The Water We Swim In

The fish can’t see the water. If it’s cloudy or clear, yellow or green, it’s invisible to the fish. We don’t see the water we swim in.

If we were Finns, we wouldn’t wake up every day, marveling at our Finnishness. It would just be another normal Finnish day for us. We’d do whatever Finns do and not give it another thought, being preoccupied with our own personal concerns.

Unlike Finland, America is a nation recently created by immigrants. The people who most have the right to claim ‘Homeland’ are a minority. We have few Native Americans in positions of power, after all. The rest of us run around saying things like, “I’m Irish”. That’s how we distinguish ourselves from our neighbors who say, “I’m Italian”.

Who is a real American? In the terrible days after 9/11/01 we knew. We knew that in the Twin Trade Towers there were people of every nationality, every color, every religion–even some not here legally–who were murdered for being Americans. I never saw my fellow-citizens so clearly as in those September days.

All the externals of color, dress, age, accent and belief receded in the knowledge that the world sees us as one nation, united by and responsible for our government and law.

It’s hard to keep that clear focus. In the last election, commentators were saying that Senator McCain had American history in his bones, in his very DNA no doubt. How dare the son of an immigrant presume to run for President? Even now, talk show hosts are demanding that the president of the United States SHOW HIS PAPERS. He doesn’t look like all the other Presidents.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor doesn’t look like all the other Supreme Court judges. That’s why I grinned when I saw her face. Home girl.

She would be the third woman ever on our highest court, and the third person who might not check ‘white’ on the census form. In 2004 we chose from two Presidential candidates who were brothers in the Skull and Bones club. Judge Sotomayor grew up among people who worked hard just to pay the rent. If you think life experience should not influence a judge, I know a lot of smart people who can automate the whole process. Let’s nominate Judge HAL-9000. Good evening, Dave.

So back to the water we swim in. Sonia Sotomayor and I are contemporaries. We might have watched the same bad TV, back when there were three networks. Maybe she watched a sitcom called ‘Alice’. It was the 70’s version of edgy feminism. It was frequently appalling in its condescending take on women and working people. But these kind of shows were the only mirror we had.

Here’s some bio on one actress who appeared on ‘Alice’.

Lupe Ontiveros (born September 17, 1942) is an American film and television actress. Ontiveros has acted in numerous films and television shows, most often playing a maid or, more recently, an all-knowing grandmother; the actress estimates she has played a maid between 150 and 300 times on screen.

But for most of her 25 years as an actor, Ms. Ontiveros has played mostly maids. She figures she has played a maid at least 150 times, in films like ”As Good as It Gets” and NBC sitcoms like ”Veronica’s Closet” and, most recently, ”Leap of Faith.”

”It’s their continued perspective of who we are,” Ms. Ontiveros said of Hollywood and how it views Hispanics. ”They don’t know we’re very much a part of this country and that we make up every part of this country.” Indeed, to play a maid, she must put on an accent her family lost a generation ago.

”When I go in there and speak perfect English, I don’t get the part,” said Ms. Ontiveros, a college graduate from El Paso whose parents were immigrants from Mexico and owned two restaurants and a tortilla factory.

The part that Lupe Ontiveros played in ‘Alice’ didn’t require any English. It was an episode called, ‘The Failure’. She played a pregnant woman who was caught in a holdup in Mel’s Diner. A nervous gunman held the waitresses and ‘Mrs. Rivera’ hostage. There was much fun and humor in Mrs. Rivera’s wailing in Spanish, as her labor progressed. Her thrashing around in the throes of childbirth, as our heroines stand around totally intimidated by the dweeb with the gun was hysterically funny. But this being a half-hour sitcom, there was a heartwarming resolution. No one got hurt. You see, it turned out that the gunman had once taken a first aid course. That gave him the authority to deliver Mrs. Rivera’s baby. Which helped his self-esteem. So really, the whole thing ended in the glow of helping a white man get his mojo back. No hard feelings about the gun thing. I’m sure Mrs. Rivera was grateful to have been of service.

You won’t likely see a heartwarming comedy about a white woman held hostage by a Spanish-speaking gunman who delivers her baby and thereby regains his self-esteem. At least not on network TV. Maybe by John Waters. But Divine is no longer with us, and he is the only one who could have done justice to the role.

Anyway, Judge Sotomayor and I are contemporaries, and that is one current of the polluted water we swam in. I was in a much safer and more privileged place, but I knew that a lot was wrong. Back then the young men I knew pointed out an undeniable fact. There were no distinguished women in American political life. Clearly that proved that women were not able.

It’s thirty years later, a generation. That’s how long it takes to build credibility in a career. I’m so proud of Judge Sotomayor, with her long, distinguished, hard-earned record. I’m proud of Hillary Clinton. I’m proud of Judge Rogeriee Thompson. I’m proud of Sen. Rhoda Perry. I’m proud of Helen Thomas. They swam against the current all their lives. We don’t live in a just society. Not yet. But if you go with the flow you’ll never see beyond your own stagnant pool.

BLOOD IN THE WATER- Feministe has good commentary about the blog left by the latest mass murderer, a man who shot three women to death in a sneak attack at a gym. The script has changed since ‘The Failure’ played on TV in the 70’s. Back then a hapless loser used a gun to get attention and control. The colored woman was there for comic relief.

Now the script says shoot to kill and go out in a blaze of glory. The latest shooter left a long rant about white women and black men, who were not giving him what he felt entitled to. If this is isolated insanity, why is it the same pattern over and over? Why do we allow guns in the hands of madmen?

6 thoughts on “The Water We Swim In

  1. Why do madmen get ahold of guns?You can thank the &*^#$@ ACLU to some large degree.
    Because of their insistence on protecting the “rights” of the mentally ill,Mr.Cho was able to legally purchase a firearm,which had his mental health record been available,the dealer would not have sold to him.
    It’s not like the mentally ill don’t have rights,but anyone seriously impaired in that way can’t own firearms(and shouldn’t).I know I am frequently at odd with a few social engineers around here on firearms rights,but I don’t want felons,crazies,or illegal aliens running around armed.They are all prohibited from doing so by Federal law.
    I don’t know if Mr.Sodini would have set off any alarms-if he never sought any treatment and wasn’t committed involuntarily he wouldn’t have.
    I recall that in Canada,which has much tougher gun laws,there was a horrendous massacre of 14 female engineering students at a college in Montreal by a woman hating gunman.He even ignored male students,hunting down the women.He thought thety has “taken his place”.Did he ever think maybe he was just too dumb to get in?
    Did you see the news about the woman who slaughtered seven other innocent people,including four children,by driving her car the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway?Turns out she was drunk and high and had refused an offer of a ride by her brother over the phone.
    How do we keep drunks out of cars?She had no prior history in any event.And taking away a license doesn’t slow them down for a second.If they run into you at 80 mph,do you really give a damn if their license was revoked?Short of cutting off the hands or blinding DUI offenders,this will happen again and again.BTW I don’t advocate those punishments.
    Life is dangerous and no amount of social engineering can change that.
    Personally I’d much sooner take my chances with a gunshot wound than be hit head on with another vehicle at highway speed.
    As far as Sotomayor,you are making as much of an icon of her as some others are painting her as some kind of radical Trotskyite.She’s a judge with a long record-she’s made some good and some bad decisions in my estimation-nothing that makes her ineligible to serve on the Supreme Court.
    But she isn’t a paradigm.No one is,and the sooner you see that,the better.
    At one point in my life I kinda idolized some people,but not lately-I got realistic and understood that they all were just humans with all the attendant faults.
    FWIW,my wife shares a background extremely similar to Sotomayor’s(only she never wanted nor was offered affrimative action)and she can’t see how Sotomayor’s appointment “empowers”her.She can only empower herself in her opinion.And she’s had a good and rewarding career and a good experience as a mother and now a grandma (soon to be another addition)and needs no one else to validate her.
    I’m sure you got where you did on your own.I think nurses can be a hell of a lot more important than judges.

  2. Nursing has benefited greatly from feminism. I haven’t sighed ‘yes, doctor’ and batted my eyes even once. This is way better for the patients too.

  3. And no more silly little demeaning caps-they made nurses look like maids on the East Side!!
    Sometimes you can’t tell who’s who.I was at West Roxbury VA about 3 years ago and a youngish woman came into my room in a non-specific sort of outfit and introduced herself by her first name and started discussing my problem.I asked if she was a nurse,and she said in a routine way-“nah,I’m the senior resident” like it was no big deal.As informal as you could get.Turns out she wasn’t only an MD,but a Phd in Biochemistry-talk about smart!!And totally unpretentious-the good people usually are(note to Sheldon Whitehouse).

  4. I changed my race a few years ago to Celt. The way some people use the word ‘white’ makes me glad I don’t identify that way anymore.

  5. Didn’t Lupe Ontiveros play in “Selena”?I’m sure it was her and her character was no maid-she portrayed a really nasty/obsessed individual.
    She also played a very good role in “El Norte”.
    A lot of Latinos in the US don’t speak Spanish at all.

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