Thursday, April 16, 2009

A small town divided

Little Moscow Idaho is actually a city divided by two somewhat conflicting cultures. With a relatively large "liberal" population (for the state of Idaho) in terms of voting history, it is also the home of New Saint Andrews College. The college is focused on promoting education in the classics and moving away from "secular" learning in institutions of higher education. There is also a high school, Logos, students from which typically feed into the college, although it attracts students from all over the U.S. and internationally. Many of the same students and their families also attend Christ Church, a conservative evangelical church led by Douglas Wilson, also a faculty member at New Saint Andrews. While it usually seems like the members of those three institutions form a cohesive and fairly self-contained group, they interact with University of Idaho students from elsewhere in the state through concerts and lectures held at a local coffeshop/theatre, and hold an event each August called Trinity Festival.
Doug Wilson, sometimes called a "neo-confederate," is an internationally known writer on topics of family and education, encouraging Christian parents to privately educate their children. He also wrote a booklet (which he published himself) with fellow League of the South member, Steve Wilkins, called Southern Slavery: As It Was. The booklet suggests that slavery in the south before the civil war was actually an example of a harmonious coexistence between two races, and that a system of slavery is sanctioned in the Bible. In 2004, Wilson and Wilkins, along with anti-gay minister George Grant, held a conference in the Student Union Building on my campus (though I was then attending Moscow High School). They were received by hundreds of supporters, some of whom traveled to attend, and an equal if not larger number of outraged protesters (students and faculty at the U of I and WSU, along with citizens of Moscow and the surrounding area). 
While this event marked a particularly climactic period, the ongoing culture clash in Moscow was well underway before it, and continues on today. Several business in the heart of the town are privately owned and operated by members of the church, and due to the fact that money generated through those businesses is channeled in part into the church and college, many refuse to shop in or even enter them. This has created an odd physical manifestation of an ideological border for those on either side of the issue. Sometimes, not often, things like defacing of windows, active promotion of boycotting, or heated political conversations between strangers happen at these borders. For the most part, for me, it just means there are places in my own small town that I do not go, some I have never even been inside of. Also, if I am having a conversation with someone I don't know very well, and they mention the Nuart or West of Paris, I notice myself making assumptions, and it makes me uncomfortable. 
This is a strange feeling, as I tend to think of drawing up borders and quieting discussions as completely ineffective and even harmful. However, I am not sure that there is an effective alternative, in this case, to simply living and letting live. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The first time I experienced a wall...

The first wall that directly impacted my life was built between my mother and father, and their families. When I was very young, my family was big, quite big. I remember huge gatherings of extended family from both my mother and father's sides. Four grandparents, eight aunts and uncles, and their husbands, and wives, and children. The fact that my extended family was so close was important to me, as I was/am an only child. 
Then, when I was nine, my parents separated, and construction began on the wall between the two families. My parents avoided speaking to each other as much as they could, and family gatherings were restricted to one side or the other. In one sense, I felt as though only I was allowed access to either side of the wall, a seemingly advantageous position that really just felt lonely. In another sense, I felt like it had been built straight down the middle of me, my emotions, my time, and my relationships. My whole world was divided. 
As I got older, things changed on both sides of the wall. On one side there were new family members: a step-mother, step-brother, and step-sister, on the other a new city and school. On one side I could wear make-up, on the other I could not. On one side, latchkey evenings in an empty house with myself or my friends, on the other babysitting, chores, church. The double-life began to wear on me, and eventually I starting making decisions to stay where I was most comfortable and relinquish my ability to cross. As a result, I visited my father and his new family less and less. 
Today, I rarely feel the remaining effects of the first significant wall in my life, though I know they are there. Recently, my grandfather on my dad's side passed away and I attended the funeral, seeing some family members for the first time in several years. While there we looked at photo albums in which my father was pictured with my mother, her brothers and parents, and with a much younger me, together with my cousins in a big, cohesive group that was the family before the separation. The images definitely saddened me, along with the stories my relatives told about the days when my family was unified, but ultimately I felt a sense of reconciliation with what was lost and thankfulness for the family I have now.
Although I don't consider my father or his wife and step children immediate family, I value them as members of a broader group linked through a common history, and my immediate family has become more than my mom and I. In living with her parents throughout high school, I have come to consider them another set of parents, and I feel very lucky to have such a deep, intergenerational connection with them. Overall, the wall between my mother and father was hurtful, confusing, and destructive for me and others who were affected by it, but it also afforded me opportunities and perspectives to which I I may not have otherwise had access, and lead to the formation of the group I am lucky to call family today.