BEYOND MERE SURVIVAL


the move – part two: a place to call home
April 7, 2009, 10:22 pm
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I spent the weekend in san Francisco, really trying to figure out if it could be a place to call home. I walked around for hours, spending time in different neighborhoods, trying to get clues about who the people inside each house could be, if they would be persons that I’d have any affinity with, what their beliefs and histories are, their aspirations. I had a somewhat inflated idea of San Francisco as a place where racial and class segregation were less pronounced than in other U.S. cities, but I was met by a different scene. Many of the neighborhoods where charter schools and “better” public schools are, are mostly white, obviously affluent, and a complete bubble. The middle class and working class neighborhoods are asian and latino. And that is that. Then there is the mission, which is just getting violently gentrified and feels tense and awkward. Obviously it’s impossible for me to get a sense of the city in a few days, but still it is disorienting. I want to be able to be around people that have a variety of histories, a variety of views on the world and cultural references. Otherwise how can anything change? If we are all scared of each other, understanding the world by stereotypes, and in the worst cases, being able to dehumanize people that don’t talk, look like, or act exactly like us. Fuck that. So I am pretty frustrated and also trying to answer the more fundamental question of what is a place to call home? Where do I feel like I can belong? Sometimes I wonder if the only place that feels like home is italy, but it doesn’t. it is familiar, and i can recognize myself in the shapes of faces, and skin tones, but it’s still very alienating to be in a constant ideological battle with a homophobic, racist, macho society. And it bums me out to believe that each of us is inexorably bound to where we were born, never able to create out own sense of home elsewhere. But it is very difficult to just chose where to move, hoping it will feel right, investing myself in it, leaving 7 yr old friendships behind, without any certainty in the outcome. I don’t want to drift forever. I am waiting for some enlightenment, a sign.

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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.