27 January 2017
We journeyed to Zora! Festival, seven of us en route to experience not only the festival itself but the homeland of Saint Zora, one who we all call on in some way or another.
Actually, it might be more accurate to say we twerked our way to Zora! Festival, full of celebration, anticipation, and sheer joy of being together in the car for the two hour ride from St. Pete to Eatonville. Mama Zan on the breaks and gas. Auntie Ashanté on the 1s and 2s (also known as Spotify).
When we arrived, the scene was underwhelming, even if our spirits were floating with excitment. One of members of our caravan remarked, “I thought it would be bigger than this.” Perhaps that came from a place of thinking, how could it not be bigger than this? We were there to celebrate a person who was larger than life itself.
We passed the first parking lot, which then led to us to a second. $10 dollars to park. Between us, we had a 5 dollar bill, 3 ones, and some change. I was prepared to charm one of the men managing the parking lot so that we could park for 8 dollars. But no need. He let us park for $8, letting us know that the parking was actually a donation. There were no signs anywhere indicating this, but we parked and went on to pay $10 each to get into the festival.
There we were: on the streets of historic Eatonville. I found myself wondering what the streets looked like when Zora was a kid, or even when she died. It most certainly didn’t look like it looks now. The square—the major focal point of the town—contains a library named after Zora, a museum that also bears her name and the city hall.
When I asked a middle-aged Black woman who was collecting data on the festival for the city of Eatonville and for the tourism bureau of Orlando where she was from, she indicated that yes she was from here, meaning Orlando, not Eatonville. Eatonville has seemingly succumbed to the fate of many Black towns – being incorporated into the larger city (Orlando) surrounding it. Incorporated. Consumed by. Pressed in on all sides. It’s all the same. The push and pull of city life drawing her daughters and sons. The greed for space and capital causing cities to salivate. It is interesting to think about this all negro town, and wonder how far removed it may be from that history. Or do people ensure that it is held close?
There were different vendors from all over: I counted at least three from the Atlanta metro area, a woman selling body butters and soap from Charlotte, and the pure shea soap man from D.C. I was so so so excited to see him, because I bought stuff from him during the five years I lived in D.C. I ended up buying 5 bars of soap to bring home. This was after buying a skirt from another vendor, and Zandria buying us detoxing soap from the woman from Charlotte, whose 60 year old mother assured us that all it takes is a little coconut oil for women at any age, but at some point men can’t put in the work. Who needs an old man who can’t function? Hilarious.
These vendors brought to mind the roles they play in the making/remaking of Black geographies in chocolate cities and towns, particularly in the context of celebration. Vendors travel far and wide to sell at this black festivals, and in the process, they build relationships with each other when they do. I thought about the aesthetics of Blackness and how it functions at these festivals, particularly Zora! Festival, which happens on the blocked-off streets in the hometown of our larger-than-life foremother. African-inspired jewelry and clothing, handbags, soaps and shea butter were plentiful against the backdrop of smooth jazz streaming from the one booth selling CDs. This very Black vending, in this Black town, celebrating this Black genius. For our little caravan, it felt like magic.