Friday, April 20, 2012

Notes 4/20/12

1. I grew up in a culture that didn’t speak about certain things. There was no mention of homosexuality openly – but there were jokes, whispered innuendos and smirks about “it”. It wasn’t until my adult life when I found myself working with openly gay and lesbian people that I had the opportunity to move beyond the shadowy ignorance of my early years. I discovered that gay and lesbian people could be creative, funny, supportive, and dependable to work with. I came to learn that the stereotypic behaviors and mannerisms that our culture associated with gay and lesbian people were largely myth.

Barrel cactus blossom this last week in my back yard

I can remember one or two people who demonstrated through the way they lived that gay and lesbian people could be just like the rest of us in what we want from life, except that they prefer partners of the same sex. Not a big deal! Our entire popular culture seems to be moving toward a wider acceptance, but still some myths are perpetuated. TV, talk show programming, the internet and books are exposing a wider population to the humanity of gay and lesbian folks.

Red tail hawk spotted overhead on my morning dog walk

 For me it has been a matter of overcoming the ignorance that came to me growing up in a society that didn’t understand, that feared, and sought to make disappear by repression what was perceived as "dangerous". … When you are surrounded by people with a particular attitude it is easy to pick up on that attitude and join in that belief. All it takes to break the power of ignorance is to get to know one or a few individuals who can prove by their lives that the old stereotype no longer holds water, 

Grey Heron

Now the idea of shunning of judging someone of a different sexual orientation than mine seems very hurtful and wrong. There is also a  growing body of research evidence that ones sexual preference is established very early in life – it may well be brought about a normal chemical variation found in certain is definitely not something that can be "reeducated" out of them... This matches what gay and lesbian people report – they “know” in their early childhood years that they were somehow different…

2. Ignorance is such a limiting factor. I spent my teen age years in the San Joaquin valley- where people made stereotypic jokes about “those Mexicans”…One of my uncles forbad his daughter to listen to Mexican music on the radio – “bad influence you know…“

Judy with indigenous Mixtec woman in Oaxaca that weaves at home and sell in the Market

 I grew up with joking images of lazy Mexicans asleep under their big sombreros leaning up against a big cactus. Movies generally tended to support the easy going but irresponsible Mexican. Many Mexican people lived in substandard housing – a sure sign of their inferiority (conveniently forgetting the effects of cultural suppression and huge handicap of trying to make it in America with the language gap and little opportunity for equal education).

Community self-help project - building a community center in a Mt. village near Oaxaca

Teaching, I had Latino students who were in fact motivated and creative , But It wasn’t until we started traveling in Mexico that I discovered the truth. We found the vast majority of Mexican people to he hard workers – creative in their business plans – and trying their best to make a good life for their families. We never found even one lazy Mexican. We also saw the realities of poverty and the effects of government policies that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. We understood why a Mexican man would endanger his life to come to the US to earn money to send back to support his family there, even though he had to live miserably while here.

Worker in a tortilla factory grinding corn with a machine to make the "masa"

 We found the Mexican people to have a creative culture, a people who know their history and have dreams for a better future. 

The first permanent house of the Zlatnik family in the early years after immigration

 I have a special affinity for Latinos because only a few decades back my grandparents, father, and his siblings were in the same exact boat – they were the newly arrived immigrants who spoke a foreign language (Czech), had cultural ways that no one understood, had very little money and education… and they struggled like todays Latinos to “make it” in America. They didn't have to worry about such things as green cards, “papers”, and the danger of deportation back then.

A street merchant in the Oaxaco market offers grains and seeds for sale

3. The same pattern of overcoming cultural ignorance was true about my coming to better understand what it means to have black skin in America. Growing up in Kansas, we politely called them “Negro” or “Coloreds” – these terms were considered to be more progressive than the alternative terms used by many of our neighbors. I knew little about black people because I had no contact with any individuals except the stereotype figures seen in movies or in music. When we went in to the city of Topeka I would sometimes see black people, but they appeared as a different sort of exotic people… a curiosity to me.

Our friend and guide in Arusha Tanzania who led us on a day long hike into the mountains

My education in understanding began when I got to know black people who became part of my extended  family and also by  working closely with black people that I respected and enjoyed. Only then did I discover – surprise – they are just like me! Like any other people some are creative and funny, some are serious thinkers, some have a range of talents and abilities that I don't have... but most are very much like me.  

Young female student 

You probably know this, but modern Biologists do not recognize the term “race” – race is a political term but it is not a factor that can be measured in the bones, pigment, intelligence, or any other factor… You and I regardless of race have different amounts of identical melanin in our skin (the darkening agent), the same proteins in our hair, the same neuronal regions in our brain… race is a political myth that was made useful in subjugating groups of humans. 

Judy with Mama Lucy, the director of a new innovative school in Arusha

 People with very dark skin are found in all peoples who evolved in tropical conditions with exposure to continual sun – Southern India, South China, Tropical Latin America, Melanesia, as well as equatorial Africa and Australia …. Black skin is a survival mechanism for dealing with large amounts of ultraviolet light exposure.

Judy getting help crossing a stream

4. Ignorance stays in place because it is a sort of glue – a matrix- thrust on us by our society… Getting to know one, working with and becoming friends with a few people that belong to “the other” can  change our whole perception of " the others".

 I have known people who nurture their racial or ethnic superiority to give their own ego a boost...(the "I'm better than you syndrome")  That or an individual may feel that he or she will lose their identity in their social group or community if they start being open to people outside the group - and then they will be isolated.

I buy fresh hot Afghani bread from this baker in the "Little Kabul" part of Fremont

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