Thursday, July 5, 2007

Law, Latinos & The City

Sorry it's been a while. I am still having trouble with my internet, and I am thinking this is going to go on all summer. The good thing, I guess, is that after this week I only have five more weeks here. I love Chicago, but I am just not thrilled about my living arrangements and job.

I have actually thought of so many things I could post here, from topics to articles I've read about race or sexuality to quotes from some of the books I've been reading. The truth is that, in addition to the internet problems, I just don't have the energy. It's not that I'm physically tired. Part of me is just pretty depressed, so it's more along the lines of that kind of energy loss, i.e. not wanting to do anything. The stuff with the apartment is something I just don't want to go into, and I'm tired of complaining about the job and how I don't think I want to be a lawyer because thinking about not wanting to be a lawyer really is what's most depressing. The internet stuff pisses me off a lot, although there's more to my issues with my apartment than just that. The funny thing about me is that I can live in a hot-as-hell, small-as-a-box, random-black-shit-in-the-shower, stanky piece of shit as long as I have the internet and some music. The music part is probably the only thing keeping me sane.

I will say this, though, about the lawyer situation: I have started thinking about what else I could do a year from now, and that has entailed my looking for books that discuss alternative career paths for lawyers who don't want to be lawyers. It seems most of those books are geared towards people who have practiced law and want to get out. Anyway, I noticed this one person writing reviews on Amazon for several books and got a sense of her story, so I decided to contact her because I was curious about what she ended up doing after graduation. Answer? She's doing nothing. She's been out of law school for over a year now, and she has yet to find a non-legal career-type job. So now she is essentially forced to run back to law, and that peppered her un-asked for advice to me, which was to stick with law, basically. And I understand why she said that, because her experience with trying to find a job after law school that wasn't related to law was my experience with trying to find a job after college.

The difference between her and me is that she, I guess, cannot settle for a job that is not really a career but I could. If nobody would have anything mean to say about it, I would seriously just come right out of law school and go to work for a Borders bookstore in Chicago, select the income-based loan repayment plan from Citibank and go on about life. I'd never get those loans paid off, of course, but I'd be happy. Looking back, I actually wish that was what I would have done in the first place, maybe even instead of college. So much for being so damn ambitious my entire life. And then on the other hand, I wonder every day just how completely intolerable practicing law would be to me, because I am sure that part of what I don't like is the kind of work interns and, in some legal environments, newer lawyers are given. I really go back and forth on it, even though from what I do know about practicing law I know it's definitely not the best career choice for me, regardless of the attorney's level.

One thing I found really interesting, though, is she mentioned that so many people had written her about her reviews and not wanting to be lawyers. So it's definitely not just me, which is not surprising in the slightest. It's just amazing that so many of us go so wrong, because law school is so much time and way too much money. And people look at you like it's such a prestigious, amazing thing to attend law school and become a lawyer, so how could you ever "throw that away." I am not at all kidding you when I say that there are very few careers that are as or more boring as/than law, and there are very few kinds of people with whom you can surround yourself who are as or more boring as/than lawyers. There are certainly interesting moments, and I have met definite exceptions...but my general experience on both of those points is what I just wrote. That's one of the reasons why I cringe when people talk about being interested in law school, becoming a lawyer or suggest that dating/marrying a lawyer is a good idea. Knowing what I know now, there's nothing more laughable to me than the way TV depicts doctors and lawyers as these physically hot, fascinating, exciting, charming and/or oftentimes player/whore/heartbreaker-type people. Oh my goodness, talk about the biggest fiction on TV!

Other than that, let me discuss more pleasant things. Some of you might recall that I have become interested in learning about other minority groups in America. I do "fun" stuff on the weekends, and this past weekend that included visiting the bookstore. Even though all I do at work is read and read and read--which had brought me to the point of thinking I'd never do any outside reading whatsoever during this summer simply because I wouldn't feel like it--you have to understand that I like to read, particularly certain kinds of things. Maybe not law all the time, but I can read about social issues anytime. So I ended up in the sections of the bookstore that deal with those kinds of issues--history, politics, African American Studies, Latin-American Studies, Asian-American Studies and so on. I looked for a Gay and Lesbian Studies section, but all I ended up seeing was "Gay and Lesbian Fiction," i.e. gay erotica essentially.

Anyways, I was in heaven because all these interesting books in the Latin-American section caught my eye. I picked up book after book, read the backs, looked at the table of contents, flipped to some of the most interesting sections. I pulled out a pen and a strip of paper and wrote down all the titles I liked. I decided that I needed to wait to look more closely at Asian and Native American books just for financial reasons, so since the Latino books got my attention first I focused only on those. My original plan was to return to the bookstore this coming weekend and look at Asian books, but I actually ended up spending approximately $80 this past weekend on about six books--four of them about Latinos, one an alternative career guide for lawyers and another about mixed-race people.

In the bookstore, I told myself, "Pick only two and buy the rest on Amazon" because those books tended to cost $20 a piece...which is why I never buy books in the bookstore in the first place. But those books were too interesting to just leave all of them there, so I picked the two that seemed like they might be the most revealing to me in terms of learning about what it's like for Latinos in America and how some Latinos think about themselves, as well as others.

The first book I chose is called "Ask A Mexican" by Gustavo Arellano. I knew I had to leave the store with that one because it was funny and very un-PC. He's kind of like the male me. He will write anything, and the way he writes it results in my believing every word because of the fact that he is so direct and doesn't hold back. He also deals with offensive e-mails from people and doesn't seem to get upset about what people say. He just tells it like it is from his idea of a Mexican's perspective, and that's the kind of thing I'm looking for and try to do myself as a black/biracial/queer person. The thing about his book is it's basically all online for free since they are basically Q's & A's taken from his online column...but that's okay, because his book is worth buying, plus the problems with my internet made it kind of irritating trying to look at his column.

The one question I wish was in his book, though, is why do Latinos hate blacks...which I know really is a generalization, but that's kind of the way questions were posed to him and, more or less, the way he would answer questions. There was a question about why do blacks hate Latinos, but not the other way around. I have never hated Latinos, by the way. When I was younger, I was actually pretty fascinated with them. I wanted to be Latina, at one point. Now that I'm older, I think they probably have the most interesting culture and so many are physically attractive, but it irritates me that so many of them don't appreciate, learn about or relate to their culture and seem to prefer whiteness and white people while putting down blacks.

The second book speaks to that quite a bit, which I knew would make it the perfect second choice. It's called "Mi Voz, Mi Vida: Latino College Students Tell Their Life Stories" by Garrod, Kilkenny and Gomez. You get so many things from reading this book. It's just funny in so many ways, in the ironic sense. You see how similar and, yet, different from blacks Latinos are. You see some of why they are able to do better in the US than blacks are, in my opinion, and it's not just the "fact" that racism is worse towards blacks than Latinos. It's not a better or worse approach, in my opinion--just the way things are. What I'm referring to shows similarities between Latinos and Asians that most people don't really see, and that's basically the role of the parents, feeling pushed by them and/or pushing yourself because you feel you have something to prove because of your background or the sacrifices of your parents. Many blacks definitely get off onto this "prove yourself" mentality, but I think we do so less than other minority groups just because we feel its least beneficial to us.

I don't think it's that mentality that carries Latinos or Asians farther than blacks, or at least not entirely, so much as it is the story told over and over in the book by various Latinos about trying their best to leave their culture behind in order to fit in with whites. I know firsthand that pleasing whites on a "not X enough" personality level where 'X' equals your cultural background works wonders, although it's an act I rejected once I realized that a lot of people really do use it for the sole purpose of fitting in with whites...something I hadn't really been trying to do on purpose, with the exception of listening to certain kinds of music. Basically, I'm saying a lot of Latinos and Asians seem to work harder at trying to fit in with and be like whites than blacks do, and their efforts are rewarded.

One story in the book even aligns with my idea that when you are less assimilated in personality, you're rewarded less by whites. There was this Latino who was told by one of his white friends as a kid that he (the Latino) is whiter than him (the white kid). Now, as the stories usually go in this book, the Latino started to learn more about himself culturally once he got off to college. So the next time he saw this white friend--with whom he had been friends with since 4th grade, mind you--he gave him a business card that said "empowering the Latino community" on it. The white guy was like, "Jose is Latino now" and "Our little brown friend is creating community!" in a mocking tone and called it "crap." When Jose checked him, white boy was just like, "Hey, Mr. Latino..." Jose checked him again, then walked off. I'm pretty sure they aren't friends anymore, and all because Jose decided to get closer to his culture.

Several stories refer to racism towards blacks, either in the sense of the author's own racism growing up or other Latinos' racism. No one really explicitly does what I'm sure my man Arellano would and says exactly what Latinos' damage is with blacks. But what I get from the story--as well as many of Arellano's responses to other questions in his book--is status in society and a culturally-based Latino belief that white is good and even among Latinos being dark is disparaged--which I must say I find sick but not entirely unlike the dark vs light battle among blacks and black males' preference for non-black females. By status, I mean dating a white person is "dating up" while dating a black person is "dating down," and Latinos' whole reason for being in America is to move up...and also the burning desire that at least some Latinos, i.e. ones in this book, have to not be affiliated with negative cultural stereotypes, not even ones related to their own culture. So, some of these Latinos would discuss how they viewed all minorities, including Latinos, negatively growing up...seemingly because whites did...and seemed to think being one of those minorities would hinder opportunities for success in life.

It's past time for me to eat some dinner, but one last thing. I have never gotten complimented as much in my life as I have living in Chicago. For example, I thought that I would hate men talking to me in a hitting-on-you sense. It's actually pretty cool, though, just knowing someone--no matter who they are--thinks you're attractive and you can tell they're not just saying that. And for me to believe someone thinks I'm good-looking, they were serious, because I never believe that. It's crazy, too, because there are hot people all over Chicago. So for me to be getting compliments, have people staring and men hitting on me...!

When I went to the bookstore, this woman complimented my hair. Okay. The one thing I quickly noticed about Chicago is all the black women in my age range keep their hair "did." I'm not a hair "did" kind of chick, so I have definitely felt like a scrub around here. Everywhere else, places where my hair should be considered the best black hair by white standards, I tend to get nothing...if anything, it's that subtle I'm-a-real-black-woman-because-I-can't-get-a-comb-through-my-hair or you-need-to-stop-getting-your-hair-permed kind of nonsense. And the whites are fascinated with that kind of black hair. So for me to get compliments about my hair in Chicago, where black women have perms and just don't give a damn about how "black" their hair looks--I guess maybe because they feel like living in Chicago vouches for their blackness?--is something else.

All I've got to say is I love this city! My self-esteem might be dropping in one area, but it's rising in the area I needed a self-esteem boost the most, i.e. looks and romance. I'm starting to guess that I just need to quit living in all the redneck, lily-white places I've lived in such as Georgia, Michigan and Tennessee. Of course I was never going to find anyone to be with in those places! Everyone's either a white redneck, a fake white liberal, bottom of the barrel (and I don't mean looks) or a date-everyone-but-blacks minority in those places. So I guess I need to figure out what kind of job I want soon so that I can find them in Chicago, or else I really will be single forever!