Article & Photo by Nicole Garneau (Chicago, IL)
My mother, Bonnie, came with me to ROOTS Week for the second time this year. She had a great time singing in the Impromptu Glorious Chorus, watching performances, taking swims, reading books, and sharing mealtime talks with ROOTers.
I invited my mom to ROOTS because she and I have gotten really good at traveling together in her retirement, and I genuinely thought she would enjoy it. I was right. She jumped right into this social justice-artist/activist-summer camp like a pro. Her easy sociability, great smile, commitment to justice, and intellectual curiosity served her well.
On the way home from ROOTS Week last year, she and I had a conversation which I’ve thought about many times since. Over dinner at Boone Tavern in Berea, Kentucky, I finally had a chance to look her in the eye and ask her to reflect on her first ROOTS Week. She laughed and said it was “wonderful” and “great fun.” Then she added, more seriously, that she wished that my father and brothers could see and experience ROOTS Week—because it would help them to understand me.
In that moment, I realized that sharing ROOTS Week with my mother was one of the most efficient and profoundly meaningful ways of allowing her to witness the magnificent, messy, creative, loving, radical reality of my life.
I am incredibly fortunate to know that all of my family members love and support me as a person. I also know that they way I live, make art, work with people, and have fun are really different and sometimes seem incomprehensible to them. Personal and professional achievement in the lives of my brothers looks like it is “supposed” to look: property, houses, committed life partners, good jobs, good salaries, and babies. I am proud of them and their successes.
What I heard my mother saying was that ROOTS Week helps her see me in my natural habitat and understand that where I make sense as a person and a cultural worker is in this world so kaleidoscopically rich in colors, textures, ages, geographies, art forms, and hairstyles that to call it “diverse” sounds banal. She saw me move my body and speak and sing among people who also talk of struggle; people who carry the pains of injustice in their bones and allow themselves to feel those aches; people who insist on speaking hard truths and sitting in the discomfort. My mother saw that at ROOTS Week, when I open my mouth to talk about race, the room does not clear the way it does at family gatherings. She saw that I have found my way to tables where we stay and talk it out through the tears, and she witnessed the way we love and are loved even in this painful dialogue.
Sharing ROOTS Week with my mother has been a deeply healing experience for me. It has woven my actual kin into this marvelous tangle of the roots of ROOTS: the founders, the thinkers, the revolutionaries, the martyrs, the children, the neighborhoods, the tribes, and the communities from which we draw inspiration and give back our best efforts at making a better world.
Nicole Garneau is an interdisciplinary artist making site-specific performance and project art that is directly political, critically conscious, and community building. Nicole has been a member of Alternate ROOTS since 2009. She is currently writing a book about the UPRISING project: 5 years of monthly outdoor performances exploring practices of revolution from 2008-2012. Nicole teaches in Women’s and Gender Studies at DePaul University. She holds a B.A. in Theater from the University of Illinois at Chicago and an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art from Columbia College Chicago. She also teaches a variety of creative workshops, makes ceremonies, and practices healing. Her work is documented at nicolegarneau.com. Follow her on Twitter @nicolegarneau.