Tomorrow…

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“The more that you read, the more things you will know.

The more that you will learn, the more places you’ll go”

Dr. Seuss

 

 

5-Point Plan

  1. Make a list of twelve countries that I have never heard about
  2. Research the countries to learn more about the culture and people
  3. Find books that are centered around humanization from those twelve countries
  4. Read the twelve books, one a month
  5. Reflect and address on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation and look at who the people are when the stereotypes and prejudices are wiped away

This semester has provided me with many opportunities to grow as an individual. Specifically, this class has pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to discover things about myself and others that I had not known. My 21st birthday is this Saturday, May 20th. Since I am about to be the legal drinking age, I think it is more than appropriate to expand my literary pallet as well. I might even import a glass of wine or a can of beer from every country I read, who knows?

My goal is to read one novel a month for twelve months that humanizes individuals from twelve countries I have never heard of. I want to learn more about individuals in other countries and be open to their experiences. My goal is to recognized my preconceived biases and check my own privilege. I am an onion, I have layers and walls that people need to peel to see the real me. Hopefully I can peel those layers of the authors from the twelve unknown (to me) countries by reading between the lines. I want to go places.

 

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Never Forget

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My grandfather survived the Holocaust. He made it through eight different concentration camps, came to America, and had a family. Unfortunately, I never got to meet him because his heart was too weak. He passed away when my dad was 16, the same year my dad got hit by a drunk driver. I got to know my grandfather through the stories I learned from my family and through studying the Holocaust. The butterfly is located near Auschwitz and serves as a reminder to never forget. Never forget your humanity. Never forget that we were all created equally, difference is socially constructed.

Below are ten poems that I wrote about my experience with the Holocaust. It was the most difficult, but most rewarding experience of my life. Enjoy.

My Letters

 

Blog Post #7

When I began this course, I had no idea what I was getting into. I have learned so much throughout my inquiry process and the things we have read have contributed to my understanding of how to approach writing diverse cultures. I am in a very different place now than I was before I started the course. I had no idea how complex writing about cultures could become. I learned that I am a very systematic writer and I don’t love to be pushed outside of my comfort. I thought that it wasn’t okay to write from perspectives that I could not understand myself, but through the readings we have completed I have found ways that could accurately represent other cultures.

I fell in love with Adiche and the things she has to say about the role of females in our society. She says, “show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become.” This quote inspired me and I reference it every time I think about the danger of a single story. The perspective brought forth in On Black Sister’s Street opened my eyes and helped me develop what I believe to be the most important human trait, empathy. I have spent much of my time on this earth trying to see people for who they are, rather than as the labels society has branded them with. Maya Angelou says, “prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.” I have constantly checked my privilege throughout this process and made sure that I was not tokenizing or misrepresenting cultures I didn’t understand.

I think I have done a really good job of pulling the reader in by using personal experience to guide my writing. I have found my voice through my writing and really learned a lot about myself throughout the process. I have written with a purpose because all of the prompts and assignments required me to establish a purpose. I think I accomplished many of my self-set goals because I did go out of my comfort zone and created work that I am genuinely proud of. I thought that I would learn more descriptive language and how to portray my thoughts better, but I’m still struggling with that area.

Literacy Engagement Project

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On Black Sisters Street

My target audience is people who do not know enough about the sex trafficking industry and make negative judgments towards women who choose to sell their bodies for money. My purpose is to humanize women who are often dehumanized.

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In a house on the Zwartezusterstraat, the women Sisi was thinking of — Ama, Joyce, and Efe — were at that very moment preparing for work, rushing in and out of the bathroom, swelling its walls with their expectations: that tonight they would do well; that the men who came would be a multitude; that they would not be too demanding. And more than that, that they would be generous. ― Chika Unigwe

I feel in love with Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche in my English 302 class when we watched a TedTalk about the danger of a single story. Some of my classmates are currently reading Americanah, which I have promised myself I would read whenever I get a break from the tornado that is college.

In another TedTalk that Adiche held, We Should All Be Feminists, she talked about the different goals that society sets for men and women:

“A Nigerian acquaintance once asked me if I was worried that men would be intimidated by me. I was not worried at all. In fact it had not occurred to me to be worried because a man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the kind of man I would have no interest in. But still I was really struck by this. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a good thing. It can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?”

 

Adiche has a lot in common with the author that I chose to read, Chika Unigwe. Both of these women were born in Nigeria and share a comparable cultural background, Igbo. Adiche works primarily in the United States and writes exclusively in English, while Unigwe lives in Flanders and sporadically writes stories in Dutch alongside her English. Both authors write in the hopes of shedding light on the lives of women and society’s expectations of them. In order to write her novel, Unigwe had to spend time persuading four women to tell their stories of their time in Antwerp.  The four women are unmarried and participate in pre-marital sex with men for money.

Globally, sex workers have a 45% to 75% change of experiencing sexual violence some time during their careers. They also have a 32% to 55% change of experiencing sexual violence in a given year.

Unigwe’s novel, On Black Sisters Street, is a captivating story that uncovers the lives of four very different women who left Africa in the hopes of making it big in Europe. Sisi, Ama, Efe and Joyce work in Antwerp’s red-light district, and sell their bodies to men during the night:

Thrown together by conspiracy of faith and allowed man called Dele, they are bound in a sort of unobtrusive friendship, comfortable with whatever little they know of one another, asking no questions unless they are prompted to, sharing deep laughter and music in their sitting room, making light of the life that has taught them to make the most of the trump card that God has wedged in between their legs, dissecting the men who come to them (men who spend nights lying on top of them or under them, shoving and fiddling and clenching their brown buttocks and finally [mostly] using their fingers to shove their own pale meat in) in voices loud and deprecating.

Unigwe does an amazing job explaining the lives of the characters. She weaves the lives of the four women seamlessly into the storyline, giving each woman their own space to explain their story, always returning to the women in their apartment they share in chapters titled “ZWARTEZUSTERSTRAAT”. This book is recognized as being a work of modern African writing and is unlike any book I have read in the past. It opens the readers eyes to the hardships and the sacrifices that many women make because of poverty. It shows what people are willing to do to provide for their loved ones. This book is a must read for people who see prostitutes as unworthy of empathy because the stories of these four women provides the reader with a deep understanding of the thoughts of these women and the things they had to sacrifice just to make money to support their families.

Unigwe has a unique perspective on the lives of these women because of her dedication to her novel. She gives a voice to the voiceless and comments on the lives of women who society usually looks down on. One man on a bus tells a pregnant women out of wedlock to:

“Go and tell the man that got you pregnant to look after you. Anu ofia. Wild animal. If you spread easily like butter you get what you deserve.”

Society is programmed to look down on women who have sex before marriage and despise women who have sex for money. In my favorite television show, Criminal Minds, prostitutes are considered high risk victims:

“Victims in this group have a lifestyle that makes them a higher risk for being a victim of a violent crime. The most obvious high risk victim is the prostitute. Prostitutes are high risk because they will get into a stranger’s car, go to secluded areas with strangers, and for the most part attempt to conceal their actions for legal reasons. Offenders often rely on all these factors and specifically target prostitutes because it lowers their chances of becoming a suspect in the crime.”

This is a very interesting idea to keep in mind because people assume that prostitutes are easy targets of murder, which does occur in Unigwe’s book. Although Sisi was murdered because she tried to leave the trafficking community rather than being murdered by a serial killer, her murder was overlooked by the community due to her career choice. Her death was not tragic to anyone besides the other African women she lived with and the police officers were paid to cease their investigation. The reasoning behind someone being a high risk target is a bit disheartening to me because it makes prostitutes seem like they have no regard for their own life. In many of the Criminal Minds episodes, prostitutes that get murdered do not raise much question, but when the offender becomes more confident and murders a middle-class white woman, the community speaks out in outrage.

Rates of sexual and physical violence against sex workers have been proven to be lower in contexts where decriminalization occurs. A relatively recent academic journal found that decriminalization is the only framework that would ensure human rights for sex workers. Decriminalization allows sex workers to work together and work in safer areas with increased safety. It also increases access for sex workers to justice and allows them to report violence to the police without having to worry about being arrested.

Many people see sex workers as dirty and unworthy of compassion, but Unigwe sees these women as much more than that. She does not see them as passive victims, she sees them as willing to do what they must to make a life for themselves. The women are wiling to do what they have to in exchange for money. Sisi, Ama, Efe, and Joyce see their time with the men as transactions and part of their job. Reading this book provided me with a perspective that I cannot relate to. I don’t know what it is like to have nothing or to have to support my family. Even though I do not share these experiences, I am able to empathize with these women because of the way that Unigwe portrays them. As women who are just trying to make a living and provide food and shelter for their families. The women get caught up in the idea of Europe being the only way to make money:

“Five hundred euros was a lot of money. If she converted that to aria, it amounted to more money than she had ever dreamed of making in any single month, even working in her bank of first choice. That was five times her father’s salary. Surely, if she was expected to pay back that much, it meant that she was expected to earn a lot more.”

The murdered Sisi, does not have stories of rape, genocide, or incest, but her experience is arguably more disheartening then the rest. She was an example of a women whose hard work and determination was not enough in Africa. She obtained an education and she and her family wanted nothing more than for Sisi to be successful, but she was still not able to succeed. She had followed all of the standard conventions to provide for herself, but still fell short. She is the perfect example of what can happen to even the most educated people: without a job, there is no food on the table. She was faced with a decision and made it as best as she could. This could happen to anyone. You could end up thousands of dollars in debt, but not end up finding a steady job. Anyone could end up in Sisi’s position.

When looking at Golden Dreams: The Immigrant Vision of California in the Hilbert Museum of California Art, there was a photo that I saw that I immediately connected to On Black Sisters Street. Alfredo Ramos Martinez’s painting “Mother and Child” was a beautiful piece that captivated me. It reminded me of Efe because she had a child that she was supporting back in Africa. The woman in Martinez’s painting is longingly looking at her son, which is what I imagined Efe looked like when she was leaving her son to go to Antwerp. The photo stood out to me because I had imagined Efe as the mother instantly.

For complimentary books please read:

Americanah

Night Dancer

The Color Purple

Samskara

 

 

This Book I’m Reading…

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I’m reading Chika Unigwe’s book, On Black Sisters Street. I chose it out of a running list of books written from perspectives other than the dominant Western books we are used to reading in school. I chose this book out of the long list because I believed that I would develop a deeper understanding of what it was like to go to Europe with nothing and become a prostitute. So many people look down on prostitutes and see them as inferior, but I have heard so many stories of these people joining the industry because they are just trying to make enough money to survive.

I’m reading On Black Sisters Street because Chika Unigwe is an incredible woman with so much to say. She was a 2008 UNESCO-Aschberg fellow and a 2009 Rockefeller Foundation fellow. She has a PhD from the University of Leiden and is the recipient of many awards for her amazing writing. She isn’t afraid to tell the story of people who have left her country to try to make a life in Europe.

I’m reading On Black Sisters Street because I want to know more. I don’t want to continue to be ignorant. I want to learn more about people who are considered to be different than me. I want to read about them just to find out that we are more alike than I’ve been taught. I know I am only getting a small piece of what it was like, but I want to learn all I can. I want to develop my understanding and knowledge on the lives of others.

I’m reading On Black Sisters Street because I believe getting to know the people around you is more important than keeping your secrets. I believe in getting to know people well, instead of just grazing the surface. People should make an effort to get to know each other and make connections. To find similarities and appreciate the differences. Diversity should be celebrated, not oppressed. Diversity in each person should be been seen as beautiful and appreciated by every person that comes to contact with each other.

I’m reading On Black Sisters Street because I believe that black lives matter. I believe that women have the right to choose what they want to do with their bodies. Just because someone gets paid to have sex, does not mean that they deserve to be looked down on. There is so much more to a person than their career or who they choose to have sex with. We are more than what we choose to do in the bedroom and who we choose to do it with. Sexuality should be celebrated and appreciated. Women should not be put down because they are sexual beings. Women should not be called sluts for having sex, when men are praised and applauded.

In Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s TedTalk We Should All Be Feminists, she talks about the different goals that society sets for men and women:

“A Nigerian acquaintance once asked me if I was worried that men would be intimidated by me. I was not worried at all. In fact it had not occurred to me to be worried because a man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the kind of man I would have no interest in. But still I was really struck by this. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now, marriage can be a good thing. It can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same?”

I’m reading On Black Sisters Street because I hope that women are seen for who they are, rather than who they sleep with. Women who use their bodies for sex should not be seen as dirty or disposable. They should not be told that they are not worthy of respect or dignity. I want to see a world that respects all people, regardless of their gender, race, identity, career, ethnicity, or disability. I want the rights of women who choose to explore their sexuality to be respected. If a woman wants to sell their bodies for sex, they should not be told that they are inferior or disgusting. Women who are just trying to send money home to support their families should not be slut shamed by society. The women in the book see prostitution as a career choice. Due to this being a career, “they offer their bodies to strangers but their hearts to none.”

Colorism: Interview Project

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COLORISM

This interview was conducted by Madison Spiegel. This interview took place on March 7, 2017 in Orange, CA. We conducted the interview in my room of our two bedroom apartment. Leslie and I met at Chapman University and quickly developed a close friendship because of our shared connection to the University. Leslie recently graduated from Chapman University with a double major in Spanish and Political Science. She worked for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico over summer and currently works for the FDA. Leslie is extremely smart and has found herself holding high positions within the government at a very young age. She is very passionate about the work that she currently does and places a huge emphasis on having a positive impact on the world. Leslie is one of my closest friends and has continued to surprise me with stories about being abroad and working a government job.

Leslie is exactly 5 foot, with brown eyes and dark hair. Her both of her parents are from Mexico, which makes Leslie a first generation American. In Mexico, the racial breakdown is 62% mestizo, 21% predominantly Amerindian,  7% Amerindian, and 10% other (mostly European). Leslie was born in America, but has experienced discrimination in Mexico for her dark skin. Leslie was chosen because she has a unique perspective on how people view wealthy Mexican Americans and how Colorism affects how Mexicans with darker skin are treated in Mexico.

 

Madi: Tell me a bit about yourself.

Leslie: My name is Leslie, I am 21 years old. I am from Oceanside, California, San Diego, and I just graduated college.

Madi: What was the first language that you spoke?

Leslie: Probably … I feel like it was Spanish, but the first language I remember learning is English.

Madi: What is the educational background of your parents?

Leslie: My dad has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, and my mom has a bachelor’s degree in marine biology.

Madi: Oh, that’s cool.

Leslie: And she cuts hair.

Madi: You told me how you were, like, basically, Americanized you’re said thattyou were whitewashed. (laughs)

Leslie: Yeah, I would definitely say I am whitewashed. I grew up … If you compare me, like, to all the other Mexican, like, just Mexican Americans in the country, this is, like, not relevant now, but, like, my family was always on, like, the higher end of income, just like upper middle. And so, I always went … I lived in the white neighborhood in the white gated community. I went to the white schools. All my friends were white. Every sport I did everybody was white… It was, like, I only … was always the only Mexican in my class. So, I think people would say, like, I’m whitewashed. Like, they’ll be, like, “Oh, but you’re different because your parents are educated.”

Madi: Okay.

Leslie: “You’re different because … although you’re not, you’re not a real Mexican because your parents are educated, or because you live in a house, or because your parents aren’t illegal, or because …” stuff like that.

Madi: And do you agree with that? That people would you call that and say that you weren’t really Mexican because of those reasons?

Leslie: I wouldn’t say that I’m not Mexican. It has nothing to do with income or economic or education level or anything. I would, I would still consider myself Mexican, like, but I know other people will say … Even my cousins, even people in my family, “But, like, yeah, but you’re a whitewashed.”

Madi: What generation American are you? I’m first, I think.

Leslie: First. My, my mom is from Mexico.

Madi: Oh, I didn’t know that.

Leslie: My mom was born was in Mexico well both of my parents were born in Mexico, so first.

Madi: Well, you talk a lot about schooling, like, in how you’ve always been around white people. I mean, Chapman is no different, right?

Leslie: No.I would have been more … It is, it’s more uncomfortable for me now that I’m going to Santa, Santa Ana to do my two classes than it is at Chapman. Like, it was like, I walked into the classroom and I thought it was weird. I’ve never in my life had that many, like, Mexican people in a class ever.

Madi: And why do you think that? Do you think it’s because you are so “whitewashed” that you’re, like, uncomfortable in that situation? Or you think that people think of you differently because, like, you know …

Leslie: I think …

Madi: … that you went to Chapman, or …

Leslie: No. Well, like, even I told you before, like, walking in … Like, I knew I was gonna look different. Like, I was wearing … I think I was wearing Hunter rain boots the first day, I was wearing a North Face, I had an Erin Condren planner and my MacBook. Just the Erin, like, that’s different. You … People who go to Santa Ana don’t pay $70 for an Erin Condren planner.

Madi: Mm-hmm.

Leslie: Like, it’s just … They don’t. But you go to Chapman and, like, every single girl will have one.

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: It’s, like, I knew, I already knew, like, that was … like, that made me feel uncomfortable.

Madi: Okay. So, we talked about you wanting to be a diplomat. Do you mind talking about that a little bit more, just, like, explaining what exactly it is you wanna do?

Leslie: I just…I like traveling, I like different cultures. I like learning about different cultures. When I was in Mexico, like, I did, like, go around all these different places and I go to orphanages. And, like, different things where I got to know my culture a lot more than I, I ever did at home, just because, like, my dad’s family so, like, obnoxious with everything.

Madi: Yeah. And did you feel closer?

Leslie: I felt closer because I got to go to all these places and, like, see … Because, like, my dad is, like, I don’t fit in. My skin is, like, 10 times darker than there’s is. Like, my family, 90 … My dad doesn’t even have, like, brown eye. My dad’s, like, green eyes. Like, my whole family has, like, green eyes, like blonde hair, like, white skin. I have, like, 20 redheads in my family, so like, I never really fit in. And it was cool to, like, actually go to Mexico and, like, see actual Mexico and, like, learn about the culture.So, I just like learning about culture, I like traveling, and I wanna work in American government and just government. Like, in Mexico we worked with, like, corruption and, like, just, like, youth development and, like, youth in sports and, like, the embassy would plan all these events so, like, the kids could get, like, free swimming classes and, like, free, I don’t know. It was just, like, more, like …

Madi: Well you were helping.

Leslie: You are helping, instead of, like …

Madi: (Laughs) Yeah.

Leslie: … for regulating. Like, here, I’m regulating.

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: There, I was, like, actually doing something where it was, like, affecting really kind of having an influence on people’s lives.

Madi: Have you ever heard of colorism? I just thought about this, like, as you were saying it.

Leslie: Colorism? No.

Madi: It’s basically, like what you feel with your family. Like, you kind of experience prejudices from your family because your skin is darker.

Leslie: Like how my grandma doesn’t like me?

Madi: Yeah. I just looked it up. It says basically prejudice or discrimination against individuals with dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial groups.

Leslie: Oh, Mexico is all over the place. Examples, Mexico. I was there for, like, two months. Like, I was working for the embassy so, obviously, they’re having like had me in really nice housing. Like, I was living in the nicest, like, area in Mexico so it wasn’t gonna get nicer than that and, like, I think that Mexico, that’s just the way it is. Like, the whiter you are, the richer you are. It’s just, like, that’s just their social pyramid structure, class structure. Um, so, I was living in this place and, like, people, like, never thought that I was working at the embassy. Like, I remember I was in an apartment and, like, I don’t know what the gatekeeper thought I was doing at the apartment. Like i think he thought I was walking the dog or something. But, like, no, I was, like, working at the embassy. Like, he asked me what I was doing, like, because I was staying in the apartment ’cause somebody else was on vacation, so I got to stay in their apartment while they were gone to, like, take care of the dog, to walk it. So like, for some reason, he thought that I was just walking the goddamn dog. But I wasn’t. I was living there and, like, I was working at the embassy and he had no idea. He thought they hired me to walk the dog. That’s just the way they think. They’re, like, “Oh, she can’t possibly be …”

Madi: It’s the social norm.

Leslie: “… be working at the American embassy because she’s Mexican. Like, she’s must be walking the dog.”

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: And it’s, like, and then, one day, I, like, walked out of my suit and he was, like, “Wait, like, what do you …” I’m, like, I work at the embassy, just like everybody else in this building.

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: He was, like, “What?”

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: Like, “What is, like, what? I didn’t know that.” They’re, like, “I thought you were just walking the dog.” At a restaurant, um, like, right across through my house, I went to the restaurant and I was trying to get a table and I was waiting for John. Um, so I was, like, trying to get a table ’cause I got there first and they completely ignored me, like, straight up ignored me. I was, like, “Hey, can I get a table?” And he just, like, walked around me, like, passed me. It was like a nice, like, expensive restaurant. John shows up, we start talking to each other and, obviously, we’re talking, like, speaking in English. We got a table in, like, a second.

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: And they, like, apologized, they said, “Sorry for waiting” and, like, all the crap. So, like, once they realized that, like, I don’t know, they just, like …

Madi: You were with someone white?

Leslie: … With someone white. It’s like the service just got so much better. And once they heard me, like, that I must be American or something ’cause I’m, I’m speaking English and just the service got so much better. And then, they sat you down real quick. But when I tried doing it by myself, like, it didn’t work. People who were my skin color were like the maids and the nannies and like the … Also, did you know that in Mexico they for- their nanny, you have to wear, this outfit? You can’t, like nanny, like …

Madi: Like a universal outfit?

Leslie: It’s, like, a white, yeah, it’s, like, they sell it if you go to a store like Wal-Mart. You’ll see them at the mall and, like, there will be the white mom and, like, the the nanny, like, behind her with a stroller pushing, like, with their little outfit, which I think is so degrading.

Madi: Yeah, it’s terrible.

Leslie: I think that’s so terrible. Like, I don’t know why anybody would force, like, I would never, ever force my nanny, even if I had one to wear one.

Madi: They have to do that? Yeah.

Leslie: That’s so degrading.

Madi: That’s interesting, though.

Leslie: And you just see them, like, pushing around in the store with their big strollers, like, carrying all the bags, like, treat them like shit. Like, if they’re eating and, I’ve seen them eat at, like, a restaurant and they’ll be at another table, like, not with them. No, it’s this is like, a true, like, this happened.

Madi: Do you wanna talk about your Staples incident, my favorite story? (laughs)

Leslie: Ugh, Staples incident. So, I went to Staples because I needed to buy some folders. So, I walk into Staples. Actually, I was not even wa- I’m not even inside the store yet. I never even made it completely … Oh, no, I guess I did ’cause I did buy my folders and stuff after. But, like, you know, when you get your cart when you’re outside?

Madi: Mm-hmm.

Leslie: Like, I put the cart out …

Madi: Okay.

Leslie: … and this man pulls a car out too, like, right after me.

Madi: Okay.

Leslie: I’m going my dandy way, like, going inside the store and he’s mumbling behind me about something about how I can’t, like, drive a cart, like a push a cart because I’m Mexican. So, he was, like, “This fucking Mexican can’t, like, push a cart,” where, like, I was doing nothing wrong. I was literally pushing the cart, like, into the store. Right. When you walk through those, like, doors, that, like, open …

Madi: Mm-hmm.

Leslie: … and there was, like, another set of doors?

Madi: Mm-hmm.

Leslie: So, like, I was in the middle of that and he kept mumbling at me that I didn’t know how to push a cart were, like, obviously, I got it from the parking lot to the store so, obviously, I can do something. And, um, and I was, like, “What?” Like, I stare at him, like, “What? Like, do you have anything to say to me? Like, anything? Like, say it now. Don’t, like, mumble, and just say it loud?” And then he go- and then, I’m, like, “What did you say about me, me Mexican, like, not being able to push a cart, which I think has nothing to do with it?” And then, he was, like, so he starts yelling at me because I … This was also, by the way, the day after Donald Trump got elected so, like …

Madi: Oh, wow.

Leslie: … every, like, racist person is, like, up on their high horse today just because they just won the battle of their lives.

Madi: (Laughs)

Leslie: Um, so … (Laughs) And I’m, like, “Yes, what do you need to say to me? Like, just say it to my face. Like, let’s go. Like, I’m ready.” And then he starts yelling at me. He calls me illegal. He calls me Mex- he called me “a fucking stupid Mexican,” I think, were the words. I don’t remember. Something like that. And then, he starts yelling at me because I took his job. I, me, took his job. I mean you couldn’t even do my job even if I gave it you.

Madi: (Laughs)

Leslie: Even if I gave you my job, and I had just gotten that morning. I actually signed my package with the FDA.

Madi: Yeah.

Leslie: Like, I actually accepted my offer to the FDA. So, like, can he work at the FDA? Like, probably not. So he’s, like, yelling at me, telling me how I took his job, how I’m not educated, how my parents, apparently, are affecting him, um, which they’re not. My mom owns businesses. My parents have paid taxes. My parents have never relied on the government. So how are my parents are hurting him, I don’t know.

Madi: The world will never know.

Leslie: The world will never know. My parents didn’t come to the US illegally. My mom came on a student visa and my dad got a work vis- Like, my dad got hired from Mexico to come work in the US for, like, a Golf company. And then, the manager kicked him out, and then, I got to buy my folders.

I followed up with Leslie and asked her a couple questions to wrap up our interview a week or so later: 

Madi: Do you think the experience you had at the restaurant was also caused by your gender?

Leslie: No, I don’t. Like it was not a matter of gender, I think it was irrelevant to the situation. It had everything to do with skin color.

Madi: What is one thing you wish you could say to the people who didn’t take the time to get to know you?

Leslie: I don’t know if there is anything I would like to say because its like, kind of an accepted social norm. I knew that people would treat me the way that they did, so I wasn’t like angry or anything. In the cases I experienced in Mexico like everyone ended up finding out that I was an American. Like an American white boy showed up and was like obviously there to eat with me. Like they like figured it out and clearly realized that they were wrong about me. I guess if I were like to have to go back and like say something, I would have commented on their clear discrimination towards me, but it is the social norm. It’s like something that people just do without realizing. I don’t think a comment was necessary because like they figured it out and like knew that they were wrong about their assumptions about me. I think the best way to change what they think is by proving them wrong and like challenging the social norm. Showing them that I am successful even though I am darker-skinned is the best revenge.

For more information on Colorism and the Racial Breakdown click links.

Literacy Narrative

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It was June 2010, I was thirteen. I sat on the stage waiting for the Rabbi to call me up to sing the Torah trope.

“Madison, it is almost time for you to go up,” the assistant Rabbi whispered to me.

img_1972-1Next thing I knew, I was standing at the bimah as the congregation stared at me, waiting. I looked at my stunning tallit wrapped around me. It was a gift from my dad. He bought it a year ago when he was in Israel and finally gave it to me today. Today, the beautiful pink and white tallit was wrapped elegantly around my shoulders as I became a woman.

Words began flowing out of my mouth in a beautifully biblical rhythm in the voice of a lovely songbird. My friends and family in the front row were smiling at me, encouraging me to not let my stage freight get the best of me. I looked down at the Torah, using the yad to guide me through the trope, praying I did not lose my place in the words. I finished the last sound and was told to sit back down. It was time to prepare for my speech on the Haftarah I just sang to the congregation.

My palms began to sweat at the thought of having to go back up there. At having to read the speech I wrote to a hundred people. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and told myself that I would be fine.

“Don’t be nervous honey, we practiced your speech a dozen times. You have nothing to worry about,” the assistant Rabbi whispered to me in an attempt to calm my nerves.

In the blink of an eye, it was time again. I stood up, walked to the bima, and looked around at the crowd. My speech was in front of me, so all I had to do was read it and I would be fine…right? I took a deep breath and smiled at the congregation.

“Thank you Rabbi Frank! I would like to thank my family and friends for their support in this process and the congregation for participating in today’s ceremony!” I heard myself say.  I continued, “For my Bat Mitzvah speech, I decided to focus on the aspect of reconstruction and rebirth that my section of the Torah covered. We make decisions every day that shape who we are and who we are going to become.”

I babbled on about the Torah and the teachings for what seemed like forever. I realized that I was approaching the part, my dreaded part. Not dreaded because I didn’t want to say it, but instead, because I was not ready to open myself up to a room full of people.

“My parents got divorced recently. I was heartbroken and angry when it happened, but because of this process, I have been able to look at this experience in a different light. I understand that this was a lesson, a learning experience. A way to redefine who I was and learn more about life.”

I felt myself tear up, but I held them back.

“I have my brother to thank for making it through the divorce.  He was my support system and we made it through having to move into two brand new homes without both parents. He made me realize that we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it and those reactions are what define our character” I was able to say with minimal tears.

This essay about the Haftarah and the teachings in the Torah was the first essay I had truly invested myself into. I spend weeks brainstorming, outlining, drafting, and revising. I had learned what it felt like to have to devote my time and my energy into the process, and did not have much help when writing it. This process occurs for many Jews in America, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity because I was a Reform Jew, and that meant women could have a Bat Mitzvah. The Bat Mitzvah is known as a coming of age and the transition into adulthood. For me, it meant that I would have to spend months preparing to open myself up to a room full of people. I did not know it at the time, but my Bat Mitzvah became the true connection between my Judaism and literacy.

I had seen the two work together subtly throughout my early days of learning to read and write, but I had never truly had the chance to combine them in my own way. I grew up in San Diego and went to a private Jewish day school my entire K-12 academic career. I had learned the Hebrew alphabet in Kindergarten and read books about Noah’s Ark and Hanukkah, but I never created something that was completely my own. I grew up surrounded by other Jews and all my friends from school were Reform Jews. We experienced literacy through Judaism together, but my Bat Mitzvah was the first time I experienced it alone.

I was very sheltered from the prejudices that people have against Jewish people because my parents chose to send me to a private Jewish school. Much to my surprise, I found out that Jewish people made up only 3% of America’s population. There are 1,047,600 Jewish people in California (out of 7,160,000) and San Diego is known as the 17th largest metropolitan area for Jews which makes up 2.8% of the San Diego population. We are very small, but I never felt small because I grew up seeing myself represented in the literacy around me.

When I went to college, I knew that there was a significant Jewish population on the campus. I knew some people that were already students there and four girls from my graduating class (including me) chose Chapman University. It came as a surprise when I became the one Jewish student in most of my classes. I would bring up ideas from Judaism or from my culture in my classes to relate to the readings we had done, and people seemed surprised that I was even there.

I realized how little people knew about Jews or the Jewish culture when I went through sorority recruitment. I was talking to a girl from a sorority (I have chosen to leave it out because I do not want to embarrass her) who asked me about the high school I attended. I had told her I attended a small private Jewish day school, and she seemed surprised. She then hit me with a question I will NEVER forget.

“Do you speak Jewish?” She asked me so innocently.

I stared at her for a second in disbelief. I was shocked honestly. Unable to formulate any words.

“It’s called Hebrew” I whispered.

That was the first time I felt small.

I want to be clear that she had no idea that was she was asking me was extremely ignorant. She did not know that she was being culturally inappropriate, she just genuinely had no idea. It was in that moment that I realized that I truly was a minority. That the true Jewish part of my identity was widely unknown to the people that surrounded me in college. That the people around me actually had no idea about my religion or even the language that my people spoke. My peers, my equals, my friends. Or were we equals?

I wasn’t angry, I didn’t turn red with anger. I was surprised, appalled even. I grew up learning about my own culture, but also knew the culture of the dominant American culture. I knew the story of Jesus Christ and the reasoning behind Christmas, Easter, and Ash Wednesday. I knew so much about them, but somehow, they didn’t know anything about me.

I felt small.  

I was able to develop my Jewish identity because I had been surrounded by the Jewish culture my entire life. I saw myself in the books I was reading and felt comfortable expressing that part of my identity. In Kwame Alexander’s New York Times article on Children’s Books and the Color of Characters, he focuses on the effects that segregating literature has on racism. The point that directly relates to me and my own experiences with a part of my identity that is seen as a minority is that “seeing yourself in books is necessary and crucial to the development of identity.”  The girl during recruitment that asked me if I spoke Jewish had not been exposed to outside cultures and, as a result, she could not picture cultures other than her own: “If we don’t give children books that are literary mirrors as well as windows to the whole world of possibility, if these books don’t give them the opportunity to see outside themselves, then how can we expect them to grow into adults who connect in meaningful ways to a global community, to people who might look or live differently than they. You cannot.” Alexander continues to express the importance of representation of all cultures in literature so children with all sorts of identities can learn about the identities of others.

People are made up of multiple identities. For me, being Jewish is only one of my many identities. If I were to be classified as Jewish and only Jewish, it would not be doing me justice because that classification would only be a partial representation of who I am. In Linda Alcoff’s Cultural Critique about the Problem of Speaking for Others, she exemplifies this issues that arise when talking about group identity: “the criterion of group identity leaves many unanswered questions for a person such as myself, since I have membership in many conflicting groups but my membership in all of them is problematic. Group identities and boundaries are ambiguous and permeable, and decisions about demarcating identity are always partly arbitrary.”  This is an extremely important thing to keep in mind. It is unfair for us to be categorized by our identities. Rather, we should be recognized for the many aspect of what makes us who we are.

We are made up of multiple identities, but our identities themselves do not make up who we are. We may identify with parts of a culture or parts of the classification we are being sorted into. For example, I am culturally Jewish, but I do not believe in God in the way that the stereotypical Jew does. In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk about the Dangers of a Single Story, she brings up many great points about the dangers of being culturally unaware. One of my many favorite of hers being, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Many individuals make judgments about an entire culture based on the information they are given about a small portion of it. I am Jewish but I am unlike any other Jew in the world. I am my own person, I am an individual. I don’t want to be categorized, I don’t want to feel small, I just want to be me.

Things That I’ve Read

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Linda Alcoff is an inspirational and influential writer who grapples with ideas of race, gender, sexuality, and many more aspects of an individual’s identity. Her article The Problem of Speaking for Others has served as a starting point for me to explore diverse cultures. There were many quotes from the article that intrigued me and opened my eyes to the issues that speaking for others raises. I chose four that spoke to me because they addressed issues of privilege, authority, identity, and legitimacy.

“In particular, the practice of privileged persons speaking for or on behalf of less privileged persons has actually resulted (in many cases) in increasing or reenforcing the oppression of the group spoken for.”

“However, we must begin to ask ourselves whether this is ever a legitimate authority, and if so, what are the criteria for legitimacy? In particular, is it ever valid to speak for others who are unlike me or who are less privileged than me?”

“The criterion of group identity leaves many unanswered questions for a person such as myself, since I have membership in many conflicting groups but my membership in all of them is problematic. Group identities and boundaries are ambiguous and permeable, and decisions about demarcating identity are always partly arbitrary.”

“In other words, the claim that I can speak only for myself assumes the autonomous conception of the self in Classical Liberal theory–that I am unconnected to others in my authentic self or that I can achieve an autonomy from others given certain conditions.”

Alcoff’s assertion spoke to me in many ways.

“Rituals of speaking are politically constituted by power relations of domination, exploitation, and subordination…Simply put, the discursive context is its a political arena.”

This idea is always at the center of the classes that I take. Everything is so highly political. Writing in any form is political. It makes a statement and shows a particular point of view that others may or may not agree with. Everything needs to be said in a politically correct way and people need to present their ideas in a culturally appropriate and sensitive way. The concept relates to me specifically because I am an education major and when I am working with children I need to be very careful with what I say and need to make sure I am culturally aware.

David H. Richter is another author that inspired me throughout my process. In his piece Falling Into Theory, he explores literature and literacy and the function of schools as institutions. There were many quotes that spoke to me, but I chose four that were the most relatable to my purpose as a writer.

“The more one learns about literary history, the clearer it becomes that however fundamental these judgements were, they were not permanent at all; they were very much the judgments of a particular age” (p. 122).

“Literature, therefore, has an ecology that forbids unlimited expansion: when something is added, something else must go” (p. 123).

“Literary quality is simply a function of the current interests of the reading public; each public revises the short lists drawn up by publics of the past in accordance with its own cultural needs” (p. 126).

“The function of the school as an institution is no peripheral but central to the class structure of capitalist society. Schools not only train the young in the specific information and skills they need to operate in a utilitarian society under capitalism; they also reproduce the structure of that society by creating young heirs to take their places within the social hierarchy” (p. 133).

“The literary texts most widely read today are those read in schools, and teachers are likely to teach texts that were valued when they were students.” (125)

The last concept is extremely important to consider when teaching because the topics many teachers teach are irrelevant to their student’s lives. I want to become an educator in some form, so it is important that I always pay attention to the relevance of the topics I teach to my student’s lives. As times change, teachers need to alter the information they teach alongside the strategies they use to teach. The best and most meaningful way that students learn is through relating the information they learn in school to their own lives which is why it is so important for teachers to teach relevant material in their lesson plans.

 

Working Definitions

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I believe that diverse cultures are cultures that are different in their beliefs, practices, and culture. Each culture has their own set of beliefs and standards to the people in that particular group. Culture is part of individual identity and many identities make up every individual. Diverse cultures bring varying ideas and points of view that are very helpful to learn when becoming a well-rounded individual. Without an understanding of other people and other groups, prejudices are created and bias opinions of the culture are often made.

In from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk, she brings up many great points about the dangers of being culturally unaware. One of my many favorite of hers being,

“the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

Many individuals make judgments about an entire culture based on the information they are given about a small portion of it. It is so important to learn all you can about the people and understand that just because many or some of the group does something, it does not mean the group should/can be characterized as being that way.

When referring to judge rulings in a court case, Aristotle wrote that judges will often have allowed themselves to be so much influenced by feelings of friendship or hatred or self-interest that they lose any clear vision of the truth and have their judgement obscured by considerations of personal pleasure or pain (Aristotle, 350 B.C.E.). This quote further acknowledges that people make decisions based off of their previous experiences and biases that they create. Biases and judgments about people based on their culture can create unfair situations and life experiences for individuals. It is important to look at things from all sides and consider the consequences of a bias decision made of personal pleasure or pain.

Biases can work in many ways. One can be to make unfair decisions and another can be to pity people based off information we perceive to be true.  A perfect example of this was when Adichie’s roommate met her for the first time. Adichie states that her roommate had felt sorry for her even before she saw her. This is so important to understand because there is so much more than what we read in textbooks about other places around the world. Her roommate created a representation of who Adichie was before she even met her and learned for herself. This view that her roommate had was largely because of a “single story”. Adichie explains this process as showing

“A people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become.”

People then become defined by one part of the culture rather than for who the individual is.

This concept is also prevalent when we talk about happiness and what makes a person “wealthy”. Aristotle brings up that,

“From this definition of happiness it follows that its constituent parts are:-good birth, plenty of friends, good friends, wealth, good children, plenty of children, a happy old age, also such bodily excellences as health, beauty, strength, large stature, athletic powers, together with fame, honour, good luck, and virtue” (Aristotle, 350 B.C.E.).

People who are not wealthy of have plenty of children can be happy. There is no definitive definition of what happiness is, and projection one’s definition of happiness onto another person to deem them as unhappy is unjust. Adichie said that “power is not just the ability to tell the story of another person, but the ability to make it a definitive story of that person.” The definition of happiness is a perfect example of the “wealthy white man” deeming an entire race of people unhappy because of a perceived living situation.

Aristotle continues the notion of power when addressing the issue of class. He says,

“Now to call a thing ‘greater’ or ‘more’ always implies a comparison of it with one that is ‘smaller’ or ‘less’, while ‘great’ and ‘small’, ‘much’ and ‘little’, are terms used in comparison with normal magnitude” (Aristotle, 350 B.C.E.).

This is important to consider because the two have to be polar opposites and are referred to as better and worse rather than equals. The comparison is binary. Aristotle continues to address this issue and says,

“Again, if the largest member of one class surpasses the largest member of another, then the one class surpasses the other; and if one class surpasses another, then the largest member of the one surpasses the largest member of the other” (Aristotle, 350 B.C.E.).

This idea shows us that there are class differences that are only differences because they are socially constructed. So many times we see people comparing themselves when they should be equals or not compared at all. Ethnocentrism should be shut down and stopped.

One of my absolute favorite writers is Maya Angelou. She was such an incredible writer and always made me think about what I wanted out of life and who I wanted to be. She said that

“Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”

I have always loved this quote because it really shows us that we cannot grow as a society or as individuals when we hold on to prejudices. I also really enjoy her quote

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

This one also really has helped me in the past because she is really advocating for you to be your genuine self and not let what others think or say change how you feel about yourself.

So Here I Am

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I am taking this course because I am a Language and Literacy minor and this class is one of the requirements to graduate. I am also taking this course because I think writing and learning diverse literature is extremely important for students to learn and understand. Representation of all cultures is vital to developing a culturally aware and diverse community of accepting individuals. Based off the first day of class, I expect to learn a lot about myself. I expect to be be pushed out of my comfort zone. I expect this process to be similar to peeling an onion: only by peeling back the many layers will I be able to discover the true beauty of it.

I would like to explore, experiment with, and work at these five specific techniques:

  1. Evoke strong emotion
  2. Pull the reader in using personal anecdotes
  3. Find my own voice through my writing
  4. Descriptive language
  5. Write with a purpose/passion

Some identities that I associate with are:

  1. I am Jewish, so I might use a Star of David.
  2. I am a woman, so I might use the female gender sign.
  3. I have ADHD, so I might use a brain with scribbles in it.
  4. I am well educated, so I might use a graduation cap or a stack of books.
  5. I am a student, so I might use a person in a classroom or reading a book.
  6. I am compassionate, so I might use a big heart.