In My Parents’ House Were Many Books …

One was The Family of Man, which contained the photos from an exhibition (organized by world-famous photographer Edward Steichen) at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955. This book was, in fact, the official book of the exhibition. I don’t know if my parents went to New York to see the exhibit (how I wish I’d asked!) or if they took me (I would have been very young)  … but I know that as a child I loved that book.

I still have it. I asked for it when I left home at eighteen.

This book is a dear friend.

Copyright 1955.

And I can tell you that the book influenced me in profound ways, that I looked at it over and over and over. As a kid. As a teen. As a young adult. The people in the photos are, truly, as familiar to me as my own family. (Oh, but hey—they are.)

I have wondered if my travel-lust has its roots in this book. And I have wondered if my anti-racism has its roots in this book. My husband says it is because these people were different from me that I was fascinated and perhaps that is true. But the lesson here is still the same: current thinking to teach anti-racism is that we must see race, not ignore it (as we were taught fifty years ago—to be colorblind).

The softcover, pictured here, has sold 4 million copies and it is still in print—so I can’t be the only one who has a thing for this book.

 

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Dear Old Friend:

You saw my Facebook remarks about listening to the audiotape made surreptiously at the US/Mexico border when little children were being removed from their parents’ arms. There was shouting and weeping, and it made me cry, sitting there, hard tears. This happens to me.

But you just couldn’t resist a response. What is your solution to the immigration issue? you asked. What is your solution—I notice that now it’s an immigration issue, not an illegal immigration issue. But I see no issue. I and others like me are not deceived by this; we’ve known all along people like you would prefer no immigration at all. As if you weren’t raised just like me, with the notion of a melting-pot America. What happened to you?

(I know, I know; that question is rhetorical. You’ve been brainwashed by Limbaugh and Shapiro and Fox Not-News, and since the illegitimate election of a racist to the highest office in this country, you think it’s OK to fly your racist flag in public now. But the fact is, people like Sean Hannity are preying on your fears and your false perceptions. The border crisis is a myth. Immigration has been falling. Doesn’t hurt wages or increase crime. Isn’t in the top 100 serious challenges for our country. Read this and become informed; it will make you feel better.)

Let me remind you that your people were once immigrants and no doubt arrived here illegally, too, unless they arrived after 1920 or so. Unless you are of Native American extraction. As to the rest of it, you know my feelings, so I don’t know why you bother to ask, other than to disturb my sleep (since I tend to check FB before I go to bed). So let me remind you that I have skin in this game. Remember that I have married two immigrants, and the first had let his legality lapse by the time I married him.

But long before I married the second immigrant, I developed empathy for those who are simply seeking a better life. I became a single mom; I lost a job during a recession; I worked two full-time (40 hrs/week) minimum wage jobs and freelanced in my spare time, such as it was. My son was on the Federal Free Lunch Program; I sought food stamps. To do that, I had to spend hours waiting in line, taking time off from my poorly paid work. Let me tell you, it is expensive to be poor, and it is hard to climb out of the hole once you’re in it. (I know you grew up in poverty, which is why I’m always so surprised that you … well, you know.) I lived in a 650-square-foot apartment in a complex that also housed many Mexican folks. Were some of them illegal? I’m sure they were. They were young men, often; I learned that they came and worked and lived poor and sent their money home to their wives and children. When I saw them shivering in the wind in front ot a taco truck parked in the laundromat across the street from our apartments, I was heartbroken.

As time went on, I had many conversations with “the least of these” as the Bible calls them, people I met where I lived, where I worked (often janitors, of course), where I ate (long conversations with Mexican waiters in the presence of my son). Not only did my empathy grow but I began to understand that I live in an abundant land. Seriously—have a look. I truly believe that we have enough here to go around. We have—until trump arose—one of the most desirable countries on earth and we export our culture unremittingly. It’s no wonder people want to come here from all over the world.

Do I have a “solution” for that? No. It’s not my job. Way smarter people than me … (this statement does not include trump, or Stephen Miller, or, in fact, anyone in trump’s administration, because they are subpar intellects and subpar human beings and, we are seeing demonstrated, criminals, wholly unqualified to collect garbage, much less run this country; surely you’ve seen the news so you know this, yes?) … but smarter people than I have reasonable solutions, so I don’t feel the need to spend my precious time, which must needs be spent earning a living, on this.

My second immigrant husband now has nearly ten thousand dollars invested in the immigration process, and we are nowhere near the finish line. In fact, a process (exchanging a temporary, 2-year Permanent Residency card to a permanent one) that should take a year is now approaching the one-year mark and we’ve just learned it could take up to a further 36 months. That’s the wait time. Fortunately we have the means to hire an attorney (who informed us a year ago that every step of the process from here on in must be litigated, i.e., must happen in a court of law) and we are white. But just imagine couples, families, who are separated during this process (I actually have corresponded with some). Just imagine that they are people of color. Just imagine that trump’s jackboots are checking the immigration process of every single case looking for ways to end it. Oh wait—no need to imagine it! It’s happening already. The jackboots are coming. They’re even trying to find ways to take away the naturalized US citizenship of some immigrants.

As to what’s happening on our borders right now, again, you know how I feel. The solution for this trumped-up “problem” doesn’t really matter—using children as pawns is vile, inhumane, and, in fact, illegal. It is an abomination. No matter how many times our illegitimately elected president lies about who “started” this, the data and the facts and the truth exists. The trump government set the policy, and they could stop it; however, they do not.* (Liberal tears, and all that.)

Federal and international law prevent the government from deporting people back to danger. And it’s perfectly legal for someone to present himself for asylum at a port of entry. We know now that DHS is refusing to allow any of them enter. Which is illegal. Note the irony that it is our government who is behaving illegally, not the asylum seekers. Many asylum seekers, therefore, choose to cross between ports of entry—to cross illegally into the US—and present themselves to Border Patrol. When an asylum seeker crosses into the US illegally, he/she commits a federal misdemeanor. Under previous administrations, the Department of Homeland Security usually processed the asylum case first rather than referring him/her to the Department of Justice for federal prosecution. Even if DHS referred her for prosecution, DOJ wouldn’t usually bother to actually prosecute her before her asylum case was complete. But Jeff Sessions, in particular, is convinced that many of these asylum claims are fraudulent, brought by “dirty immigration lawyers” to gum up the system. So DOJ and DHS have stepped up their efforts to detain as many asylum seekers as possible and deport as many of them as quickly as possible. To repeat and emphasize, not everything that’s illegal—meaning against the law or violating the law—is a crime. There are civil violations, like when you get a parking ticket. “Unlawful presence” is one of these. You don’t go to jail or receive any other criminal punishment for being in the country illegally—you get deported (though not, in theory, if you have a credible asylum claim). So being here illegally does not equal a crime. In fact, 45 percent of undocumented immigrants (aka “illegal” immigrants) arrived legally. Forty-five percent.

Those fleeing persecution—most often from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; also Nicaragua is heating up—should be treated as potential victims rather than presumed criminals. That would be the empathetic, humane thing to do. Fully 76 percent of people who arrive at the border have credible asylum claims. Seventy-six percent! Yet no claims for asylum are being allowed by current DHS. However, there is no reason to take those asylum-seekers’ children away from them. There is nowhere else in the entire world that does anything like this. Trump is the first president to institute a policy to remove children from those seeking asylum. Immigration policy has been discussed and fought over for decades, and plenty of people on the left criticized Obama (and Clinton) for how they handled it, though I don’t think there’s any point in looking backward at this point. This is something new, this is something different: We are talking about seeking asylum and separating families, not border-crossing and deportation.

So, my old friend, don’t come to me like you’re some wise old sage who is going to show me the error of my progressive ways by tangling me up in how I would devise a solution. This policy of taking children is purely political, it’s shameful, and no one with a shred of humanity should support it.

Sincerely,
Your Friend Who Is Not Falling For It

* Since this writing, it has stopped, sort of. There are still no asylum claims being accepted. And ICE is searching public records for every marginal case they can find for deportation.

Second-Class Something

In preparation for some dental work, my husband needed some prescriptions, including one for pain. The latter triggered a request from the pharmacy for ID. He doesn’t walk around with his passport and doesn’t have a driver’s license, so he whipped out his Temporary Permanent Residency card. But … “It’s expired.”

Oh. yeah. We’re in process.

We started it last July. We have an Official Letter From the Powers That Be that says, essentially, Oh, yeah, this guy, he’s still legal, but we’re awfully busy right now rounding up Dreamers and other immigrants to rip out of the arms of their legal loved ones, busy hunting down the semi-legal immigrants who are still trying to stay alive in the ICE Hunger Games Sweepstakes, so this guy has to wait some more. No, we can’t give you an estimated time of arrival. Shut up.

When we first learned that he’d be walking around with an expired green card for a year, we giggled. Wow, that’s really classy and professional. But yeah, see, we’ve got this letter …

So we went home, retrieved the needed paperwork, went back. Fuming.

In between the house and the pharmacy, Gerry decided to just show his passport—which is not expired (and is pretty stinkin’ impressive, actually, with it’s fancy-schmancy visa inside)—and get the pills and get out of there. He just didn’t feel like the hassle of having to call the store manager to look at and read this letter while he stood by, hat in hand. Gerry has spent a lot of his money in this community—on a house, on remodeling, on a car, on furniture, and always, always from local vendors—and yet this whole exercise made him feel not-good-enough.

I support him in the decision but I would have loved to march in there with him with his expired green card and his not-expired letter and say, See? See? I think it would have been a good education for the staff. It’s why I talk/write about this over and over. Because there are a lot of people who live their whole lives and never meet an immigrant. Or don’t realize they have.

At the end of the day, this story works out for us (that is, we can afford to hire an immigration attorney, and we have the time to wait and wait and wait, and we are white and move through society unnoticed, except when we need a drug on the restricted list). But what if my husband had brown skin? Or a funny name? Or a noticeable accent? (Oh, wait …) What if someone just felt like making trouble and called ICE on suspicion of an expired visa?

We don’t blame the good folks at Kroger who were just doing their jobs. The point here is immigrants—people who are neither here nor there—run into a dozen little roadblocks* like this every day. This experience made Gerry feel “less than.” It made him feel second-class. It made him feel as if he’d just been subjected to extreme vetting at the Kroger Pharmacy counter.

This coming October Gerry will have been resident here for three years, and technically we could start citizenship proceedings. Of course, it’s unlikely he will have his permanent green card by then, so we’ll have to complete that process first (so as to remain “legal”), then start on citizenship. Me, I look forward to another progressive voter in the house, working for change in this bloody state.

In the meantime, if anyone says the words extreme vetting in our hearing, he or she is likely to get punched. You’ve been warned.

* Remind me to tell you about how hard it was for Gerry, a decade ago, to open a checking account in this town (because he didn’t have a Social Security number) before we figured out how to game that system. Remind me to tell you how hard it was for him to get a simple credit card here. Remind me to tell you why it was easier for him to pay cash for his first house purchased in the US than to get a mortgage.

Critical Thinking PSA

I’ve written on this topic—how to find the truth, and why sticking to facts is so important—more than once, three longish articles about critical thinking in today’s Wild West of Journalism.

Eschew Ignorance. Pursue Truth.
I Don’t Care If You’re Partisan. I Do Care If You Perpetrate Lies
The Year in Review

            I’ve probably got another longer article about the difference between news and propaganda in me too—but for now I think I’ve got a couple down and dirty examples that should help those who still don’t get it.* The difference between straightforward journalism and the biased comes down to use of words and use of photos.

Here’s an example of word use:

On Tuesday, with respect to tearing down Confederate monuments, President Trump bravely stood before the world and asked, “Where does it end?”

That’s an example from the Daily Wire, a right-wing opinion website that looks like a news site, complete with “breaking news” headlines. But you see it in the words: “President Trump bravely stood before the world.” Really? I’m rolling my eyes. Legitimate news reportage would simply say, “Donald Trump said.”

Here’s an example of photo use from the same not-news site. In a piece** that has very little to do with Hillary Clinton (except for the fact that the far right would like it to and has been trying to connect her to it for months), the headline mentions her (words, again) and is followed by an unflattering photo of her. One sees this “ugly photo” activity over and over in the right-wing press.

There’s a third principle at play here. The legitimate press doesn’t try to make something out of a long-debunked issue (here’s what PolitiFact says about it), using the name of their favorite bête noire to draw in readers anxious to hear some dirt on someone they dislike intensely.

So there you have it: words and photos. As a last thought, John Wiley & Sons, publishers of the For Dummies series, offers these points for discernment:

  • Look for a slant. Some articles are fair and balanced, but others look more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. If an article has only one source, beware.
  • Consider the source. Even if an article cites external sources, check out those sources to see whether they are being cited fairly and accurately—and do, in fact, reinforce the article’s points.
  • Look who’s talking. If you research the contributors themselves and find that they are experts in their fields, you can be more confident in the entry.

My BS meter goes off all the time, y’all, but I have experience in research and parsing words, and that’s why. I offer this in the hope it helps make it easier for others to spot.

* Actually I think some folks just don’t want to get it. But there comes a time in everyone’s life, I think, when you realize you really need the truth. The facts. No sugar-coating and no prevaricating either. Maybe you’ve reached that point.

** I really hate linking to this website, so I’ve made a screengrab instead.

What the Mind Does

Funny how you’ll read something and it’ll spark this whole train of thought* … but here was an interesting thing that popped up: on the night I graduated from high school in Merced, California, Charles Ogletree Jr (yes, that one) came up to me and requested a celebratory kiss, and I obliged him (because, duh, I was full of myself back then, even with my boyfriend standing right there). It mightily annoyed said boyfriend, even though it was nothing more than a friendly—and quick—smooch. Charles was a scrawny kid, not tall, not possessed, yet, of the stature he would earn by his accomplishments.

He went on to Stanford University with a few of my classmates and from there to Harvard Law School, and subsequently a professorship at the university, where he taught, among many others, Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson (later Obama, of course). You can read more about him here; his is an impressive career, an impressive life.

I snagged this photo from Ogletree’s page at his speakers’ bureau, Collaborative Agency Group.

It was announced in July 2016 that he has early-stage Alzheimer’s, and that news broke quickly in the world and among my old Merced crowd. None of us have seen him in decades, I should point out, but we were proud of him from a distance, and we’re all sorry to know this news. There’s been some better, hopeful news on the horizon for Alzheimer’s patients; one hopes he gets the benefit of the latest treatments and that his twilight years are exceedingly happy ones.

But what I wondered, though, that night in bed, feeling the synapses fire between the Coates and Ogletree, who sprang into my mind unbidden, was this: I wonder who else of my friends he kissed that night? Funny, how the mind works.

* It was Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power, the introduction to the sixth essay, which speaks of “how black families had been cut out of the FHA loan program and thus excluded from much of the suburban housing development in the postwar years … [which] was a great source of the wealth for American families.” Including me. My first husband and I financed more than one early home with FHA loans. This train of thought really got my attention—and broke my heart.

What Language Are You Speaking?

Today I left my appointment with a physical therapist and, since it was just after one o’clock, decided to drop by Panda Express. Call it fast food if you must—and it is, usually, fast—but they use fresh ingredients and you can taste the freshness.

There was a line. And it wasn’t fast today. Behind me, standing a little too close, two men carried on a conversation in a language that sounded vaguely Hispanic. (I say a little too close in the sense that we Americans like our personal space when we’re standing in line. But some cultures are comfortable standing closer, and I don’t believe in letting things like this bother me.)

Then one of the workers announced to those of us waiting: “We are out of to-go boxes and”—he named several of the most popular items on the menu. “I’m sorry, but our delivery didn’t arrive today.”

Several people peeled out of the line and left, but I wanted my Panda Express, dagnabbit, and another worker brought up a bunch of the little cardboard cartons you traditionally see used for Asian takeout, so we were in business. By “out of to-go boxes” they’d meant those awful Styrofoam boxes.

So I and the two gentlemen behind me fanned out in front of the buffet to see what was available, which was when I got a look at them. One of them had a full head and mustache of white hair and could have been mistaken for Omar Sharif. The other was younger, but probably not by much. They used English to speak to the restaurant worker and to commiserate with me, smiling, then turned to each other and had a conversation in …

“What language are you speaking?” I asked, putting my hand on the younger man’s arm* to politely interrupt. “I’ve traveled a little, but I’ve never heard this.” Oh! Those rolled Rs! This language was like music.

“Arabic,” he said, and they both smiled. I smiled. We were all smiling. The younger man said, “You should visit Jerusalem,” in the manner of passing on a well-kept secret. “It is beautiful.”

And that was it, just a few words, but it made me happy today.

* Later I wondered if, by touching him, I’d violated some social custom. But they are here in Tennessee, and I am a woman who touches people when she talks to them. Also, they didn’t react in any way other than to smile and keep the conversation going.

Not by appointment do we meet Delight
And Joy; they heed not our expectancy;
But round some corner in the streets of life
They, on a sudden, clasp us with a smile.
—Gerald Massey (1828–1907), The Bridegroom of Beauty

 

Do You Know Me?

Some years ago—back before I obsessively kept notes about these things—I read an interview with Frances Mayes (of Under the Tuscan Sun fame).

Mayes said that while she often asks about local customs when she travels outside the United States—how things are done and so forth—she is not often asked those things in return about the States. The reason, she believes, is because foreign visitors think they know us already. That is, our culture (think Hollywood) has been so vigorously exported that the rest of the world feels it already knows what our lives are like.

It’s something to think about.