Thursday, April 3, 2008

Grumpy Thursday

Today I'm grumpy. I could go into a host of reasons why this is the case, but they're a bit too personal and probably not all that interesting to anyone who isn't in the self-absorbed position of being pre-tenure in a tenure track job in an English department.

At any rate, I begin with my grumpiness to explain why some days I feel *it* more than others. What is *it* you ask? Lack of racial diversity. I was out and about for the majority of the afternoon, and it wasn't until I got home and flipped on the television that had a documentary about innovative housing solutions in overcrowded cities, like Tokyo, that I saw another Asian face, other than the one staring at me in the bathroom mirror.

So this means that driving to the doctor's office, driving to the restaurant to meet my lunch date, driving to the Verizon store to get a new hand-free set (lately I've become paranoid about cancer and cell phone use--has anyone else heard anything about this? I caught the last part of "The People's Pharmacy" on NPR, which to tell you the truth, reminds me of that NPR parody they do on Saturday Night Live, except that the doctor they interviewed was VEHEMENT about keeping cell phones away from all vital organs (including your brain) so I decided to go buy a new hands-free set because the one I have broke--this is probably too much information but I'm feeling very James-Joycean-stream-of-consciousness mode today).

Where was I?

Oh yes. No Asian faces at Border's bookstore (unless you count the ones on the DVD of House of Falling Daggers, which I bought for the bargain price of $7.99--have always meant to watch it and now I can).

And it felt, today, exhausting not to see other Asian faces. Most of the time it's like water off a duck's back. I simply accept the fact that I live in the South and that as diverse as my college town is, it's simply not as diverse as other places I've lived (San Francisco, Boston, New York City) and that there is just not a critical mass of Asian Americans here. But beyond the lack of Asian American diversity, one of the things that struck me at lunch was that mine was the only racially "integrated" table in the whole restaurant. Now I was eating at Chili's, which I'm not sure means you get more or less racial diversity. But our wait staff was a mixture of white, Latino, and African American. And the patrons seemed to be predominantly white, but with a sizable portion of Latino and African American patrons. But there were no Asian American diners and there were no mixed-race tables--whites sat with whites. Blacks sat with blacks. Latinos sat with Latinos.

And that made me tired, too. Because even if I wanted to keep the theme of segregated seating, I don't have a lot of options in my area (which of my three Asian American friends living here should I call for lunch?), and besides, that's not what I want. I don't want more Asian Americans in the area to create more ethnic enclaves. What I want is more racial diversity and mixing. And I KNOW I'm romanticizing California right now, but it's just that when I last ate at a Chili's it was in San Mateo with my best friend from college and her daughter and there were DEFINITELY mixed tables there and WE were a mixed table and, DAMN IT I'M GRUMPY AND I WISH WE DID MORE MIXING.

Got the grumps? Feel free to share and vent--that's what today's post is all about.


Anonymous said...

Its funny. I work in child care which is a poorly paid (using Western, neoliberal definition of the word poor) occupation, therefore I have worked with women of many, many different racial backgrounds. I recently moved to a regeional area where there are better working conditions for child care workers. And so now all the women I work with are white. But the children come from a diverse background so that makes me happy. There is even a multiracial playgroup that runs out of the centre.

Yes, I agree. It is important to have racial diversity. I look forward to the day where people of diverse backgrounds actively seek each other out.

Poor Charlotte said...

Two of my southern black students were grousing about the same thing that made you grumpy today. Here in New England College City (specific enough?), they don't feel like they come into contact with other African Americans enough. Plus, they're both gay, which seemed to add a bit to the stress, though the school itself has a large gay population.

Anyway, sorry you're so down today. I'm not familiar with what you're experiencing, but it sounds like a major bag of downs.

CVT said...

I'm absolutely all here for you. I live in Portland, OR (officially the "whitest big city" - population 300,000 up - in the U.S.), and I feel it ALL the freaking time. And even when I see Asian folks, it doesn't totally appease me, because then I still want to look for those other ethnically ambiguous mixed folks like me out there (a quest that's nearly pointless in this town).

However - the silver lining. In the last year, I have very consciously tried to build myself a more racially diverse, "mixed" community. And it's working. It's hard, but I've put together a nice group of friends who I can be with to get away from feeling "it" (as you put it) as much. I always feel it, but it's not as bad if I get to complain about it with somebody else right then and there who can feel my pain. All that has made me more able to "see" the diversity (albeit limited) that IS here - instead of looking for the LACK THEREOF.

It's not going to change in the world around us (not on a large scale, and certainly not in our lifetimes), but it CAN change IN OUR WORLD.

(imagine that - a more positive view coming from me this time)

Jennifer said...

Thanks Allecto and Charlotte for your comments of commiseration. It's amazing how one's attitude/mood can definitely change your perspective on all sorts of things. Because when I sat in Chilis that afternoon and realized the lack of racial diversity/mixture around me, I really felt heavy/leaden/sad and debated about whether I really want to make my life here.

But then last night I got together with some friends to play mah jong--one of them being one of my 3 Asian American friends (this is a sad state of affairs for me since I grew up in the SF Bay Area) and we had a potluck that included chicken adobo and lumpia and it was cozy and warm and I realized that you have to make community where you are. I'm not trying to say there aren't things I want and actually need to see happen here to make me feel at home, but I also have to realize that I have some choice in the matter.

I feel a bit funny writing that, because I don't want this to be misconstrued as an argument for pulling myself up by my bootstraps or just taking on a more cheerful attitude about things will improve (because both those arguments can be seen as anti-affirmative action/anti-anti-racist agenda) but I think what is important, to me, is to feel like I can empower myself to reach out to others and create the diversity I want in my life. In other words, if I want more Asian American friends, I need to seek them out. Sure, this won't mean that every Asian American person I meet is going to be my next best buddy, but I should at least be making an attempt to get to know the new Asian American faculty and grad students and to go to Asian American events. It's just hard, right, because I have definitely met a few Asian American folk here who I just didn't click with. And that happens with ALL PEOPLE.

Anyway, it's a new Friday and my grumpiness has subsided, which is good because generally speaking, I am a glass-half full kind of gal (although I'm also deeply cynical, so it's an odd combination at times).

Jennifer said...

CVT! I just posted a comment and then saw that you had just left one and LO AND BEHOLD we are both writing about the same thing--creating the diversity that we lack in our current communities.

Are we separated at birth???


Thanks for checking in--I actually wondered what your own perspective would be. Although I have to tell you, one of my best friends in the world used to live in Portland and was hapa herself (and also a teacher in the public school system). I think you two would have had a lot to talk about. And she makes some of the best pork adobo of anyone I know!

The Constructivist said...

Hm, it may not improve your mood to fix the typo in one of your tags, but maybe this in-joke between English profs will cheer you up!

Jennifer said...

Thanks Constructivist! I'm going to leave it as is, since it just goes to show ENGLISH PROFESSORS ARE NOT ALWAYS AS METICULOUS ABOUT WORDS AS THEY SHOULD BE!