Monday, September 28, 2009

What Am I Doing?

Right now, I stand about a year and a half away from my degree. The culmination of my undergraduate life, the fated next step into "the real world", and the expectation to figure out my adult life loom closer than I'd like to think about sometimes. I will come out of school with a degree in International Studies, possibly a minor in Economics, and more maturity in 3.5 years than I've ever gained in twenty. People ask me about it, ask what I'm planning to do and are extremely willing to offer advice.

You want to know something? It scares the crap out of me.

The thing is, I really don't know what I want to do. To be perfectly honest, I'm not ready for a "real life" just yet. I shudder at the thought of sitting at a desk all day. I can't imagine what a "career" for me looks like. I'll have to pay back my debt. At the same time, school is starting to get old for me. I love my major, I love what I'm learning, but at the same time, as usual, I'm restless. Restless to travel, to see the world, to actually see what I read in all of my books and learn in my classes as well as the work I do on the outside. I feel like I'm either sitting down reading all day and writing papers, or working my butt off so I can read all day and write papers, so I can have a piece of paper that says I completed education in areas of my choosing. For what purpose?

I see the worth of education, don't get me wrong. And I do hold a strong fascination with regard to what I'm learning. But I hate this sitting still. I feel like I'm not actually doing anything, not accomplishing anything. I hate that I feel I'm not making a difference. I hate that it all feels superficial to me. Everyone says, "Do this for your resume," "This will be so useful", "You'll make so much money", without realizing that I don't care, I truly don't care about worldly success or riches. All I want, with regards to that, is the bare essentials: a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food on my table. The rest, I just want to travel, to experience life in all of its fullness, and to find some way, some way, to make my own corner of the world just a tiny bit better.

I've been told enough to care about my appearance, my reputation, my resume, my career, and my bank account. I've come to realize that I never really did. I care about working hard, living with integrity, and embracing my dreams. I believe in responsibility, but I'm not the kind who gives up easily. I care about looking more than seeing, listening more than hearing, and loving more than fighting.

I will use my education to empower myself. I will use my experience to learn about the world, about how to deal with it, about how to make change in it. Otherwise, to hell with how it all looks. I wasn't looking for that in the first place. May God smite me if I ever was.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Faith and Oppression

I am a Catholic. Catholic convert, Catholic all the way, Catholic till the grave sort of Catholic. I am the kind who will wake up early for Mass if I can't attend any other one, I always carry a rosary, and I am known to utilize words like "transubstantiation" in every day conversation. I truly love my faith and for most people, it's probably the first thing they learn about me. Over the years, I've wrestled with doubts and questions, only to emerge from them stronger.

Yet, there's something that troubles me about it. Not my faith in and of itself, not the doctrine, not the liturgy, not even some of its harder moral teachings. No, what troubles me is how the leaders of the institution based off my faith have gotten away with impunity for so many crimes committed against humanity.

The Crusades and the Inquisition are the two most common examples thrown around when it comes to faith and violence, but these are not the ones I'm speaking of. It could be argued, for the Crusades, that there was a genuine need to protect the pilgrim roads (not defending the Europeans but there was violence and horror on both sides). The Inquisition was horrible enough but we all know about this. No, I'm speaking of acts such as the maltreatment of peoples in the Americas and of the cover up of child molestation. While the Church has apologized for the former two, it still has not done anything about the latter two. As a Catholic woman, activist, and believer in justice, this sickens me.

The child molestation case speaks out the strongest. While there have been clergy who've been arrested and subsequently defrocked (the latter by the Church), the Church has not spoken out against this widespread scandal. While it's true, the Church is taking extra precautions, the fact that we have not heard an apology or condemnation for these crimes from the Pope or Bishops speaks volumes to me. It's almost as if they would like to protect the Church's reputation more than they would the children entrusted into their care. I've always been bothered by the fact that there's already little in the way of ministry for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, a sick part of my gut wonders if this is why.

Another case, a case that receives little attention, is the maltreatment of the original peoples of the American continent. While, yes, we hear about the genocide at the hands of the Europeans, the forced conversions, the destruction of civilizations, the raping of women and pillaging of cities, there are some things that go unnoticed. In this case, I'm speaking of the mission schools, where children were torn from the embrace of their families to be civilized and "saved" by people who did so in the name of God and the Church. These children were physically abused for speaking their language or praying the way they knew how, molested by school employees (many of them clergy) and forced from their families for long periods of time. While the Church does not bear sole responsibility for this (indeed, the government does as well, as do many other institutions), we have not heard a public statement from the Church either in apology or in condemnation of these crimes. Why?

Jesus taught justice, mercy, kindness, and spoke in defense for the least of these. I want to know how an institution supposedly based in Him had strayed so far from this calling and why those who claim to speak for Him won't speak in defense of the people He entrusted to love and protect. I understand we cannot undo these crimes. Yet I demand my leaders to remain accountable to the people. If they cannot do this, I question whether they are really on God's authority or their own.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Race and "All-American Culture"

I went to a talk about race in America today. This talk was held in light of Sotomayor's recent confirmation as well as Henry Louis Gates' recent arrest, begging the following question: Can America ever be post-racial? I'll admit, this talk filled me with a multitude of questions, especially when considering the impact...

I knew that, even today, we still face problems with race in our society. In a way, I see it as an identity crisis. We don't know how to identify ourselves (by race, ethnicity, culture, and how do we define race anyway? By continent of origin or shade of skin?) or each other (which term is less offensive? Black or African American?). Even if we do identify strongly with a certain culture, what are the ramifications of that? For example, should we choose to name our child a certain name or dress in a different fashion, will we be penalized by a greater society who views anything other than white, Anglo and Protestant as lower class?

If I had to fill out race or ethnicity on a government form or standardized test, I would choose "white". That is what society has told me to pick. Yet, if you ask me for my ethnicity, I will say Italian-American. For me, that is true. I have a parent who was born on the Italian peninsula and a grandparent who, to my knowledge, has never left. I also grew up around Italian American culture and, for a child with the blood in her veins, it made sense for me to claim that as my culture as well. Yet, even I went through a cultural identity crisis.

Number one, I'm not full Italian. I'm not even half Italian. Ethnically, I'm a quarter. Yet, because of all I have mentioned, I identify with it very strongly, even more when I'm away from home. Even so, I've had people raise their eyebrows at me and question why I'd identify if the only full-blood relative I can claim is a grandparent. While that hasn't been especially problematic, it seems strange to different people. I wonder how that works if you're a quarter of another race. How do you identify?

Number two, I don't look like the ideal Italian. When people consider Italian, they usually think thick, dark hair (that's everywhere), dark eyes, and very dark skin. While my hair is certainly dark, it isn't thick and while my eyes, brows and lashes are very dark, my skin is fair. As a result, while other Italians will believe me when I state my heritage, most non-Italians will not because "you're too white!" It does smack of ignorance, especially when you consider that northern Italians tend to be lighter (and I am of Tuscan descent), that there are blond Sicilian, Neapolitan, and Calabrese Italians, and that many Italian Americans are not full blooded anyway. At the same time, it shows that, in many people's eyes, race and ethnicity relate to skin color. What happens when that deviates? Could you identify as African American if your parents are from South Africa, but your skin is white, as a result of earlier, European origins?

Number 3, Southern Europeans are not immune to the influence of white, Anglo, Protestant culture. Even today, even though we're now considered "white" (not a century ago), there has always been the expectation of assimilation. Slurs against Italian Americans such as "guinea" or "Guido" no longer have the effect that they once did but stereotypes still follow those who "act Italian". For example, the Mafia stereotype. If you are Italian and proud of it, especially through your father's side, people always (hopefully, jokingly) assume you have Mafia ancestry and that they shouldn't slight you or your uncle will come after them with a hubcap or something (and some of us will admit to joking about it, however imprudent that was when we were younger and not as bright). Or, you choose to name your kid a name like Dante, Dominic, Maria, Antonio, and people make comments about how the kid will grow up to be a gangster (because criminals obviously don't have names like Johnny or Lisa...oh, wait....). Or, if your guy friends are Italian, people make comments like, "Be careful, Italian boys are so sketchy!" ( I'm pretty sure sketchiness, as well as nobility of character, are equal opportunity qualities, thus there is no logic behind that statement). How many people are assumed to be criminals because of their ethnicity? How many are told that their cultural practices are inferior because they're not north-west European in origin? How many are told that they aren't worthy of dating someone because of a stereotype that marks them forever?

This is how I see the issue of race, as an Italian American. Yet, because I'm white, I'm still one of the privileged groups. I'm so curious now. For all our talk about how it doesn't or shouldn't matter, if it really did not, all these issues would be moot. Now, how do we solve this?

Monday, September 7, 2009


Her love is like the child
That was never born,
Gone before first breath,
Dead before the words
Could dare leave her lips,
Torn apart in the chaos,
The carnage of her heart.

Her love is like the flower
Nipped before first bloom,
Lost before the petals
Would dare break free
And show the world
Their boldness and beauty,
Their fire of color.

Her love is like the fortress,
Guarded by stone and steel,
With weapons imposing their might
And soldiers ready to attack,
Forbidding anyone from entry
And any emotions from escaping.
Her love was invincible.

Yet the kiss of his arrival
Shattered the stone of her spirit,
Seared her heart in the flashes of flames,
Consumed the recesses of her existence,
Tortured her worse than the Spanish had dreamed,
And slaughtered the last of her defenders,
Leaving her in the wake of catastrophe.

It was this kiss,
This tender touch of lip to lip,
The smell of soap and taste of mint,
The slight embrace of hands and waist,
That destroyed her heart,
Cut down her guard,
And saved her soul.