Tuesday, September 28, 2010


where learning happens

to my congressman

I recently became a naturalized American citizen. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1995, and I have held a green card since the year 2000. I am originally Swedish.

As required, I attended a swearing-in ceremony. People standing around me, in line, and during the ceremony, were friendly, helpful, and excited. There was chatting between strangers, and photos were taken. Overall is was a great experience.

However, there was one thing that concerned me that I want to bring to your attention.

As we were lining up to enter the building, over the friendly chatter you could hear the loud unfriendly voice of one of the officers working at the event. He would walk the line checking documents, and whoever hadn’t signed the letter each person was supposed to bring was asked to do so.

When signing the letter the applicant is asked to state the date and city of the signature. This lead the officer to quizzing the applicants who hadn’t yet signed the document on what city we were in. Some of the people in line were confused, and named a neighboring city. To me this is an easy mistake to make if you are not from the area. There are no obvious borders between the cities that make up the greater San Jose, Calif. area.

It’s also an easy mistake to make if you get intimidated by having an officer talk to you in a loud and unfriendly voice, while wearing dark glasses.

If the applicants were confused, the officer would continue asking them questions about the date, and their name, in the same loud and unfriendly voice. This went on for quite some time. When someone would get an answer correct, he would yell condescendingly, “There you go!”.

When my section reached the front of the line, there were 4 or 5 shorter lines to choose from, each leading to a door. Some people were hesitant, wondering if they were supposed to stand in a certain line. I was wondering the same thing. The same loud unfriendly voice told us that, “This is not hard, pick a line! Just like at the super market, pick the shortest one!”

At that point I turned around to get a closer look at him. I found his behavior rude, and unnecessary. As I turned around, the people standing directly behind me looked at me and quietly shook their heads.

As I stated earlier, I am originally Swedish. I am used to being one of the few white people present at any event or occasion relating to immigration. The swearing-in ceremony was no exception. There were a handful of Northern European faces in the crowd, but overwhelmingly the crowd was made up of people of color.

The man who consistently used a loud and unfriendly voice to speak to the crowd, and to members of the crowd, was one of the few other white faces I saw that afternoon. As a white person, and now as a white American, my heart sank when I saw and heard him in action. With his presence, and his use of language, he was intimidating people of color who wanted nothing but to please, and do things right. He was stressfully organizing a crowd that was happy, friendly, and accommodating. He created stress where there was none.

Maybe this officer needs some support. Maybe organizing 400+ people takes more staff than the few officers I saw working the lines.

Or, maybe the officer needs to work on his sensitivity towards other people. Maybe he is not aware of the impact his presence has.

From experience I know that many white Americans do not understand the impact they may have on people of color. They don’t understand that they speak, and act, from a position of strength, and power.

To put it bluntly: On the very day when the people at the ceremony were to be made equals in American society, it looked to me as if it was reinforced to us that we are not equal. We were quizzed, bullied, and yelled at by a stressed-out tall, big, white guy, wearing dark glasses.

I don’t think that is right.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Dan and I took a trip to Eureka, Arcata, Crescent City, Mendocino, and Fort Bragg last week. Bunch of photos are here: click.

pacific coast

pacific fog

stand up 2 cancer

I caught a glimpse of the Stand Up 2 Cancer telethon on Friday night. We were going out to dinner so I only watched for a few minutes, but had I had more time I probably would have watched more. As a cancer survivor I obviously feel a strong connection to others struck by the disease, and I value the support.

At the same time, there was something about the entire thing that I did not like. I couldn't put my finger on it, but the next day I found this column in the Washington Post, where writer Hank Steuver comes out kind of harshly against the telethon. He ends his piece like this:

[Cancer in America] is sacrosanct. Getting it, fighting it, coming back from the brink of it and even dying from it -- these are the sacraments of cancer, America's secular religion.

There are lots of comments to the column, and many of those are negative. How dare anyone criticize a good cause?

I liked the piece. It pointed out the use of celebrities to act as stylish preachers, and that hit the mood well, I thought.

But there was something else, too, that annoyed me. I realized I was annoyed the same way I was after having seen Slumdog Millionaire, the immensely popular movie about a boy from a Mumbai slum who wins big on a TV game-show. I think the movie turned an awful reality into a feel-good moment for privileged westerners, and at the same time allowed us, the privileged westerners, to continue doing nothing for kids who grow up with nothing.

The cancer telethon turned an awful reality into something palatable. It repackaged the horrors of cancer into something desirable.

I had five months of chemo. The reality? I hated being bald. I hated painting on my eyebrows in the morning. I hated gaining weight. I hated the smell in the chemo center. Now I have chronic joint pain. And those are the things I am comfortable talking about in public. There are many more side effects of chemo and radiation, during and after treatment, that I don't talk about. Why? I don't want to. It's private.

And that's not even mentioning the fact that cancer kills people. When you are diagnosed you are scared shitless. You deal with the information as well as you can, and you make choices that you believe will take you through the months of treatment that lay ahead.

I did well during treatment, I worked, and I didn't complain. I do well now. I can handle what's going on, and I am not scared. But that shouldn't lead anyone to think it's easy. It's not.

The telethons, and the well meaning, and well groomed, celebrities, and the bald women in chic glasses, all make it look easy and attractive.

I had a student once, a white young man, who said that "If I were Mexican my life would be easier, because then I'd know who I was". To any person of color that statement is laughable. It completely negates the experience of under represented groups. Obviously, in America life is easier for a white person.

"Cancer survivors have a purpose", said the Today Show's Ann Curry in an interview with fellow morning star, and cancer survivor, Good Morning America's Robin Roberts.

That's the image we want to see, and constantly recreate: Cancer creates strength and purpose, and beauty in bald heads. We're almost saying, as misguidedly as my student, that life would be easier if we were cancer survivors.

Cancer is not pretty. The fact that everything on television has to be pretty is doing a disservice to survivors, and patients, and to all of us. I'm not a very religious person, but it seems to me a dose of old-fashioned religion would be helpful. Instead of turning to a 'new religion', we should be grateful for what we have, value our time on earth, and try to do good. We all have a purpose. Cancer does not give that to us.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

dispatches from daddyland

I've recently come across this blog (I don't remember how), written by an American living in Sweden. His reflections from the other side of Swedish-American migration, compared to my own, is extremely interesting. I recommend his blog to anyone curious on what that 'socialism' really looks like from the inside.

Sunday, September 05, 2010


Four good movies I've seen lately:

Sweet Land tells the story of Norwegian immigrant farmers in Minnesota in the 1920s.
- In the Bedroom, lots of sadness but in a good way with my favorite Tom Wilkinson, and Sissy Spacek.

Those two were on Netflix. These two I've seen in the theater:

- The American, the new movie where George Clooney builds a gun. Don't trust anyone who doesn't like it. It's great.
- Get Low, with Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek (again, but that's a coincidence). Lovely.

truckload of new photos

I've updated my smugmug galleries. Click here to see new Hipstamatics, and here to see new regular old photos.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

will cancer kill you?

Everybody's favorite actor, Michael Douglas, has been diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer. He has a tumor the size a walnut at the base of his tongue, that was caused by drinking and smoking. Stage 4 means that the cancer has spread to other organs, and in general that is a very serious diagnosis.

Obviously this is awful news. On Tuesday Douglas went on the Late Show with David Letterman to talk about his upcoming film, and his illness. It seems that he and Letterman are friends, and it was a touching interview.

Today I caught a minute of Entertainment Tonight (or some show like that), and heard a woman ask the rhetorical question, "Will Michael Douglas loose his famous voice?".

Well, he might, obviously. And I am sure he is dealing with that possibility as well as he can, given the fact that his voice is his livelihood.

Famous people with cancer or other challenges are often held up as examples in our culture. They are complemented for their strength, and fawned over.

Or, they are treated with no respect at all. Drives me crazy.

grandpa climbing a tree

dirt and a red bucket

I just found this photo of my grandma and me. I've always liked it because I like how grandma is sitting in the dirt in her city outfit playing with me.

I'm around a year old, and my grandma is a little over 60. It's amazing to me what 60 looked like then, and how different it looks today.

(Grandpa took the picture. He had a good eye.)