BEYOND MERE SURVIVAL


scattered
July 12, 2009, 2:11 am
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i was looking for home today, in chicago. for a place that felt more familiar than all the unknown faces, or streets. so i went to little italy, which may be incredibly naive, but after visiting chinatown i had my hopes up. chinatown is bustling with chinese stores, and people, speaking chinese and english, hanging out, feeling a sense of belonging, i imagine.

so i come out of the subway train, and i am greeted by nothing. rows of houses, deserted streets. i head for as close as i can to my map’s little italy location, right under the letters, and i find 2 Italian restaurants, crowded with middle aged wealthy white couples, a snowcone store, with a long line of latino families from nearby Pilsen, and that is about it. no Italians, not even flags. a whole lot of nothing.

it made me feel so empty and homesick. for italy, for bloomington, for no place to call home. and it puzzled me that what is described as little italy is nothing more than an anonymous residential neighborhood. 

after some research i found out that there used to be a thriving italian neighborhood, prior to 1959 that is, when it was purposefully destroyed by the city of chicago and the father of the current mayor, richard daley. in 1959 the city decided to built the university of illinois where little italy is, even though there was many other options where people did not live.

florence scala, a local woman, became an activist against the city’s plan to destroy the neighborhood, but was ultimately unsuccessful. little italy was razed to the ground to make space for the university of illinois, and most of the italians that had been living there for decades were scattered throughout the city.

i feel so betrayed. how can i live to a city that was so unwelcoming and destructive towards my kin. i know minorities feel this way all the time, everywhere, and i am not wanting to play the victim. still, i am disappointed, angry. it’s hard to see all kinds of people of all kinds of nationalities having a centre, a place to meet, and being denied that.

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the move- part one: schools
March 20, 2009, 3:46 pm
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after many years of living in bloomington, sort of accidentally, i am likely moving in a way that feels more intentional, albeit random in its own merit.  a strong candidate for the move is san francisco, because i have been accepted at a school there.

however it’s not so much my school i am concerned with, as much as with oona and florence’s. after all it is where they spend 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, and a vital part of them feeling comfortable and happy with moving.

i have been researching schools and trying to get a sense of the elementary public schools in the city, with moderate success. i used the great schools website, which rates schools based on academic performance (often based on standardized testing), but also has a space for parent/student comments and rating. harvey milk civil rights elementary school

i was heartened to see that there seem to be many many schools that are “good”, at least on a superficial level, including the harvey milk civil rights elementary school, which is a welcomed change for the relentless homophobic/ gender policing messages they seem to be getting at school now, that have prompted oona to dress more girly because she does not want to be made fun of, or kicked out of the girls bathroom.

what was a bigger and unexpected revelation is another piece of information provided by the great schools database: ethnic and economic background of the students at each school. what appears is a color coded map of the city, that follows the shifting of neighbourhoods and wealth. white students are always a minority in any of the public schools i found, even though they make up 80% of students in private schools in the city. many schools had a strong majority of asian students, or hispanic students, but never african american students. it kind of blew my mind that is would be so stark, that within a city so small and dense there would be such a clear deliniation. it prompted me to reflect on my own sense of  otherness tied to ethnicity and identity.

growing up in a monocultural environment my sense of race was distant and mediated through pop culture, even though i was very aware that being italian was second class, something you tried to escape, or hide, or deprecate. i grew up with a clear sense that being not from italy was better, that being british or american was many steps higher,  a position to look up to, or to strive for.

now living in the U.S. i am pushed into ubiquotous whitewashing and still trying to figure out where the hell it is that i fit, and where oona and florence fit also ( though of course it will be up to them to figure that out). in bloomington they are part of a majority when it comes to the color of their skin, and a minority when it comes to their beliefs about tolerance, or religion, or cultural references. they are already stuck in the middle, having  a family living on the other side of the ocean. they have already moved across distances of culture and language, and i want the next move to be as easy for them as possible.

so i am struggling to read how the intensley racialized landscape of a city will affect their lives, the kids they spend their days with, that will be their friends. is it unfair to send them to a school where 78% of children speak cantonese at home? is it fucked up of me to even consider race as a factor in their schooling? i don’t want to make this any harder on them. i don’t want them to feel like outsiders because they are new in town, and because they speak a different language at home, and because the kids they are in class with have a completely different set of cultural, linguistic and ethnic references.  i want to believe that none of that matters, that people can easily transcend those diffrences and connect at a more deep rooted human level, but i have been the outsider too much to know that it is not so simple.



CR10! critical resistance
September 30, 2008, 2:55 pm
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wow. i got back today from oakland and the critical resistance conference, and i must do something to organize my thoughts of the past few days, because it feels like indigestion. there are so many layers to the conference: the workshops and process of learning from each other, the meeting of new people, and the inevitable presence of the city. i feel energized and inspired, but also confused. being in that space for the past 3 days, i come home much more hazy about my space in the “movement” than i expected.

part of it is simply that my experience is different. i have only been in this country for a small chunk of my life and i have a hard time feeling any sense of belonging. one disappointing thing about the conference was the persistence in which people seemed to need to enumerate their labels, in every single interactions. there was actually a person in one of the workshops i facilitated that said just that at the beginning of their comment: ” i am gonna put out there all my labels, so you all understand where i am coming from”. but does that really help? it doesn’t help me. and it doesn’t create a space to let people be the complicated human beings that they are, but only occupy a certain restricted amount of boxes.

another element to that is the impossibility to choose. should i think of myself as italian, or a woman? is my experience with poverty more important to claim than my experience with sexual assault? what about parenthood? disability? i can’t do that, i can’t pick and choose. nevertheless a lot of organizing seems to be centered around an identity, or one common trait to a group of people that pushes them to emphasize with each other, and be motivated to create a change. i have always felt at the edges of identities, never really fully belonging to one.

i can’t even understand where i stand with something as fundamental as race. my skin is fair, but i grew up in italy feeling not part of the white world at all, with a sense that being Italian was not the same as being white. i have vivid memories of traveling north to europe and the reality of my nationality being a source of embarrassment, scorn, and right out hate. then i moved to the US where the continuum of race is very different, and i can’t quite find my spot. i feel little ties to white culture, but i claiming to be a person of color also feels unfair.

the conference was humbling, because i was on two panels, one  about alternatives to state responses to gender violence, and the other on monstrous masculinity, and both panels had people that i admire, and look up to, and that have being doing amazing work for a long time (mimi kim,sara kershnar,
)which was daunting, but really made me question what i am doing and how i could do it better.

i know that this town is lacking alternatives to the criminal system, that accountabiliy is too often just equated with jail time, and that even in my own group of friends i see sexist fucked up behaviors all the time. it’s exausting to even think about it. after all is said and done, the conference over, and i am back at my kitchen table, the one thing that stays with me is one sentence, from a nervous young woman that took the stage for the closing speech “this ain’t no time to get tired”.