Happy Indigenous Peoples Day

No to Columbus Day

October 12th has been designated as "Columbus Day," and the Monday closest to it is traditionally a national holiday in observance.  I grew up with the story - I'm sure that many of you did too - of how in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and discovered the New World, which eventually led to the founding of America.  And it was such a brave thing to do too, since in those days people believed the earth was flat.  But Columbus knew better and he risked a ship mutiny in order to show us all how the earth was round, and between that and the founding of America, that's why we pay homage to this man every year.  Great story - the problem is that 95% of it is untrue.

Others have discussed this in far more detail but essentially:

1n 1492, every educated person already knew that the world was round.  Columbus was sailing in order to find a new/faster trade route to Asia.  He was not the first to "discover" what would come to be known as the Americas.  Other explorers such as the Vikings and the Chinese had been there before him.  And other people had already settled on that land, namely the ancestors of the people Columbus met.  Columbus himself never set foot on land that is now considered part of the U.S.  And... Columbus was a horrible, horrible person, even by the standards of the 15th century!  In addition to systematic murder, rape, and mutiliation, he founded the cross-Atlantic slave trade.  All with the blessing of the Roman Catholic Church. (I love Catholicism but this was not one of their finer days.)  Columbus' horrific practices were in line with and set the precedent for how the Doctrine of Discovery would play out in the Americas, a world view that continues to influence policy against First Nations peoples even today.

If Columbus did not "discover" the "new world" and found the Americas, why is there a national holiday in the U.S. named after him?  Long story short, the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Italian American organization, wanted a day on which Italian Americans could express their ethnic pride.  So they lobbied for Columbus Day, and that's how it came to be. 

I totally understand the desire for a day in which Italian Americans can express pride in being Italian.  Other ethnic groups in the U.S. have their days and so should the Italians.  But Columbus is a horrble choice to honor as an Italan icon.  Is he really whom you want to represent your culture?  Why not Galileo, or St. Francis of Assisi, or Verdi, or Michelanagelo, or Da Vinci, or Dante, any number of amazing Italians.  Moreover, Columbus was not even Italian.  Most scholars now believe that he was Spanish. 

So, NO to Columbus Day.  YES to Indigenous Peoples Day.  (And yes, I know that Indigenous Peoples Day is reactionary, since it's on the exact same day as Columbus Day and exists because of it. But I have no problem with reactionary while we're in the beginning stages of resistance.)

But the main reason for my blog post today, aside from spreading the TRUTH about Columbus, is to address some pushback I've been reading. It's pushback that sounds so much like what I hear about First Nations issues in general.  Namely, "What happened is in the past."  This is followed by, depending on how friendly or hostile the speaker is to First Nations causes, "Why can't you just move on?" or "There are more important things to be fighting for."

The fight around Columbus day isn't just about Columbus the man - and in fact most of the popular stories told about him are made up anyway - nor is it about what happened in "the past."  What we are working for when we oppose Columbus day is the heart and soul of our shared society *today.* Holidays influence the way that we see the world. When we set aside a day each year to honor a man who colonized and conquered (and raped and maimed and committed genocide), then what we are saying is that these are the traits that we *continue* to value. When we repeat his fabricated story, we reinforce these values in our children. Opposing "Columbus Day" is not about the past or about a single man - it's about here and now and who we are and what we stand for.

So, NO to Columbus Day.  YES to Indigenous Peoples Day. 


The Newest Addition to the Romney Family

Romney's tweet of grandson Kieran

My facebook feed was suffering from split-personality disorder yesterday as folks reacted to the newest addition to the Romney family.  Kieran James Romney was adopted by Mitt Romney's son Ben and daughter-in-law Andelynne. Kieran is Black.  The name Kieran means "little black one" or "little dark one."  Kieran is also a relatively common name for this generation of kids, and it certainly isn't meant to be a racial epithet. 

I'm stating the facts of which we can be sure.  No one but the Romneys know whether Ben and Andelynne Romney knew what "Kieran" means when they chose the name.  Tho it does strike me as an odd coincidence.  If they had no idea what the name meant, then God indeed has a wicked sense of humour. 

Other people were more certain, however.  Some took it as further evidence of Romney's racism.  Others were just as certain that race was not an issue here and that liberals were just using silly reasons to attack the Romneys.  As one friend put it, "Unless there's a rational basis for believing the parents are unfit, the appropriate response to news of an adoption is 'Congratulations.'"

The problem is that we're focused on the name and whether the Romneys chose it intentionally - intentionally named their African American son "little dark one" - and if so, why.  But I don't need to know whether or not they chose the name intentionally to know that I am troubled by the adoption, and my heart cannot offer congratulations. I hope to God that my fears are unfounded but I am worried for the well-being of this child.

The same friend asked me whether my concern was due to the fact that the parents are Mormons or Romneys.  And I said neither. I said my concern was due to the fact that they are U.S.Americans.  He was probably a little stunned by this answer.  If the statement is taken without qualification it sounds like I'm against all trans-racial adoptions.  And I'm not.  I have friends who have adopted children of a race different from theirs and I've seen them dedicate themselves to raising beautiful, healthy, happy children.  How can anyone possibly be against that?  Not I.  But given a forced choice, I did not think it was accurate to focus concern only on Mormons or the Romneys, so I pointed to the component that I thought was missing.

In truth, my concern for Kieran Romney is additive - it includes all of the above.  I'm a little concerned whenever a U.S.American family adopts cross-racially, because there are going to be differences in identity between parent and child, and if the parents aren't aware of that it will cause problems for the child.  And I am more concerned whenever a white U.S.American family adopts cross-racially, because, frankly, in my experience white Americans are less likely to recognize racial identity as being important (in a positive way), more likely to claim they are "colorblind."  And I'm even more concerned when a conservative white family adopts cross-racially, especially if they are religious conservatives, because, well there is that whole "save the souls of the heathens" thing and for some reason they seem to focus on "heathens" of color.  And finally, yes, I am even more concerned than all that when a Romney family adopts cross-racially.  Because we've already seen how Mitt Romney responds to issues of race. And unless his son and daughter-in-law are substantally different from Grandpa Romney, and I've never read any indication that they are (different), everything adds up to me being worried for the well-being of this child. 

Let me start by stating clearly that I personally do not believe that Ben and Andelynne Romney adopted for sinister reasons. I believe that the Romney's adopted in good faith for the same reason as most adoptive parents, because they wanted a(nother) child whom they can love and cherish.  So the second-worst case scenario is that the Romneys love the child but still hold implicit negative assumptions about Black folks that then get transmitted to the child, damaging his self-esteem.  Why do I assume that they hold implicit negative assumptions when I just said that I believe they adopted in good faith?  Because nearly everyone holds them, especially against Blacks, even those who rail against racism (because they think "racism" means conscious bigotry).  Even so-called liberals who look upon children of color as kids to be "rescued" from their circumstances perpetuate a racial hierarchy.  But lets's asume that  Mitt Romney's son and daughter-in-law are different from their dad and hold no racial biases. The best case scenario that I can imagine then is that they attempt to be "colorblind" and treat him as if there were no difference, which is problematic for reasons I'll give below.

Of course there is a scenario better than that - one where parents are aware of the different experiences that their children of color will face, and make an effort to learn how to talk with their kids about it, and to establish relationships with folks of color who can help mentor the child. As I said, I have friends who've raised happy, healthy children of a race different than their own.  But I do not believe that Ben and Andelynne will be able to do that for their son, Kieran. Why, you may ask, am I being so obstinately negative about the future prospects for this child? 

Well first of all, I didn't just start off assuming negative things about trans-racial adoptions.  In fact, just the opposite, I assumed that everything was fine until I actually listened to the stories of people who were trans-racially adopted.  And secondly, because even under the best case scenario that I can imagine for Kieran, where the Romneys nurture him and love him unconditionally... Who is going to warn him about the police and "driving while Black" and how he should keep his hands visible at all times and even then he might get shot?  Who is going to explain to him what other white folks mean when they compliment him on being "articulate?  Or what other African Americans will mean when they call him an "oreo" and say that he "doesn't act black enough"?  (Because after being raised by the Romneys, you can be sure that he'll be culturally white regardless of skin color.)  Who is going to explain to him double-consciousness and code-switching?  Can you imagine the Romneys doing that?  Because I sure can't. 

Singing African American Spirituals in a Multicultural Context

Went to Fellowship Church this morning, which I’ve decided is my home church in San Francisco.  Even though it’s not Unitarian Universalist, it embodies the values of UUism, sometimes better than many UU congregations do.  Case in point, this morning I was late and walked up the stairs to the sanctuary while the first hymn was being sung.  It was “No More Auction Block for Me” (#154).  I had to laugh, remembering the first time I ever saw that song in our UU hymnal. I was visiting the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore along with Omi.  Omi is not a UU, is UU-friendly, but has had some less than favorable experiences with how our UU Euro-centric liberal culture approaches issues around racial diversity in general and African Americans specifically.  But since a mutual friend was preaching that weekend, she was there to see/support him. Sitting in the pew with me, randomly flipping thru our hymnal, she stopped - incredulous - at one song.  I looked over to see what the matter was and saw for the first time “No More Auction Block for Me.”  My eyes went wide and I held up my hands as if to disavow myself and repeatedly said, “I had no idea that was in there; this is the first time I’ve seen it in there; we never sing it.”  The idea of a predominantly Euro congregation singing “No More Auction Block for Me” was beyond mortifying.  In contrast, this Sunday morning at Fellowship Church, where the congregation is diverse but more African American than not, the song still felt uncomfortable *to me* but not mortifying.  Especially when Rev. Dr. Blake exhorted us to think of what it meant for formerly enslaved African Americans to be free of being sold as a commodity, free of the lash of the slave driver. 

And that was not the only time during today’s service where the contrast between Fellowship Church and UU encounters with Black spirituals would be evident.  The closing hymn of the service was “Wade in the Water”(#210).  This song was used extensively at All Souls DC when I first joined.  Only we didn’t sing the version in the hymnal. We sang it out of a printed insert and the words were printed as “Wade in duh wadduh.”  Being new to UUism and church and intentional multiculturalism, I didn’t think anything of it…until I invited a friend who happens to be Black to come to church with me and we happened to sing that song.  She was like “Why are they faking an accent?!”  And I was like, “Uh, I don’t know.”  I brought this up with the church’s right relationship committee and a mini controversy ensued between those who felt that it was more authentic to sing the song the way the words would have been pronounced at the time it was created and those who felt that such contrived accents, again in a predominantly Euro congregation, was…problematic. What I noticed was that no resolution happened but we sang the song far less than we used to.  Which is sad because it’s a beautiful song.  So singing it today at Fellowship, I couldn’t help but note that we sang the words “Wade in the Water” out of the hymnal as it is printed, with no contrived accent.  But before singing, Rev. Dr. Blake again put the words in context, explaining that when escaped slaves journeyed towards freedom they often had to cross rivers that were frightening, but the song promises that God would look over their safety by sending an angel to “trouble the water,” blessing it.  And I thought to myself that if the aim was to sing the song authentically, this way was so much more so.

Generation 1.5

Growing up the daughter of Chinese immigrants to the U.S., a core part of my identity was as a “second generation” Chinese American. I was therefore more than surprised one day, while conversing with a fellow daughter of Chinese immigrants, to learn that she saw herself as “first generation” Chinese American. Wha? “No,” I said, our parents are “first generation,” therefore we are “second.” “No,” she countered,” we are the first generation born here, therefore we are “first.” “Then what are our parents,” I asked, “P0?” (We were in high school genetics class at the time, hence the genetics terminology.) Since then I’ve learned that there is a lot of confusion/disagreement around the labels, so nowadays when people ask, I just say “I am the daughter of Chinese immigrants.”

The reason why I’m now thinking about such labels again is because of “generation 1.5.” I had described to a friend the challenges in my quest to find my spiritual roots. The Buddhist and Taoist temples that cater to Chinese immigrants are baffling in that I don’t speak Chinese fluently in the first place and often times they don’t speak my family’s dialect anyway. In contrast, the Western Buddhist groups are unsatisfying, often stripped of any of the cultural practices that I’m seeking to rediscover.  I’m hoping that there are other Asian Americans who are similarly seeking, but afraid that maybe they don’t exist. Immigrants like my parents do not need their cultural practices explained like I do, whereas often times American-born Chinese aren’t interested in what Grandma used to do, looking more to assimilate into Euro-dominated U.S. culture. (That used to be me.) My friend, known for her ability to cut to the heart of the matter, said, “You’re looking for a very specific group of people; you’re looking for generation 1.5.”

Generation 1.5. I’d never heard the term before but immediately it sounded right - the generation that is “too American” to be fully Asian and “too Asian” to be fully American. So I googled “generation 1.5” and found that 1) I was right about being “second generation;” but 2) wrong about what “generation 1.5” meant. It actually refers specifically to immigrants who come over at a young age. But in spirit, generation 1.5 is exactly what I’m looking for:

“Many 1.5 generation individuals are bi-cultural, combining both cultures - culture from the country of origin with the culture of the new country.”

To varying extents, this applies to generations 1.0 and 2.0 as well. My dad, having lived now many more years in the U.S. than in China, is more “American” than even he realizes. And I, despite having tried to reject the culture of my ancestors as a kid, nonetheless picked up Chinese ways whether I wanted to or not. We are all, to varying extents, combining both cultures to make something that encompasses all of our experiences, without having to choose/reject one of the two. Generation 1.5.

Lunar New Year

gvuu ugui i gigiyg

Saturday, February 9, 2013 - 22:30

It's Spring Festival! Happy New Year!

Every late Jan/early Feb when the New Year of my ancestors comes along I face a mini-dilemma - what to call it?  I agree with folks who argue that calling it “Chinese New Year” is Sinocentric and ignores the millions of Vietnamese and Koreans who also celebrate this day. But calling it “Lunar New Year” presents its own problems as there are other lunar calendars - the Jewish one comes quickly to mind. Plus the Chinese calendar is luni-solar, not purely lunar. (Yes, I am a geek.) Then I think, well it IS Chinese New Year. The reason why it’s celebrated in Vietnam and Korea is because of Chinese imperialism. And then I think, well… maybe we don’t want to remind folks of that.

The other problem is that every time I call it “Chinese New Year,” or even “Lunar New Year,” it reminds me that I’m putting a qualifier on it, reinforcing that the day that comes about a dozen days after the winter solstice is thenormative New Year and any other is an add on that some people celebrate to be “ethnic.” Still, I just kept alternating between “Chinese New Year” and “Lunar New Year” because what else could I call it?

Was sharing some of these thoughts on facebook when someone made a very obvious (in retrospect, and yet I never thought of it despite all my ruminizing) suggestion - call it what it’s called in Chinese - Spring Festival. And, she added, “that would make it more ethnically neutral as well.” YES!! Makes sense to me! After all, Jews do not call their new year “Jewish New Year;” they call it Rosh Hashanah. No Chinese person living in China would say “Chinese New Year;” that would be absurd. So from now on, I am still going to wish folks 新年快乐! (Happy New Year!) when the time comes around, but I’m no longer going to refer to it as “Chinese” or “Lunar” New Year. It is 春节, Spring Festival.

What is in a Twitter Name?

What goes into choosing a Twitter name? My name is Kathleen Michelle McGregor. I have been Kathleen since the day I was born. Not Kate, Kay or Katie, nor Kathy or Kat, Kathleen is my name. As I was named after my great-grandmother, my family would not have it otherwise. Secretly, I wanted to use a shortened name. As an adult, I began to like Katydid. Never mind that it is a bug. I liked the way it looked in print. On the Internet, Katydid added an aura of mystery. What did Katy do?

Each of my names have eight letters. This made for long email addresses so in the early days of the web, I made up a nickname: kadymac. Kady stood in for katydid, and Mac because I loved Mac computers, and as a nod to my last name. Almost everyone started adding an "a" to my last name after that: MacGregor. Oops.

In 2009, I realized that I could post all of the mostly social justice or green oriented articles that I read without being compelled to email them to my beleaguered friends and family. I hoped someone might find the articles of interest. Plus, I found so many more articles of interest on Twitter. My initial handle was @kadymac.

I have a friend who has a name very similar to mine. His last name starts with Mc, and his mother is Mexican as well. He called us green beans (Irish/Mexican). I already had a strong interest in the environment, so that added a layer to the green part. After SB 1070 was passed in Arizona, I was incensed. Actually, it was closer to a word not used in polite company, but I digress. I changed my twitter name in response.

Beaner is a pejorative word used by whites for those of Mexican descent. Around the time SB 1070 was passed, anti-immigrant fervor was especially high. I wanted to embrace my Mexican roots in the midst of the hate and thus chose to use greenbeaner as a twitter handle. Someone had beaten me to it, so @uugreenbeaner it was. 

Unitarian Universalists affirm and promote the principle that every single human being has worth and dignity. For too long, people and churches who call themselves Christian spread hate and intolerance. Using  the name of Christ ugly words, gestures, and violence are used against those who are not white, not straight, not male, not rich, and not Christian. UUGreenBeaner allowed me to post injustices, and as they became available, tools for advocacy, change, and hope. UUKady functioned as a spiritual anchor for myself. What started as blind posting evolved into a little ministry, simply with a name change.

Waking Up Is Hard to Do

Waking up is hard to do.

I awoke from a seminarian nightmare. Perhaps it was simply a school nightmare. I dreamed that I needed to finish four classes to complete my b.a. in order to complete my divinity degree. Thus I was back at the university. The campus resembled my high school in Arizona, or a high school of my dreams. It was familiar. I was involved with a group of Latino students for which I was the only one qualified to be the treasurer, an anxiety in itself. Running from that meeting I missed the scholarship deadline that would pay tuition. The registration lines were so long, I was reduced to searching through the school looking for a teacher, any teacher, to sign my registration form. I finally found an old wood shop teacher to sign the paper even though the classes were Mexican studies. He made a joke about being his signing of the form being providential, and I revealed that I was taking these classes to complete my m.div.

Frankly, blogging about identity this week made me nervous. Some of the identity issues had been addressed last year on the blog. I planned to write one last blog explaining why I call myself UUGreenBeaner on Twitter, then move on to posts about bullying, a topic that weighs heavy on my heart. But, so too, the Arizona ban on ethnic studies has profoundly disturbed me. I was born in Phoenix. The Unitarian Universalist General Assembly will be there in just over two months. I have not returned to Arizona since my paternal grandmother's funeral in 2008, before the draconian SB 1070 passed. Surgery prevented me from going to protest with other Unitarian Universalists the summer in 2010 when it was implemented.

There were only two children in my grandmother's generation. My grandmother was born one hundred years ago this past November, three months before Arizona was admitted as a state. My grandmother's younger brother moved to California during the Great Depression, while grandmother and grandfather stayed in Arizona. They lost their first born to dysentery in the poverty of those times. My grandparent's goal for their children was assimilation because racism was so strong in Arizona. The California relatives speak Spanish, the Arizona relatives did not learn until adulthood, if at all.  I began to piece the story together as my grandmother began to tell me stories when I became an adult, and my mother and my mother's cousin, told me stories about my grandmother.

I was unable to fully appreciate the magnitude of my grandparent's choice for assimilation, however, until the passing of SB1070. An English-only law passed in Arizona in my early adulthood. Although I voted against it, I was ignorant about the deeper ramifications of racism. Upon moving to California, I distanced myself from Arizona intellectually and politically. Unconsciously, though, the state government's fall from merely unequal to openly hostile to the indigenous, the native born and immigrant Hispanic/Latino population has haunted me.

Time to wake up.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Government Surveys Part 2

Update tweet, later on April 4: Nearly 40 years after the government defined #Hispanic and #Latino, Hispanics still have not fully embraced the terms via @PewHispanic

I find this tweet very interesting. My question to this statement is why should Central and South American people adhere to the U.S. government imposed labels, let alone embrace them? I just realized that use of those terms give credit to Spanish colonialism. However, a colonialism discussion is far beyond the scope of this blog post. Food for thought.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Government Surveys

Tweet of the Day: When Labels Don’t Fit: #Hispanics and Their Views of Identity #latinos

My relationship with government surveys is complicated at best. Pew Research tweeted a report on the Latinos yesterday comparing 2010 census data to their own survey. The census, more than anything, reveals the social construction of race in this country. Starting with the 2000 survey, the government made the act of pigeonholing oneself even more convoluted. There are now fifteen racial categories in the census.

Latino or Hispanic? White or ?

As I grew up, virtually every survey that asked about race used "White (Not Hispanic)" for the white category. My Arizona birth certificate declares that I'm white, since at the time separating white from black was most important. My grandfather was more indigenous than European, but how does one categorize that as race when only "American Indian" is an option. In my undergraduate career, I learned that, in California since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in the nineteenth century, Mexicans were considered white. Except when they were more often not. Politics in the state of California are nothing, if not fickle. 

Fast forward to 2000 when race and culture were mixed up in the census. The census report and the subsequent news coverage focused on the fact that a large percentage of Latinos consider themselves white. The media also conveyed a good deal of surprise. My reaction to the news was anger. How are people supposed to categorize themselves? When asked by Pew research this time around if Hispanic or Latino is a preferred term, Hispanic was chosen more frequently. After thirty to forty years of "White (Not Hispanic)," Hispanic would be a logical choice for most.


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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative