Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Intersectionality: Race, Gender, Class, Culture

In order to keep our sanity, it is necessary to be organized. We organize our shoes, our silverware, our baubles and posts-it’s… We organize so many things. Is it not only natural that this need to have a firm knowledge of what and where things are, translates its self from the inanimate to the organic. We label ourselves in so many ways, like the many contents of a supermarket grocery store shelf; who we are seems to be clearly labeled, in big bold letters. For many people this system of identification works. The peanut butter knows that its peanut butter and the jelly knows where to find the other jars of jelly. However, when someone’s not exactly a jar of peanut butter and not as dark and gooey as a jar of jelly, the system fails them. They try to pass off as other things; jars of garlic, olives, and chili peppers. They jump up and down the shelves, simultaneously being rejected for their color, their flavor, and their consistency. There are very few shoppers that would take a chance on a jar of food they seemed different from those around it, as if someone had picked it up, found something wrong with it and put it back in the wrong section, an indication to other shoppers of its differentially. Or perhaps a shopper comes across this misplaced jar while looking for a jar of habanera peppers. They can clearly tell that this jar is not what they came looking for. The jar looks more like stuffed peppers that habanera peppers. The label, though scuffed and illegible, still conveys that this is a jar of something wonderful and spicy. The shopper however, knows that his need for a hot sandwich for lunch can be satisfied by a few habanera peppers. The mystery jar carries too much disorganization, too much instability. So the jar sits, wondering what to call itself, where to put itself and what the heck it should be doing as the days pass and the dreaded date on top of its lid draws closer and closer.

So many lives pass in this way, waiting in internal uncertainty. Being passed off as the closest jar to which they resemble, ignoring the way they were raised, but more importantly they ignore the deep and passionate connection to the roots which firmly grew them. Impertinently, they allow themselves to be pushed into the back of the shelf, and to rot away.

When people look at me, they think that I’m white. When they hear me speak to them in Spanish, they think I’m Cuban. When they try to have a complicated conversation with me in Spanish, they think I’m a Cuban girl who became white. In a world where unlabeled jars are an unwelcome nuisance, race is just another synonym for identity. Race indicates what is it acceptable for you to say, who it is acceptable for you to become close to and how it is acceptable for others to treat you. Really, I don’t know what I am and it’s a very unnerving sort of feeling. I know so little about Mexico, or what its like to be a Mexican. I know as much about Mexico as I know about the Tohono O'odham (another name for the Papago Indians) or about Poland, or Germany or any of the other people which I can claim lineage to. I was born in America, and raised how any other 3-7th generation American was raised. The idea that where your great grandparent was born so strongly dictates who you are is preposterous to me. To say that one race has one personality, one identity, is a fallacy that I seek to disembowel for the method of discrimination which it is.

That being said, I would like to point out that having a connection with you ancestry is not the same as using race as your identity. One should embrace whatever passion is granted to them in this life. As a Jewish person who has gone to Israel and touched the Kotel (the western wall), fabled to be the holiest place on earth, I can understand this connection. There is no substitute to touching the embodiment of god, those who have walked before you, whose blood you carry inside you; to feel whole and completely in a way which is so intensely spiritual. It is the same way for my mother when she goes out to Arizona, to the dusty shack in the middle of the desert where she can see the red rocks and hear the voices of our female ancestors. While I don’t think I would be same person without these connections, I do not allow these things to directly define me. What kind of grandchild would I be to my ancestors should I let their identities to overtake my own? What kind of ancestor shall I be to my descendants should I not carry any distinction of my own? Though at times I still feel like a misplaced jar, when I remember the feel of the nooks on the Kotel, and my mother’s stories of vibrations from the red rocks, I remember what I was intended to taste like again.

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