Pico de Orizaba

Pico de Orizaba
Taken from Huatusco, Veracruz, the closest town to Margarita's family's ranch.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Racism, Multiculturalism, Growing up in Branchburg, NJ; Conversations with a Past Life.

The wonderful thing about the U.S. is it's multi-culturalism. The difficult thing is the paradox of being two things; "American" and "The other"... Maybe you were really fortunate in your experiences in Branchburg and Somerville. I won't take that away from you. In college I created my own "focus" which was American Social History of Racism and Immigration. I can give you statistics if you wish... Granted, that's not what you wish... You don't have any ethnic roots and you don't fall on any side of any line. You just have a name. That's cool. And you believe that for people to not be racist, they shouldn't focus on the ethnic roots of people's names and they shouldn't be aware of people's different physical appearances.

A while back I was surprised to learn that one of my middle school "friends" speaks Brazilian Portuguese and has a Ukrainian last name. So she told me that her grandparents fled the Ukraine for Brazil and Venazuela, that her mother grew up in Brazil and her father grew up in Venazuela and the two of them met in Somerville. That's what interests me; people's journeys. Because that is what the U.S. is all about... The most difficult of those journeys was during the slave trade. And the most embedded system of racism in the U.S. is against the descendents of slaves. Granted, in New York City the West Indian children have a much higher success rate in the public schools causing outcries from the American Black community; saying that the West Indians are receiving special attention. I don't believe that. I believe that all migrants fleeing to the U.S. from horrible socio-political-economic situations have all the positive energy of their new possibilities behind their actions... That's why it's called "The American Dream". Life is just life until you totally change your home, your language, your country... 

When I graduated from Branchburg Central, I was with Todd Golub and Brian Long. Brian's older brother came up to us and said, "So, Now you guys are going to Somerville. Well, just you wait! The high school is full of Niggers and Spics. And Oow how they smell!" At that point I walked away from the group. The first thing I noticed in the locker rooms after gym class was that the only people showering were those who supposedly stunk. I imagine that the white boys were afraid of being seen naked... Sean so and so, punched me in the chest and knocked the wind out of me. Why? I didn't ask him. Kenya Laster and her friends taunted me (and others) after lunch when I passed them lined up infront of the cafeteria. I just ignored them. One day waiting for the bell I was sitting on the floor against the wall, Kenya pulled up a chair, straddled it and said, "Eat Me"... Kathy talks about the fight in gym class when she beat up a girl for calling her "fat white bitch"... And in that description of that event I wonder what Kathy truly is saying... For years Charles Van Ness called me "Cracker Feet", jeering at me. And the 
strange thing is I just wanted to be friends with him. Why? Who were the "Spics"? Supposedly they were Puerto Ricans. Why Puerto Ricans? Because no one (an intentional generalization) truly knew their ethnic history. Why not? Michelle is bilingual with Spanish. So I asked her why she spoke Spanish and she explained that she dated many Ecuatorians in High School and that her husband is Guatemalan. Maybe she is racist because she only dated Latinos... Maybe I'm racist because I married a Mexican woman from a very poor family also from a horrible history of slavery, racism, classism, exclusion and exploitation. Why did I marry her? Because I love her; we have a spiritual spark that enables us to have a truly wonderful relationship. Why don't I return to the U.S. with Margarita? Because she will suffer horribly there if she must seek work. Why? Because she is 36-years-old with the equivalent of a 2nd grade education... Does that make her less then you? Absolutely not. But, the U.S. is all about credentials and status levels... And she doesn't speak English. Why not? I don't speak English the 8.5 years I live here and no one speaks English here. Did I write too much?

My friend responded:  OMG what horrible experiences n I apologize for some who r the same race as me. I believe the only judge is God. I personally do not generalize how u r to me is who u r too me. We were the first black family in our neighborhood n I was never treated cruel by n e race. I know my heritage I choose to live by who I am as a person today not thru my ancestors of yesterday.

So, I continue:  The funny thing is that in my young and immature mind of the 80s I knew what was happening and I didn't develop hatred towards those kids.  I knew they were aware of the discomforting situation and probably didn't know how to respond to it adequately.  Just as I had absolutely no idea how to respond to that situation. What always made me sad was that we couldn't truly cross the line naturally.  When I was at Raritan Valley Community College, one of the woman active in the Black Student Union began flirting with me intellectually.  I don't remember what was happening at the time and truly who I was to her.  In any case, we engaged in certain discussions addressing issues about "names".  I found that in the classes there were two arguments that came from the young intellectuals of African Descent; "Don't call me hyphenated" and "Don't call me black, since black isn't a true color of the skin"...  But everyone knows that almost everyone lives in a socio-political group and organizes their minds based upon those realities; that people seek comfort within the similar, which also creates the other, who is not similar.  Plus, within the history of U.S. social and cultural politics there is always a race issue or a race concern.  Those concerns weren't emancipated with the Spike Lee movies.  I don't believe that so many people decided to watch his movies and then decided to "do the right thing"...  If we were to mention Spike Lee or Al Sharpton or uncover new found histories of the civil rights movements, we must explain who those people are or were and what they represent and we must speak in "labels" such as "Black" or "African-American"...  And the "whites" ask, "why do Blacks call themselves Niggas, if they don't want us using those words?"  So the issue continues floating in the air.  And who wants to study social psychology and empowerment of the minority groups adopting those same racist or anti-Semitic words in an effort towards disarming those bombs for themselves?  No one has the time or the patience for truly understanding.  I did, because it burned a hole in me from as early as middle school.  It still burns a hole in me because I know that focussing on these issues brings up the question of where it is I'm truly coming from...  Most "Americans" who have made it into the comfortable middle-class just want to live comfortably no matter what is their heritage. 

In any case, back to the friendship with the young woman from the Black Student Union...  I learned that when you get so embroiled within political intellectualism and political correctism, you cease addressing the issues naturally, but you become more concerned about whether or not you are speaking correctly.  I use all the words because there isn't a correct one.  I started saying "People of African Descent" because it's most accurate.  However it is very long.  Yes, we should all treat each other as humans and not hang onto race issues. Somehow I asked my friend, "If I wanted to join the Black Student Union, would you let me in?"  I was 21-years-old.  She was I imagine 19.  She immediately said, "No, you are not Black."  And I said, "But the Union is part of the school.  Being a student here, I should be admitted or you would be discriminating against me..."  She said unequivocally NO.  But, the strange thing is that the following day she looked for me and said that she had spoken with the other members who said that they would appreciate my participation.  I expected some tension when I entered the first meeting and found absolutely none.  In fact, the leaders were very warm towards me.  One day I decided to man one of their information tables and received some horrible reactions from some of the other students.  That week I had to present infront of my Public Speaking class.  In the middle of my presentation, fellow students began jeering, interrupting me with "Nigger Lover" and "You must be confused about who you are and who are your people" etc.  The professor didn't say a thing.  Infact, he gave me a D in the class.  I confronted him on the issue that I wasn't given the chance of presenting without interruption and that he didn't control his students.  So, he changed my grade to a C...  Thinking back on that presentation, I believe that it was on race relations.  But, still, since it was a class, the Professor is obligated towards giving me the same opportunity as others; meaning a safe space for learning and for practicing... 

As for "my people".  I don't have any.  I never have had any.  My father died when I was 4 years old.  I grew up with my mother and my two sisters in the confusion of feminist transition.  My mother didn't know how to raise me and had too much pressure from all of the sudden responsibilities.  I wasn't raised with male role models and wasn't raised clearly as a boy or a girl (sounds confusing).  I’m not saying that I was confused about my gender, I’m saying that the home environment was emasculating; I wasn’t accepted for who I was; a son and a brother.  When my father died, my mother was afraid of creating an incestuous relationship with the new "man of the house" and intentionally pushed me away.  And then Tommy Murray started an anti-Semitic "movement" against me that lasted from 2nd grade until I entered Somerville High School.  The kids rolled pennies down the isle, told me to go back to my temple, asked me where was my beanie, said that I didn't believe in God because I didn't believe in Christ, that I killed Jesus, etc, all because I stood up in 2nd grade class after the teacher asked us what we got for Christmas and I said, "I don't celebrate Christmas."  And she asked, "What do you mean YOU DON'T CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS?".  Tommy stood up, pointed his finger at me and exclaimed, "HE'S A JEW!"  Todd Golub was a Jew too.  But no one knew that, since Golub isn't a stereotypical Jewish name.  It's a shortened Russian name.  I was friends with him on and off from preschool.  But he was horribly violent due to the violence of his father towards his mother.  His family was horribly racist.  I remember thinking, "You guys just don't learn.  The reason you are so angry is because of what happened in Europe with the Pogroms and the Holocaust.  But what you are doing, intentionally separating yourselves from those you call DAGOS and WAPPs and WASPS and SPICS (I learned those words in their household) is the same thing that was done unto your people."  One day in 7th grade I confronted Todd about  stealing some of my baseball cards.  The crazy thing is that his family had money.  My family didn't...  Todd's reaction was having all the kids chant "Poor Boy" when I walked in the hallways of Central School.  What could I do? 

There is no "my people" because there will always be those who clash with my style or my beliefs or my appearance.  Who will say that I am white or I am Gringo or I am rich or I am unconnected, or I am rebellious or I am left of center or I am right of center or I am a Jew or I am a non-believer or I am wacked because I believe in certain aspects of metaphysics because of personal experiences, or that I am apathetic or I am radical, or I am too critical or I speak too much about too many things… Or I am not white enough or I am poor…  Or because I am married to a poor Mexican campesina semi-Catholic woman detached from her indigenous roots yet not TRULY MEXICAN meaning that her class status removes her rights for true assistance politically, educationally and economically.  And, yes, the middle-class and upper class of all countries receive assistance…  They claim that they deserve that assistance more than do the poor.  Adequate schooling for the children is one form of assistance.  Can you argue against that?  Do the rich deserve better teachers than do the poor?  The last I looked, the baby wasn’t born with a wallet and a bank account.  Nor are children able to vote until they are 18-years-old…  But they can learn all the discriminatory styles of their parents and they can cause hell for others who may not ever have thought that there was a problem before that turmoil began.  I didn’t believe that I was different from the other people with whom I shared space here in Mexico until I was repeatedly figuratively slapped in the face by people’s reactions to my accent and to their fantasies of who I am.  I started seeing my face in the mirror and disliking it because it wasn’t a Latino style face.  Margarita and I decided to record our conversations for placing Margarita’s perspective for my blog.  You have no idea how difficult it is for me to listen to my voice.  I’m accustomed to hearing all the Mexican forms of speaking Spanish.  I don’t accept how I speak.  But it is very difficult if not impossible to change your accent, especially after the age of 12…  Let’s say that I just want to fit in.  But, that is so unrealistic for so many reasons.  The other day one of Margarita’s sister-in-laws, Rejina, said, “But Ross, you speak perfectly, your pronunciation is perfect, your word usage is perfect.  The only difference is your accent.”  Now, Rejina was one of the people in Margarita’s family who had the most difficulty with how I spoke and was not shy in saying offensive things.  Granted, looking at the issue differently, had it not been for people like Rejina, I wouldn’t have felt the pressure of learning the Spanish, Mexican language as well and quickly as possible. I’m very self-conscous and that self-consciousness pressures me to speak clearly.  However, so many Mexicans grimace when they hear me speak.  I grimace too…

When Mexicans say to me, "Your paisanos, your countrypeople," I say, "look, there are 330 million people in the United States.  Many don't speak English.  Many don't consider me one of them because I am not tall, blonde haired and blue eyed.  When I meet them here and I speak to them in English, they ask me where I learned my English.  They look at me as if I am trying to trick them..."  The Mexican hears my accent and treats me as an outsider.  They call me Gringo.  And I ask them what is their definition of Gringo?  Do they know that there are millions of Mexican "Gringos"?  That there are Chinese "Gringos" and "Gringos" of African Heritage?  Or is it that "Gringo" is tall, blonde haired and blue eyed?  If that is the case, I don't truly fit the description.  And if the "gringo" refers to the offensive "dirty American" who believes that everyone in the world should speak English and raises her voice thinking that by yelling the other person will better understand her...  Well that's not me either...  But, I can't change my accent.  And I can't change my origins.  And I can't change to whom I was born.  I've spent 20+ years working on myself, which has helped me be able to be comfortable with so many other people and look into their eyes and truly relate with them as humans and not as others.  But, that doesn't change the world around me.  It doesn't save me from conflicts. 

I inhereted my father's disease and had my large intestine removed in 8th Grade.  I had another major surgery just after 9/11 removing my rectum.  The nursing services at Mount Sinai in upper Manhattan were horrible.  I was given a dirty needle that caused the only fever I remember having in my life.  Because of Insurance Policy Mount Sinai broke hospital ethics and released me to the street delirious with a fever of 104.  Why were the nurses so horrible?  Was it a race issue?  It could have been.  My girlfriend at the time who was in the recovery room when I recovered and who inspired me to go to doctors and who probably saved my life, was of African Descent.  Her name is Joey. She appears in some of my paintings.  The thing is that people with chronic diseases experience life differently. If you haven't had a surgery or if you haven't lived with a timebomb ticking within your body, you may experience life in a much more relaxed form.  The surgeries created daily discomforts in the name of living.  Joey and I broke up 6 months before I left for Mexico.  We fell in-love in order to truly fall in-love with life, not for more.  And I met the Ross I truly appreciate, but within a very difficult situation.  I also met the first person with whom I truly saw a future.  And she is from the mountains of Veracruz, from a poor coffee farming family, born into horrible sexism, classism and racism.  She has the equivalent of a 2nd grade education, but is as great a person as I would look for in anyone.  And no one understands our relationship.  But they don't truly look closely.  We are the same person, although very different. It's as if our spirits run on the same track.  And that's probably why we connected from such distant lands, cultures and experiences...  Her family is Catholic. 

Yesterday a religious group brought The Virgin of Guadalupe to my in-laws' house where we are at the moment and all the women went into the living room (where I was painting) and prayed together...  I don't believe in formal prayer, nor do I believe in organized religion.  I'm also concerned about the religious oppression of the converted groups by the European conquerors...  But, these are just such superficial formalities that have nothing to do with my spiritual connection with Margarita.  God exists regardless of our beliefs and God wants us to exist in all of these forms.  So, who am I to remove what others seek for themselves if that seeking doesn't harm anyone? 

They rolled pennies down the isle, but not once did they ask me who I am and what I believed?  No one knew what had happened in my life, what was happening in my house, what was happening in my body. 

I'm sorry for rambling on to you so much.  I'm truly appreciative of your response M.  You didn't have to continue the conversation with this seemingly obsessive stranger.  I doubt the "conversations" will continue because that is just the nature of "friendships" without true interpersonal contact. 

Everyone is an opportunity for personal evolution with others.  You never know who will send you spinning or who will inspire you or help you feel more alive.  We are nothing without others.    And I can't live believing that my face is the only great face worthy of seeing in the mirror.  If this were the case, then wouldn't God have created just one image? 

Oh, and about the concept of God…  Does it truly matter whether you put a face or a figure or a gender on that entity?  Do you “meet” God only when you open a bible or the Koran or the Bagivad Gita or when you go to a church, synagogue or mosque?  Everytime I enter one “church” the rest of the “churches” of the world say that I’m mistaken.  Some people won’t talk to me because I talk about “God” or spirit or soul or natural miracles or phantasms or Astrology or chamanism or psychics or…  But if God is omnipotent and God created us, isn’t it strange that God would create someone or something unacceptable?  As I’ve mentioned before, all over Mexico “they” are kidnapping, torturing, dismembering, beheading, mutilating and skinning people, supposedly in the name of the greatest and most lucrative drug addiction market in the world: The United States of America.  We know that the War on Drugs is a farce; Who would want to remove a multi-trillion dollar industry-market?  It’s all about the dollar all over the world.  But the United States has the biggest addiction (drug and alcohol) problem in the world.  But for some reason the violence is suddenly on this side of the border.  There is absolutely no security.  There is absolutely no democracy.  There is absolutely no value of having a voice, since there is no one who wishes for listening.  And I wonder who would want to listen on your side of the border…  The sale of arms and drugs is too valuable for those receiving campaign funding…;-)  One person’s life is much more valuable than the millions of others on that 1:1million ratio… And I’m not just talking about Mexican lives.  This is an issue in all of the inner cities of the U.S.  It transcends all societies…

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