who’s the snowflake?

I was visiting in Sweden a couple of summers ago, and had to get up early for an appointment. On my way back I passed through a park. It was still early, probably before nine, and the air was cool the way it is in the summer when you know the day is going to be hot.

There were a couple of blonde girls raking leaves in the park. They looked like volleyball players, tall, and strong. I couldn’t figure out what they were doing, until I remembered that Swedish high school and college students often have summer jobs filling in during the regular staff’s summer vacation. (Swedish employees have 6 or 7 weeks of paid vacation time, and usually take 4 of those weeks back to back during the summer.) Outdoor summer jobs are the best, because, well, you get to spend all summer outdoors. When I was growing up you’d only get the outdoor jobs through connections.

Right now I’m also remembering an affluent young woman, one of my students in Silicon Valley. She had grown up on a ranch in Morgan Hill, in the south end of the San Francisco Bay Area. As an undergraduate she spent a semester studying abroad in London.

When she came back to school in California I asked her about her time in London. It was obvious there was something she didn’t want to say. It took some prodding, but finally she told the class that in London had been the first time she’d seen white people do manual labor. White people, looking just like herself, had cleaned, sold tickets to the Underground, worked in the supermarkets, and swept the streets. She’d never before experienced anything like it.

This Los Angeles Times story talks about how the California wine industry has such a hard time finding workers after president Trump’s proposed crackdown on undocumented immigrants that they are forced to pay way more than the minimum wage. From the story:

Some farmers are even giving laborers benefits normally reserved for white-collar professionals, like 401(k) plans, health insurance, subsidized housing and profit-sharing bonuses. Full-timers at Silverado Farming, for example, get most of those sweeteners, plus 10 paid vacation days, eight paid holidays, and can earn their hourly rate to take English classes.

The story’s headline? “Wages rise on California farms. Americans still don’t want the job.”

the mystery of the mexican soda

I am a big fan of Jarritos, a Mexican soft drink. The bottles are pretty, the soda has real sugar instead of corn syrup, and, best of all, there is a pineapple flavored Jarritos.

My local Safeway carries Jarritos, but they rarely have any pineapple flavored ones. Safeway keeps the Jarritos on one of the bottom shelves in the non-white people food aisle, the aisle that has “Hispanic” food next to “Asian” food and the Kosher items.

The Target closest to my house also carry Jarritos. They too keep them among the Hispanic food.

Yesterday Dan and I were across town in the southeastern part of San Jose. We were in Target, and I remembered to look for the Jarritos. In the Hispanic aisle they were not. Instead, I found them among the soda, in the drinks aisle.

So, in neighborhoods where mostly white people live, Mexican soda is categorized as “Hispanic food”. In a neighborhood where more Mexicans shop, Mexican soda is a soft drink.

I can’t help thinking about what would happen if the Jarritos where to live next to the Pepsi in my uppity small town Safeway.

american whiteness


Here is a fun read that came to me through Facebook: The Four Cutest Ways To Photograph Yourself Hugging Third-World Children. Number 3: While wearing traditional native garb, is my personal favorite. Angelina Jolie comes to mind, obviously. You can see her moving in on a little girl above.

I’m sure lots of people would disagree with me, but I do think white women’s tendency to wear traditional garb when traveling has to do with white people’s need to be somebody. In a society that takes whiteness for granted, white people often feel invisible. As if they were the only ones without culture, they have to seek out the cultures of others to get some sense of belonging.

All of this is backwards, of course, since whiteness in itself is a ticket to the ultimate belonging, the comfort that comes with being seen as ‘normal’. But, the first sign of privilege is that you are blind to it when you have it.

Some years ago I had a student, a white young man at the predominantly white Catholic campus where I teach. His name wasn’t Patrick O’Brien, but it could have been. In one discussion he told the class that, “Had I been Mexican, my life would have been easier.” The difficulty he experienced in his life was exactly what I talk about above. He felt that he didn’t know who he was.

Maybe at this point I should repeat the basic facts: A white young man, native speaker of American English, in college on a predominantly white campus founded on the religious principles shared by his own family, had a feeling of not knowing who he was in the world. He imagined that if instead he had been Hector Gonzalez, and his skin had been brown, his speech accented, he would have known his own identity.

Culture belongs to ‘the other’. Identity belongs to the brown, the gay, maybe to the women.

Another white young man wrote in an essay last quarter something along the lines of “seeing your own life played out in the media over and over again is addicting”. He was talking about a baseball movie he had seen as a child, that had featured kids that could have been any one of his friends, or himself.

Understanding that hegemony is addicting is a huge step forward from thinking that you don’t have an identity when you are white. Maybe there is hope, after all.

public service announcement

Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) is not the Mexican independence day. Encyclopedia Britannica tells you that Cinco de Mayo is also known as the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, and is “a national holiday in Mexico in honor of a military victory in 1862 over the French forces of Napoleon III.”

They continue: “On May 5, 1862, a poorly equipped mestizo and Zapotec force under the command of Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza defeated French troops at the Battle of Puebla, southeast of Mexico City; about 1,000 French troops were killed. Although the fighting continued and the French were not driven out for another five years, the victory at Puebla became a symbol of Mexican resistance to foreign domination.” 

And: “The day is celebrated in Mexico, especially in Puebla, with parades and speeches. In some cities there are reenactments of the Battle of Puebla. Cinco de Mayo has also become a festive holiday in parts of the United States with large Mexican American populations, including many cities of the Southwest. Celebrations in the United States often extend beyond the actual day to encompass an entire week, with parades and festivals that include music, dancing, and food.”

Mexico celebrates its independence from Spanish rule on September 16.