Friday, November 23, 2012

Political Musings pt 3- Social Justice Education

(I think I was feeling a little gloomy when I wrote this post but I'll share it anyway. None of us are one mood robots, eh?)

So, being a product of a liberal arts education and more or less a supporter of Freire, I consider myself a proponent of social justice education. The thing is, for me it gets personal. I don't have conversations about social and systemic injustice in a way that is vague and more theoretical than not. So, the question I've begun to ask myself is, "Just how much of myself and my personal interests am I to let into the classroom?" Do I even have the option or the capacity to make such a decision?

I've had a few classes now covering President Obama's acceptance speech, and also the speech Bruce Springsteen gave the day before elections.
When I tell my students flat out that the American Dream is a lie, is that going a bit too far? I felt it might have been. When I tell them to be aware that I have a particular U.S. experience that comes with its own set of biases I want them to be critical of the information I present to them. But if I'm honest with myself I want them to be critical of it in the way that I am. Since Italy is almost completely pro Obama I haven't had much push back, but I still get this impression that I'm trying to indoctrinate a new generation of freedom fighters.

But it's just so personal! I just can't believe in a dream that says that many of the people I grew up with in the Boston "hood" of Dorchester, or in the lower 9th ward of New Orleans just didn't try hard enough to succeed. I can't believe in a dream that blames someone for not being able to overcome generations of ingrained societal hierarchies and prejudices that we pretend don't exist any more. Kinda like that Sicilian I met at Lago d'Iseo who swears to me and anyone else who will listen that the mafia no longer exists in Sicily.
But I digress.

I've also been working with a teacher on movies such as Apocalypse Now (based on Conrad's Heart of Darkness) and Last of the Mohicans, and that got me to thinking about the colonial aspects of education, the power of culture and language in the classroom, and the ways in which I don't realize I assume a particular type of Italian culture or experience of my students. Only recently has it really stuck with me that some of my students aren't actually Italian citizens. Even some of the ones who were born here. I realize that in my classes I make blanket questions about Italian culture without stopping to ask about the other cultures students come from or other experiences they can compare this one too.

So once again I've come to this crisis of identity: The acknowledgement of my own acts of oppression despite often viewing myself as the oppressed. The difficulty and downright annoyingness of acknowledging that time and time again could be why I never seem to remember the lesson.
The thing is that I know my education gives me power and access I can't deny. So does living in Europe, having an ipod, a Mac, and a guitar that I can play.  No matter how old and dilapidated these items are, and no matter what struggles I face here in Milan, all of these are still symbols of wealth and status, of certain approved of life experiences. But you know, I think status is invisible. Or at least somehow deeper than the surface level of how many places you can pin on your facebook map,  the name brands on your back and the electronic devices in your pocket or on your desktop. No matter how much I learn or acquire I don't think I'll ever feel any different from a poor Afro-Latina who will always be sensitive about how people judge her by her cover.

Political Musings part 2

For those of you who read the previous post on politics, you'll know that at the end of the post I resolved to stay awake. I am pleased to inform you that I did indeed stay awake, and that I, a few other Americans, and countless Italians cheered like crazy when Obama was elected president for the second time. It was 6:30 in the morning, and I don't know how any of us were still on our feet after having partaken liberally from the open bar all night. Well, I should speak for myself...

And somehow I also managed to make it through five hours of teaching at school and then two more hours of conversation classes before finally making it home and sleeping for the next 14 hours.

Well since a picture is worth 1000 words I'll let them do the rest of the talking (mostly).

We were clearly the envy of everyone at the election event. I mean, we had Nutella! And we were playing American cards. There were a few really awkward camera-man moments. He kept coming back to film us. It didn't help that we were the first people to cop out and sit on the floor, since there weren't enough chairs to go around.


It was a lovely night, and I'm happy the tears shed were tears of joy :).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

On Dante and Immigration

Surely, had Dante been born just a few years later, he would have included Italy's immigration process as one of the punishments in Hell. Maybe it would be the hell for control freaks, so they could be reminded every waking moment (and of course every moment would be since it's hell...) that no matter how well they prepared or how early they planned to arrive, there would always be a problem and they would always be late.

Every day you would have to endure surly staff. Every day you would have to face the fear of irritation due to the lack of toilet paper in the smelly bathroom that had the toilet positioned next to a street level window with no curtain. Every day you would have to deal with children who, while are cute enough, quickly become tiring when it's noon and you've been waiting around since 7:30 for your 8:24 appointment because you had to arrive before the public transportation went on strike that day.

While you wait outside to actually get into the immigration office so you can keep on waiting some more, you would have to endure the horrible cloud of cigarette smoke that never went away. And of course, you can't move for fear of losing your space in line. And trust me, since the line goes down the street and around the corner, you don't want to lose a before-the-corner spot.

Yes, I daresay Dante would have had himself a good time with this. Maybe it could be an antechamber kind of punishment, to emphasize the peripheral nature of those of us not yet quite fully legally in the country.

Well, I thank the muse (currently unnamed, since I haven't found someone to stalkerishly fantasize over and connect to anything numerically significant) who guided me into the purgatory that was the second immigration meeting of the day (still suffering, but here at least I had hope it would end soon), and then who led me to the paradise that was the train ride back. 

Though it may have felt like an eternity, it most certainly was not. Yes, I thank my unnamed muse that it was just one day.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bathroom Blues

So I was debating which topic to focus this post on but I figured I could put the bathroom and the update on romance together. It's a dud. So you see it's fitting, because it just gets flushed down the toilet anyway... (Feel free to imagine a soft sigh here) What is cool about this situation is that I knew it would be a dud before I got the message from the middle-woman going between us. I had a dream last night and I felt like it was saying dude has some serious baggage with someone in his past. Then today the friend tells me he's got some problems with his ex and isn't ready to start anything yet. The thrilling feeling of "I knew it!" and "This is so cool!" trumped the despair of dashed romantic hopes.
I exaggerate a bit. I'm young yet and there's always hope ;).

So, on to the next part. For those of my friends who do not share my sense of humor regarding bathrooms and bodily functions, you can stop reading now. (Jilli-bean, this message is especially for you. Especially if you're eating.)

Now then. One has many memorable first moments when going to a country for the first time. Other than the memory of underarm odor on the ride over to my host family's house, I remember the increasingly pressing urge to go pee. It was bad. So my first footsteps on non-airport Italian land was the shopping center parking lot where we pulled over so I could do my business. I figured out that the toilets flush by stepping on a button on the floor, and I contemplated the feelings of increased manual cleanliness this left me with as I washed my hands at the sink.

We arrived home with little fuss after that. However, later that day a need of another kind arose. Now, the toilets in this house are designed so that they're really deep, so anything dropped in has a ways to go and gives off this loud splashing sound. The bathroom is right across from the host brother and sister's bedroom, so I feel like I have to creep around and go when no one's in the room or too close to the bathroom door. Anyway, this first day I go in peace, but then I realize there's no foot flush. I'm filled with dread. I couldn't very well ask my host sister how to flush the toilet considering what I had just done. I stood around really awkwardly, and then it hit me! In Vienna the toilet flushes were in the wall behind the toilet! I look up in hope, since all this time I had been staring at the ground and feeling rather panicky, and there it was: a little white button in the wall, poking out like a beacon of hope. I reached up, pushed the button, the toilet flushed, and I felt the relief which had hitherto been denied me. Yaaaay. I washed my hands.

While I still creep around like a bandit when I have to do number two, I'm pleased to say that after more than a full month here I am getting the hang of the toilets. My only other complaint is the fact that I keep finding the host brother's pee on the toilet seat. This should not be a recurring problem, or a problem at all. Kid's old enough to know how to aim and or clean up after himself. ugh. Let's just say me, the sponge, and the cleaning spray are very well acquainted.

Well, that's all folks! More posts of my adventures in Italy coming up. You'll have teaching experiences, and when I finally develop a decent social life, all kinds of other things to hear about in the near future as well!
Ciao ciao for now.