African migrants in Spain

Like other tourists searching for a place to eat across the street from Seville’s university. we were—not accosted, let’s say our patronage was aggressively sought. A tug on a sleeve, the magic word paella shouted. Finally unable to say no, we chose a table on the wide sidewalk. Spanish dictionaries in hand, we ordered tapas: salmon on a bed of lettuce, a surtido. I repositioned my chair to better fit under the shadow of the slanted umbrella and protect my fair skin.

Around us waiters rushed like a weaver’s shuttle among the tables. There were brief periods when they all went inside to the kitchen. Seemingly from nowhere  African migrants appeared. Their ebony skin contrasting with the complexions of tourists, they pushed trays of sunglasses, leather purses, and pirated CDs in customers’ faces. Yet it was as if they were invisible. With the back of our hands we all brushed them away and continued to eat.

As a writer who’s experienced plenty of rejection, I couldn’t help but consider the persistence of these men. And they were all men. Which also led me to wonder where their families were. Back in Africa, waiting for their husbands/sons/brothers to make enough money to send for them? Trapped in refugee camps?

Seville wasn’t the only place we encountered African migrants. They were selling their wares in Madrid too. In the Puerta del Sol—the center of Spain it’s said to be—they had spread their wares on white sheets. Metal rods for taking selfies were quite the rage, and judging from all the tourists snapping their pictures in front of the bronze bear and madrona tree, vendors selling the rods were experiencing some success.

My husband noticed before I did, the way the African migrants had nylon cords wrapped around their wrists. We quickly witnessed the purpose.

A whistle, a shout? An offstage cue? Before our eyes, the vendors jerked on the nylon cords. Instantly the corners of the sheets came together. Like Santa tossing his pack over his shoulders, the African migrants threw their wares over their shoulders. In haste they scattered, each going a different direction. Seconds later two Policia Local, in friendly conversation, strolled by what a moment earlier had been a stage of commerce.

How do they hide among white throngs, these men whose skin color reveals origins across the Strait?

Last year 12,549 African migrants were caught trying to enter Spain illegally. Are the vendors in Spain’s cities ones who were not caught? Most come from sub-Saharan Africa, but also from the war-torn countries of Syria and Somalia. They are desperate to leave lands where Christians kill Muslims and Muslims kill Christians. Where boys are conscripted into military service. Where families go hungry and lack basic necessities.

Back in our apartment we read the news on our iPhones: In Mediterranean waters 700 illegal African migrants had drowned. I reminded myself that the bodies were not debris like plastic bottles and styrofoam cups floating on the water’s surface but human beings who had been doing all they could to survive. As were the vendors at the sidewalk cafe and in the Puerta del Sol.

While I vacationed.

Madrid African vendors 1-7

African migrants in Madrid

 

 

 

 

Hillary Clinton and the advent of email

With Hillary Clinton being criticized over inaccessibility to her email, I’m left wondering if, under similar circumstances, my reputation would be in jeopardy. I depend on email for nearly all personal and professional communications.

The National Archives and presidential libraries contain hand-written letters of former government officials. The British Museum has hand-written manuscripts by famous authors who wrote a draft, then scratched out and added words to produce a masterpiece. Letters and manuscripts were painstakingly written in the cursive style formerly taught and admired, in many cases so pretty that it’s illegible today. With no access to whiteout or ink erasures, people gave thought to most every word they wrote.

The advent of email brought with it a carelessness. At first we were told it wasn’t necessary to worry about capitalization or grammar; just get that message out there. Email invites hurried responses, spur-of-the moment thoughts. Not infrequently do we post curt messages with the potential of hurting someone’s feelings; spout off words we’d never say face to face; write something mean-spirited, because that’s the way we feel at the moment. Sarcasm and irony don’t necessarily come through.

I’d be humiliated were all my emails scrutinized and exposed: a jealous comment to a friend about M’s appearance; a complaint that all R can do is brag about himself. A grammatical mistake here, a word of profanity there. I probably write more messages/letters in a week than my literary forebears wrote in a lifetime.

So I take issue with the assumption that all email messages sent by public officials are the property of the people. Though I disagree with John Boehner on most issues, I want to allow him some privacy when it comes to his email. Surely he has expressed frustration, anger, snide observations, private, spur-of-the-minute thoughts he doesn’t want on the public record. A word of affection to his wife back in Ohio is none of my business.

The Clinton’s no less than Obama have been targets of the opposition’s scrutiny ever since they appeared on the national scene. Surely Hillary was aware early on that she needed to keep tight control over what Republicans were certain to expose. This is not secretive; it’s savvy.

Sure, many of us older citizens wish for a return to civility and care in communications. It’s time we accept that it’s not going to happen.

The so-called war on Christmas

It’s that time of year when some of my “Friends” on Facebook have posted, “Nobody’s going to make me say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas,” and “Where’s our President when Christmas is erased from our schools’ calendar because of Muslims?” (attributed to Chuck Norris).

In fact, no one’s keeping me from saying Merry Christmas. I can send Christmas cards. I can light up the nativity scene on my lawn. I can say Merry Christmas to everyone I greet. If, however, I am a keeper of the public trust in our religiously diverse nation—i.e., a mayor, a public school teacher, a county, state, or country employee—I may not use public funds or public space to promote my religious beliefs.

Orlando of the 1950s had a large Jewish population. How did Jewish children feel singing “The First Noel” and “O Holy Night” in our annual Christmas concerts? For the sixth-grade Christmas gift exchange a Jewish boy drew my name.

In our high school a sound system broadcast daily devotions into each classroom. Scripture and an inspirational thought for the day were read. We concluded by reciting “The Lord’s Prayer” and pledging allegiance to the flag. I sometimes wonder how my Jewish classmates felt about that part of each morning.

People complain they can’t use language that is “politically correct”: not say the “n-word,” not say “retard” or “fag,” not use “man” when they mean woman too. While “Christmas” has not been added to the list, we’re in the process of learning there are times and places where the sensitive person does not say it.

Why? Because words, symbols too, have the power to hurt and exclude. It doesn’t matter what the speaker intended.

A manger scene in a town square, the words Merry Christmas on a public building, a card sent by a public official (at the tax payer’s expense) wishing the constituency a Merry Christmas—what effect do these have on those who practice a different faith, whose beliefs are as important to them as mine are to me?

Stamped on our coins is “E pluribus unum,” meaning “of many one.” This doesn’t mean that to become one all newcomers must adopt the religious practices of our western European forebears. I believe it means that all people of good will who come to these shores, no matter their faith, are invited to be one with the rest of us.

So, to my Christian friends: Merry Christmas. To my non-Christian friends: Happy Holidays.

Sharing my wisdom, an older feminist’s reflections, part 1

“Nana, what’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” my eleven-year-old grandson asked.

“Picked my nose,” I answered.

“No, seriously.”

Seriously? What can a child understand about bad things adults do?

If someone asks what life has taught me, I’m not one to spout clichés that promote a positive attitude. Neither will I suggest a “stop-and-smell-the-roses” philosophy. Mine is more the “beware-the-thorns” life view.

Unfortunately, I’ve discovered, we learn best from our mistakes. I’ve certainly made my share. I confused sex with intimacy, betrayed those who truly love me. I’ve also been privy to blunders other women have made. Our mistakes help explain why many older women, if we weren’t feminists in our younger years, certainly are now.

Today I hear young women say, “I’m not a feminist.” As if there’s no longer a need to analyze women’s conditions both globally and locally. Sure, American women today work at jobs held only by men when I was considering career options in college.

Yet I watch movies and TV, read the newspapers. (I want to be clear here: I don’t blame rape and other crimes against women on the behavior of the women themselves.) What I see and read inspire me to share an observation based on my own mistakes and those of other women:
Men benefit when we wear clothes that reveal much of our bodies;
Men benefit when we believe that sex is the path to intimacy;
Men benefit when we drink and lose our inhibitions.

It’s time for a new stage of feminism, one that says I will not live my life according to men’s pleasures.

If you don’t have time to…

I remember what it was like to have a full-time job and two kids, with no extra time to keep up with the news. I was then and continue to be cynical about government and the integrity of politicians. Yet over the years I’ve discovered that nearly every aspect of my life is decided by elected officials besides the President.

That’s why, even though this coming election doesn’t have the excitement of a presidential year, it’s as important. Here are issues I consider most important as we approach the 2014 election:

1) Clean air to breath and clear water to drink. Yet many legislators oppose efforts to prevent oil-fired power plants from emitting dangerous toxins into the air. Regulations, they say, cost jobs.

2) A safe food supply and access to basic medical care. Yet many legislators keep calling for the repeal of Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and try to weaken the power of the FDA and the Department of Agriculture.

3) A fair wage for the work people do, including equal pay for women. Many people work two or three jobs to provide their family with basics. Yet some candidates continue to oppose a higher minimum wage. (Beware of those who in the past week announced they are for a minimum wage increase—after learning much of the public favors it.)

4) A solid education that will allow children to become leaders in ingenuity and production. Yet pledges not to increase taxes are forcing teacher layoffs, denying schools the resources they need for effective teaching, and increasing class size.

I urge you to vote. If you haven’t had time to keep up, google to learn the endorsements of organizations who share your values. Examples include Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, local chapters of the American Bar Association

If political advertising can’t be trusted—what to do

You studied them in middle school. Probably took a multiple-choice test on which is which. I’m talking about propaganda, that is persuasion techniques that rely on manipulating information to suit the purposes of advertisers, politicians, etc.

While I advise voters not to listen to political advertising this time of year, we’re surrounded by it. So it’s especially important that we recognize techniques candidates are using.

Namecalling or demonizing the enemy: “Ultra-liberal,” “ socialist,” “friend of the rich.”

Repetition: “Obama’s approval rating, Obama’s approval rating, Obama’s approval rating.” “Helps big corporations, helps big corporations, helps big corporations.” The idea is to repeat a message so often that uninformed citizens will accept it as truth.

Showing part of the picture: Often pieces of legislation are bundled together. A senator or representative opposed to one part may have to vote against the whole thing. A vote against a transportation bill doesn’t mean a representative is opposed to filling potholes.

Testimonials: A celebrity endorses a candidate.

Plain folks: An ordinary person who has encountered an extraordinary situation tells what the candidate did or how the candidate’s position would benefit common people in similar situations.

There are too many kinds of techniques to mention them all. You get the idea.

So what do we do instead of paying attention to advertising? Most of us don’t have time to research each candidate’s positions. I can think of two alternatives: 1) Ask someone whose opinions on issues match your own. 2) Search the internet for endorsements by organizations you trust.

Since my politics are progressive, and I live in North Carolina, I google my county and “Democratic Party.” The site tells me what representatives and judges are likely to be progressive. (Don’t ignore the important role judges play.) Women’s organizations, police, educators, lawyers, environmental groups, unions—many have posted candidates they endorse. Most are state or county specific.

In most states early voting starts soon, which makes it easier for you to go at a convenient time. The environment, a woman’s right to make her own health decisions, rights for African-Americans and the LGBTQ community—these are all at risk.
This is one midterm election we dare not miss.