Cassandra Andrusz-Ho Ching is a Ph.D. candidate at the University at Albany in the Latin American, Caribbean and U.S. Latino Studies department. She is writing her dissertation on Latinx resistance and food equity in the Capital Region.
Her favorite writers are Gloria Anzaldua, Esmeralda Santiago, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, J.R.R Tolkien and Diana Gabaldon. Her favorite recently read books include Freedom Farmers by Monica White, Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay and More Together Than Alone by Mark Nepo.
The Power Between Words and Pages
By Cassandra Andrusz-Ho Ching
Power, specifically the abuse of it, can easily become normalized or accepted as “the way things are.” Artistic written works, literature, offers readers the opportunity to rethink or reconsider power, within society and even within themselves.
The written word materializes ideas. Ideas spark questions, reflection, inquiry, discussion and debate all practices that undermine power.
In a socio-cultural and political context, power is the ability of an individual to influence the actions or behavior of others, it can be positive or negative depending on how it’s used and where it comes from. In capitalist societies, today, defined by financial, socio-cultural and political crisis, power acts as a zero-sum game, meaning if one person gains power someone else has lost it
This individualistic understanding contributes to power as evil, bad or unjust, a top down approach, when in fact power can contribute to the public good and benefit society. If someone gives up power or is oppressed by another, it does not mean they are left without. Power is relational, constantly circulating and changing with circumstance.
Reese Leyva writings have been published by The Urban Howl and Her Heart Poetry, and her poem Remember, Woman has inspired passion and ferocity in women all across the globe.
For instance, as a graduate student, I am burdened with extreme school debt, high cost of living, and an insecure job market. At times, I feel powerless, unable to control or influence my future, my career and financial well-being. It can be easy to assume Wall Street, the banks, the education and political institutions have all the power, designing and benefiting from a system where students are left paying oppressive loans. A seemingly never ending cycle of repayment or financial servitude to “those with power.”
I may not have financial freedom or security but as a grad student and instructor, I influence other students and faculty, I lead and organize community events and conduct research. All activities that empower me to make change and positive transformation in my life and community. Like, how just one book, one poem can affect huge change in someone’s thought process or life.
French theorist Michel Foucault explains power is dispersed and pervasive, it is everywhere and comes from everywhere, so in this sense power is neither an agency nor a structure. (Foucault 1998: 63) He challenges the assumption that power is wielded by people or groups through acts of oppression or domination, arguing power is not fixed or belonging to an institution but always influx.
To write is power, to exert and influence events, people, narratives or conversations and decide what is important, whose story to tell or show, but also what to exclude or ignore. The written word, can empower people, inspire those who may be marginalized or oppressed under social norms. However, the written word can also reinforce authoritarian, repressive and cruel forms of power, through mediums like fake news, Russian derived Facebook posts or corporate controlled infotainment.
But, thankfully, more often than not, literature offers a reevaluation of life, ourselves and our actions or lack thereof. It can help us communicate and remember the importance of, and value of community, despite the promotion of individualistic practices and isms that push hate. Literature can help remind us to appreciate and celebrate each other confirming and reaffirming our shared humanity.
Author Mark Nepo explains, “the word community contains unity, our possibility is rooted in the very word, it is waiting for our effort and care to animate what we have in common.” Literature is one way to communicate, to share our understandings, learn new perspectives, reflect on experiences we have in common. It builds empathy, compassion and emphasizes the importance deeper consideration to the complexities of us, people and our lives.
So, when I start to forget the power we each hold within us or the potential of community, I turn to literature. It is a refuge, one that encourages revitalization and inspiration to move forward and tackle struggles, sadness or stress, knowing I am not alone and that it can be done.
In taking the time and energy to read a book a relationship forms, a bond with that writer and their words, ideas and perspective. You then become a filter of that wisdom(s), interpreting the text, deciding what to think and how to use it.
A newly discovered poem that I use in my life it titled Remember Woman by Reese Leyva. Her words help me to recollect myself, my thoughts and strength. Leyva reminds us what and who we come from and what we have done. She reminds us we are all loved and flawless from the start despite what the world, society or pop culture tells us. She reminds us of our shared experiences as women and our legacy of power.
by Reese Leyva
Remember, Woman, you were born
life giver, miracle creator, magic maker.
You were born with the heart of a thousand mothers,
open and fearless and sweet.
You were born with the fire of Queens and conquerors,
warriorness blood you bleed.
You were born with the wisdom of sages and shamans,
no wound can you not heal.
You were born the teller of your own tale,
before none should you kneel.
You were born with an immeasurable soul
reaching out past infinity.
You were born to desire with passion, abandon,
and to name your own destiny.
Remember, Woman, remember
you are more than you can see.
Remember, Woman, remember
you are loved endlessly.
Remember, Woman, your power, and grace,
the depth of your deep sea heart.
Never forget you are Woman, divine,
as you have been from the start.
When I think of power, I think of resistance. I think of two sides of the same coin, a constant ever changing push pull relationship, inextricably linked in varying forms and intensities. Power and resistance can be subtle acts, worked into daily conversations, normalized, as well as operate as direct, visceral and overt practices. As power is experienced by everyone in different ways, resistance thus responds in distinctively, creating practices and acts unique to the pressures one feels.
Resistance is an act situated in certain time, space and within certain socio political, cultural and economic sets of relations (Lilja, Schulz and Vinthagen, 2016) It does not stand alone, resistance builds on the material left by other rebels, their stories, myths, symbols, structures and tools available in that situation. (Tilly, 1991) Leyva highlights this touching upon herstory of women and using both the spoken and written words to pass on this knowledge.
New forms of resistance, like poetry, connect to old forms by using them as a stepping stone, translating existing elements and recombining with what is available today. (Vinthagen 2006) Leyva is using the past to resist the single stories of women in society today.
She challenges narratives or assumptions that say women are not good enough, not strong enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not girly enough, not brave enough, not sexy enough, not ________ enough. You fill in the blank.
Resistance does not solely involve opposition, destruction or conflict. It can also be beautiful and creative, like poetry, music, film and art. It can be shared and crafted through small or individual every day acts, practices or larger movements in response to existing institutions and power dynamics.
The act of resisting the assumed normal, the status quo, reforms power. Literature plays a role in this process as a tool, a bridge, a mirror, a refuge, a weapon, medicine and beyond. It is filled with alternative voices, perspectives and herstories of power. Resistance stretches and challenges the limits of power, the status quo and in that act, in a poem, empower another.