gooollysandra

Thoughts on thoughts and images of beautiful things

Tag Archives: Chicago

Cultural divides

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Over the past several months I’ve been conducting oral history interviews with Latino/a artists for one of my jobs. Some interesting and surprising conflicts have arisen that I definitely wasn’t expecting, and am even a bit bothered by. I consider myself a very open-minded person when it comes a variety of things like race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, etc., but what I’ve learned recently is that sometimes people can view this open-mindedness and willingness to engage with those who are different from us as a negative thing, and even a hostile thing.

To put things more concretely, I was speaking with a young Latina artist in Pilsen, the Latino neighborhood in Chicago, and she was bothered, insulted almost, by the fact that I wanted to explore the neighborhood, meet the locals, and try to have an authentic experience there. She proceeded to tell me that there was no way I could possibly have an authentic experience because I as was not Latina, I did not speak Spanish, and I did not grow up in the neighborhood. She said that the “authentic” experience I was seeking was clouded by any preconceived notions of what I thought her culture was about. She was frustrated that white people were visiting her neighborhood to see it for themselves and then trying to build it up because it was still affordable to do so. She opposed the gentrification process that was and still is happening in Pilsen, particularly in regards to the artist community. The artist community that Pilsen is now known for does not typically include the artists who have been living in Pilsen for decades. She felt as though these artists who have recently been moving into Pilsen are trying to replace the artists who were already there, and then pretending like they own the place. I can completely sympathize with the frustration with this kind of gentrification, but I do not think that someone who wants to explore a neighborhood and a culture with genuine interest should be lumped into the same category.

I countered all of this by arguing that not everyone who visits the neighborhood wants to replace what’s already there or try to change it. Some people are genuinely curious about other cultures, and not only curious but truly eager to learn more, engage with, and try to experience things with the locals. She was still insulted and offended by this proposition, insisting that there’s no way an outsider could have a genuine experience, precisely because he/she was an outsider.

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I left this encounter feeling so frustrated because I felt like she was prejudice against me, while I was not at all prejudice towards her. I was left feeling like there’s no way that two people who are fundamentally different from one another ethnically, which is out of their control, can come together and learn from one another. It was as if she encouraged segregation between cultures and as if she didn’t want to share her culture with anyone, nor learn about another’s culture. This was very frustrating to me because while I am a white American female, I was born in Europe and grew up there for the first eight years of my life. My mom has taught ESL (English as a Second Language) to people from all over the world for many years, and I myself am now teaching ESL as well. I also volunteer at a non-profit that helps Spanish speakers with a variety of things, where I help with their citizenship classes. I have friends from diverse cultures, and in fact I prefer to surround myself with people who are different from me because I feel that there is so much to learn from them. I definitely have a genuine interest in exposing myself to different cultures and experiencing things as they do the best that I can. So I too was insulted by her for not understanding this genuine interest of mine in wanting to explore her neighborhood and do as the locals do.

Although frustrating, this was interesting perspective to be confronted by, which made me think more about what I was trying to accomplish by surrounding myself or exposing myself to other cultures. Despite her pessimism and unwillingness to accept me into her neighborhood, I’m still all about mixing cultures because there is truly so much learn.

Christmas eats

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Undeniably, food is a big part of the Christmas holiday. This year, my family tried a new chicken recipe from The Kinfolk Table Cookbook, which is a marvelous book if you don’t know it. It’s actually one of the first recipes I’ve tried from this cookbook, but surely not the last, because, again, it’s a beautiful book filled with unique delicious-looking recipes. My mom and I also made our annual traditional trip to the Christkindlmarket in Chicago, which we look forward to all year. The hot chocolate, spiced wine, crepe booth from Paris, and authentic German Christmas ornaments really pull at our heartstrings. Fortunately, we stumbled upon a French booth run by Catholic nuns, who were selling French pastries and desserts. Not only were the nuns the sweetest, and very happy to speak French with my mom, their desserts were to die for. We bought an apple pie and a chocolate Buche de Noel, which were as yummy as they were beautifully-presented. This year, we also made our own egg nog for the first time, and I have to say I thought it was better than the store-bought egg nog!

Moving

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Moving is never an easy thing to do – unless you hate where you’re living or hate the situation that you’re in – and I just made a difficult move. I’ve moved a couple times in the past couple years, and I’ve just moved again…three moves in three years, and the third year is only just beginning. I’ve called the beautiful city of Chicago my home for the past year and unfortunately my time here has expired for the moment. I moved to Chicago to go to graduate school, which I completed, and then my task was to find a job and stay in Chicago, which I did not achieve. While the outcome is sad, it also opens the door to other opportunities. So, with a little help from my family, I’m going home temporarily until I figure out what my next move is. I’m incredibly grateful to have family to lean on during a time like this.

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There are so many things I will miss about Chicago – walking around downtown on a rainy night, the plethora of restaurants and bars to try, the uniqueness of each neighborhood, sitting in coffee shops, and perhaps most importantly, the friends I made in Chicago – by far some of the best I have ever had and will have for life. Some things I will not miss about Chicago are the stress of the big city, taking the L at rush hour, feeling unsafe while walking around at night, and how expensive everything is.

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Moving allows you to put things in perspective, think about what you really want, and is a chance to hit refresh on your life – all of which are good things. So in the end, I suppose moving isn’t so bad.

These dance moves…

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I saw Future Islands perform at Pitchfork Musical Festival in Chicago recently, and not only can I not get their music out of my head, I also can’t get enough of these dance moves…Samuel T. Herring has the talent and the charisma. It was such a fun show.

For more of these stellar dance moves, check out this full concert posted by NPR Music.

University of Chicago in Autumn

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“Once I wanted to be, someone I chose to be…”

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You know those moments when you are so inspired to be alive and be yourself? The self that you rarely are because you rarely have the courage or creativity to be…I had one of those moments recently when I went to Chicago. The city itself is so beautiful and culturally-rich that it inspires imagination from the moment you see the skyline as you approach the city. Once in the city, we went to a vintage fair filled with old treasures that brings one back to the past and back to oneself. After that we went to Wicker Park and perused all the cute boutiques and watched the people go by, including two French Bulldogs side by side and a dog tied up to a post that had a little mohawk, and ate some  fancy ice cream from the future. I don’t know what it is about being in the city and constantly surrounded by interesting people and sights that inspires imagination and creativity…but it works every time for me.

We finished the day by going to see Blind Pilot in concert. Going to concerts is one of my favorite things, because seeing live music, for me, brings out in me everything that I am and want to be. Cheezy, albeit, but I can’t think of any other way to describe it. I can’t forget the mild alcohol consumption that always makes for a good time. Am I right? I mean, let’s be honest. Anyway, seeing music being played makes me want to play an instrument and be in a band. My friends and I keep saying we’re going to start a band, with banjos and all haha, but it’ll probably never happen. I would play the keyboard, I think…the point is, that having the ability to elicit that emotion out of people that music does would be such a fun life pursuit.

Back to being oneself, we get so caught up with living our lives primarily surrounding our responsibilities, we seldom have the time or the energy to break out of that and simply live. Those few glimpses of ourselves that we get on occasions like this, being in the city and experiencing music (for me), or whatever it might be for you, may be all we get. And we cannot overlook them, as they occur so rarely.