On Blenders and Social Justice

I am back in America now and it has been an exciting time to be in the USA. There was a nationwide ruling that all love is created equal (a step in the right direction, but we aren’t done), the 239th birthday of our independent nation (apparently some people were saying America is 2015 years old? Check yourself), and a team of breathtakingly talented women making history (for both women’s AND men’s soccer).

It has been a little over a week and I have been the biggest bum imaginable. But I’m getting out of bed for longer stints of time each day. Everything reminds me of India, even though I’m back to wearing little summer dresses and my mehandi is almost completely faded. To travel across the world in 20 hours and jump back into regular routines, it almost feels like it didn’t happen. If we still needed ships to cross oceans, maybe we would really appreciate the distance we have traveled.

DSC_1448I’m not in my childhood home any longer. My parents moved from Texas to Miami while I was away, so I came back to a new apartment and a lot of boxes. Everything is different, but a few things are familiar. Everyone speaks Spanish, which is fun and different, but it is still hot as hell. Even the mouthfuls of summer watermelon make me think of firing off slippery seeds between our fingers in the dining hall and eating peppery bites on the side of the road next to the fruit stands. Although life is different, I feel India resonating inside of me as I eat pastelitos de guayaba y queso instead of rice for breakfast and wake up to the sounds of the city and the water instead of the birds.

Then again, everything is always changing. I have been in a different place, with different people, for the past five Fourth of July’s. Last year I was waving an American flag at a barn dance in rural Virginia, the year before I was snuggling under blankets on a hill overlooking LA, the year before that watching fireworks over the National Mall from a DC high rise, and the year before that surrounded by cornfields in Minnesota. It took five years of searching through memories before I found a Fourth of July in Texas, the place I considered home. It feels like my year is missing. Everything has changed, but somehow suddenly I find myself at Bed Bath and Beyond looking at blenders – the exact same thing I was doing at this time two years ago when I moved to D.C. Funny.

DSC_1457It is good to be home in this beast of a land that I love. It has been a difficult year to be away, difficult to watch as certain injustices run rampant. Difficult to talk to the kids about my home. Their jaws dropped when I told them the American government had to shut down last year because parties wouldn’t work together. They don’t understand why any member of ‘the greatest democracy in the world’—democrat or republican—would disregard their position of privilege by trying to destroy a system and undermine a President so many in the world envy.

Their jaws dropped when I told them that twice in one week, an American grand jury decided not to indict a police officer for killing an unarmed black man. They don’t understand how a video of a non-violent man being taken down in a choke-hold is not enough for a court of law to produce a guilty verdict or why police officers look like SWAT teams.

DSC_1415Their jaws dropped when I told them that in the past two years there have been over 90 school shootings. They don’t understand why a government wouldn’t do everything in its power to curb gun use after the death of even one child. In response to a trail of discussions that started with the NRA and, after going through lobbying and the GOP and Congressional approval ratings, ended with gerrymandering, one of the 11th grade boys said, “Well, that doesn’t seem like a very good system.” Again, funny.

Their jaws dropped when they learned that America – much like India – can be an unsafe place for women to walk alone at night. Or in the middle of the day. Or on their college campuses.

Their jaws dropped when we discussed President Obama’s Executive Order on immigration and the reality that children could have previously been left parent-less when immigration police picked up and deported their parents – who have lived peacefully in America for over 15 years – after dropping their kids off at school.

DSC_1493Living on the other side of the world has made me realize how much I love America, how much I believe in America. But this realization only made it more painful to watch from behind my computer screen as things unfolded. I have the privilege of saying that I love my country, but am angry with my government and its institutional arms. I can be frustrated, heart broken, and enraged. But I am not scared and I will never understand what it is like to fear the institutions that are sworn to protect and represent me.

I hope that as a teacher I can help shape the opinions of future leaders and citizens. The mission of Shanti Bhavan is to break each student out of the cycle of poverty in the hopes that they will return to their communities and carry others with them. This past year I have been confronted with the realities of countless people who cannot breathe under the giant turning wheel of poverty and discrimination. They are swept up in its mechanisms and unable to break free, crushed beneath harsh economic realities and a system of self-actualizing social expectations.

DSC_1420I find comfort in the thought that the kids who inspired me daily might be future leaders of India and that children in America are growing up to be more socially tolerant and aware than their parents. I find comfort knowing that there are honorable men and women in blue that have dedicated their lives to the safety of everyone on American streets. They deserve our encouragement and our faith along with scrutiny, not the same blind stereotypical hatred that is the root of all of these evils. I find comfort in the message that men and women are standing together for gender equality and the human dignity of all people who are American citizens or have been living in the United States long enough to be considered as such.

But there are structural systems in place—systems that view military grade weapons as acceptable accessories for local police forces and any citizen who can pass a 1-hour background check; systems that see dark skin as an indicator of delinquency; systems that would tear apart families because the random lottery of birth dictates that some parents without papers live in a different country than their children; systems that that tell women that their rights end at the hem of their skirts and that tell little boys that they must ‘man up’ to live up to the expectations society has of them.

DSC_1451Everywhere I turn there are waves—waves of protest against the perpetrators of these systems and waves to counter the protestors. No one is protesting in the right way, some protests are counterproductive to their causes, some are breaking barriers and creating allies and some are mocked because the protestors did not walk the line of intersectional oppression carefully enough. But it is a start. It is confusing and overwhelming and uncomfortable, but that is the point. If you are not ready to say something, then listen. If you are ready to speak, then speak carefully. If all you can do right now is write on a blog that only your parents read and explain to children half way around the world that they have the power and the obligation to change the future, then do it.

After all, children are the future and I am so excited to start working for one of the most successful and innovative charter schools in the country. In a few short weeks I am moving to Boston to work as a 5th grade English tutor with Match Education and I cannot wait! No more time in bed. Time to buy another blender and get to work.

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Comments:

  1. Sometimes you need to get out of your context to really see your context for what it is, don’t you? I also love my country but am also angry with my government. I live in South East Asia now, and Australia is slowly going to the dogs, seriously. All I can do is watch.

    • Sketchpacker – I finally got the chance to go through your lovely blog and, yes, cows in India KNOW they can’t be touched and the women are soft and wonderful. Safe travels and thanks for reading.

  2. Mariam George says:

    Hi Danielle,

    Very powerful and emotional. Happy you captured my feelings in a much succinct
    way.

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