Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Eminem is an Exception

America. I used to think of my country as a place of opportunity where anyone can make something of himself. There are no limits here, and no prejudice. If one works hard, he will succeed. That’s such a beautiful idea and I wish it were true. The truth is, this ideal is much more of an exception than a general rule.

People like Eminem are rare. He was a low-class white boy from Detroit who was a rapping prodigy and he made it huge. As wonderful as this sounds,it rarely happens. People do not make themselves, rather their circumstances, and opportunities, make them. This is a general rule that applies to many more people than the American Dream does.

It was during the Progressive Era, in the late 19th century when people began doubting that people can actually pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. This is when The Jungle was written. Eastern European immigrants came to America hoping to have a higher standard of living, get an education and live happily. However, when they got here, being unskilled laborers, all they could do was work in factories. They were paid pitifully and worked until they were no longer efficient to the company. They had no time to get an education or try to move up. They worked 16 hours a day before sunrise to after sunset, and when they got home the only thing they wanted to do was sleep. The next morning the same fate awaited them.

Many of these workers would go to the saloons after work to drink and relax after an exhausting day. Many of them spent too much on alcohol to the point where their families were neglected. Upper class people would see the working class drunk and loud in the bars and they’d shake their heads in disgust. In The JungleJurgis says that the only time he could use his imagination was when he was drinking, when he could forget what a pathetic life he led. Drinking was an escape. The upper classes did not understand this, and they fought for Temperance, to prevent the lower class from consuming alcohol. They saw them as lazy. They accused them of wasting their money. Yet, could the upper class really judge them? Alcohol was a sweet escape for many who had no way out of their current way of life.

They could not get a better job because that would require an education. To get an education meant money. They hardly had the time or energy to get an education while they were working, yet quitting their jobs was not an option. They had to work to eat and pay for a roof over their heads. They were stuck.

The laboring class in the Progressive Era faced this and we may think that with the rising minimum wage and labor rights, this situation is a thing of the past. However, last semester I went to a mission in Lincoln Heights, East LA, and a Mexican man named Caesar talked to us about the struggle of the lower class in East LA.

Growing up,both his parents worked all day, so he never had anyone to tell him what to do or not do. He grew up basically without supervision, while his parents were just trying to pay for their house and food, just the necessities of life. When his brother was a teenager, he got involved in a gang, because it was in the gang that he found loyalty and a family of sorts that he’d never had. Caesar and his brother did poorly in school, partially because they never had parents to encourage them. They also never even considered going to college. College had never been even an option for their family. He got a job when he was 16 and that was more important than doing school. They lived for the day, to pay for the day. They hardly thought of the future. His older brother got a girl pregnant when he was 19, and from then on he was forced to grow up and become a father. He followed exactly in his father’s footsteps. He never got an education. He had to provide for a family every day.

Now Caesar has a program for football players at Lincoln Heights High School that combines tutoring and coaching. He wants the players to keep a 3.0 GPA and be able to find community and security within the football team. I see that as a very good solution for now.

I write this to inform readers that the American Dream preached to you from a young age is a lie. I don’t mean to say that people are not responsible for their actions but I do mean to say that it is unreasonable to believe that anyone can make himself with some hard work. People are born into classes and it is extremely hard to move up, especially for the lower class because of the cost of education (not just money, also time) and the low pay that uneducated people generally receive. It’s a downward spiraling cycle.

Solutions you ask?

Upton Sinclair thought that the solution to this cycle and to the oppressive upper class was to enforce a Socialist economy. With Socialism, the lower classes that were creating products would get a more even share of the wealth that they helped create, rather than the top dogs getting all the gold. It is fair for the working class to see more of the wealth because without them, the business leaders could not make a profit. He makes such a huge profit himself because he pays the laborers so little. Upton Sinclair said, share the wealth.

I’m still working through all of this, but I have come to see the injustice in this system, I do believe in pay raises for the laboring class and less pay for CEO’s and the other top people. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Farewell my dearest flower; Farewell my happiness

This is sort of a review of The Jungle written by Upton Sinclair during the Gilded Age in America. He was a socialist, he mocked the American Dream and he fought for the rights of the laboring class. Please do read this book someday...Maybe this essay will get you interested in it :]

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 2003. 

“Farewell my dearest flower; Farewell my happiness as well as for me, the unfortunate, I see I am destined by the Highest to live alone in the world in misery.” (p 9) This is the song that Marija sings at Ona and Jurgis’ wedding when the story begins. The lyrics foreshadow the growing hardships that await this working-class family from Lithuania. They had come to America, the land of the free, with high hopes of making money and gaining a high quality of living. Jurgis and Ona were in love and would soon be married. The family is closely knit, and they are happy together. In times of struggle, Jurgis always promises to work harder in order to make more money and provide for the family, but he soon learns that being a working man is a losing fight. (pg 248) Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle mocks the American Dream by showing how big businesses took advantage of immigrants by taking over their lives, dehumanizing them and enslaving them to the factories.

The factory quickly shows itself to be a place for only the strongest. Antanas, Jurgis’ father, cannot get work because he is old. Finally when he does get work, he is paid pitifully and his working condition is terrible. He gets sores on his feet and eventually, the factory takes his life. Jurgis starts out as an agile young man and is immediately given a job because he looks lively and ready to work. However, the factory soon causes him to disintegrate. First he breaks his leg, and loses work that way, and later on when he is working in mining  tunnels, he loses his job after breaking his arm. In the end, he can hardly keep a job because he is too weak and therefore not efficient for the factory. After Ona gives birth to Antanas Jr., she can only afford to miss a week of work for recovery because otherwise she will be replaced by someone stronger than she. However, because she did not rest enough, she never recovers fully from childbirth. The family is forced, like beasts of burden, to go to work in any and all conditions, because only the strongest survive in the factories.

The packers treat their laborers no better than they treat the pigs which march willingly, yet unknowingly, to their slaughter. The packers use “every part of the hog except the squeal.” (p 38) They use every part of the laborers until they are completely burnt out from working. Jurgis realizes this when he cannot find work after breaking his leg. “Now he [Jurgis] was second-hand, a damaged article. They [the packers] had got the best out of him- They had worn him out…and now they had thrown him away!” (p 42) Just like they use every part of the pig to gain as much of a profit from each one as possible, so they use the workers until they are no longer profitable.

The workers really are just parts of the machine. They work “day by day, hour by hour, week by week, year by year” doing the same task and standing in the same square spot to do the task. Their lives offer no place for an imagination or free-time. The narrator says that little Stanislovas could only think about setting lard cans all day. (p 82) For most of the year he would wake up for work when it was dark and he would not return home until it was dark outside again. (p 83) Teta Elizabeta gets a job in the sausage plant at the factory. Sinclair describes her task as years of monotony. The rich people who come to get a tour of the plant are fascinated by how fast she works, and they stare at her like she is a “wild beast in menagerie”. (p 152) Her face is blank and pallid, and she thoughtlessly links the sausages together steadily all day long because that’s the only way she can keep her family alive. Elizabeta is left with no time to think because of the concentration her job requires. The family would drag themselves home after working on the machines all day, and at home they ate in silence, “for they had nothing but their misery to speak of”. (p 155) They would then faint into their beds and wake in the morning for work, only to start the process over again. They live robotically and monotonously, “racing death”. (p 152)

Their family community that is essential to them as human beings is destroyed by the machine that they are chained to. Throughout the story the family devolves from a closely knit unit to broken scattered parts. Ona and Jurgis are a particularly good example of this. They work for the majority of the day so they have little time to spend with one another. Ona and Jurgis’ relationship problems begin when Jurgis breaks his leg and he becomes very hostile and stressed out. Ona is suffering much pain from working in the winter freeze, but she doesn’t want to bother him with her complaints, so she just doesn’t talk to him. “The woe of this would flame up in Ona sometimes- At night she would suddenly clasp her big husband in her arms and beak into passionate weeping, demanding to know if he really loved her.”  The narrator then explains that Jurgis’ passion for Ona had faded as the hardships in life grew. (p 140) Ona later has sex with her boss because he threatens to blacklist her family’s names if she doesn’t. This afflicts Ona’s conscious and nearly drives Jurgis mad. Eventually, Ona dies in childbirth because she doesn’t have enough money to call for a doctor. Even their first little son, Antanas drowns because of the flooded conditions of the street in their poverty stricken neighborhood. In the end, Jurgis has lost his wife and his only son to the inevitable poverty that the factory creates for laborers. 

Sinclair explains how these circumstances are unavoidable for an immigrant trying to survive in America because they are mostly uneducated and unskilled. "Here is a population, low-class and mostly foreign, hanging always on the verge of starvation and dependent for its opportunities of life upon the whim of men [the packers] every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers.” (p 122) They come to America quite na├»ve, without knowing the language and without an education. They are an easy target for conmen, like the man who sells them their house for much more money than it is worth. Because they are unskilled laborers, they are paid only about fifteen cents an hour, and the children and women are paid even less. However, even if they wanted to get an education, it would be very unlikely that they would. Stanislovas drops out of school when he is 13 to work at the factory. Kotrina drops out of school to care for the younger children when she is around the same age and later on she works in the streets selling newspapers. Elizabeta’s other sons also have to drop out of school to sell newspapers. As for the adults, they are too worn out to come home and study after a hard day’s work. He knew of a man who had eight kids and would go to night school in the evenings. Jurgis hoped that someday he would have the chance to become educated too. “With hope like that, there was some use in living; to find a place where you were treated like a human being- by God!” (p 229) However, until he was educated, he was stuck in the culture of poverty, unable to move up in the factory. 

The socialist political speaker who changes Jurgis’ life describes the slavery of Jurgis and his family explicitly when he says, “There are a million people, men and women and children, who share the curse of the wage slave, who toil every hour they can stand and see, for just enough to keep them alive; who are condemned to the end of their days to monotony and weariness, to hunger and misery, to heat and cold, to dirt and disease, to ignorance and drunkenness and vice!” Factories like Packingtown oppressed workingmen as a form of slavery during the gilded age. Sinclair depicts this through his raw story about the immigrant family from Lithuania. “They had dreamed of freedom; of a chance to look about them and learn something; to be decent and clean, to see their child grow up to be strong. And now it was all gone-it would never be!" (p 156) The American dream turned out to be a giant hoax that they were dragged and chained into.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I Agree, It's Great to Be Fine

This is my favorite quote from Dr. Strangelove where the President of the U.S. is calling the Premier of the USSR to explain that one of his soldiers who was a little "funny in the head" did a "silly thing" and launched a nuclear attack on Russia. This is how the conversation begins.

 ‎"Yes. Fine, I can hear you now, Dimitri. Clear and plain and coming through fine. I'm coming through fine too, eh? Good, then. Well then as you say we're both coming through fine. Good. Well it's good that you're fine and I'm fine. I agree with you. It's great to be fine." (-Mr. President)

I love this quote because of how casually the president is talking considering the circumstances. Also it seems to make fun of small talk, and I am all about making fun of small talk. I had a conversation today that was very similar to this one. It went like this:

"Hey Marissa how are you?"
"Pretty good!"
Jacob how are you?"
"Ya pretty good."
*nod nod*
How are you?"
"Oh I'm good too."
*shift shift*
"Ya, uh, have a good day."

I feel rude to walk away saying nothing, but I feel incredibly awkward having conversations like this. They are hilarious, but so pointless and stupid. Small talk should be abolished because it's better to say nothing at all then to have conversations like this. So if I ever just say "Hey" and walk away, then don't be offended. I'd like to eat lunch with you or something maybe and talk, but when I'm walking to class or to work or my room, I don't really want to know what's up or how you are. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Multi-Cultural America

Multi-Cultural mural at Union Station in LA-one of the most racially diverse cities in the world

I can hardly offer any answers. In fact, I left class feeling that many of my ideas had been crumbled. Dr. Mac said, “Let’s go outside of our ideas and see how conditions have shaped them.”

What is race? What is ethnicity? Is there a difference between the two?

Some say that race is biological and others say it is a social construct. Ethnicity is usually described as a cultural construct, which is very similar to a social construct. Is there even a difference between race and ethnicity then?

My book for my Critical Thinking class said that race describes, “physical characteristics”.  Yet we can’t really define race in such simple terms, as I will discuss later.

Who creates racial categories and why do we have them? Is there a purpose to having racial categories? Dr. Mac said, “Think about the social and material things that make up racial categories.”

“Differences are fine, but we have to be careful when power comes into play.” We call mainly Blacks, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Latinos, and Native Americans “minority groups”. So are Caucasians the “power” he is talking about? We are the majority; they are the minority. It’s white middle-class Americans who write the Census Bureau’s questions on Demographics after all.
Us and them. This is where racial categories begin. Dr. Mac lived in a neighborhood with many working class Mexicans. Nearly every weekend they would party till early morning. The non-working class families in the neighborhood would often call the cops on them, but Mac didn’t. One time,  his middle-class Mexican neighbors came to his house and during their conversation they said, “We’re not like them”. Were they setting themselves apart as a different race?

What does it mean when we say that Will Smith is one of the whitest black guys ever? At my school, all the students look different, but we are not all of different races. We are primarily white. What does that mean? What does it mean that I am white, but I am also a quarter Asian? I am not really racially Asian, or ethnically Asian. I look pretty white, and I act pretty white (I don’t speak Japanese or eat Japanese food often, or wear kimonos), but I have Asian blood in me. What does this mean?

Furthermore, are Asians not white? They have white skin, why aren’t they white? Why were the Irish considered not-white in the nineteenth century? They are obviously white in color but they are not socially white. They were the drinking, partying, loud, brawling working class. Definitely not white.

Well then, I think we can conclude that race is not only physical characteristics. It has much to do with one’s economic status. I’ve heard someone describe their job title as a landscaper as simply “ a Mexican”. The Irish were the lower class in America during the 19th century. In the 20th century, the Chinese made up much of the working class. Of course, with slavery, blacks were the working class for long as well. Now it is mainly Mexicans, at least in the South West, who are the working class. They are the groups who do the dirty jobs that white people are often too superior for. At my job, it is the Pacific Islanders, Mexicans, Blacks and retarded who wash dishes all day, clean the cafeteria and the kitchen, clean dorm room bathrooms, keep up the campus landscape, etc.

These groups become what we call “minority groups”.  Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the
term “minority group” was coined around the time when Affirmative Action was implemented during the Civil Rights Movement. Of course, it was created, along with Hate Crime Laws, to create equality, or force it. However, in labeling groups, and feeling the need to protect them, are we just reinforcing their identity as “other”? Can we reach equality of races if we continue to treat them differently?

So maybe I just got you thinking. Discussing issues like this in Critical Thinking definitely made me more aware of my surroundings. We all put people in groups, and we like to put ourselves in groups. There is no problem with recognizing differences, especially differences in food, language, dress, etc. But we need to be aware or thinking about what and who created these racial categories. We also should be careful about how we talk about other “races”. Ultimately, regardless of the groups we create, we are all individuals, and racial or ethnic identifications are fallacious generalizations, taking particulars and creating general rules, or taking general rules and applying them to particulars.

But this brings me back around again to: What is a race? And what is the purpose of racial categories?

Go ahead, tell me what you think. I want to know.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Everyday, We Have Faith

These are dark uncertain realms. These are the rest stops. There are the stops where we realize that we are uncertain. We know something improvable. 
This is the stop where I jump off the cliff, hoping there’s water beneath. I hear the water. I see the water. I have heard of others jumping into the water. 
Year and year, day and night, cliff divers merge into the dark uncertain realms.
I cannot know that I will reach the water, but I believe. I cannot know anything for certain, but I believe. I cannot know all, but I know as much as I can.
It is time to forget the old thoughts that faith is an element restricted to saints.
Faith is in every step I take down the dark street, in unknown shadows. Faith is in the historian, in the scientist, in the artist. Faith is in the driver, in the friend, in love. Faith is in the mind of the everyday individual, in need of accepting the uncertain realms.