Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Model Minority

Why are Asians considered the “model minority”?

Because we don’t lash out but slink into depression when we are called “Chink,” “Cambodian Refugee,” “China Doll,” … ?

Because we try overachieving to distract from our insecurities?

Because we try to overcompensate by using humor to diffuse uncomfortable situations?

Because we appear to fulfill someone’s unrealistic fantasies about Asian women?

Because we can be held up as “equals” but not featured as strong, competent people in sitcoms, movies or ads?

Because we are numbers in the “minority count” while our Black and Hispanic friends are discounted?

This “model” doesn’t seem too ideal to me. Keep your moniker, thank you.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Cusp of Fall

Today, I had a lovely “last days of summer” day with my children.

We began our day with a rally for women’s rights at the Wisconsin State Capitol. My sweet girl sat in the soft grass and played with her brother and a friend’s daughter, as I worked on my newest photographic project, Portrait of a Feminist.


While I was energized by my work today, I was more amazed at my kids’ supportive presence. Our day was so harmonious.

My son did his goofy faces, and they had spoon races.



But as our day winded down. A sorrow soaked our souls. Our last minutes in the car were filled with three people silently crying as the loss of our sweet summer hit us hard.

A few years ago, my tune would have been different. Now, I sense my children growing older and looking tentatively at their futures as independent beings. It’s bittersweet.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Rights of Baby Girl

In the months since the June decision by the Supreme Court, the fate of the Baby Girl, Veronica, has flooded my mind, my emails and my conversations.

So many bloggers have written their opinions, but one blogger, both a social worker in the adoption field and an adoptive parent, stood out. In her post, she poses this very poignant question:
“At what point do you do what is in a child’s best interest and sacrifice your own heart?”
The way I see it, our society is becoming more about what we have. For the adoptive parents, it is having the child, no matter what the risks to her well-being. I understand their pain in having had a baby and having it taken away. Birth mothers do this every time an adoption occurs. In this case, there were missteps, but the bottom line should be what is best for Veronica, not how can justice be served?

Media spots and the frenzy that comes with the coverage should not factor into a decision. Voices that say she would be “better off” with the adoptive parents assume that wealth is the key to happiness. That parents who could give her more could ease the hurt of separation from a father she has come to know is naive at best. And what is meant by “more”?

Love is not more money. Love is just as the blogger wrote … sacrifice. A sacrifice of self.

As this blogger points out there is added trauma in multiple moves to different families.

Baby Veronica has the right to be spared this trauma.


Friday, August 23, 2013

My Cloak of Comfort

Yesterday, I heard a story of a woman similar to me.

This woman quit her job and moved away with her husband, who like mine, traveled a lot. In the past few years since the move, she found it more and more difficult to find employment in her new home base. So, she decided to move back to her old town and find employment. She was quickly hired but had to leave her child behind with her mother.

Hearing this story, filled me with envy. I felt selfish and resentful. I imagined myself moving back to Virginia and rejoining my former boss in our dynamic duo of design loveliness. This imagining quickly dissipated as the reality set in.

I love my children. I am fiercely protective of them. I cannot and will not relinquish their care. The other challenge in this overblown dream is that I no longer have my mother. My sister lives in Washington state, and my father lives in Tennessee. I have no one to come to my rescue if I were to decide to pursue such a dream.

We walked the halls of both of my children’s schools today. They were energized, but also reluctant. It was a bittersweet day. As the constant heavy rain fell, it seemed so apropos. We need it, but it still saddens us. 

Just as I felt helpless, my book of womenfolks beckoned me. As I sat in the parking lot, waiting for my son to finish soccer practice, I read this passage:

“Every Friday, Viola and Frances (my mother) started the morning at The Beauty Shop. Dorothy would wash, tease and spray the mothers’ heads. It took hours.

In that time, my sister and I would spin in the salon chairs, bask in the dry heat of the hair dryers and hear the latest gossip. We loved Fridays.

Afterwards, we crossed the street to the Belk department store to browse. Here, my sister and I would play in the circular racks. My mom bought my first training bra at Belk.

From there, we would make our way to the grocery store, White Store. At the end of the first aisle, there was a Coca-Cola machine.


For 25¢, we would get an ice-cold Coca-Cola in a glass bottle. After a few sips, my grandmother would slip me 10¢ to go next door to pick a candy from the 5 & Dime.

I always went for the huge sour apple lollipop. It woke my cola-cleansed tongue with a stinging sour.”
Recalling the sheer joy of those days, on a day like today, was like the womenfolk in my life wrapping themselves around me. They were telling me that the sadness I felt, the loss of self, wasn’t that at all. It was the beauty of life and being one of them.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Womenfolks

In the summer of 1996, just days before our plane took off for Rwanda, I bought a book called Womenfolks: Growning Up Down South by Shirley Abbott. This book became my guide to the women in my life.

It is a book filled with the stories of Southern women, poor Southern women. It comforted me in the days I spent, lonely in Kigali. Days I wished I could hear my own mother’s Southern drawl. I imagined my grandmother’s mother teaching her how to be motherly, how to garden and how to take care of her man.

These Appalachian women are my history. Some would argue that I could seek out another history … one where I was still from a poor family. One where a mother taught a daughter to garden or to take care of her man. Same story, different country.

My daughter asks about the history of the women in her life. She has been robbed of the stories my mother could have told her, so it is left up to me to relay them. The good, bad and funny.

She asks for them to be told and retold. So, I have started a journal to record the history that I feel is my history and hers. The history of the women in my life.

Here’s my first entry about my grandmother, Viola:
“Viola worked at Bryant Town Motel, owned by the son of Ed, her youngest brother. She worked there cleaning rooms with her sister Beula. Beula was her best friend. 
In the early days before this job, women didn’t reveal their pregnancies until they began to show. When Viola and Beula were pregnant at the same time, one revealed to the other that she had missed her time, to which the other said, ‘Me, too!’ 
Viola was pregnant with my mother, and Beula was pregnant with her cousin, Tommy. (There is a sad story about Tommy’s death.) 
Viola and Beula cleaned rooms at the motel later in life, after jobs at Stokely’s, a canning plant in town. Viola’s husband had retired from Enka – a metal smithing plant. I still wonder why she worked at the motel. 
Her husband had bouts of abusive behavior. Was she happy to be away? She enjoyed hanging out in the motel rooms with her sister.


In the summers when I visited, she would take me along. I was given a bag of Bugles from the vending machine, and I played with toys left by those whose brief stay had left them – unintentionally. I imagine the guests remembered them when they were too far away to retrieve them.  
I loved entering a room and looking under the bed … anticipating what surprise was awaiting my discovery.  
I spent my summers with my grandmother. They were filled with bean shelling, berry picking and canning. The large garden in the back gave my grandparents their food for the year. Only staples were bought at the grocery store on Fridays.  
My last summer as an only child, my parents and I left in the morning to return to Kansas. I remember crying hysterically as I looked out the back window of the car. I screamed, ‘My grandma, my grandma!! My grandma, my grandma!!’ as I reached for the glass of the back window. My tear-filled eyes watched my grandmother growing smaller and smaller.”


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Fall in the South

Oranges, yellows, reds,
Speckled on the mountains. 
God’s shaker overseasons. 
He tempers it with the cool mist. 
His painting is complete. 

Apple trees heavy with fruit
Cling to the mountain. 
They beckon the tourists. 
Warm apple cider donuts. 
Hot drinks.
Chilled noses,
Red and running. 

Mothers carry tissues
Minding the youngins. 
Over yonder
I see the lazy mother. 
Draped in her peppered blanket,
She is ready for the sweet hibernation. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Tale of Two Families

Our circle trip began late this July. We were on a mission, two families in ten days … my family in Tennessee, and my husband’s in Canada.

The trip began gleefully with a music mix from my friend, Amy. The first day of driving was shortened by a stay at an Indiana horse ranch. After a couple of nights and a trail ride, we were back on the road to Tennessee.

At first, I had extreme hesitation. While I love my family, I do not love the closed minds and prejudices in Tennessee. We began with the stark contrast of Adult World and the huge cross along the interstate.

video

The anxiety began to creep in and cover me just as the kudzu drapes and kills the trees in Tennessee. Racist memories from my childhood flooded my mind. I took deep breaths so as not to alarm my kids. Since having children, I worry about their well being, and more specifically, their racial identities.

The conversation in the car began.

“Who are we seeing in Tennessee? Are we going to Papito’s house (my father)?” the kids asked.

“We are not going to Papito’s house. We’ll be staying in Knoxville, where your dad and I met. And you will be meeting your Puerto Rican cousins today,” I answered.

“When are we going to Canada? How long do we have to stay in Tennessee?” the kids continued.

“We will be in Tennessee for a few days, and then we will meet up with your cousins in Canada,” my husband answered.

The conversation then moved on to my husband’s family. Canada is home to his aunt. She and her husband own a lake cottage where we had planned to meet my in-laws for their 50th wedding celebration; however, due to my father-in-law’s recent health decline, my husband’s sister and her family would be the only Brits coming to the party. The kids asked about their relatives across the pond. They all talked happily about similarities. My husband spoke of how our daughter reminded him of his sister at her age. Other biological family traits were bestowed on the kids, and they beamed.

I felt myself receding. My kids weren’t interested in seeing my Puerto Rican family as much as they wanted to see my husband’s. Granted, we haven’t seen my Puerto Rican family in more than five years. Plus, there is the language barrier. But I must admit, I felt slighted. My son does not identify with his Puerto Rican family, but my daughter does. I want desperately for my children to feel the love that I have felt from my family.

The Puerto Ricans, also known as the “Gonzos,” are my family. When someone asks me where I would like to live, I say Puerto Rico. With this side of my family, I feel sudden comfort and security. The Gonzos talk about my son’s resemblance to our great-grandfather. The Gonzos kiss and hug and dance. Boy, do they dance.


We met my father and my cousins, Missiel and Kike, in Tennessee and went to Dollywood. Missiel and I reminisced about their childhood visits to Tennessee and teased Kike. I learned my Spanish pronunciation from my cousins in our backyard. My children stood on the periphery. Missiel and Kike have two children each. Kike’s daughter followed my daughter and wanted to bond with her.



The boys played a little at first. 




And my father encouraged more play together as they all sifted for treasure.


While things were going well, most times, my kids still clung to one another.


Then, we found the perfect ride to unite all children … against the grown-ups.

video

As the boys played and joked, Missiel leaned over to me and said, “Noah is a Gonzo! He and Andreas have the same motions!” All the tension and anxiety within me suddenly slid off, and I felt just as I always have when I am with my family … loved.