Karissa Lang: New People

Chinese ancestral worship postcard postmarked Shanghai 1908. Source: worthpoint.com

We all descend from someone ancient, and contrary to what is generally believed in the West, they never leave us. Whether you are mystical or logical in nature, the idea sticks. For the former, ancestors spiritually guide us from beyond the grave. For the latter, science now dictates that we genetically inherit their memories and phobias. Either way, an ancestor is someone who passes on information—be it through stories, values, behavior, DNA, or supernatural means—and what distinguishes a good ancestor from a bad one is the quality of this information: a good ancestor hands down wisdom, a bad one gifts us with their pain.

My mother is a bad ancestor and her mother was a bad ancestor too​, a​nd if I can’t be a good one, I’d at least like to be better. I come from a lineage of mothers who did not want children. Mean women, selfish women, indifferent women who resented where they came from and had no idea how to nurture what they’d created. Women who buried their aborted babies in the backyard. Women who abandoned their children to others. Women who raged without really knowing why. Absent women who felt unwanted and unloved and unconsciously groomed every last one of their descendants to experience the same.

These women were the product of two races of people robbed of their sense of identity and place—those stolen from their homes and enslaved, those separated from their land and put on reservations—both forced to abandon generations of knowledge and tradition for the erroneous belief that who they were, what they knew, and how they lived, didn’t matter. Their traditions, languages, ceremonies, and family structures were destroyed. They moved forward as best as they could, they preserved what they could, but so much was obviously lost. And by the time I came along, there wasn’t much of us left. I was never taught how to unapologetically be me in this world, only how to feel invisible and powerless. But despite this, deep within my blood the good was still there—I heard it. I heard it one day in my lonely little room in Los Angeles, California. I heard the name of a tribe and I knew it was them and my life has never been the same since.

The ancestors that came to me that day once lived by a code of ethics that when you make a choice, you do so considering how it will affect at least seven generations into the future. They believed that it is our responsibility to pass on sacred knowledge of how to live in harmony, no matter what injustices we receive, and that we don’t come here just to benefit, we come to work hard so that those in the future can have it easier than we did. Of course this principle did not persist when the inheritance of trauma outweighed the inheritance of wisdom. When our world-view crumbled, the tapestry of my lineage unraveled more and more with each generation, and we sacrificed self-possession for self-preservation. But not only did my ancient ancestors live for the future, they s​aw​ it. They prophesied our slow and steady decline, yet foreknew the solution—something they called “New People.”

The task of new people isn’t easy, they said. They must carry and transcend the historical trauma they were born into—something people before them couldn’t do—and their success is hinged upon their strength and clarity of vision. Primordially imbued with a totally new world-view—one that honors the legacy of what came before, but adds to it—new people have the potential to tell a​ new g​enealogical story, one that can use the treasures of the past to build a worthier future. Somewhere deep within them is a preconscious understanding of what peace is, and the tension between this memory and the sad reality they inherit will war within them until it is reconciled, if it ever is.

New people navigate two worlds. They have one foot in the dregs of the past, while the other is poised to step into a new way of being. This in-betweenness makes them the most capable of moving beyond the limitations set for them by their family and by the world, and life will push them until they do. There is something familiar and resonate about them but there is also something alien, which challenges others and scares them yet makes them unable to look away. They will be misunderstood because the energy they bring forth is so unusual and foreign. They will be rejected, but this rejection will only make them grow stronger in their convictions. And one unsuspecting day they will boldly proclaim to anyone willing to listen:

I was born to change, programmed to self-destruct. It has been my purpose to peel back the layers, to question the status quo, to turn my back on old thoughts, feelings and beliefs, to move beyond my fears and completely fall apart. And when the weight of the old paradigm finally became too great to bear, I cracked open and something wonderful emerged to restore all the beauty that had been lost. A new prototype infected my blood, and all the hereditary traits that compromised the will to live, died. And whatever I create now—be it a baby or an image or a story or an experience—will carry the imprint of this transformation well into the future. Please accept my gift of goodness to you, and please, by all means, keep on giving it too.