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Paper Erasure

Ashley Esposito

Mixed Media Acrylic Painting and Collage on Canvas

Paper Erasure

The erasure of Indigenous people from Turtle Island and Africa is challenging for many people trying to connect with their culture today. I have been on a journey to research my family's stories and culture as Afro-Indigenous people in present-day Oconee County, South Carolina. Like many families with ancestry intertwined with this country's traumatic history, much of the past on both sides has either been lost or intentionally erased. Whether it’s taking our names, the census takers making guesses of a person's race, the Indian Removal Act, removal/exclusion from tribal roles, and forced assimilation. Natives not only lost their land, but they are also the only people who are purity-tested and monitored through blood-quantum today. Black people have a culture we've created because we're resilient, but some of us are curious roots before chattel slavery.

Paper Erasure shows my journey of shuffling through documents, books, maps, and DNA results to find my roots. My husband made me laugh because one night, I was up late because I found something I had been looking for! He said, "You have a scent?". That night I was able to find the Treaty of DeWitt's Corner. The painting Paper Erasure is me putting the pieces together at our dining room table with the help of my 3-year-old son. My son is why I wanted to do this work. I want to reclaim and preserve our culture for him and future generations.

I have gotten to a place where I do not care how many generations back it is; no one else should either. Our society does not ask Italians, Irish, or other groups "how much" they are. It is our birthright to claim it; no policy or "norms" set by others should stand in the way. With the help of my stubbornness and investigative skills, I was able to confirm the culture we've always known we had but never understood how. We are from the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone. We are also Tsalagi (Cherokee), Indigenous to Turtle Island

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