So here’s basically the conversation I’ve had with myself this week:
Me 1: I can’t find my critical thinking!
Me 2: When was the last time you used it?
Me 1: I don’t know… just, do you know where it is?
Me 2: It’s probably right where you left it.
What, what, what are you doing?!
I don’t know if I’m simply too flustered, too embarrassed by the catcalls, too wrapped up in trámites, too focused on wanting to fit in, or too desperate to get my feet on the ground and start a new life with my partner… Whatever it is, I can’t manage a scrap of clarity to figure out how to live congruently with my ideology.
It’s not as if I’m doing nothing. I am. I’m living. I’m doing. I’m acting.
In fact, I’m teaching English to students who can afford to pay thirty dollars an hour for a private class. But most of my energy goes into trying desperately to avoid sticking out, to assimilate.
And that’s it; that’s why I’m in a fog. I have lost track of how to identify myself, how to understand where I am located within these new social fields.
You cannot live as an activist while you are trying to assimilate to the mainstream in an oppressive society.
You got resocialized … like a n00b.
So, yeah. It turns out that trying to assimilate interferes with your ability to think and act critically. (Especially if you’re assimilating into an upper-middle class.) You get lost in the soup of resocialization. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve been living with my in-laws.
As an immigrant, I’ve been thrown into this process, which involves both losing much of my previously formed identity and forming a different one that is more congruent with my new society and environment.
My first time around, I was a visitor playing the “act like a Chilean” game. It’s part of the college, study abroad experience. I didn’t want to adopt my host culture entirely, but rather to learn to navigate it adequately enough to pass. Just like I was doing at an elite university back home.
I’m living here now. And assimilation expects that immigrants adopt the norms, values, and roles of the host culture.
…BUT YOU DON’T WANT THOSE NORMS, VALUES, AND ROLES!
I know I don’t! What was I planning to do, assimilate and pretend I’m not a white gringa?
The problem is that if I actively choose to assimilate, I actively take part in existing power struggles. I, personally, would be assimilating into a place of privilege—the realm of being unquestioned and not questioning.
What is it that makes me regularly work at Starbucks in Chile while in the US I never set foot in the place? Part of it is being unquestioned. I’m not questioned if I enter the store just to use the bathroom and leave without so much as looking at the menu… basically whatever I choose to do, I won’t be questioned, because we have ownership of this space.
Furthermore, because of this white gringa immunity I’ve got going for me, I risk very little with nonconformity except the discomfort of standing out. People assume the best of me. And I have more freedom—I can “choose” to assimilate or not. I will probably be successful either way.
To be an agent of change, I need to be willing to act in opposition to whatever system perpetuates oppression, whether it is in my native country or in a foreign country; whether the patterns of oppression are familiar, or whether they look slightly different; whether I benefit from the dynamics at work, or whether they limit my prospects.
What are you waiting for? DO SOMETHING!
The last thing anyone needs is for me to storm in on my gringo-righteous horse and fix the s!@# out of this country.
But maybe I’m actually in the best position possible for me now. There is work to be done where I am.
It starts, as always, with listening and learning. I want to seek a community of critical thinkers, a group of people who knows Chile and its needs better than I do, and listen to what they have to say. And learn. And listen some more.
Next semester I will probably be working with a population closer to my ideal—or at least with students that aren’t more or less guaranteed to learn English regardless of what I do.
In the meantime, I am in a place to speak to my students about the experiences in my country and to be honest about who I am.
I’ve heard and seen enough to engage in thought-provoking discussions about these two countries. Our inequalities run parallel—we have the same heritage of colonialism and imperialism. (Oh, heyyy, Columbus blog post!)
I’ve lived with Chile’s working class and its upper-middle class, studied in the private Pontificia Universidad Católica and in the public Universidad de Chile, and worked in the extremes of Santiago’s neighborhoods, from El Castillo in La Pintana to the Cerro Apoquindo Community in Las Condes. And now, I’ve found and married a straddler like me.
Everywhere, I’ve seen the same patterns of oppression that exist in my country, sometimes more pronounced, sometimes less.
These conversations have already started with some of my students. The next step is figuring out how to react to discussions about nannies. ’Cause I’m like…
Anyhow, I guess what I’ve figured out is that I shouldn’t be so quick to hop into the Chilean melting pot or charquicán or whatever they have here. I guess I’ve figured out that during the process of redefinition while you move from one country to another, it’s easy to lose track of where you left yourself.
While I try to find myself, feel free to give suggestions for the nanny conversations. Because I’m really at a loss there…