Shocking culture

I just got back from the Empire up North (US) where we wandered around Oregon visiting friends and family. We flew from PR to Charlotte, from there to Las Vegas and from Vegas to Portland.

As we deplaned at each city I felt the shock of shift. Some of it was positive: orderly waiting in line, personal space and boundaries allowing me to quietly sit and read my book uninterrupted by conversation, clean bathrooms with plentiful soap. Some of it was negative: the comparative chill of the people (same chill that allowed me to retreat into my shell/book), the commercial overload with tons of overpriced shops, the sappy, mournful Christmas carols playing–not a single pandero in the distance.

Fast forward to our actual stay. Leaving family aside (that’s a whole other ballpark) the differences were noticeable. Driving past signs from an anti-immigrant campaign, walking into a restaurant that had the pledge of allegiance and more stars and stripes than I care to remember as its decor, watching people clutch their purses when two young Mexican men entered a store, all subtle reminders of what diversity means when you are brown. But it was also a great time. It was so beautiful the whole time and we saw so much wildlife…

I was talking with friends about our stay in Idaho and how beautiful it was. I couldn’t deal with the people, with Aryan nations flyers or rabid Republicans. I couldn’t deal with the bricks thrown at the Islamic community center, with the lack of services and support, with visits from the Phelps. BUT it was so beautiful. If I have to put up with prejudice, at least give me a gorgeous view to do it in. And yes, this visit was gorgeous.

And I was also surprised to find support and solidarity in unexpected places. A kind reminder from the universe that I shouldn’t make up my mind about people without giving them a chance. This is a lesson I need to learn as I can sometimes build up my defenses and end up shutting out those who can provide me with solace, love, support, and comfort.

Shocking really all of it.

Then, of course, was the return trip. We were both exhausted. Tired. Worn. Weary. All. Done! We flew from Portland to Philadelphia and Philly to PR. The shock begins in reverse. In Philadelphia of course the people of color are back in the picture and I feel comfortably surrounded by a multiethnic melange of people.

The waiting area at the gate provided the decompression chamber that ensured we would be properly reaclimatized to the culture by the time the plane landed. OF COURSE, people in the row in front of me were sitting there chatting and ran into an old acquaintance from the island. Of course. They chatted (I eavesdropped) about family and church and life. A fine reunion. The row over had bought food and was offering chips to the mom and kid sitting across–obviously strangers. The mixture of English and Spanish is a telltale sign. The wannabe badass little gansta boyz in their hoodies are trying to look too cool (but I suspect secretly dreaming of beaches, of pasteles, of sitting on abuela’s plastic covered sofa). Little kids are bouncing around in a chaotic path, much to the consternation of the anglo adults. The anglo kids watch in horrified envy. When the calls to board begin, it doesn’t matter what seat or zone or whatever you are in. People start piling up and some are getting emotional, but certainly everyone is loud.

On the plane, in the seat right in front of us is a little girl, about 2 or possibly 3. She is screaming her head off. She is screaming the screams that I imagine parents hear in their heads in nightmares (I know I do). “I don’t wanna go plane!” “I can’t!” “I want daddy” “I hate the plane!”

Snot is flowing from this poor little girl like rivers, she is weeping, sobbing and screaming her little heart out. Mom is trying to keep calm and also tend to her other child who was about a year and a half old. Meanwhile the flight attendants and other sympathetic parents are trying to help providing cookies, blankets, books and gentle encouragement that it will be okay.

But it won’t be okay. “No!!!” “I don’t wanna go plane!!!!”

I have to admit at this point I feel like having my own tantrum. I don’t wanna go on the damn plane anymore myself if you want the truth. I wanna stay in the land of target. I don’t want to go home and deal with my budget, my responsibilities, my daily struggles, I want to stay in the cold. But I also want the beaches, and my critters, and the warm sunshine and the music and the food. And I don’t want to be on this plane with this kid!

I am entirely sympathetic for child and mother but I am also ready for it to be over. The pilot announces mild turbulence on take off. Would you like to be severly sleep deprived, mildly cranky, ready to go home and deal with turbulence while a child screams bloody murder in a plane? No. I didn’t think so.

In the meanwhile some Asshole (not PRican) asks the flight attendant if she can’t fix it. The flight attendant tells him sharply that mom is doing all she can to help her little girl and that if he needs to get off the plane and catch a later flight he should certainly feel free to do so. Man sighs loudly and proceeds to make his point by repeatedly turning around to glare at the poor kid/poor woman and sigh disgustedly. He does this throughout the flight (even when kid is quiet).

I resist the urge to throttle him and inwardly cheer for the flight attendant.

As we start taxiing down the runway an amazing thing happens. The little girl has been clearly tiring herself out with her all out bawling and is calming a little. Mommy gets her looking out the window. “Look mommy! All the planes!” Then she counts planes (kindof) and points out colors and sizes. She laughs when we get up in the air and she sees the clouds. The whole plane relaxes with her.

When we landed, in true Puerto Rican fashion, people started clapping.

I clapped the loudest.


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