Tag Archives: read

Radikal Readings: Angela Davis: An Autobiography

I’ve read and re-read eight of Dr. Angela Y. Davis’ nine books in the past few years, but I intentionally saved her autobiography, letting it sit on my shelf until now. Dr. Davis has had a profound influence on my life and thoughts on social justice, racism, feminism, and criminal justice. I’ve watched documentaries, her speeches, and read countless articles on her work, but I wanted to savor her writing on her life experiences.

Dr. Davis’ autobiography didn’t any new information for me per say, but it was the way in which she wrote that captured me. I had never read an in-depth account of her time in prison as was offered in this book. It also details her life growing up, her family, time in college and just how she became involved in social justice. It’s not just an autobiography, but a call to arms to fight the racism that is still so deeply embedded in our country. It’s hard not to see the parallels of the time that she writes about and today’s fight for justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

I admire Dr. Davis and her story, her fight against racism and the unjust, and her perseverance. It only motivates me further to continue to the fight. I am so grateful for her sharing this story and her work.


Radikal Readings: Disposable Domestics

Although Grace Chang’s Disposable Domestics: Immigrant Women Workers in the Global Economy was published in 2000, it is still so relevant to today’s society 16 years later, especially with the rage on debates over “immigration reform.” As Robin D. G. Kelley, Distinguished Professor of History and Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in United States History, UCLA, states in her review:

“Chang exposes the outlandish myth that corporate interests, big agriculture, and liberal Democrats represent enlightened voices standing against mass deportation and xenophobia. Instead she reveals a long history of collusion between the U.S. government, the IMF and World Bank, corporations, and private employers to create and maintain a super-exploited, low-wage, female labor force of caregivers and cleaners. Structural adjustment policies force them to leave home; labor, welfare, and educational policies deny them basic benefits and protections; employers deny them a living wage.”

Chang links immigration policy and “welfare reform” in ways that are not often done – noting how eliminating access to health care, immigration and welfare is directed against female immigrant workers in the U.S. Chang lays bare the political systems that push immigrant women into a certain labor class, which drives the global capitalist structure. She does so without “preaching” as the book heavily centers actual interviews with immigrant women and other women of color.

This book is so informative but it was also deeply personal for me. I couldn’t help but think of my aunt new to the U.S. from Fiji, who left her children to care for others. Or my other aunt who worked as a maid in hotels while her children were left at home. Their struggles to stay afloat while fighting racism and misogyny. It should be required reading for every feminist studies class, politicians, and those in public policy.

Photo by: Radhika Jit/California

Radikal Readings: Freedom is a Constant Struggle

Every time I read Angela Y. Davis I am left in well-informed awe. Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement is her latest book which is a collection of essays, speeches and interviews from the recent past. In it, Davis touches on the connections between struggles against state violence and oppression throughout history and around the world. She cites the deaths of Mike Brown and Rekia Boyd, the Occupy Movements and resulting mass movements and protests, and as the title suggests, she links it to the struggles and injustices in Palestine.

Davis stresses the importance of understanding the struggles of others and how it relates to our own. How it is necessary for people as a whole to organize and act. It is not just individuals who change history. This is evident in the historical examples she gives from the Montgomery Bus Boycotts – how it would not have been possible without the organization of black women.

The way she weaves together the struggles against neo-liberal capitalism, the prison-industrial complex, systemic injustices, settler colonialism in Palestine, racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia is masterful. It makes for a short but extremely powerful read.

Radikal Readings: The Meaning of Freedom And Other Difficult Dialogues

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You know of my love for Angela Y. Davis if you’ve read this blog before. She has had a profound influence on my life and thoughts on social justice, racism, feminism, and criminal justice. Her book Are Prisons Obsolete? had a massive impact on my views of prison abolition and I’ve made it a point to read everything I could get my hands on by her. The latest book I picked up is The Meaning of Freedom And Other Difficult Dialogues – a collection of speeches she’s given around the world.

What is the meaning of freedom? Davis confronts the interconnected issues of power, race, gender, class, incarceration, conservatism, and the ongoing need for social change in the United States, as the book’s description puts it. The collection of speeches range from 1994 to 2009 and although some of these were written over 20 years ago, they are still extremely relevant in 2016.

Throughout the speeches is a constant reminder that those who go to prison are stripped of their rights, including disfranchisement. Which had that not been the law, would have drastically altered the result of the 2000 elections if the 650,000 Florida prisoners had been allowed to vote. She also reminds us of the underlying cause of the prison industrial complex is capitalism and the racism which have become institutionalized.

Like Davis’s other works, it is an empowering read. A call to action for activists to fight to change the way our systems work. A call to continue the struggle for freedom from all forms of oppression that deny people their political, cultural, and sexual freedom.

Radikal Readings: The Other Side of Paradise

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Cuba – the very name draws up a whole host of thoughts as a country shrouded by mystery for Americans. To say that I am engrossed with all things Cuba is an understatement. I can’t seem to get enough – whether in form of documentaries, films, articles, or most of all books. So when Julia Cooke’s The Other Side of Paradise: Life in Cuba came across my radar, I just had to pick it up.

I had my reservations going into it – a young white woman telling the story of Cubans from her privileged viewpoint. However, what I enjoyed was the parts where she let the Cuban people she covered speak to their own stories. Sure there are parts where she inserted herself and gave her personal viewpoints but the parts that shine are the stories of real people and real lives in Cuba – and that is what I think Julia Cooke intended.

With United States opening relations with Cuba the fascination with the mysterious island is growing yet, so many are focusing on the island as a whole and not the actual people who’s lives will be forever changed. This book is a nice reminder of that.

There is some Sunday in every Wednesday in Havana, and there’s also a blending of tomorrow and yesterday in today. Havana is a place where everyday existence is so rooted in the present moment, yet thought exists primarily in past or future tenses. Paradise is Cuba’s goal and its context: what the island could be if only; what it once was. But there is no other side of paradise, no way to live in the nostalgic gloss of the past or to start construction of a life on the other side of the limitations of today. Predicting what will happen in Cuba in the next decade is an exercise in humility, because I assume that words on paper will be proven wrong. And so the revision, the recursive exercise that is involvement in Cuba continues.

Radikal Readings: A House of My Own

I count my sophomore year of high school as a turning point in my life. Although I didn’t realize it until much later, it was that year in Ms. Padilla’s English class that I discovered just how much writing meant to me. Hers was the first English class I took that taught from books on the techniques and love of writing. I was hooked without knowing it. Of course she also had us read novels, one of which was Sandra Cisneros’ infamous The House on Mango Street. I loved it instantly, so it’s a wonder why it has taken me this long to pick up another one of Cisneros’ works.

A House of My Own: Stories from My Life is a newly released memoir in essay form which is full of personal stories about family, travelogues, political issues, and nonfiction pieces from Cisneros’ life as a writer and woman journeying solo. The jacket describes it as: With this collection–spanning nearly three decades, and including never-before-published work–Cisneros has come home at last.

I savored every page of this very heavy book – seriously, it’s glossy pages complete with personal pictures are so heavy that it was hard to carry on public transportation. Each chapter chronicles Sandra’s life and development as a writer struggling to find her “home.” Her writing style is so beautiful that I caught myself stopping at times to admire the way she composed sentences, wishing I could to the same. It’s comes as no surprise though, as her with her novels, her writing style has an element of lyrical magic in it.

I can’t believe it’s taken me fifteen years to read a second piece of work by Sandra Cisneros, but this time I’m sure there will not be as long of a gap. What a special writer.

Radikal Readings: Jazz

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Again, I chose to put myself in the difficult position of writing about a book by the legendary Toni Morrison. After being taken aback by The Bluest Eye, I decided to tackle Jazz. Set in 1926, the novel “is the story of a triangle of passion, jealousy, murder, and redemption, of sex and spirituality, of slavery and liberation, of country and city, of being male and female, African American, and above all of being human.” Jazz is a about middle-aged Joe Trace, his wife Violet and his teenage lover Dorcas who he also happens to shoot to death.

Jazz is heartbreaking and dazzling, lyrical and poetic. Again, Toni Morrison is an extraordinary writer and storyteller. Her stories are never just black and white, like life there is an exorbitant amount of grey and it’s hard to come to terms with who is “good” and who is “bad”. It’s a dazzling portrayal of human beings, relationships and African American life in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy – where men are worthy of love and black women are expendable.

Much like The Bluest Eye, Jazz is breathtaking and stays with you long after. Here’s one of my favorite poetic passages, which I hope inspires you to pick this one up if you already haven’t:

“It’s nice when grown people whisper to each other under the covers. Their ecstasy is more leaf-sigh than bray and the body is the vehicle, not the point. They reach, grown people, for something beyond, way beyond and way, way down underneath tissue. They are remembering while they whisper the carnival dolls they won and the Baltimore boats they never sailed on. …Breathing and murmuring under covers both of them have washed and hung out on the line, in a bed they chose together and kept together nevermind one leg was propped on a 1916 dictionary, and the mattress, curved like a preacher’s palm asking for witnesses in His name’s sake, enclosed them each and every night and muffled their whispering, old-time love. They are under the covers because they don’t have to look at themselves anymore.”