Monday, April 10, 2006

Sleight of hand

Odd about the recent Comments concerning “invisibility” since it’s often on my mind and very much of late.

There are two sorts, I think, having to do with intent.

When the millions of undocumented poured into the streets of LA a couple of weeks ago – and then, even closer to my current residence - surfacing, it was much to the consternation of most of the country. Disconcerted because, despite the numbers bandied about, 12 million or so, no one ever really sees them.

I know this because when I first moved to this vicious, benighted end of the road, I had some time on my hands and wished to be of use. I wandered into the one ragged shopfront that proclaimed it had something to do with “social services,” and offered a few of my own. I imagined there might be a pressing need hereabouts for the translation of documents or papers or whatever, and, as is well known, I come cheap. Free, in fact.

I was met with wide, bored eyes. There was no need, because there were no persons in this town who might require such tasks. No persons who spoke my second language, no one here from below that border just a scant few miles away.

No surprise, despite the fact that I had been using my Spanish here almost as much as I had in Biarritz [another border town, though of very different nature, since there they understood, and welcomed, my Spanish]. Using it with all the workers at the local “grocery store”, with all the gentlemen tending yards, with all the people brought in to clean the apartments in my building, with most people on the lesser streets, with almost anyone with whom I had truck.

But their invisibility was of their own doing, and it has to do with self-preservation. Anyone who crosses borders with regularity, documented or not, learns this lesson. Keeping one’s head down, blending in, even shuffling a bit, perhaps. And once the border is safely crossed, you remain in hiding until the moment comes when you feel at home, safe. Until you feel you belong.

Masks of many sorts.

And, as for the “undocumented” anywhere, all the more reason to wear the cloak. And all the more stunning when the cloak is flung off, as it’s being done right now, by the millions.

The “other” invisibility is the one that is visited upon the one by another. The “forgetting” [the translation I always preferred to “ignoring” because it implied stronger intent] of peoples, of most people. And, oddly enough, coming full circle, exactly what the OC is intending to undo.

Obviously both kinds of invisibility can coexist and often do. I can choose the cloak, but sometimes I wonder whether its demands are cumulative and irredeemable. Not, in fact, giving a tinker’s damn for the tinker.