Santa Fe 2018

“I don’t go to Santa Fe anymore; it just isn’t what it used to be.” She was New Mexico born and bred, still lives in Albuquerque, and goes to Taos for what Santa Fe used to be.  I have been visiting Santa Fe for almost 20 years, and I have my own ideas of what Santa Fe is, and was: It is a city with many identities, and I don’t think it was ever what it used to be.

creative mornings (2)

In Santa Fe, I am Opie: I am open, I am kind, I listen.  It is an interesting persona for me, and for a few minutes out of their day, people can unload some part of their identities on a stranger who listens, who they will not see again.  On a whim I went to a Creative Mornings Santa Fe event.  The speaker was a physicist, and while he was interesting, it was the mixer before the talk that was stimulating.  I talked to Sharon for about half an hour: she  had seen someone fill in the name badge blank under “I’m curious to know about your . . . .” with “first love,” and she told me not about her first love, but about her last love.  A white woman who grew up in a tiny Hispanic village thinking she “fit in,” only realizing as she really grew up that she fit in only because of the kindness of her neighbors, and that then as now, she was never going to fit into her Hispanic lover’s world.

I think I fit in, until something happens that tells me I do not:  A look from someone who wonders what an Asian woman could possibly know about small town architecture, or multiple histories of settlement of the American West, or distorted symbolism(s) of the Alamo . . .  I think racism doesn’t apply to me, until it applies.

But then, on my last day in Santa Fe, a random act of joy:


A small act of inclusion and acceptance from a stranger.

In between, a thought-provoking interactive/immersive installation at the New Mexico Museum of Art: Pollination, by the art collective Postcommodity:


Enter a stall, insert token:


The shade goes up, and the show begins:


Nature, managed and controlled, not quite real, the object of desire in a land of little rain.


November 8, 2016

. . . . was a truly awful day.

One of my favorite people told me that each person in her three-person family voted for a different candidate.  Her husband voted for the Human Stain.  She excused him by telling me that he did so because  he was hoping for a better future for small businesses, and that while it is true the Human Stain denigrated various segments of the population, he personally was voting for the economy and not for anything else the Human Stain may represent.

Jamelle Bouie, political reporter at Slate:  There is No Such Thing as a Good Trump Voter.”  His point:

Whether Trump’s election reveals an “inherent malice” in his voters is irrelevant.  What is relevant are the practical outcomes of a Trump presidency.  Trump campaigned on state repression of disfavored minorities . . . .  If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question.  That you have black friends or Latino colleagues, that you think yourself to be tolerant and decent, doesn’t change the fact that you voted for racist policy that may affect, change, or harm their lives.  And on that score, your frustration at being labeled a racist doesn’t justify or mitigate the moral weight of your political choice . . . .  To insist Trump’s backers are good people is to treat their inner lives with more weight than the actual lives on the line under a Trump administration.  At best, it’s myopic and solipsistic.  At worst, it’s morally grotesque.

Well, I guess I don’t have anything else to add to this.  Thank you, Mr. Bouie, for your superbly intelligent and sharp articulation of how I feel about those 59 million people.


“What I want to know is . . . .”

He doesn’t actually want to know anything; it is a completely meaningless phrase, much like a clearing of the throat, used  right before he lobs something incendiary into the conversation.  He is usually met with stony silence: my SIL has learned over the years not to react, and the parents are deaf — although if they were not, they would doubtless agree with him.

“Too many Indians,” he says, “time to move to Orange County.”  He waits a beat.  “South Orange County,” he amends.  Like my SIL, I say nothing, and the one-sided conversation dies a mercifully quick death.

He sees no irony in his wish to be in well-to-do, upper middle-class, white neighborhood.  Why should he?  My brother wants to be as he is, but white.  Not any sort of white, mind you, but white in the WASP sense.  He believes in segregation — everyone contained within their own neighborhoods according to education, socioeconomic class, ethnicity, and race.  He allows exceptions for crossing boundaries:  those like him who are affluent, well-educated, and absorbed into the cultural and intellectual traditions of the West.  They will not litter the landscape with reminders of previous lives and traditions.

He can justify anything: “I don’t see why I can’t call them Negroes,” he says.  “It’s from the Latin for black.”

Try doing that in Watts and see where that gets you, I thought.

He is an angry man, and I don’t know why.  It is as though at some point in his life, he believes he has been treated unjustly, as though affirmative action has personally affected him to his detriment.  His kids’ failures are not their failures, and definitely are not his failures; there are always external circumstances.  No acceptances to top echelon colleges?  Why, it must have been because their potential places were given to all the various “colored” people.  No jobs after college?  Ditto.  It is a very hostile world he lives in.

He is my brother, and I find the genetics of our relationship profoundly depressing.

Opie, the white guinea pig

An Unfortunate Encounter: Racism

When my father immigrated to the United States in the late 1960s, there were still places that “discouraged” Asians, especially restaurants and hotels.  He does not talk about those years much, but once  in a while,  he drops hints of what it felt like.  When he brought us over, my brothers and I enrolled in schools where the teachers — and the students — had never seen or encountered Asians before.  We were “Orientals” back then: we were slanty-eyed, buck-toothed, yellow-skinned aliens.  It was an interesting, if appalling, experience, but kids are resilient.

My parents accept racism as part of life; they keep to themselves, they expect it of others.  It has been years since I experienced overt, or even covert, racism — but then, I have always used my intellect to protect myself.  During my psychiatry rotation, my preceptor, who had been practicing for 40 years, gave me a pearl I have never forgotten: what you feel when you walk out of a patient’s room is the diagnosis.  When I finally walked away from my “unfortunate encounter” with the salon owner, I felt awful — but it was more than just having been blindsided.  Something was off, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

The woman is a racist.  She would deny it, of course; she would be the sort who tells you that she has friends of other races, and be completely sincere about it.  But, she is a racist, and unless you are on the receiving end, you would not ever realize it.  I had somehow forgotten that for some people, I remain an “other.”

The Model Minority

Abercrombie & Fitch got into trouble in 2002 with a line of t-shirts featuring various Asian caricatures.  The company claimed it was just having fun, and that it was well-known for being equal opportunity when it came to insulting various ethnic groups.  Uh-huh.

Abercrombie & Fitch didn’t get it in 2002, and apparently neither did the teachers at Force Elementary School 8 years later.  A Denver Post photograph of 6 February, 2010, shows Force Elementary School kindergarteners learning all about the Lunar New Year: the kids, all looking very cute, are wearing vaguely Chinese-looking costumes and straw “coolie” hats.   Can’t blame the kids — after all, they are only 5 years old …  but the school claims to be a “safe, trusting, culturally sensitive community where you, the students, parents, and staff take ownership and accept responsibility for the students’ learning and behavior through valuable, active, inquiry-based activities.”  Uh-huh.

Who are these teachers?  Perhaps it is harmless — except the word “coolie,” so casually used for Chinese laborers, so casually used as an epithet, now so casually used for a hat, comes from the Mandarin ku li, which translates literally to mean bitter/hard/cruel labor.

When Denver Public School offered fried chicken, collard greens, and peach crisp in honor of Martin Luther King Day, people protested, and DPS apologized immediately for its “insensitivity.”  No such awareness applies for the Chinese, because they learned a long time ago to meet life with quiet stoicism.  In silence, they “eat bitterness,” they chi ku (yes, the same ku as in ku li).  And as my mother likes to remind me, ku never ends.