Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yo Quiero Ser Hispanos

     Okay, so, I thought for today's light-hearted post, I would give a complete analysis of my views on immigration.  I mean, why blog if you're not going to make people squirm and squeal and call you names?  I love controversial issues.  About as much as I love going to the dentist and having them say "Nah, I think we can do this without anesthesia."  Um, what?  But, you know, I also have trouble shutting up.  So it's inevitable that I have to give my opinion about everything, and the limiting status update space available on Facebook just wasn't cutting it.  So, yes, immigration.  Here's what I think when I hear a debate on immigration:  I want to be the immigrant.  How's that for a fresh perspective?
     I think my infatuation with all things non-American came when I lived in Central America for seven months.  I applied to go and live and teach at an orphanage called Farm of the Child outside of Trujillo, Honduras.  Here, let me show you on a map:

Notice it's on the Caribbean, but that had absolutely nothing to do with why I chose to go live there.  I swear.  Okay, maybe a teeny tiny bit, but definitely not a major factor.  My original intent on becoming a sort of "modern missionary" was to get out of America.  I know that sounds, well, drastic.  And quite unpatriotic.  But I was tired.  Tired of being asked when I was going to get married, or for that matter, get a boyfriend.  Or when I was going to get a boyfriend who actually went to Church.  Or when I was going to start to be attracted to men who went to Church.  It was complicated.  
    I was also tired of talking about poor people and ready to, um, actually meet some.  Teaching religion I had many opportunities to talk about social justice, to spell out the Church's teaching, to try and rev up some sympathy for those who had little.  But it became redundant.  Empty.  And yes, I had gone on week-long missionary trips and volunteered at homeless shelters and all the rest of it.  But I didn't really know those people.  I tried to help them for a minute, a day, a week, but then I went home and very easily and quickly forgot about them.  I wanted to challenge myself on a new level.  To see if I really could hang with people from a very different background and culture for an extended time.  To build real friendships.  To come to better understand their plight from the inside and stop talking like I already did.  

    So I did it.  I took the plunge.  And it was really hard and really wonderful all at the same time.  But I left after seven months with an undeniable love of all things Latino.  And I still don't know whether the terms Latino and Hispanic are interchangeable.  Not a clue.  But what's really important to know is that I was entirely jealous of those with the pretty olive skin, big brown eyes, and fluent Spanish speaking skills.  I know its their primary language, but still.  I was jealous it was their primary language.  The women cooked easily over an open fire, laughed heartily with a sweet glint, and their plight of poverty became just that much more intriguing.  Truly, I was not jealous of their struggles and I was despondent over their lack of basic healthcare and good education, but they were so beautiful in the midst of it.  The food, the language, the celebrations all held its own mystique and I fell in love with "other".  With that which was so different than what I had known.  I loved cooking baleadas and tried my best to thrust my hips to the earthy beat celebrating a quinceanera (with very little success, people.  I do NOT have Latino hips.  Never have and never will.  That I have accepted.  It gets ugly quick when I try and fight it).

     Some of the people were intent on coming to America, sure that it held the key to their prosperity.  It was difficult to witness that because in many ways I knew that to be true but in other ways I wanted to shout: "No! Keep what you have here.  This is wonderful.  I haven't heard Beyonce's name in weeks and this is good."  But sometimes it's just not.  America holds many opportunities that some of these countries just don't right now.  In some of these countries where people flee, corruption has a firm grip and getting out from underneath all of it will take a lot of time and lot of really good people to step up (and then I look at the corruption in our own government and think, "We're the answer?!?!? Good Lord.)  But we are in many ways.  And so we have an immigration issue.  
     It ain't easy and I got NO answers.  I listen to the Democratic argument and I'm like "Yes, definitely" and then I listen to the Republican argument and I'm like "Oooohhh, good point."  Totally confused.  And I just want to switch places with the immigrant and say, "Here, you can have my spot."  Not to glorify the places in which they come from, no, I know it's not that simple.  But to acknowledge that no country embodies every dream.   Everybody deserves a safe place to raise their family and food and clean water and education and.....the list keeps growing.  But you can have all that and still feel very needy.  Still feel very disconnected.  Still feel very alone and confused.  Happiness takes on a very perplexing landscape when you really sit with it.     
     It's my dilemma.  I meet the Hispanic mother in Wal-Mart who only speaks Spanish and I want to be best friends.  Amigas beunas, por favor.  And I want to follow her around with my cart and get the same ingredients as her, sure that she is making some delectable item tonight- from scratch, of course.  Some would call this stalking.  I call it intensely admiring.  Big difference.  And I lose the ability to even be able to process my infatuation.  Why am I obsessed with these people?  It's lost on me, but I am.  And get this, it's not even just Hispanic people!  I know, this is getting juicy.
    We have neighbors that are from China and, don't you know, the obsession has crossed over to them.  Scary.  They just happen to have two little girls the same age as our kids and so it's just impossible to not be friends.  And to not get a swing set so that they'll keep coming over and Cory and I can keep bombarding them with questions about all things Chinese.  And get so excited to tell them that we watched a documentary on rural China and it was awesome.  And to practice "Ni hao!" because it's the only flippin' Chinese word I know and I got it from a cartoon Katherine watches.  So embarrassing.  Ugh. I'm telling you, it's exhausting loving other cultures.   


    Katherine, James and I were over at their house not too long ago and the always gentle, always wonderful mother offered my kids a snack.  A snack that looked like chocolate covered birdseed.  And I was like, oh no, this is going to get awkward.  I was sure Katherine would eye it suspiciously and James would throw it in the grass.  But, no.  Held out with a gentle hand, my kids took to it like little hungry hummingbirds.  Of course they would eat birdseed if it was offered by the lovely Chinese mother.  See?  Even my kids want to be Chinese.  From the mouth of babes...or in the mouth of babes.   And I cringe when all I have to offer her two cute kids is a Twinkie and aging Easter candy.  What is wrong with me?  
    This is all said in a spirit of sincere awe, and a tad bit of envy.  I am consistently amazed at the beauty this world encompasses.  Yes, I know, many Central American countries are in horrific battles against poverty and corruption and the like.  And yes, I know China has a one-child policy that forces many women to do the unthinkable.  And then there's a tiny little issue called Communism.  I get it.  This is a blog post, not a doctoral dissertation.   It's just that sometimes I want to move to El Salvador and sometimes I want to move to China.  And sometimes I want to be Amish.  Don't you ever get tired of the American culture?  Of Brangelina and People magazine?  Of reality shows and obvious plastic surgery?  And I'm sorry ahead of time to all the high school and college girls, but don't you even get tired of the hand on the hip pose and aviator sunglasses?  Cause the good Lord knows that I do.    
     I do know we have incredible beauty right here.  No need to lecture me on that.  But one seldom seems to appreciate the surrounding terrain when it's all you've ever known.  I never knew the unspeakable comfort of a towel that has just come out of the dryer until I didn't have a washer or a dryer for several months in Central America.  In Honduras, my towels and, might I add, my underwear, gave about as much comfort as a pile of rocks.  Dryers do amazing things to cotton.  And I most definitely took for granted my freedom.  I'm not talking about the "land of the free, home of the brave" kind of freedom (although that, too).  I'm talking about the freedom to jump in your car and head to the gas station and get a Coke.  Do we even realize what a luxury that is?  Even as our teeth are rotting out from the sugar, do we realize that not many people are able to choose the way they get their cavities so freely.  In Honduras, about fifty people shared two old cars and the nearest "gas station" was across three rivers.    
     That's when I give thanks for those who have come to live with us from other countries.  No matter the complexities of immigration issue, I try to remember we're talking about people.  People who have a valuable contribution to add to our landscape.  Fresh perspectives, new foods, old customs.  All is well when we see the beauty and vastness of God's creation, from the mountains to the deserts and from the Asians to the Caucasians.  The way we think, the way we live, the values we hold dear.  Everything is more beautiful when it's been challenged.  I'll always be an American at heart.  It's home.    But I have always loved visiting other people's homes, and realizing in all our differences, there is something beautiful there.
Wouldn't you know, I went to Old Navy today to do some birthday shopping and they had all these "Mexican"-looking clothes (I'm not good at fashion labels).  But, seriously, is that a sign or what?  I wasn't able to do too much damage because Katherine kept asking the little boy mannequin to dance with her.  When he wouldn't respond, she'd shout: "Mom!  This boy is being RUDE!!!!".  She always seems to keep my shopping in check :)


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