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.

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