Tag Archives: Latinos

“Loan” not “Lawn”!

Sometimes having a Scottish accent can get you into all sorts of trouble in the US. Americans just can’t get to grips with my short vowels.

I just came back from my trail-running group in which I inadvertently managed to insult a Latino guy. I had overheard him talking about work and deduced that he did something involving “loans”. Later, at dinner, I was trying to make casual chit-chat, so I asked him what he did for a living. I said, “You work in the loan industry, don’t you?” and I couldn’t understand why he nearly spat out his drink and gave me a dirty look. He had, of course, understood “lawn industry” and not “loan industry”. In this part of the world, there are a lot of recent Mexican immigants who cut people’s grass or work in construction to get by. In other words, the guy thought I assumed that all people of Mexican heritage couldn’t possibly do anything other than cut grass!

Once I explained, everything was alright, and we had a good laugh about it. The guy was a bit of a dick, though. It turned out that he considers himself a libertarian, and I was quite disgusted. Now call me an inverse racist, but it bugs me when African-Americans or Latinos (and also gay people or women) could even think of being anything other than Democrat. Poverty rates for black and Hispanic people greatly exceed the national average, and Republicans and Libertarians don’t give a shit. All they care about is themselves. How is it possible to belong to an ethnic minority, which has millions of people struggling to make ends meet, and be a libertarian?! Obviously the Democrats leave a lot to be desired, too, but they’re still a helluva lot better than the GOP or libertarians. Oh well. I guess there are selfish cunts everywhere, no matter what their skin colour is.

Besides making an inadvertent racial slur, and having to deal with a libertarian, I’m enjoying being back in a running group again. Running is such a solitary sport, and I already spend so much time by myself, so I don’t really enjoy it if I do it by myself. I wish I hadn’t taken so much time off because there are some people in the group whom I’ve known for a couple of years, who were way slower than I am, and now they’re the same pace or even faster! There’s this one girl who asked what my fastest marathon pace was, and when I told her, she said “Oh, we’re the same pace now!”. Well, I’ll let her think that, but there’s no way this state of affairs will continue. It’s taken her two years of diligent plodding to get to what took me several months of natural talent and total laziness. Just think how fast I could be if I trained hard for once!

I don’t know if this is a bad thing about my personality, or if it’s just the way I am, but I am an incredibly competitive person. There are many things in life which I enjoy but I enjoy them even more if I can potentially kick some ass along the way. It’s very motivating to think about running faster than this woman…and I will (especially because she’s a Republican!).


Bookgroup anyone?

Wow, I’m exhausted. My “lifestyle change” (# 4,127) hasn’t gone too well. I stupidly drank a strong cup of coffee around 10:00 p.m., which meant that I wasn’t ready to go to bed until 4:30 a.m. And, then, even when I was actually in bed, I didn’t fall asleep until around 5:00 a.m. I had to get up at 7:30 a.m. to get ready for volunteering in a middle school, so I’m pretty tired.

Today’s volunteering session went well without any of the 6th-grade students making a racial slur. Phew. I think one of the boys in my group did call me stupid at one point, though, which I couldn’t really do anything about – first of all, I wasn’t really sure and, secondly, the teacher didn’t seem to have a handle on discipline in the classroom herself. This is the crappy thing about being a volunteer or a class tutor. The teachers always say that we can discipline the kids if we want to, but the kids know that, ultimately, we have no authority over them and that they can pretty much say or do what they like with impunity. Sigh.

I actually thought it was pretty awful that the teacher allowed some of the students to get out of their seats while she was trying to talk to the class. They weren’t running around the classroom going crazy or anything, but their movements were still pretty distracting. I could tell it bothered some of the other volunteers, too, probably because they, like me, were never allowed to get off with that kind of shit in school. I have no idea if this is just an American problem, or if discipline has gone to the dogs in schools in Scotland, too, but I was flabbergasted the first time I set foot in an American high school and saw some of the things the kids are allowed to do. The worst thing is the constant fucking bathroom breaks. The wee fuckers are in and out of their seats every two seconds asking for a bloody bathroom pass. Some teachers are really strict about not allowing bathroom breaks during class time, but there are others who are far too lenient. Is there some reason for this? I’m assuming that most kids have day-time bladder control by the age of six, so can someone please tell me why a fifteen-year-old can’t sit in a fifty-minute-long class without going to the bathroom? Grrrrr.

However, I digress. Back to my geting called stupid…

This happened because one of the boys was being a naughtly little pain in the arse, and was talking gibberish about eating a “stick”. I listened to what he said, and nodded, believing him, because I thought he had said “steak” (he was Latino with a pretty strong accent). Between my accent and their accent, God knows what’s going to happen when we actually start discussing literature together.

The “stick eating” episode reminded me of my own days as an eleven-year-old in school. The girls in my group today were quiet, shy and seemed interested in me and what I was doing there whereas the boys acted up as much as they possibly could. There was a noticeable difference in maturity – both physical and emotional. This is exactly how I remember the first few years of secondary school in Scotland. I was there to work and learn, and I hated the way the boys’ behaviour took up valuable instruction time. To be honest, I’m still not wildly enthusiastic about boys between the ages of eleven to fourteen. Their childishness just annoys me, plain and simple. This is not a good feeling to be having, given that I want to be a teacher, so I guess I just need to repeat a mantra to myself again and again: “They can’t help it. It’s just where nature intends them to be developmentally. They can’t help it. It’s just where nature intends them to be developmentally”.

If you’re wondering how the above fits into the title of today’s post, well, it doesn’t at all… I never intended to write quite so much about volunteering. I have been thinking, though, that it might be nice to start my very own blogger bookgroup, the idea being that some (or all!) of my readers and I would pick one book to read a month (preferably one readily available in most English-speaking countries), then write down our thoughts about it in the comment section. To make it fair to all parties concerned, all members of the group would suggest a book they’re interested in reading each month, and I could put up a poll to choose the most popular. How does this sound?

If anyone is interested, I would like to suggest that we should have chosen, and finished reading and commenting on the book by the last day of each month (I would write a post that day, or perhaps a couple of days before that, outlining my own thoughts, and then the members could comment…or, better still, I could even have guest bloggers who write the post, so it’s not all about me). There’s not enough time to acquire and read a book by the end of this month, so our first online discussion could be on or around Monday November 30th.

So, whaddya think? If you’re interested, just leave a comment on this post and please also leave a book suggestion(s) for November.

Here are mine:

(1) First of all, there’s “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich:


(2) And, then, secondly, there’s “The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss:


I shall be awaiting your comments, and suggestions!

Too black?!

As much as I bitch about Americans and how narrow-minded they can be, I do think that Europeans have things a helluva lot easier when it comes to dealing with different cultures and races. Most Europeans (unless we grew up in a major city) are just not used to dealing with people who look and act differently from us….because we don’t have to! Obviously I know that things are changing, but for the most part many of us live in societies that are still mainly white. This was, at least, the case for me when I was growing up. There were a couple of kids of Pakistani origin in my classes and that was about it throughout my entire time in school!. Oh, I nearly forgot – when I was in my final year of primary school, there was a little black girl in Primary 1, who was an object of some fascination to everybody because, well, there just are no black people in my country. According to Wikipedia, only 0.16% of the population is black!

When I imagine what it must be like to be a teacher in “the motherland”, it seems that it would be fairly easy compared to being a teacher in the US. If you’re a teacher here, there are a million different issues to deal with in the classroom…in terms of race, culture and language. There are probably schools back home where these are factors, too, but I don’t think to such a great extent.

Take today for example…

Today I had my first ever volunteer session in a local elementary school. The idea is for several volunteers to meet once a week with a class of 2nd graders (for non-American readers, this means kids around seven years old) and spend forty-five minutes reading to them in groups with around two to four students.

I didn’t read to my kids today (two little Latinas) but just spent some time getting to know them. I have zero experience with such young children, so I was wondering how our time together would go. For the most part, it was quite fun, like when one of the girls pointed to a map, and showed me the town where her uncle lived, then whispered conspiratorially “He’s in jail!”.

When I was in my awful alternative teacher certification course, they taught us that the most important thing to do first in the classroom is to introduce your behavioural expectations. If they don’t do that, they say, all hell will break loose, and you’ll have a hard time getting your students back on track. Of course, this was exactly what I didn’t do! This was partly because those little girls just looked so damn cute that I didn’t want to come in and be all strict with them. It was also, I admit, because I was just a little flustered in the beginning and forgot! Big mistake! One of the little girls talked a mile a minute and was up out of her seat any chance she got. Oh well. You live; you learn. Next week I’ll outline my expectations…like no talking over me or your classmate; no saying you can’t do things when you can do them perfectly well; no getting out of your seat without asking permission etc.

Another reason why it would have been good for me to have outlined my expectations was because it would have been easier for me to stop the girls chatting aimlessly, and focus more on the matter at hand. At one point, Miss Chatterbox overheard someone in another group mention the word “Obama”. She then went on to tell me how her friend wrote a letter to President Obama in her journal, telling him how much she liked him. I asked her if she liked the president, and she said, quite forcefully, that she most certainly did not. “Ah ha”, I thought. “Clearly someone’s parents are Republicans”.

The talk then turned to Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, which was natural enough given that they’re close in age to my students. This was when it all went a bit pear-shaped, though. Miss Chatterbox (who proved herself to be a right little opinionated so-and-so) declared that she didn’t like Obama’s daughters either. I asked her why and she said she thought they were ugly. At this point, you’d have thought I might have guessed the direction the conversation was going but, no, I blundered on and asked “Oh, really? I find them really pretty. Why do you think they’re ugly?” Miss Chatterbox screwed up her face and said “Well, their hair is OK but their faces….yuk! They’re too black!” Hmmm, guess whose parents are racist?!


I can’t say that I was exactly surprised by this confession but, to be honest, I just wasn’t expecting it on Day One. I wanted to point out that such a comment could really hurt somebody’s feelings and that all skin colors are beautiful, but I didn’t feel comfortable saying this to child I’d just met. I didn’t feel that I’d quite earned that right. I didn’t let it go entirely (I said something like “Well, hmmm, I think they’re very pretty” and then I just quickly moved on) but I felt bad for not addressing it more.

When I first encountered racism between minority groups, I must say that I was a bit surprised. I really expected Latinos and African-Americans to be “brothers and sisters” against oppression but this is apparently not the case. In fact, inter-minority racism is as old as the hills in the US. Check out this extract from the following text (written in 1808 but dealing with life in pre-Revolutionary Upstate New York). The author, Anne Grant, a Scottish-American is writing about the Native American view of slaves:

“It is a singular circumstance, that though they saw the negroes in every respectable family not only treated with humanity, but cherished with parental kindness*, they always regarded them with contempt and dislike, as an inferior race, and would have no communication with them” (Memoirs of An American Lady, with Sketches of Manners and Scenes in America that Existed Previous to the Revolution).

Sigh. Sometimes I think it would be easier to move back to the “motherland” where I wouldn’t have to deal with race issues…just people who are pasty and unattractive!

* “Treated with humanity”? “Cherished with parental kindness”? Yup, Mrs. Anne Grant is an apologist for slavery alright!