Sunday, April 28, 2013

Tales from the White Side

Waking up sober on Sunday mornings, yet groggy as all fuck is different for me. It used to be that Sundays I'd wake up hungover as all fuck from drinking from Thursday evening to about 2 am or 3 am (closing time) on Sunday. Not because I was an alcoholic, but because I was an irresponsible college student. I prefer the grogginess as opposed to the beer-runs; plus I actually look forward to writing the posts. 

When I was still in grad school back in California, I remember one of my brothers had gotten picked up and locked up for the first time. It was pretty much a weekend stay in a jail, and he was released within a few days. I remember at the time though, it hit me hard, because it was the first time anyone in my immediate family had gone to jail. I was having a group meeting with some of the other grad students from a class about some project we had to do for a professor they couldn't stand. I couldn't focus on the project itself. After class I was walking along with one of the students, a guy by the name Pat. Tall, lanky white guy, good writer, had him in a class as an undergrad once. Nice enough person. Some how we went from talking about the project to our current stresses, him being a young father. I remember I told him about my younger brother who had gotten locked up; I was angry, I was stressed, I was frustrated. Pat heard me out then he tried to relate to me by mentioning a selfish sister who had married rich, and ignored his family and some other horseshit that came nowhere near my problems. This was the look on my face --> : /. I did appreciate Pat's attempt at trying to relate, in order to try to get me to feel like I wasn't alone. Funny thing is, he told me I should go home and be with my family, but the group had just ripped a guy who had essentially taken a personal day after he had left. I imagined if I took a personal day I would reaffirm their preconceived notions of the lazy Mexican. So I stuck around and it wouldn't be the first time my brother would get locked up, and released a few days later.

Same grad school in Cali, I'm a teaching assistant for a professor. Great guy, very laid back approach to teaching and encouraged my pursuit of Xican@ literature, as a matter of fact he was teaching the Chicano/Latino lit class offered through the English department at the time. But he was still white, like Pat, and therefore could not relate, even though he tried. I can't remember how this conversation came about, but I remember he mentioned "Well I mean that's a given, right? Most if not all Mexican families have at least one son in the military." I remember thinking to myself, man, this guy has watched Mi Familia one too many times. He truly believed that statement. He truly believed that all Mexican families in the U.S. were made up of at least one gang banger kid, and one that was in the military. At least he used the military kid example as opposed to the gang banger kid example, so he tried to give us the benefit of the doubt by mentioning the military kid versus the black sheep gang banger kid. This same professor said he had a student by the last name Moreno, who very much wasn't the hue of her last name, because she looked white, his response "I thought it was kind of funny, because she wasn't you know darker or moreno." I think he was trying to impress me with the fact that he knew that moreno in spanish meant a darker color or shade of brown. He himself had a last name that described him as one of us, but he was white, but he didn't seem to find the irony or hilarity in that. 

I also TAed for him in an American lit class, where there was a Mexican kid who kept falling asleep through the class. The professor approached me about approaching the kid maybe even take him under my wing, because you know, all us brownies could relate. He had done the same with me, trying to get me to work with a Latina student so that I could have a mentor. She actually turned out to be a close friend in the program, she was lesbian as well, and she introduced me to a perspective of Chicana/Latina literature that I had not before placed too much thought into, until I TAed for her. Anyhow she e-mailed me in the fall, and we caught up a bit. She brought up that professor, and said it was nice of him to have us work together since he was so flaky. I haven't replied to her, because I know that in my reply I would probably take a sarcastic tone and let her know that, it wasn't because he was flaky (which he really is) and therefore thought it best to have her to guide me through the process, but it was more so that he wanted us working together since we were both "Latino." I know I probably shouldn't complain about this, because at the end of the day, I'm glad that I could have someone I could relate to in the program, imagine me trying to relate with Pat during that time with his rich sister and white privilege problems. No thanks. I would have happily taken that undergrad kid "under my wing" as well, regardless of my professor's intent, but the guy didn't need it, nor want it and that was fine by me.
By the time I arrived to my college campus on the Midwest, I went to a barber shop on campus. I'm attended to by an Anglo woman, with some type of drawl when she speaks, southern possibly, I don't know my drawls too well. Nice enough person. She mentions she has a Puerto Rican kid that comes in to get his hair cut, and my hair reminds me of his, you know because I'm "Latino" and/or possibly Puerto Rican. The most amusing part of it though, was when asked me what I was majoring in. I didn't want to go through the process of explaining Chicano/a Studies to her, nor what it meant to be a Chicano/a, so I told her I majored in English. Having mentioned that I majored in English which was technically true, since that was my major back in Cali, she said, "Oh! That's why you talk so good in English!" Yes, because you know, all us United States born Mexicans have a hard time learning to speak English and all (the errors in how she spoke aside). Damn you bilingual education for making us take longer in learning to speak English, but thank you English major for allowing me to speak it well enough to impress someone who I believe lived in a trailer park. 

I think my encounters with racial and/or ethnic ignorance have been more subtle than those experienced by a friend of mine, back in Cali. His encounters have been more, well, here's a few examples . . . 
He's walking down a street, possibly even in support of a marcha taking place at the time. A man sees the group of Mexicans, he pulls up next to my friend, and says, "Hey, I have a job if you're interested." My friend actually in a need of a job, responds asking what type of job it is. The man lets him know its for landscaping. My friend is slightly offended by this, realizing that the man saw a Mexican and therefore believed that, that was all Mexicans were good for. My friend replies "Thanks, but actually I go to college, sir." The man replies "Oh, so you're one of the educated ones," and drives off. My friend told me this through laughter, and ended up saying, "I was like, motherfucker!" Motherfucker indeed. 

Same friend. He's driving down one of the main streets in our college town. It's one of the days when people are already out and about getting drunk, because it's a college town, so it can possibly be any day of the week, but more likely a Thursday or Friday. My friend is driving a primered Oldsmobile, and he has dark shades on. He is parking his car, on a street where drunken students are ambling around. A couple of drunken guys are walking down the street near my friend, one of them spots my friend, and says "Why you wearing shades?! It's not even bright, fucken beaner!" Apparently that day it was cloudy, and this was how Whitey McObvious Pants wanted to point this out to my friend. My friend is quick to react once having his car parked. He runs up to the guy with the mouth, punches him, then takes off, leaving his car behind. My friend says the following to me, "I was fucken pissed bro! I left my car there and everything!" I laugh, and say "Gooooood shit bro!" He struck a blow for all Xicanos who were called out for wearing dark shades on a cloudy day.

Same friend. Its a summer a few years back, in Cali. My friends and I are getting together at a our college town for a reunion of sorts, just a bunch of Mexican-American male/Chicano/Xicano testosterone, alcohol, and Mexican rolas that would eventually have us doing the grito; we just didn't have any peleas de gallos (sigh). A bunch of us are in and out of the house where some of our friends still live. Across the street there's a white guy, I remember him vividly wearing jean shorts, a white tank top, and he had blondeish mustache with a mess of hair the same color, he's smoking a cigarette. I remember this because I'm outside on my cellphone with my mom letting her know I made it up safely (the rest of the weekend, my safety was up in the air), and my friend somehow ends up interacting with this neighbor. My friend later tells me about the interaction. Apparently the neighbor sees my friend, and calls him over to ask him the following question: "So are all you guys Sureños or Norteños?" It was Pat and my professor all over again. Apparently Whitey McUnrelatable was trying to relate to us, by showing us that he knew his Chicano gangs and therefore was hip and down with the raw-zah. What blew my friend and me away, was that we were dressed in what you could say was preppy attire. I think most of us were wearing dress shirts, or clothes that was very ungangsterish, or so we thought. My friend says he's taken aback by the question and asks him "You really think we're gangsters? Look at the way we're dressed. Not only that, but most of those guys have their degrees from the university. That guy over there owns his own business. This guy over here (points at me) is doing a phd in the midwest. We're all college educated trying to make something of ourselves, and you assume we're gangsters because you see a large group of Mexicans?" Whitey McUnrelatable lowers his head in shame and says, "You're right. Sorry." Having schooled the ignorant one, my friend continues to speak with him for a bit longer, not sure if it continued to be about the stereotyping or just a general talk, but we then went out to affirm the stereotype that we were hard partying Mexicans that loved our tequila and rolas, something else that the white neighbor couldn't possibly relate to. 

I'm not sure how to conclude this post, not because there's more incidents to relay. But more so because I know those won't be the only incidents where white folk try to relate to me or us, but end up having disastrous results. Do I appreciate the attempt(s)? Yes and no. As seen above when white people tried to relate to me it was about their white problems like Pat. I appreciate him trying to talk to me, but it just resulted in a shaking my head moment. My professor tried to relate based on stereotypes or like I said having watched the film Mi Familia too many times. In my friend's case, especially at the end, it was horrendous how this person tried to relate to us. He was possibly trying to be neighborly or as I said, street hip, but he came out sounding racist and bigoted like most white people who attempt to relate without thinking about how they approach the conversation, or what they say to Chicanos/as. 

Mrs. X put it best when she told me the following, "THINK, before you speak." Holy shit, now I'm sitting here having an epiphany because I just spent my time criticizing the folks above for essentially not thinking before they speak and trying to relate to me/us in a offensive manner. And now I'm echoing Mrs. X's words to me, because I tend to have diahrrea of the mouth. Anyhow, hers would have been some good advice for the people above to live by, thinking before they spoke to, and tried to relate to Chicanos and our experience(s).


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