i’ve been attending Writers’ Hour almost every morning since mid-November. it is a supportive space to come to weekday mornings to “either do nothing or write. ” having this group and routine has encouraged me to have discipline around writing like never before in my life and has helped me write more than 100,000 words toward a book i’m working on. every morning, the hosts share an inspirational quote. generally they’re by other authors encouraging us to bloom into our writing and are a little snack to get us going. however, today’s quote landed differently for me: today’s “words of wisdom” came from james clear, author of a new york times bestseller, and i’ll share my responses.
“Italy is known for tomatoes. Thailand for chilies. Germany for sauerkraut.
But tomatoes originated in Peru. Thailand imported chilies from Central America. Sauerkraut started in China.
Everything is a remix—and the world is better for it. Share what you know. Learn from others.” – James Clear, as shared in Writers’ Hour, Apr 26, 2021
THIS SHIT PISSES ME OFF. how a lie can pass as truth. how these seemingly innocent, *white* lies serve to manipulate and eventually serve a violent, extractive, historically inaccurate status quo. anger bubbles from my chest through my throat and is transformed into rapid keystrokes.
first, tomatoes are from mexico. which is to say that indigenous people here on the land currently known as mexico cultivated an intentional, multi-generational relationship with this plant in these soils to produce what is now known as jitomate or tomato. these relationships are not ignorable or irrelevant. the existence of italian tomato sauce is due to thousands of years of human relationship with this plant — but not any humans, and not in any place. indigeneity matters. roots matter. that this work was done in a specific place by specific people matters. and to ignore that is to ignore the sacred, to ignore history, to erase relationship.
second, the reason these fruits arrived to italy was through a process of intended (and failed) genocide, a process that killed millions of people and affects their surviving descendants to this day. this pomodoro pasta dish is not free of its heritage of violence, rape, destruction, desecration. let us not forget that christopher colombus, one of the first people to set foot upon this land as a colonizer, was of italian descent. that next to his tomb in sevilla, spain, there is still a “treasure room,” full of stolen gold, locked away within the walls of the church.
finally, the construction of this lie is not only of direct and convenient benefit to its author (a man who gains his wealth from writing), but also serves to further justify appropriation en masse. appropriation, as i’ve come to understand it, is a cutting off from the roots. yoga practiced as exercise, a series of stretches completely disconnected from a deep spiritual tradition. indigenous community-made textiles stolen and sold to be marketed as fashion. your remixing is not inherently innocent, nor necessarily of benefit to the world. some remixings perpetuate harms that began on this landmass currently known as “america” (also an italian namesake) 500 years ago.
as a writer (and as a human), i am angry that “truth” seems to not mean anything anymore. that a few select people have been granted power by a fictional worldview and thus can proclaim lies as truth. some of these lies-masquerading-as-truths are deadly. that “truth” that indigenous people no longer exist supports continued exploitation of land and labor to fuel an ongoing colonial process of development. that “truth” that Black people are a threat maintains a population captive for 500 years, under penalty of death by simply driving, walking, even while sleeping.
so no, james clear, i will not remix. i will not mix and match where it serves me in convenience. i understand the power i have been granted by these oppressive systems that would allow me to cut the fruit from its root and i reject that power. instead, we must seek another way. we must seek a truth with roots. we must seek to return to our own roots and tend to them.