Posted by panch from pool0335.cvx24-bradley.dialup.earthlink.net (126.96.36.199) on Sunday, June 23, 2002 at 10:04AM :
I'm beginning to understand why I write so damn much. It's a way of thinking out loud, sort of. This Heritage of ours is a puzzlement...our claims to being Assyrian I mean...when you compare it to how we behave, what we do and don't do about it. You'd have little trouble convincing people you weren't proud, "in action", if you were a Jew for there is so much proof of it laying around for all to see and feel...it's obvious. It's also obvious that Jews went through hell to remain Jews...whereas we seem pleased to have stopped being Assyrian in religion or preserving a continuity with our ancient culture, becomming a new thing, a Christian.
Our displays of what we call pride are harder to understand, to believe as genuine...like we even knew what true pride meant. If you ask the delegates entering a Federation convention if they feel pride in being Assyrians, they'll look at you like you were crazy..."of couse we are proud", they will say. If you ask our louts and lunkheads if they are proud, just before they gang up on a bride...they'll say, "Fuckin right man, Fuck, we the Fucking best bro...we da Assyrians and don't you fucking forget it, you Fuck."
But watch them at work during the course of their meetings...or any Assyrian organization doing what it does, and you can hardly help but wonder. That's why my lawyer couldn't bring himself to believe I was telling the truth it was so preposterous, and we are just that, "Unbelievable"...that's why I need Jackie up there on the stand to tell what happened.
How could people who feel pride in being Assyrian, block an Assyrian monument...how could they conspire to stop an Assyrian sculptor from selling or even showing his sculptures to Assyrians? How indeed.
One thing I'm not convinced of is that there is any evidence that we knew we were Assyrians BEFORE the archaeological digs of the Europeans. I know I'm Assyrian...know I am because I know how much I DIDN'T want to be Assyrian most of my life. I can't explain such a turn around in myself unless I knew it at some subconscious level...when the sight of those Assyrian sculptures at the museum shook me so wonderfully that I've never doubted it since. I didn't know back then what I would do about it, I certainly had no idea I'd try to stake my career and life on making Assyrian sculpture. Just thought I would study it as away of learning technique and discipline.
It wasn't till five years later I decided to make a public monument. I know, deep in my bones that I am Assyrian because it took me over, leaped out at me, when it was the last thing on my mind. I went to the Metropolitan Museum in New York to see my beloved Impressionists...didn't even know those sculptures I had to pass by on my way to the Impressionist galleries were Assyrian...I'd never seen them before.
I don't doubt for a minute that I and others are Assyrians. I just wonder if we knew it all those centuries, or did we become Christians of whatever land we lived in. Did we name our children Sargon and Nineveh in 1497, and 1589 and 1776? Or were we all Rebkka and Moishe and Shmuel...biblical names, Jewish names?
Did we write songs about the glory of Ashur, the loss of Nineveh...or were we content to chant hymms in church?
I don't know how to reconcile what we call pride in being Assyrians with the things we do with the Heritage and to each other...and the things we refuse to do in order to really make us proud...which requires us, at the least, to find some common ground and pool our resources, for we are far too weak and scattered as we each go our own way.
I keep coming back to the way the monuments have been received, by us...America has had no problem with them. How could 80,000 proud Assyrians in Chicago not want to see the Shumirum Monument installed? Especially when it has been paid for and is being eagerly anticipated by that city? How could they prefer to have their need for pride answered by King Sargon Block? Unless they feel that this is the best we can or should aspire to.
How could our leadership...how could a woman reputed by many people to be the best thing that happened to their community, hornswaggle the other leaders into freezing me out...and for the reasons she did. She never provided any believeable explanation for doing so...and no one demanded she provide one. She said something like..."he is a troublemaker", and that was enough...even though she provided no proof, and even though she knew better herself. And if I was "difficult"...did my work offer no redeeming qualities? Was there no reason, no grounds to cut me a little slack...like the writer who drinks a little too much but still gives good public readings though he may grope the hostess afterwards? Civilized people allow a degree of 'wild" or uncivilized behavior in their artists ...they know it comes with the territory and they like that territory because it enriches the culture as a whole. No sophisticated people on earth expect their artists and thinkers to be choirboys...expect them to be polite and acceptable to taxi drivers and engineers...people so far removed from the Arts, from understanding the workings and methods and sensibilities of those whose life it is...not as members of an audience or buyers.
Why cover over my sculpture, why toss it into a corner after I'm gone...after the troublemaker has been forced to leave...and goes quietly, giving the lie to the notion that he was any kind of a troublemaker. Why hide the sculpture unless the sculpture makes trouble too? And what kind of trouble could that be?
When I worked with the Public Defenders in Seattle, I realized that the only way I was going to understand the puzzle of juvenile delinquency and what might be done about it was to immerse myself in the problem. No books, no classes would provide the key. It was locked up inside of each kid, and they even had no idea of what was needed...but they might provide me with the clues. And I did just that, getting a grant to rent a huge old house in Seattles's "ghetto" where for the next three years I lived with some twenty boys...lived with them day and night in every conceivable situation, with no escape for any of us till bit by bit they unknowingly revealed what might work...what was worth trying at least.
It's been the same now. I've worked in this community in ways hardly anyone has. I've seen things and caused things to happen no one else has. I've gotten close to more of our "leadership" both bad and good than anyone else has...and most important of all, I've come in contact with Assyrians who've sworn off for years, who wouldn't have been caught dead in the community before...and I've found what it took to inspire them...they told me, they showed the way, I didn't invent it.
But something still doesn't fit. I still find it difficult to believe most of us are convinced we are Assyrians...though we've all been raised to believe it. It's like being told you are loved by someone who treats you very badly...you have doubt. If we are Assyrians, we feel none of the natural desire to protect the identity, to nurture it and make it grow, as we would any loved one...or if we do it is in ways and means unsuited to it...ways that are poor indicators of the love and pride we say we feel. Like Gassman's claim to being Chaldean, after his claim to being Assyrian...he hardly brings any honor to either. You'd swear this guy was out to slime the identity instead, to make of it a disgusting spectacle. You just can't believe in your heart that he has any love of or pride in being Chaldean...quite the opposite really.
Something is dreadfully wrong...out of place...not what it seems. It's not like anyone knows what's wrong...but all feel it. Especially if they have tried to work in the community, joined a group or organization. Eventually they get burned out and just plain burned, especially if they were highly motivated to begin with, and they sooner or later want nothing more to do with it...and that is a failure of leadership...and our leaders fail us consistently...we just don't care.
In nothing else of importance to us and our families, not even in who paints our house or steam cleans our driveway would we accept the low level of proficiency that we do in our leaders. This is love of heritage? It would seem more likely that each of us has been given a contract at birth, to destroy the Heritage, work against its best interests in some small subtle way, that when combined with what the rest are doing in other cities around the world, year in and year out...will eventually make all of us sick and tired of "loving" something we have no passion for...something that just depresses us, drains us instead of fills us, and makes us feel like we are rubbing salt in a raw wound whenever we contemplate doing anything more than providing lip service.
Being Assyrian and working for it doesn't give back to anyone...it just takes and drains us...we have to feel that love inspite of what our heads and in time our hearts tell us. It's like loving a wayward child or adult...one who causes us far more pain than pleasure, one we dread seeing, but whom we feel responsible for, in a grudging sort of way.
There doesn't seem to be any spontaneous joy in being Assyrian. We don't seem eager to embrace it...to dwell in it, to surround ourselves with it. Instead we latch onto the people who've managed their love of identity far better than we ever did...hell our children prefer being Mexican or Afro-American more...as if to be Assyrian leaves you with no clear course of action, no guidelines. We are hurting ourselves...no one is our enemy now, and we all feel we are failing the Heritage...and we don't know what to do about it.
What I am becomming more and more afraid of is that we unconsciously want it to fail...that something in our world view demands the pride of the ancients be finally shattered and buried. That's a scary thought and I hope I can prove myself wrong.
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