Thursday, March 8, 2007

Life Lesson #115

*I decided to go back through the readings we have previously covered; and discovered the poem “Can You Talk Mexican” from Our Feel Walk the Sky by Amita Vasudeva. Since we didn’t really cover much of the poetry that we read I thought I would cover this poem myself.

This poem is short, but I believe it carries a lot of emotion throughout it;
“Can you talk Mexican?”
They use to ask me.
“No, I’m not Mexican I’m Indian, and besides they speak Spanish,”
I use to reply, waiting listlessly for their best
Attempt at doing a “rain dance”
“Owwow ohh o wow.” Smacking outstretched palms to their little
mouths and hopping around.
“Not THAT kind of Indian – Indian from India,”
I would correct, as soon as they finished whooping.
“Oh … Can you talk Indian?”
The image I receive when I read this poem is an older white male having a conversation with a young Indian woman. I believe I have an image of a white person because mpst whites are less knowledgeable of ethnicity, and the only explanation I have for it being a male is in my experiences males seem less interested in other races outside of their own (Sorry guys). The beginning of the poem gives me an uneasy feeling, due to the ignorance that is stated. I believe it sets up the feeling for the rest of the poem.
When I read the dialog of the poem the person asking the questions seems to be oblivious to their own unawareness of ethnicities. They seem almost like a child with the innocence of asking offensive questions. The person answering the questions had an underlying feeling of frustration, embarrassment, and pity towards the other person. Frustration seems to be the tone of the response, “No, I’m not Mexican I’m Indian, and besides they speak Spanish,” Embarrassment I believe is what they are feeling watching the other person is acting out a chant and hopping around, imitating a “rain dance”. Pity comes from their last question without even a response I feel this pity arise “Oh … Can you talk Indian?” After correcting the talking Mexican comment the person still didn’t realize their mistake and repeated it with the talking Indian.
The poem as a whole can be summed up into one life lesson, “Think before you Speak”. This poem is life lesson for me, I am a victim of not thinking thoroughly before I speak, yet I have never had a situation like this I would never want to be thought of “that” girl that is uneducated and rude.


Sugar said...

Prof. Jha wanted comments, so here's my comment!
WARNING: This comment is very opinionated and self-centered. It is just my current mindset, so I'll probably contradict myself if you ask me about it later...

A question for the guys: do you really have less of a desire to learn about other people's cultures? In my experience, I have found this to be false. In fact, I am going to spread this generalization to all white people. Now I realize that I, myself, am half-ish white, but for the moment, I am going to pretend that I am perfect. Perhaps it is simply coincidence or bad timing, but, more often than not, I find that people, if they guess your racial background wrong, they will either get really awkward or try to laugh it off with a racist joke. Example: I went to a social event and met some boys. One of them asked if i was mexican. When I said, "No, I'm half-Japanese and the other half is Euro-mutt and Native American." He seemed to only have heard the Japanese part, because he turned to his friend and whispered loudly, "I bet her Daddy is a Sumo wrestler."
Now, not only do I find this immature, but it is also wrong - my dad is a marine botanist. Asking a person about their backgroud indicates that you want to get to know them a little, that you are curious. It is simply bad manners to then laugh at them when you make a mistake. Would you like it if someone you hardly know was poking fun at you? (if so, you're probably just hungry for attention.)

Deborah Arroyo said...

This comment reminds me of the scene in Mississippi Masala where the black gentleman thinks that Mina is Mexican. It's ignorance in general that we are witnessing with the gentleman in this poem and the black man in Mississippi Masala. I think that we are all guilty of generalizations when it comes to race. So when I read this poem I didn't necessarily think of an old white man asking this question, but an uneducated man in general, I didn't see his skin color as I was visualizing this poem. Instead I was visualizing the Indian girl's face as she heard this question. I saw irritation in her face. She has probably been asked this before or been mistaken for a Mexican before, but it still irritates her that people assume a person is a certain race instead of just asking them first. I like this poem because it reminds me to never assume someone's race. After all I would be offended if someone thought I was something else other than Mexican.

SamFelsing1 said...

Response to Life Lesson 115

I will announce my allegiance now, I am a male. However, I sort of understand what you are saying. I think girls are little more diplomatic, not necessarily less ignorant, but more willing to talk to others. Stereotypically, that is the case. Men tend to be a little more forceful than diplomatic, thus they are less likely to talk to others who they don’t know. This doesn’t mean that women can’t be as ignorant as the men; they are probably more likely to resolve the issues involving that stupidity.
I do think that this was supposed to make white Americans think. I am not saying that all white people are ignorant, I happen to be white, but I am saying that when a group is as powerful as white Americans, they tend to neglect the feelings of those around them and are less likely to care about them. Hopefully, a person in that group will recognize themselves in the passage.

Devery Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Devery Mitchell said...

First of all I would just like to say "Thank you" to Ashley for resurrecting the poetry we long ago buried in our binders from the first week of class. Good timing, good call. Secondly, I would just like to comment on the great variety of commentors on this blog. I love it! I am here to place my female Caucasian view of this poem/blog on the board to add yet another perspective.
Each of the ideas and perspectives presented so far both fascinate and support my take on this poem. But I still have some of my own thoughts to present. When reading this poem, I did not picture the same conversation of an Indian woman talking to an older, white male. Instead my take on the situation was full of flashes of a young Indian-American girl dressed in sneakers and a Minnie Mouse sweater, her long black hair tied half-up in a matching pink bow. She is walking to her favorite corner of the playground head down in hopes of avoiding eye contact with the boys playing kickball close by. The conversation ensues, one she has had several times before with countless other classmates, boys and girls. Her completely American accent falls upon deaf ears yet again when the conversation comes to a close with the same ignorant question. I believe the author uses this exchange, from a young child's perspective, to send a message (the same message Sam was getting at) to her mostly white, probably educated audience; race lends itself to division, which lends itself to hierarchy. Heirarchy involves power which is centered around neglect an ignorance. This poem is meant to bring awareness by using a seemingly innocent situation to expose the network of racial identities and conflicts.

Mara Davidson said...

Can you talk Mexican?
This poem had a strong affect on me also. My picture though was one of myself, even though I am not Indian, and of the many situations, and countless people who have, unknowingly, offended me throughout my course of life. I say unknowingly because they did not seem to want to offend me. Many people like to make assumptions about ethnicity immediately and categorize accordingly. Often times I have been asked “What are you?” and many times I have been assumed to be Mexican, people always ask me why I cannot speak Spanish. These stereotypes of “looking a certain way” lead people to believe all sorts of half-truths and lead to ignorance. As for the male stereotype which you throw out there, I do not agree. I think women have just as many, if not more infantile stereotypes about races other than their own, they are just better at denying or hiding it. I do agree that white people as a group have a kind of power which is unbidden to them, they do nothing to gain this power but they all have it, and it can sometimes lead to the formation of unyielding stereotypes which propagate furiously and are almost impossible to extinguish.