop located in Portsmouth, the most culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhood in Portland.
Thanks Tereza for being part of the project and thanks also to the growing list of people who have supported and will support the project. I am so touched. In mid January I will be announcing the next raffle. This time the item to be raffled will be completely different and truly unique.
So I am trying to imbed this idea of not thinking that mistakes are the end of the world into my stubborn brain. I've heard of it, you've heard of it, it's in all the lists of how to be a creative and successful whatever, entrepreneur, inventor, maybe even scientist. Mistakes are expected to happen, will happen, are mandatory even. If there are no mistakes happening, you are just paddling in the shallow end, not diving into the deep end where new ideas live.
These days, I feel terrified daily that I am making mistakes. Each time I ask for help to fund I Am My White Ancestors, I am gripped by fear that I have done it wrong and have lost that person forever. Of course I don't want to loose him or her. I am only asking for money, not their first born child. They can say no. But what if. . . I LOVE MAKING MISTAKES!
It's a good thing I am committed to doing the project. Otherwise I might quit. The project is wide ranging and involves multiple phases, skills, tasks, and people. The mistakes I make are big, interpersonal, and messy. They are not where to put a shape or color. Right now that kind of mistake seems silly and pathetic. But give me a couple of months and I will feel them, too, when I design and paint the backgrounds for the portraits.
As part of my installation project "I Am My White Ancestors: Self Portraits through Time," I am in research mode. My goal over the next six months is to locate 10 ancestors stretching back as far as 1000 b.c.e. and learn about their lives. It is lonely and depressing work, not least because of what I am finding. European American history is a mine field. I feel like I am channeling my astro-archaeologist father, holed up in his study, nose in a musty book, tracking down connections between ancient cultures and the sky. I know he was at heart a treasurer hunter or detective. Both of those jobs are filled with dead ends and hours of tedious work, but they also contain moments of discovery. And lots of questions.
Some of my ancestors lived in Switzerland before they emigrated to South Carolina in 1735. I have found Heini Salley (Sali or Salin) who was born in 1690 in Zeglinen, in Basel-land. That is different from the city of Basel, I have learned. I have also learned about the Basel Massacre of 1349, when the town fathers decided to blame the bubonic plague on their Jewish neighbors and proceeded to execute almost all of them. Then, a few years later, after the 1359 Basel Earthquake, they used the money from the Jews to rebuild the city. Were my ancestors in Basel then? Did they participate in that horrible act?
Heini Salley's wife, Mariah von Arx, was born in Palatinate, Germany. How did Mariah get to Basel? People in the Palatinate area of Germany were emigrating to Pennsylvania in great numbers during the early 1700s. Was she and her family part of that movement and just stopped in Switzerland on the way? I do know they were swayed by a popular brochure produced by Jean-Peirre Pury, who earned a fee for each person he brought to South Carolina. Why do I assume that families stayed in one town their whole lives? I am starting to think that human beings are incredibly mobile and do unexpected things.