Some personal background
22.08.2009 - 22.08.2009
Naturally, I am hardly alone in my love of travel. For me, it’s a combination of restlessness and xenophilia. Since a very young age when my ambitious father would take us on trips around the US and Canada, often flying us himself via his little flying club planes, I got a thrill out of travel. It had as much to do with the excitement of take-off and anticipation of the unknown as with escaping my vapid, uneventful personal hell: the Detroit suburbs of the 80s and early 90s, where cars never ran stoplights, neighbors kept to themselves, and lawns were carefully maintained for reasons that escaped my logic (for they were rarely actually used and enjoyed). Ah, the suburbs: home to the affluent and mostly white residents, and whoever else lusted after a Franklin Racquet Club membership, a Birmingham shopping trip, or a Bloomfield Hills mini-mansion. Needless to say, I would never belong there, nor did I ever desire to. Just as my grandmother had told herself as a child back in her small Texas town in the segregated 1920s: “there has got to be something better than this”—I knew the world outside of my sheltered solitude would have room for me. I knew that my fragile identity would be able to flourish elsewhere, away from the mindless racism and popularity contests. Changing the scenery will not make a mother mentally stable, nor will it guarantee higher self-esteem after years of taking refuge in books and piano music. But it does offer a chance at breaking self-fulfilling prophecies, and simply presenting oneself however one desires at that moment, in that place. Others must accept it—they don’t know any better. There’s also the exquisite relief of eluding categorization, at the risk of being stuck in a foreigner’s perception of which category (in their society) you might belong in.
In France, it always gives me pleasure to be able to call myself “métisse”—people get it, and often, there are no more questions. Contrast this to the US, where “mixed” sounds like it should refer to dogs, not people, “mulatto” is offensive, “multiracial” sounds too technical, and on our ubiquitous race forms, those of us with the advantage of a wider gene pool have the disadvantage of being sometimes relegated to the “other” box. How is it possible that in my country that claims to be so proud of its diversity, we still have such a painfully hard time accepting the natural products of this diversity? Or, for that matter, acknowledging mixed couples themselves in media? But we are still so primitive that, if there’s a mixed couple in a film, ethnic differences will invariably be the focus of the film. As for TV commercials, most companies carefully avoid images of couples who do not look annoyingly alike. God forbid—that might offend some viewers.
But, as usual, I digress. As obsessed as US society is with the subject of (what we call) race, I really have no need to explain why that aspect of being overseas is so liberating. Beyond that is the adventure, pleasure in observing cultural differences, sightseeing and people-watching. And now, as the French say, let’s get back to our sheep.