Friday, November 17, 2017

A smile lives on

Every once in a while, we reminisce. It’s a very human thing to do and something that can come about due to several reasons. At 37, there’s a lot to think about in terms of what has been lived, experienced, dreamed, and accomplished, along with all the things that have happened in our lives. It’s not that I’m ancient or anything, but I’m not a young whippersnapper either.

If you think about it, the reasons to reminisce are actually quite varied. Maybe you see a high school friend who had a kid or maybe you see that what was once a friend’s baby brother has just graduated from college (suddenly you see a couple more gray hairs in the mirror too, but you go with it). Hell, you might even bump into someone and grab a cup of coffee and talk about random things like when you insulted a teacher and got sent to detention for it in the fourth grade (true story).

During these times, reminiscing can also come about by browsing on social media and seeing pictures and memories from friends. Recently, I was checking Facebook with nothing particular in mind when I come upon a wonderful picture of four great guys I know from way back with the following caption: “Rest in Power…. I can’t believe you’re gone.” Reading those words and looking at that picture, anyone there would be a huge loss. All great guys. All nice people. I see who posted the picture, I see people I know commenting, and even if I was afraid of finding out the details, I reach out to try and find out what happened.

Two people reply: Juancho was in a car accident… he didn’t make it.

Kindness is something I value intensely. Although it had been a long time since I'd been in touch with Juan "Juancho" Maldonado, I was fond of him and many of the friends we share. He was quite the guy and although it'd been years since we'd even talked, it was always a positive thing to see or hear from him. From age 6 til I was 11, I studied in Academia Perpetuo Socorro back home in Puerto Rico. For six years I took classes with a lovely group of people I still remember fondly and every time I see guys and gals from that class, it’s always a nice experience.

My heart goes out to his family and to my friends. Everyone is still in shock and doing their best to be there for each other, but what everyone mentions is Juan’s smile… and it lives on. It lives on through his daughters, through memories, and through his friends, those close and those from when we were in grade school.  

I’m writing this because Juan leaves behind two lovely daughters and a trunk load of good memories. His closest friends (whom I'm also fortunate to call friends myself) have organized a Go Fund me to create a trust for Bianca Raquel (14) and AngĂ©lica Isabel (11) to fund their education. I'm very fortunate to have been able to help in a small way with a contribution, but now I’m sharing the link because you never know who can help, until you let life do its thing. The link is on the title and below and if you can help, it’ll go directly to ensuring a smile lives on and if you ask me, that's as worthy a cause as I can find.

Peace, love, and rest in power, Juan

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Racism is racist

Not all racism is measured equally. If you disagree with this, odds are you didn’t see anything wrong with Yuli Gurriel’s racist gesture after homering off Yu Darvish in the MLB World Series Game between the LA Dodgers and the Houston Astros.

Don’t worry, you’re not alone.

You’re not right, but you’re certainly not alone.

While I really don’t think Yuli Gurriel is a racist, what was racist was the gesture he made of pulling his eyes so they looked slanted. It was an unsportsmanlike mess up and there should be action, but say it with me, that doesn’t make Yuli a racist. Ignorant to some and typical to many fellow Cubans (as seems possible after several discussions I’ve engaged in online because I didn’t know any better). Still, he didn’t make a gesture or communicated anything indicating racial superiority. He also didn’t discriminate. All he did was do a stupid gesture that is brushed to the side way too often to not be addressed because for way too long, people have made fun of Asians in a variety of ways that baffle the mind and don't expect there to even be a major reaction. What he did do was demean in a way that is all too familiar to Asian people. If you don’t believe me, then by all means, ask an Asian person and see what they think.

In this situation, Yu Darvish is an Iranian Japanese major league baseball pitcher. Yuli Gurriel is a Cuban major league baseball player. One of my best friends (let’s call him Tian) and some other close friends of mine are Asian. My Mother is Cuban. This paragraph is exclusively to establish context of who is writing this post. Tian wrote me to get my thoughts on the event and I have a lot of thoughts on it. During our conversation, he reminded me of Chris Rock doing Asian jokes at the Oscars and how Sacha Baron Cohen followed it up by jokes that were even more tasteless and that offended a lot of Asian people. That really brought to light how many scales of racism there are.

Want a perfect example? Then read the next three words.




Now tell me, which one made you flinch the most? It’s OK, you don’t have to lie and we just have to see the day-to-day treatment of minorities to understand that little exercise. People brag (BRAG) about never using the n-word. “I was taught to NEVER use that word.” Fantastic. You can still be an asshole, but as long as you don’t use a word, you’re good to go. YOu're exemplary even. Although this is its own topic of debate, it does make it abundantly clear that anti racial education is limited to black people or at least they are the ones people need to offend the least, for some reason. I’m NOT saying that it’s OK to call a black person nigger or to use any pejorative language for that matter. What I do wish to illustrate is that people are taught to fear retaliation for using that word, while other words are far less scrutinized.

Spic, chink, gook, dike, faggot, kike, towel head, slant.

None of these words has the particular zing that nigger has.

Let’s further put it in context, if someone calls someone else the n-word and the person who got told that physically assaults the other person, people can and often do say, “well he asked for it. You just don’t say that.” But if you change the nationality to Asian, Indian, Native American, LGBTQ, Hispanic, or any other category you can think of, there’s a difference… there’s a divide.

Just to be clear, I am NOT saying black people do not get discriminated against and severely at that. That would not only be ignorant, but false. My friends who happen to be black have to deal with situations that I can’t comprehend simply because my shade of brown is a little lighter than theirs. That still doesn’t change the fact that if me and an equally qualified white person get offered the same job that my race will have an impact (be it negatively or positively). But instead of such a tired, tried, and true comment, why don’t we ask a simple question: why should I face a higher mortgage rate because of my race? My credit score could be impeccable, but just because I’m Puerto Rican, my mortgage rate will be higher than a white person. No rhyme or reason. It’s just the way it is. This is to establish that I also know a bit about discrimination, but that even if what I face is different to what others face, that shouldn’t be considered lesser.

With Asians, they have to face a variety of challenges but none more painful than the whole indifference and the expectation that they should let it slide. It’s so common that people become numb to it and if you don’t believe me, please feel free to check this link to see all the examples of people making offensive gestures against Asians and how everyone is expected to laugh along because hello, it's just a joke.

Coming from Puerto Rico, I’m not going to laud my country as being the most racially sensitive and can extend this to most Latino/Hispanic countries. In the case of Puerto Rico, calling someone Chino (Chinese) is borderline cultural, it’s that common. It’s not used in a pejorative manner, but it can be, and by saying chinito (small Chinese man), that makes it even more insulting. And again, it’s common to attach an –ito or –ita to most words, though again, that’s a cultural thing. Putting things in diminutive is so common that some people use it in every sentence and if you're wondering, yes it can be annoying. That they apply it to how they refer to people is basically spillover, but that doesn’t make it any better or any less wrong. Common should not be synonymous with acceptable.

The reaction to this incident was a bit higher than most others, but still, it didn’t register as much. Talking to Tian, he mentioned that he thinks people don’t see a threat in Asian people, so they have at it and go hog wild, because, hello, of course there won’t be repercussions. Meanwhile, with other races, people are taught at a very early age to A. avoid them at all costs, and B. don’t antagonize them because it’s dangerous.

I think that’s an interesting and valid point. Think about it this way, take the same scene, but replace Yu Darvish with any black player. Now instead of the slanted eye gesture, make a gesture sticking out their lower lip or take a page from Muhammed Ali’s page and call him a monkey. Suddenly the scene becomes grim and borderline unreadable. It’s the same exact situation, except we changed races. My question is, why isn’t the reaction as vicious? Why is it expected to be OK to let this one slide? And then another. And another. And another.

Gurriel got suspended for 5 spring games in the next season. That’s a good first step but doesn’t deter people from such unsportsmanlike behavior because these games are not of consequence. Some people suggested a suspension from a World Series game would have driven the message much better… and I agree. It’s not that I don’t like Gurriel (I don’t even follow the sport all that much). It’s the fact that people look up to these players and if that’s the example and those are the repercussions, then what’s the lesson? Why should we care? Why should we worry?

As a Latino, I know all about being told that racism against Hispanics is not as bad and that I shouldn’t complain, as if there were some scale of racism or a competition. To me, all racism is silly, childish, dangerous, and unacceptable. I’m not even saying I don’t understand it; I’m saying we should be better than racism. Some people may speculate that I’m writing this because one of my best friends is Asian. The fact is that as a Latino, I feel the need to call bullshit when I see it in regards to someone other than a Latino.

After Hurricane Maria, it’s become clear that Puerto Ricans are looked by many circles as lesser second class citizens. There may be those who don’t see things this way, but we can’t say there aren’t people who think Puerto Rico in general is a waste of time. I know the frustration of only seeing Latino people making a case for Puerto Rico, which is exactly why I write this in defense of my Asian brothers and sisters. I’m Latino by birth but a friend by choice, and Tian has proven to be one of the humblest and thoughtful people I know along with one of the funniest. He is good people and I stand by him calling bullshit when bullshit is made, especially by someone who shares roots with me.

We live racially charged times but we must look past race and see the human aspect in all of this. Yuli Gurriel made a human mistake, he tried to man up which I applaud. That said, if I were him, I would do much more for the Asian communities in Houston and the nation. After all, he is being given the opportunity to show the best humanity has to offer and to show that sportsmanlike behavior can prevail.

Peace, love, and maki rolls