Maritza Ruiz-Kim

Artist, San Francisco Bay Area

Oh, Say… Can You See?

So I did a search, and I guess I write about race every now & then.

It’s more so on my mind since I am submitting to a show on code-switching, the linguistic term that refers to going back & forth between a primary language and a secondary language as one speaks. I have no idea if my finished pieces will fit into that topic, but at least I know that’s where I started off.

So, I am thinking about receptive language. Or listening. Or being the recipient or observer of communication in a language you don’t understand. Example, hearing your husband’s grandmother tell your MIL (her daughter, husband’s mom) that you have gained weight. Or lost weight. Or generally being evaluated while you stand in their presence. All with gestures and looks and puffed cheeks and some words I might understand. Isn’t it fun to be the “tall” Mexican Curvy Girl in a family of teeny Koreans?

Or being a Mexican who doesn’t speak Spanish, but was born & raised in California. Always wanting to connect, but being unable to. Or being told I don’t look Mexican. I am 97% Mexican, only minus 3% because my great-great grandfather was from Prussia and everyone else? Mexicanos!) Ugh. Or being told by a white person that I am not Mexican enough. Let me be the one to say that. Just because my Mexican traditions are different from your other Mexican friend’s tradition, that doesn’t mean I know nothing about my culture. Mexico is not a small country.

Anyway, Code-switching.

I hope I can channel some good stuff into my work.

We’ll see.

I think my art career is becoming the third baby I never had.

So another idea I am tossing around is the almost arbitrary nature of race, heritage, all that. The Mexican Culture I reference has only been around for a couple hundred years. Before that, there was no Mexico. There were the natives, there were Spaniards. And back in Spain? When the Moors entered the Iberian peninsula, did they mix at all with the locals? (Well, I bet at least some of them did.) Then back here on the North American continent, isn’t there a line of thought that says that the long ago ancestors of the Native peoples were Asian in some way? So, aren’t we already blended quite a bit?

I like the idea that being American is subscribing to an American ideology. About embracing democracy. Individualism in a good way. Building community for the greater good. Well, I know the definition varies widely about what that ideology means. It’s just that when I see someone who is from Iran (like my childhood friend’s dad is, her mom is from Chile), to see- when that Iranian does that Oath of Citizenship, he’s an American now. No matter his accent. No matter his birthplace.  He’s American.  Forget the nostalgic feel of small towns that were “all-white” 100 years ago, and being able to have a 4th of July parade that celebrates the antiquated heritage of that town. I love the days of old as much as the next person. But even back then, there were Chinese there, even 150 years ago… they were building the railroad. Mexicans were there, too. It’s just that they didn’t make it into the Societies of the towns. But I hear about all this clinging to the “way America used to be” which is code for- before all these non-white people came to middle-America. Well, get used to it.  You can put up a block wall between yourself & the rest of the world, but your children will let everyone in.

And what are the chances that my Korexican-Mexorean-American boys will marry Korexican-Mexorean-American girls? At the very least, they will be of just one other race, but more likely, they will be a mix of ethnicities, too.

2 Replies to “Oh, Say… Can You See?”

  • well said. The last parade I went to had plent of culteral stuff in it. I met a german man today, he’d been here 33 years and still had a thick accent. I almost told me I was half German, but stopped because I felt like that was shallow.

  • I love that your kids are Korexican — I never met anyone like that before! (insert cuisine joke here… BBQ tacos? I don’t know, am I being racist now??? dang!)

    I think it’s hard being of German descent in a weird way, because you can’t really point to your culture as being a paragon of anything because of the country’s atrocious crime just over 70 years ago. And I had legions of uncles once, all of whom were killed in wars because they were trying to kill Americans.

    Anyway, it’s weird. But I do look forward to going back again this year.

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