A Blog about Why I Don’t Blog

I don’t blog much. I know I should. It would be good for my career, boost my profile, build an audience.    

The problem is that blog posts are supposed to be timely. Unfortunately this goes against my compulsion to sculpt each and every sentence, like some precious literary bonsai (sometimes leaving only a stump) before subjecting it to the critical eye of my writing group, much less the general public. 

The blog format may produce more spontaneous prose, but it also makes it easier for cringeworthy typos to sneak into print, and be helpfully pointed out by everyone on my Facebook feed from my mom to my first grade teacher.  

For me, another obstacle is choosing a niche. 

There’s always politics. How hard can it be to come up with an original take on the President’s awfulness? Infuse a fresh flavor of outrage into the day’s news cycle? There must be another animal, vegetable, mineral or junk food that has yet to be compared to Trump’s hair.

I could write about being fit and fabulous over 35, or being a single cat lady over 35 (the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive). I could be the Carrie Bradshaw of Franklin County, Mass., strutting the streets of Turners Falls—population 4,470—in Manolo Blahnik hiking boots. 

I have lots of great stories from my job in human services, stories of grit and hope, resilience and despair, but….confidentiality. 

Travel is the most obvious niche. I already have some experience in this area. Who wouldn’t click on the headline “Ten Best Unspoiled Beaches in North Korea,” or “Five Massachusetts Towns that Actually Voted for Trump.” 

Maybe all this just goes to show that I need to blog, if not for my writing career, for myself. I need to resist my own inner Trump, that nasal voice in my head that insists that everything I have to say is fake news.

Read at your own risk.

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On the Front Lines of the New Sanctuary Movement in Amherst, Massachusetts

Growing up in a secular family, in the mostly secular community of Amherst, Massachusetts, my first associations with the word sanctuary had to do with plants and wildlife. It was not until I lived in Oaxaca, Mexico, that I came to associate the word, and its Spanish cognate, sanctuario, with church. In Oaxaca it is common to pay a visit to a particular saint or virgin, who inhabits the church’s innermost sanctuary.

In recent months, the word has taken on new meaning for me. Like many of us, I feel I can no longer stand idly by while my government disrespects the rights of our immigrant friends and neighbors. In my community, and in others across the country, we are creating underground networks of mutual aid and support for undocumented immigrants.

No one with any human decency should need an explanation as to why it’s unacceptable to tear a loving father away from his wife and children.

We are the latest incarnation of the sanctuary movement which began in the ’80s, when millions fled genocide and persecution at the hands of US-backed regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala. Denied asylum under US immigration policy, many found sanctuary in private homes and churches. The Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, was the first to declare itself a safe haven for Central American migrants.

Thirty year later, my understanding of sanctuary has come full circle; because today, here in my hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts, a brave community member has sought sanctuary in the First Congregational Church.

I’m not going to go into the heartrending details of the case, which are sadly familiar. Lucio Perez spoke for himself at yesterday’s press conference which you can watch here.

And no one with any human decency should need an explanation as to why it’s unacceptable to tear a loving father away from his wife and children. You can help the Perez family by donating time or money to the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, the organization that has been working with the Perez’s and many other families who have not made their stories public.

Growing up in Amherst, I heard a lot of platitudes about diversity and inclusion, but this is one of few times I have seen us put our ideals into action. Today I am proud to be from Amherst and proud to be part of the new sanctuary movement in the US. This is just the beginning.

 

 

 

 

 

Bad People

My friend works at the hospital in Springfield. Last week, CNN was on in the exam room where he was taking a patient’s blood: Houston highways turned to rivers, survivors wading through the streets clutching dogs and babies.

“Those poor people,” he said, as the bag filled with blood. The middle aged white woman muttered under her breath.

“Say what?”

“Bad people.” This time he was sure he heard right. “God is punishing them.”

“All those people? Thousands of people?”

The woman remained unmoved.

“They’re bad people,” she said.

 

The day before Oaxaca was struck by a 8.2 earthquake, the city received its first visit from Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Between aftershocks, friends joked darkly on Facebook that the very earth rejected the presence of the Pretty-Boy-in-Chief, who enjoys such popularity in the economically marginalized region that he had to bring along 500 federal troops to protect him from angry constituents, who still managed to bring down one of his helicopters with a well-aimed firecracker.

The same people who blame lesbians for Hurricane Harvey, and President Obama for the solar eclipse (if only they had that kind of power!) are the first to call climate change a hoax

Humans have always made up stories to explain what we cannot understand or control, some more convincing than others. Divine retribution has always been a popular narrative, especially when the retribution is against a person or group of persons who we dislike or with whom we disagree. It also allows us the smug solace that we will be spared from natural disaster if only we adhere to the rules of our chosen ideology, be it the Southern Baptist Convention or The Secret.

If ever there were a moment in human history in which it were rational to blame humans for natural phenomenon, it would be now, if 99% of scientists are to believed.

But the same people who blame lesbians for Hurricane Harvey, and President Obama for the solar eclipse (if only they had that kind of power!) are the first to call climate change a hoax.  Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, Rick Joyner, these are the bad people, not the victims of natural disasters. In fact, the people most effected by climate change are most often those with the least power to stop it. But first place goes to Rush Limbaugh, who dismissed Hurricane Irma as a liberal conspiracy (although this didn’t stop him from evacuating his south Florida home).

Meanwhile, here in Massachusetts, we are still awaiting our punishment for legalizing gay marriage and universal healthcare. The sky is blue, the air is crisp and goldenrod is blooming.

Am I a bad person for hoping Hurricane Irma flattens Mar-a-Lago like a beer can against a frat boy’s forehead?

 

My Day of Tlatelolco

On a Wednesday afternoon in June, I find Tlatelolco, site of so much historic upheaval, surprisingly sleepy.  No one is manning the ticket booth at the Tlatelolco University Cultural Center. A security officer helps me track down the cashier to take my thirty peso admission fee, which I’m told gives me access to the Archeological Museum, the ’68 Memorial, The Caja de Agua Museum, and a mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros.

The actual ruins, I discover, can be accessed free of charge through a well-fortified entrance along Eje Central, staffed with courteous but well-armed members of the Metropolitan Police force. I never do find the mural by Siquieros, which turns out to be located inside an entirely different museum around the corner on Paseo Reforma.

It’s an unusuaimg_08201.jpglly clear day in Mexico City. Recent hard rains have dispersed the smog, and the tops of high rises stand out against the blue sky. Men stop work on the new sign outside the Caja de Agua Museum to smack their lips and call me Güera, white girl. The Museum door is open, but when I pop my head inside, the security guard shoos me away. Apparently, they are closed for the day.

My fascination with Tlatelolco began while researching the short story “Unrest,” which to my pleasant surprise, was eventually published in Juked A spare, disjointed character study, full of unexplained cultural references where almost no action takes place in the narrative present, I never really expectedUnrest” to find an audience.

The story was one of my many (and ongoing) attempts to grapple with the 2006 uprising in Oaxaca, where I was living at the time. In “Unrest,” we see the popular movement through the largely unsympathetic eyes of the anonymous “Ingeniero,” whose business interests are damaged by the protests. However, El Ingeniero is also a survivor of the ’68 massacre of students in Tlatelolco. As human rights violations escalate in the “provincial backwater,” where he now resides (Oaxaca is never mentioned by name) it becomes increasingly difficult for him to rationalize his opposition to the movement.

As so often happens, my research led much deeper and consumed far more my time than was strictly necessary to write the brief flashback scenes in “Unrest.” Like any self-respecting Spanish major, I knew the story of the last Aztec emperor, Cuauhtémoc, and his heroic last stand against the Spanish. I also know about the Massacre of ’68, “Mexico’s Kent State,” when government snipers opened fire on student protesters. But I never before appreciated that these events coincided not just symbolically, but geographically. Both took place in Tlatelolco, a quiet, working class neighborhood that was once the commercial center of the Aztec empire.

In addition to the classic accounts, such Elena Poniatowska’s La Noche de Tlatelolco, and Rojo Amanecer , Jorge Fons’ 1990 film about the massacre, I relied heavily on Google street view to get a sense of place.

Still, when I enter the Plaza of the Three Cultures, I feel disoriented. It’s smaller than I expected, dwarfed by the church and the apartment buildings around it. I suppose no physical space can contain that much symbolism. Skateboarders clatter back and forth across the stones, carved from the same reddish volcanic rock as the church on the north side, and the Aztec temples to the west. A jacked young man runs laps, stopping in front of the ’68 Memorial to check his stopwatch. There are dog walkers too, and a toddler, pushing her stubby legs against the reddish stones to propel her Disney Princess ride-on toy.

Part of the tragedy of Tlatelolco was how quickly it was erased. Engraved on the memorial, beneath the names of the dead and desaparecido, are these lines from the poem by Rosario Castellanos:

Who? Who are they? Nobody. The next day, nobody.
The plaza was swept clean; the front pages of the newspapers reported
the state of the weather.
And on television, on the radio, at the movies,
there was no change of program,
there was no special announcement no
minute of silence at the banquet
(because the banquet proceeded.)

The Plaza is elevated above the surrounding streets and the Archeological Zone, something I did not get a sense of from Google maps. Also separated the plaza from the ruins is a waist-high, wrought-iron fence, guarded by chivalrous, armed police officers who guide me toward the entrance.

Even without the fence, it would be a lot harder than I imagined for students to flee into the ruins. However, for the most part, the descriptions in “Unrest” are vague enough to stand up to reality.  In any case, the memory of Tlatelolco, the symbol of Tlatelolco,  inevitably overpowers the physical, everyday experience of the place.

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Don’t Mess with Massachusetts

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On January 21st, 2016, Massachusetts residents carried on a proud tradition of showing up for social justice.

As a Massachusetts native, I’m often bemused when the national media portrays us a socialist nanny state run by Ben Affleck and the PC Police, where mobs of shrill feminists will shout you down in the town square for any perceived microaggression, or worse, force you to buy health insurance.

Move over Texas. You may have more guns, but we have history on our side . . . and health insurance.

The truth is my home state has always been on the vanguard of social justice. I’m not just talking about the American Revolution. We all learned about Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and company in elementary school, elite white men who rose up to protect their profits from the King.

We don’t know as much about Danny Shays, who organized farmers in western Massachusetts in 1786 to demand debt relief and pensions for veterans. And most of us don’t know anything about Mum Bett or Quock Walker, Massachusetts residents who fought for emancipation in court, making slavery illegal in Massachusetts as early 1781.

In 1850, Massachusetts refused to cooperate with the Fugitive Slave Laws, which required residents of free states assist the federal government in returning escaped slaves to the south. Instead, residents risked their own freedom to shelter so-called fugitive slaves on the underground railroad.

In 1853, when a runaway slave named Anthony Burns was arrested in Boston, abolitionists stormed the federal courthouse where he was being held. Eventually it took 2000 federal troops, at a cost of $40,000, to escort Burns through the streets of Boston to the ship that would return him to his “owners” in Virginia.  All along the route,  protestors lined the streets shouting, “Shame! Shame!”

It’s no coincidence Massachusetts was the first state to legalize gay marriage and provide universal healthcare. So don’t expect us to sit down and be quiet while the new president twitters away our constitutional rights. Move over Texas. You may have more guns, but we have history on our side, and health insurance.