The concept of opportunity and love

Approximately five minutes away from my house stands a gate of corroded metal which encases metal shacks where presumably people live. I know this because I pass by it everyday , and it stands out like a sore thumb a stark reminder of the poverty that lies beneath the surface.

But ultimately, I chose to walk by. You grow used to do this here. You would go crazy if you don’t. You grow used to seeing but not seeing, of keeping your eyes straight ahead when you walk, in swallowing your fear because if you do if you stop you might be in danger. You might fall back and see something you might not like.  Poverty is evident here, like a large scar but you go through life trying to not see it. It’s a leftover from my preppy school upbringing.  It’s probably what others do when they go on the trains in europe and ignore the romanian woman placing requests for donations . You just can’t humanize it. That’s what people tell themselves… and I guess it’s a coping mechanism because if we really let ourselves feel for them how could we go back ?

At least that’s what you tell yourself. But on Saturday morning, I went into that metal gate, inside a slum that I would have otherwise ignored. I didn’t know the way in so a boy offered to walk with me to go inside.  Inside the shacks were stacked one across the other, nothing I hadn’t seen before but never in such close proximity. The dusty floor, the tiny boxed surfaces of housing which would only be one room otherwise.

And there I stood in quiet contemplation wondering how all of this could exist right beside me, how this life was so different from my own.  They had been there since the war and probably longer, refugees given asylum but essentially were left to a fate of getting used to a land that at any point could be taken from them. Most of the 150 people there did not work, and they were at the moment trying to get them to move away to an apartment complex and convince them to pay forty dollars a month for rent. 

I wonder about this. And one told me how he had once went to the United States, of walking for days and going by bus from mexico and crossing a river to get to the united states. Of living in constant fear of being discovered of the exorbitant costs of rent. And ultimately his deportation back to this area. But he is hopeful, and proud and wants to change the community he cares about. He works with the group who wants to offer an education and give junior youth and children class . 

And I hope these kids are offered a choice, and ability to educate and empower this community. Because a lot of times, people get caught up in making the american dream that they forget on the people they leave behind.

My housekeeper left to Texas after nine years doing paperwork. She is the first of her family going on plane. She hasn’t seen her husband for nine years. Will it be the same? How is she coping when she doesn’t know how to use a microwave ? I wonder about her, and the two boys she is forced to leave behind.

So many broken families separated for years, so many people never looking back and only returning with strong american accents and pinched noses eager to leave just as soon as they can.  And I, the girl who has no real blood ties and two shiny passports in her pocket feel a lingering guilt and sadness over it.

I can’t know that life. Just as others in the united states won’t know what it’s like to live without water for days on end or not have electricity.  I never lived somewhere with dirt floors on my feet, and I never didn’t have a choice. Yet, somehow I am in a situation where my life could be far better. The writing projects I have been getting are erratic, my friends and social life are sparse in between. Yet,it struck me on saturday what a luxury that I have that choice. That I don’t have to worry about water sources, That my future was never limited purely based on money.  These kids, they just came up to me and hugged me. They didn’t know me . They just wanted to be noticed and loved. 

And that is probably something we have to remember. Love is wealth. It really is. We go out of our way to pursue material things, and measure happiness in what we have and be miserable with what we don’t …. yet if we love  and we give love is it not a sign that we are wealthy?

Sometimes we have to lose a lot to know of the opportunities that are still out there. Hope filters through ashes, and sometimes it’s hard to find.  Here’s to better things…

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A Not so Foreign Immigrant

Every single time I go to a ” First World” country the immigration debate rears it’s ugly head. It comes the strongest when the economy is bad and people need to find blame. As a gypsy friend said to me in October, when I told her I felt that the Gypsy parents were very cautious ” It’s not a good time for us right now. We are afraid we are going to be kicked out at any time because when things get bad you always need a scapegoat”.
The very word ” foreigner” conveys a sense of ” otherness” of a sense that they are not ” Ours” . It feels like an invader, something that people have no control over and will gobble up culture, propriety, time and identity. They are to blame for crime, for bad behavior , for everything evil that you can imagine.
It starts with the first generation. They are the ones who get the brunt of the prejudice. My grandmother told me that when she was young in Boston, she would get thrown rocks and yelled ” guinea”. Somehow, if you are white enough, or you integrate yourself enough into the society, you can luckily become part of ” Us”. It’s is no small wonder that by the third generation they are the ones throwing the rocks at t he new ” others”. Sometimes you do not need to be reminded that at one point you were ” them” and not ” us”.
Immigration has happened since the dawn of time. Yet we are still resistant to it. We fear our loss of culture, of identity, of something else. It’s sort of funny in a way. Here I am in Spain, and I am just as much a foreigner as any other Latino out there. But because I have white skin I am not a threat to anyone. When I explain my mother is scottish people go ” oh ok” like somehow I am now part of the Us Ethos. But technically, I might be taking away jobs from a good hardworking spaniard. Technically, I can vie for far better jobs. But why are the people who go for menial jobs and barely making a living are discriminated against? Most of them are doing jobs that others never would even think of doing.

A lot of this has to do with the human inherent belief that everything we think is good and bad, black and white. We believe that what our culture does is necessarily the right way of doing things. Basic things like ” clean”, ” loud” , ” polite” can be entirely different things in different cultures. Malcolm Gladwell theorizes that some things we do culturally are done through generations. He did a talk awhile back which I transcribed ( I hope I don’t get in trouble for posting this)

I am going to give an example of an airplane crash. How many of you are going to fly this month? Oh I am sorry this might make you nervous. What will make you nervous is how common it actually is.
I am going to give you an example of an airplane crash for a Colombian flight to New York City. In the flight there was dense fog, to avoid the fog they circled around and above to wait for landing as there is a waiting line and planes are delayed.
The two Colombian pilots realized that they were running out of fuel and they asked the airflight control “ We are running out of fuel” they missed the landing and one engine blew out. And then the second one did as well. They crashed and 76 people died.
What went wrong here? The inspectors came in to check the crashed plane but found , when it usually takes weeks, the problem. It was not the blown engine. It was not the lack of fuel and it was not the weather. It was not the ability of the pilots either.
The greatest disasters of the day is not one catastrophic event but a series of small, almost insignificant changes or mistakes that lead to a huge catastrophe. One mistake leads to another, and when they are not rectified it causes these things. For example, twenty years ago there was a factory explosion. The reason was surprisingly banal. The gauge in the barometer was clogged. The backup to the barometer had been covered by a sign and so people coiuld not tell it was clogged. The backup to the backup was not working . No one thought to check each little mishap and this is what went wrong. We were all responsible for each small thing.

Sometimes, a lot of our fears come from not allowing us to understand a concept of Otherness. There is no Us and Them. There is however a unique set of human experiences in the world. I have had the privilege of having Haitian , Nigerian, Native American, Indigenous Ecuadorian, Scottish, Cameroonian, trinidadian, American,Spanish friends and they all react or think differently. Luckily my chameleonlike TCk Ness Makes it easier to get to know people. I am a not so foreign immigrant. I have a sense that I can blend in and stand out at any time