Journal Musings

The Alien Hordes


I just love Mark Fiore’s animatons. His most recent posting, Migraphobia, condenses the whole issue of immigrants into the U.S. into such a spare, humorous plea.

Just last night a new student started in my heretofore cancelled Thursday classes… now uneasily restored for the time being… and she is unusual in my school: she is Chinese. Since she was the only student in the class we were able to open up a bit about our respective experiences of living in Japan and how we feel about it.

My student told me about the difficulties she encountered in trying to find a university outside China where she could study English. Her first choice had been Canada, but she was summarily rejected. The only reason why Japan accepted her was because she had a cousin living here who could sponsor her.

Once here immigration has hassled and hounded her the entire time, making life uncomfortable at best; at times she just feels like returning home. She’s been here altogether 6 years now, has gotten, in two years, to the point where she can hold a decent conversation and read Japanese well enough to start working for a Japanese company. It seems quite a few people go out of their way to make her feel uncomfortable with probing questions about her purpose being here, often linking the questions to anger about the anti-Japanese sentiments running high in China right now. She laughed about it, but I could see the bitterness in her eyes for the few moments when they couldn’t meet mine.

Really, why would a Chinese subject herself to living in an completely unfamiliar place, educating herself, and trying to make a living here if she hated the people so much? What is it with people and borders, with purity and difference?

When I was a boy, until I was eighteen, I was stateless… I had no country, no citizenship, no passport. Even though my father is American, the American government wouldn’t issue me a passport (in spite of the right of all Americans to claim American citizenship for their children), because of some obscure law that states that American citizens who were living outside the country when they were seventeen cannot endow their children with American citizenship. My parents spent years in a panic trying to find a solution through the American embassy, but no luck. I suspect it had something to do with my father being black and his marrying a German (too soon after the war, you see). Germany refused to give me citizenship, too, even though my mother is German and I was born in Germany, because German law states that a child cannot receive citizenship through blood ties with the mother, only with the father (could there be some kind of Aryan misogyny going on here?). I suspect there is something in there about my father being black, marrying a German, too.

Whatever the causes, being stateless is simply no fun. You get no rights, period. I could be standing in front of you, talking to you, shaking your hand, and yet the government would consider me a nonentity. An invisible problem. You can’t travel, you can’t own land, you can’t work legally, you can’t get an I.D., you can’t get a license, you can’t get health insurance, you can’t even get approval for burial if the government (of whatever place) legally decides to exercise its right to kill you if it deems you a nuisance. Imagine that: being physically present, visible to all, and yet erased from existence.

Now, I’m not complaining. Germany relented and through the help of a sympathetic consul I was granted (love the nuance of the word… granted… as in “deign to notice me”) German citizenship, and now I have one of the most flexible and useful passports in the world. In the wink of an eye my standing in the world switched from “null” to “one”. Suddenly I coulda, canna, will have canna been someone. Just like that.

There was a time when passports didn’t exist. People wandered across the face of this world like migrating geese, borderless and, in the true sense of the word, free. When Bush or Blair spout inanities about “freedom”, I wonder what they are talking about? If a person, any person, cannot just up and leave for parts unknown and then arrive at the gates and let themselves in without so much as a by your leave, what kind of freedom is that? What do you call it when other people shoot you for either trying to leave or get into any other place on Earth? Who decided that we had to have these Machiavellian walls and gates and restrictions any way? It’s like living in a prettified version of “Escape from New York”. Yes, the Sun shines even in here, but it is our Sun, not yours.

Meanwhile I glance out my window and there sits one of my favorite characters in my neighborhood, a young Brown-eared Bulbul, who thinks nothing of sweeping into my little garden, screeching at everyone for about ten minutes, and then flitting off to some other hapless victim’s private space, to berate them for these fences and walls and shuttered windows. The fat, expressionless tomcat, who doesn’t bother to even twitch his ear in my direction when my footstep lands near him, routinely comes high-stepping into my garden, scratches out yet more of the soil, and daily proceeds to empty his victuals into the various sand pits he has created. He cares little for fences and restrictions, too.

What have we traded off? The horizon for four walls. The joy of welcoming a neighbor into our home to offer them tea or coffee. The desire to follow the winds, and make good the yearning to join those geese as they head out beyond our imagination. A lighter pack and strong legs. The human spirit?

Perhaps there’s no longer any turning back, but you have to wonder what this planet and the gift of living on it are all for. I tend to imagine that we are here for life itself and for sharing blessings for being an integral part of something so beautiful, and for that to be freely given and freely taken.

Family Humor Journal Musings Race

Good Grief

DaisyWinnefred, of Animated Stardust relates a hilarious experience with an off kilter heterosexual. Her grace and humor in an intolerable encounter certainly are lessons in humility and kindness. I wish I could be so charming and tolerant. But, I guess, what else can you do in such a situation?

Reminds me of a story my mother told me of when I was a baby in Hannover, Germany. This was back in the early 1960’s, when Hannover harbored precious few dark-skinned creatures and just seeing a black or Asian was as rare as flamingos in the Black Forest. My father is a Filipino/black American while my mother is a cream-skinned German. The resulting cocktail is an olive-skinned mutt who can pass off as Mexican, Nepali, Turkish, Iraqi, Brazilian, Italian, Indian, Spanish, even Portuguese (all of which I have been mistaken for). Suffice it to say that in Germany, in the small city of Hannover, in 1960, I was pretty much an organic representation of an exclamation mark.

Anyway, my mother told me, she and I were taking our leisure in the hallowed walls of the hospital where I was born, waiting for my checkup. There were a few tables lined up against the wall for mothers to attend to their babies and my mother stood beside one, changing my diapers. Another mother with her little, curlicue-haired, blonde baby was changing his diapers, so that he and I could begin our first jaunt into urinal bathroom comparison rivalry. I’m not sure if I initiated any undue cause for attention, but the woman leaned toward my white mother, gave her a rundown with her eyes, switched headlights toward me, this swaddled muffin, lightly browned, gave me the once down, glanced back at my mother, then me again, all in head-cocking appraisal, before standing up straight and inquiring, in all earnestness:

“Please, tell me. How did you manage to get that particular shade of skin tone? My son’s skin remains as pink as when he was born. What do you do? Feed him carrots? Do the carrots make a great difference?”

It wasn’t my fault! I do happen to like carrots. I often wonder now if my affliction could have been prevented with a bit more forethought on my part. A bit more whole milk, perhaps. Or maybe tubs of yoghurt. Marshmallows? Or how about Cool Whip?

America: Society Germany: Living Home Places Japan: Living Journal Poetry

Nature Boy

Luna Moth
Female Luna Moth resting under a branch shortly before the evening flight, Susono, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, 1994.

Fred from Fragments From Floyd first made the call to people to try their hand at this exercise, an expression, in verse, of your origins. ( Fred’s version ) I first discovered it through Pica’s version in Feathers of Hope, and a little later from Bill’s version in Prairie Point. It’s a delightful exercise and, like Fred, I encourage everyone to try their hand at it themselves, and either post it on their web journal, here in the comments, or over at Fred’s. Here is the basic format: I am from…

Here is my version: ( “Nature Boy” was the nickname that I was given in elementary school and that stuck with me until I graduated from high school. I hated it in the beginning, but have come to feel that it describes me very well )

I am from cobblestone streets wet with oak leaves,
from the tantivy of pigeons circling.
From Tante Luise’s soft fingers grasping a worn potato knife
and Oma tiptoeing by the window sill, watching pedestrians.
I am from terra cotta roof tiles and forests of chimneys,
from a grandfather clock chiming at midnight.
From cherries and plums and dewey blueberries in bowls,
from echoing stairwells and the acrid bite of coal and potatoes in sacks.
I am from Opa’s tar-stained fingers grasping a hazenut stick,
from stock still hares and barking roe deer.
From an open top Morgan purring down the Autobahn,
from clanking trains pulling into iron framed halls.
I am from Mama’s worn diary and sepias of country lanes,
from Papa’s white lab coat and Vespa touring the tarmac.
From ship smokestacks gliding atop a levee,
from a first kiss in the westering sun.

I am from brick walls laced in ivy,
from mantis nymphs spilling down a papery shell.
From smashing a neighbor’s igloo and squirrels clattering along eaves,
from a blue blizzard toppling my friend, a weeping willow.
I am from the tales Joseph told of elephants in Rhodesia,
from the Planet of the Apes and a bone tossed into space.
From hoola hoops and Hot Wheels,
from pansit served with yams and cranberry sauce.
I am from candle balloons filling the air and cherry bombs in toilets,
from Auntie Soli dancing the tiniklit, between bamboo poles.
From Josh’s sister abducted and never seen again,
from Tatsuro’s Egyptian cartoons and Bitsy’s flying tackle with a kiss.
I am from a short-eared owl staring from a barn roof,
from the white teeth of children in a black Brooklyn school, streets shouting, “Integration!”
From horseshoe crabs washed up on Jones Beach,
from hoary firs standing silent as I land.

I am from limestone walls bulging from muscling zelkova trunks,
from sweet straw mats and shoes kicked off by the door.
From cicadas electrifying the summer haze, making trees speak,
from wooden sandals clip-clopping along train platforms.
I am from helmeted students shouting, “No war!”,
from pantomiming five comedians on black and white TV.
From shaved ice with melon syrup and glass balls punched into bottle necks,
from the girl down the street who never said hello.
I am from Jonathan shouting, “Jumbo Jet!”, everyone rushing to the window,
from Peter’s water pipe and my bloody nose.
From a family of foxes pausing on the dirt road up north,
from rhinoceros beetles and luna moths and azure-winged magpies.
I am from hitting tennis balls at a wall, sobbing and wishing for friends,
from jam-packed commutes and girls in sailor uniforms.
From lying beside the Okhotsk Sea with my brother, watching Perseid meteorites streak the wide ink sphere,
from clouds drifting across the face of Fuji, crowning her in white.

I am from the North,
I am from the West,
I am from the East.

Is there time, still, for the South?