Espiritu De Mama Dee - The Roadtrip:Eldership, Ancestor Worship, Interactive Art honoring Mama Dee (Gray) of POOR Magazine

POOR correspondent - Posted on 23 June 2010

Friday, May 19, 2006;

Before Mama Dee,an African Puerto Rican and Irish orphan from the north side of Philadelphia, had passed, she told me that she never wanted to be buried in the ground, she, coming from a long line of poor women who didn't even have money for a burial plot. In fact, in a post-modern hindu-cum-chrisburden-cum-live-art performance, my mama wanted her body to be attached to the top of our car and driven around for a year.

The struggle to come up with a ceremony/tribute that would please my mama's spirit was crucial as I, like my mama, ascribe to and follow indigenous family values of interdependence and collectivity rather than western capitalist notions of separation and independence, and actively practice eldership, ancestor worship and ancestor veneration. These beliefs mean that it is very important that one listen to the wishes of your ancestors and follow their instructions, as their contentment in this life is as important as their contentment in the next life.

After discussing mummification with Po'Poet and Poverty Scholar, Auntie Jewnbug, and other options with a few of my mothers closest friends I was convinced that my mama's spirit would be ok with cremation as long as her ashes would be taken on a lengthy road-trip laced with art, humor and wild-ness befitting my wild and crazy, hella ghetto, artist/activist mama. I asked a family friend/metal artist to create a kinetic sculpture which incorporated all the wonderfulness of my mama and the things she would want to take with her to the Other Side to place her ashes in and attach to the top of our car. This was the Lucky Po'Cats Urn.

With the Urn finished we had the official San Francisco road-trip send-off at UN Plaza On March 24th.

The Launch at UN Plaza

The rain pounded down on the red brick floor of an eerily quiet UN Plaza at 6:00 pm. Subscribers, Community Support Members, Conscious Politicians, Poverty Studies Interns, Po'Poets and Poverty Scholars alike huddled under a drooping blue tarp slightly affixed to the lift-back door of the POOR Magazine Van.

As befitting Mama Dee it was a multi-media interactive ceremony, including some video clips from her powerful MedinAction pieces, spoken word and poetic testimonies from several of Dee's students and men tees as well as words of solidarity from POWER members, and Po'Poets. The night concluded with a song sung by me and Tiburcio in honor of my rhythm, music and song making mama.

The next morning we traveled to Sacramento to visit one of my mama's best friends; Gerry Ambrose a mama, grandmamma, poverty scholar and San Francisco gentrification survivor, and her several children and grandchildren.

Other than a strange encounter on the way back with my son, a friends's son and Chucky Cheeses Pizza Palace, it was an uneventful and peaceful trip.

Espiritu de Dee Road trip Part 2- The Los Angeles Journey

{Bee Gees Stayin' Alive}

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I'm a woman's man, no time to talk. Music loud and women warm. I've been kicked around since I was born. And now it's all right, it's O.K. And you may look the other way. We can try to understand The New York Times' effect on man.

Whether you're a brother Or whether you're a mother, you're stayin' alive, stayin' alive. Feel the city breakin' And ev'rybody shakin' And we're stayin' alive, stayin' alive. Ah, ha, ha, ha, Stayin' alive. Stayin' alive.

It had been raining for 40 days and 40 nights. Drops of icy water glided down the soft windshield. The fleshy rubber wipers caressed its surface. If you only looked once the 4 foot tall golden lucky cat urn that held mama dees carefully wrapped cremated remains seemed to be gazing down from its mount on top of the POOR Magazine van.

It was 9:00 am Friday, March 31st, Cesar Chavez day, and me, Dee's daughter, and tiburcio, her grandson and friends embarked on El Espiritu de Mama Dee Road trip.

But to tell the now story I need to tell the before story- which began many years ago when my homeless Mama and I drove Beverly Hillbillys style up from La to San Francisco with all our belongings on the top of our car.

The original drive up from LA took 7 days and 7 nights. I heard once that it took seven days and seven nights to create the world. So maybe me and my mom were really re-creating the world instead of just driving to the Bay Area from Los Angeles.

It was in this trip that the Dee and Tiny myth began, i.e. life imitating art imitating life, tragedy becoming reality, becoming performance, becoming art, or maybe just a really long miserable drive. My mother hated driving, even if she wasn't the actual driver, she just hated being in the car for more than two hours at any time.

And then because we really weren't sure of our destination, and we had no home and no clear prospect of where to go my mother would consider each and every corporate California freeway stop as a possible town to reside in. One such town was Pea soup Andersons

"I wonder what life here would be like", she proclaimed one day, her spoon wading through a green pile of green mush.

"Where?" I asked, shocked that she could be considering a motel known for its pea soup and pea soup accoutrements as an actual home, which is why we included pea soup Andersons as a stop on the Espiritu de Dee road trip- which is also when things started getting strange.

Whether you're a brother Or whether you're a mother, You're stayin' alive, stayin' alive. Feel the city breakin' And ev'rybody shakin' And we're stayin' alive, stayin' alive. Ah, ha, ha, ha, Stayin' alive. Stayin' alive.

After we pulled into the pea soup store/restaurant motel conglomerate and sat down to consume a pea filled lunch my son jumped out of his chair and ran to see some random thing in the dining room – in the process he bumped his head on a chair and began bleeding profusely from his forehead. I rushed him to the bathroom where a nurse just happened to be standing with her adult daughter who proceeded to create a butterfly bandage out of paper towels and saved my son from an emergency room visit. After we sort of recovered from our Carrie movie experience at the pea soup store– The lucky cat urn and us re-entered highway five.

Within minutes on the highway we heard a knocking coming from the roof..(pop popop pop pop pop!!!) We looked up and suddenly a piece of the very securely fastened urn had jumped off of the roof of the car and hopped into the freeways middle grassy lane.

Mama Dee did always want to see how it would be to live in pea soup Andersons

Further Down Highway 5

120 miles later down highway 5 as we coasted out of the grapevine again--we heard a deep scary sounding knock. This time it was coming from the engine (knock knock knock)

we barely made it off the freeway into a town called Valencia. It was 5:55 pm on a Friday and we were supposed to be arriving in LA in one hour for Mama Dee's ceremony on Venice Beach. It didn't look good. Within minutes we found out the car, as someone said, was toast, irreparable, useless, over--and that's when we met Sal in the parking lot of WALMART. Sal is short for Salvador, which means savior in Spanish, "Hey guys", he said as he approached the car, "do you need help?"

For no good reason at all except that he knew we needed help – Sal agreed to drive us the 45 miles to LA in his car so we could carry out mama Dee's ceremony with a rented car in La - we found out later that Sal was a user friendly coyote helping families and friends over the border just cause he thought he should help as many people in the world as he could muster- Sal was the kind of direct service provider my mama Dee would have loved.

Due to our midnight arrival in LA That night's ceremony was canceled. After much debating about what to do and whether to abort the whole project. I realized I had no will in this process and again consulted with many of my mamas friends in La. They urged us to keep on going.

So at midnight with the help of Sal we attached the lucky cat urn to a rented car and drove to Venice Beach.

The next morning the sun was shining. The first day of sun after so many days of rain. Shining in the morning glare, attached to a budget rent a car the lucky cat urn pulled into the Venice Beach parking lot where me and my mother had lived, housed and un-housed, made art and community for many years of her life.

The moral of the story; always listen to your ancestors wishes. You see the night of the 31st I had invited a close friend of mine that mama Dee had always clashed with because she didn't respect her mother or her elders. This friend was unable to make the Saturday ceremony due to a scheduling conflict.

...And of course my mama did need to take a car with her into the next life.

Stayin' alive. Stayin' alive. Ah, ha, ha, ha, Stayin' alive.

Ancestor worship in some cultures seeks to honor the deeds, memories, and sacrifice of the deceased. Much of the worship includes visiting the deceased at their graves, making offerings to the deceased to provide for their welfare in the afterlife. For instance, a toothbrush, comb, towel, slippers, and water are provided by the coffin so that the deceased will be able to have these items after they have died. Spirit money (also called Hell Notes) is sometimes burned as an offering to ancestors for the afterlife. In many Asian funeral ceremonies a car is given to the deceased to take to the to next life.

The living may regard the ancestors as "guardian angels" to them, perhaps in protecting them from serious accidents, or guiding their path in life.

In Shinto belief, "Ancestorhood" is a state of being that everyone can attain upon death.


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