Monday, January 11, 2016

Kwanzaa in Yokohama - Now it's a Thing!

IMG_1964   IMG_1963 Well, the first Kwanzaa in Yokohama was held the other night, 12\27, in Ishikawacho at Crib bar. It was well-attended and a success according to feedback I've gotten from attendees! So, yes, I've decided to make it an annual happening. kwanzaa 16a Many of the attendees had no real prior knowledge of Kwanzaa so I wrote a brief serio-humorous intro to the holiday and it is as follow: I was 6 years old the last time I celebrated Christmas. That was the year my mother got involved in the Pan-African / Black Power Movement in America, and decided for me and my five siblings that Christmas and all its trappings was a bit of Europeanization our hearts and minds could do without. And so, that very year, for the first time in my short life, suddenly, ruthlessly, cold turkey, there was no holy white Jesus to pray to, no jolly white Santa's lap to sit upon, no carols sung, no Christmas tree decorated and no presents to wrap or unwrap. Needless to say, my siblings and I were none too thrilled with this sudden and drastic script flipping. We thought our mother had lost her natural mind! And our outrage was only intensified when we learned what was to replace our beloved Christmas. The single most exciting day of the year had been supplanted by seven days of some faux-African foolishness called Kwanzaa. Now, while it was compulsory for everyone in my immediate family to get in the Kwanzaa spirit, the vast majority of my relatives weren't having any of that African mumbo jumbo. Particularly my Pat Robertson loving, 700 Club watching aunt and uncle. And they felt it was their Christian duty to save our souls from this heathen nonsense our mother was literally hellbent on dragging the family into. Now, at the time, I found Christianity just as creepy as this Africana that was being forced upon us. My mind associated churches with graveyards and graveyards with dead shit. And paintings and sculptures of white people with blue eyes and wings and shit hanging around looking at you didn't help, either. But at least with the Christian version of the holidays, loot from Toys R Us often found its way into our lives. But that reprieve was only for the 25th of December. You see the genius who came up with Kwanzaa back in the mid-sixties probably had anticipated that even thinking of separating most black folks from their white Jesus would be setting Kwanzaa up for failure from jump street. So Mulana Kurenga, the founder of Kwanzaa, and obviously a clever chap who knew his people well, made Kwanzaa the seven days following Christmas. So, come December 26, and for the week that followed, it was all Kwanzaa, all day / every day. Why? Because the Pan-African organization my mother had gotten us involved in was filled with people who thought of Kwanzaa not merely as 7 holidays, but as 7 HOLY days. Yeah, sure, nowadays, Kwanzaa is celebrated by millions of people worldwide, but back then, when I was a kid, it seriously felt like we were in some crazy cult of Kwanzaa-ites! Back then, there were no McDonald's commercials with kids adorned in African garb, chomping on Kwanzaa kids meals. Nor were there any special Kwanzaa red black and green Coca-Cola bottles. The NBA didn't have a red black and green Kwanzaa logo. Nah, this was when the holiday was still in its infancy. On top of that, this was back when Jim Jones had got his followers to actually drink that poisoned Kool-Aid that killed them. It's just a clich√© people toss around now, but back then it was headlines, as real as 9-11. So, our relatively tiny clique of Pan-Africanists, in our robes and gowns, our Kente cloth, kufis and dashikis, were looked at with suspicion by many. To be honest, myself included. It took a minute...a long-ass minute...but we eventually got over the shock of having Christmas yanked away. It was a lot harder for my older brothers and sisters. I'd only had a couple of Christmases of note while they'd had several. In fact, I don't think they ever really got on board. But, it would only take 2 or 3 Kris Kringle-free Decembers before Kwanzaa would win me over. What was it that swayed me, you ask? Well, it wasn't when I learned that there were gifts involved, because they were not the Toy R Us variety. No sir. The gifts were generally handmade or of an educational nature. Nothing to get up early and sprint to the fireplace over, I gotta tell ya. And it wasn't the songs, though some of them were pretty catchy. It wasn't even the abundance and variety of food readily available during the festivals at this time of year. And God knows I loved to stuff my face. To tell you the truth, I really couldn't recall what it was exactly that had endeared Kwanzaa to me. It's been a part of my life for so long I had just taken for granted after a while that it was just the black thing to do. If I had to venture a guess though I'd say the little geek and future writer in me just loved all the colorful terminology and intriguing concepts associated with Kwanzaa. Because, in my little revolutionary school, as part of our Pan-African indoctrination, we had the Nguzo Saba, those 7 principles of Kwanzaa, drilled and instilled into us so thoroughly that I still remember them and their definitions in the original words in which they were taught to me. But the other day I read an article that reminded me what Kwanzaa was all about and why it is still relevant and essential today. I'd like to share with you an excerpt from an article by an activist by the name of Louisha Barnette: The seven principles of Kwanzaa were written as a direct response to the atrocities facing black people in the 1960s: lynchings, poor education, inadequate housing, unhealthy food, low wages, denial of basic civil and human rights, and degradation.
Kwanzaa was conceptualized during the time when:
Eugene “Bull” Conner ordered his police department to use fire hoses, police attack dogs and night sticks to break up Freedom Riders.
Four young girls, Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins were murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, while 22 others were injured.
Three civil rights activists, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwemer were arrested on speeding charges, incarcerated, reported missing by the FBI and later found dead. The three men were simply trying to register people to vote and investigate church bombings.
50 protesters were hospitalized after being tear gassed, whipped and clubbed at Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama. The day was so horrific it was dubbed, “Bloody Sunday.”
Residents in Watts, California rebelled against police tyranny, inadequate housing, poor schools and high unemployment. The rebellion lasted 6 days. It resulted in 34 deaths and the military occupation of 14,000 National Guard troops in a 46-mile area.
These atrocities mirror what we see today. Let's use December 26th - January 1st to intentionally REFLECT on critical issues facing our community, REMEMBER the words and wisdom of previous freedom fighters, and RECOMMIT to Black Liberation.
Well...I have a confession to make. I've never, in all my years, celebrated Kwanzaa in mixed company, so to speak. And when I made the invitation to this event opened to all I had no idea so many people of other races and nationalities would be interested enough in this African-American holiday to attend...at first it made me a little uncomfortable, I gotta tell ya. Because I, and clearly Miss Barnette as well, have always seen this as a black thing; something that other people-- unless they too were oppressed as well-- just wouldn't be able to fully appreciate. But the more I thought about that the more I realized that I was being presumptuous, something as y'all know I'm prone to rail against. And besides, the more I thought about the principles of Kwanzaa, and viewed them through this mind of mine, one that has been globalized a bit, and through this heart that has befriended and shared intimacies and struggles with a broader range of races and nationalities than that pre-adolescent boy-- the one Kwanzaa was first introduced to-- I can see the principles that govern Kwanzaa-- the Nguzo Saba-- doesn't necessarily need to be exclusive. All stand to benefit from applying these principles to their lives and their communities, and in fact, and not to sound too mushy, or overly optimistic, these principles might potentially bring people closer together much the way other powerful doctrines have expanded beyond their intended target and designed usage. I'd now like to think of Kwanzaa like I think of other creations that have emerged from black hearts and minds. Those that have not only beautified the world and broadened the world's recognition of the artistry of people of African descent, but has uplifted the people who have managed to appreciate these contributions by freeing them from certain misperceptions and ridiculous presumptions about people of color. Particularly those who are capable resisting the inclination to appropriate or denigrate these creations. And it is in that spirit that I'd like to share Kwanzaa with you all today. Thank you all for coming!! 
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    kwanzaa 2   kwanzaa 3     kwanzaa 17a kwanzaa 6   kwanzaa 7   kwanzaa 8   kwanzaa 9   kwanzaa 10   kwanzaa 11   kwanzaa 12   kwanzaa 13   kwanzaa 14   kwanzaa 15 Big thanks to everyone who came out and help make this better than I had anticipated. and you can be sure that next year will be even better! Happy Holidays, and a safe and prosperous new year! Love, Loco

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