Archive for November, 2006

Thursday November 30, 2006

November 30, 2006 - 7:10 am 2 Comments

It´s been quite a while since my last update. As the academic year draws to the close, I am inundated with a variety of papers, presentations, and exams. In the course of one week, I managed to write two 25 page Spanish papers (one is a group paper, the other is not), in addition to three 8-page short essays about topics of Spanish literature and history. In addition, I had an in-class presentation on EU employment policies. In regards to the latter, despite the language barrier, the professor told me that our presentation was “phenomenal”. In my opinion, this positive verdict stems from the fact that unlike Spanish students, we synthesized a cohesive argument instead of just wrote repetition. At this point, I am no longer afraid of the language. Certainly, I commit quite a few gramamtical errors when I speak and write, but the hesitance and embarassment of language use have eliminated.

In regards to my work at Nantik Lum, the publication project has been finished. Since Nantik Lum has connections to Muhummad Yunus and the Grameen Bank (there are very few microcredit institutions in Spain), I helped in the creation of a dossier for him about the Spanish microfinance system. Though I must admit, although I strongly believe in the power of microcredits, I am convinced that they don´t function as well in a developed country, no matter the accompanying rhetoric. Due to high cost of living and mature market, loan sizes are too big (average 14,000 euros), making repayment very difficult, and the probability of business failure increases due to sensitive consumer demand.

Today, I created a powerpoint presentation that my supervisor will give tomorrow at a microcredit conference. My next major assignment is to finish the project proposal to change current microcredit operations in Chiapas…quite a major responsability. Given that my supervisor used to do investment banking M&A before she decided that the pressure was not worth it, our organization is quite efficient in comparison to other non-profits. Of course, this is despite the fact that she keeps hours of 10 AM to 4 PM with a two hour lunch break in between. Ah, a wonderful introduction into the Spanish work ethic (or lack thereof).

I got an urgent call today from the debate coach this afternoon, asking me whether I´d be willing to go to a regional tournament in Bilbao (around 5 hours away). Evidently, one of the key debaters dropped at the last moment due to some unforseen circumstance. Generally, I´m not invited to go to these tournaments due to the fact that they are highly prestigious (each school only gets to send a few slots), but since the debater and the coach are desperate, I was the logical choice. I leave tomorrow at 7 AM tomorrow and come back on Sunday.

Topic: Does globalization aid or exacerbate poverty?


As for my housing situation, I have resigned myself to just weathering out the remaining 20 days. Only 25 days until my family comes! Hard to feel the Christmas cheer, however, when I live with the Grinch. (She honestly does have an uncanny physical resemblance to the aforementioned green monster.) Then again, I´ve stopped being cooperative and have launched my own resistance, which I admit, can be construed of as subversively devious. =)

Saturday November 11, 2006

November 11, 2006 - 9:19 am 1 Comment

Democrat Victory!! My state turned blue…ahh, I would have never imagined if you asked me in January.

Much has happened since the last time I posted. I’ll provide a quick summary below:

1. Spanish Debate Competition – Intrepidly (or foolhardily) barging headfirst into the Trofeo Rector competition, I had a lot of fun debating the topic of Spanish immigration as the only non-Spaniard competitor. The resolution was framed quite oddly: Is it possible for immigrants in Spain to achieve cultural and social integration? The peculiarity of the phrasing suggests that the negative position is pretty much nonexistent (who can possibly argue AGAINST the possibility of cultural and social integration when empirically examples of this phenomenon abound?) As a result, ALL the rounds that I participated in gave the debate to the affirmative position. My partner and I passed the preliminary rounds (how with my Spanish, I do know…), and semifinals will be held next week.

2. Math Minor – In the spirit of my father and little sister, I have resumed studying math. It’s quite odd – I look forward to my days more because I feel as if I learn something substantial through my own volition. When I get back to Penn, I’ll take Stat 430, 431 and Math 240 and 241. (Actually, I’m considering taking Math 114 as well. Although I came into Penn with the knowledge, I sadly have forgotten most of it. Since a lot of math is cumulative and self-reinforcing, I want to make sure I get the foundation right.) It’s quite depressing how much I’ve forgotten in the past three years! Nevertheless, now that I truly see the value and application, my attitude has changed. Coming from a high school with a preponderance of veritable math geniuses, it’s quite true that I developed a bit of a math inferiority complex which prompted me to shy away from the minor my freshman and sophomore years. But now, wiser and more audacious, I will venture back into this field!

Tuesday November 7, 2006

November 7, 2006 - 5:03 am 3 Comments

I think I rightfully deserve to be angry. I’ve tolerated a lot from my home-stay already – I’m patient about the food and the fact that I don’t really get enough of it, I take the quips about being Chinese in good jest, I let go of my irritation over her disrespect of my room and possessions when I travel, and I understand that since my host señora has never been a mom, she is not a very warm, accommodating, or caring person. For all the little dislocations that I’ve been subjected to, I’m willing to write it off as a cultural difference.


But today’s discussion just showed me how ugly the roots of racism and xenophobia can be, and why, I can never feel fully comfortable in this society. What’s the cut off point between justifying the conflict as a cultural difference versus a serious offense?


Dinner is usually a good opportunity for me to talk about my day. But today, an innocent subject revealed the festering silenced issues of this society. When I informed everyone that I’ll be participating in the Trofeo Rector debate tournament, I did so in good humor. Casually, I let everyone know that the topic is: Is it possible for immigrants to be integrated culturally and socially into Spain?


Little did I know that the señora would take this opportunity to slander and stereotype every ethnic group. Without thinking, she answered the question with a resounding no – that it is impossible for immigrants to ever achieve assimilation. Trying to keep the atmosphere light, I mentioned the fact that perhaps integration is difficult for the first generation, but with time and exposure to the language and culture, future generations can encounter more opportunities. Certainly, the United States clearly illustrates this concept.


Then, she started talking about Chinese people. Granted, I can’t change what she thinks. But to say what she said in front of me, knowing that I am Chinese and that my parents did immigrate to the United States, was not only untactful and insensitive, but downright rude and wrong.


She said that Chinese people come to Spain only to exploit other Chinese people. That although they have been in Spain for a significant time, Chinese people reject the opportunity to be assimilated because they form their own mafias and profit from underhanded dealings. Hence, she argued that since the Chinese are afraid of being caught by the police, they willingly choose to separate themselves from the Spanish. 


In a relatively lighthearted manner, I mentioned the fact that many Chinese people in Spain own their own restaurants and convenience shops (stable income and contribution to the Spanish welfare system), and that the second generation pretty much speaks fluent Spanish and has pursued higher education opportunities.  As a means to close the discussion, I mentioned that certainly, problems exist today as a result of poor education and poverty, but with government aid and a mentality of openness and inclusion, that these problems can be surmounted in the future.


By this time, I was clearly uncomfortable with the topic, even more so because we’re speaking in Spanish and I cannot express myself clearly. My host señora somehow got very antagonistic. She said that Chinese people work very hard because they exploit each other – that their restaurants and shops are open longer because they have mafia means of forcing them open. That future generations never leave the slums because rightfully, no rightfully, no Spaniard wants to live in the same district as them due to the fact that having one Chinese person in the neighborhood means that in the future, more Chinese will come, thereby eroding cultural cohesion and the social fabric. Thinking that I would be satisfied with a simple, “Oh, you’re not like them”, she continued with her offensive diatribe.


At this point, she spoke with the certainty of ALL. That ALL Chinese have mafia connections and are connected to the underground economy. That all of them are clearly violating the law and exploiting each other, and hence, no matter how benevolent the Spanish government is, that the situation will never change. Hence, the government should not be trying to help them assimilate because clearly, they don’t want to be part of the society.


Even I know that there’s no point in arguing over ideology. I just sat their tight-lipped with a very placid, stoic expression, incapable of smiling away this transgression as I have continually done for the past few months. The Spanish girl and the American girls looked clearly uncomfortable.


The Señora then had the audacity to continue. Does she honestly think that by bashing other groups that she will make me feel less violated for what she said about the Chinese? She said that crime, disease, killing, and robbing pertain to certain ethnic groups. That Columbians kill, rob, and deal drugs, while Ecuadorians and Western Europeans don’t. Standing up, she slammed her fist on the table and pronounced that Spanish jails are filled with South Americans – that her tax money was used to provide social services to criminals (i.e.: immigrant social welfare programs) and feed them in prisons. (She also made the claim that other than ETA members, no Spaniard is in jail.)


When I hinted at the fact that perhaps it’s not the race itself that causes criminal activity, but rather poverty and lack of education (an issue of circumstance rather than nature), she clearly rejected the idea. I mentioned that in the United States, immigration from Latin America has caused some initial social dislocation, but that slowly, the second generations have adapted well and achieved greater assimilation as they leave poverty and learn the language. In response, she claimed that the situation in the United States differs from that of Spain because our immigrants are all from Mexico and Mexicans don’t kill or rob. This notion, of course, is clearly ridiculous.  


I was sick of the conversation. There was no point in arguing with someone who just does not understand.


As a means of retaliating for my comment about how immigration has strengthened the United States and that perhaps keeping an open mindset is the most important, she said that the United States was very “sick” (direct translation) in even thinking about constructing a wall to block out illegal immigrants. (This of course, doesn’t make much sense considering that a xenophobic and racist attitude is much more offensive than building a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, especially when Spain has also attempted to do the latter.)


As a further barb, she said that clearly, all Spaniards think the way that she does. Consequently, she informed me that my debate partner (who I have not yet met) will have trouble working with me if I think so many good things about immigration – a personal insult with a connotation that suggests ignorance on my part.


Then, she claimed that she would not be surprised if 1/3rd of all immigrants to Spain were criminals, not only robbing the country of tax money, but perpetuating crime, murder, disease, and theft. (Here I was, thinking that she would say that although the majority of immigrants really come for just economic benefits, that the most visible minority were the delinquents. How wrong I was!)


I won’t commit the same mistake that she did by generalizing that ALL Spaniards are as close-minded as my host señora. Clearly, with all the microcredit work targeted at immigrants and the various social entrepreneurship ventures geared towards socially excluded populations (the subject of a seminar I’m currently taking), many Spaniards take a pro-active attitude in promoting labor, cultural, and social integration, recognizing the importance of the issue. With Spain’s geographic position as the gateway to Europe from Africa and its common language with Latin America, the influx of immigrants from the developing world will not be stymied. Instead of just denying the existence and utility of immigrants, many realize that if no social program exists to address immigrant concerns, that poverty, crime, and social dislocations will continue. Instead of hiding from the reality, some Spaniards have established programs with highly commendable results.


In fact, at work, one of the research papers I’ve been working on links microcredit loans to integration of immigrants, recognizing that exclusion, crime, and disease exists because of poverty, and that the creation of a stable job can eliminate many social ills.


These are the moments that I feel truly alien to this country, despite knowing more about its history, literature, poetry, art, and philosophy than perhaps the majority of its inhabitants.


The fact that she says that the Chinese profit from exploiting the Chinese, however, hurts the most because it makes me feel as if I come from a lesser culture, one that prospers by abusing itself and yet defers to exterior powers and peoples. Certainly, throughout history, Spaniards have done the same to Spaniards as a means to gaining political momentum to push through a plethora of regime changes, but this reputation no longer persists. In fact, like many other cultures, Spaniards treat other Spaniards with greater respect because of their common heritage.


The Chinese reputation of self-exploitation leaves an acrid taste. Perhaps this little fact hurt the most because sadly, I’ve seen examples in which it was substantiated, in which Chinese people treat each other horribly, but treat foreign people (white, predominantly) so well.


Since other cultures can clearly perceive this internal conflict very clearly, their bad impressions of the Chinese are unmistakably reinforced.


This has got to change.


But what can I do? Even if my host señora didn’t share her opinion with me, I know she’ll continue thinking these thoughts. Prejudices rankle under silent speculation, never subject to the discerning truth of dialogue. Part of me is appreciative of the fact that I finally was able to gauge the depth of the bias. It’s just ironic that she does not tolerate any criticism I make of Spanish society (EX: I can’t believe how inefficient the police station was), but she believes she has the prerogative to insult what I believe in and who I am.

Monday November 6, 2006

November 6, 2006 - 12:37 pm 2 Comments

Life is proceedings quite well. Despite my rather tenuous grasp of the language, I’m a very active participant in class (which is often surprising because almost no Spanish students participate…heh, how painful it is to watch me stutter out my opinion each class period.) Next week, I’ll have my first major presentation.

Today was a critical class for my seminar on businesses in environments of exclusion becauseI have to write a case study on IUNA. Too bad I did not understand the director of this organization at all! I literally sat there and felt…excluded. Ah, how ironic.

This Wednesday, I’ll be participating in a Spanish language debate on the subject: Can immigrants be assimilated culturally, socially, and economically into Spain? As the only non-native debate competitor, I’m sure my opinion will be rather…unqualified…though surely, I’ll present the most coherent arguments possible.

Ah, I was just sitting here when an executive MBA candidate offered me a job teaching English for a group of graduate school aspirants ( Ah, I have to turn it down…too busy! Much is happening with Nantik Lum and classes.