Thursday, March 31, 2016

On the discourse between latinos, hispanos, chicanos, or whatever you have chosen to call us, and the rest of the people in the United States of America.

First of all, let me explain to you that America is not a country. This is a fight that I have been engaged in since I first came to the US and was told by a racist parent in my elementary school in Florida, that America didn't want me here, and that I should go back to my country. I explained to her as politely as I could that I had been born in America, as Cuba was a part of the American continent, and she promptly spit on my face. It was not a wonderful beginning to my residence here. In my next year I won the school spelling bee, but the week before I had been told by my homeroom teacher that I would never succeed because a) I spoke a second-rate language and b) I came from a third-rate culture. These two experiences, the first of many, made me decide that I would never lose my original language and culture. So when I taught Spanish at the elementary, high school and college level, when I shared my knowledge of history and geography with my students, when I practiced law and represented clients, whether Spanish-speaking or Haitians or people who spoke other languages, I always provided translations. There were no automatic translators in those days, and although I acknowledge that they serve as a tool, as a professional translator and interpreter I find their use by companies and government agencies as the sole means to address my people to be lazy and offensive. We speak a beautiful language, as all languages are beautiful; don't relegate it to an automatic robotic construct for the sake of expediency. Yes, you are the current seat of Empire, but all things, good and bad, come to an end. In my work as an advocate in the courts helping immigrants and people of color and all of the voiceless in this country, including homeless brothers and sisters and the elderly (and I suppose, having turned 67 last month, I could start adding myself to that group), I have always insisted on what Flaubert called 'le mot juste,' the exact, appropriate, perfect word. My paternal Sephardic grandfather, who spoke eight languages perfectly, always told me to keep studying languages because I would find the word I needed to express a feeling or concept, 'le mot juste,' in one of those languages. He was completely correct. We are engaged in a terrible fight to the death in these current elections that constantly bring back to me the words of Abraham Lincoln in his address at Gettysburg. "Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war." These elections are, to me, a great civil war. The discourse among us all is harsh and divisive, except for one candidate, who has refused and continues to refuse to engage in the low tactics of his adversaries. I don't know that we will be able to endure; as we have seen with candidate Trump's casual rhetoric of violence, violence only begets more violence; only love trumps violence. And that brings me back to my point: the general attitude in these United States, or US America for short, that the only opinions that matter are those of white, English-speaking people. That those of us (latinos, hispanic, chicanos) who will soon constitute a majority in the United States are not worthy of equal representation. That the language we speak, and the cultures we bring to the pot, are less important. I say all cultures are important, and the first nations here did not speak English, were not white, and had to undergo genocide, depredation, violence and abuse that continue to the present time; their languages and cultures are important and worthy of equal representation. That the original languages and cultures of the African slave ancestors, who also continue to experience rape, state and individual violence, are important and worthy of equal representation. All of us bring our special flavors and cultures to the pot; we are all important and worthy of equal representation. I am using the word America during my work to elect Bernie Sanders because it would take too long to change your understanding of how offensive your use of that word is to the rest of us, the Guatemalans and Bolivians, the Canadians and the Mexicans, the Cubans and Puerto Ricans and Dominicans and Colombians and Salvadoreans and Honduras, to name just a few of us Americans. But when the electoral process is over, I will continue to demand of all people of good will, and my experience has been that there are many of you out there, willing to learn, willing to take back this nation from the hands of those who would destroy it, that they give up the appellation of America and American, unless you mean to include the rest of us in the discourse, by proper respect and equal representation.
God bless the whole world, no exceptions.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Panem et circenses, bread and circuses

Decimus Junius Juvenalis, better known as Juvenal, an ancient Roman writer who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., wrote bitter satires about the Rome of his time. Bread and circuses, "panem et circenses" in Latin, referred to the free distribution of food and violent gladiator contests held in the Coliseum, as well as the chariot races of the Circus Maximum. It points to a period during the decline of the Roman Empire when Romans had lost the capacity to rule themselves, distracted by mindless entertainment provided by a dictatorial sham of a government.

We are living, in the decline of the “Pax Americana,’ (surely a satirical term coined by those who would involve us in ever more war and police actions throughout the planet), in a time of mindless entertainment and personal pleasure. As in those times deplored by Juvenal, we bow to authority without a second thought, with no concern for ethics or for the consequences of our imperial arrogance on the world before us and beyond us. We seek, and our government provides, short-term solutions to long-term problems, and in the end, we pay the price.

One of the basic strains in the ‘music’ that makes up our common undertaking is the war against labor. Workers fought and died to make the eight hour work day a staple. Through the long years of corporate-paid thugs breaking up protest and killing activists, the gains of the labor movement heralded an unprecedented time of workers' rights in this country and throughout the world. Because of the Haymarket affair in Chicago during the 1860's, when workers throughout the country held a general strike and were beaten and killed to prevent their joint organization, the greater part of the world celebrates Labor Day on May 1st. Every other country celebrates International Working Woman’s Day on March 8th, again because of the activities of working women, especially young immigrant girls, in New York and other places, seeking an end to employer abuse.

But in our video-game and giant entertainment world (panem et circenses), when more and more people are coming out of schools ‘functionally illiterate,” we have little time for the concerns or protection of labor, or for the lessons of history. Employers then and now fund and engage in atrocities. After all, then, cheap labor was available in the next boatload of desperate immigrants. These days we can always play the immigration tag game. Years later, families such as the Bush family would fund Nazi atrocities. But the populace, engrossed in its games, fails to notice how workers' hard-won right to bargain is suppressed, here and abroad, how capital, unfettered and frontier-less, now rules the world, whereas workers have gone back to subsistence mode.

Alas, after a hard day at work and play, the people must sleep.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Read at your own peril, Part II (Love is the most subversive force on the planet)

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist." Archbishop Hélder Pessoa Câmara, Brazil.

Yesterday was busy and lovely and exhausting; we started at the food container at about 8:40 in the morning, it was so cold I was sorry I gave away most of my gloves when I moved to the Bay area from the Poconos, and we had lovely milk, and a shipment of beans that will be downloaded by our volunteers in time for next Saturday. About nine families, including an older Asian woman who walked many blocks with a shopping cart to get to us, and got lost, and came when we had already closed so we reopened to give her food.

I am always amazed at the ongoing work of our people, including all the volunteers, the groups such as the South Hayward Parish, which runs this particular food pantry, and which has been giving out food and clothing and support for over thirty years, for in this 'rich' country there are always people who fall through the cracks, who need food in order to feed their families, it was the SHP that started our "No Room for Racism" vigils on Fridays, we are now doing them every other week, and it is in these vigils that I began to get to know my beloved compañero Jim. We had a vigil with children on the 31st day of December, I could not think of a better way to end 2010 so we took grandchildren, including two lovely Guatemalan children that I consider as my own, and stood at the intersection of Mission, Jackson and Foothill while trucks and cars honked in support, No room for racism, bigotry, homophobia, hatred, violence... Love is the most subversive force in the universe, the true harbinger of that universal dream we dream, a most revolutionary concept.

Later in the day we spent a couple of hours at the Southern Alameda's Gray Panthers, and then went to visit one of my 'sons' who is suffering not only from the pain of a work-related lumbar hernia but from the fact that the worker's comp carrier has stopped compensation payments so he can neither work nor support his family, and then I sat in on a meeting of a health-related group, working to bring Single-Payer Universal Health Insurance to California...

I came home to a sad story: a building in Oakland caught fire and three people died, and two others who are in the hospital are being released and have no place to go... they need clothing and food and beds. In a more caring environment, there would be a place they could turn to, an agency that would automatically provide.

And then there is the story of Walmart's "Love, Earth" Jewelry Line not living up to his promises, which you can read here:
Unquestionably, when all you worry about is the 'bottom line,' which seems to be the enshrined first principle of this particular empire, you become nothing but a bottom feeder...

But it's a new year in a fairly new century, and I am in love with a man and a planet, and I say, let us dream on, and while we are dreaming, and praying, let us continue to 'move our feet.'

A todos mis hermanos y hermanas,

Feliz año, happy new year, y que viva la revolución.

Silvia Antonia Brandon y Pérez

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Read at your own peril, Part I

I just came back from the food container where we give out food on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Today there were eight families, with various amounts of children, and one lone grandmother who came with her grandson, and who is obviously having a hard time with her mind. Although I did not ask, she has worn hands, not from age but from work, but now that her mind wonders and she totters on aging feet, the food we give her probably keeps her from dying of malnutrition, although today we had no oatmeal or beans, only 'light' tuna and canned corn and peaches, some white rice and pasta... no milk or juice for the weary hungry.

I came home and had one of those 'bleeding heart' moments of sobbing while I was putting my own fresh fruit and vegetables into the juicer. Last weekend when I went to my daughter's baby showers in Los Angeles, part of the reason we took longer to get there was the hordes of people pouring into and out of malls around the LA area, shopping 'till they drop... On days like today, as a proud and 'ornery Spic, I fully understand the word 'bleeding heart' because my heart does bleed, and I feel powerless and hopeless, but then the 'ornery part takes over and I am enraged that in this society of plenty (at least, the top percentile has more than they could use in untold generations...) we throw away people in this way.

I am learning Tagalog and converse with our families in Spanish or Tagalog, sometimes in slow English; one of my vices, besides a love of language, is an endless curiosity about the human condition and the human animal. We have all sorts of families come to supplement meager pantries with our even meager offerings; many of them have small children who will gladly drink the juice we distribute, when we have juice, which is not always. In Hayward most families have retrenched as the jobs have disappeared; for any of the Fox news pundits who have announced the end of the 'recession,' I would agree only because what we have is a depression that is darker and wearier and colder and more bitter than anything I have seen in my years in these benighted States of Corruption.

I am feeling better now; rage always does that for me. I am thinking of all the fat cats out there talking about deportation and about 'illegal aliens,' and about the 'greedy seniors' who refuse to give up their paltry social security benefits. If the rest of us, the ones who are not fat cats, lived in any other country, we would be out there blocking the streets, demanding an end to the impunity of the rich who have stolen their way right into their next Rolls Royce or Mercedes Benz, or whatever is their fancy, who throw parties in their million dollar homes where the help is all 'illegal' so they can be paid shit wages while the rich drink Dom Perignon and munch on the best imported caviar.

If I were younger, I might start a revolution. We sure as hell could use one. And somewhere, perhaps on this blog itself, is my essay on Revolution as the true spirit of Christmas... Of course, that particular revolutionary rabble-rouser was put to death by his people because he was advocating a change that most people were unwilling to accept. Yes, if you own two coats, give one of them up for your soul...
Today we would create a fake proceeding, accuse him of some squalid crime and perhaps even send him away to faraway Guantanamo or to some country where 'interrogation' techniques are not frowned upon...

This is part I, more to come, but if I don't get back before the 31st rolls around, may you have a revolutionary new year. I can't think of anything better to wish you all...


Thursday, November 25, 2010

The School of the Américas Watch

On November 17th I traveled to Georgia to participate in this year's vigil, and came back disturbed by the repressive over-presence of the police and soldier apparatus, the obvious 'overkill' as in the arrest of passersby and the dubious harsh treatment of these individuals by the local judge and authorities, but every year I travel there I also come back renewed by the bravery and courage of so many of our 'victims' who come here to witness to the struggle, taking a chance that when they return they will be detained, tortured, murdered... sometimes with their families at risk as well. I remember particularly the brave Honduras lawyer who has been working in resistance of the US sponsored coup, and who has been getting phone calls about his family, and his family as well getting phone calls about his own safety... the brave young man from Honduras who told us about the death of students for the simple act of speaking out against repression... This year I got to spend time with a priest from my beloved República Dominicana, which I've always considered my second homeland (I have many... there are Puerto Rico and México too), who is now working with Haitian victims of the many terrible events, of which the presence of the UN's MINUSTAH and US soldiers is not the least of these events. He told me about the wonderful work Cuban's doctors, hand-in-hand with Venezuela, have been doing there, even before the first earthquake...

I have always said that loyalty is one of the highest virtues, but I have written songs and poems about solidarity, solidaridad, and the SOAW and meeting people such as the tireless fighters for a new world are about solidaridad, which is the first virtue, because all it means is love, love and the willingness to put your body in front of your ideals.

Father Louis Vitale again crossed the gates and pleaded nolo contendere, for which he was once again sentenced to six months in jail... He is an inspiration, and I hope I have his strength when I become a prisoner of conscience.

Here in his own words, an excerpt of a letter he wrote when he was sentenced to jail from October 2007 to March 2008 for prayerfully and nonviolently protesting torture training at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona.

The cell door clangs shut. Now I am alone. But instead of trying to escape this solitude, I enter it deeply: This is where I am. Here in this empty cell I have begun to experience prison in the way James W. Douglass in Resistance and Contemplation describes it: not as “an interlude in a white middle class existence, but as a stage of the way redefining the nature of my life.” (James W. Douglass, Resistance and Contemplation: The Way of Liberation, p. 172). I have sensed this transformation, little by little. These days are a journey into a new freedom and a slow transformation of being and identity: an invitation to enter one’s truest self, and to follow the road of prayer and nonviolent witness wherever it will lead.

I am in this little hermitage in the presence of God, in the presence of the Christ who gave his life for the healing and well-being of all. I am also in the presence of the vast cloud of witnesses, some of whom are represented in the icons that have multiplied in this cell, gifts sent to me from people everywhere: Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Steven Biko, the martyrs of El Salvador, John XXIII. All those who have given their lives to fashion a more human world. At the same time I experience a deep connection with my fellow prisoners and with those outside these prison walls, including those who have sent me many letters and expressions of prayer and support.

In my little, empty cell, I experience a growing awareness of the communion of saints — and of the possibility of a world where the vast chasm of violence and injustice enforced by torture and war is bridged and transformed.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Rachel Corrie

Last week (March 16th) was the 7th anniversary of the murder of Rachel Corrie, a 23 year-old peace activist crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while she was protecting a Palestinian home from demolition. The Caterpillar bulldozer just ran over her; no action has ever been taken to compensate the girl's parents or to condemn her cold-blooded murder.

I met relatives of Rachel at one of the many peace marches I attended a few years ago, either in DC or Boston. They spoke about Rachel's work, about the family's unsuccessful attempts to get vindication...

On the anniversary of her death, this year, there was a street-naming ceremony in a West Bank street in Ramallah. Although I am sure she always believed, in her heart, that the bulldozer would stop, she made that final sacrifice for her beliefs. And her family had sued Israel and was attending a trial that same week... but in the meantime, her killers have gone free, and even though she was a citizen of the United States, entitled to all the protections under the law, we remain silent.

Today I found an interview she gave two days before her murder:

The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule
“That which is hateful to you do not do to another ... the rest (of the Torah) is all commentary, now go study.”

- Rabbi Hillel

If you want to revisit the demolition of whole cities by the Führer, just watch the Israelis tear down homes in the occupied territories. Watch people killed, wounded, jailed for marching for peace. Watch wholesale terror by the State of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a recent AIPAC conference waxed eloquent about Jerusalem, and about the building that was going on there 3000 years ago. If this is acceptable reasoning, then we need to give back all the land we took over from the native inhabitants, both in the US and throughout the world. We need to give back California, Nevada, Florida, Arizona, etc. etc. ad infinitum and most certainly ad nauseam, to the Mexicans, and give back Guantánamo to the Cubans.

In the meantime, we make harsh noises and then take them back, looking like nothing better than cheap whores before the master pimp. How dare the US and the EU stand behind the continuing outrages going on in the occupied territory? (But then again, we are occupying territories all over the planet, Iraq and Afghanistan being the latest on the list...)

The UN Human Rights Council passed 3 resolutions condemning Israel, but of course, they were opposed by the US and the EU. Oh, for an end to pusillanimous hypocrisy.

Back at the ranch, the right wing basket-case gun-toting crew is threatening anyone that does not agree with their view of the world... One 'gentleman' is urging folks to break windows, to throw bricks through them, and further urging his listeners to clean their rifles... So people who voted for health care reform have been threatened, their families have been threatened, but no one is picking these guys up and putting them away...

O brave new world that has such people in it...

The US and Israel, rogue terrorist states... Go pack that in your peace pipe and smoke it.

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