Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Christmas Card for You!

Christmas demonstrates that God sides with the poor, becomes one with the poor, and walks among the poor. God does not side with the rulers, the rich or the powerful, but with the homeless, the hungry and the refugees. Christmas puts poverty front and center and demands that we work to abolish poverty itself so that every human being has food, clothing, housing, healthcare, education, employment and a lifetime of peace.

Since Christmas illustrates how God sides with the poor in order to liberate the oppressed from poverty and injustice, it calls us to reject greed, give away our money and possessions to those in need, and also live in solidarity with the disenfranchised. Christmas pushes us to stand on the margins of society, where we will find God.

Christmas announces that every human being is a beloved son and daughter of the God of love. Every human life is beautiful in the eyes of God, since God has become one of us. From now on, we reject exclusivity, racism, sexism, and discrimination of any kind, and embrace everyone as equal. We stand on the margins with the excluded, the marginalized, the outsiders and outcasts. From there, we envision a new reconciled humanity.
--John Dear SJ

photo 1: the central plaza of El Paso, TX
photos 2-3: farmworker family children
photo 4: a Border orphan child and orphanage caretaker/Madonna & Child Border-style

Wishing you peace and joy!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in the Trenches; Christmas in a Border warzone

This lovely anti-war ballad turned me on to John McCutcheon years ago. It still brings tears to my eyes, no kidding. I've watched it several times the last few weeks. John, a gifted musician and songwriter, inspires me over and over. Here's a Christmas treat of 6 1/2 minutes of beauty:

One of the most violent and dangerous cities on earth is but a thirty minute stroll from my front door. By a deliberate and difficult act of my will, I choose to look with compassion on the drug cartel members whose war of greed is waged with actions that are sub-human by any definition.

I cannot change them, but I can refuse to retaliate with hate. I will regard them with compassion. I will not lower myself. Lovc...always love.

Merry Christmas, Everyone! May peace prevail on earth!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Federal agents allegedly abuse detainees. Take action! Tell them: Not in our name!

Readers here learned about the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in Postville, IA last May. It was (at that time) the largest ICE raid ever conducted. Almost 400 undocumented workers were rounded up and arrested. It started a chain reaction that has spun out of control, wreaking havoc in the lives of thousands.

Now this, from the National Immigration Justice Center: these unfortunate workers affirm that they were mocked, injured, and needlessly hurt in the process by federal officers conducting the raid. The courageous Florida International University Professor Erik Camayd-Freixas interviewed 94 detained immigrant workers in Florida this fall before they were deported to Guatemala. Two of them provided statements detailing the abuse. Camayd-Freixas has given permission for the affidavits to be posted online. Download the PDF file here.

Two Guatemalans, Marvin Danilo Perez-Gomez and Mardoqueo Valle-Callejas, describe being kept awake for more than 48 hours, shackled. They claim people were humiliated when taken to the bathroom, and, worse, that they received threats and violence.

From the affidavit of Marvin Danilo Perez-Gomez:

That day they had us suffering hunger. I had started my shift at 4:00am, and they didn't give me anything to eat until 10:00pm. I felt my head was going to explode. In Waterloo [National Cattle Congress] they kept me sitting down without my sweatshirt and barefoot in the cold from 8:00pm to 2:00am, while they arranged the paperwork. Then they put me in one of the cages where they had the cots for sleeping. But they did not let us sleep at all for 48 hours. They kept coming every so often to run the scanner over the barcode of a bracelet they had put on us. They would come in shouting: "Wake up!" There were also cages with women. Those who asked to go to the bathroom were told not to be such a nuisance, and whenever they were finally taken, it was with four guards or chained, amid mockeries and humiliations. They made us eat and drink in shackles, and you had to lean way over sideways on the chair in order to sip a bit of water from the bottle. Then they would mock us for the way we walked with the chains, and since our clothes were too long on account of our short height, they would tell us "You look like clowns." I, when they would tell me all of those insults and humiliations, all I could see were the faces of my daughters, and I would cry.

U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff need to investigate these sworn statements which contradict the testimonies given by officials from the Attorney General's office and the ICE Office of Investigations during a House Immigration Subcommittee hearing in July 2008. Camayd-Freixas and a team of researchers at FIU have started compiling information about allegations of abuse of detainees by ICE officers during raids. "This is a trend nationwide, which is just now starting to be documented," he said.

VivirLatino suggests: From reading just two affidavits, one gets a tiny sense of the horror experienced by hundreds. Multiply that experience by the number of ICE raids that have happened across the country. The affidavits also reveal the criminality of the businesses, who violated a number of labor laws, not to mention international human rights law, and just basic laws of human decency.

We will stand for justice and denounce oppression! Our proud nation cannot tolerate abuse in the name of our citizens.

The 111th Congress opens in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2009. Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, ask to speak to your senators and representatives, and tell them that fair immigration reform that ends inhumane detention and deportation practices must be a priority for 2009.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Killing Women for Sport: Femicides

photo caption: "Not One More!" Each spike in this memorial at the gate to the entrance to Juarez represents one woman killed.

Ciudad Juarez registered 81 femicides so far in 2008, more than doubling the worst years of 1996 and 2001 in which the city recorded 37 women murdered. El Diario de Juarez provided the following accounting of femicides since 1993, when Esther Chavez Cano, a local human rights activist, first called attention to problem:

Year & Femicides

1993 19
1994 19
1995 36
1996 37
1997 32
1998 36
1999 18
2000 32
2001 37
2002 36
2003 28
2004 19
2005 33
2006 20
2007 25
2008 81

Of the 81 cases so far this year, 55 deaths resulted from organized crime, while the Special Investigator for Deaths of Women (FEIHM) is handling the other 26 cases. Sixteen of these 26 cases remain under investigation while the other ten cases have been declared resolved. Two twelve-year-old girls are among the victims.

Femicides are reported as a special concern in Juarez. These deaths of women typically involve sexual assault and mutilation. The murders are not solved or persons who are clearly innocent are framed for the crimes. The crimes are crimes of wanton power, ruthless and apparently done in colusion with lawful authorities. Lovely young women are abducted and brought as a special prize to cartel leaders, then their naked mutilated body is found tossed somewhere--or perhaps strategically placed to embarrass a property owner.

The 2008 movie Bordertown, starring Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Bandaras, highlighted the situation. The movie production occurred largely out of town, in part due to the death threats it received. It is a place to good start if you're just learning about this situation.

This post is based on information from the Mexico Solidarity Network. They have a staffer on location in Juarez.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Part of Legal Immigration Don't You Understand?

Sincere people ask about so-called "illegal immigrants":Answer: There is no legal way provided for the typical undocumented worker to undertake our jobs in construction, yard work, agriculture, housekeeping, etc. legally.

Eight years ago when my stepson married a European woman, I learned that laws had changed since my 8th grade civics classes! She was by no means an automatic U.S. citizen. Impoverished and illiterate laborers have about as much chance of winning the lottery as they would gaining the "green card" needed to legally do our work.

If you're not current on immigration law, the chart from Reason Magazine provided a cheat sheet on how to become a citizen. Due to it's small size, even if you click to embiggen this graphic, it is still small. You'll want to check out the original on the Reason website, which enlarges nicely. Even better, download it onto your own hard drive for a good look.

Then you can hand a copy to the next person who asks you: "Why don't they enter the U.S. LEGALLY?!?

reprint from Reason Magazine

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How you can help homeless migrants...

Russ from What Are You Looking At? got me thinking when he left a comment on my last post about the three undocumented immigrants who recently entered the U.S.
He said: "don't know what to say other than I will pray for them....."

There is not a thing wrong with prayer. I learned, though, that Russ went on to post a photo of crossers [derogatorily known as "wetbacks"] on his blog and linked his post to the story of my three crossers. So he did prayed and acted.

It is empowering to act. We need to take action to avoid slumping into passivity. I thought I'd start a little list of things you can do to assist the homeless migrants. You don't have to move to the Border to do any of them.

1) Support Annunciation House. This house of refuge is a safe place for migrants to stop on the journey, to rest and refuel themselves. This place functions completely on small donations from persons of good will. I know for a fact that there wasn't any (instant) coffee for the migrants' breakfast [or any meal] earlier this week. If they don't receive it, they don't have it to give. Your gift to Annunciation House will be well used.
Annunciation House
1003 East San Antonio Ave,
El Paso, Texas 79901-2620

2) Support immigration reform. This subject is such a hot potato politically that it was completely absent in the last presidential campaign. Not one question was raised about immigration at any of the debates! Our elected leaders need to know that we demand this broken system be fixed--the sooner the better.

3) Seek out undocumented workers in your community. They are everywhere. Often church leaders are in touch with the migrant communities. Ask how you can best help them. My octogenarian mother-in-law tutors English as a second language to migrants in her town.

4) Send a donation to Postville, IA where undocumented workers are caught in the Catch 22 of being unable to work, unable to return to their countries, yet unable to leave Postville. The churches shouldered the responsibility of maintaining their lives. Read this story if you're willing to let your heart be broken.

Make your check out to St. Bridget’s Ministry, write in the memo “Postville Relief Fund” and mail to:
St. Bridget's Hispanic Ministry
ATTN: Postville Relief Fund
P.O Box 369
Postville, IA 52162

You can also go online to donate at:

When the web page opens up, on the right hand bottom, click:
1-Select :Specific Disaster,
2-Then Designate a specific disaster: Postville Disaster

5) Last year a local family decided to forgo giving each other personal Christmas presents and instead sponsored a migrant family for Christmas. Something to think about for next year.

6) Print up the photo from Russ's blog and post it on your dresser or your bathroom mirror. It will keep the plight of the migrants in your field of vision each day.

7) Read the fascinating and Pulitzer-prize winning Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario, likely it's at your public library. You won't have a problem reading it; the hard part is putting it down. Raising our awareness of this reality is a way to change our hearts. That means a better world for migrants.

8) Support the work of the Scalabrini order of priests. See this story about their shelter in Tijuana. Mr. B.E. and I stayed there overnight some years back so we could learn more about the plight of the migrant. One migrant we met there modeled gratitude through adversity and wowed us: one of the noblest people I've ever met.

Feel free to add other ideas in the comment section. Helping the migrants also helps us:
  • take control of a rotten system and turn it around.
  • participate in a human rights movement that supports the Earth Charter.
  • realize that we have it pretty good, no matter how bad we have it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

They crossed illegally last night...

I visited this afternoon with three Hondurans who crossed the border between MX & the US last night, running through the dark down a mountain until they waded through the cold Rio Grande River. They huddled, shivering, last night in a stable, their hearts still pounding from slipping past the Border Patrol in the interval in coverage they judged to be three minutes.

They came because the economy in their country is "screwed." Even if you could land a "really good job" you might expect a salary of $100/week. Expenses there are the same as here. Pepsi is $2. A hamburger is $5. One hundred a week isn't enough. And you're dreaming if you think you'll make more than $60/week.

What work will they do here? "Anything!"

The three cousins left beloved family behind who are worried about them. For those loved ones they are here to eke out enough money to build "a humble home" back in Honduras--perhaps a two room house. Oh yes, they want to go back to them. "It is good to be with your family," the young woman stated simply.

Young--all in their twenties--they were relentlessly robbed and extorted throughout the almost two week journey by train through Central American and--perhaps worse--through Mexico (where they are also considered "Illegal Aliens.") They were robbed by police, by train security, by gangs and by common robbers. When they finally made it to the border they had 200 pesos between them (less than $20) until a knife-wielding bandit took even that.

They hopped trains to make the journey. They saw a woman who fell as she was severed at the waist when the train bisected her. They saw a man lose his foot to the train. One of them fell from the train and injured his leg, but he can still walk with pain. They want to continue on the train to seek out relatives who will shelter them in the U.S. They will need warmer clothing so as not to freeze.

They arrived here with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. No bag. No nothing.

I hugged the woman when I excused myself. "It is much harder on women," her cousin choked with clouded eyes. I fear she was raped. I could not ask. It wouldn't be right to ask.

They are not angry.

I am angry. Why are they not angry?

With all that is in me, I hope and pray that stories like theirs never lose their power to move me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pa Rum Pa Pum Pum: Drumming the Divine

photo: A children's matachine group anxiously awaits their turn.

Yesterday, the feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe, was a big religious day on the Border. I awoke to the sound of drums wafting in my window at 5:45 AM from the Cathedral a few blocks away. The matachines did sacred dance to the rhythmic pounding drumbeat. This sound faded in and out all day. I love to watch the matachine dancing. Yet I must always remind myself not to burst into applause upon the completion of a segment of this dance. It is not a performance, it is a prayer.

If you have experienced a pow-wow, you have the idea. The Guadelupe matachine is a Christianized version. [Caution: I am not authority speaking. I've only been on the Border for a bit over a year all told. My impressions welcome clarification from those who actually know what is what here.]

A few weeks ago, just before I left the Midwest, I attended a drumming circle with two of my grandchildren. Here is cutie #1 enjoying the event:
Cutie #2 is 2 1/2 at his first drumming circle. Hit "Play" to catch the rhythm of Pa Rum Pa Pum Pum. [I just learned that I can't rotate video files. Yikes! Sorry!]

At the end of the circle, our facilitator asked: "Did anyone think about their "to do" list during our circle?" No one had. Our individual concerns were completely absorbed in the community experience of creating. Perhaps the matachine experience is similar. The individual is similarly absorbed into a dance of the divine.

FranIAm had a lovely post yesterday explaining the meaning of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe. This story of Mary earns Border Explorer approval: Mary seeks out the marginalized, the nobodies, the poor and oppressed.

As Christmas approaches and seasonal music plays in the background of our lives, we recall that "The Little Drummer Boy," poor as he was, had a gift to bring too.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Third time around: We're still at war

Blogger Meet-up
We are still at war!

We can't go on meeting like this!

One of the greatest aspects of returning to El Paso was reuniting with our beloved friends at the weekly Friday noon peace vigil, right on the corner of the Federal and the County courthouses in downtown El Paso.

For me, it was also a blogger meet-up with Dada of Dada's Dally (the blog from which I "borrowed" the photo on the right.

We've been fighting in Iraq now longer than we fought in WWI and WWII combined!

We have destroyed
  • treasures of the human family
  • our image in the world
  • the infrastructure of two nations
  • the lives of millions of people: dead, grieving, homeless, displaced, walking wounded, and the no-longer-walking wounded
The money we have wasted has impoverished us, our children and generations yet to be born.

And what have we gained?

I'm happy that people are faithfully and publicly protesting our nation's aggressive, violent actions and that I can be one of them. If you are unable
  • to serve prison time for conscientious objection,
  • refuse to pay war tax,
  • march in the streets,
  • stand on a corner,
  • sign a petition,
  • write your congressperson
then find your own way to resist this folly, this sinful and shameful stance in the world.

You may always regret your silence if you do not.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Yes, Joy....but executions: My first week on the Border

We've had a wonderful week of reconnecting with people we care about. My first week on the Border has been joy-filled.

Yet, with each friend with whom we reunite, the conversation turns inevitably to the Juarez violence--a reality that colors everything here black. I've never experienced warfare. But living here must be like living in a war zone. Since the beginning of the year, more than 1,400 people have been slain in Juárez (a 30 minute stroll from my house) as two drug cartels duke it out for the corridor rights. Worse: no one has been arrested. Most of the executions have been ambush-style slayings as in Al Capone-style Chicago days.

The good news for me is that so far they are mostly targeted killings, liked to drug trafficking. Nevertheless, that calibre of violence has profound implications on one's daily living activities as well as on the general health and well-being of our twin-city.

This weekend alone 28 were slain. On Friday my friend had just come from her neighbor's wake--dead by ten bullets. Officials discovered a naked cadaver stuffed into a manhole three blocks from her home some months back. I hear story after story.

It is bad here. It's bad all across the Border. For instance, Marjorie of Maggie's Madness has relentlessly blogged the Tijuana violence all summer. Even a quick scan of her blog entries will show you a world of hurt. I sincerely urge you to visit Bruce Burman's Border-Blog. As an artist and long-timer here, his poignant post really says it better than I can.

Photo caption: The Sword of Juarez Do be sure to see Bruce Burman's wonderful photograph of this sculpture. He is a real artist (whom I hope to meet sometime during Round 3 of Border exploring.)

Thanks for visiting me here and for caring about the Border mayhem. Truly, I saw little or (more accurately) nothing of this in the press when I lived in the Midwest.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First Impressions of the Border: Round 3

Everything looks strangly familiar yet oddly strange to me as I acclimate to the Border once again. An important concept that surprised me on Round One of border exploring a few years back was learning that whether one stands in "The U.S." or in "Mexico," we're all standing in the Borderland--and that commonality overrides nationalism here.

This quote elaborates:
"The US/Mexican Border is a wound where the Third World grates against the First and bleeds... the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country--- a border culture." Gloria Anzaldua

Photo caption: Like the Borderland, the bird nest is an entity unto itself, caught in between. We discovered it on a desert hike on Round 1 of Border exploring.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Here is what Advent/Christmas means to me...

h/t to Missy at St. Anne, Pray for Us

I was blown away by this little vid. Someone is reading my mind...

Do any of you believe this too? Do you take steps toward making it a reality?
I was talking with Mr. B.E. & we both find the "clean water for everyone" statistic ($10B) difficult to believe. Fly in the ointment? Anyone know?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

On greatness

"People say, 'What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?'
They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time. We can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes...."
--Dorothy Day

I grew up inspired by my parents to do great things. I disappointed myself for awhile by not accomplishing anything very monumental. The moment I realized that participating in the movement that is inching our planet in a positive direction is quite enough, I grew as a person.

I will not do great things, be remembered by history, accomplish monumental feats. Nevertheless, I try to do small things that are the right things to do...and that will be sufficient.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Back to the Border

Dada, my blogger friend from El Paso, emailed this lovely piece of art in October. Mr. B.E. and I are poised to arrive today to see for ourselves this border fence's replacement: the new border wall. Dada sent this text with the picture. [Be sure to click on the picture to enlarge it and see the detail he mentions]:

Yesterday, as the fates would have it, was a gorgeous day for the little border fence gathering of young artistas at the old La Hacienda restaurant, now abandoned (more likely because of its horrific acoustics than its history or savory enchiladas). Upon our return home, I was taken with developing the digital images we had captured during our outing. Upon seeing the enclosed one from [Mrs. Dada's] camera, I immediately thought of you and [your husband]. Hung on the border fence (not wall at this point), the shadows of the border chain links show through the parchment echoing very much the similar "real" background behind it of newspaper houses with newsprint headlines. And knowing of your imminent return, I immediately realized my purpose this day -- to give this image to you as a present.

Dada investigated the identity of the artist and discovered it to be an Iowan woman who now lives in El Paso and is quite a successful artist: Candy Mayer. Her open house is this week, so I'm arriving exactly the right time to meet her. How lucky is that?

Be sure to click on the photo to enlarge it--making the detail clear (very important!)

It looks like I've survived the leap across the split in my split screen life. Life has felt disjointed and chaotic to me. I hope to soon return to regular blogging...and, more importantly, reading my other blogger friends. See you soon!