Friday, February 24, 2017

Reflections and Birthday Month Objective

I have failed.

I denied the people of America, my countryfolk, the moments and feelings that shaped me.

I used public funding to attend college and did not share the knowledge.

These past months have shown me that the price our military pays for our freedoms and the quality of life we enjoy is taken for granted by many Americans.

I know that sitting here on a hilltop in California eating a kale salad with filtered water is not something to take for granted.

I know because I've witnessed the alternative.

Because I used United States Department of State funding to tour Auschwitz.

I know because an immigrant mother with an ill child invited me into her home and there was no sign of kale but plenty of cockroaches.

Because African American families in Flint, Michigan have been drinking bottled water for 3 years.

I know because I became a resident of California so I could afford to take a course in Native Peoples of California on taxpayers dime.

This blog will serve to share some of what I have lived and to provide ideas for what we can all do in our lives to shape America.

This week was the hardest for me in the Trump administration.  New guidelines in Homeland Security, the removal of peaceful protesters in North Dakota and the revocation of rights for transgender students.  To top it off, I received an email from the Office of Student Affairs at the college I work for about two swastikas found drawn on campus - one in the building the Kroc School of Peace is housed.

I was raised Catholic yet it wasn't until a catechism teacher drew a circle with two other circles inside it that represented God, the world, and me - the smallest circle- that I really understood the purpose.  The same teacher brought us to a soup kitchen to volunteer and gifted me a book of Mother Theresa's journals.  It was in that context that I decided to serve the people.  To listen to everyone's stories, to have the courage to show empathy and patience, and to follow in the footsteps of a leader like Mother Theresa.

Along the journey that has brought me to this place, my identity has molded and I have grappled with the various models I've been provided.  I've grappled with the errors of my forefathers; like invading and destroying another's identity.  I've grappled with an American identity that I've had to verbally defend while abroad.  I've grappled with my Christian identity that doesn't always follow the teaching of Christ.  I've grappled with a caucasian identity that refuses to believe that racism still exists.  I've grappled with an Eastern European identity that has lived so much hardship.  Lastly, I've grappled with a human identity that seeks to work together to bring each other out of poverty knowing that other humans are profiting from it.

Unfortunately, my personal grapplings hasn't gotten us anywhere.  Not America, not Christians, not caucasians, not Eastern Europeans, and certainly not humans.

(I'm not going to go down the feminist route here- that's for another post)

Here we are, in a country where our vote is worth more than the lives of the people that were killed in the name of fast fashion in the Rana Plaza collapse.  More than the billions of Chinese migrants flocking to cities to find work and living literally underground.  More than the uncontacted tribes of the Yasuni National Park in the Amazon who are do not bother anyone until we want the resources underneath their land.  In case you don't understand:

Our American vote, a right not provided to every human on this planet; the vote we pay our military to protect, is stronger than all these forces.

Because honestly, nobody raised alarms when the Chinese had to move to underground cities to find work making our products.  The general public did not seem to care when humans decided to drill in an untouched region of the Amazon with more endemic species than anywhere else.  No one thought twice and while the press did report on it - New York Times today not allowed in White House Press Briefings - frankly, the world did not wake up when 1,127 dark-skinned people died in a building making clothes for us.  But when white America's identity is at risk, the vote turns out.

What's more interesting is the policies that led us to this point have usually been those of the free market wielding kind, namely, Republican.  See John Robb's well-made points about neoliberalism and how we got to this point.  Effectively, everyone can now identify as a 'marginalized' person.  This is why my personal identity is again in flux. Everything that made me proud to be an American is now at risk.  It is also why I cannot understand how Donald Trump identifies as a Republican.  (Oh yeah, no more EPA or publicly-funded schools.  I wouldn't be surprised if we see American child labor laws start to be unraveled.  Especially if they can't get lunch or use the bathroom anymore at school- put them to work - no white family wants to be seen working in a field anyway.)

It is because of these issues that I am proud to partake in an activity that has normally been reserved for liberals but should be for every American.  Because there is no 'Us versus Them' in my America.  What the data do not reflect is that Americans of all races want to buy American-made.  Unfortunately, the price point outweighs that desire and here we are asking government to fix it.

I am buying local for my birthday month and everything I consume will be as much American made and produced as labels and internet resources allow.  This means buying American sourced gasoline for my car - which I still have only vague ideas on how to do this - suggestions needed!  I will be checking labels on any processed and boxes groceries, any household items or clothes purchased during the month of March will be made in America, and produce will be meticulously bought at the local farmers' market.  If I cannot find something Made in America that I want to purchase, I do not need it.

This will be a difficult process because our markets are so intertwined, as we all know.  I've lived as a minimalist and have abolished disposables in the past so I am prepared for the unexpected.  I don't know about the rest of the household I now live with.  I will only subject them the food part of this experiment.  The most difficult will be giving up Chilean wine and coffee from other parts of the world.  Luckily, California produces wine, Kauai grows great coffee, and we have plenty of migrants working the fields (as of today) so I can still have organic kale.

In the process of reconciling the fact that I failed to share with the world what I learned, I realized that it is not too late.  I work at a Catholic university, with a Catholic president who has provided me the backbone to have the courage to believe in what I feel is right and just.

I cried on my way home Wednesday.  The same day I attended a Black History Month leadership luncheon with an African American gay man as the speaker who spoke about coming together; introduced by a student leader in the Student Leadership and Involvement Center, whose introduction also included directions to the transgender bathroom in the building.  Only to wake to an email the next morning about swastikas found on campus.

To echo another American president on inauguration day:

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." - John F. Kennedy, inauguration address, January 1961

Falls right into place with Trump's "America First and Only" policy in my opinion.

Please, do what's right in the eyes of everything good and do your part in building your community and our country.  I will also continue to follow in Mother Theresa's footsteps while working in a Culture of Care promoting social justice and dignity of every person at the University of San Diego.

God Bless