This is not the end of the world

Anger, sadness, numbness, despair, hopelessness, disbelief – is there a word that encompasses all of these feelings? Yes, we do now – a Trump presidency.

For a year now, we’ve all been joking about this, unaware that it would one day become reality. Sure, we joked about being deported, about moving to Canada, and about the world coming to an end. And today, even as reality seeps in, slowly and painfully, I know I am not going to be deported, I know I’m not going to move to Canada, I know I will stay in the US and do my best to actually find a way to stay here, still, and I know that the world hasn’t come to an end.

Because despite being an F1 visa holder foreign student, I’m still privileged. I am here because I had the opportunity to choose to pursue my studies in the first place, and I will still be paid to do so. I will still pay my rent, albeit not without struggle (which is nothing new, really), and I will surely still go out with my friends for a drink or two when I feel like it. Things come to worse, I do have another country to go back to (although things are certainly NOT looking much better in dear old Korea). I also have the luxury to joke and say “Hey, at least we’ve got weed to keep us going on.” (Thank you Massachusetts)

But this is so much bigger than me, bigger than many of us in my circle of friends and acquaintances. I am deeply saddened that people would rather believe they should fear groups of people many of them probably have never met. I can’t understand how people from counties where 96% of the population is white in states like Montana  are so concerned about immigrants they would rather have a racist, sexist, and incompetent leader, and rapist!, for the next four years. I am concerned about the gap between rural and urban areas, and between generations. I am heartbroken to see that many of my students, who exercised their very first vote in this country, realized their votes did not matter after all. I am left without words to see how so many Americans have so little faith in their constitution that they will believe Sharia law will take over their country.

It is devastating to see that fear and hatred of the unknown and mostly of the different, the very basis of the American nation, have taken over the rational and the reason. This is a blow to humanity, not just in the States but everywhere in the world where people feel their fear validated and legitimized to the expense of others.

This is not the end of the world, that’s true, it’s much worse.  We are alive and well to see, feel, and experience the huge step back humanity has chosen to take. It’s not the end of the world, but it is the end of a world, a world in which we dared to believe in love, peace, understanding, and brotherhood.

Yes, the sun did rise today, and will rise tomorrow, but on a world a little less beautiful, a little less peaceful, a little less understanding, a little less united. And to me, that is worse than the end of the world.

A response to #ALSIceBucketChallenge Haters

For the past week, my Facebook and Twitter timeline, and I suspect that of many others as well, has been filled with videos of people dumping ice water on themselves as part of a movement to raise awareness for ALS, also known as the Lou Gehrig’s disease: the #IceBucketChallenge. People all over the world, celebrities and non-celebrities, have been willingly soaking themselves in ice-cold water for the sake of this movement (thank god for them this became “a thing” in Summer). And just as any other popular movement, it has drawn as much criticism as praise; the main argument for the former being that it is a waste of water, a precious resource, which, among other people, “many Africans lack” and that could have been put to better use, like “saving poor African children”.
Yes, there is no denying that pouring bucket loads of water on yourself is, technically and literally, a waste. But no, I do not think that constitutes a valid argument to disregard the cause or the movement.
 
Sure, in an ideal world, people would donate money to fund better research in ALS without the Ice Bucket Challenge and hence without wasting away gallons of water. Unfortunately, in reality, let’s face it, we are preoccupied with our own little lives and our own little problems to really care for others’. In reality, there are just too many causes to support, from animal rights to proper health care, to even notice something like ALS unless we are personally involved in it some way or the other. Organizations that work based on donations know this too well. They have to focus their marketing strategies to not only raise awareness but also to make people  believe in their humanity and goodness to proudly pull out 10 dollars out of their pocket so that they can later boast about it on their SNS platform. This may be a callous way to put it, but that’s what it is. If all of us were capable of caring and actively contributing to the improvement of all the problems the world is facing without that extra push, the world would be a much better place. But we do need that extra push to be inspired and donate “out of the goodness in our hearts”.
 
The other part of the criticism I am very much uncomfortable with is that tendency of ours to always brandish images of “dying African children” for anything, really.
This picture has been circulating quite a lot among my FB acquaintances.

This picture has been circulating quite a lot among my FB acquaintances.

Whether it’s the death of a respectable man such as Steve Jobs (I have to admit, I’m guilty of this one) or the fact that more than 5,600 people are newly diagnosed with ALS every year, we always hear someone say “Yeah, but you know, hundreds of children in Africa are dying everyday.” I’m not denying that people are dying in Africa or that we should care less about them. But please, don’t strip “African children” of their dignity by making them the “go-to criticism” for everything. They deserve a little bit more respect than that. And frankly, regardless of your intentions, that’s quite a racist move.
 
Furthermore, why doesn’t Anthony Carbajal deserve our attention and empathy as much as any other “African child”?
What allows us to judge that one’s suffering is more worthy of our care than another’s? Are we so limited in our capacity to be concerned for others that we have to choose one over and in the expense of the other? Would it kill us to care for both? And before you voice any criticism, did you actually donate money to either cause?
It’s important and necessary that we should have a critical eye and ask questions first before accepting facts as they are. I am very much for that. But there’s a fine line between being critical and being, simply put, a hater. Let’s make sure that there is enough humanity and empathy left in us not to cross that line.
After all, the initial challenge of either dumping ice water on yourself OR donating 100 dollars to ALSA doesn’t seem to hold anymore. People do the Ice Bucket Challenge AND donate money.
The ALS community, like any other, deserves our attention for at least the span of a month or two. Believe me, not to be a cynic, but people will have moved on to another worthy cause by the end of next month.
And if what I’ve said is still not reason enough to support #ALSIceBucketChallenge, well… I’m sure you’ll be a big enough person to donate money to the association sans water and sans SNS recognition.
Plus I still think these videos are quite enjoyable.
 
 
 

Korea: all that is bad… and good

I shouldn’t be idly looking at Friends videos on Youtube and writing blog posts, but I have good reasons to.

1. I just had to deal with a full week of a mid term, a horrible math homework and a 400-page book, so I think I deserve to take a break for this evening.

2. I’m on my second beer and I don’t feel like studying. And I might go on to my third. It’s only 8:00 pm. Maybe I’m a leetle drunk. I don’t know. That’s the beauty of being drunk. You don’t know. I probably am, seeing how I’ve been rambling for 5 sentences on this.

3. It’s been a while I haven’t written anything.

4. I have good reasons to write.

So… I recently saw this on Facebook.

1424566_10100520055342121_1035187916_n

This was posted at an establishment called ‘HO Bar’ in Gangnam (Yes, the area that has become famous thanks to Psy). Gangnam has always been busy, filled with young people, and it is also an area highly frequented by foreigners. So to see this in such an area (although, yes, it does make sense, that you would put this in an area highly frequented by foreigners, you wouldn’t post such things somewhere where foreigners rarely go. But! Not the point!) was, to say the least, quite a shock.

Let me see… I don’t know where to begin as to where the shock began.

Was it the use of the word “natives”? The crying face? The need to capitalize “KOREAN”? The hypocritical “Sorry” at the end? (I don’t know, if you’re going to be an asshole and a racist, at least, own up to it so that the rest of us can criticize you properly) Or even the tiny I-don’t-belong-here heart at the end of “Sorry”? Or even the simple fact, pointed out by a friend, that for once, they got all the spelling right? (At least we know there’s improvement in some ways)

Or maybe, simply, the fact that some people felt it was OK to bluntly put this sign in front of their establishment.

As one of my friends pointed out, yes, it is true, Korean bars and likewise establishments have had to deal with drunk “foreigners” in a nastier way than they would have liked to. Many GIs because of the US military presence in Korea, but also other exchange students and such to whom Seoul might appear to be a paradise for drinking. I’m not saying that Koreans are polite drinkers, absolutely not, they can provide a very obnoxious sight just as well, but I guess Koreans notice “white drunks” more easily than the average Korean drunk right next to them. And so, simple beings that we are, we often over-simplify and over-generalize things and think “White drunk man = red alert!” Maybe, if you’re the owner of or employee at such establishment, your idea of the ‘white man’ might not be very positive. But I don’t think it’s the ‘white’ factor that’s at fault here. It’s the ‘drunk’ factor. It doesn’t make much sense to expect a respectable behavior from anyone in their 20s or 30s (or does age really matter?) who’s pissed ass drunk, be they Korean or other. (And I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to all the establishments that have had to deal with my own less than ideal behavior – sorry, *crying face* *little pathetic heart*)

No matter what the excuse is, it is just, plainly, simply, WRONG to put such a sign. You may have your own personal prejudices, I don’t think there’s a single person living who doesn’t have some sort of prejudice. But when you decide to display such negative and discriminatory sentiment officially and publicly, it becomes a different matter. You build a ground for racism. You class people of a certain race, ethnicity, different from yours, into one single homogeneous group. You forget and discard the other portion of the population (probably the majority) who don’t relate to the characteristics you have arbitrarily assigned to them. You set a precedent that allows for discrimination to be ok in some ‘special cases’ (in this case, for private business and interests – I would guess). You perpetuate the eternal dichotomy of “us versus them” where “us” are always the good guys and “them” the bad ones. And, frankly, on a more personal level, you just hurt people. You hurt people who just wanted somewhere to spend a good time, and you hurt their friends who somehow feel the need to apologize for your behavior.

I could go on. But I think I made my point.

Korea has for a long time, been proud of its “one ethnicity” “one race” “one big happy family” history. Not only is that historically false, but it has also made the arrival and daily lives of foreigners extremely difficult, regardless of their nationalities. It is high time Korea accepts the fact that non-Koreans also have a place in this country, and a proper one. It is about time they realize you can’t group them all into “Americans” or “Chinese” or “Whites” or “South-East Asians” or “Blacks” and think they are all the same. I think enough Koreans face the same discrimination abroad for them not to make the same mistake.

Yes, this is a social and political issue, some might even say this sets a bad image for Korea as a country. But more than anything, you hurt individuals, people. Your behavior can turn an ok-day to a really gloomy one for the guy who was just trying to have a drink after a long day of work. Your words can draw tears out of the woman who has left her country and family to work. Your thoughts can make the exchange student more homesick than usual. So please think once, not even twice, just once, before you blurt out your misconceptions and bigotry.

Having said that, since I’m usually an optimistic person, and would hate to end this in just a negative and hopeless note, and most of all, because I still care about Korea, I’m sharing this other link: http://www.humansofseoul.org/

Hopefully this will restore a little bit of faith in Koreans. Policies, discussions, measures on a national level are necessary, but I do believe each of our own personal and individual actions matter just as much. In fact, we are the ones who can make such changes on a larger level come true. And for one racist HO Bar owner, there are 10 other people who criticize him/her… I hope. Although Korea as a country has its terrible and horrible faults, what makes it still a livable place are the people in it.

PS: Obviously the starting day and ending day of this post are not the same.  

Clash of Civilizations, no more.

As a student in International Relations, it is hard not to have read Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” at least once, or at least know the gist of Huntington’s argument in this highly acclaimed, as well as highly debated piece. Before I go on ranting about how much I hate it and everything that it represents, I do have to acknowledge that maybe it didn’t seem that crazy when it was first written. After all, when we look at many of the conflicts occurring today in the world, Huntington’s argument seems to rather make sense. We see ‘clashes’ between the “West” and the “non-West”, to put it in a very simplified version, in various forms and throughout various places. So yes, the theory of a clash of civilizations seems the easy explanation to go ahead with.

And that is everything that is wrong with this theory. It’s an easy, lazy and irresponsible explanation. “We are different, so we obviously have to fight one another. There’s nothing that can be done. Deal with it.” I don’t deny the existence of different cultures or the variations that geography and tradition can engender. God knows there is not a day that passes by without me thinking “The US and Korea are so different…”. But to say that the differences lie in our respective ‘civilizations’ and to say that it is those dissimilarities that are at the root of the conflicts, to which so many innocent lives fall victim, is to ignore the social, political and economic institutions and complexities at hand that perpetuate the gaps that eventually lead to these conflicts. Words and concepts like “culture”, “civilization” and “race” are shields we can easily brandish at the mention of anything disturbing the image and impression of “peace” and “stability” and then just shrug because nothing can be done. They are none other than coward excuses we give ourselves for not making the effort to try change things that can be changed. They are attractive illusions that hide away the real causes, such as the prejudices perpetuated by social institutions, the inequalities indefinitely passed on through politics, and the discrepancies induced by economics. Worst of all, they are appealing enough for a large number of people to believe in them, thereby allowing the current faulty system to sustain itself.

(On another note, maybe it’s unfair to Mr. Huntington to forever be reminded as the man who wrote about the clash of civilizations and to still be criticized about it, nearly two decades later, by students who haven’t even published an article in a journal, let alone, written a book.)

To laugh or not to laugh, that is the question.

As a woman and an Asian, I believe that it is important and almost necessary to have a sense of humor. I have gone through quite a few stances of discrimination based on those two criteria, as if they were the only ones to define who I am, and no doubt, I will still have more to face. Sometimes I’m consumed with frustration, and I will voice how I feel, because it is important to let others know that some things are just wrong. But many other times, I think it’s necessary to have the power and the self-confidence to laugh at them, brush them off, and continue on, because there is more to care in life than the hopeless stupidity and callousness of some people. And quite frankly, some things are just too funny not to laugh at.

Whatcha gonna do? Sometimes you just gotta laugh.

Whatcha gonna do? Sometimes you just gotta laugh.

average_asian_woman_aging-1024x307

That is why, when a news anchor at KTVU said the ‘wrong names’ during a news broadcast, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Sure, when I saw the Korean article that dealt with the issue, I was somewhat a bit offended, but I thought the joke was rather on the broadcasting company than on the Asians. For one thing, who the hell ‘confirmed’ these names? The act of ‘confirming’ something is to verify something you already know is right. Secondly, blaming it on the ‘intern who ‘acted outside of his scope of authority’ and hence got fired is a lame excuse. I don’t care if it’s the US, we all know that interns in any country don’t hold responsibilities important enough to confirm such sensitive information (my milder version of saying ‘they are considered as shit’). Finally, didn’t anybody, literally, anybody, any one person, have the decency to check the script just once, before it went on air? The viewers knew the moment they heard it and saw it, so unless everybody at KTVU is blind AND deaf, I don’t see how this kind of ‘accident’ could have happened.

On the other hand, in their defense, KTVU is a FOX affiliate, so… well, ’nuff said. The joke is on THEIR incompetency.

But after reading some other reactions and especially the comments on the news articles, where everybody seemed to think it was just a stupid joke and thus not cause enough to get mad at, discomfort slowly sipped in. Where do you draw the line between ‘making a joke’ and ‘being offensive and plain racist’?

I think at the base of all kind of discrimination lies a structure of power and dominance (doh), the unspoken, yet underlying feeling that one is superior to the other. The one who has the power is often unaware of his position (for the sake of easier writing and reading, I will use the pronoun ‘he’) because it has been so throughout history and he has never actually and actively thought he was superior to his neighbor. The one on whom power is exercised may also be unaware of his submissive status, for the same reasons. But such case is less common than the former one; the one who has had to live under the unchallenged coercive authority of the dominating class is often quite aware of the inferiority that has been imposed on him. The dominating class may thus engage into activities that it deems worthy and supporting equality, but said activities may not be perceived the same way from the dominated class.

Sure, this may all sound very communist and old school, reminiscent of imperialism and colonialism, but it doesn’t take much to see that the same still applies to the current and unfortunately, diverse kinds of discrimination a vast majority of people have to go through in their lives.

Whether or not it was, objectively, funny, is not the question anymore when the group of people the joke involves or is directed at has taken offense. Sure, there will always be people who are going to be discontent (haters gonna be haters), no matter what. But I’m not talking about extreme cases or such people. When offense has been made, maybe it’s a sign that things have gone too far and maybe the right thing to do is to give it a second thought, to see the underlying issues and differences we often overlook because we’re trying too hard to ‘have a laugh at things’ and take things lightly.

It’s tiring to always look for things to criticize in everything, but that doesn’t mean we always have to have our critical switch turned off.

Laugh at Bill Burr, Russell Peters or Louis C.K., but when a TV news ‘makes a mistake’, maybe you’re not simply looking at a ‘mistake’ but at the tip of the iceberg that is called ‘why some things are still wrong in this world’. Haha.

“Fresh Off The Boat” by Eddie Huang

I’m a girl, he’s a boy.

I’ve never lived in the States, he’s lived there since 1982.

I’m Korean, he’s Chinese (Taiwanese) American.

My so-called encounter with hip-hop is limited to club music (which I guess he would never consider as ‘true’ hip hop). He would tell you the history of hip-hop in a beat.

I’ve never dealt drugs, never even been close to any (hopefully it will continue being so), he was a major (or so it appears, to me) dealer in marijuana.

I don’t get the rules of American football, to me it’s just a bunch of overly equipped male high on testosterone hitting into one another with no particular purpose. He’s been in football teams at school.

The only adjective I can find to describe food is ‘delicious’ and sometimes, I can go as far as ‘yummy’ if it’s really good. He can talk and analyze food as much as, or more than, I can talk about and analyze Nikita I guess.

As you can see, Eddie Huang and I are worlds apart, but strangely enough, I could connect to much of what he was talking about in his book.

True, when I saw that the book was a memoir of some Asian American dude, I thought to myself, it’s going to be a typical success story from an Asian American, surviving the pressures and ‘discipline methods’ imposed by his Asian parents, and ‘making it’ to the top, and achieving the American dream. Not that I don’t enjoy those books, even if it is merely for getting the satisfaction of knowing that my parents are definitely not the worst you could ever have as Asian parents, but come on, we all know the story of the Asian-American dream. But Eddie Huang is not your ‘typical’ Asian American (and yes, I’m aware of the stereotype I am setting here already). He’s a guy full of controversies and diversities, as much as an Asian guy could ever be. Or maybe he is simply one of many Asian Americans like him, and simply the first one who was able to talk about his atypical life. A life that may be shared by all these Asian Americans whose journeys have been over shadowed by the success stories of the ‘model-minority’ type, represented by lawyers and doctors, and definitely not by a ‘former drug dealer/former lawyer/hip hop connoisseur/restaurant owner’.

But I guess the reason I was able to connect with him is that, despite all our differences, we are both/all searching who we really are and want to find our place in this world; we want to connect with those around us and belong to some group or community, all the while trying to differentiate ourselves from the rest through our uniqueness.

“I saw that my interests in hip-hop, basketball, food, comedy, and writing were symptoms of a larger interest: finding a place for myself in the world or making one. School helped me give that larger interest more precise names – racial identity, social justice – and I was determined to figure it all out.”

For him, finding that place was a road paved with struggle, fight against discrimination, and efforts not to be seen and labeled as a stereotype, and I admire and respect how he managed to always fight his way back, against the system and the people that we hardly recognize or acknowledge as discriminatory because we are too busy trying to fit in.

“It was all about Uncle Chans and how they fucked up the game up for Asian people. For too long, I wrote, we’ve been lapdogs. The people who don’t want to offend anyone. We hide out in Laundromats, delis, and take-out joints and hope that our doctor/lawyer sons and daughters will save us. We play into the definitions and stereotypes others impose on us and accept the model-minority myth, thinking it’s positive, but it’s a trap, just like any stereotype.”

By doing so however, he also falls into stereotyping the other, the ‘white man’, and the ‘model Asian man’, of whom he already has a certain idea of, and whom he judges according to his own prejudices, and I guess my biggest criticism of his book would be that discrepancy. But I’ve never lived in the ‘white world’ that the US sometimes can be, despite all its myths of ‘melting pot’ or ‘salad bowl’, so I guess I can’t really criticize his experience with racism. I’m kind of dreading living in the States in the very near future, in that sense. I still have this naive hope that living in the same country, especially one as big as the US, will not necessarily lead to the same unpleasant experiences, and dearly hope, on the one hand, I won’t have to go through this subtle discrimination and racism every country kind of holds against foreigners. On the other hand, I feel like I should prepare myself for such encounter, instead of holding on to a futile hope, and think of smart ways to overcome them and perhaps, learn a thing or two.

And that’s the other thing about his book that is atypical and refreshing. His clear and bold voice denouncing the blunt and subtle racism that exists in the States (and probably any other country) to this day. We have all become somewhat race-conscientious today that we are afraid of being called as a ‘racist’ whenever we talk about race. So we’d rather overlook certain things concerning race and be satisfied with the superficial talks on this issue, to be on the safer side. Ironic, isn’t it, that the more we become aware of certain issues (race, gender, etc), the less we are encouraged to actually seriously discuss them?

Anyways, Eddie Huang’s way of dealing with such prejudice while growing up was to always ‘fight back’, and not be the docile, weak and polite Asian kid who, after being on his knees to find the glasses on the school playground, glasses knocked off from his nose by the white bully, only dreams of his vengeance in the future, when he’ll be the successful lawyer that will sue that kid’s ass off. I felt small learning of this distinct way of fighting, wondering whether I myself had not been that ‘docile, weak and polite Asian kid’ who preferred to be quiet instead of barking back. I don’t think I was that docile when I was little, back in Mauritania, although, technically, primo, I don’t think I ever faced ‘racism’ back there, and segundo, little as I was, I was always more comfortable using words than fists. But I think I’ve become more docile when I grew up, mainly because I just don’t like confrontations. Especially when it comes to certain images and perceptions foreigners have of Korea. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I can list you a hundred things that I think this country is clearly doing wrong, but Korea is, in a way, like my mom. I can spend days and nights about how she/it annoys the hell out of me, but don’t you dare trash talk about her/it. It may be a fucked up country, but well, and I hate saying this, it is my fucked up country, you know? It’s one thing to have both foreigners and Koreans hold a critical point of view about Korea, and carry on a civilized and sensible discussion, for instance, about how many Korean companies have insane working hours. But it is another thing to have a foreigner ‘criticize’ the drinking culture in Korea and complain about how Koreans love drinking, when that very same person is clearly having tons of fun drinking with his other foreigner buddies, and nobody is forcing them to. And just because I didn’t want to be seen as that ‘nationalistic Korean kid’ who will defend her country against the big white evil, I nodded along most of the time. But, just like Eddie Huang puts it,

“Whether you accept it or not, when you’re a visible Asian you have a torch to carry because we simply don’t have any other representation.”

At first, I felt as I I had been betraying the ‘Asian race’ because I didn’t have the physical strength to fight back with punches like he did. I felt as if I was the spitting image of that ‘Asian stereotype’ he was so clearly against, because, well, I’m a nerd who likes studying, I have never even dreamed of doing, let alone, dealing drugs and I don’t have the energy or the time to be that invested in hip-hop. I absolutely hate sports, especially when they involve a ball of any sort, because I always feel like the balls are just rushing to hit me, and only me. And in a way, I was jealous that he got to be both cool and smart. As much as the ‘good Asian’ in me was saying ‘Gosh, he’s such a bad Asian, and a bad son! His parents are working their butt off to educate him and what does he do? Deal drugs? Shame on him…’, the ‘rebel Asian’ in me was simply envious of his genuine love for food and cuisine and passion for something besides studies. But Eddie Huang is not telling us to be exactly like him. Au contraire. He is telling us to find our own way to stand out in the dominant system and culture, to find something proper and unique to us and be proud of it. To make your own culture and your image and own them. And this is the biggest lesson I draw from Eddie Huang’s memoir.

“The Color of Water” by James McBride

I went on a limb for this one, having no idea who the author was and having never heard of the book either. But the subtitle, ‘A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother’, was enough, needless to say, to captivate my attention and prick my curiosity. Was she his foster mom? Was he adopted? Was she just a mother figure and not his real mother? Those were, unfortunately, the first questions that crossed my mind. There was no scenario in my mind, for a black man to be old enough to be writing a memoir on his ‘real’ white mother, considering the recent history of racism. Yet, it was real enough. James McBride is the child, one of 12, of Ruth McBride Jordan, nee Ruchel Dwajra Zylska, a Polish immigrant, daughter of an Orthodox Jew rabbi.

For the longest time, McBride was unaware of his mother’s background, how her parents came to immigrate to the United States, where they lived when she was young, how she left her home and came to New York, why she ran away from home, why she never talked about her family; in other words, there was this enormous part of his mother’s past life he had no way of peeking into. His mother finally decides to tell him and this book is about her tumultuous journey, one that is alas more embedded with prejudice, pain, suffering, than happiness. Along with her journey, this book is also about the author’s own journey, his life growing up with his 11 siblings in a New York neighborhood mainly populated by blacks, the various forms of racism he had to face, the different civil rights movements he was involved, directly and indirectly, and his search for identity as a black man, and as the son of a white ex-Jewish, currently-Baptist woman who felt more akin to African Americans despite her difficulty to be ‘fully accepted’ by some of them. And the two journeys are both incredible.

Although it is personally hard for me to understand why anyone would want to have 12 children when she doesn’t have the means to ‘abundantly’ provide for them (this is the same frustration I get when reading Irish/Irish-American literature. I sigh every time the children are told to go outside of their small, shabby apartment, because that means when they come back, they’ll see their mother propped up in bed with a new baby), I don’t want to judge her, I’m sure there is a certain dimension there I am not able to understand. Besides that though, her journey is one of a strong person and a strong woman, having survived an abusive childhood, having found love and having managed to find the energy and tenacity to raise and educate all of her 12 children.

Some of the reviews on this book criticize the author for writing too much like a reporter and for giving a voice to his mother she didn’t want in the first place. Those are valid criticisms, I guess, but when one’s writing style cannot escape the influence of one’s job and him being a reporter, I don’t think it is fair to accuse him of being what he is. As for the second point, true, Ruth avoided the story of her childhood for most of her life and the way her son wrote it may not have been how she would have put it, word for word. But I empathize with and understand the author’s effort and desire to know who his mother was and is, and his inclination to put it into letters and words and share her story with the rest of the world.

Mothers are funny influences that way. When you’re growing up, they’re your heroes, your source of comfort, the very rendition of how love would look like. Their simple physical presence is everything. They tell you bits of their stories and you cry when she cries, you laugh when she laughs. Then, you grow up, and you see faults and weaknesses you never thought she had. After the initial disappointment, you learn to deal with them with a feeling of compassion and understanding, mixed with – let’s be honest – the inevitable annoyance. And so you want to know more about them, to be the psychologist without her knowing, to dig deep in her childhood and her youth, so that you can perhaps have a better grasp at their changes and prepare yourself, especially if you’re a girl, for any changes you may also go through in the future. And for a child, your mother’s story and her voice are worth writing, telling and sharing with others, because that’s what people do with heroes, isn’t it? People write comic books, build figurines, make movies and hold huge conventions where fans flock to. No mother is just a ‘normal, ordinary’ person to a child, and that is why you want everyone else to know her ‘superpower’.

I guess this is somewhat what went through the author’s mind when he dared give a voice to his mother; writing as a therapy, to cope with who she was and is, and with who he is.

McBride’s own story is just as fascinating as his mother’s and I would like to leave it to the readers to discover for themselves the exceptional story of a man who embodies a mixture of identities, voices, biographies, injustices, achievements, and victories.