The Politics of Self Love

By Temicamatl

I was politically weaned on the notion that self love or love of self was…well–selfish. It was considered “gabachado” – something that hippies who did yoga talked about or something that Oprah promoted to upper middle-class white women on her TV show. The idea being that any moment of one’s life not given to La Causa was a waste of time and that anyone overly engaged in selfish behavior (self care) epitomized the liberal idea of self and self interest. In retrospect, what I have come to realize is that most of those advancing this idea were men, some of whom had long been active in the Chicano Movement, or men close to my age who looked up to them as mentors. What many of the elders also had in common was that they were not really responsible for anyone. Many were divorced, had been through multiple marriages, or were single. Their children often rejected their politics and thus were not activists, dated white folks, practiced conspicuous consumption and, ironically in many ways, were the anti-thesis of what these elders claimed to represent. As a younger person, this contradiction was always perplexing.

My days as a member of MEChA were surrounded by this cloud. While we didn’t take it as far as many of the original MEChistas did by dropping out of the university to serve the community (as many realized that was a mistake and ran counter to advancing educational access), we held one another accountable on the slightest indiscretions against La Causa. Anything purchased that was new and visible was called into question. Any time spent partying, going dancing, going to a football game, or engaging in many things college-age folks did was considered selling out or time wasted. Even time spent with our families was called into question by some – although personally that was where I, unapologetically, drew the line in spite of any criticism. In some ways, in spite of our contribution to the Causa, many of us lost ourselves and certainly a portion of our youth. That said, we did collectively make some significant contributions, some of which have been historically documented, and when considering those factors it is difficult to have regrets.

Yet, and if I may be a bit personal here, I did give up some significant things, a few of which I will mention that come to mind as I write this. I changed my career path. My dreams of being a sports journalist or high school teacher/footbalI coach I thought of as not “down” enough. I did not study abroad, as I had always wanted, because I did not want to spend time away from the Movement. I clashed with and lost many friends over politics as I tried to convince them that we all needed to be “down” for our gente. I never partied or went dancing, and I stopped going to football games (a sport I always and still do have an affinity for in spite of its hypermasculinity). Now of course some of these things may seem silly to mention and perhaps even the rantings of a spoiled college kid, but to a young person they were kind of important; they were, in some ways, lost memories. Of course, at the time we argued – well there are children starving all over the world and people our age literally fighting in wars against oppression —and we’re pampered comparatively, even though most of us were working class and going into debt to earn our degrees, it was hard to argue against those points. We policed each other.

All that aside, the most important thing that happened was that I stopped working out and being active in sports as I had been my entire life until that point at a great cost to my long-term overall health and something from which I am still recovering and trying to be better about. This was my biggest mistake – my inability to recognize the political significance of Self Love.

As a graduate student, I had the fortunate opportunity to teach a Chicana/o History course at my alma mater and attended a MEChA meeting to promote the class. I was taken aback at the overall tone of the meeting. First of all, most people were smiling, laughing even and seemed generally happy to be there. The first order of “business” in the meeting was to turn to the person on one’s left and “say something nice about him/her.” I almost fell out of my chair. This would NEVER have happened at one of our meetings. The kindness and tenderness of what was shared in the subsequent moments I could only describe as sweet. The roughly 25 or so students each seemed to be conscious of one another as people and as genuine friends; not merely sizing one another up as political allies or antagonists as we had been prone to do. This was a new generation, and they were conscious about the need to Love each other. They spoke at length about the importance of getting in studying time and being “social” as a way to build community.

Fortunately, activist circles I have engaged in have changed over time. People speak freely about self-care as a revolutionary act; not as “time wasted” or exhibiting a lack of consciousness. Admittedly, I am still catching up to these conversations, which stand in contradistinction to the mentorship I received and paradoxically I find most alive in feminist/queer/environmentalist circles. Even then, for all my renewed “consciousness” on the matter, I still at times fall back onto old thoughts about “self” and “selfishness” and police my behavior accordingly. However, in reality, decolonial or discolonial movement(s) must take on a discourse that promotes self-love, self-care and healthy and active living. We cannot advance a social justice agenda if we in fact are not here (literally) to do so. People of color, women, migrants and workers are all targets for promulgating self-hatred, whether through advertisements promoting white-washed anorexic ideals of “beauty” or public discourse about the root causes of the economic crisis (i.e. brown migrants and workers’ rights) or our bodies serving as sites of corporate class warfare in the world of 59-cent hamburgers (see McDonalds) vs $3 organic heads of lettuce.

We need to learn to fully incorporate an agenda of self care and self Love that decolonizes our minds, spirits and bodies and we need to LOVE one another while doing so.