Wednesday, April 28, 2010

AZ-holes: where I get all political... again

So, , you knew this was coming... right?

And wouldn't you know it? It is long! (you have been warned)

You might be surprised to hear that I am actually not very confrontational, even if I am a tad intense. But there are two things you should know: I hate injustice and I always stick up for the underdog.

There are only a few political issues that can really get my blood boiling. One, as you have seen, is healthcare. The other..., well, I'll explain it this way...

A few years ago, an ex-boyfriend of my mom's, who really liked my hubs and me, and so still kept in contact even after they broke up, sent me an email. It was a mass email, to all of his contacts. It was a joke, supposed to be funny. It was an analogy of sorts about a a robber breaking into your house, and then staying on for free, offering to prune your roses and such, which was a nice gesture, but at the end of the day it was still a robber who had broken into your house. Do you see the analogy? It was about illegal immigration. My blood was boiling.

To say I was livid is an understatement. I responded by email and clicked reply all. I made sure everyone who had received that email, people I didn't even know, knew how I felt about it. How dare he include me in an email, assuming I would agree or find it funny. Rants against immigration are offensive to me. I tried not to make it personal, just letting him know that I didn't agree and why and what I thought about the logic of the joke. I never heard from him again, but I guess I can live with that. Perhaps I was too harsh, and it's not like I want to alientate everyone who disagrees with my perspective, but if he couldn't take my own opinion in return, there is not much I can do.

This is what I know: at our worst, we are a country that is fundamentally, at its core, racist; at our best, we are racially hyper-aware, obsessed even, with race (look at the 2010 census and the myriad ways we have of classifying race vs. ethnicity—I literally had no idea how to classify my husband, and consider how it changes all the time as we define and redefine and define again what exactly race or ethnicity refer to, and what terms to use too refer to certain groups—terms that to me are mostly meaningless).

It doesn't matter that slavery ended over a century ago, and trust me, civil rights was not the end all of racial discrimination. It doesn't matter that Disney has finally made a few princesses that are "brownish" or that we succeeded in electing a black president (excuse me if I am not PC enough to use the term "African-American"--that is a different post). It doesn't matter that we express our never-ending love of Mexican food and that we name our streets "Loma Vista" and "Blancos Piedras".

It is not about individuals, about whether you or I believe we are racist or not; it's about how we treat "the other" collectively, in a systemic way.

We have treated immigrants dismally for centuries. Almost all groups have had their turn: Italians, Irish, Jews, Chinese, Japanese, Latino. Some of these groups have eventually come to blend in, forming part of what we call "white." Other groups have not been as fortunate, if you will.

I am not an expert on Black-White relations, though I have read a bit, but I have read quite a lot about the history of tensions between Mexican immigrants and Anglos, especially in the Southwest; in fact, it was part of my research for my dissertation for my doctorate.

In a nutshell, there has always been conflict and it has always had a racial edge. It is a unique context: Mexican-Americans are the only ethnic group to come from a country that borders the US. It is also a very unique border situation: one of the richest most powerful countries in the world bordering a substantially poorer, developing country. Mexican-Americans are "returning" in one sense to land that once belonged to them, that was taken from them illegally, in many regards. Not just taken from the country that is Mexico, but tricked, manipulated, and taken by force from families of Mexican origin even after the conquest, even after the Treaty of Guadalupe.

I don’t understand the anger against immigrants. This is a country of immigrants; we all hail, varying only by number of generations, from elsewhere, and it is not like our ancestors had visas. The notion that once we are here, no one else should be able to come is absurd.

It is not original to blame immigrants for economic hardships or crime, it has been happening since the beginning. Some experts in the field say we have developed a love-hate relationship with Mexicans: we formally invite (see: Bracero program) or subtly entice them across the border when we need cheap labor, but when we face financial strain, they are persecuted and scapegoated and subjected to deportation acts such as "Operation Wetback" (no I am not making this up!)

The interesting thing is that overt negative racial attitudes are no longer acceptable. So we have found more subtle ways of discriminating. One way this happens is through linguistic discrimination, for example, we discriminate against accent or non-standard dialects, and there is a definite anti-hispanic component to "English-only" movements and legislation.

Much of this is justified by saying that "if they come here, they should learn English." Well, that is very convenient in theory, but we are a land of immigrants, and very few groups have landed on our shores, already fluent in English. Hispanics, as a group, learn English faster than any other immmigrant group in history. In fact, by the 3rd generation, very few of them speak any Spanish.

Plus, for the few of us who speak another language, we know it is not an overnight process. It takes years... and not eveyone has the luxury of the time or money it costs to take classes at a university. We are not that patient anyway; we want them all to speak only English NOW. And we don't want them to "practice" on us in the meantime. We don't want to hear broken English, it is so taxing. We don't want to guess at meanings, and we want as little accent as possible. We are also threatened by people speaking other languages in public. Linguists have documented all of this, and I know of so many personal anecdotes.

When my husband first started his job here, he spoke English fairly well, but with a little more of an accent than he has now. One of his first experiences on a job, he was introduced to someone who lamented right in front of him that: "It would be nice to see more English speakers." When I heard this, as protective as I am, I almost hunted the ass down to ask him how many languages he spoke, barely English, I am presuming.

We complain that illegal immigrants take our jobs, but I think we all know that isn't the case. We also complain that they use up economic resources: medicaid, welfare, food stamps, schooling. This is probably true to some extent, and some states have more of an issue than others. I have read several economic analyses, however, looking at the overall economic effect of immigration. Considering all of the benefits, such as cheap labor and consumer spending, it is either a draw, or we come out slightly ahead in benefits. Immigration is not the economic drain that it is claimed to be, in heated immigrant rhetoric.

We have also made attempts at discriminating according to legal status. Do I think a country should be able to regulate its borders and assure that people enter legally? Sure, but the issue is complicated. We issue thousands of work visas to educated workers in high-tech fields to fill a need in the job market. Yet, we are much more reticent to issue thousands of work visas to migrant laborers or day laborers, or people who fill the huge need for menial labor that our country has. Why is that?

Could it be this: we want migrant laborers to pick our strawberries, so they don’t cost $20 a pound; we want them to take care of our children for next to nothing; we want them to kill and clean the animals we eat; we want them to build houses and roads in the Texas and Arizona heat. BUT… we don’t want them to stay permanently, just as long as we need them. We don’t want them to organize into unions. We don’t want them to have any legal recourse when we exploit them. We want to give them sub-standard pay and provide sub-standard working and living conditions but no benefits and no job-security, no contracts that a work visa would require. The system we have allowed to exist is convenient… for US.

It would be easy to solve the problem, if we really wanted to, if it would really benefit us to end illegal immigration. We could make work visas for laborers easier to get; we could allow them to work here legally, imagine that! We can’t solve the problem by punishing the poverty-stricken immigrant who risked everything, left family behind, looking for a better life and happens to be here illegally, which we consider a crime. They wouldn’t come if there wasn’t a demand. If we really want to end illegal immigration, we heavily fine the businesses that hire them illegally, which we don’t seem to consider criminal, though they are clearly the winners in terms of financial benefit. If you make them pay enough, there will be no incentive to hire them.

The problem, as lawmakers well know, is that many businesses need cheap labor, agro-businesses in particular. We can’t fine them for finding a way to feed the country and make a profit doing it. If we don’t have migrant workers, food rots in the fields, rots on the trees, and no one else wants to pluck feathers from dead chickens for a living. We need illegal immigrant; we just don’t want that many. We want to curb the flow, not regulate it or legalize it.

The problem with all legislation that has targeted immigrants is that there is no way to discriminate between legal and illegal. The deportation act, Operation Wetback, mentioned above, deported quite a few legal citizens. There is no “reasonable suspicion.” You look Mexican or you don’t. You speak Spanish or you don’t. You have an accent or you don’t. The issue is that there are legal American citizens who look Mexican, don’t speak English well, or at all, or with an accent. There is no way to enforce the law without racial profiling and without asking legal citizens to prove they are legal. There is no way to enforce it without persecuting the group who least deserves legal persecution.

If we want to solve illegal immigration, then solve it. But we have to have the “cojones” to do it in an ethical and moral way: by punishing those who most benefit from illegal immigration… ourselves. We have to accept that our fruit and vegetables will be more expensive, our roads will take longer to build, and that (godhelpus) we won’t be able to afford a gardener, a house-keeper, or a nanny.

P.S.: If I were a gambling man, I’d say this is political provocation. This is going to fire up with redneck right, much like the issue of gay marriage did winning Bush’s second term.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's pending...

Ths house is under contract! I can't believe how fast it happened. We got an offer the first day on the market and a second the second day. We countered the 2nd offer and they accepted. We are set to close at the end of May.

It was probably so fast due to the $8k tax credit which requires the buyer be under contract by the end of April, which is this week. We wanted it to be quick, and I am relieved that I no longer have to keep it immaculate at all moments (not fun with kids).

Of course, we are still waiting for the kids paperwork. The hubs has been calling the consulate to see what we can do. We "inscribed" them in January, about 4 months ago; it normally takes up to 6 months, or more, but, as with all things in Chile, if you know someone, it can be expedited. Well, we don't know anyone, but the consulate employee we have been working with does. She had told us she would ask her contact to get it done as quickly as possible.

As we have learned today, the papers never reached the hands of her contact, so they are going to try to locate them and see what they can do.

I don't know if we are willing to postpone the move for months, waiting for their papers. But I don't know what options we have. They have US passports, so we could still go, entering the kids on a tourist visa. Their papers allow them to enter Chile as Chilean, which means we don't have to go through the arduous process of changing that status.

Anyway, we'll see what happens..

We seem to have adopted this strange "now or never" attitude about doing/buying things before the move. My husband wanted to go around to all the touristy spots in Austin and take photos. I pondered aloud why we would do that, when we don't hang out in those spots ever. He was also suddenly dismayed that we had spent so many years here and had never gone to one of the music festivals they have here in the self-proclaimed "live music capital of the world", like Austin City Limits and South by South West. We are not really live-music people, which is weird to say. I mean, we like music, and we like listening to music, but actually going to concerts or even smaller live music venues has never been our thing--too many people,too loud (yes, I am elderly) and then some of the outdoor music festivals involve heat/dust or rain/mud all day long... oh, and over-priced scarce tickets.

He is saddened that we'll never see Big Bend. I say: "you do remember that I am from the US, right? and that all my family and many friends live here...and that we'll be back to visit, so our kids have a connection to this country too, and possibly to live (I am leaving that option open in my head because I am a wimp). This is not our last chance at anything! But he is unconvinced.

We have been talking about buying things too, because it is "now or never." Like a kitchen aid stand mixer. I have wanted one for a long time, but I get along just fine without one, and I like to bake: I've been making cookies, muffins, pancakes, even pizza dough and bread (and kneading it myself!!!) and don't know any other way. But now, it feels urgently necessary to buy one and take it with me. Partly because it would be easier to ship it with our other things, rather than as a carry on at some future date during a visit. But the other part of me keeps asking if I really need one. Need is such a funny, relative, subjective term.

So it looks like early-mid June. I'll have to check the world sposrts calendar, but that may be just in time for the World Cup. Chile qualified this time, which, naturally, will have them all riled up in Chile. I was there in 98, the last time they qualified, and the entire country closes down to watch the games. That would be a fun way to start our residence there.

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's up...

The house, that is, is up for sale.

After a week of final work (painting) and a day of frantic cleaning, our house is cleaner and looks nicer, than it probably has... EVER.

I was a little unhappy this week with the probable sale price the realtor gave us. I thought or hoped it would be a little more and the reality has been hard to adjust to. The way it is now, we'll walk away with just enough for plane tickets to Chile and enough to ship what little we are shipping.

This means starting over from scratch, with almost nothing. We don't have fine furnishings anyway, but we are very fortunate to have everything we need. Selling it all for a few hundred bucks isn't going to help much on the other end. There are things that are just more complicated in Chile, like doing laundry. When I lived there by myself, it didn't matter, I'd take the subway with my big bag of dirty clothes to a laundromat (expensive). That doesn't sound very fun with a family of four.

Am I sweating the small stuff? Perhaps, but in some ways that is much easier than sweating the big stuff... I don't dare start with the big stuff. I have had this pit in my stomach and knot in my throat, hoping and wishing that this is the right decision. Well, I know it is the right decision in many ways: it is the decision that will give my kids a sense of family, and many more people to love; it is the decision that will balance the nearly 10 years my husband has spent far from friends and family; it is the decision that will quench that wanderlust I have always had.

The timing is perfect in so many ways (despite my sister's belief that the massive earthquake in Chile in February was a sign that I should't move ;-)

I guess the bright side is that I know we'll be taken care of; my husband's family is so generous and supportive. My father-in-law is more than thrilled that we'll be staying him for a bit, even though I am less than thrilled about not having my own space.

So, it is terrifying in some ways and exciting in others. This is almost the last step... this and finishing consulate paperwork and shipping boxes. I almost can't believe it is getting so close.

Monday, April 12, 2010

That's my girl

This is G.

She loves dirt and sticks... and mulch. One of her first words was mulch (mooch)

She also loves bugs and frogs and creepy-crawlies of all sorts.

We had better get out of Texas before she comes running to show me her pet rattle snake.

This is Pepe II. He turned green in G's hand. Pepe I, who was more of a tiny gecko, lost his tail in a moment of panic (they do that).

I was a major tom-boy as a kid, so apparently the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Authenticity authenticated

Here in the U.S., I have never been asked to show any of my degrees. Perhaps because it is verifiable by other means, I am not sure, but employers generally don't ask for proof that you do indeed possess a high school diploma, a B.A., an M.A., or a Ph.D.

In fact, when my husband was getting ready to come to the U.S. on a fiance visa, he asked me if he should translate or notarize his degrees. I told him that no one was going to ask to see them. No one has.

In Chile, though, you are often asked to provide copies of your degree. There was a job I considered applying for a few months ago, but they wanted a photocopy of any degrees I had, and I hadn't even received my Ph.D. degree in the mail yet. This would not have even been an issue applying for the same type of position here in the States.

To use my degree in Chile, I have had to take it through a strange process of authentication. I ordered an extra copy of both my M.A. and Ph.D from my university that was notarized by a university official, confirming its authenticity (I didn't want a stamp on the back of my only copy).

I then had to take it to the Texas Secretary of State where they issued a letter, stapled to each degree, stating that the notary public who notarized my degree is indeed authorized to notarize and that if she said it is a real degree then it is.

Now I have to take it to the Chilean consulate where they will legalize it for use in Chile. They essentially will issue some letter saying that if the Secretary of State recognizes the official who notarized my degrees, then they are indeed authentic.

Now I have to make sure they won't ask for my transcripts too...

Isn't beaurocracy a blast

I now leave you with G's mad/happy face:

Friday, April 2, 2010

Meet mulch mountain

This is what we'll be doing this weekend...

Our neighbor asked: what are you mulching... the earth?

Yes, it would seem so.

Daily math lesson: 12 cubic yards = A LOT of freakin' mulch.

It's to cover the flower/plant beds. Everything looks better with mulch, don't you agree?

It is actually way more than we need (ya think?) but we wanted a thick layer, and didn't want to have to pick up 3-4 loads in the pick-up. This way, it's cheaper per yard and a dump truck delivers it... but 12 cubic yards is the minimum.

Naturally, a mountain of mulch has proven to be irresistible to small humanoids.


It is warm and earthy... what is not to love?

So last night we got busy (with the mulch, silly). We have pretty much drowned all of the beds in inches of mulch and we still have at least half of our mountain.

Anyone need some mulch?