Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Ink, Fat and Inspiration

Where I write.
Last October I found out my story "Flying with the Dead" would be appearing in Crossed Genres magazine and my story "Paper Trail" was accepted for publication in GUD magazine.

I think we hadn't yet crossed over into November when I learned "Flying with the Dead" would also be included in Cross Genres' Year Two anthology.

They are each stories touching upon immigration, growing up in Guatemala and a particularly Latino practice of Catholicism. They were also my first fiction sales after years and years of writing straight journalism.

Fast forward a year, to October again.
First, I learn that this blog is one of three nominees for a Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) award for "Most Inspirational Latin@ Blog."

Next, I find out my story "La Gorda and the City of Silver" will be appearing in Crossed Genres' Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology, and then, that Crossed Genres Publications will be publishing my novel, "Ink."
And again, all of these bits of writing touch upon immigration, growing up in Guatemala and Latino Catholicism. (Okay, not "La Gorda" which has nothing to do with immigration or the Church and lots to do with lucha libre - but we won't go there. For now.)

It makes me wonder about resonances, about the Octobers in my life - those months that, while a gateway into a cold and bleak season, actually bring a harvest of gifts.

Details from my writing space.
Or the notice of gifts to come.

October is a month dedicated to Mary - to whom, as Our Lady of Guadalupe, I have a devotion. My writing has long been a manda (a promise and debt) to her, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised at what manifests in my life during her month.

Life. Art. Faith. Who can tell where the boundaries are?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Celebrate National Education Week

My mother was a successful sculptor. Some years she made a better living as a fulltime artist than I have as a newspaper editor, but she had an abiding regret – she didn’t have a college degree. This wasn’t unusual for women of her generation in Guatemala, but for my mother – a lifelong reader and learner – nothing was about the way things were but the way they might be.

She accrued credit hours from the UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), from Silpakorn University in Bangkok and from la Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala -- in courses from fine arts to physics -- but no degree. She regretted this most acutely the years when her art didn’t even sustain her material costs and my parents’ existence would have been eased by a second income. Those years, she found herself with no means to supplement income as her artist peers were doing – with teaching gigs secured by resumes no better than hers but for one thing: the degree.

I make the argument time and again that we as a society should better acknowledge and respect those who chose to go into trades and skilled labor that don’t require a college degree (my husband is a butcher, after all) and that we should recognize that not having a college degree is no indicator of intellectual and/or creative genius (Hello? Steve Jobs and Bill Gates anyone?).

But that argument doesn’t invalidate the reality – a college degree is a basic requirement for many jobs.

And yet not too many years ago, when I was interviewing a representative whose district includes portions of Reading, Pa. (a city that has seen substantial growth in Latino communities) I heard the elected official dismiss the low rates of college enrollment in his district this way: Not everyone should go to college. The reality is that the not everyone in his district translated to not Latinos in his district. His district is not an isolated instance. According to a New York Times piece from May, 2011 (http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/05/24/the-downsized-college-graduate/a-gap-for-latino-graduates) fewer than half of young Latinos expect to get a college degree.

Despite that, college enrollment rates for Latinos have spiked recently -- 24 percent from 2009 to 2010 according to the Pew Hispanic Center (http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=146) and there are a number of initiatives to strengthen educational success among young Latinos. One of those efforts is Univision’s “Es el Momento” campaign, which focuses on college readiness and high school and college completion. Others have been undertaken by Latinos in Social Media (LATISM), a non-profit organization whose mission includes improving educational opportunities for Latinos via social media.

Their efforts are a vital part of ensuring that Latino children -- nearly 1 in 4 children in America -- are able to envision a future for themselves that might, can, will include college.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Update on first day of voting on National Security Begins at Home anti-immigrant bills

HB 439, one of the 14 National Security Begins at Home bills under consideration by the Pa. House State Government Committee, won approval from the committee today. It will now go to the full house for a vote. The other bills in the package will be considered tomorrow.

Read more about HB 439:


Saturday, October 1, 2011

'National Security Begins at Home' bills would exact economic, moral costs

Tuesday and Wednesday of the coming week, the Pa. House State Government Committee will be voting on a package of 14 anti-immigrant bills known collectively as the "National Security Begins at Home" package (House Bills 41, 355, 439, 474, 738, 799, 801, 809, 810, 856, 857, 858, and 865 Senate Bill 9). The bills propose changes to existing commonwealth codes and the institution of laws that range from the ill-considered to the downright nefarious.

The House Committee heard testimony from organizations and businesses opposing "National Security Begins at Home" at the end of August. Among those testifying: the Anti-Defamation League, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry, the Service Employees International Union, Community Legal Services of Pennsylvania and business owners highlighting different aspects of the proposed bill package they oppose.

Mark Shea, the administrator of Immigration Services for Catholic Social Services in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who spoke for the Catholic bishops of the Commonwealth, called out HB 738, section 9 (a & b): "We object to any law that treats the actions of men and women to sustain themselves and their families through employment as 'criminal.'" Of HB 738, section 5 (5): "We object to any law that encourages racial profiling by permitting warrantless arrests based on probable cause that an individual is 'removable from the United States.'" Of HB 738, Section 2(4): "We object to any policy of 'attrition through enforcement.'"

"Undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania are not responsible for any generalized 'lawlessness' in our communities," Shea said, "and for the bill's drafters to make such unsubstantiated claims merely contributes to a poisonous rhetoric that stereotypes undocumented individuals as criminals.... Immigrants do not fail to become citizens because they are lazy or inclined to criminality. Poverty, war and desperation in their home countries drive them here. Then our federal government provides no way for the majority of them to attain legal status."

The Lutheran Advocacy Ministry called out HB 857 and HB 474 saying that, "denying U.S. citizenship to newborn babies - one of the most vulnerable groups among us - runs counter to our biblical mandate to care for sojourners in our midst and denies them their fundamental right of human dignity ... Changing our current policy would undermine American values of equality, unnecessarily hurt children and families, and leave our immigration system more broken than it was in the first place."

Further, the Lutheran Advocacy testimony states, HB 738, 355 and the other proposed enforcement measures "originate from assumptions about immigrants and immigrant communities that have little footing in reality, the notion that 'immigration leads to an increase in crime and violence' being a case in point."

Both the SEIU and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia called out bills in the package that require use of specific forms of government-issued identification for receipt of public benefits. According to the Community Legal Services testimony, the measure will "unintentionally block an estimated 500,000 low-income United States citizens in Pennsylvania from accessing critical public benefits which they are eligible to receive." What's more, according to Community Legal Services, "the proponents of these bills have failed to show documented evidence of a widespread problem of ineligible immigrants receiving benefits."Regarding House bills 355, 439, 738 (sections 6 & 9), 798, 856 and 865, Community Legal Services' testimony states (emphasis mine):

"These bills create an assortment of criminal and civil penalties for employers, municipalities, and individuals who work with undocumented immigrants. As in other states, these bills are likely to be found largely unconstitutional and will lead to costly legal challenges. While they are in effect, they will subject businesses to costly requirements and potentially harassing litigation. As well, they would punish entire municipalities and all individuals living in them if critical services such as soup kitchens and domestic violence shelters provide services without regard for immigration status. They would also create tens of millions of dollars in unfunded mandates to municipalities and state agencies without an increase in the health, safety, or welfare of the city. Finally, they would subject lawfully resident individuals to illegal racial profiling, creating a community of fear among immigrants."

Businessman John Rice, of the Rice Fruit Company, with operations in Adams County, Pa., gave testimony of the economic impact the package of bills would have. "We do not need laws that would punish honest fruit growers for hiring the only workers that are available to harvest their crops. We do not need laws that would treat these workers as criminals to be identified, jailed and deported. It doesn't make sense. We need laws that would create a guest worker program here so that these people could come here legally and do the jobs that no one else wants ... They should be brought out from the shadow economy and treated with respect."

In his testimony Rice also stated that though his company doesn't directly employ immigrant employees in his packing house, some of the farms that supply him with fruit do, and he is "very afraid that the legislative package that you (the House Committee) will be considering at these hearings could put my company out of business."

His fears are not unfounded, if Alabama and Georgia farmers' experiences with similar laws can be taken as example. (Click here and here and here to read about impact of Alabama's more recent laws; here and here and here to read about the impact of Georgia's law, enacted in June.)

Stating your opposition to the Pennsylvania "National Security Begins at Home" bill package is easy, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizen Coalition provides a page where you can contact your representatives and senators directly (click here to go to it).