Ana Sisnett, 1952-2009
The place to post remembrances of local community activist, Ana Sisnett
By Belinda Acosta, 2:03AM, Sun. Jan. 18, 2009
A small, sweet gathering was held at La Peña to honor Ana Sisnett, the community activist, writer, poet, friend, and leader who passed away Jan. 13 after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer. An altar bearing photos, flowers, copies of Ana's book, Grannie Jus Come! and sweets had been assembled the night before, and those who attended the event gathered before it to share their memories, poetry, and laughter, and yes, tears.
"Oh no," Sisnett's daughter Meredith Sisnett told the assembled. "My mother told us, 'Don't give me one of those sad, sad, everybody crying, funerals!'" Everyone recognized the spirit behind those words, and it was the perfect cue to invite musicians Olivia Prendes and Odaymara Cuesta to perform. The two women, new to Austin, who happened to be from Sisnett's native Panama, were found at a chance meeting earlier in the day. Their spirited, heartfelt singing, accompanied only by conga and rhythm sticks, was the perfect way to send the assembled out into the frigid night, a little warmer than when they arrived.
Below are a few remembrances of Ana. Others are invited to share their memories by clicking on the link below. The thread will remain on the Austin Chronicle site indefinitely.
I met Ana in 1995, when I sat with her and my longtime collaborator Shay Youngblood and shared a plate of fried green tomatoes and fried pickles and shared some of the most delightful laughter you could imagine. We were kinfolk from the first. Over the years, my friendship with Ana was characterized by passion — about art, philosophy, politics, spirit, memory — and always served our mutual search for deeper understanding and wider appreciation of the complexity of human existence. Ana also loved a raucous story and could spin a yarn better than anybody. Her activism was like breathing, always present and consistent, never for show. She believed in equal access to information and opportunity and she made it happen.
One of my happiest memories of Ana is of working with her to install her visual art show at ALLGO, and then seeing her perched atop a stool that evening, glistening in the amber theatrical light, reading her scintillating poem about 'how to eat a mango' as a crowd of devoted admirers leaned forward to bask in her singular spirit.
—Daniel Alexander Jones, theatre artist, New York City.
I've been thinking that most of my best memories of Ana are ones the Chronicle probably can't print... but oooh, they were good times. Ana always knew how to laugh (and dance, and play, and love) as hard as she worked. even when we were spending time together writing some of our hardest stories (for Diaspora Dialogues, a joint reading we did at Resistencia), we couldn't keep ourselves from laughing. As long as I live, I'll hold onto Ana's teaching me that there is never struggle without joy.
—Jen Margulies, Austin, Texas
Ana & I met each other during the summer of 1986. We saw each other walking through Pease Park and just walked up to each other and introduced ourselves. It was one of those "another sister with a short fro!" moments, as we had not bumped into each other beforehand, even though we were both at UT during that time. So, initial hair talk led to talk of other interests, histories, coming out stories, family, sanity stories, and insanity stories over the following months. We were both in the early stages of coming out as lesbians, and Ana was really instrumental in teaching me what it meant to claim all my "selves" and walk in the world with dignity as a black lesbian. And I say "black" because Ana was fierce in her diasporic consciousness and identity. The hyphenated "African-American" label was too limiting for her as she was very much a world citizen. She was very proud of her Panamanian roots, but she claimed and celebrated all her cultural home places: the Caribbean, the United States (California, New Jersey, Texas), Latin America, Indigenous America, Germany, Africa---and probably some places that I may have forgotten. She made connections with people all around the world — literally — through her scholarship, her literary and visual art, and her activism. Ana was one of my windows to the world.
—Dawn Surratt, San Francisco, California