Sign up to stay in touch:
Seniors
Love Is the Word [José Olivarez '10]

“Love is the word. Love is the word because love cannot exist in a vacuum. Selfish love is not love. It is exploitation.”

I’m going to be a tutor and teacher in training next year and any good teacher knows that they should tell their students, their audience what to expect. So I’m going to tell you. This is about the most important, most powerful, most revolutionary quality in the world. I’m talking, of course, about love.

I was in Brazil in 2009 and it was a really formative experience for me. In Brazil, I learned lessons about race, I learned about community organizing and imagination and about the unlimited ways that we can organize ourselves in society. But most importantly, I learned about love. As part of my program, we traveled all over the Northeast of Brazil, and I’m going to tell you about our visit to the Xukuru settlement in Pernambuco just outside of Recife. The Xukuru people are an indigenous group who lost a lot of their territory and a lot of people during the colonization of Brazil but have, within the last twenty years, won back from the Brazilian government all of their original territory.

In the Xukuru settlement, I learned the most profound lesson of my life. Picture this: we show up at this settlement. We’re a group of Americans, mostly white Americans. We show up at the settlement of these indigenous people who are the descendents of all those people slaughtered.

And they welcomed us with open arms. They taught us to dance. They took us to their sacred burial ground where all their leaders are buried. The Xukuru had every right to be mad, to refuse us as guests considering all the historical implications. We were a group made up primarily of the children of conquistadors. Why would they let us into their homes? Into their most sacred places?

And I reflected on that. Reflected on the fact that black people can co-exist with white people in America despite all of that history. Reflected on all the love that I’ve been shown everywhere I have been.

And I came to a conclusion. I could be mad about a whole lotta things. My mom still isn’t a citizen. I have family who, because of their citizenship status, have been denied the right to go to the university. I received a substandard public school education. But what movement can I build on anger?

A movement built on anger would look like what? Me trying to make white people non-citizens? Me trying to tear down the private schools so that those kids know what it feels like to have to earn something?

Those movements would all be 1) singular movements as in they would consist of me myself and I and 2) they’re not movements that will construct a better world. We have to realize that life is not a zero sum game. Our love and enjoyment is not dependent on the suffering of others. The only movements that I am now interested in our movements that begin out of a deep love for all people. From those who are suffering to those who are the douchiest of the douche bags. We are all valuable. And we must all move forward if we’re actually going to construct a society that is positive and that doesn’t have the poisons that the current structure has.

Love is the word. Love is the word because love cannot exist in a vacuum. Selfish love is not love. It is exploitation. When I left for Brazil, I was tired of people. It seemed to me that a great majority of the world was uncaring and caught up in the BS of trying to own property and things. I am changed and understand that the beauty of humanity rests in our ability to accompany one another to help one another and to love one another.

This is love in the communal sense. An understanding that hit me hard the last couple weeks as I began to prepare for graduation. When I entered college, my dad was employed. As I am on the verge of graduating, my dad will be unemployed. That fact is hard for me to swallow but is also very illuminating. My individual success is not enough to transform my family’s situation; it is not enough to transform my city’s situation. So the success I want is not individual success. It is a communal success. A success that allows everyone to prosper. A success that celebrates everyone. A success that is based on a love ethic.

Love is the word. Love. All things are possible in love. All things. Love sweet love. I believe that love is the most revolutionary trait a person can possess and that is also the most powerful trait a person can have. It is our ability to love that makes us powerful. If we are to change the world, and indeed, if we are to survive past the current environmental crisis, which is a human crisis, then it must be through love. Love is the word.


José Olivarez ’10

Photo by Emily Parrott ’09

Leave a Reply