Saturday, July 18, 2020

Texas notes: Voices




     Cor ad cor loquitur: humanity is transmitted by humanity.
     Growing up in East and West Rogers Park allowed me to have a sheltered existence where black lives mattered in the hearts of the residents if not in the eyes of authority. The Heartland Cafe was a restaurant and social center, which aired Democracy Now, a local radio show. The Heartland was a mecca for the type of ethical humanism some people misguidedly call socialism, as if wanting all people to be cared for should be taken as an insult. The Rogers Parks had community gardens and served artisan coffee before it became a trend. We had bagel shops and Pho diners, and elotes and served off of food trucks well before those also became a trendy mainstay (with oppressive prices like a $10+ bagel here in Austin for the select few to enjoy).
     On my block alone in West RP, where we moved when I was quite young, we had a Jewish/Catholic family who lived in a ranch style house and had a menorah in one picture glass window and a Christmas tree in the other each year. A Native American family lived on the corner and the kids July and August joined us to play free free. We had a hard-drinking and very fun Irish clergyman on the corner (in a house). My friend Sophia just across the street lived with her first generation family here from the Philippines, and her father was the pastor at their church. I joined the family for his services that Sophia and I did not pay attention to, that went on and on while we snuck off and ran around and ate plates of pancit (a rice dish) and biko (sweet sticky rice). The family next door was first generation from Korea and I learned how to say hello, goodbye, and thank you. The family on the other side was strict Orthodox Jewish and I babysat for their kids. I learned it was very much like my house with a few rules I had to follow while inside.
     At school exactly eight blocks away my classmates were even more diverse than my own block was. Looking back, I recall very few black families in West Rogers, very different from what I saw when we were in the East. In addition to all of the diversity around me, my father had friends from all over the world including India and Italy, and they would visit our home and we’d all go out for meals. The handsome Italian man’s face nearly exploded when we let him eat a jalapeƱo and I remember finding it funny that he had no experience with such spicy peppers. I felt a little bad, too, since he looked to be in so much pain and kept drinking water, which I knew would not help much.
     Did being a part of truly mixed bag of culture assuage my sense of privilege or make me an anti-racist? Now that I reflect, I can say no. So what to do? Firstly, I am listening and learning. I know not to classify people since I may get it wrong. Some friends prefer to be called non-white. Others prefer people of color, and others want the words black and brown. Just as I want to self-identity and feel un-seen when painted into a box of how others want to see, define and label me, I will continue to allow others to do the same. I will use he/she/her/they/their/x/hen or no label at all depending on how a person choses to be identified gender-wise.
     As far as being a part of the solution to help heal a sick society where people are often not treated with fairness and dignity— including women— I have been doing a lot of contemplating. Quick note on that: feminism is not a dirty word. Until our horrible track record of three out of four women in this country having been the victim of assault is no longer a part of our story, I will stand up for the protection of women at all times.
     Until black man are no longer slowly murdered by cops who now have he audacity to do this while being filmed, and blatant racism is extinguished, activism seems to be the key for now. The quiet and the noisy type alike. I embarked on a five month course last year where I was one of a handful of white people and one of one or two straight white women in a room of people of color, and all realms of gender. I eventually learned to simply sit, listen and learn about lack of access to healthcare for disenfranchised Austinites and how institutionalized racism, classism and intersectionality bears upon our system. This is a form of activism to me. I sat on the hot seat and learned to recognize and start to check my privilege and to become a more respectful person to those around me. My ego was tamped down and I learned that just because I grew up in such diversity does not mean I am not a part of the problem if I am not actively working to solve it. The problem being what increasingly looks to me like an oligarchy in this country that has always looked like a class war to me, being won by the few and powerful.
     I am sad to say I did not go out and protest because I was afraid of getting hurt since senseless violence by police, some protesters and anti-protesters did occur, and then I was afraid of COVID. I am not thrilled with my choice but if I do not keep myself safe and sane I will not be able to show up at all. To make up for missing the grand gesture of protesting, I choose to address racism in all of it’s permutations and subtleties as it comes up— such as the Kindness is Gangster t-shirt a white blond friend was wearing the other day, which I did not find appropriate due to the cultural appropriation aspect.
     I have also been thinking about doing my part to truly level the playing ground. Am I willing to step aside for a job role or promotion to yield it to an equally or more qualified person of color? Yes. Am I willing to take only what’s mine and share the rest? Yes. I currently live in a 288’ tiny house and Tolstoy’s How Much Land Does A Man Need keeps going through my mind. 

     I once spent time on a tobacco farm in Philpot, Kentucky. The land owners, rich and humble, were still overseers. The migrant workers lived in a large dorm-like room with beds, a kitchen and bathroom. The beds were spaced apart for privacy, but there were no room dividers. It was very clean, temperate and well appointed but it was still just a giant room where grown men had to live together for meager wages. Couldn’t the landowners have truly shared their wealth with the men who did dangerous and back-breaking work every day? What if they'd each had a small home where brothers or friends could be roommates, and spouses and children could come and join them and wages to support a family? Wouldn't this be more humane?
     The land owner told me a story. One of the workers came from Mexico, I am not sure exactly where, to work on the farm and quickly found his new job to be untenable. I was young and very fit back then and helped plant one day, it was brutal. This young man was so distraught that he packed his bags and left after just a few days. He was walking down road the trying to get back home to Mexico when the landowners and his brother, also a worker on the farm, drove down and found him. The owners escorted him back home via airplane and spent some time with his family. This surely created a tighter bond and more trust between the owners and this family of workers. The land owners did their best to be good people; however, they were in an industry that mandated them to have what looked like a corral of men hired on as workhorses, and it just didn’t sit quite right.
     Yes, we can have industry and hire workers. No, we cannot sit in ivory towers like Jeff Bezos (worth an estimated $178.4 billion) is doing today while his Whole Food workers are expected to have face time with hundreds of potentially COVID ridden members of the public each day. One person should not be allowed to posses such wealth and if they do, they should not be allowed to exploit others to keep their deep pockets from tearing.
     My Busia (great grandma) used to tell me to “be kind to everyone.” Her daughter, my Grandma Marie, also showed kindness to strangers around every corner. My Grandma Olive always had a smile and a joke, and I don’t think I ever heard her say an unkind word about another human being. My parents taught me about the value of justice since I was a young child, and tried to give me diversity of experience. They chose socially redeeming work or showed me the value of integrity and honesty in less-redeeming work. I believe that these messages have molded me into a person who cares about others. I have not always been a good person to those I love (including myself) and I have had relationship challenges like everyone else has. I knew, though, that I must always strive to be more balanced in order to be a better member of society. I now seek to have harmony across all boards and minimize conflict when I can. I admit when I am wrong to the best of my ego’s ability and say I am sorry when I need to. I will continue to use my voice and take actions to contribute to justice for all, and this will keep me out of self-pity that would be quite easy to go into, especially during these trying times and with the real-world challenges I am facing.
      Let’s share how we build others up and help each other in their efforts to do the same. This thought may have given me and idea for a future blogpost, where I’ll share how I am able to have right leaning Trump supporting all lives matterists in my life. Progress, not perfection right?

3 comments:

  1. Every goddamn day and twice on Sunday now? Or a Daylight Savings Time glitch? Not that I'm complaining.

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  2. I edited something and reposted it wrong. Back in its proper time slot now. Thanks for the heads up.

    ReplyDelete
  3. We can learn so much from others as they look inward and outward. Thanks for sharing your thoughts , observations and memories.

    ReplyDelete

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