Friday, July 11, 2008

I am legion, July 11 edition

I am bi-literate/lingual after many, many years of hard work: Barack Obama this week is urging young people to learn another language. He suggests Spanish, which is a good idea considering the U.S.'s changing demographics. Chinese would also be good; so would Arabic, really. Man, just learn anything, Americans! Rudolph Giuliani, however, seemed to misunderstand Obama's target audience (youths who know English as a first language) completely and somehow accused the candidate of encouraging immigrants to not learn English.
OK, so 1: Huh? and B: I'd like to know how many languages English-only proponents speak.

Obama's suggestion is totally reasonable and practical: Learn your second or third or fourth or whatever language when you're young. Kids, they learn languages great. Adults, not so great. My mom started learning English in grade school and so when she started using it as an adult, she picked it up great. Me, a product of the American public school system (of which I'm actually a fan, I'm really more criticizing the era, not the system itself) had my two years of German in high school which amounted to nichts. At 33 I began minoring in Spanish and after four years of really hard, constant work I can now read novels and futbol articles online and understand a good portion of what I hear, and totally murder español when I try to speak it. But I got it. That's something. But learning a language as an adult is hard, man. You have to work at it constantly. Like every day and nearly every minute. And if you're not fortunate enough to have that time (because, you're totally wasting your time by, I dunno, working and mak
ing a living) then getting your second  language will be nearly imposible. If we're serious about raising English literacy and fluency among immigrants, we need to find ways for adult to learn the language that can be incorporated into life. 

I am all for restructuring the American family: A blogger at DailyKos talks about her dad, who recently got laid off from his auto industry job. She worries about what will happen to him now, since he was approaching retirement and has virtually few new-industry skills. She's worried about him and others in his position. Like most dads, she says, he worked three jobs to make sure she would never want for anything. 

It's a very touching post, but I couldn't help but wonder what the blogger is doing for her dad, if she would be willing to work three jobs to make sure that he would never want for anything as well. It's an interesting phenom in the U.S. that our parents take care of us, but we're not expected to do the same back for them. I know that my traditional, Midwestern conservative EuroAmerican  family members would have fits over the impropriety of the idea that
, if a time of need like this arose, that we pull together so that we kids helped take care of them; my Asian family would completely expect the family to join ranks and support them. The U.S. nuclear family is so individually structured, I don't know if that kind of extended support is possible. We'd need to rethink the way we do family, outside of the nuclear idea. 

But this isn't just a non-Western idea, it's very American South, too. It's not unusual for families to live together and support one another in the South. Maybe it's not the American family model, it's just the American consumerist/hyperindividualist family model that we need to dismantle. 

I am discovering hypermiling: Kinda sorta. I recently discovered that the mileage on my car went up in a big way if I drove 60 or 65 mph instead of 75 or 80 mph. No brainer, there. (Hey, I stay in the right lane. Freakin' pass me already.) Also, got more conscientious about parking, idling and route-planning. But here's the difference between me and a regular hypermiler: I drive a Toyota Echo; a lot of them drive an SUV. So when I boost my mileage, that means I'm squeezing about 500 miles out of one 10-gallon tank of gas, and they're getting .... ugh, I don't even want to think.

I am a fan of the barefoot shoes: I hate wearing shoes; if I had my way I'd live on a city on the beach where shoes were option. I hate the way shoes feel on my feet, I hate the way I have 
to walk in shoes. So in summers I ditch socks and wear flipflops as much as possible. So I was
 really interested in a recent New York Times magazine article about how shoes are bad for our feet. We're just not evolved to walk in shoes, the article says. People have trouble with walking in barefoot because over time we adapt to walking in shoes, so when we walk barefoot we walk around like we're wearing shoes. But now there are shoes being made to simulate barefoot walking, and I bought a pair yesterday, the Vibram FiveFingers shoe. And they roooooock. OK, so they're odd looking, but it really feels like
 walking around barefoot. Take that, no shoes, no service. I'm gonna be wearing these shoes constantly. 

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I am a fan of what being PC really means

A couple of years back, I took a class on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The students in the class were majority non-white and, nonthreatening Other that I seemed to be, the EuroAmerican students would invariably nervously confess to me about their fear of "accidentally saying the N-word" in class. 

(I swear to Gawd I don't know how you "accidentally" say any racial slur. But anyway ... )

One woman, a very, very sweet white woman of the "can't we all just get along" variety, anxiously admitted to me that she was just trying so hard to be PC that she knew she was going to slip up and say the N-word. She was so nervous about it that she was a jittery, anxious mess the whole time. 

Again, I just don't understand this. Outside of this class, she seemed to me to be a very good person who cares about other people. So why should she have to worry about 'being PC'? If we're trying to 'be PC' then that means we're more worried about ourselves and how we look, instead of hurting the people we're talking about, right? Wouldn't using the 'right'  -- that is, nonhateful/hurtful -- words come naturally if we're concerned about the people and not about guarding the way we want to think?

You'd think. And yet ... 

Someone recently told me that he overheard someone in his office loudly defending the use of the word "slant-eyes" to describe Asian people. After all, that's the way he always referred to him, and no one could make him say anything differently.

I wondered if that guy would have said that if I had been in that office. But then -- again, racial spy that I am -- he'd have to have figured out that I was actually one of them slant-eyes, and I'm not sure that he's that observant. But of course, Southern politeness probably would have prevented him from doing so (and that's another thing -- I was always taught that manners must come from within, that they teach you how to show respect for other people, not a façade we put on to make ourselves look better or save ourselves from awkward situations. And yet, maybe my mom and grandma was all old school about that). A good rule of PCness is: If you wouldn't say that if the person that word/phrase refers to is standing right next to you, then it's not PC. But then, that rule still just goes after the tongue and not the mind. And you know what ol'Yeshua of Nazareth said, it ain't what goes in, but what comes out. It ain't what's in the stomach, it's what's in the heart.

I just don't know how "principles" that are obviously hurtful can ever be held above flesh and blood people. If what we say -- and especially what we think -- hurts another person, why would we want to keep saying/thinking like that? What does it say about the way we really feel about people, how we regard and respect them? While I loved Barack Obama's race speech and that it attempted to get us to talk about race, I really feel like what it did was make most of us really aware of how painful the subject is and what treacherous territory it is to navigate (as demonstrated perfectly by John Steward and Larry Wilmore on The Daily Show!).  

All 'PC' language comes with a human face. That's all I know. 

Thursday, July 3, 2008

I Heart Matt Taibbi

I've been having Obama faith-fatigue lately, not only because he actually can talk about his faith but everyone seems so dang interested in it. Check it out, I'm sure he's the only candidate in the world who gets scrutiny for being a Muslim and the wrong kind of Christian all in the same news cycle. 

So I was pleased to see a few articles -- finally! -- about McCain. Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi (who wrote one of my favorite pieces about him going undercover at a John Hagee weekend boot camp) has a piece in a recent Rolling Stone about John McCain and the people who love him. (Full-Metal McCain: Haunted by Vietnam, the one-time maverick has transformed himself into just another liberal-bashing fearmonger). Best part: when asked who his favorite author is, McCain names Joel Osteen. 
Standing at the meeting, I didn't write Osteen's name down in my notebook -- apparently because my brain refused on some level to accept that McCain had actually said it. Of all the vile, fake, lying-ass, money-grubbing shyster scumbags on the face of this planet, there is perhaps none more loathsome than Osteen, a human  haircut with plastic, baseball-size teeth who has made a fortune selling the appalling only-in-America idea that terrestrial greed is actually a form of Christian devotion. "God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us," Osteen once wrote. This is the revolting, snake-oil-selling dickhead that John McCain actually chose to pimp as number one on his list of inspirational authors. So much for "go, sell everything you have and give to the poor" and all that other hippie crap from the New Testament.

I once watched Osteen, just for shits. I actually saw him reprimand a couple for praying that a dining room set would go on sale for them. God's more powerful than a sale, he said. Pray that God will get you the money to buy it retail.

Osteen's god obviously doesn't understand the thrill of getting a really good deal. It's sometimes enough to make me speak in tongues. Halelujah. 

Ch-ch-ch-changes ...

Yes, I've retitled the blog. After all the recent musing I've been doing about names, I'm trying out a new identity for both the blog and myself.

The new title, "What Are You?", is the question that multiracial/ethnic people and people who are classified as "Others" get asked -- and, quite honestly -- ask themselves. This question has variations, such as "Where are you from, no before that, where are you really from?" and, for me specifically, "What tribe are you?" and my sisters, "¿De donde es usted?"

Which is not to say it's bad to ask these questions. It's all about context. If it's one of the first questions out of your mouth when you meet someone, you need to ask yourself why you're asking that question. Why do you need to know? Trust me, if you hang out with that person long enough, you'll find out. It will come up. If you're friends and you pay attention, you'll find out. Finding out about the souls of people around you are gems that need to be unearthed with care, not strip-mined for speed and efficiency. It's about them, not you.

Now, if you're at, say, diversity training or something and one of the exercises are about deconstructing your heritage, then it might be OK to ask. Context. Good rule of middle-finger: Golden Rule. How'd you like it if you got this question? Wouldn't you wonder why it mattered?

This question, and questions like these, are attempts to put people in a box so we know how to react to them. It's why people round these parts ask, "What church do you go to?" Because we need to know if they go to our kind of church or one of the other churches.

Personally, I really think this is a question that we all could stand to ask ourselves, about almost anything. What are you? What are you really? And how do you know you are what you are? How could you back that up? What makes you sure?

For example, the "What Are You, religion edition": I want to say that I'm a christian, but I don't really believe in that whole Christ divinity thing. So am I a christian? But I like Jesus, or Yeshua, as my pastor keeps calling him, and I like his teachings. And I'm a big fan of Christmas and Easter, culturally speaking. But I really hate capitalizing third-person personal pronouns. So am I a christian? Well ... Yes. Because that's how I identify. Today.

But I gotta keep wrestling with it. It changes. And how elastic in my definition can I get before I ditch the identity completely? And is it my definition, or someone else's?

This is one reason why I'm in seminary.

The ID change is me being cheeky. We're finishing up Revelation in Bible class at church, and I'm reading Catherine Keller's God and Power: Counter-Apocalyptic Journeys, and she was talking about the mother-maiden-crone imagery in Revelation, and called the whore of Babylon Babs. Now, my sister used to call me Babs, because it's a diminutive for my real name, and I haaaaaated it because it sounded like a nickname of an elderly rich woman who wore pearls and drank hot tea out of silver service sets. And my sister and her friends knew that and they tormented me with it (and still do, actually). About a year ago, however, I discovered that my 20-something friends at college were calling me Babs, affectionately, because it sounded cute and hip to them. And I wanted to get upset about it, but I couldn't because they meant to harm to me the way my sister did. So I embraced the name and the bad memories that came with it, too. And I started thinking that we overcome our evils by receiving them, welcoming them, not pushing them away and grinding them into the ground.

And for all the rage against empire that John of Patmos was screaming out, he didn't check his own imperial oppression against the women in his society. And today, when the consumerism associated with the whore -- and the rigid sex roles placed on men and women in our society's and John's -- is one way of oppressing us all, I think it's time to pull a Dante and go into Babylon so we can overturn all empire.

So Babalon I am for the moment. And it goes with my profile photo, which is graffiti from México that reads "If we don't think differently, nothing will change." That's apocalypto in a nutshell.

(Who Discovered) America?

I bought the VotoLatino Benefit Album off iTunes this week, a diverse collection (15 songs for $3.99!)of incredible music by Latin@ artists who sing about patriotism; that is, loving your country despite its flaws and knowing that you belong there even when people tell you that you don't.

Celebrating the Fourth with open eyes. Estas letras brought to ustedes by the funky goodness that is Ozomatli.
I heard her story from across the sea,
There was never one as fair, lovely as she.
With sun soaked skin and eyes of green,
With all kindness and grace of a queen.
I set sail into a cold, dark sky.
I had to see this beauty with my own eyes.
I crossed the ocean in a tiny ship
With her image in my mind and her name on my lips. I set.

Ah, America.

I found her standing upon the shore.
She was everything I dreamed of and so much more.
I felt a love that I’ve never known
And I knew I had to make her my own.
She was light of the night. She was dark as the night.
I fell under her spell, couldn’t tell wrong from right. I set.

Ah, America.
She breathed new life inside of me.
A whole new world she gave to me.
Surrendered all she had to me,
Even silver and gold.
All she asked was my soul.

How could I’ve know I’d been hypnotized.
There was more to my queen than first met the eye.
She had a chain of lovers who died her slaves
With a notion of blood for every drop that she gave.
I never thought she could break my heart
but all her contradictions are tearing me apart.
The secret she hides.
The beauty she flaunts
She’ll stop at nothing just to get what she wants.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My Middle Name is Hussein, Too

On Facebook there will be an event called "My Middle Name is Hussein, Too," on Aug. 4, Barack Obama's birthday. You can read about it at the HuffPo here, but essentially, some young voters got together to protest the stupid, kyriarchcal people who use the senator's middle name like a curse word, like a secret marker of Unacceptable Otherness that upholds all the reasons you should not vote for him. 

So if you're a member of Facebook and you want to show your solidarity, change your middle name to Hussein on Aug. 4. 

It's interesting how names define us -- or don't -- as if your name is supposed to encompass your entire being in a few (or many) syllables, a miniature resume that allows people to sum you up upon meeting you so they know which box to put you in. Names carry family ("Oh, you're Bob's boy"), heritage ("What kind of name is that?"), religion (see previous question), gender ("Isn't that a girl's name?") and sometimes even sexual orientation ("All gay men have track lightin'. And all gay men are named Mark, Rick or Steve.").

Names  -- or rather, the expectations people place on those names -- are often an albatross. I can't count how many times I've been told, "You don't look the way I imagined you on the phone." Or stumbling through yet another explanation that yes, this is my real name, no I didn't change it, I'm not trying to duck my heritage, my mom gave me the name she gave me and she gets rather peeved when I bug her for a do-over. And no, I'm not adopted. 

Sometimes I think life would be easier if Mom had given me a name that matched my phenotype, but then, isn't that just the ridiculousness that we attach to the social conventions of naming? The way we react to people's names tell us more about ourselves than the names tell us about the people we meet. Personally, I thought it was more interesting that the first name of Sen. Obama's mother is Stanley; hmm, I thought, that's interesting, why'd she get her father's name? (automatically assigning her name as "male," and so what does that say about the way I order the world?) Obama's middle name being Hussein? Meh. I'm more worried about remembering that his first name contains a C and keeping my fingers away from the S key when I write his last name, lest I slip from overuse (much like I put a T at the end of Chris most of the time without meaning to, because I write it so often these days). Because when am I ever going to spell it out? I'm actually putting more effort into figuring out which name is longer in old-style headline width counting, McCain or Obama, because a half-point makes all the difference in getting a headline to fit on one line or not. 

So I'm thinking about names today. I'm still struggling with finding a name that I feel represents this blog, still struggling with my decision to take my husband's name when we got married years and years ago (really wishing I hadn't), still considering if I want to change my name and, if I did, what would I change it to? What story would my new name tell about me? And about the people my name and I will encounter? 

Well, in any case, if you meet me on Aug. 4., my middle name will be Hussein, too. 

Monday, June 30, 2008

Get this woman a pastor, stat

I stayed up too late last night watching a recent rebroadcast of 30 Days on the FX channel. I'm a huuuuuuge fan of this show. For those who've never seen it: It follows the premise of "Walking a Mile in Someone Else's Skin" for 30 days, with the idea of, once you get to know someone intimately, you can no longer judge or hate them. So they took a Minuteman and had him live with an undocumented family, an anti-gay evangelical and had him live in the Castro District, a hunter with PETA activists, a born-again Christian with Muslims, etc. And if you think it's left-centered, that it's out to show that progressives have open minds and conservatives just need a crowbar, think again: One episode featured an atheist from Kansas living with an evangelical family in the Dallas area; the evangelical dad was completely defensive at first but really tried hard to make an effort to understand his houseguest and by the end of the 30 days had come to rearrange his thinking a bit; the atheist was a complete jerk who didn't budge a iota. 

So last night, the premise was "Put staunchly anti-same-sex-parenting person in a home with a same-sex family." And it was a terrible experience for everyone around. Kati, the woman undergoing the experience, came in feeling defensive, and so she felt attacked every time the conversation came up and dug in her heels around her beliefs so hard that she left dents in the hardwood floors. She cried after nearly every engagement and progressively looked as if she was falling to pieces as the days went by, as she struggled to stand up for her beliefs.

I was upset by Kati from the very beginning, because she started off with the statement, "I believe that children should be raised by a mother and father." Basically, the nuclear family is the only proper family. Well, I was raised in a non-nuclear family, without a dad, and I can tell  you that it wasn't Not Having a Dad that was the problem, it was world being snotty (and it still is being snotty, mind you) about Me Not Having a Dad that was the problem. 

Families do not fit in a single, narrowly defined box. What about extended families that help in raising kids? What about friends who live together and share responsibilities? Neighbors who help each other? Where are the boundaries of family? Does the raising of a child leave off at the parent(s)? Doesn't the efforts and work and love put in by grandparents, step-parents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, godparents, family friends count? Expand your mind to include all the possibilities, and you can't help but see that same-sex family is family, too.

But back to 30 Days. Kati held forth with her beliefs, blatantly telling the Patricks (the same-sex family hosting her) that she thought that their family was wrong, telling a child with lesbian moms that she was damaged, telling same-sex parents that what they were doing was against God and if they were hurting because the law didn't give them protective rights over their child, so sorry, it was their own fault for going against God and Law in the first place. And after nearly every encounter she was shown weeping at the unfairness of it, that why should she be punished for holding onto her beliefs?

I kept thinking, "Someone get this woman a pastor. Get her a pastor, NOW." This is interesting because a year ago I wouldn't have thought this, but ain't it funny how life is? There was no way Kati was going to be open to different ways of thinking as long as she felt like everyone was against her. As Kati was very religious (a devout Mormon), a supportive pastor would have helped guide her through her angst and used language Kati spoke to reassure her that turning over new and different ideas in her mind would not mean that God was going to smite her at any moment. Shown her biblical examples of the different kinds of families (and I tell ya, the Bible is NOT family-friendly). Read Ruth and see if that family arrangement is nuclear; it's Naomi who's left holding the kid by the end. Same-sex parenting, indeed. 

This is not to say a pastor would have helped Kati change her mind on the issue. That's not really what a pastor is for. But maybe she could have helped Kati clue into the fact that maybe one reason she was crying after these encounters because she was seeing the human collateral of her beliefs and her expression of them. And helped Kati pray on that. 

So I'm rather peeved at 30 Days for not giving her a session or four with a pastor to help her get through her crisis.