Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Redskins Can Keep Their Name

Indigenous Native-American Indian boy in traditional dress in black and white

Some Native Perspective

Years ago, I asked my dad - a full-blooded American Indian - what he thought about the Washington Redskins team name and if it should be changed. The look on his face was resolute and his response was quick. With almost a chuckle, he said, "I hope they don't change the name." Just as with many queries, Dad had no interest in being convinced. The younger mind might easily write off such a dismissal as short-sighted or obtuse. The only problem was my dad wasn't either of those things.

When I moved to DC in 2000, I decided I would try to settle in and root for the local teams. Football season made it hard, but I cheered for the Redskins, hoping they would do well. However, my first impression was not a good one. They would find ways to lose every week, and it seemed that they fired a kicker every game - that was personal, as I used to be a kicker. I think after Week 5, I swore them off, but at that point hadn't thought much about the team name.

Where I grew up, my friends were White, Hispanic, Black, and Asian. I'm a special blend. The only Native Americans I knew were in my family. My friends and I grew up with a healthy sense of humor about our differences, and perhaps I was lucky not to have been born a certain color or in a place that made me a target because of how I looked. No one ever called me a "redskin." I had heard the term more historically, but never as a contemporary insult. On the contrary, people have always regarded my heritage from my dad's side with a certain reverence - even undue sometimes it felt.

Growing in my country and traveling quite a bit, I have gained some different perspectives. The United States is full of strangeness and inconsistencies. I remember the first time I heard a mayor refer to his city as a "chocolate city." Is that okay? It must be, since no one seemed to care. Some time later, Chris Rock did a standup routine that featured how peculiar it was that the Redskins team name exists, but would not be tolerable to name a team after any other racial group, especially with a pejorative. That resonated with me. I often posed the question to friends: "Why don't they change the name to Blackskins? Oh, would that be racist?" The team name never kept me up at night, but I always resented the double standard that I perceived. What's more, my thoughts on the subject - as a tribal member - didn't seem to change anybody's minds. So, I just decided not to watch the team, or if unavoidable to root against them.

There have been different opinions on the "Redskins" team name over the years, but what has seemed to be clear - owner Dan Snyder, Washingtonians, and 'Skins fans do not care what I think. As far as I know, before a few days ago, other than as a casual liberal stance, nobody really cared about the team name. Sure, some television announcers would find creative ways of referring to the DC football team without saying it, and you'd hear musings by miscellaneous White people from time to time. But FedEx didn't care. Pepsi didn't care. Nike didn't care... All of a sudden, people and corporations seem to care about changing the name - or to force a change rather - enough so that it seems inevitable that a new name is afoot.

Oddly enough, I've changed my mind.

DC, Snyder, you can keep your name, as far as I'm concerned. I don't care anymore. I won't buy your product, but I don't care about your team name. It's clear you are only considering a change because you may no longer have the option. People think they are doing some heroic thing by strong-arming a business that has no interest in changing their own image. As far as I'm concerned, the Redskins name is just the newest statue to bring down by force for points while everyone is watching.

Perhaps in Dad's wisdom, worrying about someone else's team or business name is a frivolous endeavor. Concluding that this far into my blog entry is actually somewhat annoying, but here we are. Perhaps Dad's pride in himself and the things he could control was what led him to chuckle at my question. Or maybe he liked the name. In any case, do what you like; it has no effect on my life.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Exploring Qatar and the Delights of Doha

Getting to know the Middle East

Arabian couple at museum with Qatar flag flying in blue sky
National Museum of Qatar
Raise your hand if you think of the Middle East as one big scary sandbox in some far off corner of the world where no one knows how to play nice. I think I can speak for many Americans when I say that most of the countries from Libya to Pakistan are toward the bottom of our travel lists. However, if you do want to start exploring the region, I do suggest Qatar.

First of all, the place is fairly tiny, measuring close to fifty by one hundred miles - a peninsula nation sitting in the Persian Gulf, attached to the north of Saudi Arabia. Just across the gulf is Iran. I have mentioned before that if there isn't at least some small element of fear in your world travels, you're doing it wrong. This is not to say that Qatar should make you afraid - quite the contrary - but venturing here does seem a bit like you are very far from home and should be on your very best behavior.

Old world meets new world

Dusty and quiet were my first impressions. The occasional call to prayer from nearby mosques cuts through the peaceful calm for the uninitiated, but after a while, it adds a bit of color to the simply tan-hued landscape which is much of the surroundings of the newer downtown skyscraper-laden big city. Men and women don what I would call robes, and are mostly conservatively, yet stylishly in many cases, covered from head to toe. The Westerner would see that as a requirement, but there is no such expectation that he or she follow suit. The souq is a market, or bazaar, and is a bustling tourist attraction come to life with hookah, coffee vendors, restaurants, and textiles. Some of the more affluent may be seen out with their falcons for a stroll. One thing you won't see is alcohol being consumed, unless you seek it out within the confines of certain more expensive hotels.

Traditional dhou boat in bay with palm trees and city skyline background
Traditional wooden dhow and Doha skyline

Culinarily speaking, I got a similar vibe to Singapore - that we were at a crossroads of many different cultures, and was hard-pressed to find something distinctly Qatari to eat. However, I did delight in being able to find Persian, Indian, Iraqi, Lebanese, and other cuisines from the broader region. Dates are a staple and are plentiful. Aside from Arabic coffee, one of my favorite drinks there is a boldly delicious and refreshing sweet lemon and mint. Shawarma lovers can indulge cheaply with beef or chicken cut from the spit and wrapped to go in toasty flatbread.

Green juice in glass on table reflecting Doha, Qatar
Lemon and mint beverage at Adhamiya
in Souq Waqif

Arabic is the official language of Qatar, but since Qataris are so rich, they have invited many Filipinos and other English speakers to do the work they don't want to do. Therefore, it is quite easy to get around speaking English most places you would be interested to go. The subway system is new and cheap and clean and glorious - only 2 Riyals (55 cents USD) to and from anywhere in the system. Soccer fans may already know the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be played in Doha, and the country is busy readying itself to accommodate. One of the top airlines in the world - Qatar Airways - connects the world to Doha and Hamad International Airport (DOH) is a quick and easy Uber or train ride from the city.

Nightlife in Doha 

Pilsner beer on table in a dark nightclub with live music

Visiting Doha on a tight budget may be a good opportunity to explore more daytime activities, as you will not find pubs unless you go to certain hotels. Even in these establishments, often they are sparsely populated if you go anywhere on a backpacker's rations, and the cheapest beer will likely cost upwards of 50 QAR (around $13) for a pint. However, my new favorite place (after a few more visits from this original post) is Krossroads Club at the top floor of Best Western Plus where they have live music, a largely Filipino staff, complimentary popcorn, and half-off specials for happy hour that lasts until 8pm. It gets a decent crowd and has a fun vibe.

Man posing on park bench with Arabic structures in background
Katara Cultural Village

Friday, January 31, 2020

Is Mamba Mentality to Blame for The Girls' Deaths?

Cloudy mountaintop

Don't hate me for asking the question. I'm a life-long Lakers fan as well as a Kobe Bryant fan. But even prior to the ascendancy and dominance of "The Black Mamba," I was a girl-uncle and a coach charged with the safety of teams of teenage girls.

How difficult must it have been to say no to Kobe Bryant? We'll get to the helicopter pilot in a minute. It seems the only time the Lakers organization told him no was when he asked to be traded. Over Kobe's career, he rightfully opened many doors for himself, gaining accolades and fame. Former teammates referred to his style as making people uncomfortable, which forced them to be better - setting a standard so high, while producing results, that those who did not crumble around him achieved a greater level of self. His work ethic and style of play became well-known and eventually revered. He became an international superstar.

Certainly, "Mamba Mentality" can be encapsulated by several tenets, among them: consistency, poise, pursuit of greatness, overcoming adversity, focus, relentlessness, no excuses, and fearlessness. Given the outpouring of respect after his passing for what Kobe Bryant was able to achieve as a basketball player, his approach to sport has become a bible for athletes and an enduring legacy for all who remember him. With his days as a professional athlete behind him, Kobe was able to apply his considerable talents, wealth, and celebrity to new endeavors in cinema and literary arts, charity, business, and youth sports. No doubt the "Mamba Mentality" continued to fuel his drive and color his influence.

We may never know the answers to the following questions, yet they should be addressed. Did pilot Ara Zobayan feel pressured to fly in unsafe conditions because of perceived or explicit expectations by Bryant? Did parents allow their 13-year-old daughters to fly in the fog in a helicopter because of similar expectations, out of infatuation with fame by association, or just a perception of safety? Did Kobe imagine flying when other helicopters were grounded was a better choice than waiting for clearer skies because of a basketball game? Was establishing the Mamba Academy two counties away from home (with LA in between), supposedly necessitating regular air travel, the best choice a father could make for his teen daughter and family? Do the pressures we put on ourselves and children, ostensibly to live our best lives, create greater risks than they should? Is it possible that the "Mamba Mentality" - seemingly rooted in self-centered goals and ruthless domination - may produce collateral damage for children off the court?

By all accounts, Kobe Bryant was a great man both on and off the basketball court. Nothing can take away from that. The vast display of achievements, good deeds, and love by this man will forever be etched in the minds of those with whom he shared space on this planet. The "Mamba Mentality" will endure as a guide and inspiration for athletes and others seeking greatness. I just ask that when it comes to the safety and well-being of children, we are able to consciously suspend ourselves from ego, ambition, and societal popularity on a regular basis to make decisions that do not put them in harm's way.

Basketball court mural of Kobe and Gianna Briant surrounded by Taguig Manila tenement