Category Archives: People of Color

Juliet Hooker: “The closer you are to being indigenous, to being black, the lower you are in the racial hierarchy”

The demonstrations in hundreds of cities in the US over the police killing of George Floyd have been followed by Nicaraguans, and have resulted in discussions about race in Nicaragua. This interview appeared in Sunday supplement of La Prensa.

Juliet Hooker: “The closer you are to being indigenous, to being black, the lower you are in the racial hierarchy”

By Amalia del Cid, La Prensa, June 7, 2020

[original Spanish]

Juliet Hooker, professor at Brown University, analyzes and explains the ways in which “racial hierarchy” is reflected, which, in her judgement, exists in Nicaragua.

Juliet Hooker is a Nicaraguan academic who works at Brown University in Rhode Island, and has dedicated many years to the study of race and racism, issues that are on the minds of the world since a violent white policeman killed George Floyd, an Afro-American, in the United States.

Hooker was born in Bluefield 47 years ago and maintains that we live in a racist country. For her, phrases like “the race has to be improved” are not innocent, nor can the word “chele” [common nickname for a white skinned person in Nicaragua] be compared to the words “black” or “Indian”, in spite of the fact that the three are used as nicknames.

In this interview she analyzes and explains the ways in which “racial hierarchy” is reflected, which exists in Nicaragua, according to her. Are you racist?

Are we racist in Nicaragua? Many say we are not.

That is very common in Latin America, that people think that racism is something that happens in the United States, that it occurred in South Africa, that it does not happen in Latin America. But a common pattern throughout the region is that they are societies ordered according to pigmentocracy. In Nicaragua, specifically, there are two ways in which racism happens. One is social hierarchy. If you look at who are the people represented in the upper class, those who are in political positions, those who appear in television dramas, those who have the most visible posts and most of the economic, political and social power, they are the people who are the whitest. And the closer you get to being indigenous, to being black, the lower you are in this racial hierarchy, in terms of access to economic power, political power, to representation. Another way in which racism is manifested in that we think there are no blacks in Nicaragua, or that they are only in the Atlantic Coast, or that the indigenous were something that happened in the colonial times, but that they no longer exist. It is the racialization of space, of the geography of the country.

That which you are mentioning, about the white elite, does it have to do with historical reasons?

Of course! Who were the big families that dominated Nicaraguan politics in the XIX century? They are the families that identified as descendants of the Spanish conquistadores. There is an entire Nicaraguan nationalism that recognizes that there is an indigenous presence, but the legacy that is emphasized is the Spanish. In the XIX century there was a change in the sense that other people began to be part of those political elites, and maybe did not come from those families, but there is a historical legacy of who has had economic and political power in the country, and that is being reproduced.

If it were reversed, if the brown and short people or the Afro-descendants made up that elite, would it be thought that it was better to be brown or black than white?

We do not live in an isolated society, we live in a society inserted in global processes, and on a global level we have the fact that the colonizers have been Europeans and that has an impact. It is possible that in countries like Haiti there might be less racism, but that does not mean that it disappears. These processes and these ideas even have an impact on us Afro-descendent and indigenous peoples ourselves. At times they also value people of their group who have finer features, who have straighter hair. All this is part of that question of colorism that at times is internalized even by the groups who suffer due to racial hierarchies.

Is there a “Europeanized” idea of beauty?

Definitely. I believe that this is clear. Think about Miss Nicaragua. What is the pattern of the women who supposedly are the most beautiful in Nicaragua? It is a person with very European features who, to a certain extent, does not look very much like the typical Nicaraguan woman. The inverse of this is that maybe, for example, black women are appreciated; but in a very exotic way, as a person who is seen as hyper-sexualized, but not valued as someone who can be the ideal of beauty in the country.

But personal preferences also exist, what is the difference between racism and having a personal preference?

Obviously as individuals we make decisions like with whom we want to marry, with whom we want to relate, and so it is true that on an individual level one looks at these matters as if they were simply your personal preferences. But personal preferences are, partly, a reflection of the ideas that exist in society. Your surroundings have an impact on you. One has to think about why I have that preference, is it because I simply like cheles or whatever it is, or because I have internalized that idea about what is more beautiful or desirable. It is also important to look at what impact this has on interpersonal relationships. For example, if your personal preference are cheles and then you get married and have children, are you going to make a preference for the one that is the whitest, because that is simply what you see as more beautiful? This is something that I think many people have seen in their own families, these patterns that are reproduced in who is valued and who is not.

So we should not have preferences?

(Laughs). I do not know what we should do in our personal relationships, what I do think that we can do is think about why we have those preferences. And ask ourselves: “If I do not want to reproduce these racist patterns, how can I do things differently?”

But if, for example, someone likes a Chinese person, they have that right, no?

Well of course! (laughs). The problem is not the fact that you like a Chinese person, it is that you like them for being Chinese, because you have that idea that it is exotic and you might not be able to see them as a person in their totality, beyond the fact that they are Chinese.

Is there racism in phrases like “you are black, and you do not know how to dance?”

I would say that that type of phrases what they reflect are our racial stereotypes. They reflect the way in which we attribute to certain groups certain characteristics, like as if all the members of that group would have them. This is part of racism. Under those phrases is this idea: “Blacks are good in sports, music and dance”, but part of the problem with this is that we do not see them as capable of doing other things, like we are reducing them: “In this yes you are good, but don´t get involved in trying to be a businessman.”

Is racism calling a black person black?

There are a lot of people in Latin America and in Nicaragua who tell you that “black” is used in a supposedly affectionate way. In general people see it as an affectionate term, without a racist intention; but what has to be seen is what is it that you are trying to say. There are many Afro-descendants who do not want to use the work “black” because they perceive it as having a negative connotation, like saying to someone “black” is trying to belittle them. Now people are using the word more and say, “Yes, I am black.” What one has to see is how the word is used in society, what is the intention. The worst thing that can be done is simply say, “No, this word means this for me, and I am going to use it.” If you call a black person black and they tell you that they do not like it, do not use it again and offer an apology. There could be another person who it does not bother who might say, “that word is not an insult, I use it with pride.” The problem is when people who are in a dominant position decide that they can use the word because they “know what it means.”

In Nicaragua it is customary to call your friends “chele” and “black”, why is one thing fine and the other bad? Thinking that the word black has a pejorative meaning is assuming that being black is bad.

This is the difficulty. Because it is not equivalent. Saying to someone “chele” does not have a negative connotation, it can be that people might say, what is bad about being chele? While if you say “Indian” to someone, if you say “black” to someone, there is a history behind that, the fact that those terms were used in a derogatory manner. Maybe what has to be done is to ask, but it is very difficult because it can be uncomfortable and a burden for the person who always has to be explaining what racism is.

A little while ago a white, mestiza woman, told me that once she received insults referring to the color of her skin. Can you talk about racism when whites are discriminated against because of their color?

There are people that perceive this, but we cannot talk about inverse racism when racial hierarchies exist in society where white mestizos are above. You cannot see any country in Latin America where this issue of pigmentocracy does not exist, where these racial inequalities do not exist. It is a mistake to think that we are in societies where there are white, mestizo people who are being oppressed. In none of our societies are these people the ones who have less access to education. In general, they are the most privileged, even though there are always exceptions and differences within these dominant groups. And there are also people from the discriminated groups who have gotten to very high posts, but they are an exception. To talk about inverse racism is to ignore all the historical and contemporaneous inequalities that continue to be reproduced.

But if an insult directed at a white person because of the color of their skin is not racism, then what would it be?

What I can tell you is that there are interpersonal situations where people are going to say things to other people that maybe hurts them. But I am looking at it on the level of society. Who are the groups who have these experiences on a daily basis, routinely? And not only do they have these experiences, but they have material effects on their lives.

Have you suffered personally some form of racism?

Yes.

How has that racism been manifested?

Look… I have suffered racism, but I have also been very lucky, in the sense that I had access to education. But I am going to give you an example. Once returning to Managua, there were other Nicas in that flight, and I do not know whether they knew that I was a Nica or not, but they began to talk, and one of them said that they were going to the Coast, and the others said to him, “Why do you want to go there if it is full of drug traffickers and AIDS?” And what I thought at that moment was, “Well, welcome back to Nicaragua.” Another experience I had was when at the beginning of my career (in the United States) professors and colleagues would tell me that issues of race and racism were not central in the study of political science or the history of Nicaragua or Central America. Obviously, there have been changes in that way of thinking, especially in moments like this one, but it is still true that issues like racism or Afro and Indigenous studies continue being seen as marginal in many academic spaces.

Have you experienced more racism in the United States or in Nicaragua?

(Laughs). I would say that the racism is different, but it exists in both places and I have experienced it in both places.

So, can it be said that we are racist in Nicaragua, even though we deny it?

Unfortunately, yes. It is not something that one wants to say about one´s country, but it simply is a fact.

This global discussion after the death of George Floyd, could it make a change in Nicaragua?

I hope that it also has an effect in Nicaragua. The fact that we are doing this interview suggests that people are thinking about these topics. This is important.

What do you think of the phrase “you have to improve the race?”

That is a way in which racism is manifested, it is the idea that you should marry a whiter person than you are, so that you don´t have brown children, in order to have whiter children. It is one of the most daily ways in which we reproduce racism, within the family.

In the end, is not this a way of disparaging who we are?

Of course. It is a way in which we internalize racism and reproduce it, that racial hierarchy that says that white is better, more attractive, what we have to aspire to. Instead of saying, “most of us Nicaraguans are not white, why don´t we accept ourselves and love ourselves as we are?” There are many white, mestizo Latinos, who do not know that racism exists until they go to the United States and realize that they are not seen as white here. For the first time they experience being seen as a racialized person. That is when they face themselves as being seen as inferior people, especially now that there is a lot of racism against Latinos and immigrants in the United States.

Is it racism to say that you are “proud” of belonging to a race?

I think that it is something positive, because it has always been seen as something negative. It is a revindication. To say, “I am not ashamed” is not racism, because what you are doing is trying to respond to historic racism, saying “I am not going to feel less for being this.” It is an affirmation of an anti-racist feeling. To say I feel proud of being black or Miskito does not mean that I see people who are not as less. It is saying “I am not going to accept that negative concept that they have tried to impose on me.”

Do you feel proud of being Afro-descendent?

Yes, of course. Being a Creole woman has been fundamental for me. A lot of what I have learned, of what is important for me, comes from being part of that community, having that history, those values that have been preserved with a lot of struggle and effort, in spite of everything that we have had to deal with.

Personal Plane

Juliet Hooker is originally from Bluefield and is 47 years old. Currently she works in the Political Science department of Brown University in Rhode Island, United States, as a professor and researcher.

She is the author of Race the Politics of Solidarity (Oxford University Press, 2009) and Theorizing Race in the Americas (Oxford University Press, 2017), works where she juxtaposes stories about race formulated by outstanding academics in the United States in the XIX and XX centuries, and Afro American and Latin American thinkers. This year she is working on a third book.

She likes to cook as a way of reducing stress, and because it is an activity that takes her away from what she normally does as an academic. She also likes to dance reggae, soca and salsa, and above all when she goes out with her friends. She enjoys series and movies about crimes and detectives. But she saw Uncorked not too long ago, about a boy who wants to be a wine expert, and she liked it a lot.

Another of her pastimes is reading. She consumes academic material for her research and then, for balance, reads poetry.

She lives with her partner in Rhode Island and among the two of them are raising a little girl. Her favorite color is red, she has no pets, and misses eating vigorón.

 

Susana Marley: “In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jail, just lead”

It is unusual for a media outlet on the Pacific side of the country to publish a long interview of a community leader from the Atlantic Coast. Her experience on the Coast places in a larger perspective the largely student led uprising of April 2018, as well as recent news stories of attacks on indigenous communities.

Susana Marley: “In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jail, just lead”

By Ana Cruz, in La Prensa, February 22, 2020

[original article in Spanish]

The Miskita leader is recognized in the North Caribbean as “Mama Grande” because of her closeness to the communities of the Río Coco and her hard work of denouncing human rights violations.

Susana Marley Cunningham, sociologist and teacher by profession, has dedicated nearly two decades of her 62 years of age to defending and denouncing violations of the rights of the Mískita communities of the Northern Caribbean of Nicaragua. She was born in Waspam and began her humanitarian work after Hurricane Mitch in communities bordering the Río Coco, through the Civil Foundation for the Unity and Reconstruction of the Atlantic Coast (FURCA).

The work of Marley has left a mark on the Mískita population. The children who she once taught and defended call her “Mama Grande”. But she has not just won affection. Threats as well. In August 2019 she had to leave her native Northern Caribbean to a more urban area of the Pacific for her safety.

In this interview, Marley denounces the increase of violence in the Caribbean, the advance of invasions, the hunger that the communities are experiencing, the fear of the children to go to school, the corruption of communal governments, and the lack of respect for their forms of organization and elections.

When did the situation of insecurity for the indigenous, Mískitos and Afro-descendants begin to get worse?

The situation of violence and human rights violations I have felt personally since all those actions in the year of the 80s began, with the famous Red Christmas, when our people were taken away or murdered in the forest. I was at the point of dying during that so called Red Christmas, they put me in a line, thanks to God that He used one of those soldiers, I saved myself only because one of them made himself pass as if he were my husband and got me out of there.

Who started that wave of violence in the 80s?

The Sandinista Army and Police. We began to live in an environment of a lot of terror, insecurity and fear. You could not go into the countryside alone, so, since the 1980s the defense of life has gotten worse. Life and human rights are not respected. They have treated us as if we were animals that should be hunted,  so they could exploit the land, the minerals, the resources of our territories.

What consequences did the protests of April 2018 have on the Caribbean of Nicaragua?

Our resistance has been historic, and we always denounced that they were killing us, so, after the situation that erupted in April 2018, people began to understand that the same thing that they were doing to us, they were using against the youth, who were unarmed, defenseless and they killed them and they continue killing them. In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jailing, there it is only lead [bullets] , but the situation is pretty similar. It is a terrible, lamentable situation, that has separated families.

In these last weeks, several acts of violence have been registered against indigenous families. What is the current situation of the communities?

December and January are the months for the preparation of the land to harvest rice and beans, but they have not planted this year, because of the violence and the invasion. Famine will be a reality now in our communities. We are experiencing a humanitarian crisis. Classes started and the children go with fear. They are watchful of the forest because now it is not known when someone armed will come out of the forest. The children are psychologically affected in the face of the insecurity, because it is not just what happened this past February 16th, where a girl was wounded. So, in the face of this situation, we think that we are experiencing a serious situation of insecurity, there is no economic stability, there is a lot of poverty and latent lack of respect for our rights.

How did that attack on February 16th happen, where they wounded a minor in the cheek?

That Sunday, around 5:00pm, in the community of Santa Clara, close to a place where there is a creek of the Santa Clara river, the people went to bathe, and while coming a girl resulted wounded. We could not see who were shooting, and it was difficult to be able to get transportation to leave the community. The ambulance was requested at 5:00 pm, and it did not arrive until 11:00pm. It seems that they (the paramilitaries or settlers) were watching those who were bathing, they were stalking them, and at least they did not shoot the girl in the head, but in the cheek. It is not fair that the children also are victims of this type of human rights violations. Minors also suffer this persecution.

How far has the invasion of settlers advanced?

Too far. I want to confide in you that if something happens to me, I hold these murderers responsible, because we are just denouncing this, and we do not have weapons of war. The situation is very bad, and in every testimony we hear, that fear is noticeable, that insecurity. A little while ago a peasant from the community of Santa Clara, who had to leave that territory, commented to me that between the Wangki Twi Tasba Raya and the Li Auhbra territory, that is on the shores of the Río Coco- in between these two – is the Mocó mountain, where there are dozens of settlers or paramilitaries who created a community which is called Araguas. They have large extensions of pastureland and homes, so the advance of the invasion is nearly countless.

What consequences does this invasion of settlers have on the communities?

The encroachment that these people make in our lands has caused the displacement of our people to the Honduran side. Our people are displaced, even people from the community of Santa Clara, located in our Wangki Twi Tasba Raya territory, they migrated from the countryside to the city, and others have been displaced toward Waspam, because they can no longer plant. The leaders of Santa Clara and other communities bordering on the Wangki Twi Tasba Raya territory have had to suffer the deaths of their leaders, so, hunger and insecurity are prompting the forced displacement of our community members.

What is happening with justice in the case of the murders of the leaders?

The murders have been left unpunished. Every time this type of situation happens, we have wanted to denounce it, but we do not have that support, or that contact to denounce each one of these situations of the violation of our human rights. What we are demanding is that the laws that protect us be respected, like Law 28, the Autonomy Law, but these people are organized and willing to continue causing damage.

Some of the communities that you have mentioned are beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights. Do you think that the State is observing those measures?

No. The State is not protecting these communities. The State should fully comply, but it is not doing so. Recently, the community of Santa Clara – one of those protected by precautionary measures – received threats from settlers or paramilitaries who told them that they have 200 men, and they will go burn the houses, and they are going to kill them, and we have seen how the threats are being carried out.

How has the Army of Nicaragua behaved with the Mískito Indigenous peoples?

There is no protection, because in years past which have had atrocious murders of peasants and indigenous close to their posts, they did not do anything. They know about it, and are direct accomplices in this type of violations, and they fill their mouths with words saying that they are protecting, but in practice they do not do any enforcement at all.

Do you feel unprotected?

Yes, they have left us completely unprotected. The precautionary measures are not observed, and all the authorities are accomplices of everything that is happening to us. The threats in the zone are constant, the same with the attacks, and they do not do anything to stop them, so the situation is very tense, and the indigenous and Afro-descendent populations are unprotected. The theft of cattle, kidnapping of women and labor exploitation are a reality in our communities.

This lack of protection has been in all governments, or it is something that has intensified with the regime of Daniel Ortega?

Our struggle and our resistance are historic. It is sad to say, but each government that has come to power in the country looks on our land for the purposes of exploitation. This is what we have observed.

How many attacks are registered in the course of this year?

The threat is ongoing. They (the paramilitaries) leave nailed on the stalks of the trees threats to the communities. The terror is constant. Just this year the kidnapping of two boys fishing from Santa Clara, the attack on the community of Alal, and now this attack on an adolescent girl.

What is the feeling of these communities who are constantly threatened?

There is a lot of tension. The people are terrorized after receiving the threats, but they are organized. The men have been out on guard, but they have informed me that the big problem is that now they cannot peacefully go out to gather the harvest in the fields, they tell me that they are experiencing hunger. Some only maintain themselves with fruit or dry coconut. A lot of people cannot even sleep, the children have no peace in order to study. Since the 1980s to now they continue murdering us, and it continues intensifying, we demand that they quit killing us.

And what is happening with the regional councils? They are also part of the territorial governments that should be looking for policies to protect the indigenous.

Living in the territories one realizes that the person in the Government building belongs to the government, so, they work in strict coordination with the Government, and only do what they are ordered to do. They do not work in favor of the communities.

And the local council members [síndicos], do they have the same reputation or are they watching out for the well-being of the communities?

The communal council members work hand in hand with the communal leaders. The people choose their communal council members and leaders, but the problem is that, parallel to this, the ruling party chooses their council members, so the Regional Council only accredits the council members that they elect, but the ones elected by the communities, generally, are not accredited, like what happened in Kamla last year. Just so as to not accredit the council person elected by the people, they ordered the people beaten, wounded and threatened. The denouncements about these cases were made, but since they themselves are the ones, there is no justice for the community members who were victims of these abuses.

What is the role of a community council member [síndico]? Why does the Government see them as an obstacle and prefers not to accredit them?

The community council member who remains is a representative of the communities, and can coordinate the use of resources, always in consultation with the communities, but they leave the councilperson elected by the communities without voice nor vote, so it is only the one elected by them that is accredited, and presents papers as the highest authority. In the end, the reality is that that council person that they put there, only does what the Government wants and not what the communities need. For example, the large extensions of land that are taken and through which the paramilitaries come in, they are the ones that give them passage so that they can register those properties. This invasion and land takeovers are done by those people themselves, and that is where the community members have to go to demand their lands. The council members that Orteguism puts in place do not have land, but they order the invaders to be placed there. Government officials promote the invasion in the communities.

Is this something seen since the 1980s or is it something that non -Sandinista governments have also promoted?

This (invasion and violence) started more forcefully since 2009, even though in the 1980s there was displacement and massacre against the Mïskito people through the so called Red Christmas. In the 80s the people sought to displace themselves into Honduras because of the persecution, but in the 90s – when they returned because of the change in Government – they even found tigers in the communities, and little by little they raised up their houses. It was in 2003 that they approved Law 445, which included titling, we did not appreciate that later these titles would be used by corrupt politicians of our region as well, so , they provided the title to people who were not members of the community, and they negotiated our lands, in addition to the fact that they allied with the council members and they allied in order to invade our lands little by little.

Concerning the legislative work that some are doing in supposed representation of the Caribbean, do you feel represented by these people who are officials within the Assembly? Are they promoting projects to improve the situation of the indigenous, Mískitos and Afro-descendants?

Years back, like in 2016, the corrupt political representation of the region was expelled from the Assembly for the illegal sale of our indigenous lands, so how is it that he returned once again to the National Assembly? Is it real that they are allies then? We do not feel that they represent us, and with this I am referring to the Yatama party. They cannot provide for the freedom of our territories from invasion, when they are the very ones who have been pointed out as promoting the invasion with the provision of titles to people from outside the community members. If they were part of the problem, they are never going to be part of the solution.

How do you assess the coalition building process that the members of the National Unity and the Civic Alliance are working on?

Look, when this situation happened in the Pacific in April 2018, many young people gave their lives to see a free Nicaragua, and many politicians holed themselves up, and now, for money and to give an opportunity to this murderer, are uniting. You have to be realistic, because these old and corrupt politicians are not an opposition. There is no sincerity, they must be more sincere, so, I think that there is a lot of falsehood in these traditional politicians. We as Mískitos demand that there be transparency, that there be unity, that they in truth defend the rights of indigenous peoples, peasants, youth, students. They have to give an opportunity to the new generations, because the corrupt politicians are advanced in age, let them go rest with their millions, let them leave the path open to the youth so that Nicaragua might be free and democratic again. If we truly love Nicaragua, let us leave Nicaragua in the hands of the youth, so that this [country] might be led in peace.

Personal plane

Susana Marley, known as “Mama Grande”, was born May 24, 1957 in the community Cabo Gracias a Dios in Waspam, Northern Caribbean.

She graduated as a teacher in 1970 from the Teacher School in Waspam, but a large part of her childhood she lived in the community of Santa Martha, located close to the Wawa River.

The Mískita leader is also a sociologist. She finished her studies in 1997 in the Central American University (UCA).

She is the daughter of Eduardo Marley (deceased), known in Waspam as a Moravian pastor and one of the first teachers in that municipality, and Benicia Cunningham, 95 years of age, popular for being one of the first midwives of her community.

“Mama Grande” had five children, but she had none of them in a hospital. Her births were assisted solely and exclusively by her mother.

In 1981 during the so called Red Christmas, she was at the point of dying, but she states that her beauty and the favor of God saved her.

 

They’re Coming to America

“Free, only want to be free, We huddle close, Hang on to a dream.” 

America by Neil Diamond

There’s no shortage of patriotic music today, July 4.  From God Bless America sung by Kate Smith to America by Simon and Garfunkle,  America the Beautiful by Ray Charles, God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood, I’ve heard songs all day in honor of our nation’s birthday.  It’s part of the enjoyment that is the 4th of July, the quintessential holiday in our country.  But there was one song that stopped me and caught my breath as I listened to it.   It was America by Neil Diamond.  Both the music and the lyrics are powerful, which is why the song became so popular when originally released.  But today the words hit hard, and rang with an ironic twist that, frankly, pulled some of the energy out of the day.

On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again,
They’re coming to America.

Yes, thousands flock to our country on boats and planes, but many also reach our borders for their dreams on foot.  The Mexican border holds thousands in detention at present, and not just in waiting for legal processing for possible admission to the U.S., but in separation from children, spouses, and in cell-like detention for indeterminate periods of time.  Those realities don’t quite match the drama and grandeur of Diamond’s song.  I guess things have changed.

Home
Don’t it seem so far away
Oh, we’re traveling light today
In the eye of the storm
In the eye of the storm

Immigrants coming to America today find themselves in the eye of the storm of a different sort.  The pride of Americans embracing their role as the “melting pot” of the world has faded these days, replaced by a storm of blame, suspicion, racism, and even hatred.  It has not helped to have a political leader who has fanned the flames of those reactions and re-shaped the notion of immigration from a beautiful dream to a horrible nightmare.

Home
To a new and a shiny place
Make our bed and we’ll say our grace
Freedom’s light burning warm
Freedom’s light burning warm

And suddenly it makes a difference to whom you are praying for your suppertime grace.  Some in this land of all faiths now want to know the nature of one’s spirituality so that interpretations can be made and aspersions cast, often in the densest of understanding.  Freedom’s light burning warm becomes ever cooler to the touch.

Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America
Ev’ry time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America

It’s true that the American dream resonates everywhere in the world, because we have exhibited some of the visions to which all human beings aspire: freedom, choice, participation, pursuit of happiness.  In recent times, though, it would appear as if we vastly preferred those coming from Norway.  Something about looking like more of us than those in detention on the border.

Got a dream to take them there
They’re coming to America
Got a dream they’ve come to share
They’re coming to America

The dreams driving today’s immigrant populations are no different than those of generations before.  They come for opportunity.  They come to escape persecution.  They come for freedom of thought and expression.  In years past, some even came because they perceived opportunities to lie, cheat, steal and break the law with impunity.  But the U.S. figured that the good that came through our doors far outweighed the inevitable bad that is a part of our human reality.

My country ’tis of thee (today)
Sweet land of liberty (today)
Of thee I sing (today)
Of thee I sing
Today, Today, Today
Today, today, today……

Today, we celebrate our country as we have every year on July 4.  There is much in which we take pride, and rightfully so.  Our stories are mythic and powerful and full of the promise of what our future can be.  I had a joyous day with family.

Or at least until I shed a tear upon hearing Neil Diamond sing about coming to America today….

The Way We Look

On a particularly dark and blustery day in January, I hiked across campus, a briefcase in hand, though I wanted desperately to put my hand in my deep coat pocket.  I came upon the only other human being I could see, looking out from the narrowest of openings in the hood of my storm coat.  In fact, I recognized the man and I offered a “good morning,” though he could not possibly have known who I was.  The day was too cold for me to stop and identify myself and his hurried passage let me know that he felt the same.

Once inside the building, I shed my high-tech barriers to the cold and stepped into the rest room to shake off the cold and un-bunch my sweater (something that cold weather people do as a matter of course).   While I was there, the professor hosting my appearance in class came in, too, and remarked about my heavy Filson sweater..  “Wow,” he exclaimed, “nice look! You always have such great sweaters.”

After the class, I mentioned to my host that I was headed for the athletic center to run indoors, since there was no way I was even thinking about an outdoor jog.  He said that he was headed for the center, as well,  and we braved the winter once more to the lower campus.  As we changed into running clothes,  a handball friend of mine stopped by to chat.  We regularly berate and tease one another to maintain our healthy competitive relationship, and this day he  said, with a mixture of derision and compliment, “Wow, you really are in shape!  I wouldn’t have expected an old guy to still have such pins. Too bad they don’t help you on the court.  But at least your legs look strong!”

I laughed him off.  I ran the indoor oval by myself, glad for the run and the chance to burn off some nervous energy.  I was scheduled for a small but uncomfortable surgical procedure that afternoon at the local clinic, and the exercise provided good preparation:  I was tired enough that the discomfort was minimal and the process short.  Better yet, the news that afternoon was good: the doctor came back into the exam room to say that the results were excellent.  “The pictures we got from inside were even better than what we could tell outside,” he offered.  “You look good.”

I felt some relief at my prognosis, so much so that I actually stopped by the church to offer a few thoughts of gratitude inside the quiet sanctuary.  As I sat alone, however, the senior pastor happened to walk in and saw me sitting alone.  He tentatively approached, not wishing to intrude but not daring to ignore.  I assured him that my visit was one of thanks and not petitioning.  He smiled at that, and replied,  “I’m available in any case, if you like.  I’d never presume to know what anyone’s thinking to bring them here late on a weekday.”

By the time I reached home, the events of the day had worked their way deep into my energy reserves.  I flopped into a recliner chair and allowed the footrest to lift my feet.  I lay there for several minutes, replaying the events and the people of the day.  I hoped that my next opportunity to speak with a class might allow a focus on layers, from parkas to physiques, from anatomy to the content of my character….