Monday, January 17, 2005

Just Can't Say Goodbye

I was one of those people, those people who joked about moving out of the United States if George W. Bush were reelected. In every joke there is a little bit of sincerity. I wasn’t alone. There were articles and talk on the television about packing it all up and moving up to Canada. I personally was thinking of flying south, to Chile, where I had once lived and where half of my daughter’s roots are grounded. Now I’m under no illusion that Chile is some democratic paradise. In my time there I stood in enough tear gas and had too many children beg me for food to know better. But at least there my daughter would be taught in Spanish and be taught English.

This week G.W. Bush will be inaugurated into his second term as president of the United States and I still live in the United States with no plans to leave anytime soon. Some people did leave, however. In fact, some who saw the writing in the wall before Election Day left before all the votes were counted. One such person, Bee Lavender, had her Dear John letter to the United States published in the latest issue of Bitch magazine. Her letter and discussions on some of the mama’ing boards I am a part of (Mama’s Quilt, MESSIRAP) reminded me that talk of leaving and actually following through are divided along class and race lines.

I stopped believing in the American dream a long time ago. I was raised primarily by a single mother who didn’t have health insurance (I remember my parents arguing over which of them was responsible for paying for my sister’s and my own health care costs). I remember my mother asking my great-aunt for money for new socks for me to wear on my first communion. I remember mash potato dinners. I was lucky enough however to go to private schools and even a nice small liberal arts college in New England, on scholarship of course. By then I had begun to uncover my own roots. Why were my parents here instead of Puerto Rico where they were born and partially raised? Why did my grandparents come here? Why do we claim Puerto Rican as our nationality when Puerto Ricans are born into United States citizenship? The reality of colonialism had set in and I stopped saying the pledge of allegiance in school and everywhere else. I also became an activist. I witnessed mothers of color mourning and fighting for justice in the name of their children who were unjustly murdered by police, prison officials, or racist gangs. I met young men and women who were assaulted because of where they came from. I had a child and as a single mother struggled to pay doctor and hospital bills. I fought to get my daughter in a good public school then had to fight to get her out of English as a Second Language program because just because we speak Spanish doesn’t mean we don’t speak English.

What bothered me about Bee Lavender’s goodbye letter to the United States and other people’s talk of leaving is that there was no discussion or acknowledgement about the privilege in leaving. Let us look at the class privilege issue. Even if I really wanted to leave I don’t have the resources to do so. As it is I rely on an intricate network of family and friends to survive as a single mother, a network so wound up with my daily routine that even my current plans to leave the state of New York feel scary and possibly overwhelming.
Lavender writes that it may not feel like such a loss that someone like her moved away but that her husband leaving is hard to ignore since he is “scientist engaged in essential
Research”. Those are the ones that can leave. Very few teachers and artists on our limited incomes could leave, even if we wanted to. I’m sure that Lavender is not suggesting that a mass exodus of female artists and teachers wouldn’t have an impact on the culture of the United States. Also I am sure that she is not implying that only males with higher education fall into the category of the “best and brightest”.

Now let me bring the issue down to race/imperialism. Despite having been born in the United States, the U.S. has never felt like home to me. It didn’t welcome my family with open arms into the safety of citizenship under the Jones Act. In fact it sterilized my grandmother and other Puerto Rican women. President Bush is President of Puerto Rico too except not one single person living on the island could vote for him or against him for that matter. So when people say that I should go back where I came from with all my complaints and criticisms of the United States I want to know where is it I’m expected to go? The fact is I have no place to go. Bee Lavender talks about how much happier she is in England and how much better things are for her in England and I don’t doubt her for a second and I am happy for her. But I wonder how much better things would be for a single woman of color, a married woman of color, a lesbian woman of color anywhere in the world. Much better? Marginally better?

I’m not even sure how I’m going to afford my cross-country trip to another state with another Republican governor. I’m not expecting life to be that much easier. Yes I will be partnered and I will be warmer. Simply moving away however can never erase certain issues and that’s even if you can move away.


Blogger fiercelyfab said...

(Warning this is very long. I enjoy your writing, you are very intelligent and courageous in tapping into these issues and wanted to share with you my two cents.)

That’s true, most people that are able to fulfill their dream of leaving this country fall under certain class/race division. The rest are left with their dreams or work in progress of trying to leave if that’s what they really desire to do. It would be more difficult to leave if one has offspring. Not to mention, single and with a child/children.

People don't have any kids (or prolonge the process of breeding)to be able to accomplish a successful career, traveling to “exotic places” enjoy time for self-development among other things that children will put limits on. I understand and can relate to those reasons, since those were the very reasons I too didn't want to have a child at 23, but did anyway. What is not questioned are the limits that are in place in context designed to be elitist, patriarchal, and racist. Me choca, that if one is not living a certain lifestyle ($, status) than one has no place in desiring to see the world and to have a good career among other things. The only lifestyle that allows for that sort of privilege is a very wealthy one of prestige, and for the most part, one that doesn’t involve children.

Now on to the topic of countries that most people will desire to live in would be places that can allow for the standard of living that the US is used to and that excludes most of the southern hemisphere. As in the countries that are suffering still due to colonization and imperialism.

There are lots of people that do believe in the American dream that are people of color and many women of color as well. To be able to try and get a piece of the already very disproportionate pie, requires many buckles on one’s belt (degrees, masters, phd), overworking, schmoozing, pretty much playing by the white mans rules. And having a child will only many times be a burden to that journey. Fertility is always an issue, and women should have all the say with whether they want to procreate or not, that’s my belief, but that doesn’t dismiss the fact that as caretakers one all of a sudden cannot enjoy the the peace of mind that comes with job security and the priviliges of self-development, time and travel. Parents already have it tough, and when one is a parent and is young/minority/poor/woman that only makes one identity an obstacle in having bread and roses too.

“Even if I really wanted to leave I don’t have the resources to do so. As it is I rely on an intricate network of family and friends to survive as a single mother, a network so wound up with my daily routine that even my current plans to leave the state of New York feel scary and possibly overwhelming.”

I feel you mamitamala. I am in Los Angeles, and I have a strong support system sabes that's invaluable to me. I would offer you my help, with babysitting and other mami related support. I know it doesn’t compare to your family's extension, and that we don’t know each other only a few cyber exchanges but I am up for helping, comadrazco and would want the same for me. That is why I stand against the rules that are in place that don’t allow for women like you and I to exercise mobility, see the world, and enjoy job security. Ahorita, people that can enjoy that for the most part are of upper class status, tend to be a certain race, if not are playing by the rules of the game of meritocracy, competitiveness, overwork, adding buckle after buckle on belts that is hostile to family, mothers, and others that have a “disadvantage” in this race.

As a culture we’re too self-absorbed in wanting to come on top, be the crème of the crop and be the “est” in everything. Best, brightest, richest, smartest, prettiest, handsomest, fittest, which is exclusionary and promotes inequality as it gives worth to people depending on a lot of external factors. See it’s this whole linear very European way of looking at life that does not permit for true equality, inclusion, and embracing. Finally, that’s a good question you ask of women of color being anywhere in the world how it would be for them. I don’t know, I haven’t been away of the U.S. other than Mexico, and I was a tourist. I can't imagine what it would of been for me as an expatriate. That's an experience I would like to live one day.

1/18/2005 09:22:00 PM  

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