Tag: German

What’s the 414?

I was a teenager a million years ago.

OK, it was the late 1980s.

In any case, once you cross 40, a lot of your teen memories start to fade, or get augmented in unintentional ways, or just get merged with John Hughes movies.

One truly unpleasant memory that I had not conjured up in years came back to me recently.

The catalyst for this flashback was an article by Sarah Hoye, who wrote about her childhood in Milwaukee, the city that recently suffered a fall-blown race riot and which CNN implied was the worst place in America for black people.

 

milwakee-riots

Hoye wrote that “more times than not, when I tell people that I am from Milwaukee, I get a sympathetic head tilt followed by, ‘I’m sorry.’ And that was before the recent protests.”

OK, I relate to that. Because I too am from Milwaukee. And it might pain my Wisconsin crew to know this, but I’ve often received that exact same “I’m sorry” reaction from people when I mention where I’m from. My hometown’s reputation is not a good one.

Now, I haven’t lived in Milwaukee since I graduated high school, but I go back often to visit friends and family.

I spent my childhood in the Latino section of town, an enclave on the South Side that is still heavily Hispanic to this day. Yes, I’ve written about this era and place more than once.

When I was a teenager, we moved to a quasi-suburban area (still within the city’s limits), where all of our neighbors had German or Polish or Serbian ancestry. Our house was all the diversity you were getting for many blocks in any direction.

To be clear, I have fond memories of this time. However, even then I knew that all was not right in my city. You see, Milwaukee has long been the most segregated municipality in America. Growing up, I assumed all cities had stark lines separating the ethnicities (and indeed, to some degree, they all do). But I had no idea Milwaukee was such an extreme case.

And this brings me back to the creepy memory that I had long ago shifted to my brain’s attic.

No, it’s not about the many times I was called spic or wetback or had someone “joke” that I had jumped the border. Hell, I remember those things just fine.

The memory I had forgotten was about my friend J.

I won’t use his full name out of respect for his privacy, even though we lost touch after high school, and it’s highly unlikely he’s reading this right now.

Just in case, however — hey J!

J and I were teammates on our high school football team. We weren’t close friends, but we got along well, and one day after practice, I invited him back to my house to play video games.

Later that evening, he walked to the bus stop for the long journey home. Yes, he was African American, and as such, he lived on the North Side — several miles away and a whole other world socioeconomically, politically, culturally, etc.

I kept him company at the bus stop. We were talking the usual teenage shit — girls, school, football — when we noticed a car slow down as it approached us.

I’m sure both of us considered the odds that the car’s driver was lost and needed directions, or that the vehicle was stuffed with hot cheerleaders just roaming the city looking for a couple of hunky football players to keep them company.

But come on, we both knew what it was.

As the car passed, a young white man leaned out of the window and yelled, “Fuck you, nigger!”

J rolled his eyes, like he had gone through this a million times already that day, and such bullshit no longer fazed him.

The car stopped at the corner, as if preparing to turn around. J and watched to see what the driver would do. After a moment, the car sped off, leaving us in peace.

J’s bus arrived a minute later, and we high-fived, and he left. On my walk home, I realized that I had never, not even for a moment, been afraid that some thugs would jump out of a car and take a swing at me just for being brown.

As I said, I had received my fair share of insults and vague threats. But the real potential of physical violence was alien to me.

After all, it’s not like I was black in Milwaukee.

Instinctively, J and I both knew, without discussing it, that a black kid couldn’t stand around in that neighborhood for more than a few minutes without someone yelling an epithet at him or the cops being called.

And we just accepted it as normal.

I doubt J even remembers this incident, because it was most likely among the milder forms of verbal abuse that he has received in his life.

Indeed, in Sarah Hoye’s article, she writes that “in the Milwaukee I know, I have been called nigger more times than I can count.”

Hoye ends her story with a burst of optimism, saying that “I truly believe, as idealistic as it may sound, that there is hope for a city in pain, and hope for a way forward.”

I share that hope.

 


Keep Talking

For a culture steeped in Catholic fatalism — and with a history that includes everything from racial discrimination to economic injustice to death squads — Hispanics sure are an optimistic bunch. I’ve written before about this weird tendency to be positive in the face of disaster. But now I have scientific proof for it.

A recent study says that people who speak Spanish tend to express themselves in a more positive way than speakers of other languages do. The researchers found that “the selection of positive words was greatest among Spanish-speakers” and that those words tend to be “learned more easily, used more frequently and are considered more meaningful.” In addition, overall communication among Spanish-speakers tended to be more positive, and the emotional content of the Spanish language was the highest among the languages studied.

talking

Basically, a conversation in Spanish is more optimistic and heartfelt than it would be in English, even if the content is exactly the same. And you don’t even want to know how much more upbeat Spanish is in comparison to German or Arabic (the alpha and omega of harsh languages).

But it’s not all good news for Hispanics. And here I am part of the problem. I’ve been honest about my struggles with Spanish, and I consider myself passable at the language, at best.

Well, another study has shown that, sure enough, each successive generation of Latinos is less proficient in Spanish. While 92% of the second generation (children of immigrants, like me) speak English very well, only 82% are even conversational in Spanish. By the third generation, nearly 100% of Latinos speak English very well, but only 17% speak Spanish fluently.

So all that optimism will fade away if we don’t teach kids Spanish. Now that’s a pessimistic thought.

 


X Marks the Bigot

I’ve never taken Ecstasy. My understanding is that it makes you breathe heavily and feel like having sex with whoever is dancing next to you.

ravers_baby

However, according to a recent study, “there might be a darker side” to the so-called cuddling chemical. Researchers have found that taking the oxytocin hormone “motivates in-group favoritism” and the “derogation of outsiders.” Scientists say that oxytocin has “a role in the emergence of intergroup conflict and violence.”

Basically, dropping E makes it more likely that you will behave like a racist jerk.

The researchers’ study had Dutch males choose imaginary people to join them in a lifeboat. Guys on Ecstasy discriminated against those “with Muslim or German-sounding names,” but “the men who were given a placebo didn’t pay attention to the origin of the names.”

Apparently, Dutch guys have some issues with both Muslims and Germans.

Now, I doubt that Ecstasy suddenly made these guys more racist, in the same way that alcohol does not inexplicably turn people into raging bigots. All these drugs do is lower inhibitions.

Drunk or stoned or otherwise altered individuals lack the capacity to think, “I better say or do what is socially acceptable.” As a result, they go with their gut instinct or true emotions, which are often prejudicial as hell.

Still, if I ever had a desire to go clubbing and pop pills with teenagers, this study has killed that flickering drive. I don’t want some woman dressed in neon colors and sporting day-glo bracelets to start shouting epithets at me over the drone of house music.

That would be the ultimate buzz kill.

 


Think Different

According to many sources, Dr. Carlos do Amaral Freire can speak more languages — 115 — than anyone alive. But before you feel too intimidated, keep in mind that the professor is fluent in a mere 30 or so.

One has to wonder how balancing all those verb tenses and irregular conjugations has affected his mind (although as we know, people who speak multiple languages have more agile brains). In fact, there is some evidence that the languages we speak influence the very way we think.

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


The Militant

Like many ethnic minorities, I have been accused more than once of hating white people.

But for someone who despises the white race, I am seriously guilty of fraternizing with the enemy. I don’t want to get into the whole “some of my best friends” are this or that, but I’ll just mention that my wife (of German ancestry) would be a little peeved to find out about my deep-seeded hatred of white people.

I guess I’m also wracked with self-loathing, because (as I’ve pointed out many times) I’m half-white myself (on my father’s side).

To continue reading this post, please click here.


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