Both-And

Lies, Damn Lies, and Government Surveys

Tweet of the Day: When Labels Don’t Fit: #Hispanics and Their Views of Identity #latinos http://t.co/Ugav1WeY

My relationship with government surveys is complicated at best. Pew Research tweeted a report on the Latinos yesterday comparing 2010 census data to their own survey. The census, more than anything, reveals the social construction of race in this country. Starting with the 2000 survey, the government made the act of pigeonholing oneself even more convoluted. There are now fifteen racial categories in the census.

Latino or Hispanic? White or ?

As I grew up, virtually every survey that asked about race used "White (Not Hispanic)" for the white category. My Arizona birth certificate declares that I'm white, since at the time separating white from black was most important. My grandfather was more indigenous than European, but how does one categorize that as race when only "American Indian" is an option. In my undergraduate career, I learned that, in California since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in the nineteenth century, Mexicans were considered white. Except when they were more often not. Politics in the state of California are nothing, if not fickle. 

Fast forward to 2000 when race and culture were mixed up in the census. The census report and the subsequent news coverage focused on the fact that a large percentage of Latinos consider themselves white. The media also conveyed a good deal of surprise. My reaction to the news was anger. How are people supposed to categorize themselves? When asked by Pew research this time around if Hispanic or Latino is a preferred term, Hispanic was chosen more frequently. After thirty to forty years of "White (Not Hispanic)," Hispanic would be a logical choice for most.

Where Do We Come From?

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
Where - do - we - come - from? 
Mystery. Mystery. Life is a riddle and a mystery.
Where do we come from? Where are we going?
Singing the Journey, Hymn #1003

The first line of the Brian Tate hymn in our turquoise Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Journey, is taken from the title of a late nineteenth century painting by artist Paul Gaugin. These questions are common to the human experience, and often religion is used to answer them. As I've journeyed through seminary, one of the most important lessons is or knowing one's "social location." By knowing where I come from, I will continue to know why I must speak out in the face of injustice. So what does this mean for my ministry?

Where do I come from?
 I was born in Phoenix, Arizona to a Mexican American mother and an Irish/Scandinavian American father. My paternal grandfather was thrilled to see his first grandchild with her eyes open. According to my mother, he compared his own children to kittens at birth. "They didn't open their eyes for weeks!" My maternal grandfather had passed away the year before. According to my grandmother, the full head of black hair that I was born with would have thrilled him. I was the first of the sixteen grandchildren born at that time who was dark like him. 

                               

Bob and Sandie(Olga) McGregor      Jennie(Juana) and Paul(Porfirio) Huerta

What am I?
As I grew up, the differences that my grandparents and step-parents focused on helped me become aware of the difference in how people were treated. One by one, racism became real, as did sexism, classism, and homophobia and religious intolerance. My adult social location is that of a queer, working class, Unitarian Universalist, feminist/mujerist multicultural woman. As I found myself other in each category, I could not help but see the injustices perpetrated by those who were the dominant culture. I had that ministry moment of clarity when I realized that those in power identified with the punishing God, the oppressed identified with the suffering Jesus. The politics around those caught in the increasingly unraveling social net is theological.

Where am I going?
Upon realizing that injustices are built into the system of this country by those who make the laws, I saw that politicians have been influenced by a form of Calvinist punitive theology. Self-righteous Christian politicians and media personalities blame the poor, the sick, the hungry, the underemployed, the imprisoned for their circumstances. The current election cycle has only served to escalate the hate. The common good is no longer a priority in politics, and what was once considered liberal has been dragged to the center right of the political spectrum just in my lifetime.

I have a passion for our seven Unitarian Universalist principles. As a person who grew up Catholic, the poor and the oppressed are never far from my heart. As a critical thinker, I search for stories beyond the distractions of the mainstream media. As a person who lives on the margins, I am responsible for providing a rational voice on the religious left. As I begin to blog regularly to Both/And, I hope it will reflect my "free and responsible search for truth and meaning," for life is a "riddle and a mystery."

How does your social location inform your own spirituality?

How Will Social Media Impact LGBTQI Muslims?

I found the article, "How Will Facebook and Twitter Impact Islam?" of interest because it was highly critical of social media in the Muslim context. Dr. Guessom referenced an article, "Twenty five reasons why Twitter is Spiritual," that was a list of spiritual practices from different faith traditions. As a Unitarian Universalist(UU), I appreciated the breadth, and what amounted to a vision of twitter's potential. Guessom dismissed the list entirely. I will acknowledge that the list does not fit within the aims of Islam. 

Still, just in the past several days I have been witness to, and peripherally involved in one such transformative experience that the author Frederic A. Brussat wrote of in the "Twenty Five Reasons..." article. The conversations, facilitated by Twitter and a blog were poignant and beautiful.

A young Muslim is opening dialogue about different aspects of Islam on her blog. She posted interviews with a number of  LGBT Muslims. The comments section includes the usual comparisons of LGBT people with pedophiles, practicers of bestiality, rapists and serial killers. These arguments were not original by any stretch. What I did find original was an interview with a UU that I've met on Twitter. He wants to convert to Islam. 

After at least a year of reading his tweets, I have observed that he truly loves Allah. He loves Arabic music. He loves to  give thanks and praise. It's genuine, not forced or fake. I remember when he was utterly heartbroken several months ago, after he was rejected by yet another imam for being gay.

There was such an outpouring of love from the blogger and numerous other Muslims who signed on to the love letter she wrote. A
n imam in his area would like to meet with him. My Twitter acquaintance was brought to tears. In a side conversation, the blogger told the imam she wished she were local to study under him, and the imam responded that they teach each other. I watched this unfold over the past couple of days with awe. A gay man finally found an online community, and has a real possibility of finding an embodied community with which he can worship in the way he desires. A brave young woman was affirmed for her own contributions to her religion.

The Internet has been revolutionary for LGBTQI folks since the advent of the World Wide Web in  the 1990's, because people who were isolated and alone have been able to find others like themselves. Whereas moving to a city had been the main strategy in the past, LGBTQI folks could find one another and become a part of online communities. The explosion of the social media onto the scene should enable more folks to find their voices and find each other. 

I suspect that there are individuals who have been isolated and by social pressure forced to work within the dominant culture of Islam. LGBTQI Muslims may be just such a group. Social media may prove to be a Godsend to LGBTQI Muslims.

Ah, So That’s Where They Are

I am a person with a border consciousness. Reading Gloria Anzaldua was liberating for there was a word beyond mestiza to describe me. I have a European American surname, which makes a huge difference in life. I see the injustices, yet often being mistaken for being white, I regularly find myself in awkward situations.

The latest went something like this:

After a philosophy class that has students from my school and the graduate school that is across the street, a fellow student asked,

"Can I be sarcastic?"

"Sure."

"So this is where all the white guys are."

I looked at her blankly.

"In our other classes there have only been about three. So this is where they’ve been hiding."

"Uh yeah. I guess they are more interested in philosophy."

The first thoughts through my head were: “The faculty?” “The administration?” We were near the dean’s office.

Oddly, I was happy to see a fellow Latino in class and happy to see more diversity in this class. I had not noticed the white men in the room, because I am primed to look for other women and other people of color. After ruminating a bit, I think that maybe she was looking at a larger pool of datable men…

Identity on the Margins

This year I met numerous fascinating people at General Assembly. In fact, I spent a larger proportion of time talking to others. I am an officer in DRUUMM (Diverse Revolutionary Unitarian Universalist Multicultural Ministries), and volunteered to be at the table for some time each day in the exhibition hall. I roomed with a woman I met at a DRUUMM event several years ago, and we were able to deepen a friendship that has continued to grow as we see each other each GA, since we live on opposite coasts. The DRUUM folks have been like family, and I love them.

A life changing meeting was with a Chicana sociologist from San Diego. She told me of her work, and how she applies sociological methods to different questions. She modeled how to ask questions in dialogue with someone, as she greeted people at the DRUUMM table. For negative self dialogue, she told me to tap into my inner grandmother. Her participation in the Chicano/a movement in California inspired me to claim the identity Chicana. Depending on the grandparent, I am third or fourth generation Mexican American. My grandmother was born in Arizona before it became a state. Latina and hispanic never felt right, but when I was much younger Chicana was "too political." Claiming "person of color identity" is a political act. I am in solidarity with the struggles of all people who are marginalized due to their culture or skin color.

The word Chicana is distinctly Mexican. Years ago in an undergrad philosophy class, there was a reading about Tucson, and the author wrote that she did not want to send her children to public school because of all of the "Mexican children." I did not question anything but the racist tone of the article, because that was my lived experience. My classmates were other Mexican American students. Numerous students in the philosophy class, from countries like Guatamala or El Salvador,  spoke out against the assumption that the kids were "Mexican." Up until this point, I was thrilled about the diversity in Los Angeles, but I learned that Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans are on the bottom of the social hierarchy in California not only by race (a social construct), but by culture as well. I still love the amazing diversity of Los Angeles, but took too many years since for me to claim Chicana.

As we go into next years justice oriented General Assembly in Arizona, I will go with less reticence. I have been boycotting the state with its racist politics, even though my family lives there. At GA I learned that by going in at the invitation of indigenous groups, we UUs will strive to make more of an impact than simply taking our money our money elsewhere. The folks from DRUUMM are taking a particular chance to be arrested. I will stand in solidarity with them, the "Mexicans" I grew up with, and the others who are targeted by the policies.

Ethical Eating: Produce

On Friday, the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Statement of Conscience on Ethical Eating. I had been practicing the principles, imperfectly, since it's inception. What I've learned is to remember that it is just that, a practice.

I live in a predominantly Latino and Black neighborhood in a medium sized city in Southern California. I just completed ny second seminary year which included field education. Before I took the internship (not UU), I did have a part-time office job. I was earning the same hourly wage that I did 15 years before, but with full benefits back then. To be clear, the last year and a half, I've been living on my spouse's death benefit, taking a full load in seminary, and only doing the internship once it became clear that I could not keep my grades up and work, as well.

As money becomes tighter and tighter, I anticipate the ethical eating part of my life to become more difficult. I do wonder if the resolution on ethical eating, coming from place of privilege, is irrelevant and elitist to a country in the grip of economic hardship and a class war that has a grossly unequal income distribution.

Beans and rice are staples of the poor, and I grew up on them. I do love vegetables. When I was very young, there were pitched and protracted battles regarding vegetables vs. meat, fish and poultry. One particularly memorable battle was over having an artichoke to myself and the expense of said artichoke. That said, here are some thoughts, just on produce:

In my neighborhood there are two major grocery stores, two ethnic grocery stores, and several small ethnic markets. Before my spouse died, we wanted to buy a share in a farm. We just never had enough money to invest up front into a season or more of organic vegetables. The stores in my neighborhood are overflowing with inexpensive, plentiful produce. The first time I met a new dean at school, she asked which Pasadena neighborhood I lived in. She proceeded to enthuse over the cheap produce at one of the ethnic grocery stores.

My theory is that the produce are loss leaders, and every thing that is processed is overpriced. The people that shop there walk, ride bicycles or take the bus. The store has a shuttle to take people home. The cyclists are of the variety that ride the wrong way down the street or on sidewalks, not the pannier, helmeted set. The clientele at the particular store do not speak a lot of English. Beer and sodas are incredibly expensive, as are virtually all other brand name and processed foods. Before a ill-planned condominium complex was built across the street, small items from deodorant to razors were locked behind glass, and cost more than the big name grocery stores. This is the reality in poor neighborhoods. How would we begin to address the inequalities of access, before the pesticide laden produce?

Most of the ethnic grocery shoppers do not have the choice to buy local or sustainable, nor the education to desire or request change. I use the store when I'm not feeling flush, but I have begun to have anxiety over doing the "right" thing since so many issues come into play. When buying, my first thought is food miles. Where did most of these inexpensive vegetables come from? In this neighborhood, they come from Mexico, and further South. With the unfortunate exception of my attachment to bananas, I am intentional about buying produce from California, staying within the season. (By the way, when in the world did garlic begin to be imported from China? I thought the garlic capital is in Northern California.)

The people who bring food to the table have such appalling working conditions. They have been documented not to be given breaks, shade, decent living conditions, fresh water, subject to wage theft, exposed to herbicides and pesticides. Yet, when grocery stores charge more for "organic" produce, I wonder just how much of that extra money is passed on to the farmers and the migrant workers.

About eight years ago, there was a grocery store strike in which the workers lost badly over healthcare and wages. I refused to walk into one of the big name chains until a couple of years ago. I will only go for the very few things that can not be found in Trader Joes, or the store fondly known as Whole Paycheck. I was appalled at the price of produce when I did return. According to Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE-LA), a strike is imminent. We UU's passed an Action of Immediate Witness, but how will that support the workers once they go on strike? Trader joes pays fairer wages, but Whole Foods is anti-organizing and their produce is ridiculously high. However, they have some organic things not found elsewhere. Reconciling these choices is difficult.

At Trader Joes, food miles and packaging come into play, as well. Not only do they sell out of season produce from Mexico and Chile, the produce comes prepackaged in plastic, in a family size. Trader Joes has begun to improve based on consumer pressure, but as soon as one item is sold individually, different prepackaged items arrive. I limited my produce to the staples, organic: carrots, celery, in season lemons, onions and tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower. Squash is plentiful, inexpensive, good and relatively safe in the grand scheme of things not organic.

This leaves the small family owned markets and the farmers markets. This is where I have to be most intentional. I will admit to being exceedingly blessed when it comes to farmers markets in the area. There are several going on each day of the week during the day, with some in the evening. It takes planning to go. There is a small health foods market that is in the next town to the North straight uphill. The farmers market that is in my neighborhood is held on Tuesday mornings, but there are numerous other in the area. As much as I want to support the mom and pop shops, knowing where the produce comes from is more important.

So, the anxiety continues. I have stopped eating quite as large of a variety of vegetables for fear of pesticide residues, perpetuating unfair unhealthy working conditions for those who pick and package produce, environmental impact and the impact on migrant workers of herbicides and pesticides, economic justice for grocery store workers, supporting small business, lack of time to shop at farmers markets being a student, and my own economic well-being. Fortunately, by putting together this post, I found a CSA that was not available before, which allows payment on a week to week basis.

Domestic Violence

Yesterday, a speaker from the local domestic violence shelter spoke to our spiritual care class. It was the second time I've heard her, and she is just wonderful. Some things to think about:

  • 1 in 4 women have been subjected to domestic violence. Yes, men have been victims, too. Domestic Violence happens in same-sex relationships, as well.
  • Domestic Violence is not limited to physical violence. There are others: Emotional, Sexual, Financial, Spiritual. Her stories are heartbreaking. 
  • Her shelter won a grant to do presentations in the local churches. Not one of 65 churches in the city wanted a presentation. Domestic violence is a pastoral issue. If one can not learn about it in church, then where? Happening to see something on television? There is one UU church in that city.

I wrote and preached a sermon about relationships, addressing both domestic abuse and good relationship behavior. I think I should rewrite it. What started it was that male members of a church were discussing the prevalence of domestic violence at a lunch. I sat at the table as they looked around and said one of ten women could be or have been abused. Not only was their statistic incorrect, they were pretty clueless.

I kept my mouth shut, but at the same time looked around and thought, there's one, there's another, there's another, and little do they know, one is sitting right with them. Having heard the speaker prior to this conversation, I realized that she was right. If not church, then where?

Education is highly valued in UU churches. We need to educate ourselves and others in the church to recognize the signs and be willing to provide at least the Domestic Violence Hotline number: 1-800-799-SAFE.

Bio: Kathleen McGregor

In a country increasingly polarized by either/or dualistic thinking, a creative both/and approach flows from living in the liminal spaces along the margins. While both/and has been the norm in Asia for millennia, this queer multicultural Unitarian Universalist ministerial candidate of color has found it crucial to living an authentic principled life.

Influences and Interests
Zen, Taoism, Process studies, contemplative practices, living green, peace and justice, alternative media

Roles
Blogger/Contributer, wizdUUm.net
UU ministerial candidate

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