With Care - Curators notes

Dalilla Hermans

When I first learned that the theme of this festival would be ‘Read my world with care’, I found myself immediately going to a definition of ‘care’ that has very little to do with the medical or even physical. The concept of care that spontaneously came to mind had very little to do with the standing ovation we’ve been giving our fellow citizens who wear scrubs during this pandemic.

Thinking about that initial reaction with some distance and time to reflect made me feel slightly guilty. If there was ever a time to center the stories of those among us who chose a career in (health)care, who decided to dedicate their lives to caring for others, during a global pandemic would be an appropriate moment. But the heart wants what it wants and the mind wanders without guide. My heart and mind went to another form of care. I thought about how we say ‘I care about’ or ‘I couldn’t care less’. And how these notions of ‘being invested’ or not ‘giving a damn’ have shaped so much of my life and my work. Ever since I found out I was carrying my son, almost exactly nine years ago, the weight of how much I cared about what felt like ‘everything’ almost crushed me. The weight of how little others around me seemed to care about what felt like ‘anything’ was equally heavy. Becoming a caregiver in a quite literal sense, propelled me into a life of activism.

Making noise about all these things I now suddenly cared so deeply about. Writing. Speaking. Taking up space. All of it was in function of getting others to care as much as I thought I did. I wanted to pick up the gauntlet with one hand and an imaginary sword with the other and fight off racism, sexism, and all those many ‘isms’ that occupied my heart and mind every day since that first pregnancy-test. In the years that followed, as I was growing up alongside my son, and later my daughters, I’ve often wondered whether all that caring I was doing, was as genuine as it genuinely felt. Would I have cared if I took these new humans who were my whole world out of the equation? Did I truly care that much about the ‘isms’ in the world or was it my own little world that I really cared about? I thought about how I had judged those around me for not caring enough. Without questioning my own motives. Without examining theirs. Without reading their world.

I’ve come to realize that caring about the world through the lens of caring for and about your loved ones, might be human nature. And that reading the world through the pages of the book of your own life might also be. Ever since that resolution took away some of my concern about the notions of ‘being invested’ or ‘not giving a damn’, a new strategy has directed my path. I now believe that it is key to make sure the book of life for as many people as possible is a tome. A thick, lengthy, pondering book. With as many characters as the pages can hold. As many stories as feasible. And I’ve also came to understand that I too should read other books. And highlight the passages that are similar with my own pages. Maybe the reason why we care is not as important as the fact that we do. Maybe the reason why we don’t care is not as important as the fact that we don’t.

I’ve come to realize that caring about the world through the lens of caring for and about your loved ones, might be human nature.

Whatever compels us to be invested in a cause, a person, a situation is most likely the result of the life we’ve lived. The reason that racism and sexism keep me up at night is directly linked to me being a black woman in a European country. I’ve seen, lived and felt the devastating result of both afflictions. The reason why I’ve felt a lack of care for them from others is directly linked to their lived experiences. Blind spots, and the fact that “there’s levels to this sh*t” when it comes to reading our worlds with care now feels like a logical consequence of being fully human. In a time when some scream ‘identity politics’ as an insult when we look at the reality of why and when we care, I would hope that identity takes center stage at a festival with this theme. I want to learn about your human experience. I want to look through your lens at the world at large. I want to understand why and when you care and about the damns you decide not to give. With an open heart and open mind. I want you to know about how my children shaped my thinking. I want you to know how being a black woman influenced my life. I want to examine my own blind spots with kindness, and I want you to lovingly investigate yours. I want to read your world with care. And I want you to read my world with care.

Grace Ly

How I came to care I used to believe that caring was akin to feeding a weakness. I thought I couldn’t afford to care because the ones who cared seemed to be constantly afraid to lose. It’s like the ones who love, they get hurt while the loved ones get away with anything. My mother, who cared relentlessly for me, was tormented by the growing distance between us, awaited my return late at night, ached in silence as everyone else slept. My mother never got away with anything.

Yet, as a little girl, I was educated to care. I was polite in all circumstances. I said sorry even when I wasn’t at fault. I did the dishes when invited to relatives’ homes because I was taught that’s what good little girls do. When did this pretty picture start chipping away ? On top of the gender-based layer, as a little girl of East Asian heritage, I was educated to care even more. I met people who looked like my mother caring for babies who weren’t their own, wash clothes that weren’t their own, clean places that weren’t their own. I saw people who looked like my mother behind glass windows promptly fold plump and juicy dumplings with their expert fingers. I heard that people who looked like my mother worked at massage parlours in dark alleys. I wondered if anybody else had noticed. Did people even care ? I didn’t know and I didn’t dare to ask. There must be an unspeakable, shameful reason why people look away.

So somewhere along the line, perhaps without even noticing, I refrained from caring for myself, caring for others, caring for the outside world. I did not want to be that well-groomed little girl, or that submissive Asian lady, or that indebted child of refugees from a Third World nation. What I perceived first and foremost from the books I read, the TV shows I watched and the people around me was how they glorify the strong, the merciless, the ever-expanding and their fake zero-sum game. At school, I learned that conquerors are affectionately called explorers, and that the losers never really recover from the pillages of their land and people. I didn’t want to be held back by sentimental ties. I didn’t want to pay attention when no one else did. I didn’t want to commit. I didn’t want to fear. I didn’t want to lose. I didn’t want to be a caregiver.

I dreamed of a future where I would crush away all my mother’s worries with money, prestige and promises of biggering. I wanted to be carefree. I became close to careless. A good few years later, I chose to become a mother myself. It now feels a little late in life, but that’s when I truly understood a lot of what my own mother tried to teach me. I understood how much I was wronged and how much I did her wrong, I did a lot of people wrong. I finally realised that caring was never the problem, but the only solution. The people who care aren’t afraid. Their hands are indeed full, carrying life hastily past its hurdles, eager to preserve its precious drops. They have hopes, plans and projects for yesterday, today and tomorrow. There is no such thing as caring too much.

I finally realised that caring was never the problem, but the only solution.

Plenty of care is required to love, to nurture, to set free. In order to be a good mother, I had to be a better person. In order to be a better friend, a better sister, a better wife, a better daughter, a better neighbour, a better inhabitant on this planet, I had to care and take care. I care not only for little girls, for East Asian families, for refugees, for women who look like my mother, for nannies, for restaurant workers, for sex workers, for the rise against antiAsian racism in the pandemic, ecology and social justice movements directly affecting me. I care for my European brothers and sisters, Black Lives Matter, the fight against islamophobia, nationalisms that exclude their own people. I support activism against homophobia, fatphobia, ableism, transphobia. We are never alone when we care, but interconnected by our caring. Caring doesn’t take anything away from us. It’s actually very much the opposite. Like love, it’s a balancing math game of multiple-digit additions making way for positive sums.

With all my care, grace ly