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Alba Isabel Lamar is fed up. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Lamar can trace her family’s migration across America, starting in Ecuador. She said she grew up learning “afro-indigenous culture” and at a young age was already resistant to “the culture of the white man.”
Lamar, 34, came to Michigan four years ago to get her Ph.D. in curriculum instruction and teacher education at MSU. She’s traveled in practically every region of the U.S., integrating art with history lessons. She said Michigan was probably the most difficult transition noting that “91.6% of teachers in Michigan are white women.”
I caught up with the youth educator while she was at a conference in Minneapolis participating in a workshop and assembly called “Black Lives Matter at School.”
What is your favorite mode of self-expression?
Writing is my main form of self-expression. I also do photography, make jewelry, sew and play piano and guitar. Collage is a common artform for me since developing carpal tunnel and ulnar palsy in the last five years. It’s easier on my hands to do collage sometimes than other art forms. Doing art is part of my personality – it’s who I am and have always been. Also, I have forms of auditory-tactile, mirror-touch and lexical-gustatory synesthesia — which makes my senses overlap and increases my desire to map out how my senses intersect.
You say you are indigenous to America but isn’t Ecuador technically in South America?
Do you know why the Olympics has five rings? It’s because most of the world sees five continents. That’s just an American thing. Australia is not split. We call it Oceania because New Zeeland is in there, Tahiti is in there.
The funny thing too is those are all colonial words — North, Central and South America. We actually call this land Abya Yala, which best translates to “land of vital blood.” It’s from the Guna language. Every tribe basically had different words for this land, but in the last 20 years there was a really big movement — among native people in Latin America and Canada — to establish what we call this land.
To us, no offense to people who call it Turtle Island, it’s ugly. Why put those words on us that don’t come from the land? Even our names were put on us. Our original last name is not Lamar. The colonizers put that on us because we were from the sea.
Can you walk me through your piece?
It has been 50 years of the first moon landing and every photograph I’ve seen that marks the occasion centers the U.S. flag. There was outrage about the 2018 “First Man” film which did not depict the U.S. flag during the moon landing and many folks blew up over social media about its absence.
The cloth cut-outs of stars, flowers and the moon were chosen to half taunt at the superficiality and or elitist perspectives that the U.S. should be central to any and every great accomplishment.
The lively artificiality of the colors was were meant to be sharply contrasting to the serious occasion of claiming property. The four-leaf clover is often viewed as symbols of good luck in some cultures. The symbol for luck has become a regular icon on SpaceX’s — a launchpad for rockets located at the north end of Cape Canaveral, Florida — flight patches ever since the company’s first successful Falcon 1 launch in 2008. I just thought it appropriate to consider luck as contradictory to the millions of dollars actually invested in the completion of successful missions — never mind the costs and deterioration of Pachamama — Kichwa for Mother Earth.
Do you think we should celebrate the Fourth of July?
I’m a little bit left in that I don’t believe we should be celebrating the Fourth. It should be more of a Juneteenth activity where we are being mindful of what that means. Like who is this freedom for? What is it about?
For instance, I was just at the airport in Orlando. At the entrance of the airport, they have that famous painting with the founding fathers and the flag.
So, if you literally didn’t know what that was, say you are new to the country, all you are going to see are older white dudes — literally zero people of color.
So, it’s like, “Oh, that’s what this land is?”
It just really discounts the fact that there are people who have been here forever like me — my family has been on this land forever. And it discounts the people that were brought here to work this land and built it. So, all of that is missing in the Fourth of July dialogue. It’s all about freedom from the Imperialist nation of England, but there are layers of colonization that have not been discussed enough.
Describe an act of patriotism.
The truest act of patriotism requires the relinquishing of power and dismantling hierarchical systems that consolidate wealth and oppresses any citizen. To be a true patriot, love, above all else. Fighting for social justice is actual patriotism.
Call for cover art submissions:
The cover of City Pulse can’t get pretty on its own. This summer, City Pulse, as it has done for the last three years, will feature work from local artists on the cover for the next eight issues. Anyone who lives in Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties may submit to the “Summer of Art” contest. Individuals will be notified if their work has been selected. Additionally, the cover artist must donate their original artwork to the Arts Council’s Young Creatives Program. Artists will be compensated 30% of the auction price.
Pieces submitted must be scalable to 9.5 inches by 6.5 inches. Artwork will be accepted on a rolling basis up to Aug. 15. Original artwork can be submitted to lansingarts.slideroom.com. For more information, please call (517) 372-4636.