Excerpt from a short story, in the Lower Haight last night. (To go directly to my reading, hit playlist and scroll to number 5. You can tell because it looks like me and not a very nice 40-something man.)
(All quotes from Woman, Native, Other* by Trinh T. Minh-ha)
Feeling especially struck by these lines as perceived through the lens of a Jew moving through left-wing subcultural circles, dominated by invisible(/visible) culturally Christian ideologies, prejudices and ways of being:
“An Asian American woman thriving under the smug illusion that I was not the stereotypic image of the Asian woman because I had a career teaching English at a community college. I did not think anything assertive was necessary to make my point…it was so much my expected role that it ultimately rendered me invisible…contrary to what I thought, I had actually been contributing to my own stereotyping…When the Asian American woman is lulled into believing that people perceive her as being different from other Asian women (the submissive, subservient, ready-to-please, easy-to-get-along-with Asian woman), she is comfortably content with the state of things.” –Minh-ha, quoting Mitsuye Yamada (elipses are Minh-ha’s, not mine.)
I think here especially about the pressure to come forth with an “appropriate” stance towards the state of Israel when identifying oneself as Jewish in radical-thinking and/or “anti-oppressive” social worlds. Sometimes this is spoken directly, other times, implied and waiting–as your listener scans the content of your stated relationship with cultural-religious background/identity for clues as to “what kind of Jew” you are.
The emotional impact here is further complicated when one is a Jew who feels themselves to be, in intent anyway, in solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people, who feels disturbed, frightened, demoralized, and “betrayed” (a word I believe should be used/read critically) by the actions of the Israeli government and those who back it…
Yet, if my requisite, demanded-expected statement falls into the party line, I have also inadvertently (or perhaps with concealed intent, submerged in the meat of internalized oppression) submitted myself to the hegemonic judgment as the “right” kind of Jew. Not the colonist, white-supremecist, hateful, conspiratorial, privileged-and-hiding-behind-a-mask-of-victimhood, holocaust-citing, manipulator-of-international-power, Fortune 500, sobstory, whiny, stingy, lying, paranoid Jew. No, I am a Good Social Justice Jew—a dying breed, surely, but, fighting with sweat and flying fists against the rigid generations of our parents-aunts-uncles-grandparents (traditional, bad-style Jews), we exist! we are here! we are loud! we know ourselves as separate from Those People!
It could, I suppose, be any where in the world, any season:
a light rain
on red tiles
over which people skitter,
thrown like leaves on the warm-cool air.
In my mouth the ebb taste of a long held wish
To be the inheritor of exile
is to be born in search
and doomed to continue.
Yet, rain and its awaking smell
alive and mineral;
Yet time drifting over me
once and again
each brusque wash thief of sound;
Yet the click and release
which grows less definite, but more sure:
my great great grandparents hover behind me
a few Saltines they have snuck along
for the journey.
I hold their hands in mine
soft as paper folded and refolded.
I raise their hands
to kiss the palms, and the slow wrinkles,
firm and focused as I would the lips of a lover,
discovered beneath flotsam of distraction and nervous noise.
I know less now
but that wish goes hushing in spite or because of my own losing track,
its rigid fire goes dampening–rain, in any alphabet, spells home.
I murmur to the quiet watching of this circle of elderly ghosts,
“And if we call it by a new name? not lost or fleeing, not exiled any longer…?”
A great great grandmother bends toward me, Saltine extended,
in creaky voice replies,
“Have a cracker, bubeleh.”