There is a sign that you can see if you look past the forlorn vacancies:
“Home is any place that Life takes you”*
Well, Life has taken me on a ride, gasping for more air at the
climb and in awe of the beauty that’s been brought to me
Life has brought me more challenges than I thought I could face
And more love than I thought I could find
See Life is not a map or a game or some kind of gamble you can win with bribes—No, it is not something to be trivialized or denied no matter how many detours we might take
And its home is not the structures—it’s not the number of missing kitchen tiles nor the chipped blue paint next to the welcome sign; it’s not the steep staircase that nobody wants to climb nor the railing that looks more like a melting popsicle ready to fall off
No, Home is the laughter that fills you and leaves no space or time for the “why?”, Home is the taste of foods from far away, unfamiliar yet unrelenting in its affections for you, Home is the empty lot turned into a world ruled by kids and their imaginations, Home is the sweet smells rising to the windows gasping for cool air to find aromas you can’t name, Home is the smile of J.J. pleading to play “just one more game”, Home is the soccer games in the backyard and the lessons with Grandma Pepe teaching you the gift of listening, Home is the sounds of Norteño music rising up steadily with the smoke from the elotes on the grill, Home is the first floor washing machine standing still silenced and broken and the never-ending hoots and hollers from houses and street corners brimming with people lacking in age but not in experiences. Home is the look, the sound, the smell, the Life that was given and received all in one place.
Home is being born again and again calling out to us with a look of curiosity and care from that pesky kid next door “Don’t you wanna come play with me? It’s just one game!”
And as you may already know, Life that finds a home will not take “No” for an answer.
*http://artifynow.wordpress.com/ (quote taken from a project to create community-created art in foreclosed buildings in an effort to reclaim , restore and to preserve the art of “place-making” along University Avenue in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood of St. Paul
~The Beautiful Game~
Dribble, pass, shoot.
It was a beautiful day to play a beautiful game.
And, so they decided it was their day too.
To make the plays; to call the shots; to sweat; to not let the fast rhythm of their breath stop them make the next step; to be proud of what they had done.
Dribble, pass, shoot.
Thinking back to the days they used to watch and pray. Behind closed walls, where noises were like thunder, cries of longing told it all.
Dribble, steal, shoot.
Back to the times when they would sit with their mothers and their sisters and dream like babies without vision of the things that kept them trapped.
Block, trap, dribble, pass.
Trying to stop the memories from flooding in all at once of terror and of triumph over a thread of tranquility…that was real at one time.
Shouts, “Pass it, center field, I’m open.”
It is not the fear of hunger, of the killers, of the other, that keeps you alive. It is the constant rhythm of life; the beauty of a dance at night, the celebrations that won’t ever stop, it is the sound of your heart as you breathe in and out in the same beat, overcoming all the memories of how far you have traveled and what your eyes too young have seen.
Pass, cross it, head it, you made it.
It is that moment when your heart dances to the rhythm of your feet that reminds you life, with all its suffocating spaces, is still beautiful.
A New Frontera
Not like the formidable frontera that seems to travel in an endless expanse
Marked only by its trails of decay, misery and death
There stands a new, yet strangely familiar figure
Her hands are weathered from holding the torch that beckoned so many to her safe harbors
Yet her feet are firm; she has stood the test of time
Deliverance has made its home at her gates, welcoming strangers with her warm gaze and arms stretched out as if in a warm embrace
Huddled masses relentlessly pounding upon her breast, seeking a place of comfort and rest
But, through the night of standing watch
She was disarmed
With alarming fright
By people supposed to protect her
Land-dwellers. People from the left and the right,
One did not need to look far to the shore to see the abundance of florescent light,
Blindly pressing onward with their backs to the past
Like the Israelites of old forgetting stories of deliverance from the hand of an oppressor
The flame upon her torch slowly became a flicker, and then an ember until it was no more
Her gift of guidance had been cast aside in pursuit of a greater treasure, those who once cried mercy only called out for the “American Dream”, letting their new life be built upon the sweat, blood, and strife of those seeking deliverance of their own
This stolen light was a beacon of hope in a stormy night to the huddled masses that arrived at her feet pleading for freedom, for safety, for rest at the feet of the Virgen, more than just a statue, but a Mother Divine
This Mother of Exiles pleaded for a match, anything, with which to light the charred embers that served to remind the huddled masses what had been before the night… and why she must not give up the fight
From the land cries filled the night sky,
“We do not have enough to share with all of you, so go back to where you came from!”
Perplexed and distraught but never dismayed,
The huddled masses gathered the hand-carved crosses, religious figurines and old story cloths they kept as faint reminders of where they once came as a humble offering to reignite the untamed fires of freedom
Some of those on the shore already jumped away, into the vast abyss between the Lady and the land to return, as if on a pilgrimage to where their forefathers and mothers began
A sacred moment; A holy communion, some might say of meek and powerful reclaiming the stories of old, of the sweat, blood and pain that it took them to reach
A holy communion marked by the strength and sacrifice of a Mother who wouldn’t turn away those who came with hopes and dreams in their scarred hands
The fire is ablaze. The flame has been rekindled.
This light cannot be contained.
Its light spreads to even the farthest corners where traveling familias pray to the Virgen as they cross the Rio Grande, where children sit waiting for a sign of blue sky as visions of life beyond the bars of the refugee camp flash before their eyes, where parents weep asking why they left it all behind to find they were still at the bottom of the heap, where undocumented youth are told they must “get to the back of the line” where no line remains when they committed no crime but must daily endure the shame of being called “illegal”, without a name
Erupting into the night sky, the Mother Divine cries once more like she did at her birth with silent lips, “These tired, weary masses have come to breathe free, leaving their life behind to be crucified with only a vision of what might be. Woe to you who have shown little mercy, little hospitality, and little hope to your own. Your hearts they grew bitter and fear did replace that child-like wonder when you first saw my face. Now you have lived here two, three or four generations long, but I beseech you, I plead you, I beg you, do not forget where you have come from
Remember that those weary hands were once your grandfather’s who struggled to provide a humble home laying bricks that would become the foundation for towers so high no one could imagine they could reach up to the sky
Remember that those tired feet were once your mother’s as she stood all night and day enduring the terrifying shrieks of the monstrous machines in a room suppressing her own hopes and dreams, just so her children could finally learn how to breathe, becoming the CEOs of a company she once worked, locked in a tower on the 30th floor sweating away.
Remember that those enduring spirits were once your parents as they labored each day hoping neither for fortune nor fame, but for a chance to give you a vision they never could have seen for themselves. One track laid upon the other through their unrelenting spirit paved the way for a railroad that would be used across the nation, stretching as far as if it were the Golden Gate bridge leading you home
Remember these longing souls were once your fore fathers and mothers willing to lay down their own lives so they could see the day when you would be free, not to further oppress or divide but to join the huddled masses to cry out for something better, for a hopeful future to all who might make their home in a place of better tomorrows than today.
Her last words ring out as a voice of a prophet calling her people back from the wilderness, to a place of unity instead of divide, to a place of courage instead of fear and to a place of hope instead of despair
Shining brighter than ever, her torch still guides those who seek comfort, safety and rest
Like a queen leading a magnificent parade
This procession becomes a triumphant song of divine welcome
For all who may be yearning to breathe free.
To my ESL class
Our time has come to an end. It is our last day. Eyes brimming with tears filled with dreams, memories and hopes for the future. What can I say? What words of wisdom can I leave you with? This is what overwhelmed me as I sat and asked for peace and surrender.
When you think of me and our time together I don’t want you to think of the way I laughed at your spontaneity or goofy ways, or the way I promised treats on the last day, or even the difference between plants, animals and MCAs. I want you to think of yourself. This is what I want for you, something you have denied far too often. This was our first, and is now, our last lesson.
I want you to think. Piensa en todas las barreras que se enfrenta cada dia. Think of the barriers you face every day.
Think off your father trying to follow the path, crooked and narrow, along the highway known to few but death. Crossing la frontera hoping the Rio Grande would baptize him to new life, only to find it stole his last breath.
Of your dad أب caught in the cross-fire of a man-hunt and a search for weapons of mass destruction. Who knew that day he drove so far to seek a better future for you, one free of violence and shame, he would be labeled a “terrorist”, and forced to carry the blame that no man, Arab, Muslim, Jew, or Christian should have to face.
Of your mother working around the clock, through all hours of the night, fighting so you can live and will not have to see the pain The price she bore when she carried you across the desert is engraved upon your forehead, a sacred touch of sacrifice that cuts through her like a knife as you wander without direction crying yourself to sleep at night
De tu mama y papa, of your grandmother ยาย and grandfather ปู่ , of your Uncle 叔叔 Leo and your single-parent mom
This is where you come from and who you are. I have seen, heard and felt only a glimpse of what these broken shards of glass must feel like as they tear away a piece of you with no regard for who you might become.
I want you to think. Think of all the lies, all the deceptions all the labels society has put on you.
Think of the laws that kept your mom from going to the store that day when you were so sick in bed and crying. Your mom shed tears too, but these were ones of shame. Without a driver’s license or a social security number, her existence remained hidden and out of sight. Who knew that living in the shadows could bring you and your existence into utter doubt and silence. How could a mother deal with that kind of shame, anytime you asked for water or medicina your mother didn’t have the heart to tell you the truth that in El Norte freedom looks the other way, especially for “un ilegal”
Think of the time you could not eat at the restaurant because the waiter did not serve “Arabs” muttering “terrorists” under his breath. You thought to yourself “why does my little brother, at the age of five, have to endure this?” He wouldn’t stop crying. You were so humiliated as you had to tell your mother who sat looking defeated as you told her the reason why you were being ignored, cast looks at, with placed orders of greasy fries waiting for a much more “peaceful”—and much less Arab–family
Think of the time you slept on the streets. You never knew mothers could be treated like that, especially ones with seven children. You had to learn fast that rent, and grace, don’t come free in the land of opportunity. You were left to move, never in one place too long, learning how to guard yourself from the pain of waking up those early mornings to find everything gone.
I want you to think of all the lies from racism, and classism and sexism. All of the labels put on you that left you cold-hearted and blind, told from a racist society that nursed you into accepting your own decay, to accept a dehumanized identity from the first time you opened your eyes
Now, I want you to think of all the potential, all of the dreams that were never truly crushed—although that’s the way it seemed—that were buried deep within bursting to breathe free. Think of your power, your grace and your pride.
Of the time when you were the subject of conversation in the staff lunchroom, the “lazy, good-for-nothing, never-will-amount-to-anything Mexican”, now swelling with pride as you began to believe in yourself, you rose to be the leader you always knew was inside.
Of the times when you wrote, read and asked so many questions that left me in awe. Forgive me for not seeing your brilliance, your intelligence, and your spunk. So young, yet so brave. All you wanted was to release the words that had been trapped in your mind so far they seemed you could never reach–like your family thousands of miles away. Now, you let them burst out freely as you said to me “I just want to learn everything!”
Of the time when you opened my eyes the very first day, with your excited question, and then warm invitation of friendship as you said, “Do you know any Spanish people?! Well, now you do!” Who knew on that field trip you would reach for my hand and show me the kindness that had not often been received by those weary, yet strong little hands
Finally, I want you to think of your attendance. I want you to think of the importance of roll call every day. Not just weakly replying “here” in the midst of giggles from your peers. But, to stand firm and tall full of of power, grace and pride. To stand up and to claim your voice in attendance, in roll call.
To show pride in your name
When people look the other way or cast looks of dismay at “another foreigner”
To show you too have hopes and dreams that will not be crushed
despite las barreras que se enfrenta
To prove your families’ suffering was not in vain
That your father’s death along the highway brings new life
That the death of your dad can lead forth to redemption
That your mother’s ceaseless work day can provide the pay for a better and brighter day
To leyes racistas, racist laws, that keep you and your gente, people, from living the life you always dreamed of
That tell you that you cannot belong, that you cannot be strong, that you cannot live on
In the face of adversity, you stand as living proof to prove them wrong
To tell your familia’s story of suffering, perservance and pain
so that when they tell you to shut up and sit down,
or that “it is not important how it is pronounced”
that you will show them the scars on your hands
So, no one can deny that this did not come from an oppressors’ hands
And during roll-call I hope that you say it all boldly
I hope you stand up and deliver your name in front of all those who laugh and mock,
And in saying it I hope you realize that it was not me who gave you this voice,
But it was you
Who stood up
You who believed
You who kept dreaming
You who led me to join with you in la lucha, the fight
And You, who stood up
During roll call to say
“Presente”’, “Estoy aqui”
I am here
ESL class, my Exceedingly Stellar Learners, had it within you all along
El Pajaro de Libertad~The Bird of Freedom
! Libertad, libertad!
Un día la creación será liberada de la corrupción que es esclavitud
One day creation will be liberated from the corruption that is slavery
Para así alcanzar la gloriosa libertad de los hijos y las hijas de Dios
To be brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:21)
As I sat on a bench in “en el parque central,”
I saw a young boy bending over to shine shoes
He wore the face of a man who had seen many struggles,
Yet he could not have been older than eight years
Frantically working, toiling both night and day
Walking away with only a few quetzals for his pay
To call a mother he can only see in his dreams
In “El Norte”
But his small pay cannot bring inclusion
in a society built to exclude him
And his people, la Maya
His pay cannot bring freedom from oppression
He knows one day he will see freedom,
But right now he has no other option
He is trapped in a system of “esclavitud,” slavery
But this is nothing new for him a
And his people
As I continue to look off into the distance,
I realize that the boy is walking my way
He points at my shoes, “mis zapatos”
I nod “sí”, as if my services could change his condition
He begins to shine the grime and dirt off of my shoes
Whistling a tune unfamiliar to my “gringa” ears
I look to the boy
furiously wiping the grime off my shoes
He has stopped shining
I look down
And do not recognize my own feet.
Where there were once my well-worn, yet comfortable shoes
All I see are bruised, battered feet chained to the ground
I cannot move.
With a nod of his head to
An elderly woman sitting next to me
Completely unaware of the person sitting at my side
The elderly woman says nothing,
But I can see the pain in her eyes
Her hands weathered, her face weary,
But her eyes still have fire
She places a book in my lap, she gestures for me to open it
On the first page I see a beautiful bird
Brightly colored, proud and lively
This is the “quetzal”
Flying freely over the Mayan land
Without “libertad,” freedom, this bird will die
I see the people in the picture below
Hard at work, yet joyful and full of pride
I turn the page.
I see destruction and chaos
I see thousands upon thousands of innocent lives
Demolished by the conquistadors “joyful arrival”
I turn the page.
I feel depressed and disturbed
I see strong, Mayan Princesses made into slaves to gratify the desires of los conquistadores
I see brave, Mayan Kings made into objects of humiliation and torture
I see innocent, Mayan children dying from the arrival of strange diseases
I see genocide.
I turn the page.
I see the people hundreds of years later
Toiling under the hot Guatemalan sun
“En una fínca de café,” a coffee plantation
Still, I see these strong, women bought and sold
Still, I see these brave, men completely stripped of their pride
Still, I see these innocent children, bearing the weight of it all.
I turn the page.
This page does not look so old
Maybe forty years at most
But it is the most disturbing of them all.
I see women and children gathered in a church
To be burned alive
I see men dragged away
To remain “desaparecidos,” disappeared, for eternity
I see people being told they deserve their punishment
They are only “indios” after all
They must have done something wrong
Were they communists, rebels or criminals?
Or were they people who wanted better lives for their children?
Were they people tired of the conquistadors’ lies and oppression?
Were they people stripped of their land, culture and traditions?
I turn the to the last page.
It is empty.
I look up.
I realize the woman to my side is gone.
“Un quetzal, por favor”, says the young boy who finished shining my shoes.
I must have imagined it all.
I give him his pay, and walk over to the fountain in the middle of “el parque central”
I look in the water
As I look at my reflection it looks like it doesn’t belong
All I see are the glimmering specks of wishes and dreams
drowned by the waves of an oppressive reality.
Was it all just a dream?
Then, I remember it all.
The elderly woman, the story of the Maya,
But most of all I remember “el pájaro de libertad,” the “quetzal”.
Today, I see strong, Mayan women found tortured alongside the street, justified by lies
that she was only “una cualquiera,” a nobody
Today, I see brave, Mayan men enslaved in “las fincas”
getting treated worse than the dogs that roam the streets
And today, I still see innocent, Mayan children bearing the weight of it all
Scavenging for just enough money to call their mothers in “El Norte”
Shining my shoes in the park
Yet, the spirit of the “quetzal” lives on
Amidst the pain,
In the middle of all the suffering of these beautiful “Reyes y Reinas,” kings and queens
I see esperanza,
Like the small, yet powerful “quetzal”
That has had its voice drowned out
By the thunderous roar of machines tearing its solitude to splinters
It is still possible to hear the voice of this majestic bird as the dawn breaks
Because after a time of silence,
Its voice only becomes stronger and more resilient
Today, I see strong Mayan women protesting against their torture, abuse and femicide
Today, I see strong Mayan men organizing to demand a just pay for their labor in the land
that was stolen from their ancestors
And, Today I see innocent, Mayan children looking up at me as I pass by them on the streets,
reminding me why the “quetzal” is no longer free
I must seek, I must struggle, and I must suffer alongside
I must join in solidarity with the oppressed,
to see humanity realized
But first, I must go find that boy in the park, who shined my shoes earlier that day
To tell him that I see his pain, that I see his struggle and that I will join him,
“En la lucha para justicia,” in the fight for justice
To see the day when the “quetzal” may fly with “libertad” once more.
An ugly history of oppression and violence