As the sun begins to rise, its rays burst through the pine trees and softly kiss the cheeks of young men of color from across California. The winds sing over and through the mountains to a delicate tune, lifting up branches and sweeping over open fields causing leaves and blades of grass to dance to the melody. Mother Nature is laughing with joy for she often has to search hard to find these young men in concrete jungles and rural flatlands, but on this day she is able to embrace them close to her bosom. She is able to bring them a calm that she is often denied and one that they are rarely afforded. I am in Portola, California at the 4th Annual Sons and Brothers Camp experiencing the development of California’s future and the scene is in color.
Young men line up in an orderly fashion for an early morning breakfast, embracing one another with warm smiles, high fives, daps, and neighborhood hugs. They deepen the strength of this physical embrace by verbally intertwining their language with newly learned teachings from their ancestors. “Breh…ASHE” “…PALABRA…Homeboy” “… to keep it 100…AHO.” The inner city slanguage of today meets the ancestral languages of past. Words quickly combine into sentences to serve their greatest purposes…the expression of commitment, ambition, solidarity and love.
Through the study of language, linguists are able to better understand the evolution of culture and society from the past to the present. But, the ingenuity of the strongest hustla and the verbal acrobatics of the illest MC rarely push us beyond self-damaging realities of the barrio, ghetto, and reservation. If linguists are able to determine the cultural impact of an object, idea, or concept by the use of a word or words that have been created to describe it, we would not need to examine slanguage deeply in order to understand we still have work to do. When it comes to money, we have paper, feddy, cheddar, cheese, scratch, dinero, guac, fedia, ends, and so on. When it comes to marijuana, we have bomb, bud, dank, turtle, hydro, skunk, trees, stress, mota, and so on. When it comes to a derogatory word for our sisters, we have bi*ch, hoe, slut, beezy, skeezer, rachet, tramp, ripper, bop, and so on. But, how many words do we have to describe justice? And, how many words do we have that come close to illustrating the strength, beauty, and intelligence of the women in our lives?
Some of the words like justice lack variations; because, the original word rarely has had the opportunity to be used to describe our environment. We wouldn’t be able to use it to describe most of our schools. We wouldn’t be able to use it to describe most of neighborhood designs. We wouldn’t be able to use it to describe most of our clinics and hospitals. The word justice does not need a new version because the original version has not been used enough to be considered old. And, the fact that our creative power has not brought us to a point where we can describe the intelligence, beauty, and grace of the women in our lives does not surprise me. The media has warped our perception of women so badly that we often transfer that diminished frame of a human being to nearly all women around us. The magic of television and movies often has us use our imagination to see and feel something that does not exist. But, when it comes to women of color, the magic is more of a disappearing act. In effect, the programing has programed.
Our Sons and Brothers Camp has come to an end. The sun will now set in Portola, California without kissing the young men goodnight. The winds will continue to sing as the night grows dark, but we are no longer there to hear the lullaby. We have returned home. For many of us, we have returned to neighborhoods where zip code differentials make the American dream an unseen fantasy or even worse, a nightmare. We have returned to war torn communities that have been devastated by systematic forms of oppression. The streets we reside on are patrolled by police officers who have been trained to see crime and do their best to stop it, not camp counselors who have been trained to see talent and do their best to cultivate it.
We have returned to areas ripe for change. We have returned home where we are most needed. And, we will not be challenged by what we are able to recall from camp, but what we are able to bring back. We will bring back the calm, peace, love, and solidarity. We will place those gifts on the rage, pain, anger and righteous indignation. Since words can be an indicator of a culture, we will move forward with words that demonstrate who we are, have been, and will continue to be.
So today, I put forward the word “Relone.” Relone is a combination of three words and means Respected Loved One. To all my brothers and sisters, when we see one another in the barrios, ghettos, and reservations, never forget the sun will continue to kiss us no matter how subtle the sunset and the wind will continue to sing to us, no matter how quiet the song. And, we will remain in lak’ech. You are my other me. When you hurt, I hurt. When you heal, I heal. So, when you see me, let me hear the slanguage. Say ‘what’s up Relone’ because respect and love is our language.