Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 21: Drunkula (Dracula)

In which hosts Tori and Amanda discuss Bram Stoker’s Dracula while drinking sangria. A lot of sangria.

Thoughts from George Washington’s Front Yard: A Trip to Mount Vernon

I wasn’t expecting to go to Virginia. One of my aunts reached out to me to offer me a chance to go to a cousin’s wedding over in Colonial Country and I said sure. I hadn’t been out of the state in a few years and I’ve been itching to travel. While this was going to be a longer post about the entire trip and the wedding with plenty of personal details and stories: those are personal so I’ll keep it to the one historical trip I got to take during my short time in Virginia: Mount Vernon.

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For those of you who don’t know, Mount Vernon is the house that Washington inherited from his father and later added onto as he made it the sprawling home that he shared with his family and entertained guests at. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture and an important part of American history so I was happy to take a small trip there with my aunt.

Here are some of the things I learned from Washington’s porch.

    • As a Texan, New England is hilariously small to me. The fact that Virginia is such a small state means that there are plenty of things in very close proximity to each other so while I got to see one historical place I’m sure on my next trip (and trust me, I’m already planning the next trip) I’m sure with a little more planning, it wouldn’t be hard to have a full historical tour of the founding of my homeland.
    • Mount Vernon is huge. I was not expecting it to be as big as it was and based purely on the sweat that covered my poor pudgy frame, I was not prepared to walk this sprawling estate.
    • Our tour guide, Becky, was genuinely amazing and I loved her insights.
  • Mount Vernon is full of wonderfully detailed rooms and decor that gives me serious envy of how colonial folks were as extra as we are now including:
      • A fan chair which is literally a chair with a fan over top that you power with a foot pedal system.
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      • A marble mantle that according to legend a British friend of Washington said he just had to have and then replaced the damn thing from his own British home and gave it to Washington.
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        • I need friends like that.
      • A view of the Potomac that looks across to Maryland.
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        • Again, very strange as a Texan that just right across over yonder water is another state. We only have that with Oklahoma and no one is proud of that.
    • And a stunning piece of historical context in the form of an iron key.
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      • Story time, kids. So Washington was friends with the Marquis Lafayette. The French Revolution had mostly ended the chill part but the Marquis was called back to France on a July day after word of the Bastille prison was facing a prison break of epic proportions. The Marquis reported from the wreckage of the Bastille and upon his return to the United States gave his friend and fellow revolutionary spirit one of the iron keys of the Bastille in hopes to inspire his friend to greatness. The storming of the Bastille kicked off the much bloodier part of the revolution but we’re gonna ignore that for now. And I am proud to own a chachki copy of that key because I am a francophile, don’t judge me.
    • Martha Washington’s gardens were beautiful and it’s nice to see that many of them are still full of herbs, veggies and fruits.
    • Becky was very proud of me for knowing that sugar was the more valuable precious white substance over salt.
    • I struggle with the legacy of one of America’s founders being sold as bobbleheads and more.
      • In my mind, I can imagine Washington being a bit of an introvert and would not like all of us on his lawn and buying his stuff in the form of cheap desk fodder.
    • Becky also understood my hatred of Thomas Jefferson.
      • Jefferson was a racist and he believed slavery was good for black people. On top of that, his love of the French Revolution was dangerous and reckless and led us into a bloodier war with England.
    • I love that Mount Vernon acknowledges that slavery was real and that it was bad.
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        • There’s a very moving monument to the slaves that lived and died on Mount Vernon that was designed by Howard University students and dedicated by local pastors.
      • Honestly, the legacy of slavery is difficult to grapple with and Becky was sweet and empathetic and didn’t try to explain slavery as a white woman to me and my aunt (two black women).
  • I wasn’t expecting to see my aunt cry while touring the slave quarters.
    • It was a powerful moment that I did my best to endure but I suppose because I have the privilege of traveling more and being more away of my history, I’ve moved on past tears and moved onto quiet anger.
  • I was denied the ability to purchase wine from Mount Vernon as we had to return to our hotel for a family obligation, someone avenge me and send me Washington’s wine.

Mount Vernon was lovely and beautiful and the history of this place could easily fill many blog posts and pages. I’m fortunate that I was able to travel and I look forward to doing so again.

On Juneteenth

I opened up my shop with a particular design. It’s this one.

Legally a Full Person SinceJune 19th, 1865.png

 

I put it up as mostly a humorous joke but also as an acknowledgement of a holiday that is very important to many Southerners of color. Juneteenth is a holiday that I am not shocked that many know of. It’s mostly of value to Texans. The legend goes that Texas was the final hold out for freeing their slaves post the Emancipation Proclamation but eventually, on June 19th, the Texas slaves were freed.

The holiday is usually celebrated with barbeques and potlucks and community events.  I know I celebrated the holiday with my dad’s side of the family a few times; the holiday is a day after my parent’s wedding anniversary and we often spent the time with his family out in Crockett. There were t-shirts and food and family: all the hallmarks of a black family’s summer gathering. My mom’s side of the family did celebrate it, her extended family did. My aunts would find a reason to party at anytime but I can’t recall any celebration that was explicitly for Juneteenth.

And every once in a while, I’ll see someone say they’re hosting an event for Juneteenth and it makes me happy: but I don’t always know if those people know what they are celebrating.

As a black person, I have not been legally a full person for 200 years yet. That day won’t come until I am in my 70’s. That’s when we as a race can say we have been free for 200 years. This is not a far removed history: this is, on a historical scale, incredibly recent. As far as wars go, the Civil War was not that long ago but because of how history has been written, it feels like an eternity. White guilt quickly filled in the cracks and perpetuated a narrative that slavery wasn’t so bad and that the Civil War was basically just two neighbors bickering over something trivial: it was not.

And I think sometimes we forget that after the 5th hot link and Big Red of the day. I think we forget that after cornbread and slow jams. I think we forget that after gossip and storytelling.

But we shouldn’t.

The last time I wrote like this, it was about being LGBT in a post-Trump America.

As a black person, I feel the same way. I feel like now there is even more pressure to be black but to be a very certain kind of black.

I, like many African-Americans, am severely culturally abandoned. Look at how many times we’ve covered the topic on this blog. But the racism that this great nation likes to hide is very much alive and well now since the well, person running the country, took charge. Even more so now, we have to be vocal. We have to talk about our history and our experience because we will forget that power. It is being silenced. The whole debate around Confederate statues shows us that there are folks who have been actively trying to change the history of the United States for hundreds of years.  

And I know I say this from a remarkable place of privilege. I have a mostly supportive but very loving family. I have resources that are enviable to many. And even my skin tone is a part of the privilege that I was born into. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t stand and fight with you. Even writing this is me showing that I’m willing to support the cause of a more tolerant America: across all spectrums of what that means. For my brothers and sisters who are more tied to the Motherland. For those of us who are culturally abandoned. For the rest of us who are somewhere in between. We are all valid and while this world may not be kind and may even be hateful, know that you are valid and you are excellent as you are.

This year, if you do celebrate Juneteenth: remember why we celebrate this holiday. If you do not, research the day and join in the festivities.

Happy Juneteenth, everyone.

Stay strong.

 

A Whole New Commodified World

 

_Stories are one of the means by which a culture preserves its identity._Edward Zwick.pngI have vivid memories of being in high school and parroting the Cantonese version of Honor to Us All. My anime club officers and I did our best to mimic the language that was foreign to all of us and we made plenty of of mistakes in our pronunciation but we were earnest students and it wasn’t long before we had the whole thing down. But there was one big problem: none of us were Chinese. Most of my anime clubbers were white, a few of us (me included) were black (albeit very culturally abandoned African-American youths) and a few of my anime clubbers were of Asian decent but were Vietnamese or Korean. The long and short of it is: none of us were Chinese and this was a brief moment of cultural appropriation. Come to think of it, I as an African-American human person running Japanese culture clubs for over 10 years is another grand moment of cultural appropriation.

We’ve talked about cultural appropriation a lot but I wanted to talk about a very special kind of cultural appropriation: the Disney variety.

Disney has a long history of picking, choosing and sanitizing the history of many different cultures. Moana features the culture and language of Polynesia. Pocahontas is the very whitewashed version of the story of the real life heroine and Native American. Lilo and Stitch features a mostly native Hawaiian cast and Mulan borrows from many Asian cultures and practices. The main feature of that which makes it appropriative is that Disney is still a mostly white-led company. And even though Moana featured many people of color as voice talent and as researchers, the leads of Disney are still wealthy white men that then get to profit on this somewhat indigenous story.

This is especially troubling for me because as the little culturally abandoned person I am I find myself more drawn to narratives that are not my own. I fell for stories like Mulan and Moana because they were so unlike my own. I did my best to commit the songs to memory and tease apart the language that was so unlike my own. I sold my soul to Japan years ago, so such a desire to flee my own narrative makes it easier to cope with the narrative that was meant to be written for me. But what is the issue with culture and Disney?


Let’s be honest: Disney is a company. They have items to sell. Parks to market and all sorts of other things to put in front of the eyes of children and their parents. This means that Disney has to sanitize parts of history. Pocahontas is a stellar example of: literally none of it happened that way. The Disney way of telling the story puts all the blame on one greedy white man and tries to Devil’s Advocate the whole racism thing. Which is…let’s just pause for a minute to think of how troubling that is. But in their attempt to make this story more palatable for children, they ruined a perfectly good narrative. The real story of the native peoples and their interactions with colonists is far from safe for children but is a harrowing tale of survival and the pain of cultures being forgotten and rewritten due to technological superiority. Princess and the Frog has a very similar problem with race considering its black protagonist and Jazz Age setting. Tiana is so self-actualized she’s hardly a character and Lottie and her family are rather accommodating considering that they still essentially own Tiana’s mother. Because remember kids, the reason she couldn’t own the restaurant was because the bankers were worried about a woman running a business all by herself. No other factors. Nothing else. Nothing at all. What systemic racism? No, eat more French donuts.

Disney tries to fix this issue by ignoring colonialism entirely with Lilo and Stitch and Moana. But the same main issues remain: Disney is not doing anything to benefit the communities it is taking inspiration from and just because there are occasionally people of color behind the screen does not mean it is actual representation. This is particularly interesting with how Disney uses language for music. Some of my favorite Disney songs are not in a language I grew up with. Honor to Us All centers around a very old and distinctly Asian view of marriage and what it means to be a good daughter (though as a Southern debutante, I can admit those feelings aren’t too far off the mark for someone in my position). My favorite parts of Moana feature a language whose words are very unfamiliar but with more familiar sentiments. Heck, my favorite part of Pocahontas is the opening song sung in the native language of the Powhatan tribe.

I want to talk about merchandising for a moment since it is also a key part of this whole cultural appropriation thing. And no, we’re not going to talk about the little brown-face/brown-body Maui costume that Disney decided was a good idea last year. But the buying and selling of cultural artifacts to help bolster support for a movie is dubious at best. I remember being a kid and McDonald’s selling a copy of Pocahontas’ necklace from the movie but the idea behind such a necklace does hold some significance for the Powhatan tribe.

Moana had similar issues with native pieces and accessories suddenly becoming en vogue again. All the shell jewelry and tribal prints.

But wait, Amanda, someone shouts from the edges of the comment section: This isn’t the only time Disney has messed around with other cultures. What about Hunchback of Notre Dame or literally most other Disney movies. Here’s the problem with that: cultural appropriation is a neutral term but it’s mostly a problem with a colonizing culture appropriates a colonized culture. So not a problem for Disney to go French for a while but it is a problem for them to go pan-Arab for Aladdin. (We’ll talk about pan-culturalism soon because I have thoughts!)

And what’s interesting is how wrong this all feels now in hindsight. Cultural appropriation is made painful by the fact that really only the company (Disney, in this case) benefit from taking over or taking aspects of a culture and no one (short of the occasional actor or cultural specialist) really benefit from them making a powerhouse movie like Moana or Coco. And while the cultural impact is huge like with Coco (that cannot and will not be denied) who benefits when someone buys an mp3 of the soundtrack or gets a hoodie or t-shirt from the movie. What about when someone goes running around with a sugar skull t-shirt without knowing the story or meaning behind them? Insidious, isn’t it?

Actually an interesting work around to this came about from a conversation about porgs with Carlos. For those of you who have been living in a cave, porgs are a new and adorable Star Wars. Porgs are adorable and the reasoning behind them is very practical. They are little digital costumes for the local puffins that could not be removed out of every shot in the movie The Last Jedi. Porgs are adorable and the reason is interesting but the fact that Disney now is profiting so much out of a necessity is strange. Carlos mentioned ratherly quickly “It’d be cool if they just gave some of the toy sales to help the real puffins out.” and that was very valid. What if some of the money from Coco or Moana went to cultural centers or to organizations that support these at times at-risk communities or populations. Is this just another form of tokenism: sure, probably. But it’s tokenism that could prove more valuable than letting an entire generation grow up with a sanitized narrative and none of the context behind what is so compelling about the narratives told by other cultures.

Next time, we’ll talk about pan-culturalism!

 

About The Journey

You still are blind, if you see a winding road,'Cause there's always a straight way to the point you see..png

I was late to watch Moana. That tardiness was intentional. I balked a little at its overwhelming praise and in pure cynical, hipster fashion I had to wait a full year before I sat down and watched it in full despite the few times I tried to watch it via clips and less than great downloads. I can’t say that the film Moana means to me what Up or even Princess and the Frog does but I can see why, how and where it’s important in the discourse. But I wanted to talk about the heroine’s journey, finding yourself and your culture and knowing the difference between your voice and the voice of your people.

Moana is a story about the titular Moana on an adventure where she discovers that she is from a long line of sea-faring people and through her bravery and cultural identity, she fixes the problem, becomes princess and all the things are good again. What is the most touching part about Moana is that it is a journey with her and through her culture to find herself. Moana is her people but in that she is also something so much more.

The idea that especially female characters have to go on some epic road trip isn’t a new one. Most female characters in great works tend to sit and stay in various castle or castle-like arrangements but anime and comics and some young adult novels are great in giving us tales of women who have to go on an adventure and hopefully find something more than just a man at the end. Rukia in Bleach searches for strength and her overbearing brother’s approval. Ino in Naruto uses her time during missions to find and learn new things and hunt for a replacement for Sasuke.  If you want an entire playlist of “girls on an adventure” stories look at the library of Hayao Miyazaki: most of his stories center around young girls that have to go out on an adventure to do something or learn something or to just save your pig-parents because capitalism. And if you must give  Disney more credit then they probably deserve, Merida in Brave has to go on a quest to find a solution to the whole…mom and bear thing before Moana aired. Lilo has to go on a self-discovery mission with her new alien friend in Lilo and Stitch and this was also way before Moana hit theaters.  And while the quest isn’t always literal: the need to put a heroine in the place of the hero on a journey is now a pivotal part of telling a female’s story. Though I will personally advocate as an out of shape person more metaphorical journeys.

Dear readership, you’ve been there with me as I’ve struggled with being more than my skin tone and that struggle has continued on for most of my life. I’m the dictionary definition of cultural abandonment. I’ve always prided my voice over the voices behind me. Look at my current situation with my family. Like the anime boy I am, I broke from tradition and forged my own path: for better or worse. I chose to listen to my own voice and ignore the voices that shouted so loudly behind me. My voice became the last one I heard and valued. But it’s lonely being on the top.

I work through being culturally abandoned through other cultures. I just said at dinner “I’ve given up so much for Japan.” . I work through my angst of not being “black enough” by turning my back on being black, being American or even being traditionally Southern or female for that matter. I embraced Japan, France, Austria, Germany…I embraced all of these cultures and countries as I did my best to come to terms with how wronged and left behind I felt by my own. I was never black enough to be black but could never and never wanted to be white. I just wanted to be me and in books I can be anyone or anything.

Amber and I are road-warriors and considering that we are both black women, it’s no surprise that many of our ventures have us facing the history and legacy behind us. We retrace the stories of rebellion, history and the complicated stories of complicated men and women. We venture out with our mythical steed (usually my Prius) and we go out to find our voices. She really only takes me along because I speak a few different languages and that there is still awe in my eyes when we find something genuinely interesting. She takes me because she knows she can probably still shock me and make me feel something. We go because I’m hoping for an experience that will shake me from my usual cynicism and will either make me feel immense shame or pride of the mix of both that comes with being a dually-conscious black person.

In my haste and desire to find my voice, I silenced out all the other voices that were kind. There are survivors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in me. There are Airmen in me. There are veterans, scientists, government officials, activists and writers in me. There is greatness in me and their voices are just as loud as mine. Those voices also do a wonderful job of drowning out the not to positive voices that still echo in my heart.

And while I’m not an airman or a survivor or even a full-time activist: I am me. I’m not in competition with their greatness and their weight isn’t a burden: it should be a comfort; albeit a bit of an overwhelming one. Their desire and the path they paved to let me be a cosplayer, writer, panelist and all should be enough. It is enough.

So, of course, it makes a lot of sense that I found the story of a young Polynesian girl discovering her voice and path through the stories lost to time immensely powerful. I had already bonded somewhat withe the stories of Mother Tahiti and of Polynesia during my time in Hawaii. And I’m not going to say the film’s perfect. I’m contractually obligated to mention the film’s not perfect. I was annoyed by Maui’s portrayal and most of the humor came from a literal dumb chicken. Being meta actually weakened the film a lot. Admitting that Moana in so many ways is just like the princesses that came before her actually weakens how special and unique her story is. But framing Moana as a light-reboot of  Pocahontas actually helps remind the view how different the movie is from all those that came before it. Moana achieves her goal through persistence and listening to the voices in her heart that can help her while shrugging off the ones that cannot.

That’s a lesson even a cynic can get behind.

Thoughts from the Heart of the Revolution

-Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may.- Sam Houston.png

On another adventure over a day, Amber and I visited Seguin and Gonzales. Gonzales is famously really where the Texas Revolution started. When the Mexican Army demanded that Texans disarm themselves and give up their cannons, the Texans famously said “Come and take it.”

This defiance, strict independence and rebellion shaped Texas as a state and our identity. But there’s a difficulty in accepting that a valid part of our state’s history is the right to own slaves. There is always a cultural dissonance between being a proud Texan but also being African-American.

Here are the thoughts I had from my trip to Gonzales and Seguin.

  • I recently picked up a CD copy of the best themes from Inuyasha. We did not regret this as our music choice though it is a fantastic time capsule into whatever we called music back then.
    • Really, this anime did not deserve the soundtrack it had.
  • Gonzales is a strange place that is really known for just being the seat of the revolution and the “Come and take it” has really become a polarizing symbol across the state and nation, really.
  • If you see the actual “Come and take it” cannon, it’s surprisingly small.

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Seriously, this is it. The mount is a reproduction. Hence why it looks so silly.

  • The monument Texas built to the revolution is pretty elaborate but is pretty awesome.

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  • Gonzales has a beautiful very haunted jail. Which means it’s story time, folks.
    • So Amber and I went to the Gonzales County Jail. It was built in the 1800s. We were excited because most jails that are that old are recreations. This one? Nope. The first thing our tour guide said was that all the wood, steel and fixtures were original. Same steel. Same wood. Same bars. All the same. Our blood briefly ran cold as this statement was made. We were shown the sheriff’s quarters. Holding cells and administrative offices.And then we went to the second floor. The second floor held petty criminals. Those who let horses die in the streets. Those who stole livestock and those who stole small amounts of money. The cells were large and open considering and then to the right was maximum security. 4 giant metal doors. Loud clanking noises. If the sound of freedom escaping could be created, it was the sound of those doors opening and closing. And as Amber and I were swept up in the feeling of being behind cell bars, we looked to the front towards the wall only to find 10 foot gallows. It’s called The Green Monster. It’s bright green and still has a noose attached to it. The jail historian said The Green Monster claimed at least 3 people and that it was placed in front of the petty criminals to discourage further crimes. We were stunned. The wood was the same, just reformatted to discourage people from climbing on it. It still looked as it would have to a prisoner. It was haunting. It’s also probably very haunted. We agreed not to take any photos while in the jail. Part out of respect for those who lived and died there and part for fear that we’d capture proof of a ghost.
  • Mead is indeed the drink of the gods and Amber and I learned that after a much needed winery and meadery visit post incredibly haunted jail visit.
    • I can see why Odin and Thor like mead so much.
  • Seguin is an interesting town that feels at the same time too big and too small for what it is.
  • I get one Gravitation song per road trip. I chose Sleepless Beauty.
  • Fried green tomatoes are overrated. I’m sorry, Amber. They’re gross and taste like outdated modes of thinking and plantation back porches.
  • The look on my face over being served a drink in a pitcher is hilarious.

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Please ignore how awful my hair is. It was windy.

  • Jokes aside, The Dixie Grille in Seguin is probably some of the best food I’ve had in awhile. Even if the drinks are served in a stupid way.

I think it’s interesting to think of the revolution. At the end of the day, even if the battle started over slavery, it ended with the concept of freedom. The Texans wanted freedom. They wanted to be able to do as they saw fit. It was at the time terrible but during this time of…turmoil, it is interesting to think of what it means to stand for what you believe in. Unless what you believe in is slavery. Then you are wrong. You are still very wrong.

And if you want to disrespectfully disagree with me and attempt to take down the cannon of my morals, values and beliefs?

Come and take it.

 

 

 

To Court the Cultural Muse

 

No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive

I’m a cosplayer by trade. I often adapt and acquire clothes I wouldn’t normally wear from people that I am clearly not and masquerade in their skin for a brief time before I remove it and return to my own skin. Cosplay is in its purest form theater, pageantry and magic. It’s also in a weird way cultural appropriation. I’ve been on a recent kick about worrying over my status of stealing a culture that isn’t mine and I’ve been working through it and we’ll get to that but for now, humor me.

Cosplay as cultural appropriation? C’mon.

If you see a person with a Native American headdress at Coachella, do you not roll your eyes and groan? Find someone running around dressed like “A Celtic Priestess” at a Ren Faire? You probably don’t have many good things to say about them. Chubby black girl running around in a yukata?

Wait, what?

When I go back over my cosplay history I’ve been a shrine maiden, a Buddhist monk and a priest, I’ve been a schoolgirl from at least 2 or 3 different schools and I have put on plenty of other various cultural costumes and pieces from kimonos to yukatas and had to wrap an obi around my waist so tight I could die. There’s been plenty of talk of cultural costumes as cultural appropriation: it pops up around Halloween when plenty of kids run around dressed as “geisha” in a way too sexy for their age costume in a way not appropriate for various reasons costumes.

By now you probably think I’m rambling: I clearly had no issue wearing these outfits in high school so why the damn fuss? I dislike and resist wearing them now. I won’t put on another shrine maiden costume. I won’t wear another kimono casually. I just think it’s disrespectful and that’s my opinion. I won’t judge anyone else. I just personally think that I am old enough to no longer wear cultural artifacts that are not mine in that way.

Another place this topic on inquiry comes up for me is tartans. Now, I am passionate about plaids: I’m a former Catholic schoolgirl after all. I adore the Royal Stewart the most but I know my fair share of popular tartans and color schemes. Is it right for me to knowingly wear a tartan of a clan I do not belong to? Well, that may be a bit excessive: just because I can place a tartan doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible to me but it does mean I won’t be LARPing as William Wallace any time soon. These are of serious cultural significance and to diminish their honor and cultural importance would be disrespectful. But that basically won’t ever stop me from wearing plaid because I feel like it.  

 

Let’s talk about military uniforms: a beloved favorite and a common cosplay item. Fullmetal Alchemist, Attack on Titan and many others feature an alternate universe’s uniform so no harm no foul. What about Axis Powers: Hetalia? If you dress up at Germany or Prussia or even Japan: whose costumes are all based off of national, imperial or historical military uniforms is that appropriation? Probably: hence why I won’t cosplay as any of them and for others reasons you can find out about here and the more important aspect of cosplaying especially Germany, Prussia or Japan is that you’re wearing a uniform based on something worn during the 1930s and 1940s and that is a time period that still echoes painfully through the ages.

I think I’ve already spent way more time talking about something I barely like other people mentioning and this is a good time to point out that my opinions are my own and you are more than welcome to disagree with me: hell, I disagree with me sometimes. I’ll leave you with something my friend said to me: she’s a historian and when I showed her my “cultural appropriation sins” she said something very profound: as long as your work comes from a place of respect, it’s okay. As long as it’s done with respect. That won’t stop me from appreciating great cosplay when it see it. Styling cosplay whenever I can and having a great time in costume: just not dressed as a shrine maiden anytime soon.

 

 

The Dual Conciousness of the African-American Otaku

“An American, a Negro… two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” W. E. B. Du Bois

It’s Black History Month I started thinking: I am painfully sometimes detached from my heritage as an African-American.

I grew up in a mostly white part of Texas. The few other black kids I remember growing up with were like me: mostly in white neighborhoods and were fairly “white” in speech and action. We watched cartoons, read comic books and even a few of us growing up were into anime and this was true for most of my childhood years and really up until middle school. We were all a pretty color-blind group of kids: a luxury of somewhat opulence and an upper-middle class upbringing.

The Barbies and dolls I owned were mostly white or Asian because I didn’t like the orange and yellow most of the African American dolls came in. I didn’t mind because I wasn’t looking for a simulation of me as a child I was looking for a totem;  a more solid way to manipulate and express my vivid childhood imagination. My imagination had somewhat transcended skin tone as well and despite the skin tone of my dolls not matching mine, I could easily slip into their world. The same goes for the books I read and the games I played: the same can still be said up to now.

High school was the first time I realized that I wasn’t quite like most of the other black kids at my school. Many times I was told that I “talked so white” to which I realized that when people said that they meant properly. This distressed me greatly. I didn’t much relate or connect to popular aspects of black culture. Hip-hop and rap confused me and I didn’t much care for sagging. My hair stays flat, relaxed and short. My music stays indie or punk and my dress is conservative and preppy.

I wasn’t particularly close to all of my dad’s side of the family: mostly citizens of Crockett and Palestine and the drudgery of the trip out there to visit them fed my somewhat disconnection to my heritage. It was easy to distance myself and continue to focus on the French Revolution, Poe’s poetry and my Japanese calligraphy.

My mother’s side of the family is incredibly proud of their heritage. Many are movers and shakers in Tuskegee. I come from a long line of airmen and distinguished Tuskegee University alum. Many attended Historically Black Colleges and are fantastic examples of what it means to be African-American. I found their goals and aspirations to be nearly too lofty and therefore it was easier to distance myself and continue to focus on the French Revolution, Poe’s poetry and my Japanese calligraphy.

In college I found other mostly culturally abandoned folks. Most had renounced their family lines to essentially become Japanese: adopting bowing, suffixes and the language. I surrounded myself with other people like me and the friends that I had that were also of color were in a similar boat: culturally abandoned and “talked white”. I was content to speak French throughout college but couldn’t tell you too much about my family and how its lines were drawn.

Being a cosplayer and anime fan especially made me realize that I had distanced myself from the color of my skin. I was never one hunting for representation in comics, anime, manga or video games. I was okay with Superman being white; I would rather him be white than a gross caricature. I delighted when powerful black superheroes arose like Green Lantern John Stewart and in Pokemon Y when I could make an avatar that looked like me I was thrilled. But I always accepted that the characters I cosplayed as were on screen or page white and I can count the times on my hand where I felt like my race has held me back from attempting a costume. Anime especially made me aware that representation would be a rare and treasured find but it didn’t take away from my experience realizing that it would be difficult to write for someone like me.

Now, I’m not culturally ignorant. I’m aware that I’m African-American and aware of much of the collective history of my people. My mother’s side of the family came up from sharecroppers to the status they are now. But the talk of slavery, reconstruction and Civil Rights were all far afield for me living in the 90s and 2000s; it was relevant historically but not to me in my daily life. The pictures from history books of slaves being tortured were numbing and damning but it wasn’t me. It wasn’t happening in my lifetime. The struggles of racism were somewhat beyond me. I have personally not struggled much as a black woman so stories of systemic racism have always made me feel somewhat uncomfortable.

The event that came to change my opinion and really force me to look at how far removed I was from my heritage was a family reunion trip. I had seen Tuskegee U. I had heard all the legends but it was when we visited the memorial to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that I had to confront my family line. If you’ve never heard of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study…it’s a lot, to be conservative and to be liberal: it’s just a damn shame; so here’s some context. Back in the early days of unregulated medical testing a group of doctors used less than sound practices to test the effects of syphilis on the body. They used mostly poor black men and infected somewhat the diseases saying they were trying out new vitamin supplements. Many men died. Many more survived but with serious medical conditions after the study. When the truth of the study finally came out many of the men because they were mostly poor and black were not given the right to sue the doctors and it mostly went down as a negative footnote in American history. In the 90s, then president Clinton set up a memorial and memorial fund for those that gave up their lives and health under less than noble practices. To learn more about this terrible aspect of American history check out this link: it’s very informative.

The memorial was a pit stop for the family reunion and I learned something: I had family in the study. I can’t quite put into words what I felt. I suppose it was all the anger and rage I should have felt over the graphic images of slavery in my old history text books. I felt angry; Django Unchained angry. I felt sad. I felt awful.

I also in that moment felt strongly African-American and proud to know that despite the horrors of the study that my family survived and then went on to thrive. But feeling connected to my heritage didn’t change the fact that I hadn’t up until that moment felt connected to it. I didn’t opt to go to a historically black college. Japanese and French are still my main languages and not modern Ebonics and I still keep my hair very straight and very flat. My education and my upbringing are part of my life but my personality and likes influence how I deal with things. I’m proud of my family, my heritage and my legacy: but I’m still culturally abandoned as not just an African-American but as an American in general.

I’ll probably always struggle with the parts of that are abandoned from being an American as much as I’ll struggle with the parts of me that are abandoned from being African-American. I think a few otakus struggle with this: loving a culture that isn’t exactly known for it’s tolerance of gaijin or foreigners. The great irony of being an otaku is embracing a culture that likely would not embrace many of the individuals that call Nihon home in spirit. So while I’m culturally and mentally very much Japanese, I’m aware that there are cities in Japan that would see me as nothing more than a Westerner. And even when it comes to prejudice, when travelling overseas, I struggled more with being an American in Europe than an African-American in Europe. Many I spoke with were more fine with me being of British-origin and black than being black and from the US specifically Texas.

Just remember that the narrative of history is ongoing and though some are fortunate enough not to struggle there are others that are not as fortunate. I’m lucky to have the education that I do, the family that I do and the heritage that I do. The opening quote of this blog is about dual consciousness and it’s very true for most African-Americans: there’s a pride to us and side to us that many aren’t eager to show to others. A set of social cues and lines we just don’t break. The quote above was first mentioned to me while reading To Kill a Mockingbird when Calpurnia mentions to Scout that there were two ways black people talked: the way they did in front of white people and the way they did in private with other black people and that each one must be separated and kept away from each other: the two halves of the average African-American person should be separate but equal. There’s more than one spirit inside every person of color: it’s just a question of how many spirits that is.

Meditations from the San Antonio Missions

With the recent news about Islam and terror attacks there has been a lot of negative sentiment surrounding the actions of extremists that are in no way a representation of their faith as a whole. People say the Quran teaches violence and terror. That it teaches misogyny and death. These things are just not true.

Recently I took a trip to the missions here in San Antonio and I had to face something that is uncomfortable for many Catholics. Our history of violence, terror and misogyny. The Missions were witness to the mistreatment of native inhabitants, the systematic removal of indigenous practice and people. They witnessed terror and horror all in the name of a loving and accepting God.

As I sat in the church of Mission San Jose all I could think about were how many people sat here against their will. How many were ripped from their families and friends? How many were beaten, tortured and mistreated in the name of God?

It was really incredibly jarring and most don’t think of it when we go to Mass.

My friend and I toured the missions and while we were at Mission San Jose we met an incredibly kind Franciscan monk selling fused glass. He was kind and bubbly, he offered blessings with his dip into capitalism as he sold the crosses and fixtures he made himself with his own blessed hands. He commented on how nice it was that he got to continue to lead mass in this historic church just like the first monks that arrived here in this state and colonized this place in the name of St. Anthony.

But his order, the church’s will, his ancestors and brothers in the same cloth…they’re all a part of the same mixed legacy of misinformation and cultural destruction. At the time, I could barely comment. It was my friend, who was a historian and was visiting these historic structures with me, that reminded me that this excessive guilt is its own form of toxic thinking. It’s infantilization and it was removing the agency of those who did willingly convert. There are also several concessions the Catholic Church has made in blending the practices and traditions of many other peoples and belief systems. Many of our most treasured rituals are pagan or as assimilated from other cultures like Our Lady of Guadalupe or Dia de los Muertos. Many of our most beloved Catholic rituals stem from pagan practice.

 I’ll never forget sitting in that church. Feeling conflicted. Feeling awestruck. Feeling so close and yet so far from my Catholic heritage. I’ll certainly visit the missions again. They’re down the street. And if you’re ever in San Antonio or just haven’t been in a while, there’s no time like the present to check out the missions. They’re a vital part in our state’s history and our nation’s history.