479. Ziggy’s Diary: 7

Everyone who’s here met the guru in either L.A. or London. I find myself fascinated with his accent and his manner of speaking. In the States the more sophisticated the topic of your speech is, the more refined your accent is. That’s just how it is. But when Veddy speaks, there’s a twist–because of course he’s got a heavy Indian accent but there’s also part of a British accent in his English. And sometimes when he is getting deep into a speech about some deeply sophisticated philosophical point, his accent and his grammar both get more and more British-sounding and less Indian. But then he catches himself, and he reverts to almost pidgin English, as if his message is better absorbed as exotic and mystical and deep if he sounds more like a guy who lives in a cave than one who got a degree at Oxford.

It takes a faker to know a faker. Trust me.

I’m not saying he’s not a good guru. I don’t have much point of comparison though. He makes some thought-provoking points about the self and enlightenment. But so do a lot of books, right? There’s a room with shelves of the Indian classics here, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita. None of them are in English. A few are in Spanish but my Spanish is too rusty and weak to read philosophy in it. Isn’t that sad?

My mother didn’t want me speaking Spanish when I was growing up. It was one of the only reasons she ever beat me, because of Spanish coming out of my mouth.

She thought it would hold me back in life if I had an accent.

She also didn’t want me going out in the sun because it would make my skin brown. My father must have been a light-skinned man because she’s right. If I don’t get sun, I’m white.

If I speak English, I’m white.

It’s a little disturbing to think that my mother wished for a white child the way other women wish for a boy or a girl. I think my mother didn’t care what sex I came out but she cared about my color. My older half brothers are both very dark with kinky hair.

She wanted a white child who would get somewhere in society and take care of her.

That’s what I’ve done.

Children know, though. They know if you’re different. They’re trying so hard to put names on things–isn’t that what half those children’s books are about?–they look at you and they know right away you’re not like them. I got those questions all the time as a kid. “Where are you from?” As if I came from some other country. As if only white people ever lived in America? “What are you?” They want a label, black, white, Indian, Japanese–I didn’t have a word to give them. “What are your parents?” I don’t have a father. If I wanted to give an answer and didn’t want to give a huge explanation I would say my mother was Turkish Brazilian. Because at least those were countries people had heard of and then I wasn’t saying she was Spanish-speaking, since I knew she wouldn’t like that. I sometimes said Turkish Portuguese, which was fancier-sounding. Europe was more prestigious than South America, anyway. You learn that shit quick on the playground when respect is in short supply and the bullies are trying to figure out who to target.

My mother doted on me. Spoiled me as rotten as possible. But I will never forget that beating. How vicious her fear was. She was having hysterics, her voice distorted into a high screech. I don’t know who cried more, me or her. After that, I never dared ask her about where we were from or what kind of blood we had.

Which wasn’t to say I didn’t speak Spanish when it suited me, as long as she wasn’t around. When I was in high school and I wanted to blend in with a Puerto Rican gang in New York, I had no problems. Can’t even call it a gang really since it was just the some kids, not like organized crime. More like gang wannabes, I guess. I hung around them because they had the best drugs and the girls all did anal because they were saving their chochas for marriage. I didn’t spend too much time with them, though. Too macho. After I got the ringleader to suck me it was going to end badly and I mean West Side Story badly if anyone found out. Not worth someone getting hurt or dead over. So I disappeared after that. Easy to do. New York is big but people mostly swim in their own little ponds. Jumping to the next pond over is easy.

Veddy knows how to jump ponds. I think he genuinely wants to help people but doesn’t think he can do it by being genuine. Or maybe the genuine Veddy is too hard to believe in. People want to believe he simply crawled out of a cave one day a Jedi Master. They want to believe in Yoda. But no one talks about how Yoda got to be that way. Wasn’t he a hotheaded young apprentice once who had to be schooled and make mistakes and all that? These people aren’t here for that. They’re here to stare at the complexities in their own souls, the selfish fucks, and they don’t want to have to contemplate the complexities of their guru.

So Veddy puts on the pidgin-English cave-dwelling yogi act, they buy it, and everyone’s happy. Even me, since I get to have a feeling of smug superiority over seeing through the whole thing.

I know. Smugness and superiority are two things I’m here to let go of. But how can I when I’m literally the only person here whose shit doesn’t stink?


  • Averin says:

    In writing class this week, we’ve been studying Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use.” No one else seemed to think the emphasis the mother places on the lighter-skinned ‘superior’ daughter over the darker-skinned, less smart daughter was important. But according to my mother-in-law, having light-skinned kids was the best achievement of my life.

    Lovely post to end the week on!

    • sanders says:


      Complexion and the weight placed on it is almost always a key theme in Walker’s writing. I feel bad for the rest of your class because that’s an important point to miss, and part of what makes Walker such a great writer is that she tackles race head on. Then again, it’s something people who don’t live it don’t usually want to examine because it’s messy and points to some disgusting attitudes in our histories and in our present.

      I understand about your mother-in-law, and again, *hugs*. Sadly, you’re not alone in having family members who think that way.

    • ctan says:

      The complexion thing applies in filipino and Chinese families. Pale skin is so prized. So much so that the girl children are still kept indoors, prevented from playing sports, etc. so that they can stay as white as possible. (These days they seem to be OK with the boys browning up, but the girls somehow are expected to be the ones who hold up the family “purity.” Ugh.)

      • LenaLena says:

        Funny. This reminds me of all my very white aunts who would have this competition during the summer who could get the darkest tan (usually won by my aunt Corine who looks like well worn leather these days). This was back in the days before the ozone layer and skin cancer were not yet all over the news (70s/80s). The ability to get a tan or lack of that ability was something often discussed at length…..

        Great post!

        • ctan says:

          That, too! It’s still like that among the US leisure classes — if you’ve got a tan it shows you have the leisure to lie around/frolic in the sun. It’s become a status symbol in the opposite way now that most of the working class labor is indoors.

      • Bill Heath says:

        It was interesting to me to learn in my late 40s that I was one-quarter African American. I look like the poster boy for the KKK.

        I still have the scars from beatings I suffered during sit ins and marches in the 1960s. In college I learned that attitudes can change. A fraternity brother arrived at school proudly proclaiming his membership in the Junior KKK. Three years later that same fraternity brother sponsored our fraternity’s first black brother; we were the first fraternity on campus to integrate. We already had a blind brother and two brothers who came out as gay (dangerous to your health in 1960s Appalachia). Nobody quit, and while the number of men who expressed interest in the fraternity dropped, it ensured that future members would welcome diversity.

        My wife’s parents were to-the-bone racists and she learned that at home. After two years of marriage she came around to my way of thinking.

        We always lived in integrated neighborhoods, and fired a real estate agent who would only show us pure white neighborhoods. Our children grew up viewing race as an attribute, not a defining characteristic. My oldest daughter’s grad school “husband” was black- in Tennessee. My younger daughter’s plans to room with a white and a black student her second year were dashed when the white student refused to room with a black student. That’s when she said, “I guess she is black. Never thought about it.” Both girls were in their late teens before they both had white boyfriends at the same time.

        When I lived with Arabs for several years I was shocked to learn that paler skin was preferred among them. Then I lived with Micronesians for a couple of years and learned that skin color was ignored. All very strange.

        • ctan says:

          And how weird is it that brownness is frowned on in so many ways in so many cultures, but if a person is secure in their privileged whiteness then having a tan becomes a sign of status…

  • Connie says:

    Interesting that Ziggy is back to his uber ego –to compensate for his mom’s insecurities about her ancestral makeup?

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