Until the age of 29, I had never met anybody who looked like me. That is, until I met my birth mother. This is the memory I’d take with me to Mars.
In June, I attended the Allied Media Conference in Detroit for the first time. Described as a “collaborative laboratory of media-based organizing strategies for transforming our world,” it is an annual gathering of healers and rabble rousers of all kinds that pays particular attention to centering the stories, experiences, and leadership of women, people with disabilities, queer and trans* folks, people of color, lower income people, immigrants, and other historically marginalized and silenced communities.
To set the stage at one workshop, the facilitators told us that due to the post-industrial destruction of Earth, we would be evacuating to Mars. The only catch was that we would each lose all of our memories but would be able to listen to the three-minute story of just one, which we would be learning to craft, tell, and record as part of our session together.
For people who know me, it comes as no surprise that Mother’s Day is an emotionally challenging holiday for me. As a daughter, I carry with me the complex sadness of being estranged from my parents for reasons that are partially due to identity and conflict and partially due to my own survival and self-preservation. As a cis woman, I grapple with the internal and external forces that will decide whether I become a mother and struggle with society’s desire to place our worth within this role alone. But faced with even a pretend Never Ending Story-like threat of complete memory loss, carrying my birth mother with me to another planet feels essential on both a personal and a political level.
Many of us in the adoptee community know that the existence and importance of our birth mothers is often erased through our adoptions and through dominant narratives that tell us we were neglected, abandoned, forgotten, or unloved. Strong Families, a collaboration led by social and reproductive justice organizations, is trying to change the ways that people think and talk about families.
Their annual May campaign, Mama’s Day, similarly seeks to shift the conversation about mothers, motherhood, and parenting through art, media, and creative campaigns. Mama’s Day 2014 showcased a reframe of the #BitchesBeLike meme with new takes on the ways that #MamasBeLike could instead be used to have a discussion rooted in love, acceptance, resilience, and inclusivity. Like KoRoot’s ongoing #BuildFamiliesNotBoxes campaign, Mama’s Day challenges our cultural definitions of what it means to have and be part of a family. It was out of this work that I found myself faced with the fake prospect of survival on Mars looming “just outside the door” of the Wayne State University classroom in which my friend and I were learning about storytelling and sound recording.
I was 29 years old before I met someone who looked like me. And now I can’t get her face out of my head.
Listen to my entire Mars Memory story below.
~ Joy Messinger