Mark Gonzales: Voice of a Global Indigenous Palestine


Truth does not matter for “Israel”. Buttons Do. To mute.


Gonzales is the founder of the Human Writes project, an alliance of artists and community activists dedicated to supporting human rights through multi-media arts.

Al Akhbar English | Amany Al-Sayyed |  February 10, 2012

I’m a poet, an educator, a lover of life and the son of one who worked the fields – Mark Gonzales

As an indigenous people, Palestinians are part of a global identity beyond local geographical borders. Artists from all walks of life who are born and raised under shared conditions of land-displacement continue to speak of Palestine’s influence on their thriving work. On the front lines of this practice is Mexican-American artist in education, poetry, and hip-hop narration, is Mark Gonzales.

On stage at a Beirut conference last month, Gonzalez told the crowd: “In 1975, Hip Hop was born, and so was I.”

From small-town Alaska, Gonzales is born to a French-American mother and a Mexican-American father. He made international acclaim when he first appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and then shared stages with Hip-Hop icons across the globe.

Gonzales is the founder of the Human Writes project, an alliance of artists and community activists dedicated to supporting human rights through multi-media arts.

While a visiting professor at Stanford University, Gonzales has engaged students in critical reflection on geopolitics and power, specifically on how performance creates space to move beyond the dialectic of dominance. Gonzales has audiences in Ethiopia, Iraq, Cuba, and Mexico. He walked by the apartheid wall in Palestine last year while sharing reflective thoughts with Alice Walker, and music with Rim Banna.

Whether in his struggle for a literacy of love against systems of power, or his educational soul that thrives in beats and rhymes, or his mixed pathway as an Alaskan-Muslim-Chicano artist of life, in the end it’s all about “trying to understand myself and how to contribute, the things I dream, love, imagine and have passion for. When I see people evolving, this is what speaks to me. You’re not just participating. You’re taking it.”

During his last visit to Beirut, Gonzalez spoke in depth about his vision and struggles to Al-Akhbar.

Amany Al-Sayyed (AA): How would you describe your line of employment?

Mark Gonzalez (MG): I live.

AA: You’re being poetic.

MG: I think it is important to understand the layers that go into what we say. For instance, why do we go to employment de facto in terms of what we do? Is it because we live in a world in which your value is primarily based on economy, your ability to provide an economic capital to others around you or to yourself?

When I say I live, it’s not necessarily a rejection of a world that puts profit before people. It’s not to negate the necessity of economy. But it’s to say that as a human being who understands that his people have survived not by accident, but by a systematic design that tried to steal away their land, that I say I live. This is the first and foremost responsibility I have to myself, and to my ancestors.

AA: How did you come to Palestine in your work?

MG: I came to Palestine’s right to exist. I think back to 2003 when the US was getting ready to bomb Iraq after it did Afghanistan, or my work in the U.S around deportation of my people, or of Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians during the post 9-11 environment, when their homes were raided in the middle of the night.

This reminds me of the idea of premature death, which is dying at an early age just because of your identity and reality. Why is it that the countries surrounding Afghanistan have a lifespan between 60 to 70, and in Afghanistan around it is 40?

So, my approach to Palestine is its connection to my ancestors in this struggle, in being labeled as “violent” indigenous people, for instance, in being told to carry green cards, yellow cards and live with other color-code systems. There is also the issue of the land upon which the colonial project occurs. So really it’s in seeing how all this experience echoes the experience of my people for the last 500 years

AA: In terms of the colonial project in relation to the peoples’ history, the late Howard Zinn explains how historians always looked at society’s upper crust in order to write “historical truth.” But now the world is beginning to excavate a new kind of history, the one, as noted by Zinn, where everyday people play complicated historical roles. What are your impressions of oral history or on indigenous peoples’ history?

MG: As a global culture of indigenous identity, I think we are finally entering a phase in which we understand the necessity of reclaiming our right to write our own narratives. We have yet, as a global indigenous community, to get to the point where we are intentionally setting up spaces globally to develop the skill sets to tell our narratives

I think people are now understanding that there are power-narratives, that there are ways in which narratives have been used to demonize us for a long time. And we’re now starting to shift into the vision that says whatever your profession or career is as a human being, you still need to know how to tell not only a story, but your story. You need to understand the origins of where this story comes from, and to understand how this story is still being written while you live.

AA: Yes, especially as part of an alternate and multifaceted version of history apart from power-narratives that have once shaped ‘historical truth.’

MG: This is why we help people claim narrative or story when we work in classrooms all over the world. It’s like saying “what’s your family’s story,” “what’s your tribe’s story,” or “what’s your people’s story?” Now, how do these stories compare to what we see in textbooks and movies around us that aren’t written by us? Why do they differ? Is it by accident or by design? How do we cope with that?

Then there are the teachers themselves. Educators in Paris, for instance, who are part of the North African Maghribi population there, are now becoming teachers in high school. They are looking at textbooks used in France and feel that the information is very different from their own lived experience and history. It’s kind of like saying “that’s not what happened to my people, you didn’t discover us”

AA: Indigenous is a word to which Palestinianess belongs. What does the term mean to you?

MG: It means the original people of the area, a historical relationship with the land which is different from the idea of land ownership by deeds and property. A historical relationship means an equal accountability to each other where you provide for the land and the land provides for you. My mother was from the States, her parents were from Canada, their parents were from France. My father was from the States, his father was from Mexico, but when I teach my students I don’t ask them “where are you from?”

You can sometimes be from a place of music, because music is sometimes a place we run and hide to. So am I from Fairouz, am I from Kirk Cobain, am I from Jimmy Hendrix, am I from Tupac. Then, I stop my students and ask them if this is a friendly question.

AA: You mean this is contingent upon place and space?

MG: Yes, it all depends where you are. For some it’s not a friendly question. If the IDF asks you at a check point “where are you from?” – is that a friendly question? Or la migra (Immigration) for Mexicans in the States; in that situation such a question can lead to deportation. And, whether political parties or street crews in our hoods, such a question can get you shot. So I turn to my students and ask them to answer a different question: “where are you going?” “How has land occupation affected you and your dreams in life?”

AA: This reminds me of the Palestinian artist Abed Alrahman Katanani who represents the condition of the refugee camp in Lebanon and its inhabitants who rise above these conditions in order to self-define. Similarly, your work takes the global indigenous genealogy of struggle and embraces it with a positive vision of resiliency.

MG: Yes, with love. When I say love, to me it means the rejection and the absence of abuse, the cultivation of life. It means to dismantle the systems that abuse us.

AA: In your poetry you write: “the educational soul is more than classroom.” How would you describe your classroom memories?

MG: You know I actually liked Math and Science, it was the creativity that drew me to them. Planets, solar systems, how time works, the idea of what we see as stars that are no longer there because it takes so long for light to travel. I was like wow, in the end it all came down to how we teach imagination that encourages us to look at times past in multiple ways.

AA: One might say that peoples’ narrations must be placed within the context of history and politics, so that narratives on Palestine, for instance, must be placed within the context of occupation and land-displacement, otherwise they lose meaning.

MG: Word, but the question that also poses itself is this: “what does it do to your human psyche if the only thing you are reminded of all your life is that which was stolen from you?”

It’s not to say that you’re not from a place, but rather to also say “what else are you?” It is to realize that our people are greater than the factors that have oppressed and murdered them. See, the fact is five-year old children of today are going to way more funerals than acceptable, and often they’re going to see child-sized coffins.

You can say you want to shelter them from this reality, but all you’re doing is not preparing them to step forward as a full human identity.


A Million Stories about the Zionist Rape of This World – in pictures


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