Yup, that’s right. Wicked mad crush on Staceyann. It’s not the way she looks, although she’s very beautiful it’s not even her bangin’ body, which is bangin’. It’s her memoir, “The Other Side of Paradise” that I started reading this week that has made my crush on Staceyann Chin what it is today. http://www.staceyannchin.com/v2/bio.html
I’m not that far into it, truth be told. This really cute (possibly queer) girl at Greenlight books in Fort Green sold the hard cover to me. I’d been eyeing it for a month but was working on finishing “Wuthering Heights.” I make a point to only have one new book in my possession at a time, otherwise I’ll drop one for the other and most likely not return to the first. I just finished “Wuthering Heights” and had about 15 minutes after yoga and before Tongues to get to the bookstore to buy “The Other Side of Paradise.” My book store crush asked if I knew anything about the author, that she’d been wanting to read it.
“Well, she’s queer…” I started (to see if she was, too. She gave me that knowing look. Aha! One point for Erika gaydar.) “She’s a feminist and activist, she had a one woman show on broadway in the mid 2000’s…” I went on and on spouting my Staceyann knowledge and she agreed that she’s buy it too, when she was finished with the book she was on now. She also made mention to another author, Dorothy Allison, that I should look into when I was finished with “Paradise”
innocent flirting at the bookstore.
I’m still in Part One and just wrapped up page 46 through teary eyes on the C Train. I love when a book can move me to tears. And it wasn’t just the book or its content but the way that a good writer can not only make you feel like you’re there with them in the text but their ability to make you feel what the protagonist is feeling. In that moment of feeling like a helpless 7-year-old girl being ridiculed by her Aunt while her grandmother helplessly watches the abuse, I felt like I was Staceyann in that brief moment of prose.
I’ve never had to watch a woman I love do domestic work, as Staceyann watched her Grandmother. As I’ve disclosed many times here I lived what most would describe as a priviledge life. Reading “The Other Side of Paradise” awakens so much of my race identity and the itch that was my memoir (lost in computer oblivion) comes racing back into my mind and the memories of my childhood come pouring to my frontal lobe. (it is the frontal love of the brain that controls memory, right?)
My parents are both black so my race identity isn’t lost in that. It is, however lost in my education, my speech, my back ground. Here’s a little snippet, that “Paradise” has forced me to remember.
I remember being in fourth grade. We’d just switched from the YMCA day camp to the Catholic Club. I went from having a mixed race group of friends to all black friends. I am and always have been a social butterfly. I walked up to the girls who looked my age and asked their names. Their names I don’t remember. I do remember, however the looks they gave me. The way that made fun of the way that I spoke. The entire summer, even in the small cluster of friends I managed to make I was mocked and taunted for “sounding like a white girl.”
Funny thing is, as I grew up and my parents continued to enroll me in predominantly white, upper middle class schools in which I excelled socially and kinda sorta academically my father became the taunter. It wasn’t just him, though. At family reunions cousins, aunts, uncles would look at me bewildered when I spoke. I was told that I wasn’t proud of my color, I didn’t embrace it, I was trying to be someone that I could never be. Looking back, I’m not sure what else was expected of me. Was I supposed to ignore the rules of the English language in favor for double negatives and slang? It’s not who I am. I sound ridiculous trying to “talk black” whatever that means.
Now at 30 as a proud black lesbian when I see him he asks why I don’t relax my hair. “You’d look more professional with straighter hair, Erika.” “I was going to buy you a comb for your birthday” A little ironic, no?
This blog doesn’t make much since. It’s a stream of thought, ideas, and memories evoked by a special lady whose childhood was way more, dare I say, fucked up then mine ever was. When I listen to the poems and prose from some of the women in my writing group-stories of mixed race childhood angst echo. Stories of what it means to be a black Latina, what it means to have a white father who didn’t acknowledge your existence or a white mother who tried to mold you into a white daughter are experiences I can’t relate to. On the other hand, what does it mean to be a black child and never really know you were black-or more accurately, never know what it meant to be black.
Mirs and I talk about race identity all of the time. What it will mean for us, as partners, to raise black Jewish children. Our future children’s Jewish heritage is just, if not more, important to Mirs and our children’s black heritage. No one will know, looking at them, that they’re Jews. But they’ll sure as hell know that they’re black. We have to have answers for them. We always discuss when you start talking about race, identity, religion, and the injustice of so many peoples in our society.
When we talk about my black identity, especially as a child, I always have to think about it really hard. Clearly, looking in the mirror I could see that I was black but what my skin color meant; the struggles of my people, were never relayed to me. When I honestly think about it I’m pretty sure that I learned the most about the Civil Rights movement from a white nun in school. I asked my parents, and was given a book on MLK.
My mother had the most insight, she lived in the segregated south until she was twelve. She would tell me stories about visiting her mother, a domestic worker, at her job and having to use the back entrance. She told me stories of using separate water fountains. And I would listen to them and her and appreciate her taking the time.
My father, on the other hand, never told me anything. Like so many instances in my life his childhood, his experience of being a black man living in New Jersey during the Civil Rights movement is a mystery to me. I could ask him now, sure, but for a person so formative in my black identity or lack thereof as he often reminded me his imput is completely obsolete. It doesn’t exist. But the scars of his constant ridicule is.
Clearly, another reason for therapy. Or excess money so I can quit my job and spend all of my time writing my memoirs or a work of autobiographical fiction. So, thank you Staceyann Chin for what is shaping into an amazing and inspiring memoir.