Look to our Leaders

Dear Middle America,

I know your heart. I live on an arteriole of your productive farming and logging community. I am surrounded by people whose families are still reeling from mill shutdowns and farmers who scoff at the idea of a 40 hour workweek. I feel your pain. My community has been hurt by changes in our world. Spotted owl stew is still being offered up on the metaphorical menu. I hear your voice. You feel drowned out. You want the country of your grandparents back. Nostalgia is a sweet feeling. It’s the feeling I get when I look back on pictures of my kids and smile at the good old day. But we can’t go back. What we had is gone, morphed, changed, and its up to us to morph and change with it.

Sincerely,
A Fellow American

Maybe in the America of today we identify with the wrong metaphor. The idea of our country being a melting pot originated with a play of the same name in 1908. But it’s a flawed metaphor. It creates the illusion that our identities can be melted down and fused with others. That doesn’t accurately define what this country is. Maybe our country could be better described as a tapestry of rich, intertwined threads. We should exercise care in tugging on those threads, lest the whole fabric of America unravel.

We are a country of immigrants. Some of us came here by choice, some by force. Some of us were original inhabitants of this land and must be wearing a very ironic smile at the talk of taking our country back. Yet here we are, all converging on this point in time together. In light of all of this, maybe it’s time for a little history lesson.

Throughout our short history we have accepted many to our shores. In the early days of our country, citizenship was granted to “free white people” of “good moral character” with a two year residency requirement. That was changed under Adams to fifteen years and back to five under Jefferson. It’s important to remember that during this time forced immigration was occurring due to the slave trade with no prospect of citizenship to this addition to the American population.

As the years passes, our United States was flooded with wave after wave of immigrants fleeing crop failures, social unrest, industrialization, religious intolerance, pogroms, and poverty. Laws were created to admit some and deny admittance to others. Fears that our country would be undermined and taken over by the Germans, the Catholics, and the Eastern Europeans were very real. But has this happened? Have we become an arm of Germany? Has the Pope wrested control of our nation? Or have we have taken these immigrants in and incorporated them into the tapestry of America? Today the descendents of such immigrants are our professors and policemen, judges and farmers, inventors and data entry clerks, though many of their grandparents and great-grandparents began as laborers and domestics who themselves endured the ire of the citizenry. Immigration laws have changed over the years, but what hasn’t changed is the vision of America as a place where people go to belong, where their thread can be woven into history, where their children have a chance to join the great American experiment. (And who among us in not included in the “they?”)

This election has brought a lot of ugliness to the surface. People who don’t look like that handful of pilgrims fleeing religious persecution who landed at Plymouth Rock so long ago, people who are second or third generation Americans are left reeling as they are told to go back where they came from. Even in my relatively sheltered existence, the truth of the Trump effect is hitting home. People who just days ago fit into the American tapestry are looking around, wondering just who they can trust, and it’s up to many of us to hold the fabric of our collective identity together with safety pins. Just try searching the hashtag #Trumpeffect on Twitter to see what many of the people who share this country are experiencing after this election. It’s vile. The KKK is having an outright victory parade. These are dark days. How far have we sunk as a country that any of this would be okay?

News outlets are reporting that this past election had the lowest voter turnout in two decades. The nature of the election may have caused some to sit it out thinking they couldn’t stomach their choices. I’ve heard people say they couldn’t vote for Hillary because she sounded shrill or because they didn’t want to see a woman in charge. This saddens me to no end. I cringe to think that Trump’s speeches inspired the hateful supporters who were shouting “lock her up” and who threatened to exercise their second amendment rights if their candidate was not elected. Some of those people are the ones decrying the current exercise of the first.

For those of you who are watching the #notmypresident protests unfold and are crying foul, those of you who, like me, believe in the peaceful transfer of power, look at who you’ve elected. Look closely. Play devil’s advocate for a moment and consider the arguments of the other side. Think of the possibility that you’ve been hoodwinked, that maybe the version of reality that’s been trotted out before you is not what you’re going to get.

If you are one of the many who wanted to be heard, to whom this was a protest vote in and of itself, we hear you. Let me offer this: Instead of a man who has a history of lies and evasion, who has manipulated the election, who will probably never again be seen wearing a baseball cap, who hasn’t released his tax returns… instead of this man, look to the true leaders of the common man. Bernie Sanders has a history of standing up for us, the people. Look it up. He’s still here, fighting for us. Look to Michael Moore, who predicted this win not because he supports Trump, but because he’s had his finger on the pulse of downtrodden middle America for a long, long time. I’m going to argue that we can’t have a top-down approach at this point in our country. The top has been compromised, including Donald Trump.

We are shaking the tapestry of America by exercising our first amendment right to protest. Like the flag unfurling in a tempest, it ripples and roils. When the storm dies down, we must ensure it remains intact.

I’ll leave you with the whole sonnet written by Emma Lazarus that graces the base of the Statue of Liberty:

New Colossus

statue of liberty poem

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Let’s not let it come to this:


Photo credit: On Location in Los Angeles via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

National Stress Awareness Day

I woke up this morning and checked my Twitter feed. A trending hashtag was for National Stress Awareness Day. I laughed. Oh, to have just one day dedicated to stress awareness.

I know I’m not alone in being aware of the day after day pressures in my life.

On the top of my list is parenting stress. Will my kids learn the basic human skills of communication, compassion and resilience? Will they do their best in school? What will I do when they falter? I do my best, but truth be told, there are plenty of subversive influences out there, from dramatic reality TV that feeds on the worst of human interactions to easy access to who-knows-what on the internet. My kids are of the age where I don’t sit over their shoulder any more trying to make sure they are making good choices. I trust, but I worry.

The two youngest, lovingly referred to as Goose and Maverick, are both adults now. They are watching their first presidential election unfold. Firsts should be better than this. Back in 2008, I took them to a small, local Obama rally. I was inspired by the message of hope, and I wanted them to be a part of that. They were 10 and 11. In this election, my young millennial, Goose, dove into an eager support of Bernie Sanders, even attending one of his rallies. He was inspired by Bernie’s integrity and commitment to social justice. He is now one of the disillusioned millennials. He has filled out his mail-in ballot, but refuses to vote for president. Maverick refuses to vote altogether, and no amount of motherly coaxing him to perform his civic duty will change his cynical young mind.

I have to wonder how this election will impact the already-there economic stress. I worry. I question. How can I stretch my paycheck? How will our older kids ever pay back their college loans? (How I wish we could help with that.) What will happen to my meager investments if Trump is elected president? Why is everything so expensive? Apples have always been my indicator, maybe because they are a local item. They used to be 39 cents a pound. Now you’re lucky to get them for $1.99 a pound. They have risen 410% over the past 20 years, a time frame when minimum wage only went up by 77%. And on that note, why aren’t groceries figured into the price of inflation?

Most of us worry about the financial impacts of political decisions on our lives and our children’s lives. Goose and Maverick (both employed but still living at home) haven’t committed themselves to college yet, despite being out of high school. They feel the burden of college debt and don’t want to have to deal with it. I tell them it’s worth the investment, that they will see a good return in the way of increased earnings, but I feel less and less sure about that myself. My recently-graduated daughter is saddled with a huge debt burden and has spent months searching in a job market that expects years of experience that she doesn’t yet have. My own financial worries are nothing compared to those my children will face if something is not done to equalize the economic imbalance in this country.

Then there’s societal stress. How is my country changing around me? How is the influx of people from other parts of the world contributing to that? What should my reaction be? My own husband is an immigrant. I have known many immigrants, not just from Mexico, but from Nepal and Chile. I am drawn to the stories and experiences, to seeing my country through the lens of others. I wonder at the ugliness this election has stirred up, the intolerance and willingness to make someone out as the “other.” The family from Chile escaped the dictatorship of Pinochet. One time the father recounted a story of fearing for his life as he was heading home from college in the midst of the coup and encountering armed men in the streets. I wonder if he ever thought it couldn’t happen there. The immigrants I know are good people, but I see how their arrival causes an imbalance in our society, and every imbalance seeks equilibrium. Though I lean left, I think this is a flexible issue and a necessary one to address. Maybe we need to time let the most recent additions settle, and settle in with them ourselves. We all get burned when the melting pot overflows.

If those things weren’t enough to worry about, there’s health care. I don’t know about you, but we are always one medical emergency away from having the rug pulled out from under us. In what is supposedly the model of democracy in the world, I find that unacceptable. We’ve personally been through medical issues that set us back significantly, and that was before the ballooning of health care costs. It took years to recover. Many of our elected officials are working hard to rectify the situation, but it’s a slow, hard-fought battle. Our own deductible has risen to $12,000 for our employer provided health care option. You may blame the ACA. I think it’s corporate greed. Wherever the fault lies, it doesn’t change the current reality. My husband recently tried to make an appointment with a doctor for an issue that included chest pain and was sent directly to the ER, only to be told after a battery of tests that it was probably esophageal spasms. I’m glad the services are there and I’m thankful it was not heart related, but I’m sure this visit might exceed our deductible. You tell me how I’m not supposed to stress.

And nobody is even discussing climate change.

Every day I turn on the T.V. or radio only to be bludgeoned by political ads of people who claim to have the answers telling me how they are going to finally fix these things. I know there are people who are trying. There are also the few who throw money at changing the whole system to suit their needs. (Oligarchy, here we come!)

I just want a little stress relief.

I made a snarky post with the hashtag National Stress Awareness Day then got up to have my coffee and face another day. What I really wanted to do was throw my smartphone against the wall, pull the covers over my head, and wake up on November 9th, hoping all of this was just a very bad dream.


If you made it through this whole thing, thanks so much for reading.

This was somehow, and I’ve forgotten how, inspired by The Daily Post’s prompt: Bludgeon

The American Dream

Let’s talk illegal immigration.

Last Saturday, I took the back roads on my way to my destination. I passed through the lands belonging to a farm I worked at during a summer in college. What used to be acres of berries and filberts has seen many improvements. There are now acres of nursery stock, windmills in the blueberries, ponds and sprinkler systems. There were posted notices where the plants had recently been sprayed, and there were a few people working in the field across the road.

I was transported back to those same fields over twenty years ago and my job as row boss/checker. Back then, I spoke a little Spanish, and I relished the chance to practice my skills. In the process, I got to know people, hard working people, old people and young parents who had their preschoolers in the field with them. I saw how they interacted with each other, joking, laughing, caring for one another. There were large extended families and neighbors from the same small town. I felt how kind they were toward me, “la güera.” I was invited to after hours get togethers with the other summer workers and the crew bosses, pizza dinners in town or sitting around a fire with the crew bosses singing Norteño music to the tune of a guitar and accordion. I greeted people with a smile and got a smile in return.

There were occasions where I had to visit the camps that housed the workers. One was newer, cinder block housing, camp style, nothing fancy. People who had been bent over strawberries all day, dusty and sweaty, had cleaned up for a foray into town for supplies or a trip to the bar. Little girls in spotless dresses with hair pulled back tightly into braids that didn’t allow for any flyaways played together while young boys kicked a soccer ball around. There was another housing unit, a derelict old building that many people were crammed into. These were the housing options for these workers. If they started seeing a decrease in income as the season progressed and the harvest declined, some of them sought work elsewhere. When the strawberries were on their way out, blueberries and caneberries were ripening. These folks had to move. The farmer wouldn’t house them if they weren’t working on his farm.

On certain occasions I was asked to go along with people as a translator. On one occasion, I translated for a couple with small children who were looking for an apartment. I called and the owners said they had an open apartment. When we arrived, they very quickly said they couldn’t rent to the couple, that they only rented to students. This was my first encounter with discrimination. Another time I accompanied a young mother to the public clinic to get to the bottom of intense abdominal pain. She expressed hesitation at gowning up for the exam and the doctor turned to me and exasperatedly said something about how she didn’t have a problem spreading her legs for her husband. My decision to open my mind to another person’s experience was enlightening me to the nasty undercurrent that existed in my own world.

There were bad things that went on. I heard about the prostitutes that went to the camps, American girls from the fringe of society. True free market. Supply and demand. Once, I was accosted in the fields by one young man and managed to slip through the bushes before he managed to kiss me. Overall, though, I felt as though I was surrounded by basically good people.

Were the people here illegally? We didn’t know, though it was assumed they were. Were they acting criminally while here? Not in my experience. I saw people who worked hard, who bought American clothes and American products, people who sent money home to take care of families who stayed behind. During that time, their help was needed, so the government and the farmers turned a blind eye. This was common knowledge at the time. In reality, if you had wanted to stem the tide of illegal immigration, placing a hefty fine on the employers might have been the best option. If there were no work to be had, people wouldn’t make the grueling journey. The reward has to outweigh the risk.

I have kept in contact with some of these people. The young man who wanted an apartment just became a citizen last month. I have a smiling picture of him at his citizenship ceremony. He and his family routinely spend their free time at Disneyland. Another woman who worked for years in the fields was recently had a late stage cancerous growth removed, and she had to travel to Mexico to have her health concerns taken seriously. (Some things have not improved.) One gentleman started his own business. Another works for the Department of Agriculture. At least half of their children are seeking military service or post-secondary education. (Many of these parents never attended high school.) All have benefitted from the 1990 Immigration Act introduced by Ted Kennedy and signed into law by the first President Bush.

As I drove by that old farm, I couldn’t help but feel the unfairness of it all. The improvements I saw were due to the backbreaking labor of ordinary people who are being villified today.  One of our candidates would have you think that this subset of our population consists of murderers and rapist sent here by Mexico. What a simplistic world view.

As you consider my words, please enjoy this Republican blast from the past:

Acceptance

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Photo credit: rebeccagulotta via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Last night I shared great food and company with a group of people, many of whom might fall under the “undocumented” and “illegal” title or have in the past. I don’t know who, and I’d prefer not to know.

As I looked around, I recognized many people. Some work in the farming industry, some in construction, some as hotel maids and groundskeepers. Many started by laboring long hours in the hot sun to provide fresh produce for our tables and a living for both their parents and their children. They save money and pay taxes. They play soccer on the weekends and have family get-togethers where all are welcome, including their American friends and neighbors. They shop at Wal-Mart and The Apple Store and infuse the economy with loads of money. These people are now homeowners with children graduating high school, something many of them were unable to do. Many of these kids are going on to college. Their parents had a dream of a better life – the American dream.

Yet they are the latest scourge in a long line of immigrants.

I thought about Gary Johnson’s approach to immigration. He wants to round everyone up, not to deport them, not to separate families, but to get them work permits and legalize the very valuable contribution to our economy. I looked around and realized that this would make the unacceptable people among them suddenly acceptable to regular Americans. Nothing else would change about them except a legal document. They would continue to do the same jobs, pay the same taxes, eat family dinners, and enjoy their time off. Yet if Donald Trump had his way, some of them would live in fear of being yanked away from all they have known for years, families uprooted, resulting in family and societal instability as well as resentment among this younger generation of Americans.

I once spoke with an undocumented woman whose mother was ill. She had tears in her eyes as she told me how she longed to see her, but to do so risked losing everything she’d worked so hard for. I thought about people I know who have lost parents and have not been able to even return to attend their funeral because to do so would mean being unable to come back to their home, where their children attend school, where they have friends and family, where they are merging into this great melting-pot we call America.

Do these families fly Mexican flags? Sure. Do they do things Mexican style? Absolutely, just like Italian-Americans, Japanese-Americans, and any other hyphenated Americans who came before them. Cultural heritage flows through all of us. I have Swedish and Norwegian roots. They were very strong in my great-grandparents, who spoke the mother tongue. They were strong in my grandparents, but with each successive generation, they meld with the greater American experience. The second generation of these Mexican families speak English and watch a mixture of Spanish and English TV. They eat Lays and Sabritones. They have traded the pulga (Mexican swap meet) for traditional brick and mortar stores. They dance and smile and laugh and love just like anyone else.

Send them all back, you say? How about cultivating a little compassion and respect. Thank the person who cleans your hotel room. She’s putting food on her family’s table. Thank the guy who brought your refrigerator. His son just signed up for the military to fight for his country, our country. Smile at the lady speaking Spanish at Wal-Mart. She’s probably trying her hardest to learn English as she prepares her own children for a better future.

While we’re struggling to fix the broken system of immigration, let’s not feed into the propaganda. Immigration policies change over the years. We have a vibrant, creative, inquisitive and hopeful generation coming up as Americans, and they are making our country a better place.

Let’s Hear It for the Jesters


Photo credit: QuinnDombrowski via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

In medieval life, jesters held a place of importance among the ruling class. They provided levity and entertainment to those who held the job of making difficult decisions. They were also given more leeway to speak their mind through the use of satire and through their position as buffoon.

In this crazy election cycle, it would be easy to take ourselves too seriously. You may argue the merits of one candidate or the other to the point of blows, and indeed, there are people who demand that their candidate get the position he or she deserves, otherwise they will go to “the bullet box.” Our settings have defaulted to sensitive. Make that extreme sensitive. All of a sudden, this is our “last election,” depending on the choice we make, and both sides are telling us the same thing. What are we to do?

Enter the jesters.

While we don’t have the jesters of old, we do have our comedy news teams. They are having a field day with this election cycle. The fact that we have two distasteful candidates provides them with plenty of fodder, and their satirical take on the state of the country and the world should give us a chance to step back and put things in perspective, or at least gives us one last laugh as it all goes up in flames.

During this election, Stephen Colbert has given us the Hungry for Power Games and reintroduced a version of his previous persona, much to the delight of his audience. Seth Meyers gives the candidates and their platforms A Closer Look. Samantha Bee covered both conventions and had so much material that she uploaded much of it as extra web content. Trevor Noah and John Oliver point out inconsistencies across the board and the absurd nature of the world in 2016. Heck, even John Stewart came out of retirement for this. 

So while the country burns and we continue the attempt at a bucket brigade, let’s look to our jesters for respite.

But when it comes time to cast your vote, please remember… this is not a joke.