Lilacs, Kiełbasa, and Why New Jersey Deserves Better

“Well, I give up. What’s the catch?”

“Oh, no catch. Although we are technically in New Jersey.”

The way American television talks about New Jersey, one would think the apocalypse already happened, but only there. The air is semisolid industrial waste and the beaches are made of finely ground syringes. The people are ruder than the rudest New York stereotype, bizarrely puffed-up Italian-American caricatures, elitist Princeton heirs, and immigrants from all over Asia and Latin America, somehow all at once, with only racism letting anyone have something other than the most impossibly overwrought “New Jersey accent.” It’s treated as New York’s leavings and the USA’s armpit, in media as obnoxiously cliché as How I Met Your Mother and as original and usually-compassionate as Steven Universe.

None of that is the New Jersey I remember from the eleven years I lived there.

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Lilacs, Kiełbasa, and Why New Jersey Deserves Better

Immigrant Gems

It is not possible to run out of reasons to love Steven Universe. This show’s explicitly queer representation is staggeringly high for a show as mainstream as it is; its psychological depth is impressive; it tells us forthrightly and aggressively that our genders should not constrain our possibilities; most of the characters are women or people of color (and largely voiced by people of color); there is a plot arc that is unambiguously about consent and another about being willing to seek comfort from one’s friends in crisis; onward and onward.

It’s also an impressively diverse treatment of immigrants’ and refugees’ feelings about the place they used to call home.

Spoilers out to episode 83 follow.

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Immigrant Gems

The Most I’ve Ever Been Hurt

I learned something this week.

I learned that I can beg and plead, at the brink of tears, more emotional than you have heard or seen me in more than ten years, for over an hour, and you’ll be unmoved.

I learned that I can pour my soul out for you on the page, in the form of communication in which I’m most comfortable, and you won’t bother reading it for comprehension.

I learned that you’ll always default to trying to be my emotional inverse, calm and collected when I am urgently emotional, shrieking and yelling when I’m quiet, because you never had any higher end than trying to make me doubt my own feelings and replace them with yours.

I learned that I can make a tiny request, that means more to me than anything, and the measure of your response will be how inconvenient it is for you.

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The Most I’ve Ever Been Hurt

When It Crashes

Things are about to get very difficult for us.

I’m near the end of my Ph.D. studies.  What should be a time of, if not hope, at least anticipation is a period of constant dread, because of two things I’ve learned.

My supervisor is, in all likelihood, signing the form he has to deliver to the Department of Biology indicating what his financial contribution to me next semester is going to be, and everything he’s said to me since the beginning of last semester says that that amount is about to drop from about $6300 to $0.  He has “incentivized” me to get my degree this semester by hanging the specter of his half of my salary no longer showing up in my bank accounts if I take any longer than that, because the stress of homelessness and lapsed prescriptions somehow does not get between scientists and their work.  I won’t know until he tells me, or I ask the department what he sent them.

But that’s small potatoes compared to the latest development.

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When It Crashes


I don’t belong here.

The paths are the same, the same Australian umbrella trees and thickets of palms and little yappy dogs, the same pervasive sun and smell of car exhaust, but they feel foreign now.  I walk the 33 blocks to the grocery store that sells all the Latin specialties I quickly learn to miss when I’m away, and it doesn’t feel like coming home to something.  It feels like traveling a long way away for my weird exotic tastes, bits of the old country I like to keep around, like the immigrants who define my past.

I lived here from 1999 to 2009, but I got used to counting it as eleven years in my mind.  And I’ve finished with this place.

Continue reading “Chickadee”