Hija de Caguas y La Habana

In observance of Mother Language Day and because its topic makes this appropriate, the rest of this post is in my native Spanish.

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He pensado mucho de mis raíces.  Soy una criatura de combinación, hecha de muchas piezas, cosida difícilmente junta.  Soy americana, boricua, cubana, y en unos meses, canadiense.  Nací en una ciudad, de padres ciudadanos y campesinas, quienes llegaron a madurez en New Jersey después de niñeces en las islas del Mar Caribe, inmigrantes sin inglés.

Viví en New Jersey, rodeada de las culturas italiana-americana, boricua-americana, e irlandés-americana.  Viví también en Miami, en el medio de la cultura cubana-americana y la mezcla de cosas raras y únicas que es el sur de la Florida.  Vivo ahora en Canadá, en donde tengo que construir cosas familiares de partes salvadoreñas, jamaicanas, y polacas.

No sé si jamás veré los lugares de mi pasado.

Años van a pasar antes que podrá volar a New Jersey para ver la calle donde viví.  Mis padres me dijeron que la casa ya no parece como acuerdo, que las rosas ya no crecen en el patio y la mata de acebo hace años se murió.  Quizás es mejor que no lo veo.  Hay carboneros por acá, y casi nadie que quiero ver por allá.

Mi familia no quiere bregar con la idea que yo soy la persona que soy.  Cada vez en cuando me llaman, pero no ha sido similar que antes.  Ahora se oye la tristeza o el coraje en sus voces cada vez que oyen la mía, como que están hablando con una fantasma de una memoria.  Lo que oigo es literalmente nostalgia: dolor en sentir que algo se perdió y no se consigue más.  Ya no me piden a llamarlos.  Mi familia en Miami es, por su cuenta, mucho más pequeña ahora, consistiendo de la minoría de mis relaciones que no me han repudiado y amigos que han quedado cerca.  Si vuelo a Miami otra vez, tendré que solicitar amigos para albergarme, porque jamás podré sentirme seguro en la casa de mis padres.  Hay recuerdos queridos por allá, y cultura familiar, y comida que me hace llorar.  Quiero regresar, eventualmente.

Nunca he visto a Cuba ni a Puerto Rico personalmente.  Quizás algún día tendremos dinero suficiente para visitar a las islas que me dieron las culturas de mis padres, para que yo pueda ver así cerca de donde vengo.

Nunca he tenido una relación especialmente cariñosa a mis raíces culturales.  La cultura hispánica todavía da apoyo a sentimientos homofóbicas, anti-transgéneras, anti-ateas, y de varias otras formas opuestas a lo que yo vivo.  El machismo hispano es famoso, severo, asqueroso, y vergonzoso, y no quiero ningún parte en preservarlo para las generaciones futuras.  Las generaciones futuras merecen mejor que eso.  Hay mucho para criticar en nuestra historia, especialmente ahora que el poder de la Iglesia Católica sobre las sociedades hispánicas se está debilitando.  Fue posible, con mi distancia y mi expulsión de la compañía hispanohablante, que yo rechazara el resto.  Fue posible, con esa ruptura, que rechazara mi raza también.

Ni quería ni pude.  Aunque podría ser blanca en un contexto específicamente latinoamericano, no soy blanca por acá.  Traigo detrás de mi cienes y cienes de años de revolución y resistencia, yuca y maíz, sol y arena.  Detrás de me tengo los atentos finales de Hatuey y Agüeybaná de conseguir un archipiélago Taíno fuera de control español.  Detrás también tengo los esclavos africanos quienes nos dieron las delicias de nuestra cocina: sancocho, tostones, mofongo.  En ser rechazada de la cocina de mis padres y prevenida a quedarme conectada a mis raíces de esa manera, tuve desaire recargada a conocer de dónde vine.

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Hija de Caguas y La Habana
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World Citizen

I’m currently a candidate for permanent residency in Canada.  It’ll be a while before the Canadian authorities make their decision, and then a bit longer while I come up with ~$500 that Canada likes to extract from its immigrants for the privilege of the legal right to remain even after their stay is approved, on top of a similar expense required to even apply.  I’ll have to sit for some sort of interview in between, most likely, so that an official fundamentally unqualified to make this determination can decide if my relationship to Ania is genuine.  I haven’t yet determined whether I’ll have to make that appearance while crossdressing, given that my legal paperwork is all under the old name, but signs point in that direction.  I’m still figuring out whether it’s a good idea to start moving on my legal name change now, or if that would complicate my application.  Immigrating while transgender is a dreadful experience overall.

Eventually, I’ll also have to renounce my US citizenship, because even having US citizenship is a liability for US citizens relocated long-term elsewhere.  The United States is unusual in two respects: it is illegal to enter the United States with a non-US passport if one is a US citizen, and the US extends its financial fingers into the doings of US citizens living abroad.  Much has been written about the annoyance that these rules impose on people even approaching middle-class, despite being ostensibly aimed at drawing back some money filched by jet-setting CEOs and parked elsewhere in the world.  Worse, because US citizenship is transmitted by birth to at least one American parent or on American soil, if I have children, anything in their names is also subject to US scrutiny and US taxes, when they’ll have no personal connection to “the old country” at all.  Relative poverty has kept me off of the IRS and Treasury Department’s radar, but I’ll still probably have to answer for my invisibility once my income becomes real.

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World Citizen

Hewing the Heuristic

I know someone who regularly visits the strangest, most extreme corners of the Internet, to experience a kind of macabre bemusement.  They flit from Canadian Association for Equality to A Voice for Men to Return of Kings; they follow trails that start at Fox News and end at Stormfront or r/coontown; they learn about Gamergate by letting Vivian James lead them from TotalBiscuit deep into the places where the movement-that-wasn’t bleeds into these and other right-wing hate groups.

It’s an interesting and rather informative approach.  For people with the stomach to view and cogitate over that level of violence-fomenting hatred, there probably isn’t a better way to see the clear links between the more extreme versions and the ones that more pointedly bring themselves mainstream attention.  It’s a way to remind oneself that the quieter, front-facing versions are direct gateways into deeper wells of horror, and that the worse versions of all these things are worse as a matter of degree, not kind.

The thing is, this kind of searching also leads one into the weird, anti-scientific, decidedly baffling underbelly of many other movements as well, including movements that are utterly benign.

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Hewing the Heuristic

Let’s Have a Shut Up and Sit Down

I am a scientist, and I am a leftist.  To many, these ideas are starkly opposed, and a cursory read of each area’s maxims would seem to corroborate that opposition.  But both modes of thinking are enthusiastically embraced by commanding fractions of the atheist community, often the same people, and there is a good reason for that, too.  This is how this particular leftist scientist reconciles those ideas. Continue reading “Let’s Have a Shut Up and Sit Down”

Let’s Have a Shut Up and Sit Down

Shifty Lines: The British Isles

Earlier this year, after more than a year of anticipation, the people of Scotland held a vote to determine whether their country would become independent from the United Kingdom.  That vote was unambiguously in favor of remaining part of Britain, with pro-union majorities in nearly every county, but it revealed deep divisions within Scottish society and between Scotland and its hegemonic neighbor, England.  Indeed, the histories of the various parts of the island group best known as the British Isles are surprisingly different, leading to persistent divisions that, in the past and into the future, define nations.

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Shifty Lines: The British Isles

An Imaginary Q&A on the World’s Degrees of Britishness

As many readers are undoubtedly aware, this past week the people of Scotland held a long-awaited referendum on whether to become an independent country.  What, exactly, this means has been more confusing than it should have been, because Scotland exists at a nexus of confusion within the mess of terms used to describe that general region of Europe.  With my trusty Imaginary Correspondent, let’s sort that out.

Imaginary Correspondent: I find Britishness quaint and also confusing.  Where do we start?

Alyssa: Geography.

IC: Okay…

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An Imaginary Q&A on the World’s Degrees of Britishness

Shifty Lines: The Western Arctic

Earth is a huge planet, far larger and impossibly more complicated than any fantasy realm.  Its vastness is often concealed from us, particularly in the way that common map projections section the Pacific Ocean and stretch and warp Asia.  One region has the opposite problem—common maps make it look far larger and wider than it is.  The Arctic Ocean is the world’s smallest, surrounded by landmasses so close together that, in colder times, every one of them was linked by a single mass of ice.  The eastern Arctic is defined by Russia steamrolling over a multiplicity of indigenous peoples speaking languages from numerous families.  The western Arctic, by contrast, is the story of two specific tribes expanding, colliding, and deciding how best to maneuver around one another: the Norse and the Inuit.

And because North American map-readers can’t seem to make heads or tails of that one huge island next to Canada in particular, it’s worth a look.

Map of North Atlantic showing Greenland, Ellesmere Island, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the surrounding area.

Continue reading “Shifty Lines: The Western Arctic”

Shifty Lines: The Western Arctic

One School System

One of the triumphs of the human race was the invention of public schools.  With the spread of public school systems around the world, no longer would the children of farmers and blacksmiths receive only the training their parents could provide or afford to hire.  No longer would learning for learning’s sake be firmly closed to those without independent wealth or unexpected patronage.  The lot of all people was no longer simply to learn a trade and be content with that much knowledge.  The expectation arose that people would enter adulthood with a basic understanding of art, literature, music, mathematics, history, and many experimental sciences.  Later revisions and additions would make it possible for children to complete schooling with a basic familiarity with classical Western philosophy and levels of math and science that would previously have required connections in august institutions like Oxford University.

A lot of societal changes presaged this shift in human society.  In the west in particular, the Industrial Revolution and subsequent urbanization made the propagation of farmhands and apprentices far less necessary, created a middle class that expected more for its offspring, and created a demand for educated professionals that could not be fulfilled in other ways.  The history here is massive and convoluted enough that almost anything can be linked to this social revolution with enough effort, but that history is not at issue here.

This revolution also had a dramatic effect on the role of religion in society.  Religious organizations have a long history as the core of educational systems.  In societies lacking public schools, it is usually not secular charities and benefactors that fill the gap and provide basic learning to the masses, but clergy.  In countries where public systems exist in urban areas but have not yet penetrated into less developed regions, churches and mosques often fill the gap.  In places where ethnic minorities have separate infrastructure, church and school functions are often deeply intertwined as part of what makes these groups distinct from the surrounding society.  This has given and continues to give religious institutions enormous power to shape each succeeding generation of students…dramatically reduced in societies that have managed to implement secular public school systems.  Secularism, when it works, cuts religion out of the system; socialism makes the system available to anyone, preventing religious organizations from keeping their niche by being more easily accessible.

This has enabled the public school system to become much more than it was.  As a shared time of growth and experience for the majority of a country’s youth, school became where people acquired their sense of what it means to be a citizen of their country and the heritor of its culture.  It also became the primary means by which people would learn how our world functions.  School serves many purposes, depending on the priorities of those running them and the pundit consulted: babysitting to make the workforce possible, training future workers for basic jobs, breeding moral and upright citizens, or even conferring advantages not shared by those outside the system.  But that function—bringing to the next generation an understanding of our place in the universe, how our universe functions, and how to gain further understanding—is incredibly important, and becomes more so as more and more available futures demand such understanding.

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One School System

Shifty Lines: The East African Federation

Most of the stories in Shifty Lines are and will be about separatist conflicts.  Particularly in Africa, though, the simple separatist concept does not accurately reflect the goals of the border-rearrangement movements.  While this is fairly obvious in North Africa, where two of the major ethnic groups with nation-state aspirations are spread across multiple countries, eastern Africa presents a different case.  In East Africa, like the Caribbean, a large-scale effort to combine several countries into a single federated state is underway, and stands a decent chance of success.

Continue reading “Shifty Lines: The East African Federation”

Shifty Lines: The East African Federation

Shifty Lines: Papua

The South Pacific rarely features in anyone’s mental registers of conflict zones.  The region was a major theater of World War II, but it was settled very late in human history and discovered very late by colonizers.  Its extreme isolation meant that it has mostly avoided creating indigenous conquering empires or being riven apart by colonial divisions, especially when compared to Africa or western Asia.  So it’s fitting, in a way, that the westernmost edge of the Pacific region, where it blends into Asia, should be home to a long-running conflict alternately dubbed “Asia’s Palestine” and “the forgotten war.”  (Someone tell that first group that Palestine is in Asia).  The struggle to turn New Guinea into a free and united Papua receives far too little attention and even less understanding, which is far less than this fascinating region deserves.

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Shifty Lines: Papua