mardi, octobre 31, 2006

Crises of Canadian Representation, hot IT action, and Double-Dong Denzel

Thanks to the magic of a certain service that starts with a "B" and rhymes with "abhorrent," I've been keeping up on the new season of Drawn Together (warning: bandwidth-heavy site!). One of the most recent episodes involves the racist stereotype Princess Clara trying to distract the blaxploitation stereotype Foxxy Love from discovering her Munchausen-by-proxy Syndrome relationship with the insane Spongebob parody, Wooldor, by telling her (Foxxy) that there was a Denzel Washington with two penises in the other room. To which, Foxxy responds "Ooh! Double-dong Denzel!" A few moments later, she returns, disappointed, complaining that all she saw was triple-dong Wesley Snipes. What a letdown. Anyway, I just loved the alliteration in the phrase "double-dong denzel!" You had to be there (so to speak).

So I had managed to double-book myself this afternoon. I had arranged with my boss to spend the afternoon/evening taking apart a laptop and putting it back together again (and fixing it in the process, of course), but I had also agreed more than a week ago to appear in a friend's English class to speak about Canada. Anyway, thanks to the French conception of time that I've been developing, these two activities weren't mutually exclusive. The plan was that my boss and I would start the PC repair at 14h30, then I would run to the class at about 16h30 (getting there by 17h00) and then return by approx 18h30 to finish anything that was left for the PC.

Of course, it wasn't quite that easy. We were working on an HP Pavilion laptop with a broken AC power jack. Apparently, this problem has been endemic to the HP Pavilion line—to the point that some consumers have been organizing a class action suit. Apart from replacing the AC jack entirely (which is still a possibility if this fix doesn't work) the thing we're planning to do is re-solder the connection between the AC jack and the motherboard (since the connections have burned out). What complicated matters (aside from, you know, soldering a motherboard) was getting the damned thing apart. Because of the way the fan assembly was mounted to the motherboard, we had to take EVERYTHING apart to get access to the AC power jack. By 16h45, when it was already well past the time for me to leave for my friend's class, we had just finished exposing the motherboard and the AC power jack. I left everything as is and hopped the bus over to my friend's class. The path to the school was a bit confusing, but with map in hand I only got lost once and still managed to get there by 17h10. Not bad for Paris rush hour.

My friend was teaching an English class at a rather high-calibre school that apparently produces a lot of France's historians / curators. They had already had a few classes on Canada in more general terms, so the questions they had seemed to follow from their own historic(ist) interests. I started with a brief tallying of the places I've lived in Canada (Alberta, Sask., Ontario), how my parents came to Canada, and what problems we faced. In particular, I was interested in giving a contrast to the "happy multiculturalism" image that they doubtlessly got from other materials on/from Canada, so I told them an anecdote from our time in Saskatchewan. Back then (this was the 80s), there were only 3 main racial classes: white (Ukrainian ancestry, mostly), aboriginal, and métis (mix of aboriginal and early French traders). The hierarchy pretty much followed that order; the perceived hybridity of the métis made them subject to almost constant persecution. We arrived with tanned, olive complexions, dark hair and eyes, unfamiliar latinate names and no connections to the local community to validate us (keep in mind that almost everybody in Regina, Sask. was from there, going back at least a few generations, so the community was ill-equipped to integrate newcomers). Very quickly, we were cast as métis, and this impacted our experience there at all levels. Our teachers presumed us to be violent, stupid, and inferior, our playmates repeated to us what their parents told them in private, and we found ourselves making desperate attempts to explain what "hispanic" meant to kindergarteners who had never seen such a thing. Amidst all of this came a rather poignant anecdote involving a birthday party for my sister, a métis friend of hers, and many racist parents. Although I'm reluctant to repeat it all here (if anybody owns the "public rights," it's probably my sister and mother), it made the point that Canadian multiculturalism is not evenly distributed throughout the country, and it is more a utopian ideal than a cultural reality.

Of course, I had more positive things to say about my experiences in Ontario and about immigration and Canadian cultural politics, but I wanted to make it clear that hegemonies were at work here (Canada, that is) as much as elsewhere. Based on my points and the historical interests of the students in the class, the questions that followed were very pointed. What about the métis nowadays? Are there still reservations? What about forced relocation? Where are Native Canadians when they're not on reservations? As soon as I mentioned the history of boarding schools and the social/political experiment of Nunavut, they had similar questions for them. They were also interested in hearing whether or not Saskatchewan was still a racially polarized place (I didn't think so, but I haven't made much of an effort to return to that place, obviously). We wrapped up the class with a discussion (mostly between my and my friend, who is American) about the differences between political systems and parties in Canada vs. the U.S. vs. France.

The class ran a bit long, and I didn't realize that I needed to make a pretty long walk to catch the return bus to the Center, so I didn't make it back until 19h00. By then, my boss was going to leave at 19h30 anyway, so it was a bit of a wash. We put everything up in my office (carefully, of course; there were zillions of little screws and wires) and I went home for the day.

It was Halloween back in North America, and I felt as if I needed to do something, anything, to observe the occasion. After all, tomorrow is toussaint (all saints' day), which is a state holiday here, so I could go out late and drink without concern. As luck would have it, another friend (the one I helped move last Sunday) was going out for drinks, so my social life wasn't as dead as I had feared. The best part out of this whole thing was that I got to sleep in the next morning. Thank Double-Dong Denzel!

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