Search This Blog

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Talking to my father about death, 2

The sadness is spreading. My mother calls at 1 p.m. and says she can’t get out of bed. That she feels like dying. She says my brother feels the same way. What are the dogs doing? I ask, knowing that we know how animals feel by the way they act. My father’s unemployment has run out; he has no job prospects. He gave it his all—he gave it away…he gave it when he had it, and now it’s no longer there to give, so there’s no hope—the work is done. I told my mother I was looking into field-worker retirement communities, where immigrants go to die in peace. She says that you can’t die in peace; that’s what death achieves, not what dying is like. I think she sound philosophical. But maybe I’m looking for wisdom in the sadness, in the helplessness. Maybe there’s none.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Talking to my father about death, 1

I think he’s dying of sadness. He’s unemployed, 59, and paralyzed by the failure of his American experiment. He sleeps all day, drinks till midnight, and dies a little each night before waking to find himself alive and un-recognized by his younger self, the one who dared, the one who sought a something long forgotten. My own successes (whatever they are) only remind him that maybe he already did what he was meant to do, to carry me as far as those lines on the floor which father’s don’t cross, and drop me off and see how far I got before I start seeing the lines on the floor myself. And I can’t accept that: that he had no other ambitions, no other dreams, than to open up paths for me! He tells me that a $25,000 IRA he rescued before losing his last job should buy a casket and the hole in the ground where he’ll be buried. I tell him that we have time to discuss this. But he already made up his mind. He’s resolute in his commitment to the impossible, like always.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Getting Even With Pablo*

My mother's cruelty had its limits. She would, for instance, pray for the sick if they were "really" sick and not just "pertending"--she claimed to have an uncanny ability to tell the sick from the pretenders. She would also defend animals of all sorts when they couldn't defend themselves, but so long as they were not guilty of any crimes against her person or property. If animal or person (kin or not) dared cross the line, her fury had no least to me. Pablo benefited from her saintly generosity.

Pablo was a baby when my mother first brought him into the house. His mother had abondned him and, my mother said, he would've died out in the cold if she didn't bring him in. As a two-week old he was a small, furry, yellow ball of adoroableness. Because my mother had rescued him from the cold, he thought she was his mother. He followed her around like a normal depenant, although she never sat on him to keep him warm. She baptized him Pablo and loved him like a son.

Pablo grew up fast. He soon became an awkward teenager. His feathers were unevenly distributed, and his color was an off-brown; he looked like a mangled eagle or a recently rehabed vulture. My father came home one day and almost stepped on him; Pablo screamed, my father jumped and avoided falling by holding on to my neck, he chased Pablo all over the house, cursing and throwing whatever he could find in Pablor's direction. Pablo ran to the kitchen and took cover behind my mother's legs. My father yelled: "Let's eat that fuckin animal already!" and "What's he doing in the house?" My mother responded clamly: "Leave him alone" and "you need to watch where you're walking." It was during this time that I realized that he was a part of the family and not just a charity case. More than that, Pablo knew he was my mother's ward. She was his protector.

In a year, Pablo was clucking his way about the house with his chest out and his long tail-feathers, beutifully colored, fanning the air behind him. He fuckin annoyed me. He was a cocky little cock (actually, he was a fighting cock who had never thrown a punch). But my mother wouldn't kick him out, even though he was already full grown. He slept in the porch, in a box with blankets and water. He'd wake everyone up at the crack of dawn, which sucked for everyone but my father who had to go to work, and for my mother who packed my father's lunch. In other words, it sucked for me.

At some point, Pablo realized that I was his competition. He'd stand outside my bedroom door and murmur some demonical verses in his own chicken language. I'd throw my shoes against the door to scare him off; I could hear my mother: "stop that!" and "you're gonna break that door!" and "don't make me come in there!" Fuckin Pablo. I'd get up at about 7 and get ready for school. Pablo would charge me and pick a fight. I'd rush right at him hoping he would't move so I could kick him in the face. But he would run and find my mother, who would tell me to sit the hell down and eat my breakfast. I'd get my backpack and walk out the door. Pablo would walk me to the stairs and watch me leave. We would stare at each other and wish each other ill.

My guess is that he was good company for my mother, who from lack of papers had to stay home and avoid dealing with the inevitable existential boredom which pervades all of Being. Pablo lived with us in the Gashouse for what now seems a good lifetime. One cold December morning it was the silence that woke everyone up. My mother walked to the porch to find Pablo frozen stiff in his luxury box. The cock was dead and I could't help but feel...exhuberant. My mother, I can only guess, was sad about the tragedy. My father, who had come home to pick up a jacket, grabbed him by the tail feathers on his way into the kitchen and put him in a pot of boiling water. By 7 a.m. he was defeathered and cut to pieaces, soaking in a pot with carrots and squash. When I got home from school I had chicken stew. Pablo was tough; his leg muscles strained my jaw muscles. The meat was dry. I asked my mother for his heart and ate it with a bit of salt. It was chewey and tasted like blood and vengance--or maybe life and ipseity. Fuckin Pablo.

*Thanks for the title, Jeremy W.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Illegals, Entrepreneurs, and the Free Market

I grew up in a town where 90% of the people were farm workers; another 3% were unemployed; and 7% owned the farms where the workers worked.* Nowhere was this division clearer than in school, where 60% of the students were the children of the 7%. When I graduated high school—because I did, after all, graduate—all my friends, who had not and could not graduate, were not allowed into the stadium were the graduation was held (because of their respective “affiliations” and their status as unwanteds). The stadium was filled with the 7%ers and their children, friends, and others; my friends, dozens of them, leaned against the chain link fence which kept the haves inside the stadium—they cheered when my name was called. My friends made up the 3%, above.

The 90% (mostly illegal aliens who immigrated from Mexico) were hard-working people who had been coming and going for decades, working the garlic and tomato harvests, paying taxes, supporting large families back in Mexico, all the while struggling to raise their children according to American customs which they didn’t really understand. Those that failed made up the 3%, who, confused and marginalized, took to gangs, drugs, and guns to assert their role in American culture, even if that role was the one reserved for those who justify police presence and prison funding.

Ultimately, the 90% kept that town alive.

I heard Rafael Anchia speak not too long ago. He’s an impressive politician from Texas—a Democrat from the 103rd district. Some have high hopes for him. He called illegal immigrants “entrepreneurs” who must raise “venture capital” (the money it takes to cross the border) in order to fund a “start up” (the journey to find a job) which they hope will thrive in a difficult and risky economic environment where death is very much a possibility. Speaking to a large group in the Silicon Valley, Anchia’s message resonated with everyone there. He asked: in these times, wouldn’t it be better to have more entrepreneurs rather than less?

Republicans, when they stop inhaling glue long enough, have begun to see the economic benefits of illegal entrepreneurs. They question the value of less illegal aliens on the very foundations of our free market system. I hope this kind of thinking continues. But there’s a lot of glue!

Friday, July 2, 2010

On the Road

I'm taking this show on the road! I'll be presenting a paper on all of this nonsense (the theme of the Blog, that is) in Oregon (Society for Philosophy and the Contemporary World) in two weeks. Here's the "Outline"--the paper itself is long and more nuanced, with arguments and such.

"Philosophy and the Post-Immigrant Fear"


• The specific purpose of this paper is to explore and then expand on Jorge Gracia’s reasons for the apparent lack of Hispanics in US philosophy (i.e., in his 1999 book: Hispanic/Latino Identity: A Philosophical Perspective). I will narrow my focus to a specific sub-group of the philosophical Hispanics Gracia considers, namely, “homegrown” US Hispanics. This group, Gracia says, are entirely missing from the “established” ranks (Gracia mentions 6 established Hispanic philosopher in the US, all foreign born). Introducing a first-person phenomenological perspective, I propose an explanation which I think captures my experience as a homegrown US Hispanic, one which has given rise to a sense of identity which I can only describe as “post-immigrant”; those who share in this identity, I suggest, desire but hesitate engaging philosophically with their own experience as post-immigrants, particularly when the post-immigrant is one who is also a degree-bearing member of the philosophical profession. The reason for the absence of homegrown Hispanic philosphers who are also willing to engage issues related to their circumstance as Hispanics boils down to what I call, “the post-immigrant fear.”

Section 1: From Marginalization to Avoidance: Gracia on Hispanics in US Philosophy

• Of 316 philosophy programs surveyed in 1992, the number of Hispanics who are either full or part-time faculty members is 55; in 1995, there are 68 full time and part time Hispanics in those programs. Generalizing to the number of programs represented in the American Philosophical Association, this means that in the mid-1990’s, 2.2% of all philosophers teaching in the US are Hispanics; the Hispanic population in the US at that time is roughly 10%.

• Gracia: “First, why is it that there are so very few Hispanics who have become established in the profession in the United States? Second, why is it that those few who have become established are foreign born? Third, why are there so very few Hipsanic Americans in the profession at all? Fourth, why is Hispanic philosophy ignored in the philosophy curriculum? And fifth, why is it that Hipsanics-American philosophers are not attracted by, and perhaps even avoid, areas that have to do with their identity as Hispanics, whereas African Americans and women do not?”

• For ease, I call the first question the establishment question; the second question is the foreign vs. homegrown question; the third is the numbers question; the fourth is the curriculum question; and the fifth is avoidance question.

• Gracia: “My suggestion is that one reason behind all these facts is that Hispanics in general are perceived as foreigners; we are not thought to be “Americans.”..[Moreover] Hispanic philosophers are marginalized in the profession, and Hispanic issues and philosophy are regarded as alien to the interest of American philosophers.”

Section 2: Homegrown Hispanics and the Post-Immigrant Experience

• The concept of “post-immigrant” refers to individuals who are not themselves immigrants but for whom the immigrant experience itself is a historical, epistemological, cultural, or in any way existential reality. That is, a post-immigrant is the son, granddaughter, niece, or brother of immigrants who were born in Latin America, suffered the migration North, and settled as immigrants in the US. Thus, post-immigrants will usually be the children of immigrants, and not immigrants themselves who have somehow overcome their situation—thus, a post-immigrant is not a person who was once an immigrant and has left that label behind through the proper legal procedures, and is now a citizen or resident.

Section 3: The Post-Immigrant Fear

• The post-immigrant fear is the fear which keeps homegrown Hispanics in the profession, especially those who have come north and have crossed the socio-economic lines which define our immigrant experience, from writing, speaking, and teaching about Hispanic issues or Hispanic philosophy—it is what justifies our “renunciation” of the possibilities of such engagement. It is the fear of disenfranchisement, of exclusion, of arrest. It might be unconscious, or not something of which we are always aware, but it structures our very experience. Some of us will not admit the fear, since the admission says that we lack the intellectual courage which philosophers require in order to pursue truth to the bitter end.

Section 4: Conclusions

• The situation which Jorge Gracia described in 1999 has not changed much over the past 10 years. According to the National Science Foundation, 103 Hispanics received a doctorate in some field of the Humanities in 1988; this number doubled in 2008 to 206. These numbers are slightly higher when compared to Asians, African-Americans, and Native Americans. However, they are dismal when compared to Whites, who received 2564 PhDs in 1988 and 3009 in 2008. This means that just a couple of years ago, in 2008, Hispanics made up only 6.8% of all PhD recipients in the Humanities. The numbers of Hispanics who received a doctorate in philosophy are much lower. According to the same data, out of the 401 philosophy doctorates awarded in 2008, 10 went to Hispanics—that’s 2.5% as opposed to 2.2% almost 20 years ago! So, 10 years after Gracia published those alarming numbers, Hispanics in philosophy are still largely underrepresented in proportion to the numbers in the overall population.

My Favorites