By all rights, I should be a national holiday in the United States.
I am not as politically incorrect as Columbus Day which Native Americans are not really crazy about (who can blame them?);
I’m not as solemn as Veterans Day, which is more a day of remembrance for those who served in the wars than a day of celebration;
I’m not as general as Presidents’ Day that was originally supposed to only commemorate George Washington’s birthday but now has become the generic holiday for all U.S. presidents;
and I’m certainly not as cruel to the unsuspecting turkey as Thanksgiving Day is (although the tons of food that are consumed on my special day are certainly not vegetarian either).
Despite all of these discouraging facts, I feel hopeful since the people who like and endorse me will soon be in the majority – at least in California. And we all know what happens once it has happened in California, right?
Recently, I read a highly acclaimed novel written by Lisa Genova, a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Her first book, Still Alice (2009), chronicles the descent into Alzheimer’s of Dr. Alice Howland, the eminent William James Professor of Psychology at Harvard. Reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Lisa Genova pens a touching, highly accurate, and gripping account of the effects of dementia on the body, mind, and spirit.
Recently, I attended a memorial service for an old friend. Peg had led a long and accomplished life before her final years of excruciating pain and frustrating helplessness, so while we mourned her loss, we were there to share the joy of having known her. Peg was a firm atheist, a founding member and generous supporter of Atheists United, but most of her time was spent riding the horse trails that she loved, so it didn’t surprise me that I was the only person from the freethought community at the invitation-only event.
Her oldest son led off with a long remembrance, and then various friends and family shared anecdotes and enumerated Peg’s many contributions to the community. Peg’s involvement in freethought wasn’t mentioned. It was not that people were avoiding controversy; Peg’s colorfully negative opinion of Republicans was fondly recalled. Still, even in liberal Southern California, atheism is a whole different measure of controversy.
If it were up to me, American high school and college students would spend a mandatory year living abroad before a degree of any kind is conferred. This trip would be fully funded by the United States government. It’s difficult to quantify how exposure to a different culture can change one’s perspective for the better.
As a sophomore (tenth grade), I had the privilege of spending a week in London with several other students, during which we hit all the usual tourist spots and attended several musicals. It was a good trip, but honestly, I was too young to fully appreciate the new surroundings and the history of a city so much older than any in the States.
The next time I traveled overseas, I was 41 and brought my wife of nine years. I had become a published author with companies like Random House, and my German-translation publisher, Hanser, flew us to Germany for a ten-day book tour in cooperation with the embassy.
There are many things to recount – amazing German hospitality, breathtakingly intelligent students, gorgeous scenery… from the moment we first arrived in Göttingen, we were entranced.
I wrote this piece for a seminar called “Reversing the Gaze.” The idea was to write about difference and the challenging of stereotypes, so I tried to incorporate as many gazes as possible.
The characters were chosen for their ambiguity. After our discussions in class, Injun Joe seemed to be the perfect anti-hero instead of a common villain with a racial slur. Esperanza – with her identity struggle concerning ethnic issues, gender identity, social status, and her hints at the deconstruction of stereotypical gender roles – was a character that I felt I could identify with.
The notion of being neither here nor there, being in-between culturally, is something that I can relate to while recognizing what a privileged position this can be when one is not subjected to discrimination. The numerous borders the characters have had to face are reminiscent of fences around reservations or the brutality of the Mexican-American border. More specifically, it is about what happens years, maybe decades, later when the ancestors have long crossed the border, but the individual is still confronted with dividing lines and is forced to make decisions as well as create his/her own identity, which is always cultural and political.
By Sassetta Harford
I guess it’s kind of funny, what with political correctness and all. They just can’t seem to get it right when it comes to people like me. Half-breed, that’s what they used to call us, like a dirty mongrel pissing on their white picket fence. Precisely that makes me an American, more American even than George Bush or Washington himself, and certainly more American than their precious Jesus.
The American jazz queen, Melody Gardot, is still eager to explore the world around her, but her focus has changed and been narrowed down to her own country. Her fourth album, Currency of Man, features social commentary on American society – a commentary wrapped in a bluesy analog sound with warm soul and gospel influences and lots of horns, a commentary that has never seemed to have more currency than now.