Sunday, March 1, 2009

Thoughts on 'Dreams from My Father'

Just before the election, I read Obama's 'Dreams from My Father'. It details his relationship with his father and his struggles to find a place in the world as a black male raised by a white mother.

I mostly enjoyed the book. I thought it was a little long-winded and I had to push through the first few chapters. However, I loved reading about his trip to Kenya and how he found family and strength, and also disappointment and regret, as he works to reconcile his relationship with his father.

There is one small detail in the book that has stayed with me. In one of the middle chapters, Obama is describing his life out of college. At this point, he has developed a strong sense of self as a black man, and has a wide array of friends from all backgrounds. He details a relationship he has with a white woman. They were quite serious, but the relationship ends when he takes her to an African American play and realizes that she would never be willing to bridge his world. That he would have to exist solely her white world and leave his "black identity" largely behind.

It hit me that Ed made such a decision to be with me eight years ago. I don't know if it was conscious or implied, but it was there. I'm sure that he realized the first time he took me back to his East LA neighborhood that he would never return except for brief visits. That I would use words like "colorful" and "vibrant" to describe his neighborhood, but never seriously consider a move. That the white mormon girl would never survive the suspicious stares of neighbors and the lack of freedom to run and bike the neighborhood on whim. That his children would speak splintered Spanish at best. That his days of authentically homecooked Mexican meals were numbered.

Maybe he made that decision way back in his freshman year of high school when he took the scholarship to the Boston-area boarding school, or when he chose Stanford over ELACC (East LA Community College) to the true disappointment of one his aunts. But regardless of when that decision was made, marrying me put the nails into that coffin for good. He would exist in my world, not the other way around. He was the chameleon, able to thrive in all settings..... a black- tie journalism event, a Sunday dinner with my large, rowdy family, a quinsinera back in the old neighborhood. I was the one who spoke ugly gringa spanish and refused to eat the jello cups and tamales from the guy on the corner who sold them out of his van. we are eight years later. Despite the flautas and rice Ed cooked for dinner tonight and my attempted infusion of Mexican holidays, we live a pretty typical middle class American life. And lately, I have to wonder if the Target-shopping, swimming lessons and summer camp life that I talked Ed into is really so much greater than his childhood life in an immigrant neighborhood.


Anonymous said...

I am glad Ed made the decission to marry my wonderful neice!!!!!
Love, Aunti Jan

Anonymous said...

0000ps! there's my bad spelling showing up aga in ........ :>

Jen said...

don't worry about your spelling, it doesn't matter....thanks Aunti Jan.

Belle said...

I've been thinking on and off about this since you posted it. In a way, I think that one of the surest ways to overcome racial problems in our country is for people to marry those of different racial and cultural backgrounds. But, taking that to an extreme--what if we got to the point where there were no cultural subgroups? The richness of our country's diversity lessens. Clearly that is never going to happen and I guess there is a middle ground. Marrying someone of a different culture and you have to give and take and share your cultures to create something new. Do any in Ed's family feel like he betrayed his identity to some extent by marrying someone that wasn't Hispanic? Does Ed ever seem to miss the cultural immersion that he left behind? I think you are doing a great job of blending your two backgrounds