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Entries in american life (8)

Sunday
Jul142013

On #Trayvon. And Us.

In a nest made of a pretty little river, a dozen or so golf courses and several lakes that are best kept secrets, the place of my becoming exists. For twelve years, I lived two minutes outside of Sanford, Florida. For the twenty three years before that, I lived about thirty minutes away. 

Sanford has a quaint, little downtown where there’s a lovely library carpeted with that weird brown material that was so popular in the 80s. When Nuha started preschool, I would take Yusuf to this library for children’s programs. Sometimes, we would visit a park nearby and I would push him on a swing until it was time for a snack. Sanford is a sweet, unassuming town. It doesn’t really stand out in any real way — save the fact that it is so unremarkably unremarkable. 

It’s cute. It’s simple. It’s just… Sanford.

I got a ticket about four years ago for speeding. I elected to take the driving course so I wouldn’t have to get the points on my license. I had to go to the courthouse to pay the ticket and show my driving course certificate.  The security guards are friendly and will make jokes with you if you appear game, as I often do. The staff there is professional and courteous. The courthouse has the usual mix of the mundane and exciting that a courthouse can offer. It wasn’t really busy. It’s a nice courthouse. You probably have one like it in your town. It, like the community it serves, is generally unremarkable.

But today, Sanford is not unremarkable. 

It is spotlighted. For some, it has become the staging ground for battle. It’s become emblematic of everything that  is right or wrong about our society. It has become the place where people point and say, “See, this is what we mean when we say that the world is this way or that way…” In a short time, something I knew as unremarkable has become quite remarkable in what I think is a very unfortunate way.

I spent a lot of time on Facebook tonight. I noticed comments about riots. About dead children. About self defense and self loathing. About prayers for peace for this side or that. The new, remarkable Sanford had made what is normally my unremarkable Facebook wall a very remarkable place, too.

“Nice job, Florida.”

“Well, don’t go to Florida if you’re wearing a hoodie!”

Hey, Americans of Facebook? Violence, racism, discrimination, bias… these are not the province of the newly remarkable Sanford, Florida. This is our national problem. We own it… as a nation — no exceptions. Everyday, people in this country are deemed threatening because of their appearance, their name, or their culture. They are dirty because they are poor. They are violent because they are black. They are angry because they are Muslim. They are racist because they are white. They are deviant because they are gay. 

These ideas and words are crimes against you and me. They are not so apparent as a grown man operating within the context of some irrational application of an ill conceived law provoking a child to violence and then killing that child as reprisal. But they are crimes, nonetheless, of which we are all victims and perpetrators.

They are the crimes that divide us. They are not as quick to kill as a bullet to the chest, but they do kill. They kill slowly and their death toll is in the thousands. And they cannot be prosecuted in a court of law.

And here’s the real clincher: the perpetrators of these crimes are almost always acquitted because the jury is too sympathetic or apathetic to convict. 

You acquit. I acquit. We acquit each other when we look the other way when a remark is made about “those people” and why they are “that way.” We acquit each other when we accept the idea that “race is not an issue.”

I want to tell you all, for your own good, stop saying that. If you think race isn’t an issue, then race is most definitely an issue for you. When you pretend something does not exist, you give it power. That’s why Harry said “Voldemort” instead of “He Who Must Not Be Named.” Be Harry. You cannot destroy that which you think does not exist. You cannot heal a sickness if you refuse to believe that you are sick. You deny a sickness, though, and it only grows.

A trial in Sanford? That is, at least, some accountability. It’s a few moments when someone says, “Well, let’s try to figure out what went wrong here.” So maybe they don’t figure it out and some bogus verdict sends us all in a tizzy …just long enough so we get distracted from the many acquittals we dole out on a daily basis.

We then focus on the big remarkable event which is just really the outcome of all the acquittals we dole out in the unremarkable moments in our lives.

Someone pleaded today, “What can I do?”

I’ll tell you. 

Hold yourself accountable for the tiny ways in which you might be making this problem bigger. You’re not a racist, of course. I’m not either. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t unconsciously harbor sentiments which are so deeply ingrained with racist ideology that it is no longer visible to us. I think, too, and this is going to be controversial… we have to let go of relativism when it comes to tolerance and acceptance. Be unrelenting. Be ever vigilant. But, of course, be kind.

Look at what you believe — observe yourself, your words and your ideas in the context of humankind’s very necessary journey to a peaceful existence. Our continued existence is fully determined by our ability to take a stand in the service of our preservation.

One remarkable acquittal is enough. 

Let’s not acquit ourselves, too.

Wednesday
Jan092013

37!

I am nothing, if not transparent. That's a metaphor. I didn't wake up today invisble or something.

Though that would be a neat super power to get ON YOUR BIRTHDAY!! 

Yes, yes, today is my birthday. As you can see from the title, I have more than a few of those under the proverbial belt now. Each year, the day passes without much internal ado. Today, for some reason, as I got ready, I felt different. Today, I thought about all of the other birthdays and how I felt on those mornings, and I realized something. Today, I am probably more thankful than I have ever been. 

There's hesitation that precedes the pronouncement that I have everything right now that I've ever wanted. One doesn't want to jinx themselves, I guess. If I think about it, though, I don't buy the whole concept of "jinxing" as it applies to me. God has been good to me. Always. It's okay to be thankful. It's okay to acknowledge that in all the years that I have been alive, I look around today and see a great spouse, extraordinary children, a rewarding job, a nice place to live, and a life that unfolds free of any real or dire worries. 

What did I get for my birthday? Perfume, slippers, a bathrobe and lots of other things. But nothing I received filled emptiness, if that makes sense. Because I feel fulfilled today. It hasn't been easy to get to this feeling. If I trace back the moments to right now and try to define a point of origin, I would guess that it started with a celebration. Once upon a time, a few years ago, I decided to do more than just accept myself. I decided to celebrate myself. I thought about who I was and decided that everything should be as it should be. There would be no more struggling or self effacement. There would only be love for myself.

 I tried to explain to someone the other day that in desi culture, it is the person who is having a birthday that gives some kind of token of appreciation to their friends. A party, a dinner, a small treat of some sort. In the spirit of that, I would like to give you a gift today. 

In the comments section of this blog, I'd like you to type four things that you unequivocally celebrate about yourself in the comment section of this post. Tomorrow morning, at this time, I'll randomly pick a commenter and send them a $30 gift card to Amazon. Make sure you fill in your e-mail, so I can contact you.

Winner will be posted on the Native Born Facebook page.

Friday
Nov232012

These Boots Were Made for Gawking. And Giving Away.

In a couple of hundred words, I'm going to tell you how you can win some boots. Until then, sit back, sip on something for a spell and let's talk about history, culture and identity.

Here’s a surprising admission: I don’t wear cowboy boots. 

I’ve always wanted to own cowboy boots, though. In the spring of 1994, I went to Pakistan for about five months. Before I left, I searched the mall up and down for a pair of, don’t laugh at me, red cowboy boots. I wanted to wear them on the flight over with a pair of Gap jeans and a black button down shirt. I owned the jeans, purchased the top and then was sorely disappointed at not finding the boots. There was a specialty store for cowboy boots in my area. I wasn’t about to go in there, of course. Frankly, I was afraid of looking like a big poser. I’d never ridden a horse or been within ten feet of a cow at that point. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve still not been within ten feet of a cow unless it's on a plate.

Why the cowboy boots? Because I’m American and I wanted people to know that when I got to Pakistan.

I was contacted recently by Country Outfitters about reviewing a pair of boots and hosting a giveaway for Native Born readers. If you’ve read this blog since the beginning, you know I don’t work with brands or products in this space. I really, really, REALLY wanted a pair of cowboy boots, though, so I said yes. Plus, cowboy boots are interesting and I want to write about them.

As I waited for my boots to arrive, I got to thinking about cowboy boots and the irony of a first generation Pakistani-American chick sporting a head scarf walking around wearing them. If you’ve read my post about why I cover my head, you’ll know that a great deal of the decision rests in cultural authenticity and a desire to express my identity. That was true back in 1994 when I tried to look for those red cowboy boots, too. I’m not any one identity and the fastest way to transmit that to people is through fashion.

Clothes, jewelry, shoes - these are all markers and suggestions of who we are, where we’ve been and they're ways to reinforce not just a community but cross cultural commonalities, too. Most people, for example, associate cowboy boots with America. While it’s a fact that cowboy boots were made fashionable by the likes of Will Rogers and John Wayne, their origins have been traced as far back as the 12th century to Genghis Khan (no relation). The present day construction of cowboy boots is still based upon the specific needs of horsemen that were addressed by Khan and the Mongolians. Four hundred years after Genghis Khan, caballeros and vanqueros in 16th century South America were wearing cowboy boots as they herded cows and livestock. As Americans began to realize the economic potential associated with transporting cattle and livestock from one place to another, the need for a strong shoe that could handle the strain of that type of work became high and thus the use of modified Wellington boots which had been used in the Civil War became widespread in the West and Midwest regions of our nation.

Now, here is where it gets really cool. About twenty years after the Civil War, Buffalo Bill used elements of the cowboy lifestyle to provide entertainment value to the American public in ways that still resonate in today's culture. What had been a sturdy brown working shoe now reflected beautiful and intricate overlay, color and design. The functional had been transformed into the fashionable and as each decade passed, innovative methods of construction and design allowed Americans to claim this specific and fashionable version of a historical riding boot as their very own.

The American cowboy boot’s current construction and visage is reflective of all things American: borrowed, worked over, branded and most beautifully reenvisioned . 

When I look at a pair of well crafted and artistically magnificent cowboy boots, I know exactly how people who do not originate in the subcontinent feel when they see a beautifully patterned sari or scarf. The modern day fashion cowboy boot, like those things, is a symbol of tradition, evolution, beauty and culture. This may sound dramatic, but when I look at a gorgeously designed cowboy boot, I am reminded that the nation of my birth is no less rich in its tradition and beauty than the one of my origins.

Also?

I’ve always looked good in blue and I may never take these off.

Country Outfitters has agreed to give away a $150 gift card a member of Native Born's audience. Honestly? You should totally try to win this. The winner will be announced December 7th.

CLICK HERE and enter your email address. Country Outfitter will occasionally send you marketing messages. You are welcome to opt out at any time.

For an additional entry please leave a comment below letting me know that you entered. Must be a US Resident 18 years and older.

To gawk at more boots, visit their main website and like them on Facebook 

 

Disclosure: As the writer of this blog, I am wholly committed to expressing my real, honest opinion with the highest degree of integrity about products or services I've been asked to review. CountryOutfitter, a retailer of women's cowboy boots sent me these turquoise Corral boots to review this month and is sponsoring the giveaway of a gift card, as well.

 

Photo Credit: Country Outfitter -- Dingo Women's Adobe Rose Boot - Distressed

Saturday
Jul072012

And Now... Coming at You From the Crescent City!

Last Saturday, after a month in Florida, we headed "home" to Memphis.

But, wait, there's more! This week, I'm writing to you from New Orleans. Funny thing, it rained every day that we were in Florida and then, surprise, our first day here in NOLA... rain.

When Tariq and I were married in Pakistan, it rained on the day of our wedding even though it hardly ever rains in December. It was then that I learned that rain is considered auspicious and a blessing in Pakistani culture. Even if it keeps you from the beach the entire time you're in Florida or results in your having to roll up the cuffs of your jeans when you bring groceries into your brother's house in New Orleans. 

Front Row on the Fourth. Also, trifles.

As a result of our escape from suburbia that landed us in a high rise, it took us approximately 45 seconds to get the best seats in the house for the Mud Island fireworks. Right before that, thought, as for me and my house, we served a blueberry and strawberry trifle that was supposed to be red, white and blue but ended up being red, white-ish and purple.

Blueberries, cream cheese filling, fresh strawberries

According to 98% of the individuals surveyed regarding the trifle, it was a success. Notable exception was my daughter who declared the blueberry filling to be something she wasn't "crazy about." My dear, anything that doesn't make you crazy is definitely something I'm committed to making again.

 

Once I realized that the blueberry part was going to more purple than blue, I abandoned the notion of creating a replica of the American flag. Okay. In the spirit of George Washington (recall sketchy apple tree story) and Abraham Lincoln (they called him "Honest Abe" despite lack of sketchy apple tree story), I cannot tell a lie. I got lazy and crazy with the strawberries.

If you want the recipe for a patriotically inspired dessert, just use this this one from the food network. I ditched the almond extract because I never use that and I'm not buying an ounce when all I need is a teaspoon. I also used apricot preserves and those sugary pearl things as a garnish. Sugary pearl things were left over from Eid last year.

These things don't go bad. Hopefully.

Did you make or do anything special this past week? Also, has anyone else driven over a 3500 miles with their family in the last five weeks?

Monday
May282012

One Day A Warrior 

 

What have we done to you, death,

That you treat us so,

With always another catch

One day a warrior,

The next a head of state; 

Charmed by the loyal, 

You choose the best.

- Al-Khansa, Poet, Arabia (600 - 670 C.E.)

Photo Credit