Thoughts and Emotions and Misplaced Ethnic Pride

Blogs aren’t sacrosanct places, but those created and tended for personal, versus commercial, purposes tend to enjoy at least moderate degrees of privacy and, when comments are made, civility and respect. Maybe readers of personal blogs are conscious of the fact that bloggers take significant emotional risks by revealing their private thoughts in potentially public places. That appreciation of the risk, perhaps, engenders respect or compassion or a sense of connection or community that seems rare on other social media platforms. I suppose I’m writing this as ongoing justification to myself for abandoning Facebook for the time being. Words I might dash out in a Facebook post have the potential, in my case, of reaching about 140 people, the majority of whom I know in the most superficial, casual way. They include friends of “friends,” the latter group consisting primarily of casual acquaintances, with a  few actual friends in the mix. I’m less inclined to bare my soul to 140 acquaintances than to the half dozen or so regular visitors to my blog and the several dozen one-time-only stumblers on who leave, never to return. Of course, the idea that I’d bare my soul to anyone online, in any form, may be anathema to some. And I can understand that aversion. But, for me, writing what’s on my mind and letting a tiny piece of the world see it is like throwing a life preserver out on open water and hoping someone will grasp it and reel me in. That may be a bit over the top, but it gets to the point. Even if I’m the only one who reads what I’ve written and my words cause a catch in my throat or make my jaw set in determined anger, my words connect with someone, if only myself. I’m sure it’s utterly impossible for me to adequately explain an emotion that I can only vaguely recognize, much less understand, in myself. I think I’ll give up and move on to something else that’s just as difficult to understand and explain.

***

A committed reader of my blogs might, if pressed, remember my penchant for writing about my appreciation of and reverence for Hispanic culture. I cannot begin to explain why I find Mexican culture, in particular, so fascinating. My respect and regard for the language and traditions of Mexico (though I don’t pretend a deep knowledge of them) are as deep and broad as my appreciation for any culture. I’ve found myself daydreaming from time to time that I discover a Mexican heritage I never knew I had and I am deeply proud of that heritage. And then I awake from my daydream to disappointment. I don’t even speak Spanish. But I listen to the language and I am in love with it. And I listen to Mexican conjunto music and feel the chords and rhythms course through my veins. I watch and listen to ranchera music videos, with couples dancing to the music, and I am mesmerized. I read about Mexican traditions, even religious traditions that otherwise would be more than a little off-putting, and find myself immersed in “my” culture and filled with pride. I connect with the poor people on the border, struggling to come across to try to find opportunities for their families, and I weep with them. I don’t pretend to understand the culture. I’m just fascinated with it and feel intense pride that it is what it is. I get angry when I see or hear evidence that the culture is challenged in some way that might eventually destroy it. I feel an intense desire to be of a culture that does not belong to me.

Maybe I would feel the same affinity were the culture south of the border not Mexican but, instead, Romanian or Czech. Perhaps my attachment to another culture is symptomatic of the fact that I don’t feel a sense of connection to my own. Not necessarily just a lack of connection to my own culture, either. Maybe I can’t define my own culture. Maybe I feel that my own culture has no defining characteristics. It is an ill-formed gelatinous mass with no distinctive qualities; a featureless blob whose most obvious idiosyncrasies involve an apparent rejection of anything from other cultures. Perhaps I sense that my culture, if there is one, has scooped out all content from a bowl and filled it with self-aggrandizement and contempt for anything “other.”

I used to be proud to be an American. I was fiercely proud of the words etched into the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I felt such intense pride that I was of a nation that welcomed the down-trodden and promised them opportunities if they would just join us and work toward achieving an American dream for every person. But that promise has been so corrupted by politicians and twisted capitalists that even the descendants of people whose lives were made tolerable by the principles embodied in those words have turned against the concepts. The “average” American worker, it seems, has been lied to so often and fed such stories that social democracy is no longer viewed as the bedrock of our political system. Instead, oligarchs and their co-conspirator evangelical money-driven theologians have captured the soul of this country and are draining the blood out of the working class at the same time members of the working class are unwittingly helping with their own subjugation and enslavement.

***

I’m off to my tenth radiation treatment shortly. Just twenty more after today. Last night, a couple who used to be leaders of one of our former client associations came over to visit and they brought us a wonderful meal of salmon, rice, green beans, corn-fritters, and dessert brownies. I can’t get over how incredibly moving such a gesture is to be. They heard about my lung cancer and wanted to do something to show they were thinking of us. Goodness abounds, even in the midst of ugliness and pain.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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