Halloween, Pocohantas and me

I grew up in Virginia. Pocahontas is a big thing. We learn about her from kindergarten on – along with trips to colonial Williamsburg. Our state park was named after her. She is an integral part of the colonizer’s mythos – the Indian woman who welcomes the Europeans, even marrying one but then tragically dying on her trip to England. Her early death is actually convenient for the story, she never manages to escape to tell her real story or turn into a New World Medea** of Greek myths.

I grew up in a rural part of Virginia, in a mostly white-working class neighborhood. Our family was one of two interracial families, and we knew the other family, actually they were the reason we moved there. No one quite knew what to make of me. Most people had never heard of the Philippines, and at the time there were no Latino families, it was old South – white or Black and not much Brown.

So for Halloween I was Pocahontas. For almost all my Halloweens. In fact, the only costume I remember was Pocahontas until I turned 12,  and after that I was Goth, so every day became Halloween.  But most of my life, for one day a year, I became the white man’s symbol of colonization – I was Pocahontas. I don’t remember how it started, I imagine it was a suggestion of a teacher, I mean my mother certainly had no cultural reference for Pocahontas. We were always making “Indian” costumes in class in Virginia. For Thanksgiving, we made our buckskin dresses with fringe on the bottom.  So I imagine that some teacher said, “ My, Terri, that looks so perfect, you really look like an Indian princess.” I took that approval and ran with it.

I do remember that wearing a Pocahontas costume, was the one time a year, that felt like I fit in. I was part of the story, the story that all my classmates were already in. Now I had my part. And everyone loved me! Everywhere I went in my Pocahontas costume, people all said what a beautiful Indian princess I was. For the first time, I felt beautiful, maybe even glamorous, like a celebrity.

So I call this story my “inner colonization story”, and like all colonization stories, it is a painful memory, but I have forgiven my little child self.   There has been a lot written about Halloween and the racism and classism it brings out. The narrative is usually focused on white folks wearing racist costumes or appropriating another person’s culture and taking it as a “costume”, effectively colonizing it. There hasn’t been a lot of talk among our colonized nations about our own inner-colonizer and how it can come out for Halloween. (Like an Arab friend of mine, whose sister was Princess Yasmine every year).

Pocahontas is one of those meta-symbols, she carries a lot of weight, from the European perspective, a woman who willingly gives up her own people for the love of the European “explorer” and justifies the European “civilization” of the “New World.” From the colonized perspective, she was a child, kidnapped, raped and taken to England as a trophy where she died. For me, she was an bridge to assimilation, the one day a year, where I seemed to fit in.

** Medea is the foreign princess who betrays her whole family and people for the love of the Greek Jason, who then finds bitterly that her husband no longer wants his foreign wife and leaves her for another, more suitable bride. In a fury, she slaughters her children, her husband, his new, Greek wife, and takes off on a chariot.

Wind listening, sky dreaming with my girl

Yesterday, there was truly no cloud in the sky. The sky was a bright endless blue stretch from horizon to horizon. Such a flawless swatch of blue that even an artist stretching her canvas with such a wide expanse of blue would have to add a break, a break, a variation. But not this blue. This blue was like the blue buried beneath a glacial iceberg untouched for millennium.

Mariz and I were basking in that autumnal sky on a wide rock. The rock was a warm shiny granite and we were like two lizards soaking up in the heat.  Softened by patches of green moss, the rock floated in a sea of green lawn at the edges of the forest. Trees with wind whispering from far into the woods, we can hear the wind moving towards us.

Mariz – 7, long black hair, toothless grins, boy clothes, fierce, shy, fiery, anxious, a web of contradictions and beauty. She is in my lap, we are floating on the rock floating on the ocean of grass, her head tucked under my chin, the scent of her hair in my nostrils.

“Hear that – it’s the wind – it’s coming to us”

Coming through the trees, we hear the wind rising, moving closer. Soon it will kiss us. We listen to the dry autumn leaves, rustling, a distant whisper. Crescendo.

“It’s here!”

The wind is blowing through our hair now, kissing our faces. The treesall around us are chattering, singing, and rustling dry secrets. The wind throwing the scent of dry leaves, earth, sunshine, ourselves.

“Do you feel it?”

“Yes mommy, I really, really get it” Mariz whispers.

And still the endless blue promise of autumn stretches above and beyond us.  And I try and take this moment, breathe it in, and save like a gem inside my heart.

World Teacher Day, Thanks Chicago Teachers! (and having to hold your pee)

Today is World Teacher’s Day and so I wanted to share an amazing story about my son’s wonderful teacher.  Last year, during the beginning of Occupy Wall street, we did what any civic-minded parent would do – we took the children. We joined the union/community support march for Occupy. It was a Wednesday night.  Our twins had a great time with whistles and chanting, we are the 99%.. We got home late, so we didn’t get the chance to do our homework.

The next morning, as the kids lined up on the school blacktop, I told Alejandro’s teacher that we were unable to finish our homework because we were at the Occupy march. She replied – that’s great, I will Alejandro talk about his experience in class today.

This wonderful teacher did even more than that – she had Alejandro share his experience. Then she read to them some poems by Pablo Neruda, the inspiring poet from Chile. She told the kids about how he fought for the rights of miners in Chile. Then she encouraged the children to discuss what they needed in school to learn and they made signs and marched inside the school!  Alejandro’s sign said: “we need more money for books. “

I was absolutely amazed and so thankful to have a wonderful teacher who changed her teaching plan that day because she saw a real teachable moment.  There has been so much teacher-bashing this last decade. Make no mistake, bashing teacher unions is ALSO teacher-bashing because it attacks teachers’ right to retiring with a decent pension, their medical benefits and their right to democracy in the workplace.

We entrust teachers with our CHILDREN and with their education. How is that we stand for so much hatred aimed at them and their work?   I think that much of it comes from male politicians who see teachers as an easy mark – a primarily female workforce doing “women’s work” which is easily disrespected. After all, our entire culture disparages the hard work of child raising. People think its not actual work.

People rarely stop to consider the actual work conditions of teachers. My kids’ describe the work conditions – “Susan put gum in Jose’s hair today and Jose cried”, “Alicia threw up in class today.”  Imagine being surrounded my children all day, with never a moment of quiet? Not to mention the lice outbreaks! If you are not a parent who spends a good chuck of time with kids’ you would never actually know how hard it is to spend hours and hours with our “little angels” My guess is that most of these politicians have not spent a lot of time with their own children or anyone else’s for that matter.

Another thing – teachers have to hold their bladder all day! The DOE laid off most of the teacher’s aides (called paraprofessionals now) throughout the city. Our teachers in our schools have no paraprofessional, which means that they can’t go to the bathroom until they kids leave for lunch or another program. Those of us who work in an office, can’t imagine what it be like to lose the autonomy to pee whenever we like.  Why would any smart, professional person chose this work?

My guess is – because a majority of them they really do love the children and prize their own sense of personal reward at really seeing children grown and learn under their wings. But it is certainly not for the money or the sense of respect they get in society any more. In the Philippines, where education is prized, teachers still don’t make a lot of money but they are certainly respected. They are always referred to as “mam” or “sir” whether you see them in school or not.

I for one, feel like it is time that we stop the teacher bashing . Let’s give them all our support, which includes supporting their right to have democracy in the workplace through unions, good pensions, good raises, affordable health care and opportunity to continuing education.

And special shout out to the Chicago teachers for being so courageous in this atmosphere of worker and teacher hatred. We all learned a lot from you and your president Karen Lewis.