Thursday, May 24, 2007

I´m It

I got tagged by Jordancito at Pigeontoes. He wrote about five reasons he blogs, but I´m hoping that he isn´t expecting me to come up with five things to say about why this page exists. I´m hoping its sufficient to say that I do it because it seems like a good thing to do and leave it at that.

Five People I Miss at Home.
Not the Top Five. Not the Only Five. Just Five, among many, many others.

Karen. Karen and I eat Vietnamese and Thai food in Hell´s Kitchen. We drink white wine in her house in Washington Heights. (She can´t come to my house because she is horribly allergic to my cat.) We talk about how silly it is that everyone feels the need to get married and have children. We talk about our families. We complain about work. Karen also lived in South America, long before I did and made me want to do the same thing. Karen lifts weights three days a week, at least and can squat more than most folks I know. She also has fabulous long curly black hair.

Angela. Angela was witness to my first halting attempts to learn Spanish. When we worked together at the Medical Center in Washington Heights, we used to go eat Dominican food three or four times a week and complain about our office. I feel my stomach bloat up when I think about those heaping plates of yellow rice. She always has beautiful silver jewelry and her husband Benjamen, (also someone I miss) throw lovely dinner parties.

Laure. Laure writes pithy commentary on film and hockey. She always has excellent shoes, and the best color lipstick. Laure thought she could escape from New York, and successfully stayed away for almost nine years, but now she is on her second stint. We fought over a boy in 1989, a very silly boy, we both repented of it later, but of course at the time, it was terrible painful.

Marcus. Marcus was one of my chief inspirations for doing the Peace Corps. I´m still haunted by his stories of Cameroon, and the first conversation I had with him, he was peering at a map of Africa, explaining to me how he wanted to be there and not in North Carolina. He is one of those people to have gotten married and just had a baby, little Vaughan, who I hope to meet at Christmas. Marcus and I shared many New Year´s Eve´s together, one time we fought for five hours to ring in the New Year. I recall that I went down in Round 6, at about five in the morning.

El. Elliot is an artist. He has a gigantic loft in Los Angeles and a solo show in New York. He lived in Rome and dated a beautiful Italian pop singer. But Elliot is also the salt of North Carolina red earth. Elliot and I used to warm up Stouffer´s Corn Pudding in his parent´s kitchen in North Carolina. El still has a southern accent and sings me James Taylor and Patsy Cline.

I tag Emily, Erik, and Laure. Give me five answer. You can pick the question.

Monday, May 14, 2007

La Gringuita

Last year when I was preparing to come to Ecuador I wrote for the following in preparation for Peace Corps service.

"No matter how much I prepare, I suspect that the impact of a transition of this magnitude will be huge. With respect to my own cultural background, I presume that being a North American will have an enormous impact on how people interact with me. I’m a fair-skinned, single woman in her thirties. For better and worse, I will surely encounter people with stereotypes about white women from the United States. It will be important to try to not take anything too seriously, especially at the beginning. Communicating respect and openness to people in my community with help me establish my own uniqueness."

Um. Yeah. This, as you might imagine turned out to be the understatement of the decade. This is my life here. As a norteamericana, I realize that I am always under a certain level of scrutiny. What do I think about Bush? What do I think about Iraq? What do I think about Hollywood? Why are they building that wretched wall on the Texas border? How much do I pay for my apartment? What do my parents think about me being here? Where on earth are all the children I should have at age 34?

And, I came in trying to have a tough skin, especially where the image of the United States in the world. I can´t defend that vast majority of US foreign policy, especially in Latin America, much less in the Middle East these days. I can´t defend that fact that right has been systematically chipping away at the safety net in my country for twenty years and that no one in the states has any guarantee of being seen by a doctor unless they cash on hand or an insurance card. I wouldn´t presume to argue with my friends who grew up on the left in various countries in and whose families or they themselves were persecuted by regimes that were either tacitly or explicitely supported by the United States. I came prepared to absorb some of the shock of criticism of mi tierra.

It gets complicated though. On at least two occasions, I´ve still gotten my back up about blanket criticisms of the United States. Not because there aren´t legitimate critiques to be made, but it gets under my skin when people make across the board statements about how it must feel to be norteameriana, or how things came to be this way, because invariably people from outside the States do not get that part. Be it bad or good, I find myself wanting to have the last word on how things came to be this way and what must be done about it. I don´t get bent out of shape when people criticize my country. I get bent out of shape when people think they understand how we got to be this way.

James Baldwin said it better, and think this is from The Fire Next Time.

"I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually."

I grew up in a resolutely Democratic home and was raised with the attending ideology: the US has made some errors from time to time (Vietnam, Jim Crow, genocide of the the Indians, what have you) but we have been working on all of that and are on a resolutely upwards paths towards being a force for good in the world. The good things would include the Constitution, the 14th amendment, the New Deal, storming the beach at Normandy, and Stonewall, to name a couple. And I want all of it to be true. But like all myths, I am confronted all the time with evidence that its not. And people here who look at me appraisingly and say, now what exactly do you make of the war in Iraq, are ultimately not the ones who have to live with the disonnance. Its people from the United States who have to live with the ambivalence, the reality that for all its potential, the U.S. has been responsible for some dreadful things both at home and in the world and what means for us who benefit and stand to lose the most from it. The potential exists that instead of being a flawed system which a lot of the time works for a lot of people, its a rotten system, designed to only work for those with money, education, and access to power.

I´m still mulling over a lot of this stuff, but will say close this bit with another James Baldwin quote, though its still not the one I was looking for.

"American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it. "