Wednesday, July 20, 2011

how do you define family?

“The greatest gift we bear is our ability to grow in relationship with others”
Margaret Wheatly

How do you define family?
Does it include the Ryan-Valella bloodlines reaching far and wide into my very being inspiring dreams of travel to southern Italy in search of my maternal grandparents’ small mountainous village in the province of Calabria or journeying north to the island of Ireland to visit my father’s ancestral grounds in the Wexford County; journeying to reacquaint myself with the ancestors of our blood clans?

Does it also include the wide variety of friends i proudly call ‘Farm Family’ who embrace our yearly visits with open arms, beds to nest in, land to eat from, animals to tend to, memories to cultivate, tears of joy and sorrow to share and learn from?

Does it also include the gathering of new friends who welcome us into their lives through sacred fires, through ceremonies of peace and healing, of blessings and renewl; through the sharing of painful histories that include my ancestors and their intimate part of unforgivable pain; through developing new paths, new understandings to peace and friendship?

Does it also include friends who insist you come for dinner while passing through their small fishing village to find long extended hugs and people you know immediately even if you are meeting them for the first time, the priest from Kerala, India, the friends of friend’s daughters who we picked up hitchhiking on the side of the road; to the of sharing food, gathering stories, exchanging addresses?

Does it also include the Village kids that come and go from our home looking for simple connections of love and praise, for mangoes and grapefruits, for a piece of food from our daily pot, for paper and crayons, for cold glasses of water, for the basic ingredients of love, presence?

Does it also include village brethren sitting at the edge of get-togethers talking their talk, sharing their laughter; or sistren arms draped around one another waiting for the next piece of advice, suggestion, soft offerings of well thought out opinions?

Does it also include best friends from the beginning of childhood who throughout the years simply know your story, deeply entwined even with the passing of time and long stretches of distance, the sharing of daughters; a simple intuitive act of mothering one another’s tribe.

Does it also include definitions of family growing, expanding, blending, weaving into a kaleidoscope of meaning; embracing the word family in all its unique forms, in all its funny magnificent shapes spilling over into many worlds knowing we are all one world, one family.

How do you define family?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

workings of privilege and power

Kayla and her brother Amry

News finally arrived from the Canadian High Commission, Kayla’s temporary visitor’s visa was denied. Kayla will not be travelling to Canada at the end of the month as planned. Kayla will not be taking part in the cultural immersion program that we have been planning for the past couple months. I have learned once again not to assume anything. I assumed Kayla would get her temporary visa. This assumption was based on my own na├»ve beliefs that a youth from another country seeking educational and leadership opportunities would be welcomed into Canada just as last year’s applicant, Alison Haris’ was welcomed.

Kayla’s visa application did not meet the requirements to satisfy the Canadian High Commission’s reviewing process. The application did not meet the requirements needed to ensure the minds of whoever reviewed Kayla’s application that she would not overstay her welcome in Canada. This conclusion was based on the following reasons: 1) lack of travel history; 2) purpose of visit; 3)current employment situation of Kayla’s parents; and 4) Kayla’s parents’ current personal assets and financial status.

The irony of the first reason, kayla’s lack of travel experience, had me sucking my teeth in one long stoops (for non-Caribbean readers a stoops is triggered when one is annoyed, impatient, and in disbelief over the sheer stupidity of a comment, situation, and or experience). I believe the irony here speaks for itself. The second reason had me puzzled and then angry. I could not understand how a cultural immersion program was not a sufficient enough purpose for a Grenadian youth to embark on a trip to Canada. A program that involves youth empowering activities such as taking part in a social justice youth camp, working on an organic farm and engaging in other educational activities that seek to assist youths in working for personal and social change. The third and fourth reasons, Kayla’s parent’s current employment situation, personal assets and financial status also caused me great confusion (am I just not getting it!) followed by another long stoops. As a friend put it simply and bluntly, “I guess we do not want ‘poor’ people’s children visiting our country.” In conclusion the Reviewer states if applicant decides to reapply she should do so only if your situation has changed significantly. More confusion and anger arose and I was left wondering how Kayla’s situation was going to change significantly in order to prove to the “Powers that Be” she is worthy enough to visit Canada.

I assumed Kayla’s visa application would be approved. I based these assumptions on last year’s acceptance of Alison Harris’ application, another Grenadian youth who comes from a similar background as Kayla. I based these assumptions on the same reasons that were used to deny Kayla’s right to travel. My assumptions were faulty. Perhaps if I did not assume anything I would have built a stronger application package for Kayla that may have included further references that proved Kayla’s ‘significant’ worthiness to travel. Through this experience i learn not only the danger of making assumptions but also the workings of privilege and power that deny many of our global brothers and sisters the right to travel and experience other parts of the world.