There Is Nothing I Wouldn’t Do

My heart is broken. I am saddened, enraged, ashamed of the people I once knew and loved, ashamed of myself and my impotence. We all know the government shutdown is hurting our country, but we disagree on how it should end. Our politics have been so divisive these last few years, and the shutdown has only seemed to increase the intensity of our insults and the depths of our disrespect for one another. Unfortunately, it seems that immigrants in particular, and people of color in general, are once again bearing the brunt of that disrespect.

My brain grows numb, and my soul weary, trying to understand how so many “good” people can demonstrate such a lack of empathy. Old friends of mine, good friends rail against allowing immigrants into our country, especially illegally. They criticize the immigrants already here. I could repeat what we all know about the vast majority of us being immigrants to this country. After all, did we ask the Native Americans permission before invading and destroying their homes, before murdering their families? Did we even honor the treaties we made with them afterwards in order to trick them into making “peace”? I could repeat all the failures of our government and our people since then. There have been many. But that will not convince you.

I could appeal to your humanity. Many of you are parents, have siblings, have spouses. Is there anything you wouldn’t do for your family? If you were born, raised, and living in a place where your only livelihood is forcibly taken from you (consider how NAFTA forced thousands of Mexican farmers out of business by allowing huge American agribusiness to sell its much cheaper product to the Mexican people), what wouldn’t you do to provide for your family? Is there anything you wouldn’t do to protect your children, your parents, your friends from being massacred (consider the U.S. involvement in the civil wars in Central America)? I can honestly say that there is nothing I wouldn’t do to survive and to ensure my family’s survival. I am capable of everything. I would lie, I would steal, I would kill to make sure my family was safe. And all these immigrants do is cross an imaginary line, national boundaries carved into the earth with swords, guns, and cannons.

Still, you say, it is illegal. They broke the law. Yes, they broke a law. Have you ever sped? Did you ever drink before reaching the legal age? No? Well, before 1920 it was illegal for women to vote. Until 1967 it was illegal for people of color to marry whites. In 2013 there are many places in the United States where a man cannot enter into a secular marriage with another man. Laws are rules we make up to keep the mighty in power and the vulnerable underfoot. They are often designed to protect us from unfounded societal fears. They reinforce our biases and cultural norms. In other words, just because it is so doesn’t mean it should be so.

And, still, you will not be moved. When I cannot appeal to your reason or to your humanity, what paths are left to me? I don’t know. But I am an ally to immigrants and people of color. And humanity, in the face of atrocity and injustice, always eventually rises up. You should not be surprised, my good friend, should you see me rise up with it.

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Identity Politics

I study and write about literature by U.S. writers of color, especially Latinos and Filipinos. When I started graduate school, and began to narrow my focus to women of color writers in the U.S., I noticed the resistance to the discussion of “identity politics.” Professors and colleagues studying other fields would imply with their questions or tell me directly that such discussions were not important, or at least not as relevant to literary studies as discussions about aesthetics and language, narrative or lyrical structure, etc . (Don’t get me wrong. Those are important issues to discuss, as well, and I think we can talk about those things in U.S. “minority” literatures, but not to the exclusion of other topics.) I initially disagreed with them viscerally, although I may not have been able to intellectualize or verbalize my reasons. The texts I was reading were speaking to me personally. They were beginning to answer important questions about who I am and why, about the choices I can make about how I understand myself, given both my family history and the larger historical contexts of colonization, imperialism, and diaspora that have affected generations of people of color.

Later, scholars in my own field began to voice their frustration with the repetitive nature of the discussions on identity politics in much U.S. literature. And slowly, without even realizing it was happening, I began to agree. I, too, wanted to talk about something else, wanted to move on. So, it isn’t surprising that when a young girl came on NPR to talk about her experience as a mixed race woman in the United States, I thought: Really? Are we talking about this again? I’ve heard this story soooo many times!

And then it occurred to me. Of course I’ve heard this story a million times. Of course we’re still talking about issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and how that affects us as communities and individuals. Of course we are. It’s inevitable. The white ideal is still being privileged. People of color are still being profiled. Women are held to different standards than men (and men have norms they’re expected to maintain, as well). We don’t all have the same rights and privileges, whatever our K-12 history books might lead us to believe. So, until we do, we will continue to hear about “identity politics.” We will continue to hear about the unfairness of our economic, educational, and other social policies. We will continue to hear from young women and men on NPR, who feel disenfranchised IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY. We will continue to see young Mexican Americans having to step up and explain why they are just as American as everyone else. And, yes, they’re Mexican, too.

We keep hearing these stories and having these discussions because the problems have not been solved, the questions have not been answered. And I, for one, don’t want to “move on” or “get over it,” as I’ve been told by many that I should, until the issues at hand have been fully addressed, even if that means another discussion about identity politics.

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International Families

I enjoyed this post, and wanted to share it. It makes me want to read Namesake all over again. International Families.

 

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Language and Identity

A while ago, I heard a joke: “What are an Asian American’s two best languages?….English and Spanish.” English, because many of us grow up here, in the United States, speaking English. And Spanish, because it is the most commonly offered and studied language in high school, where we are obligated to take a certain number of language classes to graduate. While I laughed, I also immediately identified with this statement. I finally felt that here, at least, in what even I consider a stereotype, I had found evidence of my “belonging.”

Almost immediately people began to comment on the “sad” truth of this statement, on the “great loss” that it was for Asian Americans not to speak “their own languages.” And I was reminded that belonging with Asian Americans meant, for many, not belonging with other groups (Asians, Americans, Asian Americans who speak Asian languages, etc.).

I am Filipina American, and I do not speak Tagalog. Don’t get me wrong–I would love to speak Tagalog. But when my grandfather finally arrived from the Philippines on a naval ship where he cooked for all the white officers, he decided to become “American.” Telesforo Rosario Quijano told everyone he met to call him Johnny. He stayed away from the growing Filipino community near the naval base. He married a white woman, a cook herself, who would prepare all the typical southern dishes for him: fried chicken, grits, chicken fried steak with gravy, etc. He never spoke Tagalog to his children, and rarely mentioned his past.

My grandfather died before I was old enough to recognize the importance of his story–to me and to this country. I don’t know if he ever felt like he “fit in,” that he had “made it” in the U.S. But for me, his most lasting legacy was my father, a dark-skinned man who spoke an unaccented English when he defended his fierce belief in American ideals, myths and dreams. As a little girl, I couldn’t understand why people would sneer “nigger” at us as we walked down the street of a town that still runs the flag of the Confederacy. Si mi padre es lo más americano que hay. I didn’t understand what the word meant, but I understood that it was meant to be an insult.

After my parents separated, I was raised by my white mom. Even though I had her nose, everyone would say that we looked nothing alike because my skin was a little more brown. And when I visited my dad, my skin was a little too white.

So no, I don’t speak Tagalog. No, I can’t roll lumpia. For most of my childhood I thought I was passing as a white girl living with her white mom with only my awkward-in-English last name to remind me otherwise. I understand that is a privilege that many people of color don’t have. But it isn’t sad. I haven’t lost a language and a culture that were never mine. I am not less (less of a Filipina American) because I don’t speak Tagalog. There are many of us.

I am Filipina American. I am here today because the United States occupied the Philippines, fought against and killed many Filipinos, and implemented policies that sought to recreate that country in its own image, according to U.S. needs and wishes. I am here because the relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines made survival in that country that much more difficult. I am here, and who I am, because my grandfather chose survival in a country that did not always welcome him. Not speaking Tagalog doesn’t make me less Filipina American–it reminds me of the history that assures me that I am.

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Introduction

Soy una white babae (“woman” in Tagalog). I am a Filipina American woman, born in Pensacola, Florida, near the naval base. My husband’s family is from Mexico, and we have two little Chicanitos (Mexican American boys), whom I will one day be brave enough to call Chilipinos (Chicano and Filipino). I am studying U.S. Latina/o Literatures and Cultures at the University of Maryland in College Park, MD, where I have been teaching Spanish language and Latin American literatures and cultures for seven years. English is my native language, but I speak Spanish as well, and I am determined to one day learn Tagalog. I am interested in foreign language pedagogy, technology and the Digital Humanities, women of color feminisms, LGBTQ Studies, Spirituality Studies, Fil Am Literatures and Cultures, Border Studies, and Diaspora Studies, among other things. In my free time I like to dance salsa, merengue, and bachata (although I am also secretly a reggaetonera), listen to music, write (even if it’s only a mental note), and enjoy good food and film (together, if possible). I hope to familiarize myself with new technologies and pedagogical practices through this class, better preparing myself for the increasingly online world of teaching.

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