Monday, October 6, 2008

Filmer's gringa notebook...

WARNING! Another language is spoken in this play. And it’s not Irish!

Working on this play with Tanya and the cast has made me think about language, culture and isolation. Below are excerpts from the notebooks I have kept during this process. Enjoy!

“The greatest distance between people is not space but culture.”
-- Jamake Highwater
Stephanie Diaz, who also hails from the Bay Area, gave me the book Drink Cultura by Jose Antonio Burciaga. The above quote is in the book. Chapter One is titled “Chief Wachuseh”. Say that out-loud. Go ahead.

I took 3 years of French at Westmont High.
When I hear another language, whether it is Polish or German, Italian or Spanish, or even American Sign Language, I wish I knew what was being said. I long for understanding, communication. But maybe I just hate being left out.
Sidenote: My senior year my boyfriend Rick criticized me for taking choir instead of French IV. Now I work in the language of theater.

I am gringa.
My father immigrated to the US from England after WWII. He never became a citizen of this country, though he has lived here ever since. He had two daughters born here. He now lives in a public housing high rise in Sacramento, CA. His neighbors are mostly all Ukranians. He complains all the time he has no one to talk to. They don’t speak English. He doesn’t speak Russian. Do svidaniya.

Poquito espanol.
I am frustrated that I cannot know everything! That I may never learn Spanish even though my sister married a Ruiz and my daughter is leaning Spanish in preschool. Do I resent them from achieving what I have not? Do I berate those that don’t speak “my language”? Whose job is it to reach out to whom?

I learned to count to 10 in Espanol on Sesame Street.
I am nervous to speak the little Spanish I do know. Do I order Mexican food in Spanish. Side order of frijoles y arroz por favor? Am I a phony? Trying too hard? Will I be made fun of? I don’t want to butcher the pronunciation.
Forget it. I’ll just say rice and beans.

“Speak only in our secret English language.”
Just learn the language?! Between making a living and raising a family, how does one have time to learn a language? It is more than just words and sentence structure, no? It is culture. One of my closest friends has lived in Berlin since 2001. He tells me communicating in German has opened up a new way of thinking for him. His next experiment was to learn Spanish by way of German. The experiment failed.

Culture Barriers
In a hipster diner in Humboldt Park. A group of six hungry construction workers walk in. They are working in the ‘hood. They speak English. They are American. Yet they look over the menu as if it is in another language. They snicker a bit about home fries, seitan meat, and organic tofu.
I give one of the men a bite of my vegetarian pastrami sandwich. He says, “That’s not bad.”
No Literal Translation
Must I be threatened? Can another language be a beautiful mysterious thing? Like poetry. Like dance. I realize art has no literal translation. I will try to let these “foreign words” wash over me and let my mind and thoughts and feelings travel where they may.

Will I understand it?
Do I understand the moon and the stars?
I only want to see myself up on stage. Why? I am with myself all day.
There is so much I have yet to comprehend. Does this paralyze me or inspire me to learn more? I long for the latter.
“But, Tanya, I don’t understand!”
“Does that make you feel isolated?” she replies.
“Well… yes. Yes. I do feel isolated,” I respond defensively.
“Good.”
“Good?”
“Silvia and Concha. They also feel isolated.”

Oh… It’s not all about me. I am beginning to understand…

1 comment:

Carlos Diaz said...

I was accused of not being hispanic two weeks ago. I was having a friendly conversation (in Spanish of all things!!!) with a friend. A Mexican immigrant. We were talking about music, books, movies, etc. He looked at me with a half grin and said "...amigo. No eres Latino."
"No soy gringo." I shot back defiantly. As if that meant something. (What a childish retort.) It was no use. The damage had been done. Or maybe rekindled. My life has been littered with moments like this.
Then I remembered this blog entry. One that I read so many months ago.
Isolation is a human experience I guess. But culture is too. I will celebrate one to guard against the other. Latino or Gringo or what have you!
I hope you know what I mean...