Wednesday, April 27, 2011

You Give Me Fever

I have Royal Wedding Fever (RWF).  Far as I can tell, it's not fatal.  It has several symptoms, and based on recent events, I believe it is contagious. Unless you've had your head in a bag for the past few weeks, the Royal Wedding (and the inciting cause of RWF) refers to the nuptials of Great Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton.  The media frenzy surrounding the wedding reached fever pitch a couple of weeks ago, by my estimation.  It's about this time that my symptoms started to manifest themselves.  Prior to this point, I had shown some early signs, but it was unclear whether I'd develop full-blown RWF.

This all started in November when Wills (as those of us who are close to him call him) announced his engagement to Catherine (Kate, to her friends).  It was at this point that I started having delusions of booking a trip to London to "witness" the nuptials.  I began monitoring flights across the pond, but was quickly reigned in by a sensible husband (and, truth be told, budgetary constraints).  My own good sense did not prevail, as the early stages of RWF were already at work.

I have eaten up the dish about who would design the dress, the babble about whether or not Kate would wear a veil or a tiara or flowers in her hair, and other blather about carriages, cars, and horse allergies.  When it was revealed that the Royal Wedding would take place at 10:00 a.m. London-time (that's 5:00 a.m. D.C.-time, kids), I made the (very astute) decision to take off of work that day so as not to miss a minute of the festivities.  I racked my brain trying to think of ways to mark the day . . . what would be an appropriate way to celebrate on this side of the pond?  And then it hit me . . . what's more British than tea? Nothing, that's what.  So I made reservations for WH and I to go to high tea the afternoon of the wedding day.  What a fitting tribute, right?

I have been much maligned for my excitement . . . but, curiously enough, our intimate little tea party-for-two has turned in to tea-for-ten.  Parents, friends, friends-parents . . . come one, come all to my Royal Wedding party.  Beware, you'll catch RWF too, if you don't watch out.

From what I can figure, the symptoms of RWF are these:

  • You feel the need to wear a hat. Preferably with feathers.  You consider becoming a "hat person," who wears hats to various occasions, including, but not limited to weddings, showers, polo matches, and tea parties.

via Kate Middleton For The Win (a must-see for the snarky Middleton fan)
  • You agonize over your Royal Wedding breakfast menu.  What will you serve on the big day?  Will it compare to the buffet lunch that Windsors will be serving? 
  • You find yourself making Kate/Diana comparisons and getting indignant when someone says, "She's no Diana," or "I think she's kind of boring." Yes, someone actually said that. True story.
  • You force your unsuspecting family to discuss the merits of the Royal Wedding during Easter dinner, whether they want to or not. 
  • You are late to work each morning because you are captivated by the latest developments in Royal Wedding news.  The hat (yes, hats again!) to be worn by a Royal Wedding guest was the featured segment on Good Morning America earlier this week. And I had to see it.
  • Once you get to work, you are unable to concentrate on anything because you are planning your tea party, wedding-watching party, and wondering what juicy tidbits the media has been able to dig up in the minutes and hours since you last were in front of a television.  
  • You add the "Official Royal Wedding" website to your bookmarks and obsessively check it every hour on the hour to see what the news is.  You may or may not also add @ClarenceHouse to the list of folks on Twitter you follow. It is the Prince of Wales' official Twitter feed after all. 
  • You insist that your sister-hairdresser make your hair look like Kate's, no matter how much she laughs at you, going so far as to demand the shine.  When she tells you Kate's hair looks like that because she probably uses a $75 conditioner, you outwardly scoff, but secretly consider purchasing one.
  • You annoy friends, coworkers, and family members with your incessant chatter about "the big day."  When they roll their eyes or stop responding to your text messages, you pretend not to notice and simply forge ahead.
  • You lose three Facebook friends a day because of your hourly updates to your status about the Royal Wedding plans (and/or news items about Will/Kate/Pippa/Harry/Diana/Westminster Abbey/hats).  You don't care and keep posting.
  • You have Royal Wedding dreams.  Usually where you sit near the banks of the Thames with fellow revelers as Will and Kate pass by, happily waving from their coach.  Even though the route they will take goes nowhere near the Thames (minor details).  And then there's that one where you're actually, miraculously, invited to the wedding. All three parts. And you hope you may never wake up from it . . .

If you are suffering from three or more of these symptoms, I'm afraid you've got RWF.  The cure, of course, is to watch the Royal Wedding on Friday, and perhaps several times over the weekend.  Have a spot of Earl Grey (lemon or cream, never sugar) and a cucumber sandwich, and enjoy the ride.  Give in to it . . . because to fight it would simply be uncivilized.

Friday, April 22, 2011

As Simple As Black and White?

Yesterday I got an issue of Ebony magazine in the mail.  At first I thought it might be a mistake, but no, right there in black and white was my name and address printed on the label.  This struck me as odd.  Aside from the fact that I didn't order Ebony, I'm also not black.  This got me reflecting on the many times in my life when, perhaps, it wasn't so clear what my origins might be.  Let me explain. 

Growing up, my neighborhood was incredibly diverse.  Across the street was a family with a Haitian father and Chilean mother (the parents of my oldest friend, the Lady Doctor). Next door to us was a Jewish family and next door to them, a Palestinian family. And there my family was, in the middle of all of it.  I can't think of a better way to grow up . . . and I think the uniqueness of our neighborhood and the collective memories we all share has contributed to the fact that I'm still close friends with many of the kids I grew up with.

I've known my best girlfriends since we were little kids (and in the case of the Lady Doctor, babies).  So it never struck me as odd that I'm the only white girl in the group.  The first time anyone called it to my attention was when I was in college.  I had a picture of all of us in my dorm room and a friend said, "Do people look at you weird when you go out with them?"  I didn't understand the question.  Eventually the lightbulb came on and I realized that perhaps not everyone came from a neighborhood that looks like the United Nations. Since then, my, ahem, lack of melanin has been a source of entertainment for us for years.

One summer, shortly after college, The Girls (as we've called ourselves for years) and I went to Chicago for a long weekend.  One night, we went to some party at the House of Blues . . . and I was the only white girl there.  Who cares, right?  I sure didn't.  But shortly after we got there, the only other white guy in the place came over to us with his friend.  They talked to us for a bit, before my pale-faced brother asked, "Uh, excuse me, but what are you?"  A lady?  A Washingtonian?  Catherine Zeta-Jones?  I knew what he was getting at, but playing dumb was so much more fun.

That same summer, my friend the Policy Lawyer's Mother discovered an article in a local African American-community newspaper about distinguished young people who had graduated recently. Guess who appeared prominently in the article?  (Turns out it was written by a friend and colleague of my mother's, who thought it would be nice to mention me.)  PLM's (joking) response?  "I didn't know WashingTina was black."  Neither did I.

Another time, shortly after a summer trip to Mexico (so I was much less melanin-challenged than usual), I was walking to my car at the Silver Spring Metro, and a man walking in the same direction struck up a conversation with me.  He was about my age, friendly enough, and black.  It didn't occur to me that he thought I was black, too.  That is, until he said, "I have to know, what are you?"  Again . . . what is the correct answer to that question?  A Wiccan?  A trapeze artist? A member of the Junior League?

My friend the Policy Lawyer used to work for UNCF, so WH and I were invited to a fundraiser they were putting on one year.  When we got there, we got raffle tickets.  It was a lovely event, down on the SW Waterfront in the old 701.  It came time for the raffle, so we got out our tickets.  There was all kinds of stuff, though I don't remember what most of it was.  The grand prize was a leather UNCF bomber jacket.  Three guesses who won.  I walked timidly to collect my prize . . . again, the only white girl in the room.  Thank goodness I had been passing all those years.  I decided that my father, who never met a free T-shirt he didn't like, would find this jacket the ultimate in free stuff, so I ordered his size.

This brings me to the fact that I'm not the only one in my family who may or may not be white.  For years my parents have been members of the NAACP.  They used to go to their annual dinner every year.  Shortly after the dinner one year, my father received an invitation letter to join the black alumni association at American University (he actually is an alum there).  We began to wonder if everyone else knew something that we didn't. 

WH often tells me I'd make a perfect spy because I can blend in to any group.  When I'm with his Iranian family, nobody would know I'm not Persian.  Frequently in our Adams Morgan neighborhood, someone will ask me for directions in Spanish.  And I like it.  It's nice to fit . . . especially when so many people never get to fit.  I'm lucky, I fit anywhere.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Independence Day

April 15 is tax day for most of us here in the U.S., but for my WH, it means a lot more.  Twelve years ago today, he arrived here from Iran.  He told me this story:

When I found out I was getting a green card, I didn't know what would happen. I had to wait to find out when my appointment at the U.S. Embassy would be.  They tell you they’ll send you a letter to tell you your package has arrived, and when your interview would be, but I didn't trust it.  I used to call the U.S. Embassy in Ankara every day to find out if my package had arrived.  And I’m so glad I did, because I never received a letter.  The last time I called, they told me that my package had arrived and that my appointment was set. Then I went to Turkey.  I had lived there 10 years earlier for a year, hoping for a Humanitarian Parole visa and I didn't get it, but my memories in Turkey were still good memories.  Ten years later I went back to get my green card and stayed in the same hotel.  Walking the same streets, going to the places where I used to hang out, it was such a great feeling.  Going back to somewhere I knew before – it was wonderful.  I have been to Turkey three times, and I only have good memories there. 
Finally the day arrived to go to the embassy, and I was so nervous.  I had all my documents very well organized.  I was so nervous.  Many times I went with high hopes to different embassies – Switzerland, Turkey, Germany – and was rejected.  Always the answer was no.  In fact, in Zurich, I had an invitation from a Marine Corps general that my brother, who was in the Marines at the time, had gotten for me, and I was so sure I was going to get the visa.  I’ll never forget it.  The counselor said, "I don't know who you are, or why you have this invitation, but I'm not giving you a visa." I was nine years old. 
This time I didn't have high hopes. All I had were worries.  All kinds of worries.  When I got to the embassy, I walked in, looked at the American flag and saw the Marine standing there and it reminded me of my brother.  I wasn’t able to see my brother when he graduated and I hadn’t seen him in ten years.  Every step I took, it felt like one step closer to him.  

American Flag
Photo Courtesy of PMillera4 via Flickr

At the embassy, it's exactly like the DMV – you get a number and you sit down.  The counselors are behind bulletproof glass like at a bank.  When it was my turn, I got called up to the window.  The counselor was a Turkish-American lady, and she was only a little bit older than me.  She looked at my number and asked me, "Do you want me to talk to you in English, Farsi, or Turkish?" And even though I didn’t really speak English very well, I said, “English,” and gave her my package.  She looked at it and said, “This is the most organized package I've seen all week,” which made me very happy.  But I did have one document missing.  When that happens, usually you have to go and come back . . . and it takes six months or so before you can come back.  Luckily, this lady was so nice and she liked me, so she told me to get the document faxed to me and just come back tomorrow.  I got the document, but I didn't sleep that night. I had everything I needed, but I still didn't sleep that night.  
The next day, I went back to the embassy, which was in walking distance from the hotel.  I had the fax in my hand, and put it in my jacket.  But then I was afraid it might fall out of my jacket, so I held it in my hand.  Then I was afraid someone might steal it from my hand, so I put it back in my jacket.  I kept putting it in my jacket and taking it back out, the entire way to the embassy.  I got there and gave the package back to the same woman. Then I had to pay, exactly like at the DMV.  I paid and everything and boom . . . they gave me a package. A sealed package.  That’s how you get your green card.  (When you get to the United States, you come with that giant package and give it to immigration in the airport and then they send you your actual green card later.)
Walking out of the embassy, holding that package, it felt like winning the lottery.  Looking back, I think there were very few times in my life when I felt truly happy deep in my heart where it shook my body.  When I had that package and walked out of that embassy, it started raining, and I put the package under my jacket.  I never enjoyed rain that much in my life . . . just walking in the rain.  
I know lots of people get their green cards, but I had been waiting all my life for this moment. Millions of people come to the U.S. every year.  I know I wasn’t the only one.  It was just that I had waited for it for so long.  I hadn't seen my brother for 10 years. Finally I could start my life where I wanted to be.  But first I had to go back to Iran and get ready – that was in October.  I came to the U.S. in April.  For those few months, packing up, figuring stuff out, slowly breaking all the barriers.  It's interesting – many people come here and still have a home where they came from, but I had to figure out how to pack my life into two suitcases and bring it with me.  It's like when you move to a new house and you throw out the stuff you don't want and the stuff you don't need, and save the stuff you don't want to throw out.  Except this is beyond that.  You get to the point where all the stuff has sentimental value, all the clothes you love, and still you have to make a choice which things you want to take with you and which ones you want to leave behind.  
Saying goodbye to everyone I knew – my family, aunts, uncles, cousins, my friends that I grew up with – and going somewhere that I didn’t know anybody, created a ball, a rolling ball of mixed emotions inside my stomach.  On the one hand, I was leaving everyone I knew, but on the other hand, I was coming to the U.S. and getting to see my brother, who I hadn't seen in 10 years. I was very happy, and very sad.  Really mixed emotions.  It wasn't Facebook time, where we could all be in touch between two worlds.  We were out of touch for years.  It exactly felt like dying, it was so painful.  And the happiness felt like being reborn, the way it was powerful.  From the airport in Iran, getting on the plane going to Amsterdam, coming to the U.S. – traveling across the universe to get here – I died and was born again.  It was another life I had there, and yet I remember every second of my past life.  
All the time during the trip, I kept my package with me.  It was close to my heart. I was so nervous when I got to Iranian airport.  My soul was inside of that package and I had to protect it.  While I was in Amsterdam waiting to get on the plane, a man in a suit came and sat next to me. He started asking me questions, like “Did anyone pack your bag for you?” and “What do you have in your bag?” and other things. I was nervous and my English wasn’t very good, so I mixed things up.  The man started to test me, “But you said this . . . you said that. Your stories don’t match.”  My hands started sweating.  Fortunately, a lady who worked in the airport walked by who just happened to be Iranian, and saw what was going on.  She explained to the guy, and he let it go.  It was very interesting, and as I looked around, this happened to many people.
When I landed in the United States, it was exactly like a new world.  I saw the American flag again and as I got off the plane, my heart was beating like crazy.  I was so happy, but so afraid that something, anything, was going to go wrong and I would have to go back.  In fact, I was so nervous I left my passport in the airport.  It wasn’t until two or three days later that I realized that I didn't have my passport.   When you get to the airport, they take you to a little room, interview you, and take the package. It takes about 45 minutes or so, and then they let you go.  I went and got my bag. When the doors opened, I started looking at people. I saw someone who looked like my brother, but he was shorter than I remembered.  The last time I saw him, I was just 13 and I was shorter than him. By this time, I was slightly taller than he was.  His hair was longer – no more military haircut.  But he had that nose – the same nose – and I knew, that was my brother.   
I’ll never forget the feeling the next day of walking out the door, after my brother went to work. It was a sunny, clear, warm day.   I remember thinking, I can't believe I'm here. And as I walked around Dupont Circle, I realized that I could walk for hours and hours and not bump into anybody I knew.  I could guarantee that.  That’s the first thing that really bothered me.  But I changed it for myself.  Now I can’t walk down Connecticut Avenue without seeing someone I know.  It’s a new world, a new life, but it's mine finally. Today this is my home.  Where I was before is the old life.  You can’t un-die and go back.  I'm in a new chapter.  I will not go back to chapter one.
Many people see July 4 as Independence Day, but for me it's April 15 -- my second birthday. 

Happy Second 12th Birthday WH!