I just got off the phone with a friend who is Jewish, married to a Christian, and has adopted two African-American girls. When I asked if they were going out of town for the holidays he answered, almost breathlessly, "We haven't had time to go anywhere." Except, that is, to various holiday engagements, including nightly Kwanzaa celebrations (each night of Kwanzaa is an opportunity for a family or community gathering). I suggested to him that maybe they consider rolling all the different holidays into one big one that they can rename something all-encompassing....'Winter festival' or something equally non-sectarian and inocuous. But it's not so simple as that, of course, as we all have our nostalgic, sentimental, or spiritual ties to the particular holiday that we grew up celebrating (or we had such negative experiences growing up with those holidays that we've discarded them in favor of new traditions; either way, they've got an emotional hold on us).
I like to think of this time of year as a Season of Lights; a season that's cold and dreary, which is why we feel compelled to chase away the darkness and the blues with colorful lights, fancy wrapped presents, comforting food and the warmth and friendship of our loved ones. There's a reason why pretty much every culture in the world does something to celebrate during the colder winter months. We're pretty smart animals in some ways, we humans, even if we are messing up the planet.
And while I celebrate Christmas, I make sure not to homogeneize the holidays into something superficially Christian. I find it interesting that my hard-core Jewish co-worker just wished me a 'Merry Christmas'. I feel a little awkward saying 'Happy Hanukah' so I go for the generic 'Have a good holiday'. It's just a lot easier and less likely to offend.
Whatever you call these cold days of winter revelry, I hope you stay warm, fed, nourished and comforted by all the magic and positive energy that the season brings. If only for once a year, I do have hope that people's hearts open a little bit bigger this time of year. I hope yours does too.
As I trudged up the hill to my apartment from the bus stop, I considered the possibility of writing a memoir before I finish my novel. Now, this could just be another trick, a distraction that my mind is throwing into the ring of my consciousness to keep me from finishing the sci-fi/fantasy novel I started almost six years ago. Or, it could be my consciousness' way of demanding space and attention for my lifestory. Indeed, as I listened to my knees creak during the last few paces at the top of the hill, I realized, 'I am not getting any younger.'
I have done many things that most people never get a chance to do. Protested in front of the White House. Raised $100K-plus for an organization I care about. Confronted my abuser (my step-father) about the sexual abuse he perpetrated on me. Traveled to Cuba. Gotten arrested on Market Street for 'harassing' a police officer. Stayed at a commune on the California-Oregon border, complete with communal 'shitter' (outhouse) and naked men cooking me breakfast. I have a lot of material to work with.
And I wonder if I should do this before the novel because so much of 'me' is coming out in Tala Zaal, my protagonist; and I wonder if it's because I haven't gotten enough of the 'real me' out into my essays, blogs, diaries, etc.? Does the 'real Rona' need to get some stuff off her chest and out into the world before the fictional characters that populate my imagination can fully realize themselves?
Perhaps it's the winter holiday season (also the season of my birthday) that brings upon this introspective thought-train. Winter has always been a time of turning inwards for me, of examining what I want to be getting out of my life and what I want don't want to be. It is a time of reckoning, of evaluation, of turning to look at the year (or years) past and ask myself, 'What am I proud of? What have I accomplished? Am I any closer to leaving a mark on this world? Am I happy?'
I was told today by an author and fellow fundraiser that I admire greatly that she really enjoyed my blogpost on 'An Inconvenient Truth'. I'm sure that's one of the reasons this crazy idea of a memoir is haunting my thoughts. And the fact that the day after tomorrow is Thanksgiving/taking and I haven't any real plan for celebrating or non-celebrating the holiday for the first time in probably my whole life is quite sobering, and liberating at the same time.
I guess I think a memoir could serve as a means of catharsis, or a kind of emotional bulimia--I've scarfed down all these experiences, emotions, ideas, etc. and I want to puke them out into the world. Clear my system, as it were. Not a pretty image but it feels right. And sometimes--no, often--real healing and the moving forward that follows soon after is not pretty, but it is right, and necessary, and unavoidable.
Got my November issue of Filipinas magazine and saw that the 'Bebot' video had made a cover headline. Of course, FilMag is coming to the party a little late, as this 'controversy' has been swirling around the Internet for a few months now, and seems to have pretty much died down. I hadn't paid much attention to the brouhaha myself--I first saw the open letter that 13 academics had signed on to accusing the Black Eyed Peas' 'Bebot' video of being degrading to Pinays and thought it sounded a bit silly and tired--until I read the FilMag article, but I find the whole situation rather amusing from my unique 'insider-outsider' position.
Why 'insider-outsider'? I'm Pinay (born in the US) and I happen to know or know of a few of the people who signed the letter. I'm college-educated (UC Berkeley cum laude 1995), consider myself a feminist and radical activist, and have been tangentially involved in Filipino-American politics for the last ten years or so. I've 'been there done that' when it comes to protesting 'stereotypical' representations of people of color, women, etc. I also love to dance salsa, reggaeton, even hip-hop and go to clubs every so often. Lastly, I work at an organization that works mostly with high school-age youth, so I know from firsthand experience what young people are listening to, dancing to, and wearing these days.
I actually didnt' see the 'Bebot' video until today, when I was compelled to finally see what all the fuss was about. And I have to admit, I kept waiting for the 'offensive', 'degrading' images of Pinays to appear. Maybe I've spent too much time outside academia and in the real world, or maybe I've been desensitized by the much more raunchy lyrics and images I hear and see in other hip-hop music and videos, but I didn't see what the big deal was. The video just looked like a bunch of Pinoys at a party. The girls weren't super-scantily dressed by regular rap-video standards--which I admit are pretty low, but I've seen 40-year-old women at salsa clubs wear less than what some of those young Pinays were wearing. I didn't see any crazy grinding and lapdancing happening in the video, which seems to be par for the course in other rap videos nowadays. There were even b-girls doing their thing, not wearing bikinis like they might in a Jay-Z video but wearing jeans and t-shirts. And I didn't see any close-up booty-shots of Pinays in butt-hugging Daisy Dukes.
All in all, it looked a little bit like a scene out of 'The Debut', with more of a hip-hop/urban edge. I don't think anyone would call that movie degrading to Pinays. Maybe a little mainstream and 'stereotypical' in its portrayal of 'good Filipino girls', yes, but degrading? I don't think so.
I still don't get what the fuss was all about, or why the Black Eyed Peas and their supporters even felt the need to respond to the 13 academics. Does 13 people publishing an open letter about a music video that maybe a few milion people have seen and probably like or didn't even think twice about merit being called a 'tempest' as the Filipinas Magazine called it? Was this really a 'storm of controversy'?
The letter actually reminded me a lot of feminists like Andrea Dworkin who think porn and Playboy and really, anything remotely sexual, are the most vile things on the planet. I disagree. While I agree with the academics that Pinays are portrayed in degrading and over-sexualized ways in the majority of mainstream American media, I also think that it's okay to show Pinays dancing in a club with their bellies bared and not be degrading them. Their rhetoric almost borders on being puritanical, and since I know these folks are educated Fil-Ams, I doubt that their concerns regarding this video are moralistic in a Catholic way.
It's funny, because when I went to Cuba, the women and girls there dress very provocatively (more provocatively than in the 'Bebot' video, for sure), but at the same time are empowered with accessible and free birth control and reproductive health options that keep them more in control of their bodies and their sexuality than many Third World women. Also, beauty wasn't limited to only skinny or light-skinned women, but women of all body types and skin colors. Sexuality and sensuality between men and women is very open and normal in Cuban society, where men winking or whistling at women is common and not simply a sign of 'degradation.' That experience taught me that just because a woman was being seen as a sexual being didn't mean she was being degraded. I wonder if we'll ever get to that enlightened place in this country, or at least in the Filipino-American community. I'm not holding my breath for that moment, though.
All this is to say is that I still don't get what all the fuss is about. I like the song, I like the video (although I liked the original 'Generation One' version better for its portrayal of Filipino manongs in Stockton), and that's about it. Does it play into the American male fantasy of the docile, oversexualized Pinay? Probably, but so do non-scantily clad young Pinays walking down the street together. I don't think this video contributes to that stereotype in a gross way. Does that stereotypical image exist? Of course. If people want to change the fact that images of scantily clad, booty-shaking women are part of music labels' commercial formula for hip-hop music videos, by all means go ahead and do so. But send your protest letter to the people with power--the music labels--not the artists, who in this case had wanted a different video, one with more political overtones, shown in the first place.
Maybe folks should spend more time trying to make images of Pinays that they feel are positive rather than just criticizing others for trying to do the same. Or making sure that all women have access to economic and sexual health choices that give them the option to be sexual or not, with whomever they want.
I thought I'd break my blog silence because I Googled myself today (as I do every so often just to see what the world's been saying about me---usually not a whole lot but sometimes an interesting tidbit pops up) and I saw that 'Rina Fernandez naked' popped up as the first hit. Now, I still don't really know who Rina Fernandez is (a B-list Latina actress I think) but I sure as hell don't want her naked picture link to pop us when someone Googles MY name.
The other reason I thought I'd call off my blog-break is because this Tuesday is an important election here in Oakland, and especially in my neighborhood: Aimee Allison is about to (hopefully) unseat special-elections-incumbent Pat Kernighan for the District 2 City Council seat. This is an important seat to win, with Ron Dellums coming into office in January 2007 and the Oakland City Council still fairly dominated by corporate/downtown development sympathizers who have made it very difficult for progressive activists to make any positive change in Oakland over the past several years. With a real progressive on the Council and Ron Dellums in the Mayor's office, we'd have a better chance of seeing some important changes take place, including more affordable housing, better jobs, and a lower homicide/ crime rate in Oakland.
So if you live in District 2 and you're registered to vote, please vote for Aimee Allison. She's a political outsider who's down with the people, for God's sake. And if there's one less thing we need in Oakland it's a cog in the De La Fuente political machine.
There's also a bunch of other good and nasty stuff on this November's ballot (like Proposition 85, which would make it mandatory for girls under 18 to tell their parents if they are planning to have an abortion). I pretty much agree with everything the San Francisco Bay Guardian has to stay about this election, so print and take it with you to the polls.
And I need to connect with people---probably some of you reading this---more face to face, like real human beings do. After all, I'm just not really one of those super-self-centered people that have to blog every frickin' day.
I want to take on a new task: to write about the three major influences over my life--spirituality, organization and art. I was thinking this morning that these are the factors/themes that have had the most impact on me as a human being, an artist, an activist; that I see the world through these three lenses. Of course, in many ways they are not distinct or separate from each other. There are aspects of organization in art and spirituality, and aspects of spirituality in organization and art (when, of course, they are at their best).
So I'm going to take on this blog 'project' over the course of the next few months. I may blog about other things in-between, but I want to explore these themes with you, dear reader, and myself, in order to better understand not only what makes me tick, but how these three powerful aspects of life affect each other, affect all of us, through their dynamic interaction and interplay.
Hope to post the first part of this blog project soon... R.
Finally saw An Inconvenient Truth' last night at the Grand Lake Theater. If you haven't seen it already, you must go. I'm going to go out on a limb and possibly sound like one of those hokey movie reviewers or deep-voiced movie trailer announcers and say, 'It's the most important film of the year.' And possibly, of our lives.
That sounds dramatic, but what we are collectively doing to destroy this beautiful, precious, endangered planet called earth is more than dramatic--it is unconscionable.
I already knew about a lot of the concepts and ideas that Al Gore puts out in his excellent, highly informative slideshow on global warming (which is captured in the film). How global warming works, that the massive glaciers that have been part of the Earth's delicately balanced ecosystem have been breaking off in huge chunks over the past several years, etc. I knew about all that. I'd gotten the emails, read the articles, talked to people about it, made the connection (which seems obvious in my mind) between global warming and the devastation of Katrina.
But despite the fact that I live in the Bay Area, which is one of the most progressive (if not the most progressive) areas of the country, especially in terms of consciousness around environmental issues (in urban/inner-city Oakland, you can compost through the City's own program, for God's sake), I still hadn't felt the real weight and moral responsibility of knowing all these things until I saw Mr. Gore and his film last night.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. Or maybe I should say like a ton of CO2 emissions.
As I blogged right after Katrina, I had always wanted to go to New Orleans. I'd heard so many stories from friends, through books and movies, about this magical, strange city. But now, New Orleans--despite the tourist industry's promise to 'let the good times roll' again--will never be the city it once was. Not when thousands of Black residents who'd lived there for generations--in the Lower Ninth Ward and other parts of the city and region--are not being allowed the right to return to that city. Like many others, I thought that New Orleans would always be there, a gumbo- stew-city of music, dance and voodoo magic.
But it's gone--or at least, what it was is gone. And global warming was a huge factor in creating the massive hurricane called Katrina which destroyed New Orleans--and huge parts of the Gulf Coast--as we knew it.
One of the most terrifying moments of the film last night was when Mr. Gore talked about how a massive glacial breakoff of parts of Greenland or Antarctica (which is possible in the next fifty years if we don't take steps to curb CO2 emissions now) would result in a 20-foot rise in sea level worldwide. Then he showed in his slideshow images of low-lying areas of the world--the Netherlands, Florida, and the Bay Area among them--and where sea level would rise in those areas.
My hometown of Alameda, California (a small, quaint island city just a couple miles away from where I live now), would most certainly be covered in water. Even here in Oakland, where heavy winter rains regularly prompt store-owners on Lakeshore and Grand Avenues to sandbag their front doors against flooding, Lake Merritt rising twenty feet would devastate whole neighborhoods around it. Last night, I looked out my bedroom window at Park Boulevard and the apartment buildings surrounding it below, and imagined water covering the two-story building just a few hundred yards away.
I don't want to be part of making this the future I leave for my children, or my children's children. I want my children to be able to see my hometown--not as an underwater museum of a bygone era, but as a living, breathing place.
One of the things that struck me during the Raising Change conference that I helped coordinate this past month was the amount of waste that is generated by large gatherings of people like that. And it wasn't even a very large conference: only about 400 people. But after lunch on both days, it was crazy to see garbage cans full of completely recyclable cardboard lunch boxes, half-empty soda cans and bottles, and the ubiquitous empty plastic water bottles. And this was a conference of progressive activists!
For some reason, those images from the conference really struck me, and now I know why--if 400 progressive activists who are mostly aware of the environmental impact of our work and our lifestyles, couldn't pull it together to recycle and lessen our environmental footprint for two days, what hope can we possibly have that the rest of the country will want to do so?
After the conference, almost subconsciously, I started to be aware of how I waste things, and began to take small, everyday steps to lessen the amount of resources I consume: I began collecting 'gray' water in the shower to use to water plants; I finally assembled a compost bin for kitchen scraps; I made a commitment to try to buy all of my clothes used before going to a department store or boutique to buy new; I pledged to walk to work twice a week (I usually take the bus anyway so this is an improvement and would help me get my exercise); I would spend more time in nature, hiking and camping and the like. Of course, I will always be involved organizations that are working to hold the Bush adminstration accountable for the havoc it's wreaked on our environment. All these things are necessary action steps.
I was so shaken, though, after seeing 'An Inconvenient Truth' that I know now that this shift in my consciousness and behavior is no temporary thing. These are life-changes that we all--especially in the U.S.--have to make if we are to continue to inhabit this planet, and pass it on to future generations intact and functioning. No, we cannot completely reverse the damage we've already done, but we can help stave off the worst for decades if not longer.
And for my people of color comrades who think that environmentalism is 'a white thing' or that people taking individual action to reduce, reuse, recycle is just a ruse to distract us from the 'real issues' of oil-and-war-mongering in the Middle East, I challenge you to educate yourselves and take responsibility for your everyday actions. And remember, it's the poor people of color of the Third and First Worlds that suffer the most from global warming's effects--drought in Darfur, Katrina in the Gulf Coast, flooding in India and other places.
Go see the movie. Do your part. I know it sounds cliche, but in this matter, as in many others, each one of us taking some action, however small, however incremental, can make a difference.
I know I said I'd take a break but as people all around the country remember and commemorate (a strange word, I think, but that's what people are calling it) the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I find myself unable to stay silent in this very public space. A few things...
...I've added a banner for the Katrina Information Network, through which you can sign up for email alerts about Katrina-related events and actions.
...One year later, I wonder, what has changed? There is a still-unresolved human toll that Katrina took on the people of the Gulf Coast. I went to a great panel the other night organized by the Center for Third World Organizing and TIGRA of women leaders from the US, Philippines and Bolivia. One of the women, Latosha Brown from Saving Our Selves, an organization of Katrina survivors, who spoke of how this anniversary is triggering people's trauma of having lived through such horror and violence, and how two of the organizers she worked with had been killed by their partners, who then killed themselves, in recent weeks. She spoke of how people in the region are having 'meltdowns', as she called them, many finding it difficult if not impossible to cope with the memories of this terrible time last year.
...And although it's frustrating to feel helpless in the face of chronic racism (especially directed at Black Americans) and the systemic causes of poverty and suffering in this country, I know that the little and not-so-little things I do everyday are making a difference, step by small step. From challenging subtle and not-so-subtle anti-Black racism within the predominantly people of color organizations I work within, to challenging this racism within myself and my circles, to giving money to key groups that are doing work to rebuild the Katrina-devastated south, to writing this blog post, there are many things I (and all of us) can do to help change things.
One way I'm trying to contribute is by devoting my time as a board member/fundraiser to help coordinate the Asian Pacific Environmental Network event on Friday, Oct. 13, which will feature Father Vien from New Orleans, who has been working with the Viet community in solidarity with African-Americans there to stop the locating of a toxic dump of Katrina-related waste into their neighborhood.
Of course, I want to do more. I am glad that Project South and other groups are pulling together the first-ever United States Social Forum for next year. Modeled on the World Social Forums that have been taking place in the Global South (the new, more accurate term for the 'Third' or 'developing' world) over the past several years, which have brought together thousands of activists from all over the world to network, educate each other and strategize about how to fight the onslaught of global capital and imperialism, this Forum will be a landmark event for US-based organizations.
I can't wait to watch Spike Lee's new documentary, "When the Levees Broke". I've heard it's powerful. You should watch it too. It's the least anyone can do to 'commemorate' the Katrina anniversary. Color of Change is trying to help people organize viewings of it tomorrow night.
I'm taking a break from blogging. Need to spend time connecting with my peoples face-to-face, old-school quality-time style. Don't worry, I'll be back in a month or so. And there are plenty of links below-left of people's blogs, alternative media sites, etc. to keep you occupied while I'm gone.
Sorry I didn't get to blog about it before the big day finally came, but wish me luck as I embark on the first day of the fundraising and social justice conference I've been organizing for the past year or so. I'm really excited about it; have hardly slept at all these last couple days, but now I gotta conserve my energy and kick some butt tomorrow with my coordination and problem-solving skills. Hopefully everything will go relatively smoothly, and the 400+ participants will be provoked, challenged to think outside the box, engaged and englightened.
And there's also been talk of some folks starting a grassroots fundraisers blog after this! We'll see.
...the conference I am organizing (with Ali Vogt and folks from the Grassroots Fundraising Journal) is taking up much of my time, so blogging is very low on the priority list.
I hope to be able to write about what this conference is all about soon, though, hopefully sometim before the actual conference itself (this Friday and Saturday). Why have I been spending several hours a day or week working on this gathering? Why is it to important to me and the 400 other paricipants that will be coming from all over the country (as well as Canada, Brazil, Korea and possibly Africa?).
The heatwave that's hit the Bay Area over the past week or so has been blistering, dry, supremely uncomfortable. It's hard to do anything (unless you're in an air conditioned car, mall or office) and not be reminded constantly of the heat.
But this is not 'real' heat. I keep thinking of the heat radiating from buildings that are blown up from US-provided bombs, flown by planes run on US-supplied fuel. I think of Lebanese and Palestinian people and the heat they are feeling, the real heat, on a daily basis, of bombing and fire and death. I think of the innocent children that are dying everyday. Jan in SanFran posts an important reminder in the form of a letter from her friend Tina in Lebanon:
But the US and other mainstream media continue to paint the suffering in the Middle East in very Israeli-focused terms, as if the lives of Arab people (and Arab people are Christian and Muslim and Jewish, especially in Lebanon) are not really worth as much, as if we don't need to see their suffering, as if their suffering is only an unfortuante consequence. As if these people are not being massacred.
Remember: over 10 times as many Lebanese people than Israelis (mostly civilians) have died in the past several days.
Remember: the messages are skewed.
Remember: these images from Electronic Intifada, of Israeli children writing messages (one can only guess what the messages say) on bombs and bullets that will be used to kill other children in Gaza, in Lebanon.
I can't sleep thanks to a small late-night dose of caffeine that is keeping me too alert to relax, so I thought I'd kill time and brain energy on maintaining the blog. I've categorized my 'Big World' links and added several new links overall, including:
Nalo Hopkinson, because she's a dope Afro-Caribbean/Canadian SF writer who uses lots of Caribbean dialect and cultural references in her work. I've read her short story collection, Skin Folk, and have her first novel (published in 1997), Brown Girl in the Ring on my bookshelf waiting to be read.
Steven Barnes, a sort of SF renaissance man, who's written novels, for magazines, television, you name it. He's also the first blogger I found who'd written about Octavia Butler's death. Steven and his wife, fellow horror/SF writer Tananarive Due, were friends of Octavia's.
Also added several timely links relating to Palestine, Lebanon and Israel given the current war raging in the Middle East. One thing I'm struck by when I travel outside the US or meet people from other countries is how much more knowledgeable non-Americans are about world politics and current events. It's up to us to change that, and educating ourselves is the first step to helping change what our country is doing to (generally) mess up what other folks have been struggling hard to fix in their own countries. I've also added a couple links about Haiti, another place where the US has intervened even though it's none of our damn business and caused a lot of suffering.
And the promise is that I will write very soon about the conference I'm organizing, Raising Change: A Social Justice Fundraising Conference, which is taking place in Berkeley in just two weeks! I can't believe it. After more than a year working on this thing, it's hard to imagine that in a few weeks it'll be all over (the conference, at least; hopefully the post-conference buzz and movement-building will continue long past August). There's even been talk about a social justice fundraising blog being started out of this conference and continuing for as long as we can make it happen; keep an eye out for further developments.
Because he is both more knowledgable and eloquent than I am in writing about these issues, I am sharing with you the words of my friend and comrade Max Elbaum, who has written for War Times and other publications, and is the author of Revolution in the Air.
It is at times like this that I am flabbergasted that anyone can take the American government seriously when it speaks for us and says it supports 'human rights' and 'democracy'. Who can blame anyone who equates the U.S. government with violence, imperialism and oppression?
Thanks Max, for allowing me to post this on my blog.
In Peace, Justice and Hope for an End to All War, Rona
Dear family and friends,
Yesterday the Prime Minister of Lebanon pleaded with the conscience of the world to bring about an immediate internationally-sanctioned cease-fire, saying that Israel was acting to destroy "everything that allows Lebanon to stay alive".
This morning's New York Times reports that "the death toll has reached at least 230 Lebanese dead [up to 310 by noon today], most of them civilians, and 25 Israeli dead, 13 of them civilians. In Gaza, one Israeli soldier has died from his own army's fire, and 103 Palestinians have been killed."
Yet spokespeople for the Israeli military say their offensive may continue "for weeks" and the Bush administration openly approves.
Yes, there are many complexities to the situation, but the essence of it is quite simple: Israel, with the world's fouth most powerful military, is inflicting massive "collective punishment" on civilian populations - targeting power plants, villages, heavily populated urban neighborhoods and even a Lebanese dairy farm. And the world's sole superpower, in violation of this country's own Arms Export Control Act and Foreign Assistance Act, is supplying jet fuel, financing and political support for these violations of international law and crimes against humanity.
None of this would be possible without the blatant anti-Arab racism that treats Israeli killings of Palestinians and Lebanese as a normal "fact of life" like the day's weather: The sun also riseth; Israeli fire killed a Palestinian child today in the name of "security"; And the sun goeth down.
This is a moral outrage, a political disaster, and an affront to people of conscience of all backgrounds all across the planet. Even in 1623 John Donne wrote: "any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." With the most modern technology on the globe, Tel Aviv and Washington are taking the world back to the morality of the Middle Ages.
I urge all of you to raise your voice in protest as loudly and strongly as you possibly can.
Below are some possible ways to take action from a message sent out yesterday by the United for Peace and Justice Coalition. There are also a number of websites listed for more background information and analyses of all the complexities. If you would like me to send you particular articles I have found useful in understanding Israel's recent offensive, and how it fits Israel's historical pattern of choosing expansionism, colonizing, and war over peace and a society with equal rights for all, let me know and I will forward these to you.
Thank you. Peace,
--- TAKE ACTION: Hold the Bush Administration to account for its backing of Israel's killing of civilians and destruction of civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.
*Pressure the Bush Administration and Congress: Call the White House (202-456-1111), the U.S. State Department (202-647-4000), and the Congressional switchboard (202-224-3121), which will connect you to your Congressmembers' offices, to demand that the U.S. take immediate action. Organize delegations of peace advocates to Congressional offices. We need to end Bush's war policy in Iraq and in the Middle East.
*Send a letter to the editor at your local newspaper: People in your community need to hear from you. Your neighbors are probably as appalled by this as you are, and they need to see your words in print so they know they are not alone. Click here to send a letter to the editor at your local paper: http://www.congress.org/congressorg/dbq/media/
And of course, mainstream media coverage in the U.S. is woefully superficial and biased. How about talking to some ordinary, everyday Lebanese people? Or showing images of suffering on both sides of the conflict? I'd given up a long time ago on even the so-called 'liberal' opinion papers being more than propaganda machines for the Pentagon and Department of Defense, but it still makes my stomach turn to see how much of a failure the news media in our 'democracy' is.
My nostalgia for Rome and other points European is really just a longing for the carefree adventure of traveling, an activity that many of my fellow blogistas are currently engaged in, and blogging about.
Bino writes from Brazil about race, color, politics and Speedos. Yes, Speedos.
Recently-added bloggers Bumbler and Dwill, also known as Dennis Quirin and Vivian Chang, respectively, have just wrapped up a jaunt in Thailand. Mmm, more warm weather and beaches.
Seemingly-perpetual traveler Martin Perna writes of real desert storms in Mexico. I don't even really know where this guy is from. It seems like every time I check out his blog he is in a different city/state/country/continent.
Leny Strobel is heading off to the Philippines for a study tour. How cool! When I'm done with my gig at CFJ, which won't be for a while, I gotta figure out this getting-paid-to-travel-the-world-for-work thing.
Similarly, my blog-less friend A. is heading off to Italy (Roma!!) for ten days to manage the Savage Jazz Dance Company. Super fresh.
And although this is not really traveling for me, anyway, since I know many people come from out of town and make a beeline to the legendary Cody's Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, Jeff Chang talks about his friend's effort to stage a last-minute rescue of the beleaguered (and now closed) bibliophilic institution. Nice try, Jeff and Adam.
I'm watching the World Cup Final right now, and although I've heard through friends (including M., a French-Algerian expat who was thrilled when France defeated Brazil last week) about the tournament and its politics, I haven't watched it at all until today. And it wasn't until this past week that I realized how much racism the predominantly Black French team has endured.
It's ironic that my last post was such an ode to Rome, Italy, and how I wrote that I'd still rather live in Paris in racist Rome, given that France is now battling Italy for the World Cup championship title. Ironic, too, that the next European destination I have in my mind for a future trip is Spain (as well as Greece and other Mediterranean countries), given how racist Spanish fans were to the French team.
I'm convinced that Black people in France are going to continue to be a radical force for change (if they can continue to organize themselves) over the next decade or so, probably the one relatively new anti-racist social movement in the world that has been able to garner international attention, similar to the civil rights movement in the U.S. But only time will tell.
So who am I rooting for? Who do ya think? I didn't study French for five years for nothing. Et alors, comment ca veut dire, 'anti-racist' en francais?
Maybe it's because my life is so full of work work work right now that I miss Rome so much. Rome was the last stop on our Europe trip back in April. The only city I didn't blog about until now. But the city I think I enjoyed the most. Although I wouldn't live there--Paris would be my first choice, London a distant second, and Roma an even more distant third--I did love Rome.
The pale terra cotta-hued buildings, ancient and not-so-ancient, that seemed to absorb and transform afternoon sunlight into ethereal gold. The sounds of lilting, dipping, singsong Italiano. Stumbling upon the crumbling ruins of the Portico d'Ottavia while on quest to find a discount shoe store, of all things (see the picture above). So much history in one place, I felt I was breathing it in, walking in the footsteps of countless ancients. The warmth in the air on our first day there, so different than the chill winds in London and Paris.
And, of course, the food, so delicious and simply prepared. Quite rustic. A morning cappucino in a white porcelain cup almost the size of a thimble, but so rich and sweet you didn't want or need more. Pastries laced with a cinnamon-like flavor that was distinctly Italian. Pasta everyday, two meals a day. The best prosciutto I've ever eaten, savory but not too salty, never chewy; nothing like it here. Gelato everyday. That was heaven. And of course, everything washed down with mineral water or wine.
I think the reason I miss Rome is that I desperately wish I was on vacation right now. Things with work and the conference are spinning madly, and although I'm learning a lot and generally enjoy both jobs, there are days that I wish I could stop the spinning, just for a little while, and be back in Vatican City eating the best pizza in the world--thin-crusted Roman style square pizza, with a million toppings to choose from; I had broccoli, onion and tomato, and only $3!--then walking through a street market towards St. Peter's, then later topping off the afternoon by eating a wickedly rich and creamy chocolate gelato while sitting at a sidewalk table on some picturesque via.
Of course, Rome had its downsides: pretty racist overall, I have to say. H. got followed around in nearly every store we went into, and all the Black and Asian folks (South Asian and African immigrants) that lived there were either selling stuff in the street or working in the back of the restaurant. Never even got served by a waiter who wasn't 'white' Italian (I say 'white' in quotes because Italians are the darkest Europeans I've ever seen; Africa's not far away, after all). Got dissed by an Italian woman working the counter at McDonald's--yes, McDonald's--because I was a 'Cinese' (Chinese/Asian) who didn't speak Italian well. I wanted to yell, 'I'm a fucking American, you idiot!' The only reason she pissed me off so much was because a few days before I'd seen some frat-white-boy American types butcher italian just as much as I did at the same McDonald's, but the cashier just gazed up at them like they were younger clones of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. As much as I loved Rome, I was glad to leave after that experience.
But a vacation's a vacation, and our vacation in Rome was, overall, quite pleasant and memorable. And that's what I'll have to make do with right now--my memories--until I can make a proper getaway post-August 5th.
Coincidentally, I had already been contemplating doing a one-day fast tomorrow, and then I found out about this on Democracy Now. I hope some of you will join me.
Yesterday, I got an email from a colleague, who used to be an organizer at Asian Pacific Environmental Network, on whose board I'm currently serving. I thought his email summed up some of my own thoughts about July 4th/Independence Day, especially during this year of intense debate about immigration policy and what the 'real America' is all about.
"Celebrating the Fourth, Remembering the Past" by Son-Cheong Kuan
What comes to mind on Fourth of July, our Independence Day? Fireworks? Family vacationing? Outdoor BBQ? Big sales? It's true. Have we heard so many ads using holidays as big sales opportunities? Yes, our holidays have been over-commercialized, not only on July 4th, but also Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, etc. Have we wondered what the true meaning of our national holiday is?
As we celebrate July 4th, our northern neighbor, Canada, is also celebrating their Independence Day, July 1st, Canadian Day. This year Canadians have something to remember and to celebrate. The Canadian Prime Minister did the historically significant ceremonial action on behalf of Canada of apologizing to thousands and thousands of Chinese-Canadians for imposing the unjust "head tax" on Chinese laborers hundreds years ago.
Like our country, Canada also "imported" thousands of Chinese laborers to build railways across Canada. After they built the railways, they were required to pay the so-called "head tax", and barred from becoming citizens. Haven't we heard similar stories before? But, Canadians have learned their history, and righted the wrong this year.
With the latest debate over immigration reformed, I feel like it's "deju vu" all over again. We "brought" Latinos over to work on the farms. Now we want to bar them from becoming citizens or require them to "pay to play". Have we apologized to African Americans for slavery, Japanese Americans for internment camps, to Chinese Americans for the Chinese Exclusive Act, and many others--Filipino Americans, Vietnamese Americans and Korean Americans? As we claim to be defenders of human rights, haven't we learned from history that we need to make our policies more humane?
Yesterday was all about community, celebration, healing, transition. And the pendulum swing between life and death, sadness and joy.
We first went to the memorial services and wake/reception for Dru aka DJ Domino, our young friend who was tragically killed last week in the Mission. What a beautiful outpouring of love and tears. Dru clearly had a strong, loving familia of many many people, blood-related or not. I left feeling uplifted and hopeful that community still exists in many pockets of this world, and that people are truly struggling to love each other the best they can. Siara sang two songs for Dru at the memorial, and many folks got up on the open mic at both the service and the reception to talk about their love for Dru, his obsession with DJ'ing, his irrepressible sense of humor. I think my favorite snippet was when one of his homeboys talked about having a friend in his car who was having a bad day, and then running into Dru on the street. The homeboy's friend didn't want to come out of the car, that's the kind of shit day he was having. Dru said to get him out here, then yelled, 'Pan dulce!' across the street, making the friend laugh and come out the car to chop it up. That was classic Dru.
And before the service the crowds from the funeral home drove through the city, stopping at every spot that was precious to Dru--Coleman Advocates, his families' homes, the clubs he loved DJ'ing at. We didn't drive with the procession but we saw the tail end of it at Embarcadero One, where the reception was being held. Throngs of young brown folks gettin' hyphee in the street, blasting reggaeton (Dru's music) through their car stereos, hangin' out they car windows, dancing, bumpin' and shoutin' for all of Frisco to see.
The community vibe kept on strong at a Lester House party last night, the first I'd been to in many moons, as W. was quick to remind me. 'You never come by anymore,' he chastised, which is his right to do. I been going to the Lester House for parties for 12 years now. It's nice to know there are places I can go and be considered family, to the point that I get called out when I don't come by enough. And I got to meet B.'s mom, who had cooked up a feast with W., complete with red rice, Guamanian-style adobo, beans, etc.
My baby DJ Hen10 got busy on the 1's and 2's, warming up the crowd with some classic hip hop (think late '80s early '90s), funk and soul. J. spun some salsa that H. and I got to groove to. Later, DJ Moreno tore it up with a sick Brazilian batucada set, driving the crowd (including me) into a frenzy. So much shakin' goin' on; whole house was moving. He even got on the mic and sang and chanted, pushing the crowd to go higher, higher. And then he played not just one, but TWO, long-ass merengue songs right after the Brazilian, back to back. I tried to hold out through both, but had to stop dancing after the second song started. I ain't as young as I used to be.
Jumoke and Greg Hodge were at the party, too, it's always good to see them. And I barely recognized their daughter Chinaka Hodge, whom I haven't seen in years. She somehow still recognized me, and is all grown up now (finished colllege, go girl!).
Speaking of pendulum swing, though, Greg told me about the recent, sudden passing of Akiyu Hatano, long-time Oakland schools activist, who had been struggling with a mysterious illness for month. I was shocked and saddened to hear the news, having met Akiyu less than a year ago; she was radiant and healthy. She was our program officer at the Walter and Elise Haas, Sr. Fund, and shared many of our values and visions for public schools. I couldn't believe that another one of our movement warriors had been taken from us so suddenly, and so young. She was only 39 years old.
But, as Greg said last night, "That's why we have to pray, and dance." To which I replied, "Or do both at the same time." Which is what some of my own dancing felt like last night.
I also got to meet some VONA folks, who'd just finished up their first week of workshops. My girl E. came through; it was good to hang out with her for a minute, and soak up their creative energy.
I'm sore and a little tired today (but not hung over, I realized a long time ago that alcohol makes me too tired to really enjoy the dancing), but in a good way. Much love and thanks to all the people that made yesterday happen, and who are spreading the love and good vibes far and wide.
Okay, Efren, you asked for it. (He gave me the permission I needed to talk shit and not be so goodie-two-shoes on my blog.)
This week was a shit week. Don't get me wrong, it had it's bright spots: two friends loaned me money when I most needed it (and without me having to ask; I have serious issues about money, I've realized; ironic given that I'm a professional fundraiser); we got a few of the big grants we've been waiting on at work (woo-hoo!); my novel is coming along (I'm reading chapter seven right now); and H. and I are both healthy and happy, overall.
But the dark spots overshadowed the bright spots: work has felt like a goddamn smack-down, with four deadlines, one each week, for the past month (this Friday is my last one for a little while, thank Goddess). These deadlines (grant proposals and reports) take a lot out of me, I realize, because I must keep up with all the rest of my work while completing the various steps in the proposal/report process along the way. And there are lots of hoops foundations want us to jump through. Sheesh.
The sudden death of young Dru (see below), was the mid-week low. I'm still reeling, as are others who were even closer to Dru than I was. We had brunch today with two of the amazing people who've been helping his family through this crisis; tried to give them support too. The caretakers need caretakers, y'know?
And then a close friend of mine calls to tell me that he's been laid off, and for some shitty-ass reasons that I can't get into in a public space for fear of reprisals from some powerful people in government. No fucking kidding.
And to top it all off, I was premenstrual, and cranky, and dealing with the fact that my Palm Zire decided to freak out on me and stop working. I realized how dependent I am on that thing; I can barely function without it. It's a psychological and logistical security blanket; unfortunately, there's no way to deal with the situation but get a new PDA, which I really can't afford right now. Timing this week is just frickin' great.
So that was my week. I need to take up meditation again, for real. Ten minutes a day, ten minutes a day. That's my mantra.
Too young to die, I can't stop thinking, too young.
I got to know Dru a little when he was working at YouthSpace and I was on the board, both of us working with other youth and adult allies to try and get a youth-run space opened in San Francisco, a place where young people could come from all over the city and put their beefs aside, have fun, pick up some new skills. Dru must have been about 20 back then. He had started up his DJ career, spending late nights gigging at 18-and-over clubs and youth dances. He always had some funny story or joke to share, and always made me smile and feel welcome.
After YouthSpace folded because of lack of funding, I would see Dru occasionally at events, festivals, parties, like community gatherings at Coleman Advocates, where he had worked with Youth Making a Change. Actually, the first time I met Dru was when I was Executive Director of the Youth Empowerment Center and he was there speaking on a panel about youth organizing as part of a national youth organizers' exchange.
H. and I just saw him a few weeks ago at Carnaval in the Mission. He was handing out flyers for a party that he was DJing, of course, the quintessential young entrepreneur.
I can't believe someone so young is already an ancestor. And I abhor the social and economic conditions that make too-early deaths like Dru's all too common in today's urban environments. But I know that Dru would want us all to keep on movin' forward, fighting the good fight until there ain't no fight left in us no more.
Rest in peace and power, brother Dru. We will miss you.
Donations to help Dru's family during this time are encouraged and can be sent to: Dru Ele Memorial Fund Mission Area Federal Credit Union 2940 16th St. - Suite 307 San Francisco, CA 94103 415.431.2268 account #: 7192
Yes, it's finally over. Ron Dellums is mayor of Oakland. Damn it feels good to win.
I freaked out a little today when I walked by Ignacio de la Fuente's campaign headquarters (on the ground floor of my office building, ironically--Oakland still has a small-town vibe sometimes) and saw tons of people in there. The place had been empty since the day after the election, as everyone waited with bated breath for the final vote tally. There was a camera crew in Ignacio's headquarters, people were smiling and laughing. My heart sank. I thought for sure this meant Dellums was going to have to face Ignacio in the run-off.
Maybe I'm just used to losing, as a progressive in this far-right-leaning, overly-zealously-Christian country (and keep in mind that France, one of the most Catholic nations in Europe, is far more progressive than we are). I thought as I walked home, 'Damn, we've gotta fight this guy for another four months.'
But I was, thankfully, wrong. Dellums is the big man now. And not a moment too soon.
Another bright spot on Oakland's future-horizon: Aimee Allison--a conscientious objector during the First Gulf War (and married to a Pinoy!) has made it to a run-off race with incumbent Pat Kernighan. A true progressive, Aimee would help even out the moderate-Democrat, pro-developer City Council a bit, and with Ron Dellums in office as mayor the progressive agenda in Oakland could actually move forward.
Ah, sigh. Of relief, happiness, hope, a little trepidation (electing progressive candidates, after all, doesn't change everything). BIG sigh. We've still got a long road ahead of us to create the Oakland that we want and need.
At least right now. I find so many blogs that seem utterly self-indulgent to the nth degree, filled with self-important ramblings by self-centered people who somehow attract other self-centered people to validate what I think are utterly boring ideas, concepts, thoughts.
But I guess the fact that I have a blog makes me one of those self-important people?
I spend much of my work life doing things for others--raising money for organizations I care about, that work for the greater good of various 'communities'. And I love my work, don't get me wrong. But this blog is the one public space where I can spout my own f**king opinions, no matter what others think. Don't have to toe the party line, or be 'organizational', or courteous.
But of course, I am all those things. I am what some might call 'politically correct' (a term I abhor because it was actually created and spread by right wing think tanks). I am polite and socially considerate. I don't insult people (well, maybe right wingers, but do they really count? They are SO sensitive!). I don't talk shit about people. And believe me, I can talk shit. In my life outside of blogdom, I can talk massive loads of shit, although my Buddhist training has helped me cut back a bit.
So what fun can blogging be if I'm tiptoeing around so much? But at the same time, do I really want to make enemies in a virtual world that, truth be told, can be so involved with itself that it misses much of what's real and right in life?
Maybe I'll get inspired to blog again after hearing Lakshmi Chaudry speak at the Media Alliance event. The name of the event does intrigue me. And it's been a while since I chilled with the good folks at MA.
We'll see. Maybe I need to loosen up, stop being so prim and proper and prissy on my blog. Maybe I need to start talking shit.
I am outraged and saddened by the news that Lashaun Harris, a 23-year-old mother who killed her three small children after being 'instructed' by a voice of God to do so, is going to trial and may life in prison for the crime of being a mentally ill person. Even the county psychiatrist diagnosed Lashaun with schizophrenia, but the supposedly 'social justice'-minded San Francisco District Attorney, Kamala Harris, decided to try the woman anyway.
Does the fact that Lashaun Harris is a poor, African-American mother have anything to do with the trial? Does the fact that mentally ill people can often not gain access to the services that they need because they either do not have the money to access them or the services are not available have anything to do with this? I would answer yes and yes.
Like the death of Andrew Martinez, the 'Naked Guy' from my Cal Berkeley days, that I wrote of below, this tragedy is both a personal one for Lashuan, her poor children, and their family, but also a societal tragedy. For how could it be nothing short of a tragedy when the mentally ill--whom our country has decided to cast away while we prioritize our tax dollars for 'important' things like bombing Third World countries and subsidizing corrupt corporatation--are still held responsible for their actions in the same way that mentally healthy people are.
Ironic, then, that today I look forward to celebrating the 2nd birthday of a friend's adopted child, a little African-American girl with the bright, shining eyes that only children have, and a fire and wit in her demeanor that promises many more bright things in the future. This, then, is the paradox of the world we live in. And it reminds me that it's only the beautiful, light-filled things that make the darkness bearable.
Driving around pretty Lake Merritt today as joggers and strollers walked around it. Today a brilliant, perfect Oakland-sunny day, and I was blasting 'Oustanding' by the Gap Band on the car stereo.
Revising the second draft of my novel, all 491 pages of it!! I can't believe I wrote that many words for one project. It's pretty cool to see the different threads of the novel start to come together, and to start tying the ones together that are still running parallel on the page.
I used to live with Andrew--better known as "The Naked Guy" to the general public for his militant 'nude-in' behavior in and around the UC Berkeley campus--at Le Chateau, a wild and crazy party house where I lived for a whole year during my first year at Cal Berkeley. We did dishes together (the pic below actually shows Andrew in the Chateau kitchen), hung out intermittently. I didn't know him well. (And yes, when we did dishes together, he was frequently naked--although he usually wore athletic shoes). We all supported Andrew's one-man crusade to defy social control and assert his natural nakedness. He was actually a pretty good-looking guy, with a cut physique (a factor which definitely helped his cause).
I was saddened to read in the paper today that he has apparently committed suicide while in jail for assault. The San Jose Mercury News published a story here. I hadn't seen or heard about Andrew in years, so I'm shocked by the news. Apparently Andrew had struggled for years with mental illness without getting sufficient, comprehensive treatment from the system, which today's article in the Chronicle tells of. There are many more folks out there like Andrew who need mental health services and can't access them, or are kicked out on the streets. Andrew was smart and always wanted to talk philosophically. He was a real idealist who seemed--at least in the short time that I knew and lived with him--to live in the world of logic and ideas, and then manifest those ideas in his behavior. I admired his civil disobedient nudity--I got topless that first year at Cal at my first Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco--and learned a lot from his upbeat, positive, playful take on protest and politics.
Not that I didn't love Naima, with her mohawk and edgy, racially ambiguous look. And of course I loved Eva the Diva (who, along with Toccara Jones, has helped drive many a reader to my blog via Google searches). But after the disaster of top prize winner (and boring, bland, sour-faced) Nicole from Cycle 5 of America's Next Top Model, I had vowed never to even watch the show again.
Well, H. was watching the second or third episode of this recently-ended cycle one night, and I got sucked back in, just like Michael Corleone in the Godfather Part III. And I'm glad I did. Because my faith in Tyra Banks' hit reality TV show that reveals the dirty, catty underbelly of the modeling industry while still keeping us hopelessly fascinated by its surreal glamour, has been duly restored by the victory of Danielle Evans as America's Next Top Model. Danielle was not only gorgeous and photogenic, but she had the proverbial heart of gold. She endured being followed around the house by Gina (the one Asian girl on the show, whom I really wanted to root for but was just too awful to put with in the end), and always had a smile on her face during moments of crisis. Like when she stumbled and sprained her big toe trying to do a runway strut in 6-inch platform stiletto heels. Her smile lit up the screen, making you forget that she had just taken a nasty, awkward tumble. Danielle also had the best personality of all the girls--she rarely complained, she always tried to improve, but she was determined not to lose herself in the chaos of the competition. She even deftly defied Tyra's demand that she close the wide gap in her teeth with oral surgery by reducing it a little, thus still keeping her signature physical trait but making herself more 'marketable.'
I would've been happy if the sweet and talented Joanie won, too, but the upset victory would've been a Jade-victory--she was the super-crazy girl who lived in her own reality. The won who talked back to the judges when they gave her critique, even after they warned her time and again that making excuses for her behavior just made them dislike her. Jade, to the end, was incorrigible. When the Thai judge, a designer for fab line Ishyu, critiqued her CoverGirl commercial, Jade shot back, "Well, it was my first commercial and I've never done acting before and blah blah blah" (which wasn't true because the girls had to do another TV commercial back in week 5 or 6). I knew she'd be cut right then and there.
Salon.com has a decent sum-up, which will have to suffice for you, dear reader, because as much as I love this show and Danielle, I have neither the time nor the inclination to spend another half-hour thinking or writing about them. I think spending an hour a week (sometimes more, if I watch the repeats) glued to the television for the past thirteen weeks has been quite enough. Now maybe I'll spend more time on my novel!
Went on a hike with some other women of color friends yesterday--an infrequent get-together that I pull together so I can spend some time with some fabulous women of color, and get fresh air, sunshine and exercise at the same time. We went to Briones Regional Park out near Orinda, a great place with lots of long, rolling trails and just enough people to make you feel un-alone, but not so many that you feel that you're still in the city. And it's just twenty minutes away from Central Oakland, but it feels like a world away.
I wish i'd brought my camera to take some pictures--there are some great views up there, and we saw at least a dozen hawks soaring and dipping on the hot air currents. On the not-so-great side, it was nearly 90 degrees out there, and we had little shade on the trail. We hiked for about 2 hours (a little less than half of that uphill), and T.'s dog nearly passed out from heatstroke a couple times, but thanks to full water bottles and some welcome breezes--and a well-timed stop at the top of a hill in the shade--we made it back without any real problems.
I threw out an idea that I recently thought up to my hiking compañeras--what about pulling together a people of color hiking crew? (You gotta call it a 'crew' and not a 'club', right?). They were all into the idea, and said they would sign up. After looking at some web sites of hiking groups in the Bay Area--all of which were disproportionately white--I realized that I might need to start my own thing in order to hike in nature with other people that I could relate to, and who may not be the hardcore outdoorsy types that I have a feeling populate many of the existing hiking groups (9 mile hikes? are you kidding me? maybe in a year or so, but not right now).
I also feel that people of color in urban areas often have an aversion to rural areas because of fears based on sheer inexperience, or that they think only white people go out there, or that they'll be treated badly (all fears I've shared myself). I find it rather sad that many urban folks of color are so out of touch with the nature that's in their own backyards, and that these beautiful outdoor, open spaces become simply playgrounds for wealthier white folks (the ones who can afford to live out there, etc.) instead of common spaces for everyone.
So keep an eye out for an email if you're in my POC network--and bust out those hiking shoes!
What if violence on this scale was happening in a major U.S. city? I wonder where compassion has gone, if even liberals in this country have the ability to put themselves in the shoes of their Iraqi brothers on the other side of the world, if we can envision the horror that we are contributing to each day we stay in Iraq.
Asian-Pacific Islanders (APIs) protest in Texas against HR 4437 anti-immigrant legislation on May 1, 2006.
I'm sure that there are forces already at work trying to undermine the burgeoning immigrant rights movement that has surged forward in the last couple months. Not that I'm a conspiracy-theorist, I just know how the US government and others powers that be work, and they can be very threatened by large mobilizations of people who were formally unorganized and had little voice in the public dialogue, like undocumented immigrants.
I also know how the liberal-left elements in our society work--they often fight with each other over crumbs while the Right remains fairly united and chips away slowly and steadily at our civil and human rights, and at the social-democrat ideology that is at the root of some of these rights.
Efren rants about the flaws of both the current US immigration policies and what he broadly calls 'immigration activists'. He bemoans the fact that the largely Latino-focused mobilizations and organizations that have been so visible in recent days have not reached out to API constituents. It's an argument I've heard from other APIs who are feeling, I think, a little bitter at yet another example of our invisibility in this society. We APIs are very much affected by HR 4437, the legislation that these protests are responding to, although the issue is still a divisive one in our very heterogenous racial group (in terms of class, nationality, language, culture AND immigration status). But we still haven't turned out in large numbers in the streets--at least not in California. Why not?
The answer to this, really, is quite simple, and can be reflected in this chart that I found via a news article posted on another blog.
And in California, the number of Latinos is roughly three times the population of Asians, according to the 2000 Census. Of course, this count probably excludes many 'illegals' of both Latino and Asian background because of folks' fears of being caught and deported, but it's probably safe to say that the number of Latinos in California and in the US far exceeds that of APIs. Also, in 2003, the Census bureau reported that Latinos had surpassed African-Americans as the largest minority in the US. So in terms of sheer numbers, it makes sense that Latinos would be present in large numbers during these protests.
I think it's interesting that API activists are saying that these 'Latino organizations' (which I doubt many of these activists could name but are quick to blame for the lack of API presence) should reach out to APIs, when in fact many immigrant rights groups (a good listing can be found on the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights web site, have an API component or have relationships with API constituencies.
Efren and others have also questioned the effectiveness of boycotts as a strategy to make change. On some counts, I agree with them. After all, HR 4437 is still alive, and could still pass into law. Boycotts, though, are just one tactic in a larger strategy that many groups are participating in that includes lobbying of Senators and Congresspeople through letter-writing, phone calls, emails, etc. And those forms of civic participation are equally important and necessary to actually win the policy victories that we need to change the concrete conditions (police repression, INS harassment, mass deportations, etc.) in this society.
But boycotts and strikes--especially of the May Day variety, which were fairly spontaneous and organic, and involved hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in mass action--can be extremely effective in conveying to policymakers the number of people that feel strongly on an issue. Especially in this day and age, with the Left-liberal elements of the US political landscape having so little hold on mainstream media, these large mobilizations are very effective at at least calling attention to the issue, however briefly, and forcing the mainstream media to give us air time.
My two cents. But yes, boycotts and strikes are part of a larger strategy, and are not the solutions in and of themselves. Which is one thing I'm already hearing that this burgeoning immigrant-rights movement is already debating amongst themselves. This sentiment was encapsulated perfectly for me in my favorite chant from the May Day march in San Francisco: "Hoy Marchamos, Mañana Votamos!"--Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote.
The May Day march heads down International Blvd. in Oakland.
So much has been burning and flashing through my brain the last few days, in preparation for, through participation in, and in reflection of the huge immigrant rights mobilizations that happened across the country yesterday, May 1st. May Day. International Workers' Day. A few of the burning flashes:
'Immigrant' communities (e.g. Asian-American/Pacific Islander, Latino/a, etc.) are deeply divided on the issues of immigration. Well, maybe APIs are more divided than Latinos. After all, I found a quite heated debate happening over at Sepia Mutiny, a South Asian blog I found while searching for API voices on the immigration reform debate. I posted a couple items there as 'RF' that seemed to draw both praise and heckles from the crowd.
I find it intriguing and outrageous that virtually none of the (progressive, I think) Pin@y bloggers in my immediate network wrote about the "Day Without an Immigrant" protests. What, did we Fil-Ams and recent transplants already forget that we are immigrants? Do we see this only as a Latino issue? Do we have no clue what's going on?
Tonight at Trader Joe's, many of the shelves were half-empty, not fully stocked. It was just a mild irritation, but a noticeable event. I overheard two other customers ask workers there why the shelves were so empty. "The strike yesterday," they both answered. "We get our inventory from a warehouse where most of the workers took the day off." Shit, really? In the US? A one-day strike that wasn't organized by any single union, that was a truly grassroots movement event, was actually felt by regular people at the grocery store? It made me smile.
I was out in the streets in San Francisco and Oakand marching with thousands of (mostly Latino) protesters, and it was a great feeling. Great to be in the midst of so many brown folks, many of whom have probably been too frightened by the very real threat of deportation to speak up in the past. I was walking next to a Latino family with three kids, the smallest of whom, a boy who could be no more than five years old, was marching happily with a picket size that was nearly twice his size in his hands. I marched behind high school youth who had walked out of their classrooms (or just decided not to show up at school at all), mostly youth of color who are virtually given up on in their schools and communities.
I saw Jan Adams, veteran activist and one of the people responsible for recruting me into the movement. I saw a few face in the crowd that I recognized from my own activist work. But I saw many, many faces that I didn't know at all, and there were thousands of them. But, I also saw less than half a dozen API faces in the crowd. If even that many. I saw more Black folks at the protests than APIs, and supposedly immigration issues are a hot-button topic in the African-American community.
What the hell is going on? I know that the issue of 'border crossing' is not as deeply felt for APIs as Latinos (after all, the 'border' we have to cross to get here is a vast ocean), but I can't believe that at least progressive, American-born APIs are this apathetic and willing to be so invisible on this issue. Even the march yesterday from 98th Avenue and International Blvd to downtown Oakland was supposed to be met by a rally at the Federal Building organized by the East Bay Asian Consortium, a liberal/progressive API Coalition. But when I got to the Federal Building at almost 1pm, I was the only API face in sight. What happened?
My mother came here on a tourist visa (read: temporary visa) in the mid-1960s, accompanied by my aunt and uncle, college-educated professionals who were recruited to work for US-based companies during the 'brain drain' that saw so many professionals leave Asia and come to the US.
My mother never left. She was an 'illegal' (even if she will never admit that she was, and shows an incredible disdain for undocumented immigrants). She eventually became a naturalized citizen, but she did not come through the 'proper chanels' to get here. Her story is not an uncommon one. She, like most other immigrants that come to the U.S. (legally or illegally), came here to chase the American dream, to be able to send her children to college, and to create a better life for herself. My mother and I, and my cousins that have immigrated to the states, send money back to the Phiippines to help pay for my grandmother's health care costs and my cousin's schooling. This global economy and First World v. Third World conditions forces us to have to stay here (even though some of us don't want to) because this is where the money can be made. This is where some modicum of economic opportunity exists.
That's why I'm marching in the streets tomorrow, May 1st, May Day, International Worker Day. That's why I support the call for "A Day Without an Immigrant." And even though the large mobilizations that took place in early April were mostly of Latinos, I hope that Asian, African and Middle-Eastern and other immigrant groups (I mean, unless you're Native American you're an immigran) get out in the streets too. We need to be there, otherwise the Right is going to continue to try and divide and conquer us (like the sickening example of the Border militia group the Minutemen Project making a public statement that illegal immigrants are taking jobs and 'hurting Blacks in the inner city the most'. The Minutement don't give a s**t about Black people in the inner city.)
I'm thrilled to see major news outlets like CNN are covering this historic moment. Millions may walk out of school and refuse to go to work to march in the streets, stop 'business as usual' and stand up for not just immigrant rights, but human rights.
FOOD: Terrible. I had heard that fresh veggies and good food were hard to find in London, but I thought that the fact that it's a world-class city would prove the critics wrong on both counts. Nope.
The only decent food we found was Indian and Thai, and even that was only passable (the Indian food was good, but honestly I don't think what we had was any better than Indian food we could get back in the Bay. Of course, we only had time to go to one Indian restaurant while we were there). And veggies? I think potatoes were the only vegetable we could find on a consistent basis, and the other veggies we had weren't very fresh or tasty. Fish and chips, however, were pretty yummy. And English tea, of course, was quite delicious (don't drink the coffee, opt for the tea for your caffeine fix instead). We brought a few boxes back from bling-bling department store Harrods (see picture below of their amazing Food Hall).
Now on to the good stuff:
FREE MUSEUMS: Which are pretty much all the major ones. They're all free free free, all the time. We saw this cool installation at the Tate Modern, made up of hundreds of white plastic boxes piled high in the huge, post-industrial warehouse space behind the lobby.
We also went to the British Museum, which holds miles (literally) of antiquities from all over the world (yes, the British were major plunderers). We mostly focused our time on the beautiful, round National Library (first picture), where Karl Marx completed Capital, and the Egyptian collection. That second picture with H. is of the fist of a huge statue of the Egyptian Pharoah Ramses. We also saw the Rosetta Stone, which was pretty frickin' cool.
FASHION: I looked around everywhere we went (mostly in Central London, which is where the major sites are and where we were staying), and I swear, EVERYONE had a 'look' in London. Whether it was casual-preppy, high-fashion couture, punk-rocker girl, hip hop b-boy or whatever, everyone was sporting a very distinct and put-together 'fit that made me feel quite shabby in my used, slightly generic Seven for All Mankind jeans and boring-beige Ann Taylor Loft raincoat. And there is TONS of fashion shopping to do in London--it seemed that on every corner there was some kind of clothing store (although not as much as in Rome), catering to every income level and fashion taste. We spent the most time in Oxford Circus and on Knightsbridge (where Harrods and one of the H&M's are, as well as Zara and other big stores). Unfortunately, the British pound was worth almost twice the US dollar while we were there, so I didn't have much disposable cash to clothes-shop with. Boo-hoo.
SOCIALIZED HEALTH CARE: I actually got sick (a bad bout of food poisoning) while I was in the UK, and got treated speedily and cheerily in a small hospital outside London near Luton airport (Luton's a suburb that seemed to have a much higher population of people of color than central London). And all I had to pay for was the meds they gave me (rehydration salts and some anti-nausea medication). They didn't even ask to see my passport. I couldn't believe it. The US is so behind the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to health care, it's pathetic.
All in all, if there is any US city I'd compare to London, it would have to be New York. The constant crush of people, the multi-culti, high-fashion consciousness of the general populace, the late-night buzz on the streets (even though many pubs close around midnight, which is unheard of in the states, especially in New York), all reminded me of my trips to the Big Apple. There were lots of people of color in London, too, and we even saw a crew of Filipino men working and hanging out at a casino (I'm not even kidding) in Bayswater.
It's also an expensive city, like New York, but as a tourist you can see quite a bit without having to spend too much, thanks to the free admission at museums and such. And of course, there are just amazing layers upon layers of history in London, as in Europe overall, that are interesting to examine close-up, in churches or the architecture around the city, which you can see plenty of just wandering around the streets.
H. standing before Tower Bridge. We didn't get go inside the Tower of London, which is right next to the bridge, but I really wanted to. We ran out of time and it's quite expensive (around $30 I believe) but any history-buff would be crazy to not go take a look from the oustide at least (see picture below). This is, after all, the place where executions took place, where royal heads were lopped off (e.g. Ann Bolyn and other of Henry VIII's unfortunate, son-less wives) and royal prisoners were kept. Now it houses the crown jewels and is a big attraction for kids, if you can believe that.
This is Westminster Abbey, a nearly thousand-year-old church where all English coronations have taken place over the last nine centuries. We saw the tombs of King Edward the Confessor and Queens Mary and Elizabeth I here as well, not to mention the graves of other luminaries such as Sir Issac Newton, Oscar Wilde and Charles Darwin (yes, Darwin is buried in a church). These people never seemed real to me, since I'd only read about them or seen period movies about them that seemed more fiction than fact. But after seeing their graves, I left with a real sense of their mortality and their impact on the world. And of course, Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married in Westminster Abbey. It's quite a beautiful, awe-inspiring place. If you go, pay the extra 4 quid (pounds) and go on a verger-guided tour.
When we were in Paris, we stayed with very kind hosts, friends of a friend who hadn't even met us before they welcomed us into their home. They lived in a small, top-floor apartment in Belleville, a neighborhood-in-transition not entirely different than the Oakland neighborhood I live in here. Lots of immigrants, mostly Asian but also African and Middle Eastern, lived in the neighborhood, along with white Parisians. (Dat Lan, an amazing Vietnamese-Chinese restaurant, was a couple blocks away).
One of our hosts, a high school teacher in Paris, had been on strike as part of the city-wide general strike in, the day before we arrived. A GENERAL strike. The concept is virtually unheard-of here in the states, even in the progressive hotbed of the Bay Area. This is a strike when EVERYONE stays home and doesn't go to work. Where 'business as usual' stops for a day, a week, however long the unions, the student groups, whoever is organizing the people, decide. The Metro (subway) doesn't run, there are no schools open, the post office shuts down, etc. Everyday life comes to a standstill, and politicians and policy makers and corporate CEOs have no choice but to wring their hands, try to make backroom deals, and hope that the workers will come back soon. A general strike gives everyday, working people a huge amount of leverage in negotiations around things like the new labor law (CPE) that students and workers were protesting in France (the workers and students won, by the way).
Today, Oakland Unified School District teachers (of whom I count several close friends) had planned to go on strike, since the district (run by the bulldozer known as State Administrator Randolph Ward) had refused to give them a good deal on health care (a major issue that has come up in other labor struggles recently, such as the Safeway/VONS strike, etc.). And then, as reported to me by my downstairs neighbor, who teaches at an OUSD school, the district pulled a fast one at the last minute: ten minutes before school let out yesterday, the district sent notices to all students and parents, saying that the next day (the day teachers had planned to strike) would be a 'student free day' but a mandatory work day for teachers. A smooth, manipulative way to try to take the punch out of the teachers' strike. If no students show up to school at the district's behest, is it really a strike, after all?
But it seems that the teachers' union and the district have reached an agreement, in the end. Still no details on it yet in the news, but union reps seem to be happy with it. Of course, it's not over yet. Union members still have to vote to ratify the contract, and there's no telling what they may think of it. Is it a real, livable contract with good health care conditions for Oakland's overworked teachers? Or is it a last-minute ditch-out/sell-out compromise that will weaken teachers' positions (and slim down their pocketbooks)?
Unfortunately, this is not Paris, and although the teachers' union was possibly going to be joined in their strike by school staff (secretaries, janitors, and the like), I didn't hear of any AC Transit bus drivers or UPS workers in Oakland striking in solidarity. We are a long ways off from having the kinds of mass-scale social movement that exists in France and other more industrialized nations, that's for damn sure.
But it is beautiful to see community members band together in response to the 'free day' / strike whatever it is. Oakland recreation centers will be staying open later to help take care of children who have no where to go since school isn't in session. My friend M. reports that her son's school, a progressive charter school in the Fruitvale district, had a parents' meeting recently to notify them of the status of the possible strike and help them make alternative childcare arrangements. And my organization has offered students a place to hang out in our offices if they have no where to go so that they don't get targeted by cops for truancy.
At this point, it's a wait and see game. Wait and see. And hope that, no matter what, the students will be the ones to win out in the end.