Friday, December 31, 2010

5 things about 2010 to keep in mind for 2011

1. Who put the diss in dystopia?

From codifying racial profiling laws to proposals to nullify the 14th amendment; from characterizing the DREAM Act as opening the door to ravening hordes to criminalizing all people of a given ethnicity or identity, this year was marked by the type of shameless xenophobia that seems a precursor to the establishment of a radically dystopian society.

To my horror, the dystopian novel I started writing a number of years ago is no longer so imaginative or far-fetched -- especially when it comes to our legislated treatment of “the other.”

But there’s this to carry into 2011: the architects of SB1070 in Arizona and copycat legislation in other states (including Rep. Metcalfe here in Pa.); the DREAM Act naysayers; those who propose to gut the 14th Amendment because they don’t like the color, class ethnicity and documentation status of those giving birth these days on U.S. soil … they only stay in office and retain power over the lives and well-being of our brothers and sisters if we let them.

So let’s not let them.

2. Party like it's 1984

2010 has been a banner year for what George Orwell termed doublespeak. Less than a month ago I was the recipient of a press release that claimed that museums were only for elitists and called for defunding them in the name of social justice.

Say what?

Guess only those who can afford to own a Fra Angelico or an Egyptian sarcophagus should get to ever see one. Guess us working class blokes don’t deserve access to art and history and cultural patrimony and education. Yup, that’s the definition of social justice. In some parallel universe.

I wish the doublespeak of the release were an isolated instance. But how many talk radio and TV commentators and legislators do you remember having twisted meaning that way in the past year? And how many times?

Even if you don’t want to think of it as doublespeak, think of it as savaged language. In the immigration debate alone, reform -- a word meaning the reorganization and improvement of something -- has been twisted into amnesty -- a pardon for a political crimes. Undocumented -- describing the state of being without documents, written information or reference -- is now illegal -- which doesn’t mean lawbreaker (the way many politicos use it) but forbidden by law.

There’s no way to stop the cynical and intentional degradation of meaning except to refuse to engage in it. The Society of Professional Journalists recently resolved to swap undocumented for illegal when referring to human beings -- and kudos to them for doing so, even if it took them f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Now, if we can convince the Associated Press to follow their lead in 2011.

And speaking of press….

3. No country for old men

2010 brought us rulings impacting net neutrality; a firestorm about information uncovered and released by Wikileaks -- along with allegations about governmental suppression and about the organization’s founder; and ongoing self-censorship by news media and other organizations averse to confrontation.


When I was growing up in a Guatemala that permitted no story published except “the official story;” where genocide resulted from an exaggerated sense of threatened national security; where a cardinal was assassinated for fear of the reports of governmental malfeasance the Church was set to release, I looked on reporters like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, and executive editors like Ben Bradlee, as my heroes. A free press afforded, I thought, a measure of protection against oppression.

Alas, just as I’ve become more cowardly as I’ve aged (earlier blog post and not getting into it again) so has the press.

I’ve always liked the following biblical passage for its neat turn of phrase: “[Y]our sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” The last number of years, but particularly this past year, the “old men” of the press have been too caught up in nightmares of decline and demise of the traditional media to recognize how they’ve (we’ve) abandoned the real dreams -- of providing access and information to a wide swath of people; of exposing and holding governments and individuals accountable for their words and actions; of providing a place where, sometimes, voiceless would be heard.

A free press, without fear of overstatement, is one of the best tools for preventing repression and safeguarding civil liberties any society has. Unless, of course, it decides to eviscerate itself by caving to censorship and the trump card all governments eventually play -- national security.

With the twitter reporting and citizen journalism of June 2009 in Iran -- during the demonstrations that temporarily made an Iranian daughter, Neda Soltan, world renowned -- I held hope for the equalizing and globally unprecedented access to information offered by new media. The “prophesy” of our sons and daughters. Unoppressable information, if you will. And in many ways web-based media has started to live up to that. But the vision is only half-formed and will soon, it seems, be restricted according to economic advantage. Those who can pay for “the front page” will have it.

In the discourse about access, about the economy and politics of information, I fervently hope that in 2011 our “old men” start remembering the vision that undergirds a free press, and that our “sons and daughters” spend some time dreaming for it a future that isn’t determined by the highest bidder.

4. I'm talking to the man in mirror

I think God probably has a pretty terrific (in several meanings of the word) sense of humor and a most exacting sense of justice. So I have this completely undoctrinal belief that when we each come to our final judgment, God’s going to wear the face of the person(s) we were least able to see Him in during our life.

Sometimes I entertain myself by thinking what that face will be for public figures with big mouths and a demonizing bent. (Like, “OMG, He’s an ‘illegal!’” Or, “What the flip … God’s a ‘terror baby!’”)

But then I remember that for me -- if I die before midnight tonight, anyway -- God’s going to be wearing the face of that minister from Fla. who threatened, in the name of some perverse version of Christianity, to burn the Q’uran on 9/11. Or maybe it’ll be “Speak English” cheesesteak maven and anti-immigration Philly boy, Joey Vento. Or any of a number of public figures who don’t evince a bit of shame in working to make life harder for the poorer or the browner or the most vulnerable members of our human family.

2011 will no doubt bring other candidates to picture in this challenge. And I’m going to have to find my way through my disdain and my sense of righteous indignation to recognize Him in their features. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ll ever be successful at it. But that’s okay, I’ll keep trying anyway.

Because I kinda think that’s the point of faith.

5. Miracles happen

The Chilean miners get rescued,

Spain wins the World Cup.

My short stories get published.

They all seemed, at some point, absolutely impossible. (Someday I'll blog about this year's hard disc crash that ate my novel and all my poems and short stories -- including the ones that were published in 2010 and the ones slated, so far, for 2011).

Don’t despair. Keep breathing. Keep advocating (or agitating). Keep running (and kicking). Keep creating (or praying, or both at once).

Trust in the kindness of people, even those you don't know. Trust that, for some inexplicable reason, people will cheer you on, and go out of their way for you, or just hang on to what you need so when you need it, there it is.

Call it by whatever name you want, just give it thanks for the way the ups always (no matter how long it takes) follow the downs.

Because, hey, sometimes the wonderfully improbable just up and happens.

See you in 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A traveller's Christmas

I'm offering, in my last post until after Christmas, three versions of a traditional Spanish villancico navideño -- a Christmas carol titled "Los Peces en el Rio" (The Fish in the River). It's attributed to a Spanish 18th century monk and composer, Antonio Soler. The three versions I'm posting include a traditional flamenco rendition; the Gypsy Kings' fusion of pop and flamenco; and Lhasa de Sela's jazzier version.

What's interesting to me is that the first two sets of artists have gitano (the Romani people of Spain) roots, while Lhasa was a Mexican-American who grew up criss-crossing the United States and Mexico in a converted school bus with her family.

Such traveller's roots suit the villancico. And remind us that the Holy Family were travellers, too.

I write a lot about the undocumented immigrants in the United States, and draw the obvious parallels with the Holy Family (see my previous post, for instance) but we are far from the only nation to stigmatize those who cross borders for work, or to rejoin family, or whose mobility is part of a cultural tradition and patrimony. The Roma this year faced mass expulsions from France, and increasingly harsh treatment in other nations of the European Union. The International Catholic Migration Commission, based in Switzerland, writes about that situation this way: "[T]hese individuals are all too quickly linked to increasing national security debates, or are presented as a ‘risk’ to the local economy. While it may be argued that rejection is a basic human reflex, it is important to recall that such a reflex is predominantly inspired by fear, and the incapacity to manage differences."

Further, the commission states: "Even beyond questions of unacceptable discrimination and expulsion, current concerns regarding the treatment of the Roma and migrants call us all to consider whether existing structures and legal systems are adequate for addressing the number of people on the move, and the changing phenomena of human mobility. [...] Security can be much more effectively guaranteed when people are offered regular, reasonable and transparent paths of integration and community existence, rather than through targeting people in irregular situations."

Lots to reflect upon while you listen to these villancicos, and on the Sunday after Christmas -- the feast of the Holy Family.

An immigrant's Christmas

A child born in mean circumstance, poor but full of promise and hope. He is carried in arms by a young woman in flight from one country to another. It is her bid for survival. The family is desperate, persecuted, and ultimately, condemned.

If the season makes you think it's a synopsis of Christ's life I'm referring to, think again.


Unless you see Christ's story in the immigrant story I'm going to tell you.

Every year since I've had a blog I've reposted the same story - the story of Erica, who crossed over the border with her baby in arms, to settle eventually, in Philadelphia. The story of Erica's brother, Beto, who disappeared off a subway platform in the same city, only to be heard from again once authorities had put him on his way back to Mexico.

I retell this story every year for a personal reason: this is the story that made me want to write and keep a blog.

But I also retell this story every year for another reason: things haven't changed for Erica, or her brother, or any number of undocumented laborers who we might pass every day on the street without inkling of the road they've travelled - or are travelling.

"People hate the undocumented because they don't hear their stories." This is what immigration advocates tell me, and I believe them.

Well, then.

Here's Erica's story - why she crossed the border without proper documentation, and how. Here's her brother's story of deportation, as well. And the stories of how people are detained before deportation - while seeking work or even simply while sleeping in their homes.


-- Because nothing has changed since the original posts (I'll include their original posting dates). If anything, life has become more difficult for the undocumented in the ensuing years. Raids have increased, deportation numbers have skyrocketed, rhetoric has become more vitriolic.

-- Because Jesus, Erica's 5-year-old-son - who will most likely grow up thinking himself an American and remembering no home but this one - will be unable, after last Saturday's DREAM Act vote in Congress, to earn citizenship for himself. No matter if he is a stellar student with promise enough to change the world. No matter if he is willing to put his life on the line in defense of this country. No matter if he wants, with the same desperation his mother showed by carrying him over the border as an infant, to be part of something better and more promising than what he was born into.

I've decided this year, to also include reposts of raids - both at a local Home Depot and in an immigrant's home, so you experience the whole of the undocumented immigrant's experience: crossing over, seeking work, detention, deportation.

During this season when Christians celebrate the birth of a God who enjoined us to see Him in every face around around us, this is Christ's story.

ubstitute His name for Erica's, for Beto's, for the others whose names you'll see in the repostings, and then tell me how you feel about their treatment. A

nd tell me who you will stand with - those condemning from some sense of righteous indignation about laws and proscriptions breached, or those who see beyond the immediate to the eternal,to divine law.

This is the radical nature of Christ's commandment to love your neighbor - if you wouldn't abide it happening to Him, you cannot abide it happening to any other.

So sit back and listen to the stories. Again
Crossing over
(Original post Oct. 28, 2008)

The 26-year-old who sits before me on the sofa of a Philadelphia parish rectory is small and slight. Her young face is framed by loose, dark curls, and she smiles a lot – mostly when she turns to look at the 5-year-old seated beside her on the sofa.

Though he fidgets, he’s been remarkably good during the two hours it’s taken me to interview his mother. He follows the volley of Spanish conversation with his eyes, answers my few questions to him in both Spanish and English. Dressed neatly in dark trousers and a light shirt, and carrying a child-sized backpack he won’t remove even when he sits down, Jesús reminds me of my nephew or of my older brother at that age. Same dark hair and eyes; same precocious gravity amid childish smiles.

“Do you like school?” I ask him.

He attends a bilingual Head Start program, and an afterschool program at one of the local Catholic churches.

He nods, a serious expression on his face.

His mother watches him answer the question with that look mothers get – admixed pride and wonder and concern.

He is the reason this quiet young woman crossed the border into the United States about four years ago. She carried him over in her arms.

“My motive [for coming here] was my son,” she says to me. “Para sacarlo adelante.”

So that he has a chance. A future.

I think of my own daughter, at that moment probably just getting home from school and sitting down at the computer to do her homework. When she was little I would tuck her into bed telling her I loved her more than the sun and the moon and stars. And I meant it. Still do.

And yet, I find myself thinking, could I have done for her as this young woman did for her son?

“I come from a humble town,” Erica says to me, describing a town in Mexico where most of the parents cannot afford to buy their children shoes.

Erica and her baby lived with her parents, and two of her brothers, 15 and 7 years old.
“There was no work there, no way to make money,” Erica continues. “My parents didn’t have enough for food.”

A few minutes later she adds: “No hay prestamo para comer.”

There’s no loan you can get for food.

Getting a visa to come into the U.S. to work is nearly impossible for someone like Erica. An unskilled laborer, she fits into the lowest priority category of applicants for a pool of only 40,000 visas granted annually.

Even to visit the U.S. with a tourist visa isn’t an option for someone like her, I learn.
It costs $100 to get an interview to see about a visa. And to qualify for the visa, you have to give proof of substantial savings, or hold title to real estate in Mexico.

Erica didn’t have a hope of savings or real estate. But she had hope.

Several of Erica’s brothers had already crossed the border and settled into restaurant jobs in the Philadelphia area. She knew they worked 12-hour days, making about $8 per hour -- enough, she thought, for her son to have something better in his future.

Erica came across the border the way so many of the poor do – by hiring a “coyote” to lead her through some of the toughest terrain in Mexico and the United States.

“No se si aguante,” she tells me the coyote told her when she first approached him. He doubted she could make it across with a child in tow.

Somehow, she convinced him.

She carried her son – and his powdered formula and diapers – through forests and steep gorges and cornfields. She slogged through mud when it rained, and through cold nights.
Others made the journey also, following the same coyote on his trek to, and through, Nogales – a town about 60 miles south of Tucson on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The border patrol caught them, and returned them to Nogales, where the coyote ditched them.

“No se va poder,” he said to them, shaking his head. “It’s not going to be possible.”

But Erica and the others did try to cross again. And got caught by the border patrol again.

It’s not clear to me what side of the border she and the others were on when they were assaulted by a gang of what Erica describes as “cholos” – young men in their 20s who stripped them of their rings, their jackets and shoes, and any money they had.

“They took the diaper off Jesús, and spilled out the powdered formula looking for money,” she tells me.

When they didn’t find any, they wrested the baby from her, beat her and tried to strip off her clothing.

She tells me she believes she might have been raped if a 16-year-old immigrant boy had not stood up to the gang. He claimed her as a sister, and was beaten by the gang in her stead.
Eventually they crossed the border into the United States, and after a 13-day ride in the back of a van, Erica and Jesús arrived in Philadelphia.

Detenton #1
(Jan. 11, 2010)

Immigration Customs and Enforcement broke down doors at numerous homes in South Philadelphia taking 30 suspected undocumented immigrants into detention, according to CS&T sources.
More information as we receive it...

Pre-school and school-age children were in many of the homes raided. Mothers were not taken into detention so they could stay with the children. According to our source, children were "traumatized" by the doors being broken down by agents.

UPDATE AT 1:30 P.M.:
Two of the addresses of houses in raid had been given to ICE several months ago as suspected hubs for human trafficking and/or a prostitution ring. Other homes in the area appear to have been targeted separately , and the undocumented immigrants picked up at those are not believed to be associated with the human trafficking/prostitution ring, according to our sources.

UPDATE AT 4:30 P.M.:
Inside one of the houses raided.

E., who is the second-trimester of her pregnancy, was asleep at 6:50 a.m. today. An insistent knocking at the door woke her. Her husband, and the nephews who share the house with them, had left at 6:30 a.m. for their jobs as cooks -- E. was alone with her 5-year-old son. She didn't answer the door. But in a matter of minutes, eight armed ICE agents where inside her house and then inside the room where she had been sleeping.

"They didn't break down the (front) door," she said, "so they must have done something to force the lock to get inside."

She was terrified, she told me during a brief interview we conducted over the phone, but was grateful that her son was asleep when the men entered the house. Otherwise, no doubt he would have been as frightened as she was, she said.

"Who lives here?" she said the agents asked her.

"My nephews, husband, my son and I," she said she answered.

They asked her whether her child was born here (he's a citizen) and then asked her for the names and birth dates of all of the members of her household, as well as their phone numbers. She wanted not to give them the information, but she complied.

"I was scared," she said. "Pretty much alone in the house with these men asking me questions, and never telling me what it was they were looking for."

The agents looked around her house, E. said, and found a passport that belonged to one of her nephews. They took that with them.

When they left they didn't tell her what is expected of her now (she is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, as is her husband) or whether they will be back when they anticipate her husband and nephews will be home from work -- but that is what E. guesses will happen.

Of course, she called her husband as soon as the ICE agents left.

E. is spending the night at a friend's house tonight; her nephews and husband will also be staying with friends. They don't know for how long, E. said. What's more, they have no idea what they can, should or are required to do now. None of the agents answered any of her questions.

"But I can't go back home," she said. "Not to wake up again like that -- to eight men with guns. In my house."

Detention #2
(Oct. 22, 2009)

On Oct. 13, 80 jornaleros (day workers) gathered early on the parking lot of Home Depot on Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia. They were hoping for a day's work, a day's wage.

At 8:30 a.m., two police officers from the second district drove on to the lot and told them to disperse.
Parts of what happened next cannot be verified. One of the day workers may have refused to leave the parking lot. Perhaps he became belligerent. Or perhaps he argued -- as other jornaleros would say later -- that the store's management had never before complained about them trying to get work on that parking lot .... In any case, the eyewitness who called the Office of Hispanic Catholics of the Archdiocese moments after the incident occurred alleged that the jornalero in question was beaten with a nightstick and taken into custody by the police, his face bloodied.

The eyewitness, also a jornalero rousted that morning from the parking lot, didn't want to talk about it to anyone other than the staff at the Office of Hispanic Catholics. He didn't trust anyone else. And that, as much as any other part of the story, is the story. Not all day workers who gather outside of stores to find work are undocumented, but many are. They don't know each other's names or documentation status but they know some things: 1) If they taken into custody and found to be undocumented they'll be whisked off to a detention center. They may end up being repatriated so fast their names never make it on to the lists of those held for deportation. Their families may not find out where they are or what has happened to them until weeks after they have disappeared. Or, conversely, they may languish in detention centers for months, even years.

2) They can't report crimes or even come forth as eyewitnesses for fear that any such action will precipitate their deportation, or an investigation of the documentation status of their families, coworkers and friends.

3) They can turn to the Catholic Church in whose priests, sisters and committed laity they have found advocates for humane and compassionate treatment -- no matter what their documentation status.

Within minutes of the call from the eyewitness, the director of the Office of Hispanic Catholics, Anna Vega, had called the second police district trying to ascertain whether the jornalero who had been picked up had been injured. She had called the office of Councilwoman Marion Tasco (in whose district the incident occurred) and Regan Cooper, executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition to make sure they were aware of the incident. And she had called the archdiocesan Vicar for Hispanic Catholics, Msgr. Hugh Shields, to recount what the eyewitness had said.

By the time I found out about it, Msgr. Shields had already been to the second police district, where he had been able to confirm that an African American man was taken into custody that morning from the Home Depot parking lot. But without a name, the police officer he spoke to could not release any other information -- not whether the day worker was still in custody, what he was charged with, not even whether he was hurt.

Msgr. had also been to Home Depot, where a few day workers, at the edges of the parking lot, had re-gathered. Speaking to them in Spanish, he asked them if any of them had been there during the earlier incident.

A few nodded their heads.
"We received a call that the man who was taken away was hurt," he said. "Did any of you see that?"

Again some nods.

"Do you know his name?" This time the jornaleros shook their heads.
"And he was a Latino?" Msgr. asked.

"Haitian, Father," one of the jornaleros answered. After a beat he added, "It's the same island."

(Oct. 23, 2008)

The story begins on Thursday, March 15, 2007.

Erica shares an apartment with her three sisters and two brothers. She is still asleep that morning when Beto gets up to go to work at the restaurant where he is a cook.

Usually he leaves for work in the early morning and doesn’t get home until 1 or 2 a.m. He speaks some English, and Erica describes him as “tranquilo” (even-tempered) and “muy cumplido” (reliable).
On that day, he wears a jacket and carries a backpack. He has his cell phone on him, and his pay for the past week, some $500 in cash, by Erica’s accounting.

He calls from the subway platform on his way to work, speaks briefly to one of the family members and ends the call by saying he’ll call again later.

At 1 p.m., a co-worker at the restaurant calls the apartment. “What happened to Beto?” he asks. “He didn’t show up for work.”

The family tries to find him. They call the police, who ask for a description, what clothing and shoes he was wearing. One of the family members runs a photo of him down to the station.
They worry that he might be hurt or dead – that his girlfriend’s ex has killed him in some fit of jealousy. The next day, they seek her out and she refuses to open the door or answer any of their questions. It seems to confirm their worst fears.

Still, they spend the rest of that day, and Saturday and Sunday also, posting flyers with his photo, and asking around whether anyone has seen him. They call hospitals and inquire about every John Doe. At 3 a.m. on Sunday, a friend of the family, utterly desperate, calls Sister Lorena.

“None of us thought about ‘la migra,’” Erica says to me, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement by its nickname. “It hadn’t even crossed our minds.”

But it crosses Sister Lorena’s mind. At 8:30 a.m. on Monday, March 19 she calls the York County Prison where most undocumented immigrants from the Philadelphia area are taken.
By the time they ascertain he was taken there, he’s already gone.

What happened to Beto? Erica recounts the detention story Beto tells her when he is finally able to make a call to them: He’s on the platform at 15th and Market waiting for his usual train. He notices Philadelphia police on the platform checking people’s backpacks, but doesn’t think much about it. At some point, a policeman approaches him, asks him what time it is. When he hears Beto respond, the policeman asks him if he has documents proving he’s a legal immigrant.

Beto, Erica continues, tells the policeman he has papers, even though he really doesn’t. He is loaded into a van with 15 other young Latino men from the train platform, and taken to the local precinct.
The police turn him over to immigration authorities in Philadelphia. There, the I.C.E. agents take his watch, his jacket, his wallet and his cell phone. Before Beto is shipped off to the detention center in York, his wallet is returned to him with approximately $100 of his original $500. He has to plead with them to get his cell phone back.

He’s not at York long. Within days he’s taken first to Texas, and then to Arizona, where he is finally able to contact Erica. He’s on his way to be dropped across the border -- Ciudad Juárez, Sister Lorena guesses – to find his way back to their hometown in Puebla.

Another waitress where I work [as a busboy] knows someone who was picked up the same way, at the same station,” Erica tells me when she finishes recounting her brother’s story.

Then simply, with no drama: “I no longer take the trains."

Perhaps you do not think this is a Christmas story to be told a few days before Christmas.

And yet it is.

I open at random the new translation of the book of psalms one of the newspaper's columnists has given me today. It opens to the last lines of psalm 39: "For I am a sojourner with You, a new settler like all of my fathers...."

We are all sojourners.

All new settlers.

Just so.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

You can't kill a dream

On Dec. 4, 2000, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed December 18 International Migrants Day. The day began as a commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant workers and the Members of their Families.

On Dec. 18, 2010 the U.S. Senate voted no to cloture on the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for young persons who were brought to the United States by their parents as children or infants.

A terribly ironic coincidence of dates.

After the DREAM Act defeat, supporters of the bill said they would continue to push for it. Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, one of the sponsors, said Latinos would remember in the elections in 2012 how senators had voted.

In a letter to senators before the vote, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, coadjutor archbishop of Los Angeles and chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, said: "The DREAM Act would provide thousands of deserving young persons who desire to become Americans a fair opportunity to do so. This would not only benefit them, but our country as well. It is the right thing to do, for them and for our nation."

The U.S. Catholic Bishops have supported passage of the DREAM Act for years. The Church's National Migration Week -- which has as its theme Renewing Hope, Seeking Justice -- is slated to be held Jan. 2-8 in parishes and dioceses around the country. It seems like the ideal time for Catholics heeding Pope Benedict XVI's focus on migrant families in his 2011 World Day of Migrants and Refugees message to gather for prayer vigils and in solidarity with the young people whose dreams were delayed and deferred (but hopefully not destroyed) by Saturday's vote.

Many thanks, by the way, to both Senators Casey and Specter who voted yes to the DREAM Act.

Speaking of dreams that flower only after a long fallow season ....

In an appeal born of shameless self-promotion, and of support for a small but worthy Catholic literary magazine, I'd like to draw your attention to the latest issue of Dappled Things, which contains my "Poem with a line from the Desert Fathers." The issue includes fiction, essays, poetry and artwork with a Catholic focus and is quite handsomely produced. It is also -- perhaps fittingly -- a bit countercultural in that the issue cannot be ordered as an epub, only in print. The web site is Go, browse the back issues (some of those have online links, go figure) -- much of the material is engaging and speaks directly to the Catholic imagination. Hey, maybe you'll discover the next J.R.R. Tolkien among the pages ....

Monday, December 13, 2010

Guadalupe 2010

Images from the 2010 celebration of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia - thanks to the remarkable camera of CS&T freelancer Kevin Cook (

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Por ser dia de su santo ... N.S.D. Guadalupe in Filadelfia

A nice video I found on YouTube of last year's festivities at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadelphia. This year's celebration (held at the cathedral last night) was even larger and better attended. Photos of that to follow.
¡Que viva la Morenita!

Monday, November 29, 2010

An editorial worth reading

From today's Milford Daily News online:

"Contrary to the claims of opponents, the Dream Act would neither forgive illegal behavior nor open the floodgates to previously illegal immigrants. The "crimes" were committed by their parents. We don't deny citizenship to the children of murderers, rapists and white collar criminals. Why deny it to the children of border-crossers and people who overstay visas? Advocates estimate perhaps 800,000 immigrants could benefit from the Dream Act, but they couldn't, in turn, sponsor distant relatives, and even their parents would have to return to their native countries and wait 10 years before they could legally return.

Even critics of immigration reform agree the U.S. needs immigrants, both to support an aging population and to bring the energy, ambition and entrepreneurial spirit that have enriched America for centuries. The young people targeted by the Dream Act are the kind of immigrants Americans say they want: They speak our language, have demonstrated achievement, want to improve themselves and are already loyal to the country they think of as home.

The Dream Act isn't just about helping young people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves without a country and without a future. It's about opening the door of citizenship to young people America needs."
Also, look to the Dec. 2 issue of the CS&T for Mar Muñoz-Visoso's column, which is an open letter to Congress appealing for passage of the DREAM Act. Muñoz-Visoso is the assistant director of media relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops have been very vocal in their support for passage of the DREAM Act. Click here to go to the bishops' Justice for Immigrants page.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In thanksgiving for the 14th Amendment (and no thanks to Rep. Steve King)

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), likely chair of a House subcommittee on immigration in the next Congress, has vowed to take on the 14th Amendment's guarantee of citizenship by jus soli ("right of the soil") for the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. In an interview with a columnist for Iowa's Cityview ( King is quoted as saying:

“The framers did not consider the babies of illegals when they framed the 14th amendment because we didn’t have immigration law at the time so they could not have wanted to confer automatic citizenship on the babies of people who were unlawfully in the United States,” King said.

The 14th Amendment was adopted on July 9, 1868 (one of the "Reconstruction Amendments" adopted immediately after the Civil War) guaranteeing (male) former slaves and their descendants the same rights to birthright citizenship as white American men. Setting aside for a moment any other objections to King's comment, let's just consider that a percentage of the population of the undocumented in the U.S. are the victims (and children of the victims) of modern day slavery - human trafficking - and precisely the contemporary equivalent of who the framers of the 14th sought to guarantee citizenship for. The U.S. Department of State reports:
"The United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor, debt bondage, and forced prostitution ... Trafficking occurs primarily for labor and most commonly in domestic servitude, agriculture, manufacturing, janitorial services, hotel services, construction, health and elder care, hair and nail salons, and strip club dancing. Vulnerabilities remain even for legally documented temporary workers who typically fill labor needs in the hospitality, landscaping, construction, food service, and agricultural industries. In some human trafficking cases, workers are victims of fraudulent recruitment practices and have incurred large debts for promised employment in the United States, which makes them susceptible to debt bondage and involuntary servitude ... combined federal and state human trafficking information indicates that more investigations and prosecutions have taken place for sex trafficking offenses than for labor trafficking offenses, but law enforcement identified a comparatively higher number of labor trafficking victims as such cases often involve more victims." (
Moreover, the report states that the primary countries of origin for victims of human trafficking are virtually indistinguishable from the primary countries of origin for non-trafficked undocumented immigrants who have crossed borders or overstayed visas:
"Primary countries of origin for foreign victims certified by the U.S. government were Thailand, Mexico, Philippines, Haiti, India, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. Eighty-two percent of these foreign adult victims and 56 percent of foreign child trafficking victims were labor trafficking victims. " ( estimates that 17,000+ people are trafficked to the U.S. annually, but all sources of statistics agree trafficking is vastly under reported - and sometimes impossible to distinguish from non-trafficked undocumented immigration. Even in King's implied narrow interpretation of 14th Amendment, a determination of trafficked vs. non-trafficked immigration would have to be made before birthright citizenship was denied to a U.S.-born child of an undocumented person - a logistical and financial (and ethical) nightmare.

Also according to Cityview:
"King wants Congress to pass a ban on 'anchor babies,' place it in statute, and wait for the other side to challenge the prohibition in the courts. If King and his forces lose, they’ll move for a constitutional amendment to change the practice, he said."
I'm moved to think about this as the nation is about to celebrate Thanksgiving - a holiday that commemorates our nation's history of uninvited and undocumented immigration. I have no idea of King's heritage (nor do I care) but unless he is a registered member of one of the Native American/American Indian nations, he doesn't get to use the term "anchor baby" without acknowledging the irony and sheer hubris of it. The vast majority of us are the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of "anchor babies." Yes, even charter members of the Daughters of the American Revolution and those who trace antecedents to the Mayflower, the Nina, Pinta and Santa María or any of the European sailing vessels that landed on the shores of the "New World." Jus soli is the only reason many Americans can claim citizenship.

The photo at the top of this post is from one my family's Thanksgiving dinner prep several years ago. I wrote back then how significant it was to me that at that dinner, the family who sat around the table included Britons and Americans born in Mexico, Guatemala, Thailand and New York; the children of Bengali and Guatemalan immigrants; the grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of Greek, German, Welsh and Spanish immigrants.

My own father was what King so disrespectfully calls an anchor baby. My grandparents were in transition from Greece to Cuba to Colombia when my father was born. Who knows what my grandparents' documentation status was - things were done differently then and what I've seen of the official correspondence between my grandfather and consulates leaves much in the dark. But my father was born in Chicago, Ill. - as we say in Spanish, a mucha honra - to his great pride. An American citizen. A veteran of World War II and the Korean War. A Northwestern U. graduate. The CEO of a multinational corporation. A lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. A man who contributed to building up the nation in countless ways.

I'd put my father's
bona fides up there against King's any day. And yet, were my father to be born after King takes up the chairmanship of the House's immigration committee, the Iowa representative would propose to deny my father his right to citizenship.

I'm no constitutional scholar (nor even much of a historian) but it seems to me that King's desire to rescind birthright citizenship for a certain "kind" of person born on this soil directly contradicts the intent of Abraham Lincoln and others who sought, through the 14th Amendment, to prevent two types of existence in our nation - one free, the other enslaved.

This Thanksgiving when my immediate family gathers around the long, scarred farm table that holds our board, I will pray in memory of my forebears and in hope for my daughter and her children, that in years to come we come to recognize that not all gifts come wrapped in familiar paper.

And that some don't come with papers at all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Life is a carnival

As we race toward the end of the year, we're racing also toward the end of the decade.

What were you doing when the calendar rolled over to 2000? How much has your life changed in the ensuing 10 years? (I'm really asking, by the way.)

I rang in the year 2000 with my husband, daughter, parents and Wally Reinhardt, a good family friend, on beaches of the Mexican Riviera - dancing on the sand to live music and watching a "torito" of fireworks burn the first few minutes of the 21st century away. There seemed nothing, nothing at all, that would make a better beginning.

A week or so later, my family would troop to Mexico City for my daughter's belated baptism and the subsequent party - notable for its food and the canary who picked my daughter's fortune from a basket. "You will be happy," my daughter's fortune read. "And although destiny has made you pretty, do not be conceited. Work to keep a noble heart." We were all happy. I remember it on our faces. And around the table, some very noble hearts.

My husband, daughter and I returned from Mexico to our snowy cabin in the woods outside of Hamilton, N.Y. It was - and still is - the little corner of the world best loved by my heart. Coy-dogs and wild turkeys and deer were our closest neighbors. We awaited the yearly crop morel mushrooms, gem-studded puffballs, mayapples and trout lilies on the ground; the crayfish, little jeweled frogs and brown trout in the stream; and the tiny hummingbird nests hidden halfway to the sky.

We settled back into our routines, the day-to-day lives that now, in retrospect, stand as the best of times. Then, little more than a month into 2000, my mother died.

It was the opening salvo of a decade that when it comes to an end on Dec. 31, will have included more sorrows than joys, more destruction than creation, more heartache than heart's ease.

I miscarried a child. And then another and another. We moved away from our beloved woods. My father got sick, suffered, died. Friends I thought I'd never lose, I did. My husband was unemployed for half the decade. We went from poor but solvent to poor and insolvent and worried about just making it from week to week. Depression, PTSD-like effects of childhood sexual abuse, health concerns, surgeries. It seems like the litany of darkness might go on until the end of time.

And yet.

My brothers both married in this decade, as did one of my brothers in law. I have six nieces and nephews now - all amazing little beings as distinct from one another as the leaves I see changing outside the window today. My daughter has grown from an amazing 5-year-old to an amazing 15-year-old and guess what? She's survived my parenting just fine. My husband is employed at a job he loves. Friends I never thought to seek have made their way into my life. I've discovered social media in this decade, and rediscovered every kind of writing I ever loved and had set aside - from journalism to poetry.I also rediscovered the peculiar joy of seeing my words paid, and in print.

Rediscovery has, in fact, been the hallmark of this decade for me.

The social justice activism I set aside after college has re-emerged in advocacy for immigrants. The religion I also wholly set aside is now part of my everyday life. The assimilated Latina gave way to something just a little different - a woman in community. A mucha honra.

I don't think my ups and downs are unique to my decade. We need only look at the highs and lows of the economy; the ways both the best of the American Dream and the worst have taken center stage in our collective lives; the ways we have lived, in Dickens' words, the best and worst of times.

Not too many months ago my family attended the carnival at St. Joe's Parish in Downingtown. Yes, the ferris wheel photo at the top of this post is from that outing. I have always been an adrenaline junkie - no person in news business can be otherwise - and have done my share of facing down fears. Scared of snakes? Then, let me drape myself in them while on a trip to Thailand. Scared of heights? Let me jump out of a plane at 10,000 feet with nothing but a thin tissue of nylon to stop my fall. And still, at the parish carnival, I refused to go on the ferris wheel.(My husband went on it with my daughter.) I had to be coerced, in fact, to go on a horrid pirate ship ride that pitched me forward and backward, with my eyes firmly shut. I'm told the child in the seat in front of me laughed through the whole ride. So, the question is, has this decade birthed fear in me?

The answer is undeniably, yes.

And yet.

I was working on my novel a few days ago (I'll post some other time about how this decade also swallowed whole my last novel). One of the characters is like I was before the calendar page turned in 2000 - seemingly fearless. She climbs as high as she can to get close as she can to the stars. Her explanation? The stars cast their light on us without regard for whether we deserve the illumination or not. Without regard for our fears, or our small, brave stands. Without regard for whether we have become what we imagined, oh say, a decade ago.

This decade has also birthed a sort of awareness of the significant synchronicities in life. The way, if you want (and I do), God sheds light on us. The way, for example, as I'm writing this, my eyes fall on the words of one of columnists in our Catholic newspaper this week:
You know the number of the stars and call each of them by name.

It is a line from the psalms intoned in Morning Prayer - the Divine Office prayed across the globe, every day. I like the rest of the psalm, too. The way it speaks, the way it illuminates the step that bridges closure and beginning:
Heal hearts that are broken, gather together those who have been scattered....
No canary could pick a better wish for a new decade than this. No person could pray for better.

Friday, November 12, 2010

You may say that we're DREAMers

But we're not the only ones ...

DREAM Act Panel Discussion
Wednesday, Nov. 17
7:30 - 8:30 p.m.
Barton Hall Classrooms, Room 109, at Temple University

The DREAM Act is bipartisan legislation that would legalize the status of thousands of undocumented youth in the United States. The bill would apply to students in both public and private schools, including Catholic schools. Young persons would become eligible for permanent legal status upon completion of two years of college or two years of honorable service in the military. Approximately 65,000 youth per year would benefit from the DREAM Act.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the DREAM Act:
"On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I write to express our support for S. 729, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act). This legislation would make a difference in the lives of undocumented youth who were brought to the United States by their parents and now, because of their lack of legal status, face obstacles to their future. By removing such barriers, the DREAM Act permits immigrant students to pursue a promising future through college education or military service."
-- USCCB letter to legislators, April 6, 2009

Monday, November 1, 2010

Flying with the Dead

Guatemala. Mexico. The United States.

Immigrant. First generation citizen. Second gen.

What we carry from our parents and for our parents.

Across borders that separate nations and worlds and human hearts.

In communion with saints, in remembrance of souls, and in praise of what persists - beyond all odds.

My short fiction "Flying with the Dead" is on line at Crossed Genres magazine here.
Please read it and comment at that site. Good, bad, semi-indifferent - I welcome, appreciate and look forward to all of your comments.

And if you can see your way to it, please consider purchasing a print or ebook version of the magazine. Small, independent presses and magazines are vital to those of us who write fiction - and for those of us who love discovering new and emergent writers.

Or, purchase the Crossed Genres Year Two anthology, available in December, which also has my story - along with many other fine short stories.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pa. legislator heads efforts to repeal 14th amendment birthright

Go to State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe's web site ( to read about his organization State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI).

An excerpt:

"State Legislators for Legal Immigration has been formed to serve as a unifying force to bring all levels of government together to terminate America’s illegal alien invasion from the Keystone State of Pennsylvania ...."

According to USA today, GOP lawmakers have signed on to Metcalfe's efforts (

Rep. Metcalfe needs a history lesson - unless his forebears were in the New World before "invasion" by Europeans, he's an American thanks to an "anchor baby" ancestor.

Unbelievable hubris.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Two Shenandoah Men Convicted of Hate Crime in the Fatal Beating of Luis Ramirez

The Department of Justice released this yesterday:

Two Shenandoah, Pa., Men Convicted of Hate Crime in the Fatal Beating of Luis Ramirez

WASHINGTON - A federal jury in Scranton, Pa., has convicted Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak, both of Shenandoah, Pa., of a hate crime arising out of the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez. The jury found the defendants guilty of violating the criminal component of the federal Fair Housing Act, which makes it a crime to use a person’s race, national origin or ethnicity as a basis to interfere, with violence or threats of violence, with a person’s right to live where he chooses to live. In addition, the jury found that Donchak conspired to, and did in fact, obstruct justice.

During the trial, the jury heard evidence from multiple eyewitnesses that the defendants, aided and abetted each other and some of their friends in fatally beating Luis Ramirez because he was Latino and because they did not want Latinos living in Shenandoah.

According to the evidence presented at trial, on July 12, 2008, the defendants came upon Ramirez in a park after leaving a community festival. The defendants and several of their friends, some of whom testified during the trial, attacked Ramirez. During the course of the beating, the defendants and their friends yelled racial epithets in which they repeatedly called Ramirez a racial derogatory term and told him "This is Shenandoah. This is America. Go back to Mexico." According to testimony, Donchak beat Ramirez while holding a thick piece of metal identified at trial as a "fist pack." Piekarsky kicked Ramirez in the head as he lay prone on the ground. After Piekarsky kicked Ramirez, he told a bystander who was married to a Latino man to "tell your Mexican friends to get out of Shenandoah or you will be lying next to him." After the fight concluded, Ramirez was taken to Geisinger Regional Medical Center, where he died of massive head injuries. The jury also heard evidence that, immediately following the beating, Donchak conspired with some of his friends, some of their parents, and members of the Shenandoah Police Department to obstruct the investigation of the fatal assault.

"Hate crimes of this nature have no place in this country, and today’s verdict demonstrates that violence committed because of a victim’s race, national origin, or ethnicity will not be tolerated," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. "As this case illustrates, the Civil Rights Division will vigorously enforce the right of every person who lives in this country to do so free of racially-based violence and intimidation."

Because the jury found that death resulted from their acts, Donchak and Piekarsky face sentences of up to life in prison on the hate crime charge. In addition, Donchak faces up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction charge and five years on the conspiracy charge. The defendants will be sentenced on Jan. 24, 2011, by Senior District Judge A. Richard Caputo.

This case was investigated by special agents from the FBI’s Philadelphia Division, and was prosecuted by Gerard V. Hogan and Myesha Braden of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

La Morenita is in the house

Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010. The Mariachi is Los Halcones from Reading, Pa. La Morenita now has a permanent place in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul -- Philadelphia's mother church.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Off topic: Another poem to read

So many fairy tales and myths to recast into poetry, so little time.

Click here to read my piece which appears in the latest issue of Scheherezade's Bequest, the online publication of Cabinet des Fees, a journal of fairy tales.

Besides the allusion to the character in the Arthurian cycle of myths, a fata morgana is a mirage or optical illusion that appears just above the horizon line.

H.R. 5748, The End Racial Profiling Act of 2010

H.R. 5748 would eliminate racial profiling by law enforcement.
Latest Major Action: 7/15/2010: Referred to House committee. Status: Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.
Read the full text of the bill here.

Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America from Breakthrough on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A fond farewell to the director of the Office of Hispanic Catholics in Philadelphia

Anna Vega, the director of the Office for Hispanic Catholics of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is retiring after 17 years. A staunch advocate for immigrants, Vega has been instrumental in so many initiatives for the Latino Catholic community (and the Latino community as a whole) it may take a battalion of people to replace her.

I've worked with her as part of the committee for the annual Hispanic Heritage Mass, and on a regular basis in consultation about the Spanish-language page of the Catholic Standard & Times. I've partaken of her stellar pernil and coquito; I've cried on her shoulder and mostly I've laughed, a lot, with her.

I'll never forget walking into her office one day to hear her get a desperate call from a day worker picked up, with many others, from the parking lot of a local Home Depot and taken to the police station. His first call was to the Office of Hispanic Catholics. Because he knew of her, and knew she would try to locate family, contact the council person for that district, ask priests and immigration advocates to go to the station - essentially, do everything in her power to help. And so she did.

There is little doubt that even after retirement Vega will continue to advocate and fight for the immigrant and Latino community of Philadelphia. I am going to miss her, though, and so are many other people who are part of the Latino community or engaged in building it and advocating for it. I'm attaching some videos I shot yesterday at her retirement party. (In English here and here; in Spanish here.) They paint the portrait of a woman with dozens of wonderful qualities - and still don't manage to capture the full measure of who she is and the impact she's had.

Oye, Anna - no te vayas demasiado lejos ¿de acuerdo?