Power by Pilar Paez, Andrea Moro, Daniel Walsh

Picture accredited to Aldo BlandonVevo via pxhere.com

Power. The ability to perform or act a certain way, particularly as a faculty, meaning an authoritative figure. The word power was originally derived from the Latin word potere, which means “to be able.” Our definition and use of power is much more than to just “be able,” but to exert a large amount of force or to have authority over a person or groups of people. There have been numerous instances where individuals who contain such amounts of power take advantage. This is where the negative connotations of the word begin. No one who is actually sane wants to contain all the power that is possible to have. There are those who do, and use this to their own benefit without the worry of others. Stories such as Zong! exert examples on power within their historical backgrounds. The Transatlantic Slave Trade as well as our days in the Jim Crow laws, to modern day racism are real-life examples that exemplify the abusive nature of these people.  However, on the other hand, a positive side of power is that it has the ability to tell stories for those that cannot or are not ready. This side of power is unique in storytelling and it allows for the author to articulate what might have been lost in history or their own memories. Due to the freedom and ambiguity of storytelling, an author is able to convey ideas of their own or they may represent others. Power is the center of all of these concepts, and here is why. 

In the 15th century, amidst the Transatlantic Slave Trade, wealthy and predominantly white nations wreaked havoc on African societies. An estimated amount of 25 million Africans were forced out of their own country and enslaved into Western along with Arab nations. The forced transportation of these human beings resulted in an extremely uneven division of power among white nations and Africans. Zong!, a collection of found poems written by M. NourbeSe Philip serves as a narrative of the brutal treatment the African slaves faced particularly in 1781. A slave ship under the name of Zong and its crew were found guilty when they claimed they had lost the slaves at sea. In actuality, the crew made navigational mistakes leading them to lose out on various resources. In order to salvage their resources for the rest of the passengers and more importantly, collect the insurance money for ‘lost cargo,’ the crew decided to throw overboard the sick and dying slaves into the treacherous sea. More than 130 lives were lost that day, all because of the slavers’ greed and power over the slaves.

Zong! Page 44

Philip uniquely features the authority of the slavers over the slaves in Africa. By stating the subject of the crew and captain, she introduces other verbs like ‘authorize’ and ‘justify.’ These two words are empowering, and as readers, we can piece together these words to deduce that the crew and captain are the ones with the authority. Since they are higher on the social pyramid, they have the capability to defend their actions, especially when the victims are all lost at sea. 

This tragedy is often left out of historical remembrances and curricula and therefore, the voices of the slaves are forgotten and sometimes never even heard. This is likely due to the fact that the slaves were not seen as human beings, for they were thrown overboard like they were worthless. The names of these slaves will never be recounted on or even remembered, because the slavers held these human beings to the same value as cargo. The only voices that can recount on this traumatic incident are the perpetrators, or the ones with the power to speak. A famous abolitionist known as Granville Sharp attempted to bring charges of murder into the trial of Gregson v. Gilbert. However, the case ignored his pleas and recognized the slaves as merely chattel property: “…neither Captain Collingwood nor those who had helped in the massacre could be charged with murder, since what was destroyed, being property, was not capable of being murdered” (191). 

In an attempt to give the powerless slaves a voice, Philip creates found poems that highlight the despair of the slaves. Again, this merciless act is not often included in curricula, so who is there to speak about this significant, historic event? Philip tackles this task and picks up the responsibility of empowering the slaves’ voices in her found poems. 

Zong! Page 8

Instead of writing long passages about what may have happened in the tragedy, Philip utilizes the structure of found poems. In doing this, Philip emphasizes the idea that there are no proper amount of words or paragraphs to express the agony of the slaves after and during the happening.  Words such as ‘water,’ ‘sea,’ ‘lying dead,’ ‘of months,’ ‘of weeks,’ and ‘of days’ immediately point to descriptions of suffering. She focuses on the words that truly sums up the probable feelings and thoughts of the slaves and allows the reader to piece them together to create his/her/their own narrative. Philip allows the reader to essentially create their own feeling of helplessness and attribute that to the slaves in 1781. This unique style places emphasis on the power of literature, specifically found poems. Thus, Philip speaks on behalf of the helpless slaves, for they have been practically erased from history. 

The incident in 1781 exemplifies the merciless abuses of colonialism, the practice by which a powerful country controls another country or other countries (OED). Not only does power play a part in the relationship between a so-called superior being, but it also relates to the power of literature and storytelling. Dating back to the 15th century, power has been used to enhance voices that have talked enough and silence those that have not talked enough. Philip’s unique style of language in Zong! brings that silence to life while speaking for the lives that were lost in this catastrophic incident due to the overwhelming disparity of power.

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston is a memoir showing the difficulties of growing up in the United States as a Chinese-American. She is caught between the social norms of an American teenager and her Chinese culture, as being Chinese-American often means that one might feel a sense of mis-belonging. Kingston feels that she does not fit into either culture and therefore, feels discourse in her life. In order to compensate for her feelings of alienation, Kingston relies on power to reinforce her self-worth and identity in Chinese culture. Throughout her stories of her childhood, Kingston would start to tell fictional stories that may or may not have been true. She would become a strong, and powerful leader who leads her troops to greater. Kingston marks her sense of empowerment when she states that “I inspired my army, and I fed them. At night I sang to them glorious songs that came out of the sky and into my head” (37). Kingston loved to fantasize about being the most feared but loved warrior that ever walked the earth. This was a major learning experience for Kingston. She learned both about the danger of power through Brave Orchid, and how good it feels to be powerful through her fantasized stories about herself. Understanding the importance of power is critical in analyzing this part of the story. Her life has been a confusing journey between two cultures and her escapism through her stories in The Woman Warrior allow her and the reader to feel the empowerment inside of her. Fantasizing about control and power gave her an outlet to believing her self-worth. 

As instances in Zong! demonstrated possessing too much power, or having absolutely none at all, there are examples seen further in Zong! and The Woman Warrior that reveal the positive side of power, particularly in storytelling. There is not one definition of power due to the various instances it has been seen in. From traditions to historical events to storytelling, power is spread all around and used in different forms whether it is bringing the harsh times of colonialism to light or it is expressing the author’s feelings about her life. With vivid examples such as the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Kingston’s account on her childhood, we have the ability to see how power unfolds in these situations secondhand. It is important to educate ourselves on the many notions that consume our modern day society, as well as literature. Power. 

Works Cited

Kingston, Maxine H. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Childhood among Ghosts

Vintage, 1989.

Philip, M. NourbeSe. Zong! Wesleyan University Press, 2008.

Power (n.). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.etymonline.com/word/power.

OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2019. Web. 21 October 2019.

Giving the word ‘mean’ a new definition

By: Pilar Paez

According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, the definition of mean states to “be unkind, for example, by not letting anybody have or do something (OED). As children, we are told to behave nicely to everybody and treat people with nothing but kindness and respect. We are taught to realize that being mean makes somebody a bad person. Being mean is villainized and is often associated with cases of bullying and harassment. This is a common theme that is reinforced by pop culture and characters designed to fit this trait. However, in her memoir Mean, Myriam Gurba manages to overthrow the trope of the classic mean girl into something more powerful, more respectable, and more relevant to the society we live in. This book provides readers with a different perspective about what being mean can really do and how it can be used as a form of self-preservation.

The classic movie cliché of having a mean girl often involves the girl being selfish, petty, relentless, and spiteful. They often bully or harass others based on a deeper insecurity of theirs or they are simply jealous. This pop culture trope isn’t anywhere near uncommon, as it has been used as an ongoing character idea for ages in various types of genres. Characters such as Regina George from Mean Girls, Sharpay Evans from High School Musical, or Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl best exemplify the typical mean girl in media. As viewers, we are often prone to hating these characters but loving their melodramatic actions and dramatic responses to ridiculous situations. 

In her memoir, Gurba presents a different approach to the mean girl by exposing herself reacting to different situations throughout her life. Her reactions to different experiences are what people may claim to be ‘mean,’ but Gurba proudly recounts these moments. They are precious to her in a way that she is unapologetic for, despite the experiences not going the way she would like them to. While the typical mean girl’s reason for her behavior is usually trivial or even by nature, Gurba urges the reader to see that her meanness stems from issues of oppression and violence against women, people of color, and the queer community. Gurba identifies this approach when she admits that “mean is good too. Being mean makes us feel alive. It’s fun and exciting. Sometimes, it keeps us alive” (16). On my first read of this line, I was super distraught by Gurba’s perspective. I felt it was too dark and a bit unsettling after reading a conversation between Gurba as an innocent child and her father. However, the more I read the book, the more I understand what she means. 

Society is smitten with instances of oppression against people like Myriam Gurba. She recounts on times even dating back to the fifth grade where a ‘Race War’ was happening between the White girls and the Mexican girls. Slurs were thrown around and beatings were sometimes a form a retaliation. And instead of being kind and respectful, Gurba chooses to fight fire with fire and refuse to back down. Unfortunately, the teacher chose to believe the white students over the Mexican students and forced Gurba to apologize to them when they begin to cry. Despite the teachers’ inevitable loyalty to the White girls, Gurba still chooses to retaliate. Another instance of Gurba reacting to her surroundings is on the playground during recess. She has established a club for girls only and refuses to let anybody join in. When a few boys beg to join the club and be included, she is quick to reject them unless they climb to the top of the fence and jump. Looking back at her actions, Gurba is visibly unapologetic when she admits, “I hoped Steve would injure himself and die so that I wouldn’t have to let him into my club. That had been my strategy. To give his sex an insurmountable initiation” (15). Gurba rationalizes her brutality and hardness by explaining her aggressiveness towards the opposite gender as a form of self-defense. She indicates that her meanness is an act of retaliating against the world for its more serious, more violent crimes.

Gurba’s take on the word ‘mean’ offers a new perspective than what we might be used to seeing in literacy, pop culture, or even the media. Her nearly callous self has some similarities with the typical mean girl––such as being relentless––but each of them have their own reasons for behaving the way they do. In Mean, Gurba responds to the attacks of sexism, violence, and oppression against women and reveals her unapologetically brutal self in the process.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you think that at times Gurba went too far with her actions?
  2. What are some similarities between Gurba and the typical mean girl in pop culture?

Works Cited

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2019. Web. 21 October 2019.

An Invasion (of people? or of privacy?)

By Pilar Paez

I wanted to base my found poem after the constantly growing overextension of the U.S. government. My found poem is based off of an article from The New York Times, titled “U.S. Government Plans to Collect DNA From Detained Immigrants,” where it describes actions taken by the government. The administrators of this act, namely Donald Trump, base these actions off of the thought that having the DNA of detained immigrants can help them link together other criminals. As if detaining real people wasn’t enough deterioration the U.S. government plans to use these humans as a tool for investigation and therefore, steal a piece of their humanity.

I picked out significant parts of the article that focused on the infringement of civil liberties in the United States. I wanted to place emphasis on the abuse of authoritative power taken by the government as they are essentially collecting DNA from endangered groups. The government claims they are enforcing the nation’s immigration laws and protecting native-born citizens. However, they are attempting to do this by diminishing the rights of other people, who do not even pose a danger to society. Furthermore, there is no research to support that crime rates are higher among immigrants than native-born citizens. It is groundless to claim that these people are a threat to American society. Ending my poem with the word ‘abuse’ sums up this act by the government, as they are misusing their power for something that does not deserve it.  

Hi! My name is Pilar

I’m a freshman majoring in Speech and Hearing Science at Cortland. I’ve lived in Warwick, NY (Orange County) my whole life and I have 3 older brothers and a pet dog that i miss very much. I love to take pictures, go to concerts, play soccer, hike, and just hang out with my friends. I absolutely love to travel, and my current favorite city is Nashville in Tennessee. I’m excited to meet all of you this semester and have a good time!