Saturday, April 24, 2010

Flagging Arizona

I’ve spent time in Arizona. In fact, a good 40 years ago, my parents thought about purchasing property there. They considered it seriously enough to begin plotting out the design of the house they would build in the environs of Sedona (in those days, completely undeveloped). I remember hoping they’d change their minds. Used to the lush green of Guatemala, Arizona’s beauty eluded me. It simply seemed a harsh and inhospitable place.

In the ensuing years I’ve learned to delight in the spectacular colors and starkly stunning landscapes of the American Southwest. But it turns out that my child self was right after all. Arizona, after the signing into law of SB1070 yesterday, is truly a harsh and inhospitable place.

Soon, it will be impossible in Arizona to drive someone to the hospital or emergency room without first ascertaining whether their documents are in order. If you do so – either because you don’t think to ask about their documents or because your humanitarian instincts compel you to provide help anyway -- you can kiss your car goodbye (because it will be impounded) and you may face further sanctions.

Soon, if you look like you could possibly be an undocumented immigrant in Arizona, the police will have the law-backed right to stop you, wherever and whenever, and ask you to prove you are fully documented. And, if you think a social security card will be enough proof, think again.

Soon, even transiting through Arizona while looking like you might, conceivably, be undocumented will be a crime. And in Arizona -- as in the rest of the rest of the United States since immigration has become a hot button topic -- you look “illegal” if you look “Latino.”

Set aside for a moment that there are Latinos of all colors and “looks” (I have Guatemalan cousins who are amazons closer to 6-ft. than 5, and crowned with heads of hair nearer to auburn than dark brown or black), there are plenty of citizens and permanent residents and fully documented folks who fit the bill of what those Arizonan police officers will be looking to pull over.

There’s been a lot of effort expended by proponents of the bill-which-is-now-law to explain that passage of this law is not a form of sanctioned racial profiling. If you clicked the link on my last blog post you know that spokespeople are claiming that there is a whole arsenal of “indicators” besides skin-tone or accented English for determining potential “illegal” status – including the type of clothing and shoes you wear.

Oh, good, that makes it so much better.

Is this new? Of course not. African-Americans, particularly young men, have been routinely stopped because the police find it suspicious that they are where they are at any given moment. My college friend Cary was taken aside and questioned by police at the Bronxville train station just because he was young and African American and the police assumed he wasn’t a student at Sarah Lawrence College because of that. My older brother stopped wearing his black leather jacket when he was a grad student at Yale because whenever he did the New Haven cops would stop him, thinking no Latino who looked and dressed like him could possibly have been rightfully registered at that august institution of higher learning.

So, of course, racial profiling takes place, daily, in states other than Arizona. It’s just that as of yesterday, Arizona is flying its racial profiling as a flag to be saluted.

This sad and horrifying law should raise concern beyond those who might fear being stopped. Remember, this law criminalizes Good Samaritan action -- don’t stop to give that stranded motorist a lift to the nearest gas station or telephone box. It potentially criminalizes friendship --how many times do you ask your friends or acquaintances or coworkers to prove their legal status before they get into your car? It criminalizes the pastoral care priests and religious leaders provide for their congregations when they provide vans and buses to bring them to church or catechism classes. It criminalizes the ways we are a human family and so help each other out.

The Catholic bishops and other religious leaders of the region have roundly condemned this law as immoral (see here and here and here). A broad coalition of organizations is protesting and drawing attention to the injustice the law institutionalizes and the dangerous precedents it sets (see here and here and here). A boycott has been called (see here and here).

I have to say I’m pretty proud of the individuals and organizations that are willing to stand and protest a law this unjust. As for me, I don’t take losses of civil liberties or institutionalized prejudice lightly. I plan to keep writing about it and nagging the president and all of those legislators whose self-interest has eclipsed common good and common sense in this matter.

I hope that as a reader of this blog you join me in this. Let’s lower Arizona’s racial profiling flag and fly a different one, okay? One that acknowledges that at some point we all wore immigrant shoes and clothes and skin -- and that it never was a good enough reason to be pulled over. Or left stranded.

Image of antique map of the Americas from the Vintage Moth.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Immigrant shoes

California representative tells us it's easy to figure out who's "illegal" by looking at our shoes and clothes. Who knew? Must be a West Coast thing. ;-)

image from wikimedia commons.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Philly Moms: You might be a cult member if …

You might be a cult member if …

Original post to Philadelphia Moms Blog.

MemorialYou might be a cult member if ...

… You’ve tried diets involving extended consumption of only one kind of fruit, or massive quantities of protein, or meals in a can.

… You are fonder of your treadmill than animate beings.

… You feel ambivalent about your height. Or your skin. Or your hair.

I think most of us belong to the cult. We say we’re realistic about our looks, or that we have to know our flaws to work with them, but the truth is we’ve been indoctrinated into a corrosive pseudo-religion -- one with specific (often unattainable) standards and a sense that no matter how ascetic or hedonistic we are, we will forever fall short of its promise of salvation. Film actress Demi Moore recently revealed her history of body issues, comedienne Kirstie Alley has practically made a second career out of hers, and stars as dissimilar as Cher and Joan Rivers have altered their faces to indistinction in search of some quality they don’t see in the mirror.

I come from a long line of image cultists. My grandmother was obsessed with my mother’s skin tone and black hair. By the age of 12, my mother had already been dyed blonde then red, and was routinely doused in face powder three or four shades paler than her skin tone in order to look “whiter.” My mother, in turn, obsessed about my looks -- albeit differently. It was my fat she sought to eradicate. When I did finally lose some weight, she shifted her attention to my nose -- which had reverted to some sort of ancestral coarseness quite unlike her fine one. She offered to pay for a nose job when I turned 16 (I declined). And, I’m fearful that despite my best intentions I, too, have brought my beautiful daughter into the cult.

In one of his moving poems, Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai writes: “Happiness has no father. No happiness ever/Learns from the one before, and it dies, without heirs./But sadness has a long tradition,/Passes from eyes to eye, from heart to heart.” The cult may not pass along sadness, but it makes insecurity an inheritance. And that carries it’s own cost to wholeness.

Eye to eye, heart to heart. If our eyes are nothing but critical when they’re trained on our reflections, can they be less critical when trained outward? If our hearts feel diminished by each perceived lack, can they ever feel full? Particularly when we recognize something of ourselves in our daughters?

By the way, the photo that accompanies this post is of my mother. It seems inconceivable to me that she could have ever felt some lack, or had issues with her looks. But that’s what’s so insidious about the cult -- it takes in what’s perfectly whole and beautiful and redefines it.

How do we walk away from the cult? Kindness, both outwardly and inwardly expressed, for sure. But that’s a facile answer -- and far more difficult to practice than to write in a blog post.

So, what do you think it takes? I’m asking.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

L.A. will have its first U.S. Hispanic Archbishop

Pope Benedict XVI named Archbishop Jose Horacio Gomez of San Antonio the coadjutor Archbishop of Los Angeles. As coadjutor, the Monterey-born Archbishop Gomez will automatically become the head of the L.A. Arch. upon Cardinal Roger Mahony's retirement. The L.A. Archdiocese has 4.2 million Catholics -- a large percentage of them Latinos.

Archbishop Gomez was here in 2008 (that's a Catholic Standard & Times/Joanna Lightner file photo of him at the head of this post) and here are some of his comments about immigration from the CS&T articles of May 22 and 29, 2008:

"In Catholic social teaching, the right to migrate is among the most basic human rights ... if a person can't find the necessities of life for his family, he has the right to leave his country and to seek these things in some other country. It's very close to the right to life. Why? Because God, our Father in Heaven, has created the good things of this world to be shared by all men and women. [...] No country can deny this basic human right out of exaggerated fears for security or selfish concerns about threats to domestic jobs or standards of living. And Catholic teaching presumes that the more prosperous a country is, the more generous that country should be in welcoming immigrants." (CS&T May 22, 2008, p. 58)

And from the CS&T issue of May 29, 2008, p. 25:

Christ is present in the migrant worker and the undocumented immigrant and what we do to them we do to Christ, he said. "This sense has been totally lost in the rhetoric of the immigration debates. To listen to talk radio or the cable news, and even to some of our politicians, it's as if the immigrant isn't even a person. Instead he's only a thief or a terrorist or a simple work animal. We need to promote solutions to this tragedy that reflect the values of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. [...] Although federal immigration reform was killed in Congress last year [2007] after a bitter debate, more than 240 new laws were passed in 46 of our 50 states. Many of these new laws are harsh and punitive, and already they're creating injustices and economic hardships throughout the country. You can open the pages of the Wall Street Journal almost every day and find evidence that our nation's economy can't prosper, or even operate efficiently, without a large immigrant workforce."

For another post about Archbishop Gomez, go to my post of Sept. 18, 2009.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Philly Moms: How do I count?

How do I count?

Original post to Philadelphia Moms Blog.

PassportsTime online wrote about it. The tweeps I follow on Twitter have been buzzing about it for weeks. It’s even been Facebook fodder. How do Latinos identify themselves on the census forms? There’s no box to check under race for mestizo/a which is how a number of us are configured -- being blends of African, Caucasian and/or First Peoples from across the Americas. Equally confusing, under the Hispanic ethnicity categories there is no box to tick for those of Puerto Rican heritage.

The census may only be ten questions, but answering them is not so easy.

Take my family, for example. My husband’s no problem -- his ancestry is all Welsh, French, English. White bread, as I like to tease him. I’m a corn tortilla, and surprisingly, there was a box appropriate for me under ethnicity (Hispanic of Central American origin) though not under race (White? No -- but none of the other options fit me either). Many Latinos/as in the same quandary as me checked “other,” and wrote in “mestizo/a.” In retrospect I wish I had thought to do this. Still, I wasn’t the census problem in our family.

It was my daughter.Where does my girl fit in -- my white flour tortilla kid?

Turns out, nowhere.

The problem, of course, is that the more specific we get about what kind of Latinos we are, the more impossible it becomes to fit ourselves into any one category. Is my daughter part Latina? Certainly. Is she part Central American Latina? Much more debatable -- despite the indisputable blood she shares with me. Much has been written about cultural identity being keyed to specific traditions, customs, regional religious practices and language. My daughter has a pan-American Latina version of all of the above -- not the Central American version I had. There was no category appropriate for her on the form I filled out.So as far as the census is concerned, my daughter doesn’t share my genes at all -- she’s non-Hispanic.

I suspect a number of children of Latino/a-Anglo marriages are going to end up in the same category. Which is a shame and makes the count, well, inaccurate. There are going to be a lot of 1/2 and 1/4 Latinos out there passing for "non-Hispanics."And, yes, I know this need to self-identify as a minority or person of color is something that drives Anglos crazy. I’ve had friends give me grief about it -- insisting that the American ideal is a color- and culture-blind society. My response has been (and continues to be) that until we reach that ideal, I’ll be representing, thanks very much. Plus, I’m not so sure I want to inhabit an America without Chinatowns, without Little Italys or French Quarters; without self-identified Creole and Cajun and Desi. It’s a little like contemplating an America with one aesthetic or -- God forbid -- one cuisine.

For the next census I’m proposing something more savory than what we faced this time around. Let’s take our cue from bakeries. Give us boxes to check off with 7-grain and multi-grain white; cornbread, nan, pita, babka and soda bread; bagels and scones; brioches and frybread. And tortillas -- both corn and flour, please.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

In the garden

I started to write this blog post yesterday, on Good Friday. It was going to have a different title then, and was to be about how the crisis (wait, what’s the plural?) in my life has turned into a sharp and piercing crisis of faith. And, no, the timing wasn’t intentional. I’m not that smart or wise or spiritually evolved.

In fact, where faith goes, I’m pretty much a child. I’ve been graced with moments when the numinous has reached for me, gotten my attention, amazed me and then allowed me to go back to playing. I’ve felt the warm embrace of the Divine many times, even when I wasn’t seeking it. I’ve been comforted and protected and loved. I’m not saying my life has been unmarked by grief or sorrows or ugliness. It has. But through most of it, I’ve felt accompanied.

This Lent? A great silence has haunted my prayer. It’s reached deep, with cold ghostly fingers. I’ve been walking around with a hole in my chest where my heart used to be. And it might as well be said, I’ve been pretty angry at God about it.

Yes, I know. I’ve already elicited one priest’s horrified response when I told him that. It takes a prodigious amount of arrogance to get mad at God, doesn’t it? I’ve admitted to the arrogance in another blog post, so I’m not going to get into it here. But the anger, I think, stems from another -- related but distinct -- nature: surety. Surety is more childish than arrogance, somehow more innocent and trusting. Surety has faith.

Yup. Faith. Amid a crisis of faith.

I can have my tantrums, my long moments of doubt, my crises because I know, eventually, Good Friday gives way to Easter. Soon, the stone gets rolled away from the bitter, silent tomb and opens to a promise upheld. The promise that, beyond all human expectation, hope and love persists. That it endures forever.

And it has nothing to do with deserving or not deserving.

Yesterday, amid my obligations, I walked around and saw that despite the destructive intensity of this past winter, our daffodils and sorrel have broken through the ground that held them during the fallow season. The hydrangeas have popped tender green buds on dead brown stalks. The spring peepers are singing, glad to be out from their hibernation in the muddy depths of the pond. Whole battalions of variously-spotted ladybugs zoom around making that distinctive whirring noise beetles make when they fly.

Inside, I rediscovered a song given to me as a gift years ago, when I had been feeling similarly bereft (I want to say when I was berefting -- because it really should be a verb). The song is “In the garden” by Van Morrison, and though the lyrics are as twisty as a Gordian Knot, this is the refrain: Listen. No guru, no method, no teacher. Just you and I, in nature. And the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, in the garden.

It’s impossible for a Christian to hear about “the garden” this time of year and not hear a reference to the Garden of Gethsemane where the Christ’s human companions fail Him -- abandoning themselves to sleep for fear of being abandoned by the Divine as they have known it. It’s impossible for a Christian at any time of year to hear about “the garden” and not hear a reference to the Garden of Eden, where the human children fail the Father -- abandoning themselves to a fall for fear that love will not be enough. And still, the song is lovely, a paean to the way the Divine is always present -- in sadness and incertitude, in joy and celebration. Even when we are at our most fearful, and in middle of our gravest failures.

We continue to fail in all sorts of human ways. We fear to fly so we choose to fall. There are deaths, both literal and figurative; large and small. We fear that we will remain in the sere of winter -- abandoned to it without mercy. And yet, we yearly experience that the love really is unending and that we will not be forsaken. That like the daffodils, we can break through hard ground again and turn our faces to the glad sun. That like the tiny frogs with their big voices -- and me with my Van Morrison rediscovery -- we’ll find our song and have cause to rejoice anew.

I’m glad to be writing this on the Easter Vigil. I’ve always liked vigils, with their flickering candlelight heralding the next dawn. I understand the way the light from candles sometimes seems near to guttering out, then blazes up again. I like that the candles’ smallness doesn’t prevent them from casting their pools of light onto upturned faces. They’re no suns, but they puncture the dark and get us through until the greater light can bathe us in its warmth.

At tonight’s Masses (unbelievably long ones, by the way) all the candidates and catechumens who have chosen to step forward in faith will stand before their family and friends and God. They will do so with the comforting, encouraging hands of those who have helped them get there on their shoulders.

We don’t have to be candidates or catechumens to need those hands on our shoulders. The hands aren’t always physical, and they aren’t always the hands we expect to be there. Sometimes, their touch is so light, so ethereal and evanescent we can’t even feel them.

But they’re there all the same.