Thursday, December 25, 2008

Your Daddy’s Middle-class and Your Mama’s the Ugly Duckling

(This blog entry is a continuation from “Your Daddy’s Rich and Your Mama’s Good-looking”)

It’s a challenge to work through the complexities of my parents’ immigration story. I suppose it fits somewhat neatly with dominant tales of desolate, impoverished beginnings, hard work and upward mobility, risks and opportunity, alienation from “home,” and diasporic settlement… But nothing seems clear-cut and for every value and lesson I inherited I find myself asking questions, trying to push at my politics toward (self) improvement. An unreachable goal?

I grew up wearing some hand-me-downs and inexpensive shoes from K-mart that were incessantly ridiculed at school and, on a rare occasion, a popular brand name item but only after its popularity was dying out. I was the odd, meek, brown kid who could never keep up with the Jones’ and perhaps because I wasn’t ever allowed to forget this fact I very quickly became hyper-aware of the cultural capital one could accumulate solely by their mode of dress. And it was because of this acute knowledge I had gained that I entered the boxing ring of castaway clothing with my mom.

“Vhy you von’t vear this perfectly good jean? You vanted it. Now you don’t vant.” Then there were my dad’s guilt trips: “Children in India vould be so happy to have just von shoe like this. You hawe two.” My parents were entirely unconcerned with my hyper-vigilant image-consciousness.

It was impressed upon me from a very young age that food and clothing were a privilege and many people were without either. And out of this came the “just-be-grateful” rhetoric, one that I’ve radically reexamined as an adult. If I allow myself to keep thinking of food and clothing as a privilege something very important gets lost. As a grownup I’ve decided, actually, that food and clothing are two (of many) basic human RIGHTS. To this day I tense up when people claim to “hate” certain foods. “Hating” and fearing food was never allowed in my upbringing, and every time I express my own dislike for certain tastes (in food and clothing) I compulsively trip over (and thus acknowledge) the privilege I have that enables this dislike in the first place. But what then?

I needed to replay all of this confused childhood stuff as a way to return to the third fragment of my previous post. The problem is that I still don’t know what I want to say. It’s x-mas today and I’m thinking about all the nauseating clothing and jewelry commercials I’ve being seeing on the TV for the last few weeks, and all the new clothing and jewelry people are probably receiving today, and I’m thinking about John and Yoko’s “War Is Over” earnest idealism, and the people that live and survive war, and the people occupying positions that determine who counts as “refugees,” and the choices we make about what we can afford to give and share, and the lullabies we sing to ourselves about charity and benevolence… I feel torn apart by my own cynicism but I’m not so far gone that I don’t believe there’s enough thread to sew myself back together.

I’m going to get dressed today, maybe something fancy, maybe sculpt out a rockabilly updo, and I’m going to a lesbian bar to get drunk with two of my sweetbabies who each have a deceased parent also. We’re going to be safe and fed and warm, and so help us jesus, we might even be pretty. But I will continue to think about this third unresolved, unconcluded, inconclusive fragment. Refuge is hard to find when you feel perpetually haunted.

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