Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Blue

"Mom, I'm going to need a real science lab," she announced this week. We'd watched a movie about Galapagos which inspired her and Coyote to go on an expedition in the Orchard Archipelago. They set forth with magnifying glasses and notebooks. And they returned with little jars full of samples they said they needed to analyze. We looked around for a likely place to plop a science lab: under the bed? under the kitchen table? the back of the toilet? Maybe that's something that has to wait for a bigger place.

Blue has come to appreciate the school bully. "It's just a regular bully. He just beats kids up for lunch money," she recently delighted. "Delighted?" you query. In Pullman they had academic bullies. These kids teased mercilessly about things like reading levels and failed science fair experiments. That's because none of those apples fell far from their trees in that intensive university town. It was all about academic rank there. What a relief! for Blue to have a regular bully who's pretty easy to outwit and/or avoid.

Her new school is a hard adjustment, namely. In Pullman, where she met everyone at the non-judgmental age of 2, Blue was just another name. But her peers now know what names are real and what ones are "other". She also suffers teasing for her clothes. They aren't girly enough. Some are a different style than the current rage. She pronounces the teasers as ignorant and continues to wear what she wants. She amazes me.

But here's my problem, she's being teased for her name by boys named Jesus and Angel. This is because she's one of only a few Anglo kids in the school. If her name were Azul or Esmeralda, there'd be no problem. I've mentioned this to a few people and they've gasp in horror at my "obvious" lack of cultural sensitivity. Okay, people, these kids are making fun of my daughter! I get to be pissed off at them no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, names, whatever.

Pullman had quite a diversity too, but there was no really dominant culture. It was Anglo, but also Chinese, Japanese, African, Russian, East Indian, Middle Eastern, etc. with a mix of unpronounceable names. But here, it's a mono culture of Mexicans. And Mexican culture teases, a lot. Maybe the teasing is just a few bad apples. However, anthropologist have rate Mexican culture, in general, with low compassion scores. (I can explain how I came to know that. It has to do with becoming a mother while attending a university and looking for parenting books there, but only finding cross cultural ethnographic studies. I also lived in Mexico and experienced this first hand, risking what felt like my life to intervene on the teasing of two lesbian teens escalating into near violence, as just one example.)

So as an Anglo, I'm supposed to be culturally sensitive to a culture that lacks sensitivity. Doesn't seem quite right. Apparently, as a generic, hetero, white girl, I am obligated to be sensitive to any culture, no matter what. I had trouble with this while traveling as well. Does one have the right to critique one's host -or in this case, an immigrant- culture just as one would one's home culture?

I think we could use some cultural sensitivity training going to OTHER direction at this point, at least in Rock Island. Something like this: Anglos are different. It's not important to them that girls wear pink with ruffles and never wear boys clothes. Names are usually generic but some Anglos like to experiment and it tends to run in families. Some Anglos don't believe in god or eating meat. That's okay.

Yesterday we made the horrific mistake of forgetting to pack Blue a lunch. We sent her off, for the first time this year, with cash for school lunch, knowing it would be the unhealthiest thing she would eat all year, but what ya gonna do? Turns out it was HOTDOGS. And the lunch attendant MADE her eat it. We are vegetarian. I called the school to straighten it out. And at first I got the: there aren't a lot of vegetarians around here, so we don't serve a vegetarian option. I got the run around about us being the freaks and them being normal and us just having to put up with it.

So I changed my tactics: we are vegetarians with strongly held and perfectly legitimate beliefs about meat and I would like the school to be more "culturally sensitive" to our deeply held beliefs. And THEN did they LISTEN!! WOW! I also mentioned that we weren't the only vegetarians in the area but that the others all felt it necessary to keep quiet because we are frequently made to feel like we are the only vegetarians and that we are WRONG and WEIRD. Shit, if we can have Menudo Mondays, we should be able to get some cheese sandwiches!

But I can't make the other kids be culturally sensitive to our hippie sensibilities. So Blue's taken on one of her middle names: Juniper. It sounds namey enough and none of the kids know it's a tree. So I think she'll get away with just the normal amount of name-gaming now.

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