Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz

Hotel Silver Spring: Always a Repeat Performance

Filed By Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz | May 27, 2011 8:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement
Tags: community building, community organizing, Hotel Silver Spring, movement, racial justice

847E7AA1F65CBD0126B9B6F8DB631800.jpegTen years ago my partner and I moved to Silver Spring MD. We were intentional about choosing a neighborhood that was multi-racial, multi-generational, mixed class and was not a gentrified gayborhood. We landed in our street and the story simply begins there.

When we moved to our neighborhood we were the only out queer family on a street packed with town houses and mixed income apartment buildings. There are no single family houses here. Folks live closely and interdependently together. After settling in to our new digs, we started doing what my partner and I do best: build community and engage with our neighbors.

My partner and I have always been very open about our relationship mostly because we have had the privilege of living in urban and progressive places. Our move to our community was no different. We were open about being a couple when curious neighbors would ask if we were sisters or roommates.

For quite some time many of the kids in the neighborhood thought that we were mother and daughter! I often refer to my partner as Mami which can have two meanings in Spanish. In addition to actually meaning mother, it can also be used as a term of endearment among friends and family.

To say the least, we had some interesting conversations with the under ten crowd in the neighborhood about the fact that we were not mother and daughter but that we were a family. Those conversations provided us with some great teachable moments with young people about how all families are different and that there is no one way to be a family. Many of the young people in our neighborhood live in multi-generational immigrant families so this became an opportunity for us to talk about all of the ways that people make family right here where we live.

As the years have gone by, our home has turned into a community center of sorts for many of our neighbors as well as progressive activists in the Metro DC area and around the country. We jokingly call our home "Hotel Silver Spring" because it's a place where multi-generational, multi-racial, gender queer, cross-disability and groups of mixed class people come to eat, stay a couple of nights, talk, plan, strategize, have a shoulder to cry on and perhaps engage in some ruckus partying on our back deck.

Yet, there is always one over arching guiding principle to how we live, love, build and organize in this space: while the door is always open and ready to receive all who pass through it, discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated here. Hotel Silver Spring is a space for listening, learning, engagement and reaching a deeper understanding of oneself and of the world around us.

The young people around here seem to intuitively get how we roll here at Hotel Silver Spring! For example, we are the house that all of the parents and grandparents tell the young people to go to if they have lost their keys or skinned their knees. Trust me, we have opened the door on many occasions to a young person who had just fallen off their bike and was bleeding. The first thing out of their mouth usually is something like... "Abuela told me to go to your house if there was something wrong and she was still at work".

Of course each skinned knee is bandaged with care and each young person is sent back out in the world to do it all over again because, inevitably, we have repeat performances.

Another little issue that comes up here at Hotel Silver Spring is that once young people claim a space (and the people in it) they aren't shy about making it their own. There have been many days that I have come out of my home office to discover fifteen or twenty kids in my living room! On their own accord they let themselves into the house to play with our dogs and help themselves to whatever is in the refrigerator.

Although it's not always easy to balance work and life in such a fluid and rapidly changing environment, I love walking down my stairs to discover that the most beautiful rainbow of children from all over the world have made themselves at home in our home.

Over the past ten years we have had almost no homo/bi/transphobic interactions with anyone living in our neighborhood. Yes, there have been curious questions and conversations. However, everyone has been incredibly welcoming and respectful.

This is often the case in predominantly people of color communities. There is this myth that our people of color communities are more homo/bi/transphobic than white communities. This is blatantly untrue.

Furthermore, this racist mythology is used to drive a wedge between LGBT people of color and our communities as well as between people of color and potential white allies. As I move around the country meeting and talking with queer people of color about their neighborhoods and communities, I hear so many stories similar to ours.

Beloved community that includes us as queer people of color is happening everywhere. It's not an anomaly. It's not fiction. Its not only happening, but it's part of the narrative, history and legacy of so many communities of color across this country.

It is also true that queer people of color often play an important role in our families, communities and neighborhoods as connectors, care takers, mentors, support systems, leaders and active participants in the life of our communities. We have long histories of building bridges of understanding by making sure that no one gets left behind.

We open our doors, our hearts, our lives and our love in the name of justice and beloved community. We are often a fundamental part of the fabric of our communities - and in whatever ways we are out or not - we bring all of who we are to making our communities stronger and more interconnected.

There is so much of our collective histories and legacies as queer people of color that tell this story so beautifully and powerfully in communities all across the country. Just ask the elders in each neighborhood and inevitably they will be able to bring forward the name or names of queer people of color making a difference block by block, neighbor by neighbor.

Hotel Silver Spring is just one spot on this vast planet dedicated to deepening community and spreading understanding. Frankly, I wouldn't choose to live any other way even with the chaos and fast pace it brings to my life. I feel this way precisely because of what Susan Griffin states in her book The Eros of Everyday Life:

"To exist in a state of communion is to be aware of the nature of existence. This is where ecology and social justice come together, with the knowledge that life is held in common. Whether we know it or not, we exist because we exchange, because we move the gift. And the knowledge of this is as crucial to the condition of the soul as its practice is to the body."

Movement and community building begins and ends right in this place that Griffin so poignantly articulates. Yes, organizing is an art and a science, but it's also a way of life that starts right where we find ourselves.

(Artwork by Ricardo Levins Morales)


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Some day soon, we'll have to come visit Hotel Silver Spring!

Lisa, I too have that experience. For the four years before I retired, I was the Admin Asst/Receptionist in the Medical Clinic of a Psychiatric Forensic (prison) Hospital here in north central Florida. The staff was more than 50% persons of color and I am an anglo Trans Lesbian and OUT! Picture of my partner & I in an embrace on my wall and all.
Yes, It took a little time and a little getting to know you but soon, I was just part of the family. Even the men in Security seemed to adopt me, flirt with me and be my friends, including the Chief who in his real life was a Pastor in a small Black Church.
A few years ago, with the strong support from the Gay Community Center and others, our City Commission past a trans-inclusion amendment to the Anti-discrimination laws and of course, the following the Right and Christianist coterie put forth a referendum. Many of my POC colleagues came to me and expressed their support. Especially of the television clip of me in Council Chambers responding to one snarky Commissioner, "This is not a game, Do you have any clue about how much white male privilege I gave up just to claim my integrity as myself". Our sweet Mayor, Pegeen laughed so hard and long she nearly wet herself. Later, one of my dear friends came to me and apologized for voting the other way, her Pastor insisted that all vote and all vote against trans-inclusion.She was so sorry and so sweet and I told her I loved her anyway. I believe that while the politics and the protests and all of that matter, that doesn't matter like the one on one personal getting to know you.
To paraphrase a writer whom I would not normally espouse,"There is neither East nor West nor border, breed nor birth when two strong folk come face to face though they come from the ends of the Earth".

J-Marie

Hotel Silver Spring is awesome and an inspiration to us all about how we can build better community and communities for us all. Thanks!