Monday, September 10, 2012

#BookReview: Kinky Gazpacho - Lori L. Tharps

There aren't many people who chart their destiny in the seventh grade and follow through with it, but by that time, Lori L. Tharps already knew that somehow Spain would play a role in her life.  Kinky Gazpacho takes us on a journey as Tharps tries to reconcile her love for a place where she doesn't necessarily feel loved.  But that's not the most interesting part of the story for me.

Tharps grew up in a world of otherness.  By that I mean, she grew up as one of the few black students in predominantly white schools.  At no point does she sound bitter about it.  In fact, she seems proud of the fact that can blend into the mainstream (read: White American culture) so well.  And I think that, in part, is why she's so troubled about what she feels is Spain's rejection of her.  She's Lori the lovable.  She's fit in in the Midwest, Northeast and Morocco.  How dare this country that she's longed for for so many years not accept her in the manner she sees fit?

Lest you think I'm faulting Tharps, be assured that I'm not.  Like her, I grew up in a world of otherness.  Navigating grade school and high school as an other can be a lonely place.  There can be a need to assimilate for acceptance, especially in a classroom setting where being different can lead to bullying or avoidance.  It makes life easier.  Often in these situations, members of other learn to code switch and the face/language/actions seen in school or workplace differ from those seen with members of their own race/culture/religion.  Whether it's done consciously or not, it becomes a coping mechanism for many.  

Not completely comfortable with assimilation, Tharps headed for Smith College determined not to become friends with any White people.  In her quest to make black friends, she decided to attend the Black Students' Alliance meeting, but left before the meeting started when no one made an effort to speak to, or acknowledge, her.  It's important to note that she doesn't mention reaching out to anyone at the meeting either and that most of the students were either returning students or first years that arrived on campus earlier in the week for a student of color orientation in which they met each other.  Though she could have made more of an effort, I understand that it's difficult to make new friends and try to insert yourself in a group where it feels like everyone already knows everyone else.

Tharps' problem seemed to be that she, like so many others, had defined what blackness was and, deciding that the other black girls were the epitome of it while she was not, judged them and returned to the world in which she was most comfortable.  And that's fine, but the idea that black women had rejected her because of the way she talked (when she had yet to utter a word) or the music she listened to, was a little absurd. For someone that didn't want to be defined by her color, she seemed to have no problem doing it to others.

Studying abroad in Spain her junior year of college begins Tharps' love-hate relationship with the country.  Though she first revels in the fact that her otherness there isn't based on being black, but being American, she soon tires of the stares from people that have rarely seen a black woman.  From the hooded figures of people celebrating Semana Santa, the lusty gazes of men curious about "wild" black women, the black-faced mammy figurines and costumes, to candy, Tharps is continually confronted with things that should make her denounce her adopted country.  But in marrying her husband and becoming a more frequent visitor to Spain, she begins to find a little of herself in the country.  Unfortunately, it took far too long in story for this to happen and far too little time was spent exploring it.







207pp
Published: March 2008



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