Pancakes, xenophobia and the Spanish language…

What do pancakes and Spanish textbooks have to do with racism and xenophobia in America? Well, this blog post by Sarah Baram I stumbled upon yesterday sums it up nicely. This white American girl tells a personal story about being hassled at her local IHOP (aka International House of Pancakes) by a couple sitting nearby because she’s learning Spanish. Her reasons for doing so are beside the point; the interesting thing is the way people can react to something so innocuous and see it as a threat.

I understand elements of the ‘English only’ debate. It’s obvious that having everyone in the US fluent in English is logical and functional. The thing that disappoints me when I hear people discussing this issue is that it’s all rhetoric and no practicality. Everyone has an opinion about or some personal story related to immigrants learning English or failing to do so. People have vague notions about the effect non-English speakers are having on our nation and culture (although I find much of this questionable, to say the least). And people get really riled-up about things that, in my opinion, don’t matter in the slightest, like the fact that they can listen to automated messages from their bank in either English or Spanish, or about the existence of Spanish-language TV and radio stations. That’s capitalism, baby! If there’s a service to be provided to a potential customer, then, by god, it’s someone else’s right to provide that service and make some money out of it (i.e. banks, hospitals, whatever, that offer Spanish-language assistance). But that’s all beside the point.

The thing that bothers me is that something that may have its roots in a reasonable debate (how to cope with non-English speaking immigrants so they can become functioning members of American society), ends up turning into something irrational and reactionary (white people can’t learn the Spanish language, for pleasure or otherwise, because it’s evidence of our nations decline and the loss of our white protestant American identity).

The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the people in the world are NOT THE SAME AS YOU. Difference is the reality. We have to be more creative in trying to solve our problems and issues. Just trying to control other people with our scowling disapproval or obnoxious interference or our shouting and anger-filled rhetoric, or deporting or denying entry into the country to people that ‘aren’t the same as us’, or making silly laws that hinder the freedoms of people who speak other languages; these aren’t going to solve anything. They just breed resentment and marginalize people. I just want to hear people offer practical solutions when they perceive a problem, and to respect the dignity of other people involved, no matter their country of origin, languages spoken, religion, or whatever. A respectful and intelligent discussion would serve all of us much better.

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Some personal thoughts on immigration and language learning…

This is an issue I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Immigration and language learning are important to me for a variety of reasons, not in the least because I am currently an immigrant with some serious language barriers in my new country.

I have been living in Turkey for nearly a year and really have only picked up a smattering of words and phrases. I can barely communicate with Turks who don’t speak English. There are a surprising number of Turks who at least speak some basic English, and they all seem to be very accommodating and will try their best to understand me and be understood by me. Sometimes a person in a shop or the butcher’s or wherever, will actually try to teach me a word or two when they realize I am a complete linguistic invalid! Thank you all you kind and helpful Turkish people!

My current personal language learning experience (or lack thereof) has certainly highlighted for me some problems in thinking when it comes to immigrants in the US and language acclimatization.

First of all, the main problems when it comes to learning a new language, are money and time. Language classes are generally expensive and, if you want to actually USE the language, rather demanding of your time and energy. During this first year in Turkey there were months when we were just making ends meet. It was a stressful experience trying to earn enough to pay the bills and survive until the next paycheck. We had more free time then, but we certainly couldn’t afford to sign up for language classes. We made feeble attempts to teach ourselves with the help of a book, but that’s really hard, and for us it was a dismal failure.

Read the rest here

Now here’s a sassy little number about being your true self and loving it…

I read this article yesterday in the Elephant Journal and immediate thought it would be a good follow-up to the women and modesty article I posted about earlier. Here’s an article about ‘owning your own sexy’, as the author calls it. This means feeling good in your own skin, and not letting the outside world tell you who and what you are. I think it’s an empowering article, and says some important things about women and identity. And this goes far beyond just body image; it’s about how we see ourselves as people in a deeper way.

One thing I love that the author points out is that there are many ways that we give control over our self image to other people. I know I’m sometimes guilty of blaming the media, advertising, films, blah blah blah, for projecting harmful and exploitative images of women. These media-generated images cause women to hate their imperfect bodies, to develop eating disorders, to be constantly trying to change themselves and become other people.

However, here the author reminds us that there is always an ‘exchange’ taking place, and this involves two participating parties. Maybe the ‘media’ presents the image that I should be taller, slimmer and far more stylishly dressed, but if it’s to affect me, I must choose to participate in this exchange. On the other hand, I can be in-tune with myself and my own ideas and beliefs about who and what I am, and feel confident and proud of that, ignoring the rest.

Being your true self, loving your life and feeling comfortable in your own skin- all of these must come from within. We have the power to define ourselves and be who we truly are, regardless of all the outside influences that may come our way.

This made me think that someone is always making a statement about what women should be. Either women should be ‘modest’ and should behave accordingly, etc. Or women should be ‘liberated’ and act this way. Women are always some lumped-together group, who should all be acting and thinking and seeing themselves in the same way, and allow our lives to be dictated by this or that worldview or concept or theory. We are not some sociological experiment! We are billions of individuals who will express our womanhood in our own unique ways. And that can only happen if we take the time and have the courage to know ourselves and live according to the dictates of our own minds and hearts.

Check out the article and please share your thoughts!

Positive lifestyle choices…

Environmental responsibility, simple living, thrift, non-consumerism: I’ve been hearing and reading and thinking about these ideas more and more throughout the course of this year. I’ve been really inspired to make some lifestyle changes in relation to these things, and I’m happy to say that I know other people who are doing the same.

I think people are making these lifestyle changes for a variety of reasons; the current financial situation which has made it necessary for people to re-evaluate their spending and consumption habits; people are choosing to improve their quality of life by working less and living in a simpler way materially; many people are realizing the benefits and the necessity of living in a way that is less harmful to the environment, etc. I’m sure that there are tons of different reasons behind the changes, but its interesting to see people coming from many different starting points and motivations but coming to similar conclusions.

My cousin Anne, for example, is doing some pretty great stuff with her family. She’s a young stay-at-home-mom with three little kids. Her and her husband have made a deliberate choice to allow Anne to stay home to raise their children which I think is pretty cool. Anne is into re-purposing (which is basically re-using what you already have in new ways) and is a rather thrifty lady. She’s recently switched from disposable diapers to reusable cloth diapers for her babies. I think she lives in a very simple way, and is ticking lots of boxes when it comes to non-consumerist lifestyle, some environmentally-friendly choices (i.e. no more disposable diapers!), and I think its cool.

Whatever the reason for people adopting these lifestyle changes, be it primarily financial, environmental, or for the freedom of simple living, I really hope they’ll spread the word and that more and more people will jump on the bandwagon! It’s all about the little incremental changes that people make in their lives. You don’t have to make a 100% change in the way you live. Just think of one or two small things you could do to be nicer to the planet or simplify your life and work on those. And tell other people about your successes and experiments! I always find it super encouraging to hear about other people’s experiences and it helps me stay committed to what I think is important.

I’d love to hear about your adventures in non-consumerism, environmentally-friendly living, and simplicity! Leave a comment and share what you’re up to!

Kids in Crisis (Behind Bars): NY Times op-ed….

I have begun a very informative and enlightening e-mail conversation with a good friend of mine, Megan Selby. She is someone who has inspired me ever since I lived with her about 6 years ago in Bloomington, Indiana. There are many, many reasons why she is one of the most inspiring people I know, but one reason is her passion for social justice. As I have shared previously, I have been very disturbed by what I’ve read about sexual abuse of children in prison. Megan is a prison abolitionist and has a lot to say about these issues, and I look forward to lots of thoughtful exchange of ideas with her on this subject.

Last week Megan emailed me this op-ed piece from the New York Times, by columnist Nicholas D Kristof.

This article shares the personal story of a young man, Rodney Hulin Jr., who was  only 16 years old when he was convicted of arson. He was a first time offender, and rather small, only 5’2″ and 125 lb, but despite his age, he was sent to a men’s prison, where he was repeatedly raped and beaten by his much larger, adult cellmates. He asked to be placed in protective custody and was denied. The prison doctor had him tested for HIV. because around 1/3 of the prison inmates were HIV positive. Unable to withstand the violent abuse and the constant fear he lived in, he hanged himself.

This story is unbelievably tragic. It makes my heart hurt. How can this be allowed to happen?

I think this article highlights two problems related to incarcerated youth.

1. Children, i.e. anyone under the age of 18, should NOT be put into adult prisons. This is a harmful and dangerous environment for children. The focus should be on rehabilitating young people so they can become successful members of adult society. Placing them in adult prisons where they are in physical, mental, and emotional danger, hinders, and possibly destroys, their chances of going back out into the world as mature and socially-able adults. It is unjust and inhumane for these vulnerable young people to be incarcerated in adult prisons.

2. Young people, CHILDREN, are being beaten and sexual abused while in state care, and this cannot be allowed to continue. There are youth facilities where abuse is NOT a problem and has been successfully eliminated, so we know it’s possible. Now, this has to be made the case in ALL youth prison facilities. Prison facilities with cases of sexual abuse must put a stop to this and do what is necessary to protect young people in their care from this violation of their human rights.

I truly hope that reading about this issue and the tragic personal stories of these young victims of prison sexual abuse will inspire you to do something about it. Write a letter to your local or state government officials. Write to your local newspaper, expressing your thoughts and concerns about this. Support an advocacy group or charity working to protect young people in prison and victims of prison sexual abuse. If you have any ideas of some productive action to take, I’d love to hear about it. I am still trying to figure out what I, as just one person, can do about this, but I am determined to do something. I will keep you updated on actions I take or information I find out that may be useful.

If nothing else, I hope you will share this information with other people. It isn’t pleasant, but I do think that it is important that we share the story of these suffering young people and stand up for their human rights. Spreading the information is the first step towards creating change.

Thich Nhat Hanh: a true peacemaker…

As I mentioned in a recent post, I first came across the writings of Buddhist monk and political/social activist Thich Nhat Hanh while writing my senior research paper in high school. Through the years, I’ve read numerous books by him, and have always been inspired by his gentleness, compassion and kindness. He teaches a simple and down-to-earth message of loving yourself and all beings on this earth. He actively worked to promote peace in his native Vietnam during war, and helped found the ‘engaged’ Buddhism movement, leaving a secluded monastic life to help the villagers who suffered so greatly during the war. He persuaded Martin Luther King, Jr. to publicly oppose the Vietnam war, and later nominated King for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is truly a man of compassion, wisdom and love, and has been working to promote peaceful living for decades.

Honestly, I could go on and on about him. One certainly doesn’t have to be a Buddhist to see what an amazing man Thich Nhat Hanh is. I had just been flicking through some articles online today when I stumbled upon this article in Tricycle magazine. Its short and simple, but it just seemed to be the sort of thing I needed to read today.

Anyway, I basically recommend checking out any of his books, no matter what your spiritual or ethical leanings are. I’m positive you’ll be uplifted and inspired.

‘The Story of Stuff’…

My sister-in-law Frieda passed this video along to me. Its interesting, thought-provoking, and it gives an accessible (although strongly biased) interpretation of systems of production and consumption and how they effect us. Thanks Frieda!

Just a disclaimer about my choice to put this video on my blog. I don’t think it is very ‘objective’ and the bias of this presentation is very clear. The language and presentation of the information and opinions is rather emotive and meant to get you a bit worked up about the whole thing. BUT, I think it is valuable and it certainly makes me want to research these things more, to gather the facts, and to form a more nuanced, well-rounded opinion of the issues discussed: consumption and production, the cost of these things on the environment, on communities and on individual people, the fact that this kind of system is definitely not sustainable, the role of governments and corporations in the system, what we can do about it, etc.

I think that videos, articles or books, etc, like this can only be considered a starting point for learning more. A 20 minute video is never going to give you all the answers, but it certainly can spark your curiosity and inspire you to educate yourself. So, have a look, and see what you think…

The Story of Stuff

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