the morning after – on the power of names and next steps.

Last night, I let my heart break, and I drowned in it. I asked my ceiling why. I snuck into my daughter’s room as she slept and wondered what the world could see to hate in her, enough that they would let this happen. At midnight, my husband and I toasted to the end of the world, because that’s truly what it felt like. The end.

Today, against all odds, the sun rose. And now we have to figure out how to live another day. Another week. Another four years. Another lifetime, with the knowledge that – when pressed – this country values their systemic, toxic prejudice over the lives and rights of women. People of color. Immigrants and refugees. The LGBTQIA+ community. Muslims. Countless others. Countless other human beings, that by virtue of their identities, will not have even the illusion of safety today, or tomorrow, or probably for a long time after.

I am a writer. I got into this business because I wanted to use the tools that best fit my hands to create change. Despite the horror I’m feeling today, the sadness, the shame, that conviction has only grown stronger. I have been unbelievably lucky to find a community and a home through my work, friends, colleagues, supporters that make it worth it to fight this fight every day. In my grief, and my anger, I want to renew the commitment I made when I started down this path: To write our stories. To buy them. To shout about them from the rooftops, and to read them like there’s no tomorrow.

Since the first whisper that my work might be published, I’ve been considering a pen name. I’m a very private person when it comes to personal matters, and my legal last name has never been a part of my online presence, but when it came to my work? I wanted something that was truly mine, something I chose like I chose the work I want to dedicate my life to. Nothing stuck. Nothing felt right. But I woke up this morning with an answer.

From now on, my published work and my online accounts will bear a name I’m deeply proud to be connected to. The name of a woman who sacrificed for our family, who made choices to keep her kids safe that I’m only now beginning to understand. My grandmother was born a Mejia, and with her support and yours that’s the way I’d like to be known to this community from now on.

I anticipate questions, and possibly some misunderstandings, so I’d like to be as clear as possible: This will not be a legal name change, it will be a pen name. A tribute. My grandmother has always been a force in my life, a reminder to be strong, and a reminder of what’s beautiful about the things that make me different. I’m in no way ashamed of the other parts of me, and I don’t wish to take anything that’s not mine or diminish the privilege I was born with as a biracial woman. My parents chose my first name, and they’re present in everything I do and write. The middle name Kay will stand as a nod to my husband and daughter, who share the last name Kinney. But I would like to stand with my grandmother too, and with my family – blood and chosen – that are hurting now.

I hope you’ll think of this choice as a testament to all my families, their strength, the things they’ve given to me as a writer and a mother and a human. And, of course, to the Latinx community I’ve been overwhelmingly blessed to be accepted by as we work together against old obstacles and new ones.

As always, I welcome your questions and your feedback. The way I see it, our country’s decision last night made brothers and sisters in arms of us. I will keep fighting in all the ways I fought before, I will find new ways to fight. I will be proud to stand with you, and work beside you.

Thank you,
Tehlor Kay Mejia

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About tehlorkay

writer of poems and longer things. restless wanderer of small-town streets. unabashed seeker of the true world.
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2 Responses to the morning after – on the power of names and next steps.

  1. kriti1810 says:

    I am so proud that you are my friend 🙂

  2. madrush says:

    Hey Tehlor, this is a strong statement. I can feel the pulsing heart of grief and surging blood of determination in your voice. It is as if you had a knife thrust in your gut and pulled the blade out yourself with a primal stare that defies your attacker’s intent. You are still standing. What hasn’t killed you is indeed making you stronger. You are stronger, especially, because you are not alone. Through your words, and deeds, you are able to reach into other souls, hold out a hand in the dark, whisper warm breath in the cold. You’ve made a home, an inn, in your heart for many others. You are a convergence of ancient bloodlines (mudblood and proud!) at the same time that you harbor new streams and rivers, seeds and sproutlings, a mother’s love. You have clear knowledge of what’s worth fighting for to the bitter end…or a new beginning, if we can imagine it.

    But there is still the day-to-day of figuring out how to live in this reality. Which means that *how* we see reality matters. How we act will depend on what we see and believe. In general, I think you’d agree, it helps to see things from many angles. Like a fly’s eye, we should be multifaceted. (That’s one of the amazing about literature; it specializes in a multiplicity of messy perspectives!) In that spirit, what I offer here is just another angle on what happened and where I think we’re at.

    The one thing I see differently than your interpretation of the results of the election, is that I don’t think it’s fair or accurate, necessarily, to say that because of who won, it means “this country values their systemic, toxic prejudice over the lives and rights of women. People of color…., “etc. I don’t think it’s as simple as that.

    Let me point out a few counter-realities or possibilities:

    1) Most people didn’t vote. Turnout was 55% of eligible voters (over 18, non-felons, etc. etc.), meaning the choice of Trump was absolutely NOT the will of any kind majority of the population, but rather a small minority.

    2) Of those who voted for Trump, it’s obvious that SOME of them voted for racist, sexist, nativist reasons; but the data shows that MANY (perhaps most) voted because of either, a) disgust with the other candidate, b) disgust with the ‘establishment’ in general, c) the patriotic promise of ‘making america great’ (i.e., jobs, economic prosperity, strong military, ‘winning,’ etc.); or d) personal fears and anxieties (terrorism, crime, loss of a job, etc.)—or really, any combination of the above.

    Rather than see the vote primarily as a vicious attack on vulnerable groups, which at one level is undoubtedly true (especially if you judge by the online and media vitriol, the ‘alt-right,’ etc.), might we not see it more as an act of desperation and confusion, the gross symptom of a sickness or mental illness, by a population that’s experiencing some kind of spiritual disintegration? Was it really a directed act of malice against the disempowered groups you name? Or was something a lot messier and in a certain (Arendtian) sense, banal, which, while not excluding the raw inhumanity of effect, was truly the result of people who just aren’t thinking straight? Or feeling real empathy outside their small (highly pressurized) spheres of personal concern? Not because they’re evil or against justice, but just because of the (unchosen) conditions of their life? The many (unintended) consequences of their birth?

    There is also the dimension of power play among the elite (i.e., the owners of the world, literally, in power and wealth). Whose interests does it serve for a population to be so riled up and divided against itself? Are we not just being played? Made money off of? Our attention misdirected while the grand theft continues?

    This is why I think to say “this country values their systemic, toxic prejudice…”, while true, is only part of the story. What if most people just want to go along and get along, and they’re frankly too scared to question power and authority, or to research the facts, or have the hard conversations? What if they’re too busy and stressed and terrified of losing everything to be so sensitive to groups and identities different than their own? What if our education system is totally inadequate for producing a population of citizens capable of democratic self-government? What if we’re too addicted to our technologies, too mesmerized by our screens, and too numbed by our comforts to collectively do something about the situation—as “we the people”?

    In other words, maybe it’s not the “country” per se that decided against us, but rather the relatively few (and their systems), who cynically profit from our fears, always finding a way to capitalize on them, and keep us divided (FOX news / CNN / MSNBC / FACEBOOK / RT / the WEATHER CHANNEL / etc.) who decided. Shock Doctrine style.

    Who is the real enemy? Yes, I know patriarchal white supremacy exists and it’s real and it’s scary, and it’s apparently in ascendency with the new president. But I think it’s vital we *don’t* assume that most people are terrible, or that Trump represents the ‘real’ America, but rather appeal to the better angels of our nature, find common cause against the overall system and its ownership (i.e., follow the money—the Dems failed this test of integrity), and figure out how we can cut through the bullshit to some kind of core clarity and creative power we share as humans, underneath all the fear and hype and distraction, so that from there, empathically and emphatically, we might reimagine the world. I think writers have a big role to play in this game, and this struggle.

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