Monday, July 31, 2006

What's in a Name... Seriously

I spent much of my young childhood playing in the strangely out-of-place sand of my grandmother’s front yard. Her neighbors, just up the street, took a great interest in me. Kat and Tomas didn’t have any children of their own and, since their young niece and I were best friends, they doted on us. When that niece died in a car accident, they held me even closer.

Of course, as I got older and started, in the words of my grandmother, “smelling myself,” I was less interested in hanging out there. When my grandmother died, I saw Kat and Tomas even more rarely. They saw me out and about and always took time to check up on me. A few years ago, Kat died from cancer. I still see Tomas occasionally and he always has a ready smile.

To hurry up and get to the point, I have to tell you that Tomas is Mexican American who came to my hometown in 1975. (That will be relevant in a moment, trust me). He socialized mostly in the black community—Kat was black and, before 2000, the census never counted more than 10 Latino residents in my hometown--and worked mostly in the white community, on local farms and doing odd jobs. He faced a lot of prejudice in both places, at first, he told me, but it “got better.”

Today, I went to him to have him proofread a survey I had written in Spanish. One of the questions asked if the “native” residents of hometown were welcoming to new migrants. He pointed me to a certificate on the wall that proclaimed his permanent residency in hometown. A sign of acceptance, in his opinion, but, my cynical self noted that it was dated 2002, 27 years after he first came here. And then, I noticed something else. The first name on the certificate was Jose.

“Tomas is your middle name?” I asked. He shook his head. Jose is not difficult to pronounce I reasoned, so why Tomas? His explanation: “When I first came here, I worked for an old white man who didn’t like Mexicans. He wouldn’t call me Jose and whenever he wanted me he’d point and tell someone, ‘Call Tom.’ So I said okay and then people thought it must be Tomas and I would answer.”

I was horrified and embarrassed because I thought I knew this man so well. He reassured me that it was okay to call him Tomas, but I can’t do that. Not now that I know some old bigot took it upon himself to re-name Jose, in the process hoping to erase, to shape something that was not his to erase or shape or change. I feel that Old Man R, as Jose calls him, symbolically claimed some sort of ownership when he called this man Tom.

And yet, I am doing the same thing in my mind. That stubborn thing will not wrap itself around the name Jose. Jose is not my Tomas, not the man that gave us pie plates for our mud pies and bought us way too much candy and still asks my mom about me when I am away. Even as I acknowledge my selfishness, I feel torn, feel like copping out with, “Well, he said it was okay.”

But it’s not. Not okay to rename someone, to try to change his/her identity for personal comfort. So, I'm trying to imagine how he must have felt at having something so personal, so much a part of him taken away. One day, I'm going to work up the nerve to ask.


Sunday, July 30, 2006


So, I followed Quinn's link to CNN's article about the uproar over Babytalk Magazine's front cover of a baby nursing from her/his mom's breast. Before I get on my soapbox, I must be honest. I've always approached breastfeeding ambivalently--partly because I have issues about my breasts and partly because most of my friends and family of my generation just didn't/don't do it. When I had my son, there was no way I was breastfeeding; I honestly feel my breasts are just too big--my own mother just recently told me she didn't know they made bras in the letter size I wear. Suffice it to say, I'd practically have to lay the kid across my lap, football-hold method be damned.

But, it was a choice that caused me no small amount of guilt and defensiveness. I don't think it's much of a secret that a lot of moms think breastfeeding mothers love their babies more, are more tightly bonded, care more about their children's wellbeing, etc. I used to look at breastfeeding moms when my son was a baby and think (with much attitude), "I hope she doesn't think she's better than me." And did I mention, I'm so annoyed with the government's current guilt-inducing tactics to increase breastfeeding.

But nothing like a little objectification, a smidge of deference-to-the-all-powerful-male-gaze to whip that ambivalency out of your mind. I was appalled and then pissed off to read these responses in that article: "A breast is a breast -- it's a sexual thing;" "I don't want my son or husband to accidentally see a breast they didn't want to see;"and "Men are very visual. When they see a woman's breast, they see a breast -- regardless of what it's being used for." No one asked these women serious points like, why did breasts become, first and foremost, sexual things, or sarcastic ones like what breast doesn't your husband or son want to see?

For all the reasons people list why moms shouldn't feed their hungry kids in public, these are most disturbing to me. Because you're worried about what men think of breasts, if they'll be offended or unbearably aroused? Give me a fucking break.

Nice Things to Read on a Sunday Morning...

...especially when they come from an article discussing how the pastor of a megachurch is refusing to make "Christian" and "Republican" synonyms:
The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary?
After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said. Before the last presidential election, he preached six sermons called “The Cross and the Sword” in which he said the church should steer clear of politics, give up moralizing on sexual issues, stop claiming the United States as a “Christian nation” and stop glorifying American military campaigns.
“When the church wins the culture wars, it inevitably loses,” Mr. Boyd preached. “When it conquers the world, it becomes the world. When you put your trust in the sword, you lose the cross.”
Mr. Boyd subsequently lost 20% of his congregation. But, he was voicing
"A common concern... that the Christian message is being compromised by the tendency to tie evangelical Christianity to the Republican Party and American nationalism, especially through the war in Iraq."
Mmm. Amen to that, preacher! And,
"Mr. Boyd laid out a broad argument that the role of Christians was not to seek “power over” others -- by controlling governments, passing legislation or fighting wars."
I love this point. Why? Because in the brouhaha over the true "nature" of Judas Iscariot at my church, when some people try to suggest that he was just a fallible, weak human being, many more-conservative members say he was a vindictive soul, angry at Jesus for not setting up a wealthy, worldly kingdom. Now, if Judas was wrong for that 2000 years ago, why has that become the mission of far right Christians these days?

And, dear to my own heart, he seems to know a little history:
"America wasn’t founded as a theocracy,” he said. “America was founded by people trying to escape theocracies. Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn’t bloody and barbaric. That’s why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state. I am sorry to tell you,” he continued, “that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world."
This man even addresses the Christian persecution syndrome:
Mr. Boyd lambasted the “hypocrisy and pettiness” of Christians who focus on “sexual issues” like homosexuality, abortion or Janet Jackson’s breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl halftime show. He said Christians these days were constantly outraged about sex and perceived violations of their rights to display their faith in public.
A veritable "Hallelujah" seems in order.

Friday, July 28, 2006


This weekend, I am playing hostess for a friend’s wedding. My duties entail the overseeing and replenishing of food at the rehearsal dinner and the reception. The only things I actually have to prepare are fruit trays and one vegetable tray—the latter of which, I hesitated to tell the bride, will primarily be for decoration. In my extensive experience, veggie trays are most often passed and picked over.

The fruit trays are an entirely different matter. I am elbows deep in parsley and kale garnish, fresh berries and whole melons. So far, I have discovered I cannot figure out how to cut up a whole pineapple and I cannot dissuade the bride from including apples. “They’ll get brown,” I’ve been muttering. She suggested a lemon juice fix. I begrudgingly picked up a canister of Fruit Fresh.

She also wants lots of strawberries—she heard I was particularly creative with those. And I am. I make a really good strawberry shortcake and strawberry pound cake—both from scratch. I can make homemade strawberry ice cream without the mix. I can whip up a really good cream cheese based or peanut butter fudge dip for them. I can decorate whole strawberries with white chocolate, dark chocolate, coconut, crushed nuts, and caramel. In other words, I spend much of my food prep life on strawberries.

And I’ve realized, I don’t particularly like them. They’re rarely sweet enough. The seeds are annoying. They get mushy and moldy at the grocery store. They’re small and hard to work with. I don’t know how the hell they became my “thing.”

There’s a metaphor for my life in there somewhere.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


...which is what older people in this area call diabetes and what many are convinced, regardless of age, causes the disease. My mom told me yesterday that one of my nieces, the 17-year-old who is a self-proclaimed diva, has diabetes. When we went to see her about it, she was depressed. Understandably so--she has an illness that is going to change her routine and her life. But, she was depressed for another reason, too. She can't reconcile the fact that she--a physically attractive, weight-and-appearance conscious girl--has a disease that she had decided was a concern of old-and/or-fat people.

Seriously. She just doesn't believe she has diabetes while her much heavier, older sister, doesn't. And yes, she said as much. Along with the repeated wail, "I'm not even fat!" To which my mom and her other grandmother said, "You don't have to be." I just bit my tongue. And sis damn near swallowed hers.

Since I am her aunt, I've decided not to be my usual sarcastic, offended self. Instead, I'm compiling information for her about diabetes, hoping to help her gain the knowledge to live a long, healthy life. I can school her on the rest later.

Monday, July 24, 2006


So, this morning I had to get up way too early to give a friend a ride to a city about an hour away from here. He expects to be here from 10 to 3, so I have amuse myself for waaaay too long. Some observations from my drive and my attempts to productively occupy my time:
  1. All Sean Paul's songs sound alike.
  2. On the way here, while driving on the interstate, we saw a military tank. My first time seeing one close up, so I sort of paused beside it to look. That, in turn, made the man behind me flash the lights of his truck. Only, you don't rush me when I'm driving--no flashing the lights or blowing the horn, etc. So, bitchy as I'm feeling, I slowed down even more.
  3. Which reminds me. Why do I call the interstate "the interstate" when I'm in Louisiana but the same thingis the freeway in Texas? And why is the "feeder" in Texas the "service road" here?
  4. Ooh, Lord, T-Pain works my nerves.
  5. Rihanna's "Unfaithful" is a little creepy.
  6. From my driving in circles, it would seem that the parish library is closer to this city than the city's own library.
  7. Why does the library have only 10-15 computers open to the public? I actually had to wait!
  8. Why couldn't I buy a margarita while having lunch yesterday in a neighboring town, because they don't sell alcohol on Sundays, BUT today, when I go through that same town, I might stop at the drive thru liquor store and get up to a 44-oz mixed drink. Trust they are efficient, however--they'll put a piece of tape across the top to make sure customers of their drive thru liquor store don't drink and drive.
  9. I'm sleepy. With four hours to go. And no inclination to pull out the work I brought.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Spectator Sports

My brother's softball team recently played in a tournament that benefits sickle cell anemia research. In honor of the games (and because I love to challenge pseudonymity), I had this made:

My son's father is also on the team. His shirt said G.O.A.T. Poor thing; he's immodest and delusional. G.O.A.T = Greatest Of All Time. The highlight of the tournament was my friends and I thinking of alternative G.O.A.T.s. A couple I remember:

God's Orneriest Asshole, Thanks.

Getting Old And Tired.

And my favorite, submitted by my sister-in-law:

Good Only At Triflingness.

You know you want to make suggestions!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Green-Eyed with Wonder

Mon is now living a so-called PhD life.

Ragey has finished revising.

ABD Mom is now a professing Mama.

In my life outside the computer, a member of my dissertater group just graduated.

And Quinn is using that legendary brain to buckle down. I think she sees the ligt at the end of the tunnel.

Happiness for them aside, I'm about to find out how good a motivator a little jealousy can be.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

A Totally Academic Post

So, I'm working on this chapter that is basically going to explore the arrival of Latino workers to the South Arkansas poultry industry and how that arrival affects black women in the workplace and at home. It also discusses the traditional black labor force’s reaction to and perceptions of these new immigrants.

And... I think I'm trying to make more of a connection between the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and the phenomenal growth rate of Latinos in non-metropolitan areas. I feel like I have to discuss the act, but its effects on the population growth and the poultry industry are presented as kind of ambivalent in things I've read.

As far as why/how these workers came to Arkansas (and to the South in general):
1. Declining job opportunites in traditional "gateway" cities/home countries
2. Strong recruitment--by companies (esp poultry processors) and by workers themselves through kin and fictive kin networks
3. IRCA rules that intensifed INS activity in areas with large Latino populations, pushing immigrants out of those areas
That's what I'm highlighting so far. I guess I shouldn't reveal everything.

This chapter is hard for me in other ways too--I use the word "immigrant" a little too loosely (not sure that's the right adverb); I don't think I make clear distinction between native, documented, and undocumented workers in the industry (simply because I don't know the numbers of each). Oh, and I just remembered I haven't talked about why the poultry industry needed new workers in the 90s--beyond the obvious issues with turnover and exhaustion of local labor pools.

I'm probably telling way too much. But this is helping me get my ideas together. And if someone happens to stop by with some knowledge of the subject...

Friday, July 14, 2006

In the Midnight Hour...

...when your sleepy 8-year-old doesn't want to sleep and you're riveted to a page-turning article about the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act's effect on the poultry industry, conversations like this happen:

The Kid: I saw a little bit of Catwoman today.
Elle: Mmm.
The Kid: She moves like Spiderman.
Elle: All the computer stuff?
The Kid: No, Halle Berry.
Elle (rolls eyes): Okay.
The Kid: You think they're together, like married in real life?
Elle: Who?
The Kid (sighs in exasperation): Spiderman and Catwoman?
Now, I think this would be a fitting match because I didn't like that Spiderman movie--couldn't believe all the money it raked in--and Catwoman... Halle, Lord, Halle. But...
Elle: Um, doesn't Spiderman like that MJ girl? Mary Jane?
The Kid: Oh, yeah. But I saw a cartoon, a real one in a book, and she was dead. They-
Elle: Please go to sleep!
Silence and then a disgruntled parting shot.
The Kid: Mama, you know Spiderman is fake, anyway?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Erotic Nude Photography

Gotcha, didn't I?
Seriously, I'm trying to learn about technorati tags. I look up the tag "women of color." Right there next to related tags, sitting between feminism and reproductive rights was "erotic nude photography." I mean, it's obvious how that's so closely related to women of color, right?

Though, to be fair, when I looked up women, related tags included: Beauty, SKIN, Men, Body, sexy, Babes, Beautiful. And men--arguably even less flattering

For Nubian...

...since she won't allow comments over there! I just want you to know that I think you're amazing. You've taken so much flak, so much heat this year--the amount of which would've destroyed some of us. And yet you come back, sometimes angry, sometimes tired, sometimes hurt, sometimes sarcastic, but always proud and strong. I marvel each time.

You rightly point out that you are not "the voice of all women of color, of all black women, or of all lesbians," and yet, you, and every word you write, are treated as such, while some of us remain silent. In fact, let me drop the us, and admit that I stay largely silent. Not because I don't agree, but because I don't have your courage. I fear that I will write the "wrong" thing, I won't be as eloquent or as on point. I don't know or understand enough. I don't have much experience with "real" struggle--someone has always been there to rescue me. And while I'd like to envision myself standing behind the solid wall of your strength, intelligence, and courage, sometimes I get the feeling that I'm not so much standing as hiding behind you, staying comfortable, holding onto my fear. Making you be the voice of all of us.

I am so sorry that you've been frustrated. But I am so glad, in the midst of that frustration, you still recognize your power and you still stand firm.

So take your time. We'll be waiting.

tags: ,

Things I Hate

Christian themed e-mails that include the following guilt trips:

1. If you don't have the time to read and forward this, don't be surprised when God doesn't have time for you.

2. Why can't you forward this? If it was nasty or dirty, you'd do so without thinking!

3. When becoming a Christian, you accepted the duty of spreading the word and bringing more people into the kingdom. If you don't forward this e-mail, you will have failed abysmally at that task.

And finally...

4. If you are a real Christian...

A Problem

One of the reasons I'm back in Texas is that my kid and my nephew have swim lessons for the next two weeks. They really enjoy it, but my son has one issue, revealed yesterday in a conversation:

Elle: So, how was the lesson?
The Kid: Fine. The teacher says I'm the best back floater ever.
Elle: Well, good. It's still a lot of fun then?
The Kid: Yes, ma'am, but I have one problem.

I had no idea what to expect right here-- a water bully? a new fear of having his face under water?

Elle: What is it?
The Kid: I'm the only (his voice drops to a dramatic whisper) black person in my group.
So, I stare for a moment before coming back with a foundering: What about the other groups?
He does a mental tally and arrives at: Four (including him and my nephew).

Now I want to know why he identified this as a problem. You know, is it a problem because he wants to look like the other kids or is it a problem because he wants more kids that look like him there. After some none-too-sensitive probing, I find out it's the latter (thank God!). So, I launch into an explanation about how, because he takes lessons in a majority white suburb, there are more white children participating. And how, sometimes, it's just like that--using my PhD program as an example.

Only, it's never really "just like that," "that" being some divine, predestined way-it-is that we should understand and accept. No, lots of things made it like that and he's going to want to know about those things. Soon.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


...Best Friend Texas on a much deserved promotion. You'll be picking up the check for a while, now, right? :-)

Jumping Right In...

Been looking for something to get this thing jumpstarted, and I think I found it at Rachel's Tavern:

Do you have any political stances that would surprise people who don’t know you? If you are a liberal, do you have an issue where you side with conservatives? If you are a conservative, do you have an issue where you side with liberals?

Somethings should come as no surprise--I am stereotypically Southern in some ways. I'm not into really restrictive gun laws; I'm the daughter of a gun-toting father, a man who has always told my sister and me, "If in trouble, shoot. I don't want you carrying knives, 'cause if someone is close enough to stab, they're too close." And I waver on capital punishment--having a government in the business of killing people, for whatever reason, is worrisome. Then again, the reason I got out of psychology was my feeling that some people can never be rehabilitated. And, if I try to put myself in the victim's place (or the place of relatives/loved ones/etc), I know I'd have no qualms about demanding CP. Pure vengeance or retribution, perhaps, but I'm honest.

I think I surprise people on the issue of education, undoubtedly the result of being a product of and a teacher in a poor school district in Louisiana. Listen to me: MANY OF OUR CHILDREN ARE OUT OF CONTROL and there's very little teachers can do about it. Oh, and before you come at me with the "teacher's just need better classroom management bit," let me say smugly that was one area in which my principal, mentor teacher, and outside observers all agreed I was strong. But I had colleagues who went (and go) home crying everyday, some child having made them seriously consider giving up the career for which they had trained. And parent support/participation? Ha! Try one family at my first year (1999) open house. So, not-so-progressive observation #1, there need to be some consequences for these children and their parents. We can't make them care but we damn well ought to be able to say what will happen if they don't put forth some minimum of effort.

Mainstreaming leads me to not-so-progressive observation #2. Mainstreaming is the practice of placing special needs children in classrooms with regular ed kids as much as possible. Beautiful concept--for too long, special needs students were grouped together with little regard for ability or age and left basically to rot in the "special ed" classroom. But once the federal government agreed to give all children a Free and Appropriate Public Education, that changed. Okay in districts like the one I'm in now--there's a lot of support for special needs kids, assistants and aides to whom they can go when they need additional help or smaller class size. But back home, mainstreaming simply meant that the special ed classroom was taken away and replaced with--you guessed it-NOTHING. It meant that GT kids like me shared lesson times with classmates who were up to 3 years behind and for whom teachers made few accomodations or modifications. Stifling, let me tell you.

And when I was teaching, 5 of my 15 fourth-graders were special needs, pulled out by the circulating special ed teacher for an hour of reading in the morning then sent back to me. Imagine doing six individual preps (reading, language, spelling, math, social studies, science--HS teachers typically only have 2 or 3) then having to modify or accomodate those in up to 5 ways. With no planning period. And a principal who was a stickler for lesson plans. "Find the middle ground," they tell you, but when you have a kid who's doing HS level work in a classroom with one who can't read, they both suffer. And so do you, if you care at all about educating them. So, not-so-progressive observation #2--total mainstreaming needs to be thought about.

Not-so-progressive observation #3: I really don't know what to think about vouchers. Yes, it can destroy some schools, eradicate some jobs. But I've been in schools in which nothing changes, where the old guard teachers, aides, and clerks think "This is MY school and woe to anyone who tries to change a damned thing." Even if it benefits the kids. But a different school won't cure everything that ails education. And if some of the non-involved parents and/or "the teacher is always wrong" parents go elsewhere with those attitudes, bullshit will persist.

So, I'm cynical. Sue me. Parents threaten to do that to teachers all the time.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


Has it really been that long?
Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...