Thursday, July 03, 2008

Heat, titles and the 4th of July

It's really hot. I have closed the shutters and turned on the fan. I wish I could lie in a pool somewhere.

My manager (in L.A.) and I have a conference call every Wednesday. I told him I'm sending him my spec script soon. He said I need a new title. Sigh.

All night and this morning ( I woke up at 5:30 as usual) I've been trying to think of some that didn't completely suck. However, I've been distracted because of some of the comments from yesterday along with the upcoming holiday.

Yesterday as I was writing a few responses, certain feelings came flooding back to the surface. I realized that I was getting kinda angry.

Then it occurred to me I haven't felt that way since I boarded an American Airline flight to Rome.

The 4th of July is tomorrow. I've been thinking about why am I an expat? Why did I move here vs Paris? Is it normal not to miss for one second the country of your birth? A place you have lived for over 40 years? What does it meant to be patriotic?

I'm still trying to collect my thoughts so I don't ramble on or write a book. Once or if I do, I'll post more.

I do know the answer to the Paris question. I spoke about it before. This quote from the novel "THE NAMESAKE" sums it up.
"Immersing herself in a third language, a third culture, had been her refuge - she approached French, unlike things American or Indian, without guilt, or misgiving, or expectation of any kind. It was easier to turn her back on the two countries that could claim her in favor of one that had no claim whatsoever."

The character like me, is a first generation American. Her parents are from India. One of my closest friends back in New York is also of Indian decent and we used to talk all the time about of how weird it is to be a person of color in America when your parents are not American born or raised. You feel all this pressure to prove your Americaness but yet that culture is at complete odds with your parent's. Then the culture you are trying to so hard to fit into kinda doesn't want your brown or black butt to begin with. In my situation it was not fun when I was younger and because I spent my formative years in the 'burbs I spoke a certain way. i.e. white. So I had to prove I was "down" or the blackness police would take away my pass. In said suburb I heard the n-word dropped on a regular basis, even from some friends (when they would slip and say the word then look at me and say "you know I don't think you're one" or "oops sorry"). So basically I fit in nowhere.

At some point, you know what, it's fucking exhausting. In Italy I'm a "straniera" a foreigner. That's cool, it's true I am. I don't have a single Italian relative. But what is not cool is feeling like a foreigner in your own freaking country.


Sherry said...

I know exactly what you mean. I am a first generation American, parents are West Indian. Growing up in NY, I was lucky to be surrounded by kids like me, many of them first generation Americans descended from west indian, jewish, chinese, etc. parents. However, once I moved away to VA for high school my "differentness" was extremely apparent. I wasn't a black girl like the other black girls. My mom had a "funny" accent, etc. I applaud your choice to adopt the country you WANTED to be a part of. I think about doing the same thing sometimes.

glamah16 said...

Intersting post. I'm kinda feeling like you today. Last night I saw this comedians special on cable. Very Conterversial. Paul Mooney. Shocking but he makes sense and really breaks down being black in the US.Made me laugh cry, get angry, and nod my head.No race is immune from him. I always grew up feeling set apart from my own people. Becaue of my Nigerian father and ways I was treated "odd". Still am, after working in an all black enviorment for 10 years.I always feel more comfortable in a mixed group and more international crowd because we are all foreign. After all thse years I feel better when I do my own thing and march to my own drummer. I may not fit into that square peg, but thats me and I wouldnt change a thing.

Roam2Rome said...

Oh, ragazza, me too. I may be a foreigner in Italy, but it's the *only* place I don't feel like one.

We try not to let their words get to us, but they lurk, and we try not to get angry, but...

I'm an American citizen, like my father and grandfather, but I've been told by "real" Americans to leave "their" country more times than I can count.

Heck, I don't even have an American driver's license because when I went to renew it after studying college in Europe, and my only 2 sources of ID were 2 different passports, one of which happened to be an American passport.

Guess what happened?

The DMV clerk threw a FIT about how Americans shouldn't have 2 passports or speak other languages, and she flat out refused to accept the second passport as a valid ID, and did not renew my driver's license. It's still expired.

How closed minded is that? Instead of being angry, I felt sorry for her.

But my 4 languages help me in Italy and Europe, my Latin blood helps me in Italy, and that's obviously too much culture for my "home country"...

I also feel at home in big international cities like Rome.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

This is ironic, NYC, because The Namesake was the book I was referring to on my book club post, and a lot of our great discussion was another friend of mine, who grew up in NYC but whose parents are Belizian and she was first generation and I, who am white, but of mixed religious heritage and growing up in the sixties that was also not cool and put me in my own category, albeit certainly not if my skin was a different color, and I'm second generation and had a lot of the pressures to "succeed", too - my friend and I were trying to explain to these 5th and 6th generation, white, Christian, Midwestern friends a little bit of what Gogol was going through and the differences in trying to both "be American" and not "be American." And also why, for Maxine's parents, having a young man living with their daughter under their roof would be far better than her actually MARRYING said young man before her career was fully in place. (Maxine's parents' behavior was absolutely inconceivable to some of the other participants).

I escaped into different cultures (France, Russia), too, I think to experience the Straniera feeling. Be a legit straniera.

Fascinating and great post here.

Rose in Cali said...

I know of what you speak. Sometimes, I meet (older) Americans and they comment on how well I speak English. I would hope so after living here over 30 years. Talk about a back-handed compliment! But keep your thoughts and insights out there; they're necessary to get people to think, start a conversation, and hopefully change the way we all think of "home" and belonging.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

sherry - When I moved to DC it was a trip. I found it sad that some black Americans could be so narrow minded. Are we not all part of the same diaspora? Read, travel, see the world instead of making negative comments about Island folks. To be fair my relatives didn't have nice things to say about Americans or black Americans either. Then I would remind them that hello! I'm American. They would say "no you are not." Too much. ha

glamah16 - Paul Mooney is hilarious. He is also quite angry. He's like the more scathing version of Chris Rock. At my college most of the African students hung out fellow Africans, Caribbean students or European ones. They really weren't checking for the black americans. I thought that was deep. After a certain age I was tired of trying to fit into someone else's definition of who I should be. I have a diverse group of friends, I like all types of music, food and I like to travel. I am proud socially conscious black woman with a natural (ha). If someone is going to question my blackness because I think Casini is handsome or because I can appreciate classical music and hip/hop there is nothing I can do about their small mindedness.

rome2rome - that is a crazy story! She wouldn't renew your license? I read some statistic that less than 15% of Americans have a passport. I was shocked by that. Then again our president grew up super wealthy and had only been out of the country once before he was elected. I think in order to be president you need to be well traveled as you will be one of the most powerful people in the world. Back in the day I heard the go back to Africa comments. I had to tell fools I'm not from Africa but there were flights every day from JFK to St. Martin and I wish I could go. Plus unless you are native American your ancestors were immigrants too so relax.

jen - thanks. I thought it was so interesting when Maxine went to visit Gogol parents and they were horrified with how informal she was. ha. When I read that book I thought about Barack Obama. Man he must have been teased so hard with that name, which is why he went through a period where he asked to be called Barry. As an adult he doesn't see like a Barry to me at all but I guess he had to grow into his name. To think when he was first running, some in the community said he wasn't black enough then after the Rev. Wright controversy he was too black for others.

rose in cali - Okay I would hope after 30 years you would be able to speak the language of the country you live in. That is a good question...where is home?

Sara, Ms Adventures in Italy said...

3 of my 4 best friends are Indian - 1st generation Americans and we went and watched the Namesake together...I really identified with the movie and saw each of their struggles in some part of the was excellent (and Kal Penn is a good serious actor!)

I still feel like a straniera in Italy, but not that I don't belong there. But it still lacks the multicultural feel that America has - all cultures intermixing, instead of different cultures moving in separate circles (Italy).

homebody at heart said...

I grew up in San Francisco, so not only was multiculturalism accepted, it was celebrated in our family. Where I live now, I feel like a straniera because I don't value or have the same political opinion of most of the people. But, in Italy I do, I do! (That is why I worked so hard on learning to speak Italian before I went.)

Romerican said...

I hope my comments didn't upset you! It was an interesting discussion & exchange of opinions for me. I'm super sorry if they did, that wasn't my intention.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

sara - I really enjoyed the movie esp. Gogol's mom. She was the rock of that film. While I have met some Italians of different backgrounds, Japanese, Ethiopian, I agree with you that Italy is not as multi-cultural as the States. I don't think it ever will be. It's smaller and doesn't have the same immigration/descendants of slaves history. Also it was never a colonial superpower (I actually think that a good thing, less blood on it's hand) and therefore is less diverse than France, Holland or England.

homebody at heart - San Francisco is one of my favorite cities. L.A. is actually quite diverse but since we drive everywhere and it's very segregated it doesn't feel like it is.

romerican - you didn't at all!! I sorry that you thought that. I welcome debate on the blog (as long as folks keep it civil). I should have be clearer. What happened is, I started thinking about how since living here I truly feel like a huge ass weight has lifted off my shoulders. As I explored why that was it brought some painful memories I thought I had gotten over years ago. The expat experience is unique. Think of how few people esp. from America willingly pack up and move to another country. Most people in my line of work thought I was nuts once they realized I was moving here solo (if it was for a man that they would get since dating in L.A. is very tough, ha). I haven't been here very long. Who knows maybe in a few years or months even the bloom will fall off the rose but for now I'm going to be thankful that I took the risk and moved instead of becoming a bitter person sleep walking through my life.

MIlanese Masala said...

You're post has given me a lot of food for thought. I haven't read the Namesake but The Interpreter of Maladies, which is excellent and addresses a lot of the identity problems immigrants and children of immigrants experience. I'm actually going to see Jhumpa Lahiri next week in Milan so I'm pretty excited about that. I'm of Indian origin and can relate to many of her stories but the alienation she describes can happen to any ethnic group or even to non-ethnic groups. It's just a product of our times.
Growing up in Canada, it wasn't as bad as what you experienced in the States. And I really hope that Italy will embrace all the cultures that are flocking there and realize how they can enrich the country. But the current government isn't making me feel hopeful.

carol said...

Ciao cara! :) My name is Carol, I'm a brasiliana who loves Italy and the italian language. I also intend to move to Rome, but in a few years. I'm loving your blog, and this post specifically. I didn't know you're were from the islands, but I guess 'nyc/caribbean ragazza' is a hint, non? ;) Yours is a interesting story. I don't know the States, but the general image we have here in Brazil is exactly that one you're exposing: that the United States is a country who has no idea that there's actually a world beyond their borders. And that knowing and being part of that 'outside world' is an advantage, something that makes life fuller and richer. That's just sad.

I wish we could talk more! Can I have your email? I'm not a stalker, don't worry. ;) I just would really love to talk to an straniera living in Rome and working in cinema, just like I intend to do! I also have a blog, but it's in portuguese. I'm also creating a blog in italiano, però è ancora un proggeto. Baci nel cuore e buona fortuna! :)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

milanese - I agree with you regarding the current government.

I heard Ms. Lahiri's new book is outstanding. I need to pick it up. When I was in Toronto (or as my brother-in- law calls it the northern caribbean) one of my friends who have traveled to the U.S. a lot for work and for pleasure said Toronto is more of a stew rather than a melting pot. All the ingredients get to retain their flavor but come together to make a very nice dish. In the States there was more pressure to fit in. Parents would not encourage their kids to speak/learn their native language. Some people changed their names to sound less ethnic, for example David Chase (creator of the Sopranos. His real last name is De Cesare). The younger generation does seem more open minded to me. The demographics of the States is changing. It's becoming even more multicultural so those who still have issues with "the other" need to get over it.

carol - thanks for the compliments and for stopping by. I sent you a message.

U.S. domestic issues are very important but at the same time we really need to step up and teach world geography and foreign affairs. People other than news junkies, or Political Science majors need to know what is going on in the world. The growing China/Russia alliance, Mr. Chavez in Venezuela, Iran, Zimbabwe, the escalating tension between long time enemies Japan and China etc. all these things do actually impact America. The U.S. makes up only 6 percent of the world population. We cannot continue to treat our allies poorly. We need them. Bush has completely messed up our foreign policy. I'm glad he has to leave in November.

Los Angelista said...

Being here in Northwest Indiana on the 4th is totally a trip because you know all the "Born in the USA"/ Proud to be an American/4th of July advertising does NOT include anyone with a speck of color. I'm asking myself, am I really only a little over an hour from Chicago's South Side? AAGH! It makes me feel like I'm a foreigner too, and actually, every time I'm outside the States, no one thinks I'm American (till I talk) because I'm not white. Anyway, hope it cools off for you!

Yvonne said...

Another fab post. God, I'm so thrilled that I stumbled upon your blog. As an African American NYU film and journalism school drop-out who's been dancing around the indie film world for years in various capacities, it's been wonderful following your journey via the blog.

I'm 38 years old, the last single woman in Philadelphia, and each day I have the nerve to be less than thrilled with the well-paying corporate job I finally secured after years of starving--and I do mean starving--in 'the arts'.

I'm currently stashing away as many funds as I can in anticipation of becoming that mythical unicorn--a successful, black female screenwriter, yes, even at my 'advanced' age--so reading your posts has been really affirming. I finally hit my keyboard with a vengeance three weeks ago and I haven't looked back. Just knowing you're out there following a similar path with such grace is a thrill.

Oh--I also left the U.S. sixteen years ago after realizing I'd get a lot more support for moving to Mexico at 22 than I would at 42. Mexico was life-changing for me in most of the same ways Italy has been for you. I keep nodding in recognition. I'm reaching back and incorporating those values and the life I want to lead every day into my future plans.

These days, there's a lot of travel (Scotland, Puerto Rico, and Italy) and a lot of screenwriting on the horizon, and who cares what people think? It's screenwriting, not a life of crime, right?! ;->

Anyway, thanks so very much for sharing your adventures with all of us. I'm glad you have so many people rooting for you and actively supporting your success. Count me as one of 'em...

Also, your posts awakened the Italophile in me, and one of the films I've been dipping into again and again is Katherine Hepburn and Rozzani Brazzi in David Lean's 'Summertime.' No doubt you've seen it, but if you haven't...check it out! Soooo romantic.

Sorry for the long, long, comment! ;->

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

los angelista - Man if Obama would have only wore a flag pin, I bet we would be in more commercials (I kid). I hope you had a great 4th with your family. It's still very hot here. I went to the beach on Saturday so I did get to cool off for a minute.

yvonne - Fear not you are not the last single woman in Philly. Jill Scott recently became single too. :) I so know what you mean. I had NO dates the last three (or was it four) years I live in L.A.

It's hard to work full time and write at the same time. However, if you can hold on to your job while you finish one or two screenplays or say enough to life off of for a year or two that would be great. Yes it's hard to get a career going as a screenwriter period. It's more difficult if you are not a rich, white, male under the age of 30. Just because it's hard doesn't mean it's impossible. Tina Andrews, Tina Chism, Gina Prince Bythewood (the latter is finally directing her second movie) and Elizabeth Hunter are a few who have a career. There are several great contests you can enter like the Nicholls Fellowship or a program like the Disney Fellows. It's a great way to get expose (and an agent). There is a blog by the writer John August ( you should def. take a look at it. He is an A-list writer (Go, Big Fish, several uncredited rewrites on big movies) and talks not only about the craft of screenwriting but the business side as well.

Yes I have seen "Summertime." I saw it a couple years ago when I was doing research for a project we were producing at Fox. Very sweet movie.

Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your writing!