Saturday, March 28, 2009

Music, Love and Politics

She stares at him, deep dark eyes boring into his own. What is he thinking about? she wonders to herself. He acknowledges her soft gaze with a smile, then lowers his to the book in his hands. The title? Second Treatise on Government.

Of course. How was it that she always loved the political boys best? They were her best friends, her lovers, her brothers from other mothers (and fathers, but it doesn't rhyme). Maybe it was the debates they had, for she certainly held views of her own. Maybe it was their intelligence, their passion, the fire that would leap into their eyes and their voices as they expressed anger over an unjust policy or excitement about the upcoming elections. Maybe it was their sense of duty, their love of country, their desire to change things for the better. Maybe it was their humor, for they actually understood all the cartoons in the newspapers, the jokes made by British comedians. Or maybe it was just because they were hot. After all, a good portion of them would fit the definition of a "looker."

But this one was different. Instead of the raging fires of activism, his soul possessed a calm, still river of inner peace. While he cared about people and issues, it wasn't his way to start a war or mess with politics too much. He loved politics as she did, but from more of an intellectual sense. He was more relational than anything else. Rather than try to make big changes, he wanted to just be there for people, to help them realize that someone cared. He was more of an artist than a politician anyway, always singing, playing music, drawing pictures and designs with a skill level that surpassed mere doodling. He was also spiritual, grounded in the sense that he was connected greater to something other than himself. He was kind, funny in his own way, and possessed an endearing sense of awkwardness, what with his embarrassment at having accidentally brushed her leg with his own and his over-the-top way of making her laugh.

Her cell alarm rings. Time for class. She gets up to leave, he with her. Though they must part at the door, he passes her something. A piece of paper. Loose leaf with black ink, simple print, yet straightforward. Only four words:

En rue Saint Divine

She smiles. Song lyrics. The keys to her heart. She looks up to thank him but he has already vanished.


Friday, March 27, 2009

A Day Somewhere......

Doesn't mean you live there......

I love my school, I love my major, but one problem I've been finding (in myself and others) is that we have this attitude about how we must know a place because we've spent time there. You know. The people who go to Paris for a week and now apparently know all about French people and culture. The people who go to Kigali or Nairobi and all of a sudden, they completely understand the plight of people in the developing world. I'll admit, I am completely guilty of this myself, having had similar thoughts after my own trip to Europe, but I'm admitting that I am definitely trying to fix things now. This attitude is not a good one to have.

You will never know a nation as well as the people who were raised in it. To suggest otherwise is extreme arrogance. Not only that, but different people in that country will have different impressions. For example, in the US, someone from New York, NY is probably going to think differently than someone from Kissimmee, FL, just because they are two different regions. Not to mention that different countries can have different ethnicities within that country, certainly different class systems, etc. Even more than that, people in general are different. No one thinks exactly the same, acts exactly the same, etc. Thus, you will encounter many different impressions of a certain place, most of them depending on a person's situation and how that situation has formed their perception.

So please, let's stop pretending we know a place. It's ignorant, it's arrogant, and it's not helping anyone. We may have learned something, have had different experiences, maybe even ended up living there for awhile. But living does not equate with knowing. Again, I am completely guilty of this myself, so I'm not trying to be hypocritical. This is something I've realized and I think we should stop. People are people, not categories.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


She stands there,
Watching, waiting,
The wind rushing through
Her long, dark hair.

An angel appears,
Surrounded by fire,
A radiant white flame.
"A child is coming."

Her child is born.
She rejoices in life,
Kissing, cuddling
Simply loving.

Her child grows up.
Strong, handsome,
Kind, caring,
He'd make a fine husband.

Her child starts a fire,
Loving, defending,
Praying, speaking,
All for the least of us.

Her child is killed,
Suffering, bleeding
Wounded, weeping
"King of the Jews."

God asked her a favor.
She accepted a request,
And watched her son
Save humanity.

The More You See, the Less You Know

They see her. They see her everyday. They think they know everything.

They know she's a good girl, that she wouldn't hurt anything, unless she needed to defend someone. They know she goes to Mass every week, sometimes even twice, and that she wears Jesus and Mary around her neck. They know she's a stellar student with straight A's and a brilliant mind. They know she helps out at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and organizes campaigns for different causes. They know that she's sweet and that if you ask her for an inch, she'll give you a mile. They know she's a leader, that she steps to the plate for any task that needs to be accomplished.

What they don't know.........

They don't know that she cusses. Not little cusses either, like "crap" or "piss" but ones that would make Eminem feel ashamed. They don't know that she drinks with friends, under their caring eyes and never too much, but drinks all the same. They don't know about her loves, some of whom they'd be shocked to find out. They don't know that while she loves her faith, there is so much she disagrees with, that she's really not as traditional as others think. They don't know she's not overly conservative, she's merely innocent and slightly naive by circumstance.

They don't know that she cries at night, wishing people would see her as a person, not as the parts they'd like to see. They don't know that she feels ashamed for some of what she's done, which is why she heads to the confessional once a week (all this time, they thought, "Why is a nice girl like her doing in confession so frequently?") They don't know that, like everyone else, she wants to be loved "like that" but that is forbidden to her, as people around her feel like they have to protect her more than they can love her. They don't know that, while she tries not to seem vain, she feels she's not pretty enough for anyone. They don't know that she is inside angry. Angry at injustice, angry at her friends, angry at God, but most of all, angry at herself.

Yet she's not a hypocrite either. She would admit to all of this and more. When asked about anything, she answers unless circumstance is not appropriate. She's honest and doesn't hide. She can't anyway. Her face, at least, is honest.

They just never cared to find out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gender, Research, and Role Construction

I still remember the summer when Larry Summers, former President of Harvard University, had made comments regarding the aptitude of both men and women, something about men being better at math and science due to brain differences. There was and still is a lot of controversy around such statements. Many women, who had built up careers around math and science, were quite offended and the coverage caused by it all was my first introduction into the biological/social arguments of gender roles and construction.

I have no problem with opinions like that, provided you've done research to back it up and I'd have no problem if it were fact. Then it would be similar to the fact that women get pregnant, men do not, it's a fact of life.

I do, however, have a problem with labeling people based on their gender (or race/class/orientation/creed/etc) and making arbitrary statements based on such factors. When we have a society that labels people, we have a society that prejudges people, and consequently, we depart from our values of freedom and egalitarianism. It's not facts I have a problem with, it's attitudes, judgments, and arbitrary decisions that lead to the loss of freedom based on superficial qualities.

For example:
1. An argument the other day: One thing I've always noticed is that, with the parenting of kids, the father gets twice the kudos for doing things a mother would do. When I made this statement in class (and was backed up by many other students and my professor, who had witnessed similar occurrences), another student justified it, telling me that women should be more responsible, since they have a "biological connection" to the child. But what about men who just happen to be more nurturing? What about women who, while they love their children, are not the "perfect, stay-at-home, constantly with the kids" mom model still embraced by society, to some extent? What about adoptive parents? Doesn't that negate the love they hold for their own children, because they don't have the "biological connection" given by pregnancy or breastfeeding? What about abusive biological parents? Apparently, the "biological connection" doesn't make them nurturing at all.

2. "Women have less spatial ability": while there is some US research to confirm this fact, is it because they naturally don't have it or because we constantly tell them that they don't and don't really give them a reason to have any? For example, from a young age, many of the toys for boys (blocks, etc) encourage spatial ability and (albeit, very basic) engineering skills. For girls, the toys mostly revolve around fashion, beauty, motherhood, and kitchens. Nothing wrong with the toys themselves, but not a lot of scientific/spatial ability/etc going on with those. Also, in countries with more egalitarian expectations for boys and girls (i.e. former Eastern Bloc countries), they have found that girls' spatial abilities equal those of the boys.

3. "Girls can't do science": Problem is, I have intensely for five years (i.e. most of my secondary education and my first year of college). I did pretty well too, until I burned out my freshman year of college. But I did it! And I still retain a lot of those skills, which I use in my social science classes (data collection and analysis, mathematical formulas, etc do come into play in my economics and poli-sci classes). Also, the knowledge I've gained helps me understand and explain causes important to me, such as about HIV/AIDS medicine, pro-life, the environment, and other things. I may not become the doctor I thought I would be in high school, but I still see myself going into fields like public health and making a difference there. I know this one has been about me, but I'm just saying, my femininity has not prevented me from understanding scientific concepts. Also, what about famous scientists like Mme. Curie, etc?

4. "PMS makes women too angry for politics": Excuse me? Well, if we're going to bring hormones into it, then men shouldn't be in politics at all because their high testosterone levels will make them too violent and they will destroy the world through nuclear warfare. Seriously, the only point I'd find it appropriate to even ask a woman about her cycle would be in a medical setting, the only judgments made being about health issues or pregnancy. Most women, you wouldn't know unless a) she told you or b) ladies, you know what I'm talking about on this one. While it is true that hormonal influxes can cause emotional changes, most of us adults can keep a lid on our extreme emotions, regardless of whatever our bodies are doing (unless we're in dire conditions, but that's another story). It has no bearing at all on whether a female politician is going to lead us into Armageddon.

I could go on but I think I've made my point. Find your facts before spouting off opinions. Remember, even if research is done, it often begs more questions than the ones originally asked. Finally, instead of thinking in terms of masculine, feminine, racial, etc, we should think in terms of humanity. Like Dr. King said, we should not judge by the color of skin (or the presence of certain chromosomes), but on the content of character. Instead of trying to figure out who's smarter, why don't we judge that, as others, based on the people standing in front of us, rather than pre-conceived notions?

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Saga

He was an adventurer, searching for love and the meaning of life. She was an activist, struggling for justice while trying to find who she was. When they met, amidst politics, music, and Jesus, they could not stand each other. Yet the force that sought to keep them apart would be the force that ultimately brought them together..........

So begins the story of Maria D'Amato and Sebastian Orsolini. Theirs would be a story that no one would ever forget......

Stay tuned...........

My experience with the Cherokees

I went to Cherokee Nation, North Carolina, land of the Eastern Band Cherokees, for my spring break as an alternative break. For those who don't know, at my school, alternative breaks are a wonderful opportunity for students to combine service with a chance to learn about a culture or situation (such as DC's education system) that we may not be familiar with. For Spring Break this year, trips were offered to El Salvador (to witness the elections), Northern Ireland (to learn about religious tolerance and peace building) and staying in DC (to learn about the educational system and the challenges it faces).

To be honest, I didn't intend to go away at first. I thought I would just stay and take the chance to work, make some more money than I normally would. I thought I would until I found out about the trip to Cherokee.

My main reason for going was the opportunity I would lose by not going. This opportunity was the chance to learn about the Cherokee people, their customs, their culture. You see, even though the Native Americans were the first people in this country, all I really learned about them was : a) they ate with the Pilgrims on Thanksgiving (that's what they told us in elementary school anyway), b) Said settlers then proceeded to kill them all, c) Andrew Jackson signed the Order of Indian Removal, forcing them to leave, d) something vague about mission schools, and e) they had a lot of casinos. Sadly, we never really learned about their government, culture, spirituality, or even that they were just like any of the rest of us (even in movies, all you really see of them are medicine men and chiefs, saying "How?" all the time and beating on drums).

They never told us that tribal governments were sovereign lands of their own, subject only to the US federal government. They never told us that they were never allowed to try non-natives in a tribal court. They told us about sweat lodges and vision quests, but they never told us about the significance of the two acts or even which tribes practiced them for which reasons (Cherokees for physical healing, Lakota for spiritual and physical). They never told us how our government had a hand in sterilizing Lakota women in South Dakota (at least this example, written in Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog), how they also had a hand in instituting mission schools, which further victimized Native Americans as children. They told us about George Gist, who came up with the Cherokee alphabet, but never told us the language was making a comeback through immersion schools. They told us how Andrew Jackson forced the Cherokees out but never about those who stayed behind. We heard about casinos, but never the fact that the money generated from that builds more industry and sends kids to college. Furthermore, we heard about all the problems faced on reservations, with alcoholism, diabetes, sexual assault, but we never heard about the overall strength and vitality of a people, determined to have their culture survive despite the generations of odds against them.

These are not a dying people. Sure, their rituals may be borrowed, to make up for the ones that were lost. Sure, many of them are not purely Cherokee anymore but are a mix of different backgrounds (as are we all. I may identify culturally as Italian American while ethnically, I'm only a quarter Italian). Sure, reservations and boundaries have their own problems (as do all states, cities, and towns), but we never hear about the successes (new businesses, immersion schools, opportunities for college grads to make a difference within their communities). We hear about tribes being victimized by the government, we never hear about the Native Americans rising to power in order to help change that.

These (and many others) were the first people here. They did not die out with the influx of smallpox and Europeans. These were a people that, despite every obstacle, survived and work to maintain their culture. Even today, they still fight for their rights, whether it's the right to ceremony or to govern their own lands. But they are not weak. They are not obselete, outdated, only good for a nice Thanksgiving story, gambling and feather headdresses (Eddie Izzard, "I love all this!). These are the people who had shown us the way when we first came here, who had given us things like a deep respect for women and nature and the necessity to always maintain peace and a sense of brotherhood, even in war. We do not honor them through pity. We honor them through memory and through acknowledging their dignity and rights as people, regardless of identity. They are a people, not just a chapter in a history book. It would serve us well to remember that, and to pass that along to our children.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Random Thoughts at 6:30 AM

So, I woke up early this morning, to review some last minute things for my midterms today (eek, two of them!) and I just had a few thoughts.

1. Economy: Believe it or not, I've actually been told that as a college student, I shouldn't worry about the economy. Hold the phone, my ability to finish up here (I know I could go somewhere else, but I came here for a reason and the reason was to finish!), my ability to get financial aid, my ability to either get a job or join the Peace Corps (which had funding cut), are reasons I "shouldn't worry"?  Really? I may not have full time employment but the economy is EVERYONE'S concern, not just post-college, working adults.

2. Why I could never be a politician: after reading about the stresses faced by President Truman and by Stalin during the Cold War, I know I could never do that. Hell, I freak out over exams, forget about nuclear missiles pointed in my direction!  Yay, security dilemma! (you can tell that last part was sarcasm, right?) 

3. My future: Even though I'm not premed anymore, I still dream of doing something with maternal/child health care. Actually, I just accepted a volunteer receptionist position at a pregnancy center in my area, for about 4-8 hours per week, figuring I could at least see one aspect of this, to get my foot in the door, so to speak.  That's why my chosen field is International Development, since health plays such a vital role in development and I could do something with that. I'm also training to become a doula (as soon as I get my hands on the books and talk to some doulas in my area).  I figured, in a bad economy, I might as well have some marketable skill besides waitressing, interning (when I get one) and receptionist skills and it might as well be in something I've always been interested in. We'll see where that leads.

4. Fear: I always worry about things, I'm always afraid of things. I worry about being able to pay for school next year, about finding a roommate willing to share an apartment next year, about finding an internship this summer, finding something to do after this next year and a half is over. But I'm realizing that this fear isn't necessary. Whatever happens, God is in control, I can only do as much as I can. But I feel that if I wasn't meant to be here, it wouldn't have worked out thus far. Hell, I managed to land a good job in a bad economy! I have to trust that whatever happens, it was meant to happen and that there's a reason for it. I'm finally starting to learn that.

5. International pen pals: I always wanted one as a kid. I ended up with two: a child I sponsor in Central America and a Peace Corps friend in West Africa.  One has me writing in Spanish, which is good, I can always use more, and the other is constantly reminding me of my own dreams through the fulfillment of his.  They both have some interesting things to teach me. And both are changing so much.

6. One sight of beauty: Picture the Capitol dome at sunset, illuminated by shades of pink and purple.  What a sight. I tried to get a pic on my phone, but I've got serious uploading to do before that can happen. I saw it while walking past the Senate Office Building, politicians rushing to get home, and I was filled with peace and purpose. Heh, I work on the Hill too, just not in the way people would expect. 

Monday, March 2, 2009


Dreams. They change, take form, come true, or are destroyed. At the same time, they're what keep life worth living. 

My dreams have changed, some have died, only to come back more beautiful and mature than ever before. Some have come true all ready, while some will be here my whole life. 

What are my dreams now? 

Paris has come true for me.  While I long to return to continental Europe, it's not with the intense longing that has been fulfilled by my visit.  

Mexico, then Kenya are my next hopefuls. Dreams I've had since the age of five, one that may be fulfilled next year, thanks to the wonders of language immersion. The other, we shall see but I have a feeling that it is soon to follow.

I still dream of going into maternal/child healthcare. I have been flirting with the idea of working as a doula, assisting women in delivery and during the post partum period. Nothing serious yet, just took a free online course in breastfeeding and have been reading the books.  If my mind has not changed within a few weeks, I'll buy the certification packet and take it one step at a time. That way I could get non-medical experience and see if I still want to follow that path. Also, in this economy, extra money and skill sets could not be more useful. And if I still love it, then I get the MPH in maternal/child health education. 

I still dream of travel. Peace Corps is in my plans.

Something I've never really admitted: I really do dream of getting married and having a family. Two kids, maybe three, probably not many more, at least one being adopted. I dream of a boy named Dante and a girl named Anaïs. A spouse who's just as crazy, wild and excited by life as I am. A place in the NY/NJ area, near NYC.  Paella perpetually on my stove, people always over, wine, tea, and coffee always served, always Friday and always five after five.  

I'm seeing friends with new rings sparkling from their left hands, showing the beginnings of new dreams. I'm seeing friends embark on new journeys, literal and symbolic, leaving behind the lives of adolescents and college kids to take their place as adults. 

Cinderella says that a dream is a wish your heart makes.  I believe dreams are more than just wishes. They're the sparks that kindle the flames to our desires. The flames are then fanned by are actions, driving us to strive for something greater than ourselves and ultimately find fulfillment.

I pray your fires stay well kindled and burn bright, tonight and for the rest of your lives.