from my college town

July 20, 2005

You are graced tonight with a rare on-location blog straight from beautiful, magical Madison, Wisconsin. I was going to write my whole entry here from the computers in the student union, but I am afraid it’s all a little too distracting. Babies are crying, music is playing, beer, ice cream and popcorn are being consumed. More later.


a world of stereotypes

July 9, 2005

There was an interesting piece of news recently about a Mexican postage stamp portraying a popular black Mexican cartoon character famous in a series of comic books. According to my husband, who is Mexican, the character, named Mimin Pinguin, is totally innocuous, very family-oriented, perhaps a bit precocious, but in general portrayed in a very positive light in the books. In the last few weeks, however, black activists such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson have been in an “uproar,” suggesting that the stamp is racist and stereotypical. The Mexican government has refused to apologize, stating that the American activists don’t understand Mexican culture and are totally misunderstanding the character.

I thought this was interesting, because although the character is drawn in caricature, with large lips, a large head and a lanky body, this cannot be the basis for the offense, can it? I mean, how many times are white people caricatured with big noses? Can George W. be pissed off every time a newspaper cartoonists draws him with enormous ears?! I was thinking about whether my assessment was too shallow, and if there is somehow something more sinister about caricatures of people of color than of whites. I don’t know.

As a middle class child of the ’80s, I was taught to treat everyone equally, but at the same time, my parents and other adults I knew growing up defined the differences between people indirectly by their comments and actions. My parents are by no means racist, but their lives are obviously much closer to the Civil Rights movement, and they can remember something from before it. I grew up in the mostly white suburbs, but have since lived in the city and have always worked with a lot of diverse people. I know I am by no means a perfectly accepting person, but I think my work experience starting in my teen years made me less quick to stereotype than perhaps my parents, who grew up in a very different Milwaukee than we live in today. This is all to say, I strive to treat people equally, although I know I don’t always. I know that my gut reactions sometimes betray my good intentions, leave it at that.

I have a bit of international experience and try to keep informed about the world. In my exploration of China and indirect knowledge of Mexico, I have realized how unique the “melting pot” nature of our society is. Certainly there are similar situations in Canada and many areas of Europe, but within the U.S. literally live individuals from all over the world. There are communities all over the country of Mexicans, Chinese, Koreans, Somalians, Germans. That list doesn’t even do justice to the diversity of our culture. There is no escaping colliding, co-existing cultures in any urban area today. Increasingly, there are immigrant workers in smaller and smaller towns, even rural areas of our country.

Today, my husband and I were watching a bit of Gone with the Wind on TV, and he commented that the “Mamie” character was similar to the mother of Mimin Pinguin. This took me back a bit. “Mamie” is certainly a noble, good-hearted character in the story, but also the quintessential example of the subservient, master-adoring slave, clearly disdained in one respect by most African-Americans. But as I tried to think about it from the Mexican perspective, the character became totally different. In a society where women still typically take care of the children and household, and where mothers are universally adored, “Mamie” is not a negative character at all. And Memin Pinguin is simply, like all boys, a mischevious, spirited child goofing around with his friends.

So I started to think about how the U.S. is condemning this postage stamp because “a stereotype is a stereotype” and all that jazz. And I started to think, what right do we have to do that? We are increasingly a nation of free-thinking, individualistic, excessively greedy (and overweight) people. We may like our lifestyle, but it certainly has its ups, downs and health risks. A nation like Mexico has never had a Civil Rights movement, and likely never will, because it is basically a homogeneous society of mixed Spanish and Native Indian descent. Perhaps they could come up with a more realistic drawing of Memin Pinguin, but then perhaps we should do away with Speedy Gonzalez, that old Mariachi-singing mouse with the huge sombrero. The double standard is so absurd. My husband and several of the liberal Mexicans whose comments I read online agree that the Mimin Pinguin character has helped Mexicans become less racist, as they are so extremely unlikely to ever meet an actual black person in their life. The fact that the character seems just like any regular Mexican kid with a mother similar to any Mexican mother, puts this particular “stereotype” in a new light.

under construction

July 7, 2005

My good friend Adrianne left me with a great phrase that perfectly summarizes this array of thoughts and ideas floating around my blog the past few days and I have therefore used it as my title. If you haven’t been here, please read the “manifesto” post below and all the comments that followed it. It’s good stuff.

I’m not sure where to begin today. I guess the fact that my friends have responded to my doubting in the sincere, non-judgmental, refreshing way that they have means something is happening in the church. In a way, we are all in the same place: wondering what it all means, but handling it in different ways. Adrianne works for a church, Mary has gone through a tough stretch but of late has felt all the love of God streaming through her life. I have stopped going to church. I see God’s presence around me in my garden, in the sky, in people, but I am yet unable to re-join the world of Christianity. Two years ago I was terrified of what everyone would think of some things I had done with my life, ie. deciding not to go into ministry and getting married. I don’t really hide anything anymore. I am a much more honest person. I can’t say I have much of a relationship with God right now, but I don’t doubt His existence. I just don’t know how to relate to Him honestly anymore, with so many big, fundamental questions.

I think I am my own harshest critic. Part of my inability to be around a church or read the Bible or pray anymore has to do with my own judging of myself. If I lived on and off for years acting (to a degree) like the world’s best Christian without being totally honest with myself, what does that mean for other Christians? What does that mean about God that He let me (or led me) across the world to be a witness to people for things I didn’t necessarily believe? Not that my time overseas was wasted or in vain, because I wouldn’t trade those precious times for anything. I learned so much about the world, about people, about myself even. I loved and laughed and had great fellowship with my teammates.

I am just so stuck now on what is true. Maybe my problem is that I feel like I need some truth in order move on, in order to know what’s right and do it. Isn’t that what the Bible says? The truth will set you free. Everything I have learned taught me that Jesus is Lord and Lord of the whole world. Is that true? Is everyone that doesn’t know about Jesus in this world going to hell? (Sorry to be frank, but what’s the point in glossing). Maybe there is no answer to these questions without becoming a fundamentalist, which is rather unsavory and revolting to my spirit, but I just don’t get how to live in that mysterious gray area.

I don’t have too much time for elaboration tonight, but as usual, I love the discussion, so please comment.