On the bus (4)

January 26, 2007

There were two Native Americans, a man and woman, probably in their early 30s, but I’m not sure exactly how old they were.  They were wearing black and gray clothes, and they were unkempt.  The woman was overweight, and the man had a pitmarked face, dark sunglasses, and was skinny.  They were sitting very close to each other sharing ear-buds from their Walkman.  He was whispering in her ear and kissing her ample cheek.  She was talking in a loud voice, responding without shame to whatever he was saying.  

They were talking about their parents and elderly relatives.  His mother, it seems, is in a white-funded Seniors program, probably on the reservation.  She said, “Those old people are lucky.  They got to go to Hawaii.  They do all kinds of stuff.”  He replied, “Yeah.  She went to Alaska, too.”  

Then she said this:  “First, they killed them.  Now they are over-killing them!  They deserve whatever they get from them.  Those white people tried to take away their language, put them in f***ing boarding schools, and all that sh*t.  They didn’t talk about ‘urban Indians’ back then.  They deserve whatever they can get.” 

She said this loud, and because of where I was sitting, she said it right at me, one of two white people on the bus.  It was a moment in which it was impossible, at least for me, not to be hyper-aware of race.  


I think I know this guy…

January 26, 2007


On the bus (3)

January 25, 2007

Today’s bus driver was a black man who shaves his head and has a bushy beard and mustache. I was sitting on the right side where I could see his face in the mirror. It was the middle of the afternoon, and everyone on the bus seemed tired. A little boy sat by his mama with his thumb in his mouth totally asleep, head bobbing around with the bumps in the road. The bus driver was tired, too, and he was yawning. You know how your eyes sometimes tear up when you make a big yawn? Well, this happened to the bus driver, and a big tear dripped down his left cheek. He didn’t seem to notice it and left the wet line down his cheek. When he wasn’t yawning, it looked like he was driving the bus and quietly crying to himself.


January 24, 2007

nuer religionFor a class, I’ve been reading Nuer Religion (1956) by E. E. Evans-Pritchard. The foresight of Evans-Pritchard has been truly remarkable. His sensitivty to context is still a model today. His use of the Nuer language seems to be careful and nuanced–and never slavish or too cocksure.  In this book, more than half a century ago he warned, “One can make too rigid distinctions between the meanings of words.” Of course, these should be words to live by for academics.  I can’t count the number of discussions I’ve overheard (and participated in) that revolve around some word.  This is not to say that words don’t have meaning, but to be too prescriptive concerning their use is a major stumbling block.

For me, words are like theories–they are tools one uses to access reality.  When we are slaves to our theories and our definitions, we place limits on our understanding in places where limits do not need to be.


January 22, 2007

I’m not crazy about Gloria Anzaldúa’s theoretical musings about what makes a Chicana (too normative and essentialist), but she was an astute observer of the way people treat each other, especially when they’re being cruel. Language–its proper use, its correct accent, its ability to take and to give power–was a theme Anzaldúa dealt with in her work. Here is a quote from her well-known Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza:

If a person, Chicana or Latina, has a low estimation of my native tongue, she also has a low estimation of me. Often with mexicanas y latinas we’ll speak English as a neutral language. Even among Chicanas we tend to speak English at parties or conferences. Yet, at the same time, we’re afraid the other will think we’re agringadas because we don’t speak Chicano Spanish. We oppress each other trying to out-Chicano each other, vying to be the “real” Chicanas, to speak like Chicanos. There is no one Chicano language just as there is no one Chicano experience (80).

In my own life, I have felt the discomfort of Hispanic friends who are uncomfortable with their own language. In college, I was involved in a series of protests to get ethnic studies programs started at my university. In these protests, some people were arrested by the New York City Police. A group of us rushed to the precinct after the arrests to continue protesting in front of the police station. We were a group made up mostly of second-generation Dominicans, long-time Nuyoricans, some white people like me, and a few African Americans.

The only news network in New York covering the protests as they unfolded was the Spanish-language Univisión. When their reporter and cameraman got to the precinct, they asked for an interview from one of the protesters. None of the Hispanic students felt comfortable enough with their own Spanish to go on TV, so I gave the interview. Later, one of the girls told me that her Dominican parents had seen the interview on the evening news. They had said, “¡Mira el gringo que habla español tan lindo!” (Look at the gringo who speaks Spanish so nice!)

For me, this highlighted the need for the academic study of ethnicity in America. What happened to my friends’ language? I had heard my friends speaking Spanish, but it was shameful, street-Spanish, Anglicized, the language of the janitor, the worker. Their tongues were tied by the same things that Anzaldúa fought against way back in 1986.

Anzaldúa wrote a bold challenge, which clearly remains relevant today:

Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself. Until I can accept as legitimate Chicano Texas Spanish, Tex-Mex and all the other languages I speak, I cannot accept the legitimacy of myself. Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate (81).

On the bus (2)

January 16, 2007

Today is the first day of the spring semester to school at ASU, so the bus was full of returning and excited undergraduates.  I saw a young woman talking to her two friends, a man and a woman.  She had nasty fake nails on, done in the French manicure style.  In this style, the quick of the nail is a lustrous, fleshy pink while the extending portion of the nail is pearly white.  

Most people on the bus were being quiet since it was still early in the morning.  But the fingernail woman was talking loudly.  She informed her friends that she had recently busted off a couple of nails, one so badly that it bled.  In fact, she said, it bled for twelve hours.  She wagged the formerly bloody finger; it looked ok now.  


One of the tags/categories that I use for my posts is “presbyteriana.” It’s become sort of a wide category that includes posts on theological issues, my church in Guadalupe, or other confessional topics.

If you search for the word “presbyteriana,” on Google, the page of results shows that I am one of the major users of the word. The other users are Spanish- and Portuguese speaking Presbyterian churches who are using the feminine adjectival form of the word. For example: Spanish–iglesia presbyteriana; and Portuguese–igreja presbyteriana. However, both of these uses are incorrect; the correct spelling in both languages is prebiteriana (note that the “y” is replaced by an “i”). So, you might say that, in most cases, this blog is the one place where the new word “presbyteriana” is being used correctly (as defined by me, the majority-user-and-claimer of the word).