Tuesday, August 4, 2009

When I woke this morning, I rolled toward the daylight and wondered, “Why?” Why am I here, far away from home, stressing over tests and presentations? Why did I go back to school?

As I rolled back towards my pillow, I caught a glimpse of her smile. The picture right above my pillow, on the stained wall of my dorm, is my mother. There’s my answer. I pushed up from my bed with the force of my renewed inspiration. Just thinking of her makes it easier.

My mother is, hands down, the strongest lady I have ever met. I have endless memories of her. They have changed in my mind throughout the years. When I was a kid they were just factual, this happened, then this followed. As I grew into my teenage years, the memories became things for me to feel angry about and as I became a woman, the memories I have of my mother have become the evidence of her strength.

I remember the pieces of my childhood in glimpses. I remember her getting ready for work and leaving after dinner to go drive people from hotel to bar and back to hotel. While they got drunk and had a good time, I can only imagine that she wondered if her kids did the dishes, if they made it to bed on time.

I remember my mother baking cakes for birthdays and celebrations and struggling to be able to afford cakes for her own children and never even expecting to celebrate her own birthday.

I remember her watching other people’s kids and giving every last bit of herself to be able to spend time with her own.

I remember my mother through jobs she had, tasks she did. I remember my mother through her hugs and her supportive words. I remember her tears and I remember her laugh.

These are the memories of my childhood. Now I know my mother as a woman. She is a woman just like me. I have my good days and I have my bad. On both types of days, I call my mother to get strength. She has her good days and she has her bad days and on both types of days, I call my mother to offer her strength back to her.

I love you, Mama.

Merry Christmas


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I Would Sooner Be Alone

When was the last time you heard of a man staying in an abusive relationship, or standing by a woman suspected of killing the man she was cheating on him with? When do you ever hear stories of men so desperate for love that they put their children in harm’s way? Though the occasional story may come out, it seems to me that women are much more likely to knowingly choose the short end of the stick and offer up a log to a man that promises love or even just a warm body to lie next to.

Yesterday I watched Ted Haggard and his wife discuss their relationship and his repeated infidelity and lies with the entire country. She said she believed he had thoughts of being with men, but that as long as he would cover those thoughts up, hide them deep inside and deny his attractions, she would stand by his side. WHAT??? Not only is she encouraging him to deny who he is, she is denying herself piece of mind and true stability. In the words of Jenny Sanford, "It's one thing to forgive adultery; it's another thing to condone it." Mistakes are made and I commend people that can work through problems. Both men and women cheat. It just seems that women have a special talent for harnessing their weakness in order to accommodate the weakness of some dude.

I just finished reading an article, in which, a man killed one girlfriend and went to New Mexico to live with another, who accepted him with open arms, even though he was suspected (and later convicted) of murder. They stay with men that beat them and their children. They forgive husbands that pose as evangelical leaders, while sneaking out at night to have sex with men and do crystal meth. It seems women fall victim to manipulation and flattery. Why do women (seemingly) become weak and feeble minded in the face of prospective love and companionship?

I am in no way trying to say that all women are capable of falling victim to the possibility of companionship, nor do I write this to further victimize victims, but instead to ask, “when will women stop taking part in their own victimization?” I am really tired of seeing women make terrible decisions in the wake of love. I would sooner be alone.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Ken Lay's Dead and Downtown Houston Smells Like Pee.

Saturday, July 22, 2006
Ken Lay's Dead and Downtown Houston Smells Like Pee.

In the early hours of the morning of July 5, 2006 I was sleeping peacefully in my bed and Ken Lay was dying.
I would awake to find my windows wet with rain. Nothing seemed terribly abnormal. I rode my bike to class and after class caught the train to work. While on the train I received the text message from my mother. All it said was "Ken Lay dead. Heart attack." I reacted aloud. It was so surreal. Like the end to a strange dream. A sad, somber ending, but an ending none the less.
Lay had died while on vacation in Aspen. He was afforded the luxury of traveling out of state while awaiting his sentencing. Downtown Houston was abuzz. It seemed more alive. Perhaps it was me. I overheard conversations, speculations on the validity of the story of how Lay died. None of these people will ever really know what Ken Lays final days were like. But, on this day they all knew the story. On this day, in the rain, strangers painted stories of Lay filling overseas bank accounts and escaping to an island he had purchased with the hard earned dollars of Houstonians. Stories of Lay and his wife saying goodbye and lying down in expensive sheets to wait for his heart to stop. I just sat silently. I did not know Ken Lay and I have no idea what happened that night. I would speculate that it would not really matter one way or the other to all those that had lost everything. A 65 year old man would still wake up at 5am, so that he could make it to Wal-Mart, where he worked as a greeter after being forced to come out of retirement. He would still go shake hands and devote his days to yet another corporation. If he wants to eat dinner and pay his taxes, he will do this everyday until he dies. The death of Ken Lay would not change this.
I would occasionally see him outside the Federal courthouse in Houston while on my bike ride to work. I would catch glimpses of his bald head in the crowd and wonder what he must be thinking, or what life has been like for Ken Lay. He won't be standing outside that Federal Courthouse ever again. Life for Ken Lay, whatever it was like, is over.
Lay began his demise on the 4th of July. Historically this day was the beginning of freedom for a select few. It would for sure mark the beginning of a better life for men like Ken Lay. White, male entepenuers with visions of freedom, wealth and power would create a home in America and others would follow behind growing strong by feeding off the legacy.
Enron and Haliburton take up space in the same section of downtown Houston. You feel the presence when you enter this section. All of downtown Houston smells like urine, but this section has an added hint of excessive smoking and guilty conscience. Maybe there is no guilty conscience, but there is a lot of smoking. There is a courtyard that sits near both corporations. It is riddled with white men in short sleeved button downs with ugly ties, filling their lungs with the smell of slow death. Of course, Enron is just a shell of a corporation now. A big shiny new building used solely for Enron spin-offs and as a focal point for news cameras.
Houston is an odd place. It's layered with textures. The smells in downtown are almost tactile, like something you can actually peel off of at the end of the day. The smells shield the city from sunlight, tinting the city to create a soft yellow hue and harbor the 85% humidity. To walk through downtown feels almost like wading through warm water. After my trip to work I always feel like I'm at least ten lbs heavier, caked with moisture, smells and the envious stares of everyone that just wants anything but what they have.
I wonder if this is what finally weighed Ken Lays heart down. I wonder if after decades of wading through this city, Ken Lays heart could not remember what the right thing was. Was it clouded with those same smells, that same humidity, and way too much power? Or did Ken Lay ever have to walk one block in this muck? I suppose he didn't. I suppose the power is the difference. When I get home, I can still peel the layers and the textures off of my skin. They still sit on the outer most layer. But for Ken Lay, they must have been ingrained deep inside, caking the walls of his heart, that in the end, could not withstand the light, clean Colorado air.

Border Wars

Monday, July 24, 2006
Border Wars

The first territorial instinct I can recall having was when I was 13. I remember the feeling of needing space and feeling like I was going to lose my space if I did not fight to keep it. That's the last time I felt the need to fight. My brother was the enemy and my privacy was the territory to be protected.
The next time I felt threatened was when I noticed my neighborhood changing. I felt like I was going to lose my home to the wealthier people of the city. That has not happened yet, but something from my neighborhood was definitely lost. The faces are changing, as is the culture. Though the idea that there is no way to stop gentrification angers me, it has never pushed me to the brink of violence. Nor have I ever felt that violence is the only way to save my family or preserve the ideals on which I was raised.
Being from Houston, I feel issues of immigration looming around, but I personally have no problem sharing the "Great" State of Texas and adapting to changes that may arise along the way. This is a fairly new border war and Texans were not the original occupants, so I go with the flow on this issue. I enjoy the textures that the Mexican community add to my neighborhood and I am very comfortable with the changes.
I suppose if the term war that I used above were in fact a true war, then I might feel different. I would feel different. If I felt my land and my home invaded, then I might be driven to buy a gun. I know if I felt my family being threatened, I would not be the same person I am now. I would have to take a self inventory and decide how far I'd go to protect them, whether it be from our own government or an outside government. But I don't feel that pressure. And I don't suppose I will any time soon. I live in America. And we don't have wars here. Right? I've never seen one.
I hear bickering about gas prices and comments about discontent with the president, but I've never seen the bottom of an Israeli plane and known what that sight meant. I've never felt that I was constantly being pushed further and further away from home. I've never felt detached or oppressed. I am an American. I've never known hatred for U.S. troops. I've never seen an American occupation. I've never seen the U.S. border moved to exclude me. I've never felt war. I sleep straight throughout the night and when I wake, I always have the same view.
I can close my eyes and search my memory and I'll never have childhood visions of horror. I am safe. I am from America. I am not from the Congo. I am not from Syria. I am not from Lebanon. I am not from Palestine. My home still exists. My Mother and Father still live in the home I was conceived in. It still looks the same; untouched by bombs or borders. I'll never get fed up... never say I've had enough. And I'll never judge those that do. I'll never be a revolutionary, never follow the ways of Che and Fidel.
All I do is talk about my beliefs, but I'll never be forced to act on them, because safety breeds complacency and I am an American.

Axis of Evil ... Bush is a genius.

Thursday, April 19, 2007
Axis of Evil ... Bush is a genius.

By now, we have all heard the term Axis of evil. It was first used by President W. in his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002 to label Iraq, Iran and North Korea as regimes that he accused of sponsoring terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction.

It is well known that President Franklin D. Roosevelt used the term Axis or Axis Powers to describe U.S. opposition in WWII. Unfortunately for Roosevelt, he did not have a direct line with God and could not know for sure if this Axis was, in fact, evil. So he coined the term Axis and left it at that.

The question is, does Bush have a link with God or does he have access to 80’s cartoon?

At a recent Hater Sunday Dinner and Movie, we decided to sit back and enjoy old episodes of the cartoon, Rambo: The Force of Freedom. If you are not familiar with this cartoon, it was created after the success of the Rambo movie trilogy. The lead character is a red-blooded American veteran. In the movies and novel, by David Morrell, Rambo suffers from PTSD due to his time serving in the Vietnam War. In the cartoon, there is no mention of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Vietnam, making it more appropriate for children and presidents.

While watching an episode titled The Taking of Tierra Libre, we were all shocked to hear that in the time between Roosevelt’s Axis and Bush’s Axis of Evil, Rambo (the cartoon character) referred to his enemies as the Axis of Evil.

Could Rambo be Bush’s link to God? Does Bush get his almighty wisdom to sniff out evil from an 80’s cartoon character?

After all, the cartoon is titled “The Force of Freedom”. And who is more of a force of freedom than Bush? As we watched on, we could not help but notice that Bush and Rambo have a lot of theoretical similarities. Of course, Bush doesn’t fight his own battles, because that would just be silly, but he does use a lot of the Rambo terminology.

In the end of the episode, after Rambo takes Tierra Libre back in the name of her people, they tie a rope around the statue of the ex-dictator and pull it to the ground. It was a grand gesture that I think I might have seen before.

I feel so uninformed. All this time I believed that Bush’s speech writer had coined the term Axis of Evil, but then again, I never thought to check 80’s animated children’s spin-off entertainment.

So, I’m proud of you Bush. Rambo is a stand-up guy. Way to have a role-model!

“Freedom is the one gift that is for all, or none.”
-John Rambo

Ghosts of Tabaco

When I think of globalization, I think of the global share of information, goods and money. Living in a first-world country, I automatically think of the benefits of globalization; Myspace, Wikipedia, Amazon, etc. The truth is, globalization is multifaceted. There are many aspects that we don’t see and rarely venture to imagine. For centuries, the U.S. and Europe have gained from the labor and land of third-world countries. We see the benefits of living in a global economy and assume that we see the only side.
In Colombia’s remote Guajira Peninsula there is a village called Tabaco. Tabaco is the largest village in the area, with about 700 residents. This land has been inhabited by the indigenous Wayuu people and Mestizo peasants and Afro-Colombians who escaped slavery to live aside the Wayuu and adopt their culture. The groups trade products and customs and have created a Guajira culture, while maintaining distinct indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. The Wayuu are the largest indigenous group in Colombia. They live in large matrilineal clans inhabit different parts of the peninsula. The group sustains life by hunting, fishing and taking part in temporary and migrant labor. The northern part of the peninsula is too dry to farm, but fine for raising goats and cows. The group does their farming in the southern portion of the peninsula. The people of Tabaco are known for their woven hammocks and shoulder bags (Mochilas). They craft the goods for personal use and for sale or trade. The smaller, surrounding villages depend on Tabaco for its school, health center, running water, parks, church, electricity and Telecom (state telecommunications company) office. The village or Tabaco also happens to sit on a large coal supply.
The village of Tabaco and smaller surrounding villages were spared exploitation by the U.S. and Europe, because their land was arid and had little value until the 1970’s. During this time, the world saw an oil crisis and new environmental legislation. This meant that power companies would have to drop ideas to invest in new technology and look for cleaner coal. Unfortunately, Tabaco sits atop this cleaner coal. In the early 1990’s, representatives of Cerrejon Zona Norte, the largest open-pit coal mine in the world, began approaching residents and asking to purchase their land. The reps told them that they would purchase the land only for security reasons. They only wanted the titles and the people of the Guajira peninsula would be able to live, farm and hunt as they had always done. A lot of the residents sold and bought into a deal too good to be true.
After the sales began, the surrounding, uninhabited land that was normally used for hunting was swallowed into the mine that ran 30 miles long and 5 miles wide. The outlying farms and ranches that supplied Tabaco residents with jobs were sold off. The Rancheria River, which supplied residents with fresh water and fish, turned murky, brown and foul from the mining run-off. As the resources in the area dwindled, people began selling more land. This caused the residents of the smaller villages to sell. On August 9, 2001 a village that had sustained for centuries was leveled by Cerrejon Zona Norte bulldozers and Tabaco was no more.
About 100 former residents of Tabaco remain as Tabaco in Resistance. They live in the nearby town of Albania in inadequate quarters. They would like to move on, but refuse to settle with the company for one simple reason. The American heads of Cerrejon Zona Norte refuse to recognize them as a community. All the residents want is to stay together. They want collective negotiations, collective relocation and reparations for years, families and communities lost to the greed of Cerrejon Zona Norte and the people that make decisions there. The smaller villages of Tamaquito, Roche, Chancleta and Patilla are still barely clinging to life. They have lost the land to have animals or sow crops. They are drinking contaminated water and dying daily. After endless pressure from the people, the brains at Cerrejon finally decided to bring in water trucks.
“There’s been talk of coal for the world and progress for Colombia,” said Eder Arregoces Pinto, a member of the Chancleta Community Council, echoing the Cerrejón company’s slogan. “If that is so, we ask, to what country do the towns of Chancleta, Roche, and Tabaco belong? There are droves of young people just wandering around because there is no school, there is no work. What a paradox: We are surrounded by the world’s largest coal mine, and we don’t have enough to eat! Most of the families here can only eat one meal a day, all because we don’t have land. There is outrageous exploitation that fails to see that there are human beings living here, there are black and indigenous communities. The environmental situation is worse than critical. The government pursues those who plant bombs and kill people. But what about a company that is slowly killing people off with contamination? Is that not terrorist?”

The U.S. gets ample profit by moving abroad. The land is cheaper. The labor is cheaper. People’s lives in general are just cheaper outside the U.S. The people that run these U.S. companies made the decision to go in and take the lives of the people of Tabaco. They held studies and found the cheapest way to kill this entire village and the surrounding villages. “Many Wayuu believed that the mine would bring solutions to the region’s poverty, to the problems with access to clean water, to education, health care, and sustainable development,” explained Wayuu leader Remedios Fajardo. “We hoped that we would receive some of the benefits from our land, which is so rich in minerals. This was the first experience of large-scale, open-pit coal mining on indigenous land in Colombia. We agreed to lend them our ancestral land.”
The following is a list of things that heads of Cerrejon and companies like it planned for, but the people of the Guajira peninsula never predicted:
• suffocation dust
• loss of land
• increasing poverty
• cultural decomposition
• the fall of village after village to the mine’s inexorable expansion
• chronic coughing
• skin disease
• loss of schools
• loss of jobs
• increased infant mortality rates
• respiratory disease
• the mine succeeding in buying out residents and creating tension and dividing lines amongst families, clans and entire villages
• and death, not only of people, but of an entire way of life and an entire group of people – this is called genocide
The communities have taken the case before the Colombian government and won
legal cases against Cerrejon, but nothing has been enforced. Cerrejon has payed off all government officials and anyone that could bring change. “The only way open to us is bringing pressure to bear in the social realm,” said José Julio Pérez, a member of Tabaco in Resistance. “We played their game in the courts and it did not work.” The fight is a bit tougher, because closing the plant altogether would lose jobs and bring resistance form the unions. The people of Tabaco do not want the coal mines shut down. They don’t want Americans to boycott the Cerrejon coal. They simply want Cerrejon and companies like it to give back to the community and run themselves under the same type of guidelines that they would have to run under in any of our communities here in the U.S.
The following is an excerpt cut straight from the article of origin:
This article, in fact, is being written on a computer powered by electricity made from coal from the mine that displaced the village of Tabaco and that is slowly killing the communities of Tamaquito, Roche, Chancleta, and Patilla.
But people in my (Chomsky’s) community of Salem, Massachusetts, are trying to create a human connection of solidarity that challenges the economic connection of exploitation. People here learned that some of our coal was coming from the Cerrejón mine in 2002. An organization called PressurePoint brought Wayuu leader Remedios Fajardo and lawyer Armando Pérez Araújo to the United States to attend the Exxon shareholders meeting and let people there know what was happening to the communities in the Guajira. We invited them to come to Salem, and thus began what has turned into a long-term relationship with the different sectors affected by this coal mine.

José Julio Pérez believes: “Cerrejón drags out this process until people collapse from exhaustion. People are dying, growing old, giving up under pressure. This is not an easy life, going up against three of the most powerful companies on earth [the three in the consortium that now owns the mine]. We are not trained as lawyers or intellectuals, we have no tools: we are campesinos. We can no longer afford to send our children to study; it is not easy to be in resistance. But instead of offering another example of surrender, we could be an example of what is possible. Toward this end we ask that you redouble your efforts in the face of the mining companies.”
In hopes to spread awareness, I have created an information packet with contacts to different organizations that work to bring change to the world, by emphasizing the importance of fair trade, fair labor and a global standard by which all people should be treated. Not just Americans. We are not the only ones that deserve a high quality of life. So remember when you leave here today, your car, your job and your home are all powered by the labor and lives of people all over the world. Your plastic water bottle is the product of another country, as are your jeans, tennis shoes, hair ties, t-shirts and even the pillow you rest your head on at night. Please don’t walk out of here today and forget the people of Tabaco. Instead, find out how you can give back. I have supplied you with the information. Now act.

• Stay Informed

Detailed Information on Cerrejon and Their Negative Impact on Tabaco


Information on Cerrejon


The Cerrejon Mine workers join forces with the Afro-Colombians who still cling to life in the Northwestern tip of Guajira – Click the link below for article…

Globalization and La Guajira

• Get Involved

How Can I Help? – Get involved with some of these organizations and buy products made by corporations that support fair trade!