The Rhetoric of Alterity

IMG_0189

Hello from the dentist’s office,

So I have had two temporary crowns in place for a few weeks and one of them decided to become more temporary, or more accurately, no longer in my mouth. I am not sure if it is the consequence of regularly digging at a space that seems to want to trap 50% of what I eat or if it is the consequence of my passing out in the bathroom last night and hitting the floor face first. Rather frustrating, but the permanent crowns are in and so I will get them in before the trip to the Dominican Republic. I thing that is probably another weird occurrence of divine intervention. I think God regularly tries to keep me out of trouble.

I have been thinking a lot about what it must feel like to be “the other” lately. What creates the situation of otherness can be varied, but it seems the result of being “the other” always results in some degree of marginalization. It creates a sense of being under-valued or being seen as different. The title of my blog is actually borrowed from one of my last doctoral classes. The class focused on the group of Jewish intelligencia who chose to leave Germany rather than stay in a country that was controlled by the Nazis. While this group was “welcomed” to some extent in their foreign home, they never felt like they belonged.

As I have listened to comments and observed attitudes this past six months of my newly found Dominican friends, family, surrogate children, or whatever term seems appropriate for them (and all the previous terms have merit and are apropos) I find such a myriad of emotions and thoughts. Some of their thoughts and emotions I understand; some I do not. There are some things about or over which I am saddened and others that I find to be incongruent with all the other things they believe. Let me say also as a white person, as I am called, I cannot pretend to feel or see things as they do. So as I write this (now at 1:30 a.m.) I am looking at the entire gamut of actions and words. I think what saddens me most of all is what I perceive to be a sense of not belonging to a country in spite of the fact, at least for Jordan and Melissa, they were born here. I also have learned that, again at least for Jordan and Melissa, they are less than comfortable with how many individuals from their ethnic-heritage-homeland conduct themselves. This also carries over particularly to their father. It has to do with how personal pride informs conduct, and I respect their opinions and attitudes, but for why they feel as they do, but even more so in how they conduct themselves. Yet, my sadness comes from this sense of alterity that permeates their thought processes and feelings. I am compelled to wonder if we so marginalize non-WASP entities that they have little option, but to think and feel as “the other”? Yet, it is still a choice (seems I am back there again). Should I separate the thinking and the feeling when I ponder choice? Of course, they have grown up bilingual in a country that prides itself on being a meeting pot on one hand and has practically forced many to give up most vestiges of their ethnic heritage (and particularly language) on the other. While most of Jordan’s thoughts are not much more than my perception because we have not had the in depth conversations, Melissa and I have spoken about much of this since the first week or so I was around her (if you read my 2014 blogs, the theme of “questioning” and being puzzled is certainly apparent).

I think the seeming lack of congruency comes from being a citizen -which I understand in some instances is not a choice- on one hand while seeming to have some disdain for that citizenship on the other (and I understand that is my personal judgment). I should note that it is my patriotism that creates some of the dilemma for me. Perhaps it is also because there are so many questions that I still want to ask or perceptions I still want to understand. In the case of Jordan and Melissa, I think part of it is being “bound” to this educational hierarchy and system and then more specifically in the case of one not really wanting to spend his or her life here. As an aside, it is the two of them in the picture with me above. In the case of the previous generation, their parents are probably much like any immigrants., hoping that the “American dream” is more than a facade. I am reminded of the writing of Fareed Zakaria, the CNN commentator, GPS host, and otherwise pretty brilliant man. Have we so squandered much of what we had through our selfish attitudes and lost what brings many to these shores? It is interesting that I first began to question some of this during the time and upon which I most anchor my patriotism (the Marine Corps). For it was there I first became significantly cognizant that we were certainly arrogant in our attitudes about some things (especially language). It was also through my first learning or experiencing another language (German, thanks to the Peters family) that I began to appreciate how language creates an identity and a sense of belonging, a connection to the other.

So where does all of this leave me? I guess still sad. I am keenly aware of the fact that too often for too many the “dream” is a mirage. For some, they play by the rules and yet, they are forced to live by different rules. I struggle with they seeming lack of patriotism, but we have marginalized them because of their skin color or their accent, or their native language. I am always stunned when I hear comments like “they all look the same” or “they all act the same” or some other mass-grouping sort of idiocy. I am saddened that in the past weeks the bone-heads we have elected want to continue this xenophobic otherness. I see how those to whom we have given the power to equalize our lives continue to marginalize so many. It is when I ponder these specifics that perhaps their actions are not as incongruent as they might appear. I too would wonder why my parents came here. I would wonder if other options might be less mirage and more concrete.

While I am not the other, perhaps it is those who are that really have the ability to see America for what it is. I am proud, and simultaneously confounded, to claim the title of American. I am that WASP, but one who questions and hopes we might still appreciate what all of the others offer while we still can. When we educate and lose some of the most brilliant and thoughtful minds (Tu sabe directamente cuánto respeto lo que usted piensa y dice, aun cuando yo podría discrepar. Su buena voluntad de hacer las preguntas difíciles me ha ayudado cultivado y aprecia la complejidad de la situación. Esto me ha ayudado a comenzar a verme como un ciudadano global.)and then cause them to feel unappreciated or disowned, we lose them. We also lose ourselves. We all become “the other”. As I finish this I am packed to visit the Dominican Republic. We’ll soon find out first hand how much I can depend on what I have learned since the end of March. I will spend a week being “the other”. It is now 3:00 a.m.. Off to sleep, I hope.

Thanks for reading,

Michael

One thought on “The Rhetoric of Alterity

  1. Enjoy your travels. You’ll value the presence of good interpreters of what you encounter. As for that, wherever we travel, we need others with their similarities to us and their differences from us to be interpreters, as you have been for us.

    I share your ambivalence about our homeland, partly because this country of people most of whom have come from elsewhere has so little political tolerance for those who have more recently come from elsewhere. I suspect that the cause is vague dissatisfaction about our lives and our work, coupled with the threat to our future of forces we don’t know how to fight–political upheaval, violence, climate change, disease. So attack the scapegoat, who is always Other.

    Go well, be well,

    Carl

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s