Archive by Author

“Mi Raza es tu Raza”

3 Nov

That quote– my race is your race– is from Ed Morales’ Living in Spanglish (2002).  Yes, it was an assigned reading from a class I’m currently taking on Immigrant Origin Youth education, but its ranking in my top ten readings in grad school (not that I’m keeping a list…).

The assigned chapter is a beautifully written ‘manifesto’ of sorts. Morales calls for a redefinition, even end, to the search for one particular Latin, Spanish, Hispanic, etc…identity.  Instead, Morales invites us to embrace Spanglish: a state of living where its “about not having to identify with either black or white, while at the same time having the capacity to “be” both”. He discusses the issue of identity being defined by arbitrary borders that had been drawn long ago.  Quoting Gomez-Pena, “America is a continent, not a country. Latin America encompasses more than half of America”. Rather, Spanglish is more about being “attached to an idea of nationhood that is beyond nations that sets us up for the twenty first century. It is the triumph of the spirit”.

Not ever having engaged in the behemoth of academic discourse around race, racism, racial identity, I kind of think this chapter really says it all.  I’ve always thought that borders (particularly those pesky colonial ones) are such a defining force in the world, and not always for the better. I would argue these lines have caused a lot of trouble from xenophobia to war (the former sometimes begetting the latter). What’s so challenging is that we haven’t yet found a way to figure out where our country, as defined by the bordered area in which we reside, stops and where our ethnic or racial identity starts; take a look at the 2010 census. It is so intriguing that just within question number 9 concerning race, you have skin tone (black, white). Then, skip down to “Other Asian” category, you have the specific examples both of an ethnic group, Hmong, and then a nationality, i.e. Pakistani. What is the deal? It seems to me like the census folk need to get their language straight.  Or, it’s just indicative of what a messy, opaque thing this is.

That’s why I really love what Morales has to say.  An invitation to ignore the solid lines on the map and recognize that perhaps race, ethnicity, nationality etc actually is just too complex to pin down.  As a daughter of an immigrant to the USA (albeit from Europe but that’s pretty relevant when you grow up in rural PA), who has lived significant chunks of her life in other countries, with two passports, I’ve given up hope in trying to figure out what I think my nationality or ethnicity is or isn’t.  I think if you live and connect with a community, no matter where it is geographically, it becomes part of your ethnic identity, your individual fabric.  I think that crossing a border, and recognizing that it doesn’t have much to do with the actual individual people on the other side a beautiful experience.  People are people.  Borders represent ways to put things in boxes. But when it comes to the lived experiences of the individuals inside them, they may make it complicated, dangerous, threatening or scary to what’s on the other side.

I would say that I gladly accept your invitation, Mr. Morales. I accept believing in a “nationhood beyond nations”, where we aren’t afraid of what’s on the other side of the line. Living in Spanglish, or Fritish, or Germanese, or Hondurani, or Afghanitalian, or whatever. Plus, you make more friends and the food is really good.

PS: To tie this back to human rights, doing good discerningly, etc. If we’re set on the fact that human rights, as written in the UDHR and such, are actually universal (although this point is up for debate), it may be worth recognizing that race/ethnicity/nationality are low on the totem pole and embrace some “nationality of the human spirit”. One doesn’t rank over another, they just are. I’d love other comments on the matter, as I haven’t really thought it through.


Greetings! I’m Alice and I love deserts…

16 Sep

…it’s true. I’m not quite sure what it is, but life just keeps taking me back to hot, arid, sandy regions that can test anyone’s stamina, patience and gumption. Yet despite the ceaseless sweating, the sand in between your toes, ears, digital camera case and lunch, I have gained an affinity for these locales. Where else can cold water taste so good? Where else can a small breeze be more welcoming? And where else can you feel extremely accomplished after making the smallest progress in the work you’re doing?

I first became acquainted with deserts in Sahara (well, the Sahel actually…) during my service as a Community and Youth Education volunteer with the Peace Corps in Niger.  I worked mostly with the local representation of the Ministry of Education doing extra curricular projects with the primary schools in my village of Tibiri.  As can be imagined, work was challenging as I was consistently bouncing back and fourth between French and trying to find my footing in Hausa, the local language.  Learning appropriate social mannerisms, bureaucratic structures, and the absence of deadlines meant work happened at a slow pace. But oh, the feeling when something went right! (Or when someone brought a huge piece of ice to the office for us to add to the drinking water!)

My move to NYC to begin graduate school seemed like a logical next step, as I felt I needed to be a bit more informed about the work I was doing amateur-style in Niger. After a year in the International Education program, I can say at the least that it’s been quite a ride. There’s enough reading to make your head spin, and most of it just leaves me dizzy with excitement (minus the heavy theory…Durkheim will ground anyone). I’ve found a re-ignited interest in refugee education — of which you can be sure to hear more about later– and I’m excited to really sink my teeth in this semester. But what really has been a highlight in the past year were two  return trips to the desert (one in January back to Niger, and two months in Rajasthan, India this summer) where my work can be connected a bit with what I’m learning. More importantly, I was able to enjoy a couple more bouts of sweat, sand, stamina.