Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Check your history before you run on

I got an email from someone I don't personally know. The contents were, in part, this:

I'm standing up because the hundreds of thousands who died fighting. My great grandfather watched as his friends died in the Civil War, my father and I watched as our friends died in WW II, and I watched
as my friends died in Vietnam . 
None of them died for the Mexican Flag. 
Those who died in wars for this country, and for the U.S. 
And shame on anyone who tries to make this a racist message. 
A Map Of My Country:
Let me make this perfectly clear!"
Then she inserted this image:

The writer went on to rant about immigrants taking over social security, not learning English, alienating "real" Americans, etc. 

As the granddaughter of immigrants from Armenia, I'm noticing that people like the above email writer - those enthralled in the anti-immigration movement, specifically from across the Mexican border - don't seem to know their history very well or are choosing to ignore it. They argue that immigrants in the past were “better” somehow – that they all assimilated easily, learned English, and immediately embraced the American culture. Their assessments of what immigration has been in the past is so far off, it's just sad. 

Former immigrants didn't learn English when they got here! They huddled in separate neighborhoods, had their own groceries, odd foods, and shops where outsiders were barely welcome. They sent their kids to public school at age 5 not knowing a word of english (my parents included). My grandmother hardly spoke English in the eight decades that she lived and worked here!

Their kids learned English, joined the armed forces, and went to college. Now, they run this country as business people, elected officials, and citizens, but they always kept their pride in their country of origin, ate their own ethnic foods, decorated their homes with symbols of their heritage, and gathered together in ethnic organizations. 

AND there were always people, established Americans, who accused them of taking jobs away, pulling on social services or the educational system, or otherwise hated them for their differences. 

This goes for all large group immigrations - the Chinese in 1850's, the Italians and Irish in the 1900's, the Jews after WW2, the Puerto Ricans in the 1950's, Arabs in the 1970's, the Dominicans in 1990's and now to the Mexicans and Central/South Americans. 

Try again on your history people. The USA is the melting pot of the world, remember? What makes us great is the rising up of the poor and uneducated over generations.

John Adams wrote, “I will be a farmer, so my son can be a merchant, so his son can be an artist.”

Also, historically, our forefathers didn't have to hire a lawyer, be an MBA in engineering or something, jump through hoops, or pay thousands of dollars to be allowed to become an American. My grandfather didn't have any papers when he got off the boat at Ellis Island! He didn't have an education either. He was an unskilled laborer with a true work ethic and a humble attitude. He had a few coins in his pocket, a ruck sack with one change of clothes, and probably lice! He also had a goal of establishing a life away from violence, starvation, and painful hardships . . . just like most of the immigrants arriving today from south of the border.

I'm proud to be an Armenian-American. And if my neighbor is from Mexico or Peru, I want him to be a proud Mexican-American or Peruvian-American who cares about his own heritage as well as becoming part of our country.

This little map is simply insulting, to say the least. Immigration is not an “either/or” proposition. You don't seek to come to the United States for purpose of shedding your entire cultural past.  America is great because we are from everywhere – because we welcome the new and different, because we use the best of immigrant cultures to build on what we already have. We are fluid and make changes for the better so that all of us can live in peace inside our borders.

I'm so happy that my grandparents came here, instead of all the other places they could have gone back before WW1.

But their assimilation was not easy. It was not “fun.” It was hard and long and took generations so that I could be an artist. The same will happen with those coming today - their children will and already are defending our country by the hundreds of thousands. Let's try to remember that when you look at those trying for a new life for their descendants. 

They will be citizens and they will be as proud of that as I am of being American. 

The saddest part of the original email -- it was forwarded to me by an Armenian-American. 

-Garine Boyajian Isassi

Saturday, July 10, 2010

one hand in my pocket

I get this app on Facebook called "Message From God." Of course I know it's not really a message from actual "God," but a bunch of yoga students from some sunday school who put together sentences a little bit like weed-smoking fortune cookie writers.  Still, I get the update once a week and, sometimes they hit home. Like today.
My message was:

"have you been the giver for so long that you have forgotten how to receive? Allow others to give you some of the love that you give so freely. Seek a balance between your giving and your receiving."

Ordinarily, I would just chalk this up to, yeah, right, they know I'm a woman of a certain age with ungrateful children and busy husband - part of a marketing segment. The sad truth is, it's kind of the way I feel.  

I realized this while I was reading an excerpt from the original self-help, sell-snow-to-eskimos book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People." The section was about remembering people's names and listening to others so they feel important -- well, I feel like I do these things, but in return, I seem to sort of get ignored. Very few people remember my name unless they have to see me everyday for several years, and I think the last time someone actually listened to me, it was the dog after I said, "Wanna go for a WALK?" - which I'm sure she only understood one word out of that sentence.

But, that is a sham of my own making. The self-pity mode on my control panel gets out of wack sometimes, and I go into overdrive.  Nobody calls me. Nobody helps me. Nobody loves me. boo hoo. poor me. I don't get invitations very often. It's the summer. I know about six people here (since we just moved here last winter) and three of them are on vacation. I'm also very afraid of rejection, so I don't let anyone get too close.

Notice how I slipped that last thing in, all casual like? 

Well, there lies the rub, as William would say. 

This is some kind of psychological break through on my part, but I'm not really sure how it will help me to get invited to the neighborhood BBQ. 

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Me and the dog

Ok, now I get it.
Why all those single, 40-something guys have dogs. You are a god to your dog. You are Mick Jagger in 1965. You are a revelation whenever you walk into a room. It's sick. . . and I love it!

My family campaigned for a bout 5 years for us to get a dog. I had the attitude handed down to me by my mother, who said, "Having a dog is like having a 2 yr old child who never learns anything. " That's right. You have to feed them, wash them and clean their poop for their whole lives.

Then, after 20 years, my independent, super cool cat, Strat, passed away. (Yes, her name was Strat, after my guitar - a black and white Fender Stratocaster). It was awful. I cried a lot. My husband, who railed against the cat for our entire marriage of 15 years, cried a lot. The cat had come with me in the marriage deal. Months went by and I saw how alone I was in the house when the kids were at school and my husband at work. I'd sit at my computer and do my work for my clients or the bills and suddenly realize - oh my God....I'm a-l-l A-L-O-N-E in this house. There is no other living being here but me!

It freaked me out.

So, finally, I agreed to get a dog. I listed the conditions to my family: 1. I would not have to ever pick up poop. They, collectively, would be doing that. 2. We would get a "rescue dog." 3. We would get an ADULT dog - no puppies or adolescents with their baby needs. 4. Said dog would be between 30 and 40 pounds in size. No yappers and no large bear types.

Once I made the decision, it only took a few weeks for me to hone in on the right dog. She was a "child" of a divorce. A shepherd mutt with a heart of gold. Already house trained and almost 4 years old. She had good manners and was smart and basically well trained.

She came home with us a on a wednesday evening, riding the back of the van with three excited children who all called her name over and over for her to look at them. The excitement wore off soon enough, after the daily walks, feeding, and pooper-scooping. But the real doom for the kids was the growing admiration the dog was nurturing toward me.

I was home all day. I am the obvious person who brings the food. I was alpha dog!!! I had dreaded the concept. I couldn't get my kids to pick up their underwear off the floor of their bedroom, how was I going to get a inarticulate beast to mind me??? I started watching Animal Planet and National Geographic shows - "the Dog Whisperer" and "It's me or the dog" so that I would get it right and be in charge,

Well, it worked
Too well.

Now,after a couple months together and the dog adores me. She sleeps plastered up against my side of the bed and does not move until I get up in the morning. She sits right outside the bathroom door, when I need to leave her stranded in the hall for three minutes. She follows me from room to room in the house. She lies next to the front door when I leave and acts like it's the second coming when I return - even when the rest of the family is still home with her. She sits when I say "sit." She moves 6 feet away from me when I say, "out." No wonder people love having a dog. You are their god.

But, I'm a cat person and this is the reason why -- sometimes, I'd like to be alone. Having a cat was more like having a roommate. If you were there, great. If you were not there, great.

Now, I feel guilty when I have to go to the grocery store or the gym and leave her behind. She does that head cocked to one side confusion look and then the stereotypical sad puppy eyes. It kills me every time!

But, y'know what? I'm getting to love my dog. She's a keeper. And maybe the I'll get used feeling the burden of adoration. After all, things could be worse than being a rock star in your own house.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

terrapins on our turf

This suburb is full of surprises. On the way to pick up my daughter's friend, my three kids and I are piled, as usual, in the trusty 10 year old mini-van. We are driving down our own typical suburban street, USA. Houses line up with manicured lawns, built exactly 12 feet apart in the '70's and '80's. There are sun soaked sidewalks running down oak-edged street. Suddenly, my middle child says, "Mom, I just saw a big turtle taking a walk."

Uh? I say, "Maybe it was a rock or something."
"No," she insists, "It's a turtle."

I turn the trusty mini-van around and come to a stop next to the hot white concrete. There, just walking along the sidewalk like an old man on a casual stroll, was a 15 inch long turtle. It's wrinkled neck and crusty legs moving in a camel-like rhythm. We all scramble out of the van and surround the poor animal. It stops and all it's limbs contract toward it's shell.

"Where did it come from? Should we try to take it back to water? Is it all right walking through the neighborhood?" I snap open my cell and call animal control via 411.

We are such "city folk" that we are totally stumped about this.

Animal control won't come unless there is an animal in danger or a dangerous animal - as in cats, dogs, and rabid squirrels. This is none of the above, according to them. They give me the number for the local Wildlife Emergency Refuge Association...who knew there was a such a thing?

My daughter is fumbling with the pen to write as I call out the phone number from the lady on the other end of the line.

Then, one of us . . . I'm embarrassed to say that out of three kids under 13 and me standing there -- it's ME, that really wants to touch the little guy. I put my finger gingerly forward onto the back of it's shell. Suddenly, his head shoots out toward the same middle child who saw him in the first place, and snaps loud and hard, making us all jump back two feet.

Ok, Then. I guess this is a "snapping" turtle.

The local Wildlife Emergency Refuge Association lady puts me on hold for about 5 minutes, while we cautiously widen our circle around the now slightly threatening creature. When she comes back on, she says the expert on local wildlife in the office says these turtles come out of the ponds to lay their eggs and will eventually find it's way back to it's habitat. Don't worry about it. Leave the poor thing alone.

Feeling let down somehow, I thank her and hang up. I reluctantly relay this information to the kids and herd them away from terrapin and into the van. We discuss the possible locations of egg laying that would not meet with a lawnmower, weed-wacker, sniffing dog, or other such calamity.

As we drive away, I am struck and reminded of the normalcy of nature and weirdness of how we, as humans have relegated it to the edges of our lives - only for good looks, vacation, and maybe a pretty photograph. There is a pond just outside the neighborhood and I suspect this is where turtle came from and will hopefully return.

Monday, June 21, 2010

summer writing

It's the first day of summer and, as far as I am concerned, the first day of endless creative neediness. Three kids at home in the subs, without a lot of cash, means I have to get creative.

Aside from the normal days of going to the neighborhood pool, we are starting the hugely unpopular "summer math packet" and "summer reading program" from school as well as Papi's computer programming lessons. So, I am sort of unwillingly homeschooling for the summer. As if I have time.

I have several summer goals for myself - the chief among them, to finally finish my curriculum project for the Armenian Church. Trying to come up with bible activities and write about Abraham, Moses, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus at a 3rd grade level is a debilitating exercise in creativity. This is especially a "thang" for me, since, if you've read some of my past blog entries, I have a major personal confusion when it comes to church. But this is a paying gig and I'm going for it. Hopefully, I'll find my path in the process.

Sounds like a full summer to me. Now, I'm off to the pool with three screaming kids and my laptop, where I will write while they swim. I hope the sun will inspire me.