Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Adrift

It's a week after my 24th birthday, and in some ways, I feel more like an adult than ever before. I look outward to try and grasp something real, something more substantial than this adrift feeling that fills me, taking the place of emotions, fulfillment and relationships. I cling to the memories of feeling, trying to force the spark of life back into that space of disconnection from the rest of the world that lies in the center of me.

There is a steely, clear, purifying rain that has been beating down all day, it has finally calmed to a gentle drizzle. I look out the large bay window near me and see the silver birch trees, their branches strewn with pearls from the rain, the pond surface a million ripples, broken and re-rippling by the mallards who swim about, almost heedless of the rain. The trees are all leafless, barren save for seed pods here and there. Their dark brown bodies reach against the grey-white sky, branches extended upward as if in delicate, righteous prayer, standing proudly in a pile of dry, colorful dead leaves, unmoved by the now shed pieces of themselves.

The last week, and by now, the last month, have flown by. People ask me if I miss India, if I'm glad to be back. Home and India seem to exist on two different planes. I know I went to India, just like I know I'm back here in the states. Things have been so busy here that I can't even think about the fact that I was in India. Life in America is so full of stress, complication and (like life everywhere) the mundane minutiae of everyday living that makes you forget the grand possibility of living, of the big wide world beyond your window.

I spent last week in Boston, in the grey chill of a city, New England style. It felt so irrelevant to me, the bridges, the projects, the suffering of the people, the fancy restaurants, the tall buildings that serve as business centers, and the Prudential Center, a hotel/mall/observation tower/business building with a St Francis of Assisi church attached. It almost seemed more honest that way, a house of worship to the American lifestyle of consumerism, conveniently built with a house of God attached. A place for people to come in, acknowledge the higher power, worship for a moment, assuage their buyer's guilt, take Communion, possibly resolve to do more to promote social justice and peace (when they're done shopping of course) and then go back out to consuming.

St Francis, "one of the most beloved of all catholic saints" (according to americancatholic.org) and his message of peace, acceptance and social justice are ones that I have always identified with, and as a result, I always liked his churches best. This didn't change the bewilderment I felt seeing a chapel of his mere steps from the food court.

I spent 2 days last week at the Social Justice Academy in Hyde Park section of Boston. It is a public high school that has been carved from a failing high school the state was going to take over. Instead, three charter schools were made out of it. I got to observe the sophomores in their humanities class and had the opportunity to give presentations about India, my trip and this blog to two senior humanities classes. Urban high schools always make me feel so many different things, and this one was no exception. I was so jealous of the students because of the fantastic books they were getting to read (Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quinonez as an example) and the great way they get to learn their curriculum (American history from Howard Zinn's A People's History?? I had to start college before I had even heard of that book!!!!). I do not envy them their sexually super charged, designer label dominated lives full of confusion and hardship though. It seems so sad to see how quickly they either rush to grow up or have been forced to grow up. The few who aren't seem so child like and soft around the edges compared to the cold hardness of their peers. They seem to take the knowledge being offered to them for granted, failing to realize that without this knowledge, without the ability to read and write on the same level as their suburban, lighter peers, they will be doomed to inhabit this world of ours in the margins, becoming, remaining statistics.
Their children (because aren't all marginalized fated to bear children? to continue the cycle?) will be destined to follow in their footsteps with no role models to show them the way out from under the mantle of poverty, out of wed lock births, single mother hood, latch key childhoods, damaged emotional selves, self esteems tempered by self hate and false images of acceptable manhood and womanhood, reading, writing and arithmatic-ing below grade level, vilification and racial profiling by the prevailing, monied, white majority... being a living statistic is no way to realize a dream, it fates entire communities, families, generations to become dreams deferred.

The point of education is to give students tools that are relevant to their lives, to improving their lot in life and equipping them to critically examine their lives and the worlds they live in. It is no secret that I think children of color have a greater responsibility to do this, due to our precarious places in American society, where we aren't welcomed, wanted or acknowledged. Advertisers thirst after our dollars, commodify our culture, sell it to white kids, and deprive us of how we choose to define ourselves by co-opting these identities and contemptuously selling them back to us. As adults of color and communities of color (and hopefully, conscience) we have a deep, collective responsibility to provide this type pf education to our children. Since the majority isn't providing it, our responsibility extends to all children. We also have the responsibility to get this education ourselves, and share it with each other so that we are able to be effective role models and teachers to our children. It takes a village to raise a child right? What kind of village are we at the moment? We're losing this generation, we just about lost my generation, and with each moment that passes, more of us become statistics, banished to lives in the margins.

The students in the two humanities classes that I presented to were initially not that interested in what I had to say, who I was, or why I was there. We did an activity during the 80 minute block that started with them writing 3 things they knew about India (one factual, one fictional, and one they weren't sure of). They turned these cards into me and got into groups, where they read excerpts of the Sept 11 post from this blog. They had to read it to themselves, talk about it, then present to the class. It was interesting hearing the impressions they had from reading my writing, and what didn't make any sense to them. Because I was in India writing these entries, I couldn't spell check or really proof read my words. The misspellings and references I made really threw some of them off. I didn't notice many of them use context clues or infer what I meant. An interesting part of working with these students is that many of them are immigrants or come from immigrant families, so they had some context that was outside of America and American culture. Watching them make connections between the poverty I mentioned and the cultural differences I talked about was really cool. There were alot of questions that the students had that I didn't get to answer, and many often hilarious comments from their list of 3 things about India that there wasn't time to address. Why Indian women wear bindis (or the "red dot" as it was constantly referred to) and the status of women were the things that people seemed most curious about. I wish I had been able to show them more pictures of everyday India, so that they had some real idea of what India looks like. They seemed very surprised that Indians used cell phones, or had things like a metro subway system in Delhi. With the second class, we didn't even get to the 50 picture slide show I had prepared. As a whole, this class did not seem that interested in anything I had to say, but 4 students stayed after class during their 25 minute lunch to ask questions and see the picture slide show. That was cool. It gave me a sense of validation that my words and pictures (which I think are at least nominally interesting!) sparked something in these young people. I hope that some of them check out the blog and get something out of following some of my adventures as they learn about India. (Shoutout to Kalpna!!! Thanks for all the help and support in putting this together, can't wait to do a follow up presentation in may when I get back.)

I think that is all for today. My brain is flying all over the place and I gotta reign it in long enough to make sense of this moment right now, since it is the only one I have.

Peace