Monday, December 20, 2010

A little Pablo Neruda to remind us that our worth is immeasurable

This semester, I've been struggling with the fact that I'm not a genius. No, not that I ever thought I was, but perhaps because I used to think that my worth was based on how much knowledge my cerebro could hold and how well I could apply it. I know, I know, that's dumb (irĂ³nico, ¿no?), but let's just say high school one semester (1,600 students), Lipscomb the next (< 3,000 students), Harding after that (< 4,000 students), and finally BYU (30,000 students) was a difficult series of transitions. I was one of the few girls in my foreign languages classes and everyone else had 2 years language experience in another country (a complete turn around from life outside of Provo). Before classes even started, for the first time, I was intimidated by my classmates (also, ALL the boys were on average 2-4 years older than me). I didn't meet a single male my age (20) my entire first year at BYU. 4 of my roommates were from Utah, and the 5th one had almost her entire family in the state. I made really cool friends, eventually, and I began adjusting to the idea that I wouldn't be moving after 3 months, but I also began this ridiculously self-destructive practice of believing that it mattered that my GPA (after a couple BYU semesters) wasn't as high as it used to be. I used to pride myself on grades, which isn't bad, but it's not good if you can't recognize other things that you are good at. And so, you can imagine how it felt when my computer crashed during finals week last week.

So, I'm not a genius. But I'm still smart. I've changed religions. But I still have faith. I'm not fluent in Spanish, but people can understand me and I can understand them. I can't dance very well, but I still have fun trying. And, I'm not the best. At anything, actually. But I'm good at a lot of things. And, so when I took a break from writing my 41 pages of final papers the last 2 weeks of this semester, this Pablo Neruda poem was just what I needed. I would like to invite anyone to read it any time they feel that their worth is dependent upon some kind of measurable success, because really, our worth is immeasurable. Book (or whatever it is you have become a slave to), when I close you, I open life.*

Ode to the Book by Pablo Neruda

When I close a book
I open life.
I hear
faltering cries
among harbours.
Copper ignots
slide down sand-pits
to Tocopilla.
Night time.
Among the islands
our ocean
throbs with fish,
touches the feet, the thighs,
the chalk ribs
of my country.
The whole of night
clings to its shores, by dawn
it wakes up singing
as if it had excited a guitar.

The ocean's surge is calling.
The wind
calls me
and Rodriguez calls,
and Jose Antonio--
I got a telegram
from the "Mine" Union
and the one I love
(whose name I won't let out)
expects me in Bucalemu.

No book has been able
to wrap me in paper,
to fill me up
with typography,
with heavenly imprints
or was ever able
to bind my eyes,
I come out of books to people orchards
with the hoarse family of my song,
to work the burning metals
or to eat smoked beef
by mountain firesides.
I love adventurous
books of forest or snow,
depth or sky
but hate
the spider book
in which thought
has laid poisonous wires
to trap the juvenile
and circling fly.
Book, let me go.
I won't go clothed
in volumes,
I don't come out
of collected works,
my poems
have not eaten poems--
they devour
exciting happenings,
feed on rough weather,
and dig their food
out of earth and men.
I'm on my way
with dust in my shoes
free of mythology:
send books back to their shelves,
I'm going down into the streets.
I learned about life
from life itself,
love I learned in a single kiss
and could teach no one anything
except that I have lived
with something in common among men,
when fighting with them,
when saying all their say in my song.

*I would strongly recommend the original Spanish version to those capable of reading it. It's in the second person, which I think makes it more powerful.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

People Who Don't Look Like Me

I had an interesting conversation with a friend. After a quick, and probably unnecessary, spiel about differing opinions within my family about immigration and political reform, I was confronted with an uncomfortable question. For the sake of not getting awkwardly personal, I would like to pose the question to all readers (if there actually are any of you): How do our friends and family react to interracial relationships? I answered honestly and sadly that I don't think my family and I are on the same page. I couldn't decide which was sadder: having to say that people are prejudiced or knowing that others really believe there are benefits to a kind of subtle segregation between those who look like us and those who don't. I love that I live in a country where so many cultures are represented. I think interracial marriages are every bit as wonderful and loving as non-interracial ones. But the question was not about what I think: It was about how my social network feels.

Initially, I found this to be a valid question. A question of curiosity. Afterall, how one's family feels about certain circumstances would have some kind of effect on their life, right? But the more I thought about it, the less I liked the question. At the risk of sounding selfish or overly idealistic, or, horror of horrors, cliche, I would like to say that I don't give a darn. Yes, I am a product of my culture. I have been influenced by my community's, parents', and religion's beliefs. Perhaps I will never realize the extent to which I have been affected by these institutions. BUT I also have agency. I can make my own choices, and I don't have to subscribe to the beliefs of anyone or anything I disagree with. I'll date and marry who I want, because I know what I believe, and I know what I think is right. At the end of the day, I have to answer for my choices and my actions, not the opinions of someone else.

That being said, I would like to take a quick look at a problem that, I believe, is adding to the prejudism that needs to be overcome. Too often we say, "it's not going to matter in the next life, in 10 years, or even tomorrow." I have a better motto: "It doesn't matter." Period. That means now. If I were to tell my child (which I don't have one, yet, don't worry) that in Heaven it doesn't matter what color our skin is, and I leave it at that, what am I teaching? That the hardships and ethnocentric beliefs of the present are a harmless temporal reality? No! The fact is, the way things are today is not necessarily the way things should be. "The way things are" needs to be changed, and I can't change that if I resign to appeasing my social network for the sake of appeasing them. I'm sorry social network, but I will love and be as close to people who don't look like me as I want. I will be friends with immigrants, legal or illegal. I will hold hands with a boy that I like whether his native language is English or not. I will marry who I marry because I love them for the person they are and not their ethnic makeup.

To all those of you who tire of this subtle discrimination, I advise you to say something, because it matters today.