Youth Poet-Laureate Embraces Creole and Jewish Heritage
Since I was young, I have pondered the social connotations of my blackness and my Jewishness in a divided society and how to embrace the beauty of my identities. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area under the guidance of two socially aware and cognizant parents, one who is a Louisiana Creole Catholic and one who is a biracial Ashkenazi Jew.
As I developed along with my youthful curiosity, I found a troubling unease with the tension between my racial and religious identities. I did not understand why my sway to theHine Ma Tov, occasional davening (praying) in tear-filled pleas to Hashem (G-d), and my routine vocalization of old gospel songs was not represented elsewhere in mainstream society. As a young child, it is quite difficult to grow into yourself when there are minimal examples of your experiences and perspectives broadcasted around you.
Growing up in a black, interfaith family has provided a fair share of self-exploration and contemplation. In search of answers and satisfaction, I delved deep into the two faiths in order to settle myself in mental and religious stability. As I appreciate all of the stories, lessons and attitudes ingrained within me, which molded my well-rounded and accepting view of the world, Judaism is where my heart flourishes.
The blend of my African American and Ashkenazi Russian ancestry serves as a roaring vehicle fueling the rise of my fist against intolerance and complacency. I hear the stories of my great-great-grandmother who escaped war-torn Russia for refuge in a new nation. I internalize the tales of my paternal grandparents moving from the South to California after experiencing an overwhelming reality of racial prejudice. I do not have the privilege to be an ambassador for sideline activism, for I see television news stories highlighting the bodies of my black brothers and sisters as unpatriotic and worthy of annihilation. I fear the final hour of a fellow friend or family member encountering the fury of the police and snatched from this world.
My Magen David (Jewish star), strung around my neck, is my symbol of defiance. My natural hair is a resistance against the chemicals attempting to burn away my heritage. Kippah , Yiddish tongue and Black Panther hoodie dress my rebellion against anti-Semitism, anti-blackness and inequality. They are reminders of the promise to continue my fight for those struggling today and the next generations. For the future revolutionaries, I continue to speak, to pray, pronounce my poetry as a mechanism for healing and a dialogue against the dangers of the day. I balance our bonds upon my fingers and hands as they awaken the sky.
I have no other choice than to demand the disruption of institutionalized enslavement, subjugation, social degradation and second-class citizenship. The true colors of America have been revealed in the 2016 US presidential election, showing the hidden racism embedded in our nation’s extensive history. We cannot stand amongst this alone, borrowing posters and phrases for a singular period of time, or participate in one protest or a march with an unspecific message. Our safety is on the line.
There are synagogues and black churches finding bullets shot through stained-glass windows and pews, small pellets originating in the hands of heinous hearts. I have grown too close to Torah to toss its messages of service and kinship away in the name of fear or doubt. Broken down before rabbinical text, I plead for answers to descend into my Kiddushcup so I may drink the wisdom brought forth to me. I realize now that we will not be handed simple facts or endearing conclusions to injustice, as the world has been engulfed in the flames of animosity.
The privilege to speak, to be able to mount my voice as the Youth Poet Laureate of Oakland is a great responsibility. As a Jewish poet of color, I believe it is my duty to unravel stories and magnify their concealed truths. No one will fight for us but us. No one will stand against the poison of bigotry but the masses of our souls. I will not shriek and hide, for this nation was built on the backs of my people.
The Russian immigrants and Creole workers in my blood bring me to the stage, to the classroom, to the streets, to the page, as their strength is the fire I rip through stanzas with. I will not pardon the presence of a ruthless tyrant holding orders in my face. I stand undisputedly whole in community with the young poets, artists, and change makers of the Bay Area, those enhancing their unbroken promises of resistance against the common order. I am not alone in this time of terror for the Lord knows this is not the beginning, and surely not the end. The cost for abolition plasters its risk on my window and walls when I wake up in the morning. I know that I may not live amongst the day of released breaths and street strolls that require no side-eye in suspicion of the oppressor, but there is no other greater mission I would rather serve.
Regardless of our backgrounds or beliefs, we must continue to recite, present and demonstrate our stories in order to inspire others to battle against injustice. We can never forget our history and the hardships our ancestors went through in order for us to exist today. There is no reason to be satisfied because if one person is threatened, we all are. We must restore humanity and end the warfare on marginalized people.
By: Tova Ricardo
you’ve got more menace on your mind
than what reads on the fine print.
searching children you classify
as malicious maniacs,
first and foremost before you ask their name.
plaster masks of innocence
on ignorant fixtures,
dictators with crooked mouths,
driven by licked lips of entitlement.
the culture of colors always in sight,
despite quotes of pigment blindness.
we’re still finding confederate and klan
hidden underneath the soft skin of so called accepting people,
who truly see us as nothing more than malicious maniacs,
locking us up like cage monsters,
dismissing the elephant in the courtroom
for when trial rolls around,
y’all close the door.
suspicious speech isn’t verbalized in front of tarnished victims
but guilty, milky eyes connect with jurors and their conscious
when decisions are forged.
nobody’s got time for monkey business
nobody’s got time for shot down teenage black boys disrupting the peace.
they have had enough of brown babies,
soaking in pure white layers.
they had enough of it.
I feel vulnerable,
because my Jew curls
and Afro are under attack.
and yesterday’s shootings are nuisances
to copy machine houses.
I feel vulnerable,
because racial genocide is at today’s high
because they’re calling us names
that we’ve historically despised
I feel vulnerable,
because evil led thoughts are taught
in the bureaus and suburbs,
promoting mental containment
we feel vulnerable,
when beast boys are connected with black boys
when black boys can’t be proud to be black
I feel vulnerable,
because I hear that Hashem only listens to the daily shemas of white Hasids
because my existence to the majority
I’m not holding your hand
to make it to the promise land
I’m just trying to survive
I don’t have the strength to climb
down the mountain every day.
you think you understand how the world works
how children in tough situations think,
how blood spills down our knees
and our ziet ziets.
your judgement of normality here
close minded while you smack us
on our backsides.
you’ll never understand.
you’ll never understand
you’ll never understand
the brown kid with a hamsa,
the mighty collage of wrinkled curls
and cocoa butter swirls through our braids.
even as we are used as your textbook,
you never truly retain the information.
so as a much needed lesson,
I shall inform you now that,
we are not yours to touch!
my curls are not yours to touch!
my hamsa is not yours to touch,
our yamakas are not yours to touch.
you don’t touch my skin,
racism comes from deep within
and is masked with the picture perfect face of hypocrisy.
you don’t know my pain,
being stared at in temple because of my pigment
I am my mother’s child
Israel sees me.
I will no longer be a shriveled up being,
pacing through synagogue with my hands over my brown face,
peeling away my pieced together state
with commandments of critics on my cracking back.
starving essential parts of my heart
as I witness continuous shootings with holy darts,
aiming their toxicity towards the complexities of my identity
a jew with Magen David
and a black body for it to lay on
my name is not sacrificial soul
I refuse to part my identity
as Moses parted the sea.
this curly nest upon my head
is pure with colors and cultures of many lands,
so I’m sorry if you feel that you’re bland,
but I am not yours to touch
I just want to finish this day
look how your holy water burned my skin
I just want to finish for them,
for those who look like me
who’ve got David’s might
hailed rainbow light from Adonai
for every night you fight
to every yamaka and Afro hidden out of sight