Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Reasserting an oversimplified identity

I think that it is very interesting that Wendt as well as Hau’ofa try to reassert and not simply assert the Oceanic identity. According to these authors, an Oceanic identity had been existing for decades, even for centuries, but the arrival of colonial powers made them belittle this identity and even forget about some of its aspects. Like most post-colonial authors such as VS Naipaul or Derek Walcott, they are emphazising the richness , the depht and complexitity of an identiy that has been too often oversimplified. Both authors emphazise the fact that a reshaping of the way Oceanic identity is viewed has taking place.

In Our ''Sea of Islands'', Hau’ofa argues that Oceania is not constituted of ‘‘islands in a far sea’’ but is rather a ‘‘sea of islands’’. This latter expression is so much more lyrical, poetic and alive. It illustrates diversity and unity at the same time, each island is different but they make up the Oceanic world. Before the arrival of the Europeans, Oceania was already an interdynamic space : the Pacific islands formed a large exchange community where people with their arts and ideas, wealth and other goods circulated. It was a boundless world. But when the colonists arrived, frontiers were traced and it created isolation because people could travel no more. Moreover, when the first missonaries arrived, they associated Oceanic culture and religion with barbarism so that nowadays people still divide their history in two parts : ‘‘the era of darkness (…) and the era of light and civilization associated with Christianity.’’Thus, those ideas shaped the Pacific Islanders’s view on their own culture and led them to detach and even seperate themselves from their original identity. Those conceptions also shaped the view of outsiders who consider Oceania as ‘‘islands in a far sea’’ or tiny world that cannot subsist without international aids. However, the author invites us to take into account the fact that the Oceanic world is also made up of the Oceanic dyaspora that live abroad, participate largely to the economical life of their islands and keeps its tradition. It constitutes an extension of the so-called Pacific tiny world.

In ''Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body'', Albert Wendt also mentions the fact that European standards changed the way Pacific Islanders as well as Westerners view Oceanic identity. For instance, nakedness was conceived differently by both peoples : ‘‘In prepapalagi times, to wear nothing above the navel was not considered ‘‘nakedness.’’Tataus were and are still considered as mere adornment by outsiders when it is a visual mark of Samoan identity. Wendt mentions an event that took place in 1971 during the first South Pacific Arts Festival in Fiji. The Nambras performed with only penis sheath and tataus before a missionary-converted Pacific Islalnds. They laughed about those ‘‘naked savages’’The author told one Samoan : ‘‘Before the missionaries and the other Victorians made us ashamed of our lack of clothing, we wore little clothing but we believed ourselves clothed.’’ London missionary Society even condemned tattoing and outlawed this practice by not allowing anyone with a tatau to a a deacon or pastor.

One of the functions of Oceanic post-colonial literature is to expose the challenges in trying to reassert an Oceanic identity in a world that has been shaped by negative and simplistic views. It also highlights the tensions that exist between one’s culture and that of others. However, as we have already seen in previous classes, those authors advocate reconcialiation and Wendt gives a relevant example at the end of his article. He talks about Elsie Bach and Tony Fomison who accepted to be malued and tatued, not because of the beauty of the drawings but because they felt that they were part of the Samoan community in which they lived, and needed to materialise it. They understood the deep significance of the tatau and accepted it.

Tit for Tat

Several of the works we have read lately have shown the importance of tattoo in Pacific Culture. Several other students' blogs have already discussed this, talking about how a tattoo has deep meaning. What Wendt has made evident that I had not realized before however, is that a tattoo in itself is its own medium of literature. These markings on a person's body are just as meaningful and delicately constructed as a novel, short story, or poem.

I noticed this as I began reading Wendt's Afterword first. He gives an entire lecture on the origins, types, and meanings of the tattoo in his culture. This is no different then having someone speak about impressionist paintings or haiku poetry. He also goes through many of the individual characters that make up the Tatau and the Malu, just as someone would be teaching foreigners new characters in a language.

The experience of receiving a tattoo can also tell a story. Wendt mentions in this lecture that he only has one, small, modest tattoo. He received it from a prisoner yet it was unfinished, and afterward he "returned home to an angry father and, years later, to writing one of my first published stories, A Cross of Soot , which is based on that incident" (p. 410). Even a small unfinished tattoo such as his has much significance. He uses a short story to tell the tales of the tattoo in his culture, because even the experience of getting the tattoo is meaningful. Wendt has the ability to make a deep Christian meaning surround the tattoo, because just like a work of literature its form can be manipulated to give a specific message.

Wendt wants to alert people, especially those of Western culture, that the tattoo is much more meaningful than they might think. He even gives terminology to use, saying "much of what has been considered 'decoration' or 'adornment' by outsiders has to do with identity, status, age, religious beliefs, relationships to other art forms and the community and not to do with prettying yourself" (p. 400). We can see here how he says a tattoo relates to "other art forms", showing his clear belief in it as a work of art. He also says it is more than just decoration, just as a meaningful novelist would want to be distinguished from those "drugstore novels" authors write simply to make money. Who knows, perhaps one day people will begin a type of blogging and write short accounts of their experiences in tattoo form on a regular basis.


Albert Wendt’s “The Cross of Soot” displays a disjunctured and seemingly unconnected group of men and boys who in working together ultimately portray a sense of interdependence. At the heart of this connected interplay is the desire to protect the boy, yet through their various interactions, it becomes clear that the boy’s presences is just as integral to the group and anyone else.
The old man takes on a grandfatherly position with the boy, guiding him and shielding him, “‘You know the case of the Falefa murderer? Well he’s been sentenced to…’ The old man stopped him from finishing. Put the box over there…” (10). The old man often cuts other characters off as to not let the boy hear the information presented. This relationship continues as the powerful character Samasoni enters the scene. He too understands the position of the impressionable youth, “‘Tell him how you crushed that fellow who seduced your sister,’ the old man said to Samasoni. Samasoni shook his head. ‘He is too young,’ he said.” (12). Even though Samasoni goes on to eventually tell him the tale, the story is short, non-dramatic, and particularly nonviolent. It is in this way that the older characters understand the hope and future that the young boy has, and they work together to keep him untarnished.
Yet the boy himself holds power in this relationship as well. “‘Can I go and help him?’ said the boy. ‘You’d better,’ said Samasoni, ‘He’s too weak to do anything!’ (13). This adult like role continues, explicitly in the development of the relationship between the boy and Tagi, the new prisoner, who did not take well to his new home. The boy initiates conversation between them, at the river and goes on to help him roll his cigarettes, “‘Will you roll it for me.’ Tagi asked him. ‘My son always rolls mine for me.’ The boy knew he was lying but he understood why,” (16). His mature stance, having interacted with the older prisoners at the jail allows him to continue to connect with the adults. At the very end of the piece, as Tagi is in the middle of completing his tattoo, and must go, he looks to the boy for some form of permission or excuse, “Tagi stopped tattooing and looked at the boy. ‘You’d better go now,’ the boy told him. ‘You can finish it later,’ (19). In this reversal, the boy becomes more adult, where as Tagi takes on a childlike role.
The way in which the characters of “The Cross of Soot” interact with each other mark their reliance and dependence on the collective group. Even the youngest member, the boy, is both protected and protector, he appears simultaneously mature and childlike. In this uncommon setting of a prison yard, the undeniably heightened sense of community permeates the island culture.

The Space Between

According to Wendt, Samoan culture believes strongly in va, or the space between. He claims that va is “the betweenness, not empty space, not space that separates, but space that relates, that holds separate entities and things together in the Unity-that-is-All, the space that is context, giving meaning to things”(402). Tatau and malu for the Samoan communities then becomes their va, or space between. Correspondingly, it is significant then that the boy in Wendt’s short story gets his tatau in the “space between his thumb and forefinger” (18). Additionally, the boy’s presence becomes the “space between” for the prisoners.

In proving that the tatau and the malu are essentially the va, or space between for Samoan cultures, it is important to reflect upon the power of each. Wendt says that, “tatauing is part of everything else that is the people, the aiga, the village, the community, the environment, the atua, and the cosmos” (403). Their presence is therefore overwhelming, and intricately intertwined with the people. Futhermore, all of these elements (people, village, community, environment, atua and cosmos) are the glue that holds separate beings and entities together, and gives substance to their interactions. Thus, in the tatau representing these relationships, it essentially becomes a tangible bridge, or conception of the space between. The tatau then evolves into something physical, a visible connector, or space between generations, families, identities, sexualities and many other entities that does not separate but unite.

In identifying with this abstraction of the “space between” it is imperative to note that the boy in Wendt’s short story “The Cross of Soot” receives his unfinished tatau “at the space between his thumb and forefinger” (18). The disposable thumb is characteristic of humans, whereas the four separate fingers are characteristic to other animals in nature. The tatau being placed in the space between humanity and nature becomes the connector of these two separate entities. This idea is reiterated when Wendt writes, “So when you are tatauing the blood, the self, you are reconnecting it to the earth, reaffirming that you are earth” (409). The boy’s actual tatau as well as its location therefore become the space between for him as the link between humanity and nature, or his beginning roots.

For Wendt, the boy in “The Cross of Soot” has also become the va, or space between, for the prisoners. His ignorance persistently serves as a source of laughter for the convicts. For example, “knowing that the boy didn’t understand what rape was, the old man chuckled” (11).The boy is clearly a symbol of innocence in not understanding rape, whereas the old man does have knowledge of rape which highlights his experience. The boy then serves as the space between the painful transition from innocence to experience, young to old through his own laughter when uncomfortable and the laughter he generates from the prisoners. Thus, his presence for the prisoners allows laughter, which serves as the space between what once was and the pain of “end[ing] in nothingness.” The boy gives meaning, context and substance to the prisoners, just as the tatau does for the Samoan people.

The Strength Assigned by Tatau

Albert Wendt uses Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body and The Cross of Soot to illustrate the ancient art of body decoration through the practice of tattoos (tataus). He stresses the importance of nature, through the people’s admiration for it, which can be seen in the visible symbols of the adornments that cover the physical body. Both literary pieces eventually touch on the personal involvement that Wendt had with the practice that resulted in the cross on the back of his hand. Both works, one a personal interpretation of the rituals and customs of a region and the other being a short work of fiction, demonstrate the immense pride that Wendt maintains for his homeland and the consequent history that the region possesses. The reverence that Wendt has for the art of tatauing is seen when he writes of the young boy that he “sat for a long time clutching his hand has though he was holding something precious” (20).

It is necessary to first analyze Wendt’s analysis of the “post-colonial body.” He begins by stating that “In many Pacific cultures, body decoration and adornment is considered clothing” (400). He goes on to argue that it was not until outside influences invaded the Pacific that the native peoples were made aware of their nakedness. The artwork was even considered a form of savagery that marked inferiority. Before this unwanted colonization, the practices of tatau and malu were considered the “highest-status clothing anyone could wear” (400). He says that tatauing was not merely an ordinary custom but rather that it was a “way of life.” The Samoan definition of tatau is, simply stated, “balanced.” Similarly, the female version of the tatau, the “malu”, is defined as “to be protected.” Wendt’s most important argument, in my opinion, is this idea of balance that the individual finds once partaking in the creation of his tatau or her malu. The design puts the person through an enormous amount of pain that readies the individual for participation in the struggles of life. Through the process, the body is “opened” as a result of the repetition of stroke-marks that creates a flow of blood. This “bloodletting”, as Wendt puts it in Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body, brings the person back to the Samoan identity. It is a reunion with the earth in the simplest sense. This is stated quite clearly when Wendt says, “when you are tatauing the blood, the self, you are reconnecting it to the earth, reaffirming that you are earth” (409). This same notion of bloodletting is seen in The Cross of the Soot when he writes, “Blood was oozing from the tattoo like red paste” (19).

Wendt continues his theory of the overwhelming importance of the tatau when he demonstrates the repercussions of its creation. He writes that “The tatau and malu are not just beautiful decoration, they are scripts-texts-testimonies to do with relationship, order, form and so on” (403). One’s children and grandchildren are prone to ridicule if a tatau was not accurately completed. Moreover, Wendt argues that there was an enormous amount of pride that was attributed to the art. Wendt supports this notion when he argues that tatauing had to survive the colonization efforts of foreign countries. He believes that Samoa was one of the few places in which tatauing “refused to die” (403). The practice became the place. It could not be differentiated because the practice was joined with the nationalist identity. The art of tatauing is part of everything else that comprises the Samoan people. The notion of pride is what unifies the two works. In the non-fiction piece, Wendt seems to say that the tataued body absorbs a new definition and comes out of the Pacific. It assumes an identity that it did not previously have. Similarly, in The Cross of the Soot, the young boy assumes a new personality once the black cross is created upon his hand. He, for the first time, is able to look directly at his mother and not be afraid. The tatau had changed him. It had provided, for the young boy, a strength that he did not previously maintain. It is this strength, which comes with the Samoan decoration of skin, that Wendt argues is essential for one’s participation and readiness for life’s strives.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Tattoo's are naturally symbolic. They are always tattoos, but they are always something else. Wendt took a lot of time to explain the significance of the Tatou and the Malu. he made sure to explain their origins, their meanings, and symbolic value . He takes precious time though to illustrate the importance of the tattoo itself. The symbols are clearly important, there is no denying it but as evidenced by both Wendt and Figiel the significance of the tattoo itself is in the acceptance of the pain, the process itself.
Wendt explains that the family may pass down their symbols from generation to generation. They may take new ones as they all have meaning in both the life of the person receiving them and the family that they are a member of. The tattoo though is also a right of passage and beyond. As I mentioned before a tattoo can represent something, but to a person in Hau' ofa's Oceania or Sea of Islands it consistently stands for adulthood, strength, and endurance physically and mentally.
What I found to most interesting is the choice that people have. They can either challenge themselves and their bodies to get the tatau/malu and so be immediately placed in a honorable social position. They can choose to opt out of the entire procedure and live their lives knowing that they did not have the courage to attempt. Or, one can make that attempt, muster their courage, and fail. The Island society does not value the attempt or the courage. There is no try, and one is so left with a permanent mark of their dishonor for the rest of their lives.
At first I was a bit skeptical of such thought as I was pretty much babied in American society mentality of 'do your best' These are the type of people Island society support and the type of people they are pushed to become. Strong both mentally and physically. Determind, and sure of themselves. What I initially viewed as pride stemmed from the fact that Wendt outright denied a non-Samoan's right to a tattoo. I was for one reason or another offended, and then became defensive. Why should I not be able to prove myself? If not to others, at least to me. I felt as though Wendt made the tattoo about pride
Well, it should be. Samoan's should wear their tattoo with pride. They should wear it with pride because of what it represents to them. They should wear it with pride because of what it means to their family. Figiel expresses the uglier side
of tattoo, as with a pair of women who go to receive their malus together. Their families are cursed. One because of the betrayal her malu represents and the other because it is unfinished. We see their lineage and what it means to be 'dishonored' in Samoan culture because of the tattoo. Pride is in who these people become. IF they are worthy of the tatau/malu, if they can take the pain, if they can endure, and if they have earned the right to a symbol. I would be proud too. Though I was also quite taken aback by Wendt's frankness about how he thought a coward of himself, yet after the readings in some way I understand and it made me almost pity him for a moment. Though it doesn't seem to have affected his writing or influence.

Flying-Foxes within a Sea of Islands

Albert Wendt and Epeli Hau’ofa both use their writing to express the effect of colonization and the balance of cultures. Wendt’s writing stresses the importance of the history on ‘the way of life that is tatauing’ (400) and Hau’ofa’s main focus is to discuss the relationship and interaction between multiple communities. Both authors make a point about the connection of tradition and culture. Wendt and Hau’ofa each discuss the journey of identity, and give examples to aid as an individual travels through their voyage of self discovery.

In Wendt’s, “The Cross of Soot”, he describes a story of a young boy (Wendt at a younger age) who transitions into a young man after receiving a tatau. Receiving a tatau acts as a transformation between stages of life. Not only does the tattoo act as a bridge within personal development, but helps connect the person to their past by providing the individual with a new future and identity. As Wendt states: “Being a humble Samoan, I apologize humbly for not having a tatau. Why don’t I have one? I am a coward, physically!”(410). Wendt demonstrates his new identity after receiving an incomplete tatau he now receives the identity as a ‘coward’, however he is ultimately changed after the experience. The tatau helped transform Wendt from an innocent boy to a man able to be mature enough to recognize the importance of the unfinished tatau. The beauty of a tatau lies within the person (with the tatau and viewer) providing a form of art, preserving history in the present and aiding in a person’s idea of self.

Hau’ofa also discusses the idea of bridging history but balancing traditions with the present. Hau’ofa states “their world was anything but tiny” (31). He stresses the effect of perspective as well as values on self image, and connects these concepts to the opinions from others. Hau’ofa’s writing focuses in on identity of the individual among/within cultures, while stressing the importance of this relationship during the exploration of self-discovery. He stresses the relationships within this ‘sea’ and the major outcome during the stages of life, demonstrating the power of relationships on one’s identity.

The main concept found within Hau’ofa’s writing is that of Wendt’s writing in a large scale. Wendt’s magnifies the art of tatau as a connective medium within/among a culture, while Hau’ofa uses the sea as a bond (on a level of wider range). Each demonstrates the importance of the connection between tradition and the balance of culture.

Wendt and Hau’ofa both use nature to help explain their main issues. Wendt uses the ideas of animals and landscapes in talking about the history of the tattoo while Hau’ofa’s writing is a long metaphor relating ‘islands’ to the ocean or sea. Their connections to nature help stress that the relationship between and within communities as a balancing act. The balance act is between upholding your own personal values and roles within your community and staying true to the traditions of your culture when submerged in a new society. These comparisons back to nature help increase the reader’s ability to connect to the writing (even if they cannot relate to tattoo or being submerged into a new culture).

Power of Judgement

I never realized how much the words of a teacher, particularly at a young age, could have on a student until I started thinking about this blog entry. Being a minority, it was interesting to think of a time when I had felt, either directly or indirectly, subjugated or humiliated by someone from “the West”. One such occasion occurred in fifth grade, and it is an instance that I don’t think I will ever forget, given that the memory has yet to have lost any vitality in my mind. Although I don’t remember exactly what we were discussing, for some reason this teacher mentioned that “we don’t use our hands to eat, because it is barbaric”. Now, at the time, I felt an extreme sense of shame; my family ate with our hands whenever we had Indian food from home because that’s how it was meant to be eaten, so now I was a barbarian? I didn’t mention anything in class, shy little ten year-old that I was, and I also didn’t mention anything to my parents for fear that there would be some big commotion made of the comment. It was only in my older years, when I would casually reflect back on it, that I realized what a tactless comment that was. It also made me embarrassed, as I grew older, to think that I let that comment make me eat dinner with a fork for a week or so after hearing it.

I think this life experience relates directly to what Albert Wendt is talking about in “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body”. While I understand now that my teacher made this comment simply in ignorance that it would affect anyone in the class and the people Wendt talked about were generally humiliating foreigners in order to subjugate them, I still believe that this comparison is valid. When I eat traditional Indian cuisine with my hands, it is one of the few times that I feel a connection to my ancestors or other Indians, because in general I do not associate with other Indians and rarely go back to India to visit. As Wendt writes, they “made us ashamed” of something intricately related to our identity (Wendt 400). Even further, this story relates to Hau’ofa and his writing about “Our Sea of Islands”. He introduces the idea of inflicting “lasting damage on people’s images of themselves and on their ability to act with relative autonomy in their endeavors” (Hau’ofa 28). While my example is on a small scale, Hau’ofa explains the danger of this type of distancing, negative stereotyping, and general humiliation of traditional views being denigrated by Western views. The “belittlement, in whatever guise, if internalized for long and transmitted across generations, may lead to moral paralysis…or to apathy” and it is this danger that comes when someone like myself, takes this type of renegade comment to heart and it spirals into an inward self-consciousness (Hau’ofa 30).

Blood Line, Life Line

    In Albert Wendt’s “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body,” I was pleasantly surprised after reading it to realize that he was completely wrong in stating that his paper was “bitsy and disjointed” because I couldn’t think of two words less applicable to a piece of writing. I found Wendt’s explanation of all things surrounding the tattoo (in tatau and malu form) made it as if a small spot in the vast topic of tattoo had been uncovered for me. While he did mention things about the process I’ve learned thus far (the shame, pain, culture of it all) I wasn’t scared or uneasy as I have been with out past few readings about the past, present, and future of the Samoan culture. Wendt’s approach was, however brutally honest, more simply stated than others have been.

    One way that Wendt made it more interesting and not so terrifying was the emphasis of the modern culture of the tatau, the man walking around in short shorts showing of his pe’a to the world, and how it is still an incredibly respected and revered profession and event to undergo. Even though Wendt is obviously aware of the hardships that go on in the Samoan cultures, he chooses to embrace them but prove that his people have persevered and are still part of a vibrant land with its own past times that are continuously celebrated.

    In the second section of Wendt’s paper, “Nakedness”, he brought up the idea of “the post-colonial body as an actual human body” (399). This seemed like an odd notion at first – of course the post-colonial body was human, what else would it be, even if he meant the body of an entire people. Then it made me think of the distinction of the prefixes to each of these phrases. Post-colonial body implies a body that came out of a brutal (or necessary and founded, depending how you look at it) movement while the human body brings to mind flesh, bone, and blood. The art of tatauing is about past, present, and future of a family, sharing their stories for generations to come, a never-ending storybook right there on your very own thighs. But, as we discussed in class last week, the fact that it is tapped into your skin, something fragile that is being proven strong, and something limited that is proving to relay a multitude of emotions to limitless generations and audiences, really means something.

    In the section “Fair Skins”, Wendt states that we are so “fascinated with tattooing” because “it has to do with blood, human blood, with deliberately bleeding the human body” (409), which is an approach I’ve never taken. And to relate to my realization of the importance in the human body’s participation in tatauing, human blood can signify exactly the same thing: a limited resource in our bodies that we willingly give to benefit our past and futures. We have previously discussed that the process of tatauing is to prove that you are strong enough to handle life’s hardships and journey’s and Wendt adds on to that by saying that we are “testing it [blood] to see if it can bear the pain of being in a human body, of storying it, giving it human design, shape, form, and identity” (409). He says that our blood keeps us alive so basically, without its permission we wouldn’t be able to withstand the pain of the tatau or malu. It isn’t only our minds and bodies that must get through the pain of tattooing, but also the very thing that keeps us running every minute of every day, our blood, is tested to see if it can stand the pain of being in and supporting the human body.

Our Sea of Islands

Hau’ofa’s essay “Our Sea of Islands” is extremely effective in pulling together themes of the course thus far. We see Hau’ofa the scholar here, rather than discerning his opinion through the satirical episodes in Tales of the Tikongs. It is important to notice that he comes to a change in perspective through contact with his students. He chooses to engage the gritty reality of “Our Sea of Islands” constructively rather than dejectedly. Kolvenbach wrote that students “should learn to perceive, think, judge, choose, and act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed” (35). Kolvenbach was speaking to a Western audience of US universities, but the message can be even more powerful in the Oceanic setting. Rather than discouraging his students, Hau’ofa empowers them with the direct, powerful concept that “Smallness is a state of mind” (Hau’ofa 31). He focuses on the “neoclassical relationships of dependency” (36) in the current political and economic order.
Relationships of dependency create modern colonization long after the official pomp and circumstance declared independence. As we saw in Tales of the Tikongs, no one escapes satire, but Hau’ofa certainly blames the oppressive social structures of the West for the current situation of Oceania. He discusses the importance of language in the distinctions between “islands in a far sea” versus “a sea of islands” and “Pacific Islands” versus “Oceania.” He notes: “Hardly any Anglophone economist, consultancy expert, government planner, or development banker in the region uses the term Oceania, perhaps because it sounds grand and somewhat romantic and may denote something so vast that it would compel them to a drastic review of their perspectives and policies” (31). Names implicitly identify the subject in question, and denying Oceania the dignity of an appropriate title is a perfect example.
Using demeaning names can be a source tension and belittlement, just as powerful, majestic names can create empowerment or change. In El Salvador many students changed their names as to make it easier for the Salvadorans to identify us. I remained Cristina because I would feel strange being called anything else. My boyfriend preferred to have his name pronounced incorrectly (Austin as OUSteen) rather than change it. Our friend Garrett, however, adopted his confirmation name Phillip. Hearing everyone call him Felipe reflected the importance of his spiritual journey. Garrett, or Felipe as we continue to call him, is applying for the Jesuits after graduation from Marquette this year.
Hau’ofa echoes the necessity of social contracts in political theory yet implies that the ramifications of such boundaries discourage the beauty of human interaction. He writes of ancestral Oceania: “Theirs was a large world in which peoples and cultures moved and mingled, unhindered by boundaries of the kind erected much later by imperial powers” (Hau’ofa 32). For example, think of how humans interact in the DMV. Also remember the ideal is always preferable when discussed next to a negative example, but if we agree with philosophers such as Locke or Hobbes, the state of humanity would be much worse off without the rule of law, without the DMVs. Yet we loathe their presence in our everyday lives. Furthermore I think Hau’ofa is referencing the imaginary boundaries people create, such as divisions between geographic, class, race, ethnic, gender, sexual, and religious groups. He is saying such boundaries only create increased separation which discourages collaborative progress and pits individuals against each other.
In contrast, he offers the value of interdependency, where humans support each other: “Economists do not take account of the social centrality of the ancient process of reciprocity, the core of all Oceanic values…This is not dependency but interdependency, which is purportedly the essence of the global system” (35). Hau’ofa’s discussion of remittances resonated with me because in El Salvador 30% of imports is composed of money sent from family members in the United States. This structure allows Salvadoran families to survive, yet on a macro level creates further dependency on the United States.
Hau’ofa includes the discussion of religion as a colonizing force because although this is so different from how we think of Catholic faith today, it is a part of history that must not be glossed over. He writes: “The wholesale condemnation by Christian missionaries of Oceanic cultures as savage, lascivious, and barbaric has had a lasting and negative effect on people’s views of their histories and traditions.” (Hau’ofa 28). In the Spanish class “Chronicles of Conquest,” this semester, I am reading primary sources from indigenous nations in Central America who were decimated for the cost of “progress” in colonization. Living in Latin America for a whole year in two completely different places, I kept noting how the discussions of colonization and independence were so strongly taught, differently than the American Revolution. This is because people still feel the effects today in the historic battle over land and natural resources.
I wanted to share the article “How to Write About Africa” by Binyavanga Wainaina to demonstrate that similar struggles of belittling mentalities of colonization transcend geography. Peoples of Latin American, Asia, and Africa suffer as the people of “Our Sea of Islands” do because of modern boundaries and experience a loss of identity from belittling neoclassical relationships. Binyavanga Wainaina writes, “In your text, treat Africa as if it were one country.” This speaks to Westerners’ ignorance of geography and individual identity present in the multiplicity of African cultures. Similarly, in my ignorant position as a Western student who never truly studied Hau’ofa’s native region, I never would have known that the name “The Pacific” is negative compared to “Oceania.”
Authors such as Hau’ofa and Feigel write to combat the stereotypical images of the islands as carefree and erotic. This is evident in both Hau’ofa’s episode “The Seventh and Other Days” in Tales of the Tikongs” and in Fiegel’s They Who Do Not Grieve. Binyavanga Wainaina’s satire also tries to remind the Western reader of false stereotypes: “Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history.” From reading Wendt we know that the implications of a loss of history also impact one’s personal identity. The woman mentioned is completely wonting of dignity. Both Binyavanga Wainaina and Hau’ofa are effective in addressing the resilience of oppressed regions and the importance of writing the truth in literature and the media.

Tattoo & Identity

In "Tatauing the Post- Colonial Body", Albert Wendt describes the importance of the tatau, which is most clearly demonstrated when he describes his visualization of "the post- colonial body as an actual human body, a naked body which need [s] 'clothing' " (399). Wendt believes that the tattoo/ tatau is as essential to the human being as clothing, shelter, or food. It is a source of identity for the islanders who possess these markings.

Wendt explains the importance of the tattoo for women prior to marriage. Once again, he draws a parallel between clothing and the tattoo. He writes, " [You are] clothed not to cover your nakedness but to show you are ready for life, for adulthood, and for service to your community, that you have triumphed over physical pain and are now ready to face the demands of life, and ultimately to master the most demanding of activities: language and oratory" (401). The men, who often went into battle as warriors, felt the tattoo was a means of protection. Wendt then preceeds to describe the tattoo as a sort of text. Thus, the tattoo is not only a rite of passage, but it also tells a life story, and thus, it must be finished.

Ultimately, the tattoo, as previously stated, is a form of identity for both men and women, although the purposes for tattoos varies with gender. Wendt writes, "Tatauing is a part of everything else that is the people, the aiga, the village, the community, the environment, the atua, the cosmos" (403). Thus, the tattoo connects the marked person with their surroundings and makes them a part of the whole.

In the "Cross of Soot", Wendt describes the importance of the tattoo for men. The young boy acquires strength and knowledge when he is tattooed by the older man. The boy admires Samsoni's eagle tattoo and sees it as a symbol of manhood and strength, which makes him desire a tattoo for himself. In addition, he admires the general attitude of the older men of the prison, and wishes to emulate their brave behavior. At first, Tagi is hesitant to tattoo the boy, as it is likely that he will feel a great deal of pain, but ultimately, the boy proceeds with it, and is filled with courage admist the pain. Wendt explains that the rewards of tattoos are plentiful, but that one of the most important rewards is the strength that is gained through pain, while acquiring the tattoo. This courage gained through pain is very important to the male gender. At the end of the story, the boy's mother is very pleased that the boy can finally look into her eyes like a true man of courage. It is clear that the tattoo has this effect on him, thus illustrating the ability of the tattoo to transform an individual amidst the greater community.

Therefore, the tattoo stands for many things, and each individual marking has many meanings, but ultimately, they represent certain values amongst the men and women of varying cultures. For men, the tattoo is a symbol of strength, wisdom, and maturity. For women, it can be a symbol of duty and fidelity pre- marriage. While these respective purposes may be very traditional or even close- minded to some, they are extremely powerful and define a person for life. In Fiegel's They Who Do Not Grieve, one is able to catch a glimpse of the tattoo's significance for women of the Pacific Islands, similar to the way that Wendt describes the tattoo process for men in "The Cross of Soot". Ultimately, it is apparent that an unfinished tattoo can be a lifetime of shame for the women In They Who Do Not Grieve, but that possession of a tattoo has the power to change an individual, or community, forever. It is a story, a branding, a status symbol, a blood tie to the family and community. It is that and so much more. Outsiders may view the tattooed islanders as untamed because of their markings, but the natives understand the necessity of embracing the tattoo's significance. Maybe travelers will never fully understand this way of life, but authors like Wendt and Fiegel help expose their world to those who do not know if it.

The Power of the Tatau

In Albert Wendt’s “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body”, he gives the reader a real sense of what it means to be tataued. Being tataued is a sign of respect and pride for your land; the word also means appropriate or fitting, as Wendt points out to us. Although many other cultures do not fully comprehend the meaning and the beauty behind the tatau itself, as Wendt discusses how tataued people have been called “naked savages”, this essay successfully conveys the importance and the magnitude of receiving this tradition. As Wendt points out, tatau is considered a form of clothing, “the most desired and highest status clothing anyone could wear”. Furthermore, the tatau is a rite of passage, preparing the receiver for the pain and obstacles that will befall them during their lives. Just as Hau’oa points out in his essay that belittlement and degradation of Pacific cultures will no longer be permitted, Wendt tries to demonstrate the ways that age old traditions, like tatauing, are essential to Samoan culture.

“Despite the enormous pain, afterwards you will swell with pride.” Even though this process can be painful and daunting, Wendt points out that it is something that represents who you are; it not only embodies past generations and their stories, but it characterizes the individual as well. An interesting aspect of this essay is that despite the risk of actual death, such as AIDS, people have continued to be tataued; it is such a powerful force than nothing is able to stop it. Those who truly believe in its meaning would not fear the risk of death, which shows the extraordinary power of the tatau itself.

As we have discussed in class, it is far worse to have only a half tatau, than to never have received it at all, like Lalolagi who brought shame to her family for years. Yet, it is interesting that Albert Wendt himself does not seem to be self-conscious of the fact that his tatau is incomplete. He calls himself a coward, but does not seem to be shamed by the incident, perhaps because it was such an important part of his life, something worth writing a story about. In “The Cross of Soot”, it is truly evident the effect a tatau can have on someone, even on a small boy. Wendt’s story corresponds to the idea that this process is indeed a rite of passage as we see this boy, once innocent and timid, become confident and self-aware. “The boy sat for a long time clutching his hand as though he was holding something precious”; in reality, the boy is holding something precious or sacred because it symbolizes his step from innocence to experience. The story itself even says, “He had changed, grown up.” Although this incident was relatively short and took place in a rather depressing place, the impact is everlasting, just like the tatau.

Samoan cultures are unable to eradicate the tradition of tatau because of all that it stands for and represents. It is not merely a mark on one’s body, but it is a story, a name, an identity, and a mark of nationalism. “Tatauing is part of everything else that is the people…the village, the community, the environment, and the cosmos.” Not only this, but the tatau does not die when you die; instead, it continues on to your children and generations to follow. Therefore, it is a passageway of connecting not only the person to the land, but also a connection of familial and personal history.

Oceanic Sovereignty

Given their similar cultural backgrounds, there are numerous shared characteristics between the selected non-fiction works of Epeli Hau’ofa and Albert Wendt. Through their writings, both authors express the desire (as well as list the means) for the attainment of Pacific sovereignty. Furthermore, both works illustrate and celebrate the variety of cultural, religious, and artistic works that their people have achieved and contributed. However, the scope of each of their respective works differs.

Hau’ofa’s work is set against the idea of (what he considers the myth of) dependency. Going against the ideas of established and respected anthropologists, Hau’ofa writes that Oceania’s dependency on first-world countries for support will not last forever. This idea, sadly, is unpopular for it seems that the modern world believes Oceania cannot survive without its help. This idea, in turn, is propagated by Oceania’s own natives, continuing a cycle of psychological oppression. As long as these ideas hold sway, Hau’ofa writes, the Oceanic culture will continue to be belittled. The myth of dependency, he argues, is but a thinly veiled continuation of colonialism. “Is this not what neocolonialism is all about?” he writes, “To make people believe that they have no choice but to depend?” (29)

What does Hau’ofa want? He writes that the ultimate goal is “[a] meaningful degree of autonomy” (29). This is not an unrealistic goal by any means, he maintains. At the time of this article’s publication, he writes “[Pacific islanders] are … enlargening their world, establishing new resource bases and expanded networks for circulation … they have already made their presence felt in these homelands and have stamped indelible imprints on the cultural landscapes” (34). So too have Pacific Islanders helped shape the economic landscape of other societies, as immigrants from the region continue to work hard in throughout the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.

Ultimately, Hau’ofa seeks a society of proud Pacific Islanders shaping their futures independent of (but not antagonistic to) established Western countries. He leaves his audience with the following: “[The] future lies in the hands of our own people, not of those who would prescribe for us, get us forever dependent and indebted because they can see no way out” (37).

Wendt takes the idea of sovereignty in a different direction. If Hau’ofa wanted political and economic sovereignty, Wendt sought, at least in “Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body”, cultural and literary sovereignty. Both ideas are equally important. The focal point of this idea lies in the art of the ‘tatau’ or tattoo, an art he maintains, was suppressed and belittled by colonial powers for decades. He writes, “The missionaries … condemned tattooing as the ‘mark of the savage.’ They succeeded in making their converts ashamed of it and tried to outlaw the practice further … Despite the efforts of more than a century to erase it, tatauing has endured and is very alive” (408).

Tatau’s continued survival is positive and necessary because it is such a powerful, historically linked art form. It is also an art form that carries multiple layers of meaning. He writes, “In a deep psychological, mythological, symbolic way, tatauing is the act of printing or scripting a genealogical-spiritual-philosophical text on the blood” (409). In other words, the art of tattoo is the literal and external expression of internal beliefs and values, beliefs and values that are inherently linked with the cultural identity of the Oceania.

Tatau, while of literal importance, also serves as an extended metaphor for post-colonial literature, created and inspired by natives of Oceania. He writes, “By giving it a Samoan tatau … I am saying it is … a blend, a new development, which I consider to be Pacific in heart, spirit, and muscle; a blend in which influences from outside (even the English language) have been indigenized, absorbed, in the image of the local and national, and in turn have altered the national and local” (411). The alteration, however, is a positive one that embraces both cultures, without subjugating one to the other. This seems a direct echo of Hau’ofa.

As an embodiment of the Pacific meeting the West, Wendt writes about a heavily tataued Samoan enjoying cultural and material products from the West. Furthermore, he cites examples of Westerners, including an elderly Peace Corps volunteer, being tataued.
In both "The Cross of Soot" and "Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body," Albert Wendt underscores many of the points we have already touched on in regards to traditional Samoan tattoo for men and women.  We learned of the legacy of shame associated with an unfinished tattoo, which Wendt echoes in his afterword, "once the first tatau line goes across your lower back, you must endure until the end.  Otherwise, you and your family and children and their children will have to suffer the cross of your disgrace, being branded a coward, for the rest of your lives" (410).  Ironically enough, Wendt's own tattoo, the cross of soot, is unfinished.  It is not the traditional "tatau" that he discusses, he admits to being too physically cowardly for such an undertaking.  His tattoo was intended to be a star on his hand, but was unfinished due to interesting  and unforeseen circumstances.  Still, though it is not in the same location or of the same intensity as the traditional tatau, Wendt's cross of soot ends up representing his journey into adulthood.  In the story "The Cross of Soot," the boy in the story, Wendt, experiences travel in the form of the coming of age and loss of innocence that results from his getting a tattoo.  The unfinished tattoo ends up, in this situation, adding to its importance, not heaping shame onto its bearer.
"The boy" we are introduced to at the beginning of the story seems to undergo immense changes throughout this one experience.  I would even argue that he seems to age.  We meet the boy in a beautiful morning setting:  "above all the greenness and the many sounds of the morning world, the sun sailed--a copper emblem stitched on to a flag of crystal blue" (7).  The boy is playing, "moulding a fortress" out of mud.  Wendt presents the picture of innocent youth.  We are soon provided with a sharp contrast to the mud fortress, in the form of an actual prison, "fenced in by a high barbed-wire fence."  I found myself wondering what this young boy was doing wandering around and hanging out in a prison, but later realized that he had formed great relationships with some of the inmates.  I think it is significant that the characters are mostly identified as boy, youth, and old man at first.  It emphasizes their differences in age, and also represents the journey and coming of age that the boy will eventually complete.  The men in the prison clearly come from an entirely different set of experiences than the young boy.  They are, after all, in prison for one reason or another.  The boy demonstrates his innocence while talking to the old man, "not knowing what rape meant but pretending that he knew" (11).  
When the stranger, Tagi, is introduced to the story, we see the boy's innocence demonstrated again.  He does not seem to realize, at least not right away, that Tagi has been sentenced to death.  As readers, we pick up on the clues.  Samasoni "was trying his best not to look at the stranger" and the policeman gave Tagi a gift of food and asks him if he needs anything.  He comes into the yard clutching a Bible.  Earlier in the story, when the youth enters, he says, "You know the case of the Falefa murderer?  Well he's been sentenced to..." and the old man cuts him off, perhaps because he does not want the boy to know that a man has been sentenced to death, because he is too young.  
When he decides to get a tattoo, the boy begins to see more clearly:  "...he noticed something funny.  Tagi's reflection seemed to be disappearing.  He reached over and touched Tagi's shoulder in an attempt to re-establish the fact that Tagi was still there next to him" (19).  The man seems to be disappearing, he is on his way out of the world.  Presumably, one of his final acts ends up being the boy's (unfinished) tattoo.  As Tagi walks away from the boy and his "black cross," the boy knows that the man will not return (19).  It is as if through the painful act of getting a tattoo, he has gained some sort of knowledge or wisdom.  This fits quite well with what Wendt discussed in his afterword.  The tatau or tattoo is a thing of pride.  The pain is tolerated because of what it represents.  In the case of the boy in "The Cross of Soot," it represents his journey into adulthood and loss of innocence.  The boy "clutch[es] his hand as though he was holding something precious" because he recognizes the importance of what Tagi has done for him.  Wendt also writes that the boy looks back at the prison, "as if he had crossed from one word to another, from one age to the next" (20).  It is no secret that the tattooing has been a learning and growing experience for the boy.
The boy's encounter with his mother reinforces this thought.  The mother immediately recognizes a change in her son:  "for the first time her son was no longer afraid to stare straight at her when she was angry with him.  He had changed, grown" (20).  It is also notable that after realizing the change, she is no longer angry anymore.  Here, in "The Cross of Soot," a tattoo, though unfinished, ends up bringing pride to its bearer, because it represents a coming of age.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Part III of They Who Do Not Grieve Presentation

Sia Figiel provides extensive and detailed descriptions of Samoan life and culture in a way that is both surprising and new for her Western readers. While her work embellishes many cultural nuances, such as the importance of tattoo and the art of storytelling, all of the thematic threads come together when discussing the female relationships that pervade this text. It is clear that there are not only strained familial ties, but that female friendships have suffered in the long run as well. These problematic relationships stem from the highly structured and hierarchical system set in place within Samoan culture. Unfortunately, this infrastructure compels women to not only defend themselves against the patriarchal institutions, but eventually causes them to banter and fight with each other for the sake of self-elevation and survival.
The grandmother-granddaughter relationships are evident from the beginnings of books I and II. On the very first page of the text we hear a verbal attack from Lalolagi towards Malu, “Don’t mess like that with people’s minds, do you hear me, chicken-sh*t girl? Dog-girl? Do you? Do you? Do you?” (3). It is clear that Lalolagi is still greatly effected by the shame brought on to her family, firstly by her many affairs and illegitimate children, and secondly, by her daughter continuing in her trend, something that Malu is strictly aware of, “I carry my grandmother’s pain, my family’s shame…” (5). Yet the relationship, which superficially appears to be strictly abusive in actuality relies on Lalolagi telling the story to Malu as to prepare her, to share her shame, to impart her with knowledge that she did not have access to, “Besides, I can’t tell you much apart from what I’ve already told you, dog-girl. My own mother did not warn me about it. Nor did her mother. Nor did her mother’s mother before her,” (35). Lalolagi feels and knows that it is her responsibility to share with Malu to protect her from her own fate and that of her mother.
It is this same parallel which is drawn with Alofa and her grandmother, Tausi. The two women share the same story, that of a betrayed friend, an unfinished tattoo, and permanent shame to both women. Tausi begins her story saying, “I’m going to let you into a secret, Alofa. I don’t know what colour bird this is going to be…you’ll have to tell me…because as long as I’ve lived I’ve never breathed a word to anyone about the things I know” (141). The relationship between Alofa and Tausi does not appear as strained as that between Malu and Lalolagi, yet she is greatly effected and upset by the experience, “I don’t know why she has to tell me all this. I don’t know why she tortures me so,” (147). Alofa cannot understand the motivation of this story telling at first, yet she does comprehend that the story must be told as a cathartic experience for Tausi, as a way to expel her memories of her mistreatment of Lalolagi, “I knew she closed her eyes to and dreamt, apologizing to the whole world to forgive her. ‘Forgive me, Lalolagi. Forgive me’” (164). Both girls need their grandmother’s stories to validate their own existences, because their own mothers could not do so for them.
These somewhat under-mentioned mothers, selfish and dead, leave their girls in the care of their grandmothers. In the case of Pisa, Alofa’s mother, there were deliberate and violent attempts at self inflicted abortion; something that Alofa distinctly remembers, “The night she tried to kill me (and possibly herself) by drinking a bottle of dishwashing liquid…my very own existence became questionable. Suddenly there were no guarantees” (174). This knowledge helps to shape the understanding of the silence that permeates the relationship between Pisa and Alofa, “Most of these so-called conversations were in reality command, accusations, curses, Pisa spat at me in the most public of ways for everyone to see, hear, smell, taste and feel. Which was not unusual” (172). These tumultuous relationships only heighten the need for the grandmothers to share their stories, to ensure that the end with their granddaughters, and that the pain does not continue for any more generations.
It is in this way that Malu, pregnant and confident stands to break the chain of grief and shame. She knows that her past has shaped her in some regards, but she is open to the future and what it holds, “to live in all the confusion of the present, knowing that there are still dreams to be dreamt. Even if coloured by a red ballpoint pen that’s not seen. A line drawn beyond the green horizon, connecting the past, the present, the future that she alone saw” (270). Malu’s understanding of her future role allows her to also shatter the societal stereotype about women and the propagation of these stereotypes by women. Malu’s child, assumingly so a girl, is the hope of change, the hope which stands the opportunity to erase the acts of her ancestral mothers and impart her own knowledge and wonder onto the world.

Enforced travel

I was interested in Alofa’s experience as an enforced traveler. Contrary to this character, I willfully left my island to go to the United States. I left with an open-minded spirit, ready to discover and explore everything : the language, the gastronomy, the landscape, the culture and the people. However, Alofa’s experience is rather oppressing. Travelling means that she has to lose her Samoan identity in order to be accepted. It starts when her aunt Fue decides to change her Samoan name as she did for herself. Her new name is Donna because ‘‘it’s a good name for a girl like her. And it’s easier for people to pronounce.’’ In other words, when travelling, one’s identity or more precisely one’s nationality becomes significant : it can be whether a strenght, whether a weakness.
I did not have to change my name when I came to the USA, but before I left, I was made aware that I would be a foreigner over there. As a matter of fact, I had to fill a lot of papers, pay the SEVIS fee, go to the American Embassy in Paris to get a visa, and answer a bunch of personal questions. And I remember, when I was doing some reasearch about how to get a visa, I came accross some information that caught my attention : the procedure to get a visa was made much more easier for European citizens than for Cubans, Syrians or Libyans. For instance, my rommate who is Chinese told me that she was denied a visa last year but finally she could get one this year and come to Loyola. Being a foreigner can be a double-edged sword : when I say that I’m from a French Speaking Island in the Caribbean, people usually smile and ask me questions about it because it conjures up exoticism, a paradisiac setting, sandy beaches. They pay attention to my accent…However, it is not always ‘‘advantageous’’. For example, I wanted to take my permit at the Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland but I could not : why ? Because I did not have a second proof of residence in the United States. They did not want to accept a letter written by the school certifying that I live on campus. In other words, though I willfully planned to travel to the USA, I was forced to abide by certain regulations before entering the country.

In our preceding readings, we met with enforced travelers such as Edwards in ''The Dawn Treader'' or Foster in ''Black Rainbow.'' However, their travel proved to be beneficial because it had liberating effects : Edwards got rid of his dragonish traits because travel forced him to face himself and to become aware of his flaws, and Foster became a free moral agent. In ''They Who Do not Grieve'', enforced travel appears detrimental. Tausi, Alofa’s grand-mother who was taken to Giu Sila to live with her daughter Fue is not happy. This unhapiness results in the changing of the ‘‘geography of her face’’ in the sense that her growing sadness draws progressively on her face and finally leads to her death. Samoan identity is completely depised in Giu Sila even by Somoan themselves. Aunt Fue does not want to have anything to do with it. She forbids Alofa to speak Samoan to her cousins, she advises her not to marry an Islander and because she learns that she slept with Apa, she makes Alofa leave from her house. Alofa has to give priority to the English laguage in order to create a link with the outside world of Giu Sila and to survive. Without English, she cannot find a job and earn money. However, she resists in the sense that she ‘‘uses the English language only when it is necessary.’’
Samoan physical identity is in direct opposition with the beauty canon of Giu Sila. Enforced travel makes Alofa aware of her physical difference (flaws according to palagi people) and of the fact that she has to change her physical appearance in order to be like others. For example, when Apa aks her if he can paint her, she replies : ‘‘You think people would wanna look at me ? This bony neck ? These prunes for breasts ? And thick thighs, too ?’’ She tells him about those people who hand her pamphlets on beauty creams with white ladies on them. She also mentions the racist insults she suffers from. What sould be valued and consider as contributing to diversity is criticised and looked down upon .

Break the Silence

It may seem cliché or trite to say that I traveled through film, but this past Monday evening I feel that I had the opportunity to experience a horrifying new reality in the documentary "The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo." I would constitute this experience as travel because for the duration of the documentary I was more aware of the women speaking in front of me than of my place seated in a chair at Loyola College. I was able to connect with them as another woman. They shared chilling details of personal experience with filmmaker Lisa, a blonde woman from New York who had been raped in Georgetown and wanted to "break the silence" in solidarity with their struggle. Once they trusted her, they shared that many had been raped by Congolese soldiers, or rebels from neighboring countries including Interahamwe, the Hutus who had perpetrated the 1994 Rwandan genocide. One woman cried as she said that when she became pregnant after being raped, soldiers made her other children stand on her belly to cause her to miscarry and she then had to drink her own blood. The documentary included many other disturbing episodes, including meeting a four year old, Matilde, who had been raped, as well as seeing the extensive damage to women's internal organs. It was extraordinarily hard to sit through, as Sia Figiel's "They Who Do Not Grieve" was to read at times.

In the moment when the event began, I was exhausted, had lots of homework to do, and a little skeptical that the Loyola students around me would appreciate the evening, as Knott Hall B01 was full of first years inquiring about the length of the film. As Dr. Schmidt introduced the topic, she reminded us of our role as US citizens. The obvious structure of the current world order places me in a socially complicit role. As I encountered these Congolese people who suffer as foreigners pillage their country for coltan, my cell phone sat in my pocket. This moment reveals the need to constantly inform my conscience. At the close of the night, I was positively surprised that Loyola students around me were also deeply moved, as they stayed the entire time, asked thought provoking questions and appeared appropriately disturbed. I viewed this documentary with a particular concern for women, as my lens is prominently shaped by my own time with people who are suffering, specifically in El Salvador. There many women shared their personal stories with me, including testimonies of rape.

Sia Figiel's "They Who Do Not Grieve" focuses on intricate relationships which compose a matriarchal structure. Figiel, too, speaks of the power of language, the ability to speak which defines humans and allows them to cry out against oppression. Lalolagi, however, encourages silence. Malu internalizes her feelings, which actually allows her to develop confidence. She narrates: "In my silence (which everyone was repulsed by and treated with contempt), I had the power to become my self, that is, to live with great comfort in the house that was my body, not walking around pretending to be (or envying for that matter) something else I was not (48). Yet Malu lives a bleak existence: "The despair in my voice is nothing new. It is old. As old as Grandmother. As old as the Wind even. My despair is shared. Between Grandmother and Auntie and my mother, even though she's dead" (63). Ela explains that she does not have the capacity to "break the silence." The women in the Congo have nowhere to turn either. Their communities and husbands reject them once they are raped. But they saw hope in Lisa, in the fact that a Western woman wanted to share their story, their struggle. Each woman who gave testimony on camera accomplished an incredible feat of courage in speaking out.

Auntie Ela, too, recognizes that women should not stay silent and longs for the courage to command her own inner voice. She dreams that she is being chased by Martin and she cannot speak. Ela tells Lalolagi: “But one thing you taught us that I despise is this silence. This disease. This not explaining anything. So that when things happen to me—things you don't even know about, I didn't know who to talk to. I didn't know whether it was proper to talk about such matters…So that when Martin started hitting me…I just took it" (97). Figiel is the first female Samoan to bring these women’s struggles to light for a worldwide audience. Like Lisa’s documentary, Figiel emphasizes the need for women to utilize their human capacity for communication. Figiel, speaking through Ela, wrote: “I wanna inspire more women to know their potential” (120).

Effect of Experience

The notion of a natural, innocent life is coupled with that of a tainted existence throughout the novel. It can be seen in Malu’s opinion and contentment with herself when she is alone and the way in which the villagers view her as a spoiled, unfortunate “horse-girl.” It can also be seen in the perception of the island itself as pure and loving and the actual state in which it exists. In my romanticism class earlier this semester, we talked about William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and contrasted it with his Songs of Experience. Songs of Experience really echoes throughout this book because of the way people are changed once they encounter different things. In a similar way, Sia Figiel incorporates this notion that with experience comes a loss of innocence and a different, somewhat cynical view of the world in which one lives.

Malu had been abused since she was a small girl under the care of her grandmother, Lalolagi. She is verbally, physically and, perhaps most, emotionally abused throughout the novel. She never really has the chance to experience the innocence and purity of childhood because of the external influences that affect her, namely her family and the villagers around her. Her detachment from the world is seen in her contentment with herself in the garden and in her own room at night. She stands in front of the mirror and appreciates the gap between her teeth in which her tongue resides. She accepts her thighs and her chest and does not wish to have it altered. Similarly, in the garden, her body is exposed and she finds no flaws whatsoever. It is not until Ela and the neighboring children come that her pure state is replaced with a type of hatred for the social environment in which she lives. She immediately says that she “detested” Ela because she was always so cheerful. Her transformation into a woman of experience is witnessed right from the onset of the book. Her experiences shape the girl she was and the woman she becomes. She writes, “I became a woman of many layers. A woman who could survive anywhere. Under the harshest conditions” (183).

It is this idea of layers that can be incorporated into the effects of travel. Travel allows one to absorb as many aspects of a place as he or she can and be changed by them. Malu is shaped by her visit to America and realizes a lack of power over her own fate because of her inability to accomplish her goals of dentistry. Similarly, although not traveling in the sense of leaving a place, Lalolagi describes her involvement with Alisi when he came to the island to film a movie. She describes to Malu the relationship they had because of his travel and the way in which she was forever affected. Lalolagi was a young girl at the time but after her relationship with him was forever altered because of the experience. Travel provides different routes for a person and, through those routes, different ideas to be attained. It is wisdom that does not necessarily ever leave the person but rather that stays in one’s memory. My trip to Glenmary Farm in Kentucky will always be remembered. The activities we did and the people we helped will not be forgotten. The faces may become difficult to remember but the experience itself will remain sharp. Going to the retreat center I was still pretty innocent. Upon coming home, I felt that I was experienced in the sense of learning about other’s struggles. It was this travel experience that has shaped my own character. Figiel harps on this notion of experience, both good ones and bad, to show that a person, for much of the book being Malu, is altered by her involvement with other people and places. She cannot remain innocent once other ideas transform her own. With more knowledge attained comes a loss of that childlike innocence. Although her personal convictions may never be altered, she will be changed due to hearing about other ideas and customs of different environments such as “putting on of the face” or smiling because “one is an actor.”


In the novel They Who Do Not Grieve by Sia Figiel, the one element that stood out to me repetitively was the idea of image. The women in the novel suffer greatly because they possess a distorted image of themselves, which is greatly depressing. Collectively, these women represent a repressed culture, and allow one to consider the struggles that many people go through each and everyday when it comes to accepting one's own image.

Throughout the novel, there are many instances where characters look at themselves in a mirror and are displeased with what they see. For instance, in the chapter "This is not Samoa", Alofa looks at herself in the mirror after arriving in Giu Sila. She says, "I saw myself in the mirror for the first time. I have always seen my reflection in the mirror in passing. But it is only an image. Like some picture of a picture. A grey figure whose face is never seen" ( Figiel 155). When Alofa looks at her reflection, she is not sure of her own identity. If we think about how many times we peer into a mirror each day in order to check our appearances, I'm sure we would all agree that we do it too often. Society places so much emphasis on appearances, and mirrors may hinder a true understanding of ourselves. Do our outward appearances really even matter? Sometimes I think image is too much of a priority in not only society, but Loyola as well.

The character of Mrs. Henderson is another example of a character that considers her image in the novel. However, Mrs. Henderson is extremely unsatisfied with herself, to the point where she purges whenever she eats. The islanders see Mrs. Hendersen in a different light than she sees herself, thus exposing varying viewpoints when it comes to body image. Malu says, "Village women would call someone like Mrs. Henderson thin as a spoon, with a neck as long as a chicken's, one that possesses a thousand tongues, which is how I would describe Mrs. Winterson myself. However, Mrs. Henderson in conversation would never describe herself in this manner. And why should she?" (Figiel 76). While the islander women are typically a bit larger, Mrs. Winterson is seen as a twig. However, she cannot see herself in that light, which is a clear example of the distorted image of the body that occurs throughout the novel.

Malu also struggles with her image and wonders if anybody will accept her because of her large, thick thighs. She is beside herself when a man actually takes a liking to her. She has no self- confidence until she finally embraces her nakedness and accepts the fact that people do believe her to be beautiful ( 46). The other women go through this same process in the novel. They struggle with their own appearances, and in the end, they either come to terms with their body or they continue to let misconceptions destroy them.

I feel that the body is a very important part of every society, whether it be fictional or non- fictional. Body image is and always has been a subject of great importance to almost every culture. In Figiel's novel, tattoos are very symbolic of body image and cultural acceptance. Weight is also a significanct issue that is addressed within the novel. When I was abroad in Belgium, I experienced issues with body image and came to terms with many things I have always struggled with in my own life. When I first arrived, I was completely shocked at the fact that Belgians do not value working out or sports as much as Americans. I was quick to purchase a gym membership as soon as I received my KU Leuven ID card, but as soon as I rushed to the gym, I found that it was ill- equipped and lacking any use. I had grown so used to walking into a nice, crowded gym in America, so this was certainly a shock for me. The internationals in the house were amazed at how much emphasis is placed on working out and looking good in America. At Loyola, many girls spend hours putting on makeup and preparing for class, while the Belgians prepared to go out with minimal effort. One thing I always noticed when I walked down the streeets in Belgium was the lack of makeup. Everybody always wore simple clothes and little to no makeup, which is obviously quite different than the appearance of the typical American.

As I got to know internationals and Belgians while living in the house, I realized just how ridiculous our lifestyle is here in the states. I guess I had to step out of America in order to fully understand the degree of it. After a semester of drinking fine Belgian beer and eating delicious fried food, I noticed a change in my body. At first, I began to panic, and wondered what the reaction would be at home when I arrived for Christmas vacation. However, Belgians and other internationals reminded me that it was absurd to place any emphasis on weight and reminded me of my own distorted image of myself, which I blame on society. Before I knew it, I began to frequent the gym less and less, and almost all of my time was spent walking around town shopping, trying new things, or traveling. At the end of the year, I still found it hilarious whenever I went to the gym and saw people running on the tredmill in sandals, but it was a constant reminder to keep it simple and fun. It is true that we take ourselves a little too seriously in America sometimes, and that more often than not, our society is obsessed with staying thin, working out, and eating what is right. Of course it is important to stay healthy, but eventually we have to accept who are are and what we look like with gratitude for the talents we possess. Living abroad for a year helped me gain confidence in myself like never before, and also exposed me to a culture that is so much more relaxed about outward appearances, which has changed me forever. It just goes to show how important travel can be in discovering the different ideas of acceptable body image. I think Figiel's novel reminds us to accept ourselves no matter what society may think of us, and to embrace the pain with the joy- embrace those hard moments that make it difficult to stay true to ourselves and our identity as human beings.

New Faces

“For she was simply fed up with the layers people clothed themselves in…the facades people wore on their faces and how they pass on such facades to their children.” (151)

In They Who Do Not Grieve, Sia Figiel warns about people who hide themselves under false faces. She describes Mrs. Winterson, a woman who won’t allow company until she has “put on her face,” both simply applying make-up, and also a way of hiding her true face. She also describes Martin, who pretends to be able to speak the Samoan language only to insult the ladies to whom he is speaking. While Sia Figiel doesn’t condone that readers hide their true selves, the portrayal of characters that hide their true nature has some important implications with regard to our discussions of travel.

The first thing to note is that travel offers the opportunity to be something we may not necessarily be. Several characters in this novel travel from their native island to America or New Zealand in order to make better lives for themselves by being something different than what they would be had they remained home. Aunts Fue and Ela are the most clear cut examples of this. They both take on entirely new identities when they move out of their home country. They change their mannerisms, language, clothing, and even their names. They look for new jobs and receive educations that would not be possible where they are from. Without traveling to a new place they would never have this opportunity to take on new identities. Living in America, we are no strangers to immigrants moving in to take on new identities and find new opportunities for themselves. Many of our families have origins in European countries. Even today this immigration continues at a large rate. Over the years I have noticed the change that immigration has caused in my own neighborhood as the influx of Chinese and Arab immigrants has skyrocketed. They come to escape the worries of their home countries and make better lives for themselves and their children. They come to take on new faces: to find new opportunities, to be new people, and to allow their children to be new people.

Although immigrants may be given an opportunity for a fresh start when they travel to a new country, it is nearly impossible to hide the fact that they are immigrants. That which is essential to who they are will truly remain. Though they may learn to speak a new language, their original one will always remain in their memory. Furthermore, most people will continue to have an accent even in speaking the new language. The accent prevents people from hiding their true language, one of the true symbols of who a person truly is. There is also no hiding the distinguishing look of a person’s race or ethnicity. Ethnicity, along with language, is another thing that binds people together. Our ethnicity is something that defines us as people. To say that we are of a certain race, we are saying something about who we are. We acknowledge the customs, traditions, language, and history that comes along with being of that race.

While it may often be desired to escape from one life and make a new one by traveling somewhere new, it is also a double edge sword because of the fact that there are certain things which we can never get rid of. After spending several years in America, Aunt Ela looked at herself in the mirror one day and did not recognize the woman she saw there (92). By remembering the person that she used to be, that which is essential to herself, she realizes that she must return to her origins. She tells Martin that she must return to Somoa to speak her own language and see her family and the other villagers, people of her own race. While Figiel recognizes and advocates travel as a way to broaden one’s own opportunities, she also presents it as a warning not to lose that which makes us who we are.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The notion of history and herstory has arisen again, and with it a thought I had while reading Wendt's Black Rainbow. The idea that a person, at the present is a result of the life they had lead up to that point in time. In Wendt's eyes, the erasure of that 'journey' was an erasure of identity and in that society was a cleansing or a new beginning. Figel, in 'They Who Do Not Grieve' brings up the notion again in her dream as she feels that the man's voice is erasing her 'herstory'.
I work with a group of juvenile delinquents in the Choice program. As a college night counselor, my responsibility is primarily to help with controlling the group, and most importantly other than that is to become as close to the 'clients' as I can. the whole situation is quite rigid, and given the tenderness of the situation and the 'tendencies' of the kids there is a very limiting structure and my resources as far as communication are bound.
As I have gotten closer tot he kids over the last two semesters, only one of which has had to return this year, I get a chance to understand what lives they have lead to lead up to this point, and there is no cut and dry formula. One of the ways I can really help these kids is to understand their history, this is their identity. What they have in common, is that those steps have landed them in a juvenile detention facility and that much I can know from the get-go. This past week, I had a returning client fromthe week before. His name was Rob, and aside from the young man Will who came from last year and his two new friends Rob was the only returning member of the program. He is te only white kid there, he is seventeen, he is six foot three, and probably weighs about two hundred and fifty pounds.
Once someone can understand how important history is to creating who an individual is, they should understand the detriment, the harmfulness and the ignorance of judgment. Of course, as I said these kids all have a commonality in their breaking the law, but Rob has an outstanding history, he isn't Rob the thief, Rob the slinger, Rob the gang member, Rob the fighter, he is rob. we might as well number the kids if there is no history, we could classify them under their offenses and give them a colored sticker, not only is their history vital to understanding who they are but it is so profoundly important to understanding where the kids can go. Rob is from Mississippi, he came to Baltimore to live with some family after his brother moved up here to play football in college with a prayer to get drafted by the NFL. He needed some money, and got mixed up in some things that landed him in cuffs.
What is so important about History to these kids, is that only one, single moment in the span of their eight, to nineteen years of life where they got caught doing something illegal has landed them here. Some of the rest of their histories are normal, lower middle class families with a good head on their shoulders, got caught for being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong group of people. What kind of a service could I provide a youth if all I see is that one instant? Some of them, however have histories of violence, histories of assault, of drugs, and some a bit worse but that is not all of their history, and that does not have to be their future.
Rob has a good head on his shoulders. He has friends trying to get him into one of he plumber's unions in Baltimore, and he is thinking about an apprenticeship this upcoming spring if he terminates the program soon enough and on good terms. I have a history too. All the things I've done, all the peopl I've known, I've helped, I've hurt those things are all a part of who I am. I'm not perfect, it isn't a right for me to be in college, to have a good family, to have a good life those are blessings and yes, they are part of my history but what is more is the choices I make. History can't be about the things you have, the things you see, the peouple you meet it isn't enough. It is about the choices you make, the connections you make, the things you do. The things I do. History isn't ever done, every new second be comes a part of it. I think the idea of service, of my being able to give time and energy especially in the case of my 'clients' is to teach them how to make their history push them where they need to be. If history is going to be behind you your whole life, let it push you not hold you back.
I think what I can understand from Choice, from Wendt, and from Figiel is that what is important about history, is not exactly the history itself but what it makes a person. I have dome some things I am not proud of, I never got caught. I learned from them, these kids are learning from them. The history is what you make it, the history is what you let it make you and you are a product of that journey. Someone like Rob, in the position he is; maybe a bit more down on his luck then he would like to be right now know better than most how important it is to have a history, and to change the history you'll have in five or ten years, the moment something is over it is history, it is a step too.

Hereditary Scars

I remember a dream that I once had where someone had cloned my father and someone taken away my real father and replaced him with this fake. In my dream I could tell that something was off, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until suddenly I had the epiphany that illustrated the horror of the situation. I finally realized that the clone was not my father when I noticed that he did not have a very unique and distinctive scar on the right side of his face. The dream continued to where I ran out of the house and into the street where a various array of bizarre dream-like things happened (most of which I forget), but for some reason I always remembered this beginning part of the dream, and I think it highlights a very important point.

My father got his scar in India when he was racing from work to the hospital at the news that my sister was being born. In a hurry to be there as soon as possible to welcome his daughter into the world, he was swiped by a truck and got to the hospital via an ambulance instead. Due to poor health care at the time, the scar is still a prominent fixture on his face. It does not go as far as anything disfiguring, but it is a peculiar mark that has come to represent part of what he is, or at least what he represents to me as a father figure and it has therefore been something welcomed among my siblings. I think my nightmare about the clone father demonstrates the fact that one’s history, and travel experiences, are intrinsically related to who that person becomes later in life. My father would not be the father I know if he had not been through the experience of getting that scar, so seeing him without it led me to question if it was truly the same person at all.

In They Who Do Not Grieve, the importance of travel is not so focused personally (although that is examined in some cases), but rather on the genealogical travel that takes place from Lalolagi (and even her mother), down to Mary, and then eventually to Malu. The concept of the unfinished scar as a brand that is seared into both Mary (who is then stolen away by her grandmother) and Malu who is not even told of the story or significance until right before Lalolagi’s death, does not necessarily manifest itself. Lalolagi’s unfinished tattoo should not have any influence on how Malu is viewed, and yet it is a shame that is passed down to Malu through a social structure that believes in character as being hereditarily linked.

This discussion brings to light the question of what is natural. Sometimes what is naturally and what is socially cultivated within us at an early age is difficult to distinguish between. Many of the characters discuss differences between appearance and reality such as Mrs. Winterson “putting her face on” (pg. 24) or her friend who appears so healthy yet Malu finds her “kneeling in front of a toilet with a finger down her throat…covered in her own vomit” (pg. 82). However, one of the more interesting instances is when Malu (in her dream) sees the naked flute player and the first thing she does “is not look at him…this was the most natural thing for me to do” (pg. 44). Is this truly a natural reaction? Shame and embarrassment at the sight of other naked bodies, upon closer examination, are essentially just reactions that we are cultivated to have from youth. This idea of distinguishing between what is natural and hereditary vs. what is cultivated and learned through interaction is one that Figiel explores through such situations.

This may seem like a strange relation to make back to my dream of the missing scar, but not really upon closer examination. That vigor and devotion to parenthood that unfortunately led to the accident, and thus the scar, is something that my father has passed down to me through my years. There are important things that can be passed down through family, but not inherently. What gets passed down is selectively and deliberately chosen and then relayed through story, love, interaction, and contact.
Each Wednesday morning I travel to a foreign atmosphere, I am removed from my element, and I am forced to submerge myself into a little corner of the world better known as St. Mary’s. The mornings begin as most schools do; a tap on the microphone before the announcements are read, the pledge is said, lunch is ordered, and attendance is taken. I wait in the back of the room by the windows, and watch as (typical eighth graders would) the students drag their feet into their desks, shuffle around their papers, greet each other, and wait for their teacher to start the day.
Except unlike most schools, their teacher did not show up. No warning, no notification, just decided not to come. I stood by the windows in utter disbelief, just staring at the students, the students staring back at me, waiting for me to make my first move. There was silence, as devastating and loud as the silence of Malu and Alofa, and then there were questions that could not be answered, so they might as well have been left in silence. I did not know where their teacher was, why he had not shown up, why the substitute was not there yet, or what we were supposed to do.
After what would be considered homeroom the substitute for the day arrived, along with the principle who apologized for the delay and handed the “sub” a mediocre pile of papers and assignments to keep the students busy. The substitute then proceeded to look at me, then the pile of papers, and then back at me inquiring what she should give the students to work on. She then incompetently said, “We should probably do the math and science while you’re here ‘cause I don’t really know how to help them with that since I seem to have some trouble myself.”
Making a long story short, I compiled three lessons, one in chemistry, one in algebra and one in English that morning combined with simple games and activities I remembered my old teachers using in class. I worked with students individually when they were having trouble, and in the progression of the day learned their stories, their “secrets” beyond the classroom. I was forced to look through a new scope, a new pair of lenses and became mystified by their smiling faces. I could not imagine a world where your safe haven is a place where even your teachers abandon you, but that is their world. Their world. Not just every Wednesday, but every day. I aspire to have the strength that these eighth graders carry with them as casually as they drag their backpacks in each morning.
There are many connections of this particular encounter at St. Mary’s with Sia Figiel’s novel They Who Do Not Grieve. The secrets and silence of the students can be compared to the secrets and silence of each voice of the women in the novel. The burden of these secrets and the contrast of their lives to the lives of the privileged are also relevant. However, one quote in particular is aptly related when Figiel writes, “’don’t be too angry at the world. And don’t judge people outside for what you’ve seen in here, Apa. There’s still a lot of decent folk out there. Don’t close your eyes to that, is what I’m trying to say.’”
In conjunction with this quote, while I am in awe of my students, I am troubled by their burden, which is why my return to campus on Wednesday’s is at times frustrating. It is hard for me to transition from being so enveloped in their world, to the world of my roommates beginning their day. The world of Dunkin Doughnuts, JCrew, midterms, all-nighters and text messages just seems so trivial in comparison. It is as if I am moving from a hard reality into a dreamland, and like Malu it is difficult to separate one once you have been inside the other. I feel a pit in my stomach because they have no idea what I just experienced, what I just witnessed fourteen year olds go through. I get angry at their world, but in time I am able to step back and realize it is nothing to hold against them or myself, just because our world is different does not mean they or I are “bad people.” We just happen to be on the opposite side of the spectrum, but there is still concern, we are not indifferent.
Additionally, after reading this quote over and over, I realized that it was not solely related to preventing me from judging the people I interact with on campus after experiencing my encounters at St. Mary’s. In truth, it is more closely correlated with the students open arms to me. That after all that they have seen in their lives, it is fascinating that they are not angry at the world in the least even though they do not ignore the injustices. Better yet, as the clear outsider both economically and ethnically they do not judge me in response to what they face. They do not place blame, or point fingers. As children, my students still have faith in humanities common decency, and I believe Figiel’s major point is as we grow older, our greatest effort should be not to close our eyes to that fragile faith in humanity.

Language and Community

“Language binds us together. Language and memories…Memories. Secrets that we alone know. That we will carry to our graves, to our graves” (165). This quote touches upon one of the most important themes within They Who Do Not Grieve, that of language and the ability to communicate. This book is full of stories of different families and different generations, yet they all are bound together by language. Furthermore, everyone’s name in this book means something, and thus tells a story of its own. Language is the arena through which all things are connected and flow, like the river from the beginning of the book. Not only is language extremely important in this book, but silence as well. As we discussed in class, even though Malu is our narrator and is telling us the stories of her and her family, in reality, she is silent most of the time. It seems that despite language’s role in the novel, there are certain factors that impede Malu from being herself and truly speaking out. As we have seen, Lalolagi is someone who abuses her granddaughter physically and verbally, which prevents Malu from saying what she truly wants to say. However, despite Malu’s silence, language still pervades the book as it is the means through which these women’s stories are told. Without language, Lalolagi would not be able to teach Malu about the past and about the future. Furthermore, even though these women such as Ela, Lalolagi, and even Mary, are shunned and shamed by the other villagers, language is something that travels from generation to generation, despite whatever may have happened in the past. In this book, language is so powerful because it connects all the characters to one another and it is the way through which characters learn about who they truly are.

Another interesting part of language within this book is the self conflict certain characters feel over learning English, a language different than their own. When Alofa moves in with her Aunt Viv, she is terrified of speaking English for fear she will say something wrong. This is reminiscent of Malu who wonders why she should speak when she has nothing significant to say. It seems that in the second and third books, language is even more prevalent and is a part of every character’s story. When Apa, the mailman/painter, tells Alofa his story, he says of his first language, “He felt that if he lost it, he would lose himself, since it was the only thing that belonged to him. His only sure possession” (207). Not only does language make us human, but it gives us a sense of identity. Speaking English is a desire for the characters in this book, it’s a necessity. Alofa says, “I used the English language only when it was necessary. That is, when it was demanded of me” (185). This difficulty of language is something that I’ve experienced personally and also something that it relevant to my service learning. Just today, I received an email from my service coordinator which included a quote from a student at the Esperanza center: “My name is Carlos. I came 3 months ago to Baltimore City. I am from Ecuador. For me, life is different because I cannot communicate with people. This is the reason why I want to learn English. English is important to look for a job.” Learning a foreign language is incredibly hard, as I’ve come to realize, especially for people who are not just traveling to another country for pleasure and want to learn the language for fun. Instead, people like those I tutor are learning English as a necessity. Even though the classes I help to teach usually cover a specific topic like items in the classroom or introducing yourself to someone, there have been many times when the students just want to know how to say everyday things that are useful to their lives.

Thinking back to my time in Spain, it was certainly difficult to communicate at times and I can sympathize with Alofa’s feelings, but I wasn’t making a living in another language, unlike these students at my service learning. I know for me I at times had trouble thinking of what to say or how to say it but I was also taking language classes five days a week. These men and women work two, sometimes three jobs and can come to class only when they can find the time. I think back to when I just got to Spain: I didn’t know where anything was and I had trouble communicating even with my own roommates, and that is what it is like for some of these people who have only been in the U.S. for several months. Doing this particular kind of service has really made me aware of the value of language and communication. We’ve talked about how travel can open your eyes to things that you had never before realized, and in turn, it can also make you aware of things you possess that others may not. This service experience has definitely made me more conscious of the things I am grateful for. Furthermore, I’ve realized the important of community; the center where I work is a place where anyone can come and receive the help they need. Also, I travel there every week with a group of Loyola students and we are able to share our experiences with one another. In relation to our class readings, even though Malu experiences negative things in her life, she does so surrounded by a community of people who, though at times can be forceful, do truly care for her. In view of that, Sia Figiel shows the importance of familial ties and the enduring strength of female relationships.