Monday, April 20, 2009

Just a Few New Pics

El Valle del Rio Cangrejal

Uhhhhh, this is Terrence and he is cute.

Island Characters: Mel

“ She don’t unda stan you Patí!”. This is what Lisa tells me to help me understand why her 3 year old niece, Mel, stares at me blankly when I speak to her in English. It’s not the language that blocks my communication with Mel. I learn shortly thereafter that it’s my accent and our dialectic differences. I begin, in my wildest island Patua that I have pieced together to see if Mel now understands me. As my voice becomes louder, more energetic and the last syllables of each word fades into the first of the next, Mel’s eyes brighten and she smiles, indicating that she now ‘unda stans’ me.
Now she looks me in the eyes, but her reserve, even at the age of 3, is remarkable. She takes after her aunts and primas, who living mostly surrounded by the support of the other women in their family, cautiously approach situations as if to ensure that their micro, matriarchal community is protected. There is not a lot of chit chat in the way that I know as the friendly banter common in most social contexts of the States. This is encouraged only by those of us who feel that our community, our culture is inherently safe. As a middle class, white, educated female, I have very little to lose by opening up about my life, career and past. My entitlement or empowered position in an “equal and free” American society lends me the freedom to express what I choose with whomever I choose. This, I learn from the women in our beach community, is NOT a freedom protected for all.
The women, miraculously caring for their small broods of beauties, do so with pride and the voracity of the creator tending its creation. I am afraid that, here, I will reveal my bias and to be honest and harsh, simultaneously, my disgust. From this outsider’s perspective, the women, including guarded Mel, are told by society that their place is one of passive acceptance and diligent self-denial. The girls here are savvy; they see the female perspective ignored in many instances. Why for a minute would they expect personal success in any venture other than child bearing? They are the center of our society and at the same time they are held in a choke hold of societal shortcomings.
It has taken a while to win the smiles and friendship of some of my female students. They want to be sure I am who I say I am and that I am not going to invade their fragile status in a community reluctant to put the women on their natural, maternal throne. When I ask what they want to do after they graduate or, even, what book they want me to read to them, it is clear that they are ready and thirsty to make their own decisions. But for now, when I ask Mel what she thinks about this or that, I may or may not win a response. I will just have to wonder.