Monday, December 20, 2010
It is Christmas time. The story of Christmas is the story of a journey...both before and after the birth of Jesus. First the trip to Bethlehem...then the flight into Egypt because Herod is seeking to "destroy the child". The Christmas story continues to be acted out today. There is birth, there is human need for safety, flight to find a safe place to live; and above all the need for 'angels' to say, "Be not afraid".
Saturday, December 18, 2010
This Guatemalan refugee is the proud owner of a modest cafe in Tucson. She, along with 1-1.5 million Central American people were driven from their homes by violence and civil war. (A war that we have since learned was aided and abetted by the United States.) Hundreds of thousands of these people made their way north into Mexico and on into the United States. The New York Times called their flight one of "the most determined and concentrated migrations of any national group to the United States in recent history". The official U.S. government response was to greet the migrants as criminals, imprison them and return them to the death squads, guerrillas, and military sweeps. Fortunately, ordinary citizens listened to their stories, saw their scars and thus began an official "Sanctuary" movement and a new underground railroad. The Arizona Daily Star, a daily newspaper that was sympathetic with the underground railroad, commented, "America at its greatest has always been an America as a refuge from persecution, as a protector of the helpless, and a voice for justice." Amen. I am getting a lot of information and quoting liberally from a book titled 'Sanctuary- A Story of American Conscience and Law in Collision' written by N.Y. Times reporter Ann Crittenden.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Recently, while on the radio I was asked the question, "What do the undocumented do for work in this country?" I have been thinking a lot about that question. It is always work that is fairly hidden, tucked away from view. I think this serves several purposes: 1) they are less likely to come to someone's attention and be deported, 2) it is not necessary to use a new and difficult language and 3) a lot of necessary life work is either unpleasant (in the case of slaughter-houses), domestic (therefore confined to homes or kitchens), or agricultural. In short, it is work that quite literally keeps our society fed and functioning. This painting, oil on board 8" x 12" is a recent domestic scene where two undocumented women are making dirty things clean and chaotic things orderly. God Bless them!
Thursday, December 9, 2010
This wonderful community leader, teacher, Public Radio volunteer for the last quarter century was undocumented for the first 10 years that he was in the U.S. He is not only a gem but he and his wife have contributed two lovely, hardworking and talented children to our society. As a family, they go to hospitals to help translate for patients, they aid in voter registration, and assist their father on his radio program every Sunday night. We would all be poorer, indeed, without this family's constant giving back to our community.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
This wonderful Brazilian woman is a lighting designer. She has been bestowing her gift on America for 18 years (and won a prestigious home design award in New York recently) but now she and her husband are moving to France. France is getting two wonderful immigrants.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
On Sunday night I had the opportunity to go on my local Public Radio Spanish Language program to talk about my work and why I am doing it. It is two days later and I realize that I entered into (in a very small way), the immigrant experience. Oh, and I was a lucky immigrant because I got to take my very supportive husband and my very supportive Cuban friend with me! Anyway, we traveled through the darkness, to the radio station at 10 P.M. and entered into an alien land, a land where everyone but us seemed to really know the customs and procedures. They were speaking a rapid-fire language, where I could catch only a word or two...here and there. It was all very foreign, frightening and disorienting. I could tell that the interviewer was most interested in talking to my Cuban friend because she spoke his language and was easier to talk to. I didn't blame him at all because I understood the desire to feel comfortable, included, and at home. Afterward, my husband pointed out that, not only was I trying to function in a foreign environment, but I that I naturally prefer a private work environment to a public arena. How many new arrivals in a foreign country would prefer to remain in their own countries, with their own/known customs, languages, food and family? How incredibly brave of them to venture forth into unknown (often hostile and dangerous) territory because they need to help their loved ones. I was a lucky immigrant. I was chaperoned, welcomed, and safe. I lived to tell my story. And my journey was, mercifully, oh so brief.
Saturday, December 4, 2010
I was listening to NPR while I painted a few days ago and the discussion was about 'bullies'. The story explored the typical bully profile as well as the effect of said behavior on victims...both immediate and long-term. In general, boys more often employed physical threats, while girls used verbal, "mean-girl" tactics. Of course there were exceptions to the gender stereotypes and as we have seen recently at Rutgers University, the internet introduces a whole new way to torment anyone who is different, foreign, weaker, or vulnerable. There was a general consensus that bullying is very bad indeed. Hmmm. It made me think about immigrants. They are often easily identifiable as different and foreign. They are very often linguistically and economically vulnerable. They are the classic target of bullies. They are the 'low-hanging fruit' of victims. But remember, the defining mark of a great society is how it cares for its most weak and vulnerable people.
Friday, December 3, 2010
This handsome immigrant is from Brazil. He is a "green" aviation developer-i.e. "Environmentally Responsible Aviation". He and his wonderful wife (a lighting designer) are taking their talents and moving to France. See, we are all immigrants.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
This is the Iraqi mama. I met her at Goodwill when we bumped into each other. She has been here one year. She came with her daughter. The rest of the nuclear family was dispersed to many different nations. It was so weird to meet her and her daughter the very same day that I had read about her country being so uninhabitable in the New York Times. They are glad to be in a safe place even though far from loved ones. As I painted her, I realized that she reminded me of one of my best friends...also a mother of many. Both of these women are modest, content with basics, oh and clutch their purse the same way. You know the way your mom or grandma clutched her pocketbook!? See, we are ALL more alike than different!
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
This is Chandra. He is a busboy server in a Mexican restaurant. I assumed he was Mexican. But he said he was from Bhutan. (I was wracking my brain trying to think of where that place was in Mexico? Oh, he meant over by the Himalayas!!) Well, he explained that he had spent most of his childhood in Nepal after being driven out of Bhutan by a tribal people hostile to his particular tribe. Alas, in Nepal, his family was discriminated against during his whole childhood as well. They sought U.N. asylum and were offered their choice of Canada, the U.S., etc. They chose the U.S. and are very happy with simple jobs as they learn more English. (His wife is a custodian in a hospital.) Indigenous people are forceably shoved out of their own countries all the time. It is a world wide phenomena.
While I have been having technical difficulties with my computer I have continued to encounter people and ask to hear their stories. It is amazing to me that when we become aware of any particular human condition, suddenly we see it everywhere we look. I have been focused on the specific situation between the U.S. and the countries immediately south of the border (Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador). But on Saturday, the N.Y. Times ran a front page article on the people of Iraq trying to re-enter their country (after fleeing the conditions of the war). The Iraqi people have fled to surrounding nations, and sought new lives as immigrants...but you guessed it...the welcome mat was not out! ( In a compelling way the article told the personal stories of three families, and one was seeking on-going cancer therapy for the mother, because her doctors had all fled.) So the Iraqi people are trying to return home. But the situation is untenable because of the lack of food, work, infrastructure, doctors, teachers, safety...so they are sadly realizing that they will have to re-flee. As if to make the point more real to me, I had the following encounter in a Goodwill Store later that same day: I was looking for treasures and bumped into a 'head-scarf wearing' elderly woman. We both excused ourselves and then she commented that the merchandise was "very nice" (in heavily accented English). I decided to ask her where she was from, and it turned out that she had exhausted her supply of English, so she turned to her daughter. She told me that they were from Iraq and that only she, and her mother had come to the U.S. The rest of the family was dispersed all over the Middle East and Europe. They were profoundly sad, and profoundly grateful to just all be alive, safe, and in the midst of such wares (Goodwill...they asked if I had the privilege of working there).