Thursday, November 12, 2009

And yet a world continues to spin outside of Hampshire

I guess with Thanksgiving coming up I have been thinking a lot about traveling home; the ties and strains between me and my home, my community, my values. As a Jew I believe that I life in Diaspora, both at my home in Philadelphia and here. On a much smaller scale living away from my culture at home I believe that I live in somewhat of a cultural diaspora/disparity. My home is like the everyday, anti-climactic. Here in this environment (hampshire/academia) it is a narrative of destruction, of imminent danger. Just as Hampshire college radicalizes everything else, we radicalize the everyday, we create danger and urgency out of the experiences that we have experienced our entire lives and will continue to experience after we graduate. And this environment of the academic and excitement is fun, challenging, and easy to get caught up in, but it is not my home. It is not what I come from. I would try to make the case that institutions such as this are a vehicle for academic imperialism and yet I choose to come here. But then again, how much of a choice do I have?

In this society what value am I without a college degree? The only way that I can prove my validity as an intelligent person is by participating in this institution. I realize that which college I go to is (for the most part) my decision; however, I cannot get past the disparity in values and urgency between here and my home. I suppose what it comes down to is my struggle in my purpose for being here. There are many facets to this. For one, coming from my family the only question around college was which one I would attend, it was not so much an option as a requirement. However, I wonder, if I were not attending Hampshire if I would have made it this far. I am constantly frustrated living in this valley so far away from home because I feel like it is a disservice to my home, there is so much I could be doing, and want to be doing, and yet, here I am for another year and a half. And its lonely up here, without other people who come from where I come from. I don't see grad school in my future, or at least my near future, there is very little that the continuance in academia would qualify me to do. At the same time I am learning to embrace the opportunity that I have here, to soak it in for everything I can, because this is an experience I will never be able to replicate. The environment and energy is incredible and I am pushed past my limits on a regular basis.

So perhaps what I can take from this strange, possibly fabricated urgency, is the energy and knowledge. The endless realm of possibility and places where we can go. However, I also believe it is crucial for me to remember that I will leave from this place, and return to my home, to a place that doesn't see things the way that we have been transformed by this school to see things. A place outside the bubble.
My ultimate departure from here is what prompted my name change, I see my name as a way to identify and mark myself in the world away from Hampshire. A world in which I will likely always be perceived and gendered as female. And in many ways I am OK with that. I don't need the markers and the fight for my identity, I would rather speak with my actions and presence then fight for words with limited meaning in any other setting.

And so, in about 2 weeks I will leave for home, to see my family that doesn't always understand or respect my identity. And yet, I love them and love the part of me that exists with them, and will never exist here. Just as I take the best parts of every kind of Judaism I have learned and turn it into something that I support and embrace, I must take the best parts of what academia has taught me and combine those parts with all of the knowledge that I receive in the rest of my life and only when I can put all these parts together will I be able to move forward in my life and my thinking. And perhaps then I can begin to reconcile the disparity.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What does a Colonizer Look Like?

There are 4 elements at play in the definition of a country as a colonial power over another:

(1) the economic: appropriation of land, exploitation of labor, and control of finance; (2) the political: control of authority;
(3) the civic: control of gender and sexuality;
(4) the epistemic and the subjective personal: control of knowledge and subjectivity.

With regards to the US and Latin America the United States has some hand, if not a full fist, in all of these areas. I have started reading the book The Colonizer and the Colonized by Albert Memmi. The first section of the book attempts to define and depict the colonizer.

"Today, leaving for a colony is not a choice sought because of its uncertain dangers, nor is it a desire of one tempted by adventure. It is simply a voyage towards an easier life." Memmi goes on to describe the colonizer as one who leaves their country not simply for adventure, because if that was the case why would they not go somewhere among their own country men? "Our traveler will come up with the best possible definition of a colony: a place where one earns more and spends less". As he goes on it descibes the difficulty for a colonizer to leave the colony. After a few years returning to the "slow progress" of home, and more expensive lifestyle is no longer appealing. Additionally the colonizer has laid roots in their new home, and lost roots in their old one. Why should the colonizer then leave the colony, especially when their privilege makes life in the colony easier then it would have been in the home country.

This perspective on the colonizer brings me back to the expatriate community that I saw when I was in Guatemala last January. For the most part the people I met were white US citizens who for one reason or another (primarily political) had decided to leave the United States. While I understand the desire to leave the United States out of frustration, I also feel the need to stay out of loyalty and obligation to my people. One of the fellow students at the Spanish school where I was taking classes mentioned to me that all the expatriates there seemed to be lost. To me the idea of leaving the US in political protest seems to be in vein. First off, no change can come from a few individuals, that were likely to radical for the government anyway, leaving. Secondly, their efforts to escape the US government may as well be void because they have moved to a place that is, in many crucial ways, a colony of the US, or at the very least a place that the US holds colonial power over.

In his book, Memmi describes 3 types of individuals in the colonizer/colonized relationship. They are the colonial, the colonizer and the colonist. The colonial is described as a European (or for our purposes one from the United States) living in the colony but having none of the privileges of their position. "a colonial is a benevolent European who does not have the colonizers attitude towards the colonized", in the next sentance Memmi goes on to say "a colonial so defined does not exist, for all Europeans in the colonies are privileged".

What I am attempting to begin to examine here is what is the role and power that one posses in moving to an expatriate community in Latin America. How can one move in an effort to escape the imperialistic policies of the US while simultaneously re-enforcing that colonialism.