1.01.2008

It upsets my mother when I leave dishes in the sink--one of many illogical triggers of our many illogical spats.

Dishwashing, as simple an act as it is, a simple fact of life, strikes me as one of the ways that different people experience life. I remember reading a book in grade school about a Native American family. The narrator, if my memory serves me correctly, becomes all the more conscious of his difference when his family's practice of washing dishes just before using them comes under the scrutiny of his Euro-American peers. It's a poignant moment of the illogical nature of intolerance--after all, washing dishes just before use is a more sanitary practice. Dishwashing hardly seems like a site of cultural difference, but in my experience it is indicative of the realities of different people.

As a middle-class first gen-er, I've had the fortune of experiencing some degree of immersion, and in a "developing" country, to boot. I was always puzzled when chastised for using too much water while washing the dishes. It never occurred to me that water was not as plentiful there as it was at home. Even if it did, we were on an island, surrounded by water. I would not have understood that desalination is an extremely expensive procedure, and one that does not take place in countries lead by corrupt leaders hand-picked by their former colonial rulers. Especially when those leaders pocket the "charity" of their former exploiters, masters. I would not have realized that droughts are commonplace in former sugar colonies--the deforestation undertaken by Europeans to maximize the profit-producing land available ensures this.

It would be some time before I realized that many people--nowadays, mostly brown--depend on dishwashing for survival. That many live in the United States--my home--on temporary visas or without papers, sending remittances home to their families because, while they can support their families from the kitchens of our restaurants, the economic remnants of colonialism (in effect, continued colonialism) guarantee that serving Americans is better compensated than professional labor at home.

There's an installation at the Tate Modern in London right now--a huge crack in the ground that is meant to symbolize the growing divide between Britain and its former colonies. Appropriately enough, it has become the subject of much debate, not because of the ideas it conveys, but because a number of Brits have failed to notice it and been injured when they've fallen in. It's amazing how well dishwashing encompasses this divide and the deliberate ignorance that surrounds it (deliberate because the silence that surrounds the realities of others has been systematically engineered).

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