My pumpkin loves to sing. She sings in the bathroom. She sings at the table. She hums while she does her homework. She makes up songs out of street signs. She is always singing. and so because she loves to sing, I am always teaching her songs. Her first song was, of course “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” at the tender age of two. She has learned other songs, from children’s songs to pop hits to everything in between. But I try to teach her a conscious blend of equal parts religious, culturally relevant, educational, and fun songs. you know; songs every little kid should know. Like Yes, Jesus Loves Me. or God Bless America. Or Applause (what can i say? I love Gaga. Even ARTPOP Gaga…).
So the other night, after Leila ran through her Disney torch song list, and launched into her Broadway version of Justin Timberlake singing Magna Carta Holy Grail (don’t judge me!), I thought, I should teach my baby a new song. I know! The Black National Anthem! That’s a song she should know! “Leila!” I say. “I’m gonna teach you a new song. it goes like this…” Uhhhh… wait, how does it go? There I was, on the bed with my mouth hanging open, about to start singing a song I could not recall for the life of me. All I could dredge up was “siiiiing a soooooong/full of the hope da da daaa da da daaaaaa daaaaa…..” Ooohhhh! Have I honestly forgotten the Black National Anthem?
How could I forget this song? it is a song that I grew up singing at every assembly, right after we sang the song that comes after pledge of allegiance (which I also cannot remember). Everybody knows that song, right? But then I got to thinking; when was the last time I heard that song? Ever? I could not remember the words, hell I couldn’t even remember the name of the song. And it got me wondering; do we not sing it any more….maybe because we don’t need it anymore? After all, it seems like revolutionary has given way to celebrity, activist has been exchanged for mogul, and what we identify with now has less to do with overcoming struggle and more to do with amassing massive wealth. Maybe our throats got sore from constantly singing that song.
But if that is the case, what replaces it? I have always watched with a little envy as Puerto Ricans sing along passionately, proudly to Marc Anthony singing Rafael Hernandez’s “Preciosa”. That song makes me proud to be Puerto Rican, and I am from the South Side of Chicago by way of Tennesee, no PR to be seen! Is there a song like that for us? Is there something that will encourage my baby to know of my half of her past, respect it, honor it, be driven by it, be proud of it? Is there anything that I can give my baby to teach her that she comes from a rich culture, that there are things to be proud of beyond hiphop, Beyonce and basketball? Because there are things to be proud of, there are things to love and accomplishments to be amazed by, even if the voices that tell them have gotten softer with time. For days it dogs me, why I can’t remember anything but three words to a song that I felt kind of special singing for so many years. And then, without even really thinking about it, this morning, under the hot water of the shower, all of the words float back to me. I remember two things: 1, the song is kind of depressing, so maybe its not appropriate for a 6 year old. Or maybe it is. It’s hard to say. But second, and perhaps more important, is that it wasn’t the song itself that was meaningful, it was the idea that there was something to be proud of at all that I valued, and I do not know that that came from the song at all. I think that feeling came from knowing that I had been loved before I ever existed through the way that my family loved and cared for each generation. And what I know is that, on both sides, that little pumpkin is loved from the top of her poofy hair all the way down to her double-jointed baby toes. She has so much to be proud of, on both sides of her family, and she will learn those stories as she grows. No need to bombard her with field songs yet. For now I will just turn up the Disney tunes, turn down the HOT 97.5 and continue to sing softly in her ear every night, “for each child that’s born/a morning star rises and sings to the universe/who we are…/ we are/ our grandmother’s prayers/we are our grandfather’s dreamings/we are the breath of our ancestors/ we are/ the spirit of God…”.