Rachel Casiano Hernández – Todo Sobre Mi Madre
2012, 20 pages, $2 (Buy from Fight Boredom)
“The first time my mother saw snow was her first year in college. She said the snowflakes were so big they looked like moths falling from the sky.”
Todo Sobre Mi Madre (or, All About My Mother, like the Almodovar film) is a quick zine about the author’s relationship with her mother. An outstandingly accomplished woman who, in addition to holding an M.D., “speeds through books, is trilingual, sings beautifully, cooks gourmet meals, and (if I remember correctly) has a pilot’s license,” her mother’s experience of America has nevertheless been defined in many respects by her status as a “minority.” Hernández’s zine uses pictures of and letters from her mother to stitch together her own thoughts on the relationship between Puerto Rico, a territory floating in status quo between true statehood and full independence, and the rest of the United States. As “immigrant[s]-lite,” both Hernández women have had to deal with the uncertainty that comes of being designated as Other; was I admitted to school to fill a quota? Are my actions going to seen as a referendum on my people of my race as a whole? This zine avoids political/intellectual provocations and does not mine as deeply into the lives of its subjects as it might, but on balance it’s a sweet, thoughtful snapshot of where the author was circa April 2012. You can get it for $2 from Montreal’s fine Fight Boredom distro.
I wanted to block this off from the actual review above because it’s just a
quick thought that came to me while reading Hernández’s zine which relates to it only tangentially.
I tend to think conversations/arguments on political issues often gloss over the basic difference in opinion which sparks the debate, making it all-too easy to demonize one’s opponents. As a result, sometimes I’ll elaborate on (belabour?) a simple point in hopes of better understanding how the other side thinks. Reading Mi Madre‘s description of minority issues, I couldn’t help but think about the furor over the Parti Quebecois’ proposed amendations to the province’s Charter of Values. Even though the PQ has couched the issue in terms of reinforcing the division of church and state and the equality of the sexes (both of which are cornerstones of modern democratic thought), it’s obviously another attempt at cultural protectionism which plays well with the PQ’s rural francophone base.
While free speech advocates are appalled and believe the PQ’s plan smacks of racism (and I’d count myself in that camp), it’s not like the PQ and its supporters are rubbing their hands together and cackling about adding to their hoard of pilfered religious headgear like some kind of maniacal Hijaburglar.
I think it’s worth trying to understand how someone supporting these measures would justify them. There’s a sense among most PQ-voting Quebeckers, I think, that the CoV does not discriminate on the basis of race (understood as visible, physical differences such as skin and hair colouration). Non-ancestral Quebeckers who come to the province in order to reap its benefits are expected to adopt the culture of their new home. The logic here is that Quebec’s existing culture has created the standard of living these newcomers have come to partake in; is it not some failure or lack in the immigrant’s ancestral home which has forced them to leave it? This attitude among white, francophone Quebeckers has become especially pronounced with the recent unrest in the Middle East and unflattering portrayals of Muslim culture, which they believe are antithetical to the Quebec way of life with which they are comfortable. The same belief is prevalent in rural Southwestern Ontario where I come from, if less radicalized: if you come here we’ll accept you so long as you become one of us.
My issues with this perspective are numerous, but I think it’s important for all of us who are opposed to it to think through the beliefs of those we disagree with in order to construct better counterpoints, and to acknowledge where we are stumped. The most glaringly obvious problem with their stance, to me, is that this narrative of Quebec’s prosperity as a result of secular democratic principles takes place in a vacuum; western prosperity is in great part a result of ruthlessly exploiting the homelands of the immigrants that the Parti Quebecois today seeks to normalize/neutralize via legislation. Of course “they” want to share in the warmth of “our” fire. After all, we’re burning their things.
And of course these beliefs are held most strongly by those who’ve had least contact with people of other cultural backgrounds.
And of course the dominant racial group in any region will find it easiest to declare racism a thing of the past, with no bearing on present decisions which happen to disproportionately impact members of a minority group.
Of course and of course. But we get nowhere when we don’t discuss these matters with one another and allow ourselves to hear what others are saying; there’s no doubt, for example, that both Parti Quebecois voters and those against them share deep concerns about religious fundamentalism. To what degree is close observance of religious principles compatible with secular governance? This is an ancient question we should be working together to resolve, imperfectly, but getting better with each attempt. But when condescending sarcasm from the left and bullheaded stubbornness on the right (and vice versa) replace actual discourse, well… dumb shit happens.
JM’s Jam: David Sylvian – Mother and Child