Resurrection

Resurrection
GodIsLove.jpgLast Fast Sunday I bore my testimony of God’s love for ALL of His children, despite political affiliation, gender identity, or difference of experience. A handful of members  made concerted efforts to applaud my words and courage to speak out, but not surprisingly, I was blatantly ignored and kept at a distance by the large majority, including the missionaries.
In Relief Society, an attempt was made to correct my definition of feminism. When I pointed out that my definition was exactly the same as theirs, the Relief Society president replied, “Well, the definition has been hijacked.” As I was leaving the building, I was pulled aside by a man who tried to pull rank by telling me he was “a former member of the bishopric,” and that I had offended many by using words such as homosexual and gay in front of impressionable children. I was not asked, but told, to keep my opinions to myself.
I did not point out that I have been in the Primary and Young Women presidencies, that my conservative father was my bishop (and my hero), or that my ex-husband was also a member of the bishopric–twice. I figured it wouldn’t matter to him anyway, because I am just a woman who does not hold the priesthood. I also did not point out that my belief in God’s love is not my opinion; it is my testimony. But I did make him a promise–that I would not remain silent.
Other members were more encouraging. One grabbed me as I was walking out of sacrament to tell me of a very good friend who has not been attending church with his family due to the fact that their young daughter is struggling with gender identity issues and feels ostracized at church by both peers and leaders.  Another member expressed his admiration of my courage to open up about my political affiliation amidst so many staunch conservatives like himself. My former visiting teacher sat next to me in Relief Society and hugged my arm to reaffirm true charity.
Despite my rock-solid testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel, Joseph Smith, living prophets, andJesus Christ, and His deep love for each of us, I have been near to leaving the church over hate and intolerance for several years. But last week was the final straw.
My original plan was to check out a different church today; one that is much closer to home. It advertises open, loving, and inclusive worship. I really do feel that I’ll be much more comfortable in this new church. I console myself with the knowledge that I can still study the Book of Mormon and the words of latter-day prophets through LDS.org and The Mormon Channel on YouTube. I am not at all sure if I will ever return to full activity.
I originally wanted to stay away until next Fast Sunday when I could return with my written testimony and for one last time, reiterate my conviction that God does indeed love each and every one of his children. Instead, I took a break today, and while listening to the Mormon Channel, I began writing.  But I do have a promise to keep, and I feel that in leaving I am letting down people who need my love and support.
So begins the resurrection of this blog as an outlet for my frustration.  I will soon post the first written revision of the original testimony  I gave  last week. I hope that you will read and pray for the many oppressed individuals still in the church, and that you will share and respond to my message. We need your prayers, and I need your input.
Please.
Advertisements

The Dead Blog

The Dead Blog

This one’s it.

For all of my friends who exuberantly encouraged me to speak loud and proud as an LDS progressive, I apologize. I am still very much progressive, and still feel the need to vent. However, there are more important things in life. Such as life.

tombstoneI’m serious.

I haven’t been blogging because of my anxiety. This last election left me angry and reeling. I’ve had a lot to process, and a lot on my plate including a move halfway across the nation, and embarking on a grandmothering adventure that I never, ever expected. Yep. It looks like I’ve become a “mother” again. Just the move and becoming a full-time grandparent can be stressful, but adding to my generalized anxiety disorder is my age. In the past couple of years I have suffered bouts of arrhythmia spurred on by age, weight, and anxiety. In an attempt to avoid further health complications, I have been trying to avoid all triggers including Facebook and politics. I haven’t been too successful in avoiding Facebook, but if I am not talking politics, at least I’m avoiding arguments, right?

Heh.

But I am angry and I can’t let this blog die quietly. I want my readers, friends, and family to know where I stand before I go.

First, let me clarify my anger.  At first my anger was directed at voters. I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that people whom I would normally consider level-headed and stable would actually vote for a person as personally and morally corrupt as Donald Trump. I never, ever, considered him a solid business leader and I thought it was obvious that the man acheived his “greatness” through bullying and financial manipulation. When you can afford the best of deviant lawyers, you can do anything you want. I do mean anything.

Which leads me to the second reason for my anger. Once I realized that greatness could be bought, I became angry at Trump himself. He has the money to buy his way to the top, and money to keep himself there. Right, wrong, legal, or illegal. It doesn’t matter. He can pay those deviant lawyers, remember?

But Trump’s hot air and money can only go so far. You would think that the overwhelming majority of morally-minded Americans would not be able to stand for it, but as large numbers of protestors show up to exercize their first ammendment right on a recurring basis, the nation becomes more divided. The people who love him have become even more devoted, while those who don’t become even more disgusted. It looks to me as if we are on the brink of a second civil war. And while the nation tears itself apart from within, our commander-in-chief is working to bring down the forces to tear us apart from without.

Come on, people. You really couldn’t see this coming?

And so the third reason for my anger: partisan politics. George Washington warned that a two-party system would be the downfall of our nation:


However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” (Farewell address, paragraph 18, Saturday, September 17, 1796)

At first, I registered as a Republican. That was back in the day when I was easily swayed by popular opinion, and hadn’t really yet formed a political opinion of my own. As my first marriage progressed (regressed?), I began to form opinions–about male subversion, the patriarchal order, and the rightness (unrighteousness) of “war” in the Persian Gulf. When George Bush Sr. declared “victory” following the freeing of oil fields in Kuwait, I realized my loyalties did not lie with Republicans, so I later registered as an independant. But the unravelling of a never fully stable marriage put the seal on my political leanings. I could never, ever support any establishment that claimed male dominance over women. I became fully feminist, knowing that I had the right to be treated with equal respect as a spouse, a parent, a sibling, and as a child of God. I felt that as an independant thinker with progressive ideals, I would be best served by joining the Democratic party. Unknowingly, I had become an expendable pawn in America’s political system, and it didn’t really matter which side I aligned with.

I really had no control over any of it. This did not become fully evident I registered as a Democrat for the sake of voting in the primaries. I had heard that Utah had a reputation for “losing” Democrat registrations, so I registered a few months before the primary election and made sure to attend the local primary to make sure that my registration would be fully in place by the time I cast my vote in November. I was not at all surprised when I arrived at the primary polling place to find that my registration was not in the system. I was sure Utah’s Republican Party was responsible. I reregistered at the primary, and my vote was taken by hand. No box, just a piece of paper with Bernie’s name checked. I didn’t have any other problems until the final DNC election resulted in Hillary’s nomination. What? The overwhelming majority of Democratic voters I knew wanted Bernie!

Then I saw UNCOUNTED: The True Story of the California Primary, a YouTube video describing the chaotic conditions of California’s primary election. What I saw looked exactly like the process I experienced in Utah. It was obvious the DNC primary was stacked against Bernie from the very beginning. It was not Utah Republicans screwing with my vote, but my own chosen party. Now I am not even sure that I will remain registered as a Democrat. I do so now, only because it’s easier for the sake of voting. Under our two-party system, I feel like I really have no choice and no voice.

Finally, church members: Anti-feminism in Relief Society. I’ve moved out of the Utah County frying pan and into the Bible Belt fire. Maybe Kentucky’s culture feeds into it; I dunno. I hadn’t been here for more than a couple of months before one of the women in Relief Society spoke up to blame the ills of the world on feminists. Voices near me and behind me murmured their agreement.

There ya go, the same argument I’ve heard leveled over and over again on liberals in general. I admit that it is so hard for me to want to go to church these days, but I still go. I have learned, though, that when I disagree or find offense in off-handed remarks such as these, to just get up and walk out of the classroom. It’s easier and feels safer to me than leaving the church altogether.

Please don’t give up on me. I haven’t given up. My testimony is firmly rooted in personal revelation following the acute trial of my own personal faith. I can’t leave. I, like Joseph Smith and the apostle Paul, can firmly claim that I have gained that personal witness, it was real, and it is true. A Joseph Smith himself said, ” I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation. (Joseph Smith History, 1:24-25 )” And so it is with me.

The noose around this blog’s neck is the sweet little girl that has become a daily part of my life. My nest is no longer empty, and I simply do not  have the time to adequately address the issues that bother me. I now work from home, and don’t have time to spend writing three different blogs. (Yes, I have three, and I still want to write books!) I now have to choose my battles, and unfortunately the only ones worth fighting are the ones that will keep this family financially stable and functional. Just like when I was a young mother, I just don’t have the time and the energy is nearly nonexistent.

I hope this isn’t goodbye forever, and I do hope that someday there may be a resurrection of sorts. For now, the voice that dares to mix politics and religion must find expression in other ways. In the meantime, those of you who kept reading until the bitter end know and understand my struggle. I still know and understand yours. I’ll keep you in my prayers. I’ll keep this nation in my prayers. I’ll keep our new church leadership in my prayers. I hope you’ll remember me in yours.

 

 

 

Called To Stand Against Racism — MORMON SOPRANO

On Sunday night The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued an official statement in response to the recent violence in Charlottesville – decrying racism. I blogged about it here. Beginning that same night, and spanning through Tuesday morning a very unanticipated thing happened. Mormon racists. I’m depressed to learn there are a bunch […]

via Called To Stand Against Racism — MORMON SOPRANO

I was afraid I’d be excommunicated

This is for you, brother Gallagher

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with an LDS friend about this blog.  I told him I wanted to publish a blog about my political point of view and how it affects me as a member in the church.  He thought it was a great idea, and totally encouraged me to blog away.  I was surprised, because so many of the responses I have gotten about my political affiliation have been negative–especially from members of the church in Utah. When I told him I was afraid to make it public, he wanted to know why.  I explained “I was afraid I might be excommunicated.”

Brother Gallagher was surprised.  He said, as condescendingly as a good friend can, “Oh, you wouldn’t be excommunicated!”  I had to agree, I never felt I could be excommunicated for being liberal, I just felt that the attempt, could and even might be made.  I still do.  But I pointed out to Brother Gallagher that the feelings were VERY real, and that I honestly felt that my faithfulness could be called into question.

I wasn’t wrong. One week ago,  Mark Paredes, a Mormon Bishop, blogged “Good riddance to Harry Reid, the Mormon Senate Leader”  in Jewish Journal, an online forum for Jewish news, and related articles. The first few lines are VERY Clear. Paredes says that as a Democrat, Harry Reid supports, affiliates with, and agrees with a group “whose teachings or practices are contrary to, or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”  In short, according to Paredes, Harry Reid is not worthy of his temple recommend.  What?

As both a Jew (my Jewish grandmother converted while my mom was still in her teens), and a Mormon, I am extremely offended.  In fact, I am speechless to explain the depth of betrayal I feel from those of my own kind.  But maybe Brother Gallagher was right. Maybe I wouldn’t be excommunicated, but could I be disfellowshipped? Could I have my temple recommend revoked?  Depending on the bishop, it’s a possibility.  This is a problem.

With God as my guide, how can I be wrong?

My conversation with Brother Gallagher came just a couple of weeks after I summoned up the courage to revive this blog and actively recruit followers.  I had finally decided I’d had enough of pretending that I am something I am not.  I have come to the complete and honest understanding, that to be true to myself, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I have to be a liberal, and I must be honest, and upfront about it. We claim to be an evangelical church, one who shares our love of the Gospel with others,  part of my love of the Gospel is understanding that Jesus asks us to go and do as he did.  And what He did, was feed the poor, serve the needy, and love others unconditionally.  I don’t see much of that in the Republican rhetoric, and I consider it my responsibility to share my love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not the Gospel of Mitt Romney.

 

As a single mother of four children, my choices were  judged by my Mormon neighbors, and a well-meaning bishop.  It hurt.  I saw my children hurt by members of the church who prefered to sit in judgment instead of pitching in to help when I needed it so desperately.  I had been so hurt, that I avoided making contact with those people at all costs–and trust me, those costs were dear.  Three of my children left the church over it. After we moved out of the area, two came back. The problem was that I had both a solid testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and a solid testimony of the hypocrisy of members of my church.  At a time when my only consolation was temple attendance, I could not afford to quit going to church and lose my temple recommend. I would not have dared to make my thoughts public.  The difference between then and now, is that I put my trust in God, and not in the arm of flesh.  The difference between now and then, is self-confidence. I know that God loves me. He is proud of my accomplishments, and He wants me reach out and help others who are navigating the paths where I once crawled. How can I do that, if I am afraid to share my testimony openly, or I am pushed out ?

And this is for you, Bishop Paredes

Like our living prophets and apostles, bishops are people too.  They can have strong opinions and be narrow-minded.  They can be open and loving too.  Sometimes, they are both. Like me, apostles, prophets and bishops are fallible human beings.  We can, and do, make mistakes.  Please, Bishop Paredes, don’t push those liberal members of your ward out of the church.  Talk to them. LISTEN to them.  LEARN from them.  I think you will find that they share many of the same feelings about the Gospel as you do.  I think you will find that their differences in understanding the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be pivotal in your spiritual growth.  To put a twist on President Uchtdorf, don’t judge them because they understand Jesus differently than you.

In fact, If I may, let me share the words of Richard Davis, another church leader who sees things differently:

Church meetings should not be occasions for political exclusiveness, and activity of the Church (including temple recommend status) should not be connected to party affiliation. Unfortunately, Bishop Paredes’ blog post has reminded us that this is not so. Democrats still face prejudice and attempted disenfranchisement. There are members who look with suspicion upon other members who are Democrats or more liberal in their political views. I don’t view this group as in any way a majority, but it does exist and, as indicated by the incident with Bishop Paredes, members of that minority can become leaders with the ability to attempt to exclude if they wished to do so.  From The Problem and Opportunity with Bishop Paredes’ Blog Post.

As Davis points out, this is an opportunity to openly discuss the elephant in the room.  Sometimes that elephant is invisible, we really can’t believe that our way of seeing the Gospel might be different from the church member sitting in the pew next to us.  For me, it is an opportunity to stand up and be counted. I love the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I love being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and I love being open-minded and charitable (In my mind, that translates to liberal)Let’s start by being open to differences.

 

 

“This is not the God and the Christ that I Believe in”

I may be a late-comer to the bandwagon on this issue. I found this just two days ago as I was taking a closer look at Jim Dabakis’ website. And as I read, I knew I could not remain silent.  Dabakis  is pleading for help because this is an LDS issue, and Dabakis is not LDS.  But Dabakis is gay, and I am not.  I may not be able to completely understand what a gay person goes through, but I think I can understand what a gay person in the church goes through.  Especially here in Utah.  And when one member of the church sends anonymous letter of condemnation to another member, there’s a serious problem. This is the third or fourth letter of this kind, and the recipient’s sister explains:

Erik is an active member of the ward.  I’m assuming he hasn’t been to church in a couple weeks so the author must have assumed he had left the church. The letter was left on my parents front door in a plain white envelope. My parents as well as Erik live in South Ogden. This is the third or fourth letter left for him. It greatly upsets my parents.

The letter:

Left on the doorstep. And NOT THE FIRST TIME

The words I have to describe this horrific letter are inadequate, but let me give it a try.  Aside from the vile rhetoric in this letter, there are three glaring problems with the author’s argument: Continue reading

Happy Native American Day!

Columbus Day is a government holiday that needs to be done away with.

Depending on the state you live in, it is a state holiday as well.  Less than half of the states in the U.S. still consider it a state holiday, but Utah is one of those states.  This means that not only do mail-workers, bankers, and other federal government workers get today off, but schools are closed and all Utah state workers get a day off too. No one else gets the day off.

Other states have gone a more logical direction, declaring it Native American Day; a more politcly correct celebration. One I can embrace whole-heartedly. Columbus Day is just an embarrassing reminder that millions of people died because someone got lost.

In honor of Native American Day, I’d like to share an autobiography written by one of my ninth-grade Navajo students while I was teaching in Page, Arizona.  I do not have a digital copy of the paper, so I  cleaned up some spelling and punctuation issues (what do you expect from a ninth grade kid, anyway?). Any words I changed are entered in brackets and I’ve added some photos and videos. Otherwise I am copying it exactly as written by my student.

The date on this paper is December 12, 2007.

I hope you’ll be as impressed as I was.

[I was born] in 1991 in Page, on April 3. I basically live a regular rez life–what people be calling it around here. We have our own slang words, our own accent, our problems in the Navajo place. It’s the typical rez: old hogan, old house, broke down cars.  In other words–ghetto. 

The rez is just like the streets. People die, drama, fights, gangs and drugs.  Poverty, violence, struggle  and the poor mostly reside on our reservation. Tons of people live without running water and electricity, but we still reside in an old-way society with a little urban in it. The good thing is that Navajos still speak their native language and know their culture and still believe in the old ways. Our mothers and fathers still talk to us in our tongue and they want us to learn to pass [it] on.

Then the bad thing is that no one ever quits getting high once they get into it. To this day my homies still come around drunk asking me to drink or to get high. Then I have to live with that every day and don’t get drunk or high.

 

[. . .] my father ran out on me when I was born and I don’t really know the story about that. I just heard that he was a drunk and spent most of his money on alcohol. Right now I have two little brothers, two little sisters and one older sister. Ever since, I’ve lived with my grandparents, six of my uncles, four of my [aunts] and my grandparents.

 

I had always seen drugs around. Ever since I was the age of five, I realized what it was and what it did. My uncles were alcoholics and my aunts used to party a lot when I was a kid, so I always saw it. I guess it was normal to see drugs around, to know it killed some of m relatives and sent my uncles to do time in the pen. My grand parents always talk to me not to do drugs but there was no use; it was an every night thing. I always [saw] my uncles fight because they were drunk. My oldest uncle named John is locked up now; and he did eight years and is coming back soon.

 

Well as I got older, I started to get into drugs and I used it and abused it. At the age thirteen I started drinking, getting drunk and high. I started to drop out of school an all I did was get high and drunk. I had to go to summer school to pass my grade. I kept on getting high and that’s all I thought life was all about, but I was wrong.

 

I did stress about myself and why I didn’t have a dad. I was stressing about how it would have been if he would be around. In reality, I found out that it was a stupid reason and he was a stranger in my life, and I couldn’t do anything about it.

 

As I got older I kind of got tired of partying because I was doing it every night. I tried to stop but peer pressure sucks, and my friends keep persuading me, saying “we’re going to have a good time.” Then I find myself drunk with my friends again. Also I’d find myself with a pipe in my hand, trying to catch a high. I guess I was really addicted for a while. Then all of a sudden I find myself locked up in a juvenile facility where I was locked up for criminal damage and minor consumption. The police also identified me as a Crip gang member, which I had started with my friends.

 

Native Warrior tat

We named our gang, our clique, Native Crips, also known as NC, behind the Warrior Society in the prison system . When I started the gang I just told my friends we should start a group so we could back each other up and watch one anothers’ backs out of it because w had problems with the Bloods, AKA BitterSpring Bloods. We had problems with them. We always did.  Therefore, they didn’t like us, we don’t like them.

 

As we started to get known, hangin’ around in a group wearing our blue colored bandanas, I honestly never thought the cops  would ever get involved with our so-called gang. As we started to drink, we got arrested and we threw signs in the cops’ faces. And they knew.  Ever since then, they [could] also identify the bloods, so they knew we had problems.

 

As I was saying, when I got locked up, I didn’t like it.  I started thinking about my life and if I were going to continue what I was doing. I would end up dead or in prison. I knew that, and I looked and thought about my family members that were locked up or that died because of drugs and what it does to you. So when I got released, the judge gave me a year of probation and told me not to hand out with my friends because we were known as The Crips. Then I thought deeply; if I continue this behavior with the gangs, I wouldn’t go nowhere in life. I thought if the gangs keep growing, that people’s lives are going to end because of colors, and I don’t want that for my people. Especially the next generation.

I don’t remeber the name of the student, but I hope that he meant what he said about getting out and getting clean.  It’s not an easy thing to do when you live on the Rez.  Especially since the rez life is so hard and leaving it means leaving your identity as a part of the Navajo culture.

When I was in college, I minored in geography.  I learned about the American holocaust from a class on the geography of American history.  The video below says that over 19 million people died “according to conservative estimates.”  I remember reading estimates closer to 80 million, counting both continents (Donald W. Meinig, The Shaping of America, 1986).  This video  explains what I am talking about.  It’s half an hour long, but well worth the time.

 

 

 

How to Deal With an Adult Bully

Just don’t.  Standing up for yourself will not stop them.  Reasoning with them will not stop them.  Even ignoring them does not stop them.

I have many conservative friends on my Facebook account.  I know some are right-winged due to their repeated political posts which I often disagree with. However, I rarely feel attacked when I respond. But one (I’ll call him “Buck”) was blocked some time ago because his comments are often hateful,mean-spirited, flat out cruel, and always politically motivated. I decided I was best not seeing his posts, so I kept him as a friend and blocked his activities. That was not the smartest thing for me to do, because I could still see his responses to politically motivated posts of mutual friends.

I’ll call one mutual friend Ed.  Ed’s a great guy; I’ve always liked him, and even when we disagree, we remain friendly.  Buck has never been this way. I think Buck bullies because people disagree with him, and that just makes them sick and wrong (in his vociferous opinion). However, disagreeing with someone (even vehemently), is never cause for bullying.

Give me a U, an L, a Y, an I, and an N.

Recently, Ed posted a statement from Teddy Roosevelt that I really wanted to respond to. It began like this:

Teddy R. post

 

The first unnamed responses came from someone else.

I learned pretty quickly that no matter what the argument was, there would be no disagreeing with Buck, because he wasn’t listening. I didn’t jump in until Buck had already made blatantly racist comments.   I wondered how  Native Americans fit into his equation, so I put my comment on Teddy aside, and asked.  (Dumb, I know.)  I thought his response was downright cold, but I wanted to make sure that I understood him correctly.  People define things differently, and I was hoping I was wrong. Continue reading

Idiolect: Not Just for Idiots

another way to say personal linguistic quirks

Idiolect?  I honestly did not know that I had one.  It never even occurred to me that I might.   I mean, I have been to other countries, and I always enjoy people who speak differently from me, but I have been idiocentric about my speech. I assumed that only American populations on the fringes of the main population had a dialect of Standard American English that was different from my own; most specifically Southerners and New Englanders.  And yes, there are other variations , such as African-American Vernacular, but I always thought of African-American Vernacular as its own language—not so much a dialect.  I guess you could say that I have somehow managed to convince myself that I am the perfect example of Standard American English, and that every other dialect is a variance of my own.

But then I got to thinking about it. First of all, where, oh where, did I get the idea that Standard American English is the international ideal that all other language groups aspire to?  Is it because English is the international business language? If so, who is to say that Standard American English is the internationally accepted business English dialect? (Some say it’s Oxford—oh say it’s not true!)  And even then, business English is only universal to international businesses, so what makes it right in Chicago neighborhoods, greater Illinois, or anywhere else in the United States? Continue reading

Confessions of a Third-Grade Bigot

My father often tells a story about an event that happened when I was quite young.  And while the story has nothing to do with me, it has everything to do with my understanding of literacy, and so I tell it too.   It seems that a man came from out of town on business. Dad met him at an informal reception in the workplace, and upon learning that my father was Polish, the man began telling Polack jokes.  This particular situation can be easily compared to the same man visiting, and upon meeting a particularly beautiful blonde colleague; he begins telling dumb blonde jokes. My father might have laughed at the first basically benign joke, but as the jokes continued, and as time went on, became more distasteful and bigoted, my father was no longer smiling.  Dad knew that he could have just left the room; instead, he waited for a lull in the barrage, and asked pointedly, “Do you speak Polish?”  When the man answered negatively, Dad asked “How does it feel to be dumber than a Polack?”  This put an effective stop to the jokes.  This particular story has stayed with me throughout my life.  My dad tells the story often, always in response to some particularly bigoted statement by a family member or acquaintance.  I think the story stays with me for the same reason. I mean, how can a monolingual individual possibly be more intelligent than one who is bilingual? But I think now, too, of the gender-related as well as stereotypical issues with dumb-blonde jokes.  How can we use language, gender, hair color, skin color, or country of origin as a measure of worth?  Why do we?

A similar story is told by my mother, always in response to the assumption that she must be bilingual.  Both of my maternal grandparents were immigrants. My grandfather, an illegal German immigrant who jumped ship from a merchant vessel when it landed in California. My Grandmother came as an Austrian refugee of the Holocaust.  The two met and married in California, and spoke fluent, albeit different, dialects of German in their home.  When my mother was born, local school officials suggested that speaking two languages, one at home, one in public, would confuse my mother (despite the fact that her two sisters, both more than a decade older than her, were bilingual). So my mother was raised speaking English-only.  I feel that my mom was deprived of some important linguistic skills that could have opened so many doors for her.

I think of the general attitudes and discourses regarding literacy today, and I can see how closely related they are to the attitudes and discourses regarding the first languages of my grandparents, and the value they placed on learning English as direct evidence of their worthiness to become citizens of the United States.  Grandma spoke a dialect of German commonly referred to as Platdeutsch (Low German), while Grandpa spoke Hochdeutsch (High German). Grandma, being painfully aware of the disadvantaged classification of her dialect, made every effort to adapt her skills to accommodate the more privileged dialect of Hochdeutsch.  She knew how this advantaged categorization of language affected the way others classified her, so she reverted to her Platdeutsch only when arguing with my grandfather as a point of irritation.  Grandma’s painful awareness of the privileging of dialects led her to insist on the use of “proper English” at all times, just as she insisted that my mother never leave the house without gloves on.  Both modes of communication, the one verbal, the other visual, were distinct determiners of status in the eyes of my Grandmother.  Much of this insistence on “proper,” albeit arbitrarily defined behavior, is still evident in the values expressed by my mother today, especially when it comes to language.

As a child I came to adopt these same values, insisting that there was just one correct way to communicate, and that “proper” English must be used as a method of maintaining societal integrity.  When I think about those attitudes in relation to my own life, I think most specifically of a field trip that I participated in when I was in the third grade. This particular field trip was significant to me at the time, and has stayed significant as part of my growth as a literate woman. In retrospect, it has become even more significant to me as a way of understanding differences in backgrounds and cultures that contribute to the growth of a literate America.

This was the year my family moved from a middle-income neighborhood in “white American suburbia” to a rented home in Lark, a tiny defunct mining town that housed a

variety of elderly widows, Mexicans, Navajos, and single-parent families.  My parents were attracted to this location because of its low rent, and more importantly, its proximity to the property they were planning to build a new home on in an exclusive gated community.  In my new school, I was among the minority—a child from one of only two intact white middle-class families in the whole town. We only lived there for two years, but those two years shaped my early attitudes about reading, writing, and communication in the English language. Continue reading