Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tales from nuestra lucha

There have been so many articles and incidents lately that highlight the difficulties our immigrant community is facing. Let's share some stories:

1. Juan Gomez: He is a young man born in Colombia but who has been living in the United States since his parents moved here when he was 2 years old to escape the political violence and economic depression in their home country. Juan is virtually completely Americanized, speaks English better than he speaks Spanish and is a student at Georgetown University. Juan's parents were deported after their political asylum petition was denied but Juan has been able to stay due to a series of personal resolutions passed by Congress affecting only himself but, unless a senator is willing to sponsor him again this year, Juan will be deported to a country he has never known as an adult and will not be able to complete his degree. Cases like Juan's would have been covered by the DREAM Act, but that did not pass. Please read the excellent article in this Sunday's Washington Post. You will be moved to call your senators and ask for someone to please step up to the plate, have the courage to do what's right and help this young man who only wants to get his college degree.

2. Felipe C.: We talked about him earlier -- the Peruvian friend from my parish who was taken by ICE for deportation. We now know where he is: in a jail in Hanover, Virginia, which is a 2 1/2 to 3 hour drive from Arlington. The jail has visitation only for certain hours in the morning and night on weekdays. No Saturdays, Sundays, or holidays. Children under 18 are permitted with a parent or legal guardian. Only two people may visit at a time. Felipe has two children ages 11 and 15 who live with his ex-wife. How many rules must be waived for them to be able to see him before he is deported? The odds are not very good. And this is typical of what happens to people awaiting deportation. Some will say that we should be grateful he's being held in the same state but given the prison regs, he might as well be in Texas or California. This is why it is urgent for our country to review its deportation policies that are breaking up our immigrant families.

3. Agueda Dominguez: She is a Salvadoran woman residing legally in this country who was pulled from her car, pepper-sprayed and beaten by a police officer during a routine traffic stop in Manassas Park, VA . The officer was angered when Mrs. Dominguez, who does not speak much English, attempted to explain that she had accidentally left her driver's license at home and then declined to sign the traffic ticket because she could not understand it. Mrs. Dominguez requested a Spanish-speaking officer but instead was assaulted by the officer before being arrested. The incident was ironic to me because a key part of a training I had just received on how to help immigrants learn and protect their rights was instructing them never to sign anything they can't understand without requesting a translator. Now, it's true that we are required to sign traffic tickets or go to jail but nowhere does the law authorize an officer to beat up a sister or brother in the process.

4. José Sanchez: He was a 31-year old homeless Salvadoran man who died of his injuries after being pushed to the sidewalk during an argument in the Columbia Heights section of Washington, DC. He lay on the pavement for almost 20 minutes and over 150 people walked by. Nobody called 911 until eventually an employee of a nearby market did. According to the Washington Post: "Bystanders and community leaders said many were afraid to call authorities for fear of being asked about their immigration status. " Mayor Fenty and other city officials are trying to reassure the Hispanic community that it's OK to call emergency services but given the raids, deportations and incidents of police brutality splashed across the front pages and TV screens in the Hispanic media, is it any wonder that our community is not hearing this message? Do I believe a politician or my experience?

5. Letitia C: She is a friend, a Guatemalan mother who called me because her son was beaten up in his predominantly African-American Prince George's County high school. Letty doesn't speak much English and has only a 3rd grade education but she wants to do right by her son. She is in this country legally and her boy was born here, in Fairfax Hospital. They have arrested one of the boys who attacked her son, the only one of his assailants that he could positively identify.

The problem came later when Letty tried to meet with the school principal to discuss what measures the school would take to minimize future incidents. Despite repeated requests, Letty has not been able to get school authorities to sit down and work with her. She had to insist to be allowed to even see the area where the assault took place and she made several observations about the lack of lighting, the position of the security cameras, etc...things that a responsible school system should want to address. Because Letty only speaks Spanish, the school sent a lower-level Puerto Rican employee to talk to her. When she insisted on meeting with the principal, this man told her that she was wasting her time because the school "always discriminates against Hispanics". By the way, Letty's boy was not the only Hispanic student to be assaulted in the school, but the other parents were afraid to make a fuss because they are undocumented.

I want to share these vignettes because this is how the world looks from the Hispanic immigrant perspective. These are only 5 tales that have happened in the last month, only a sample of the daily discrimination that Hispanics face. It's why we need a new civil rights movement, why we need immigration reform, and why the Church needs to wake up, stand up, and not just let Hispanics defend Hispanics. It's great that Fr. Hoyos can speak out but we also need Bishop Loverde. It's great that Fr. Vidal will stand up and pray for Mr. Sanchez (see photo above). Where is the Episcopalian bishop of Washington? Donde están los pastores mientras los lobos están atacando a sus ovejas?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bishop Williamson: Update

Richard Williamson, the formerly excommunicated Catholic bishop who is a member of the ultra-traditional Society of St. Pius X, has now been kicked out of Argentina where he has resided for many years and, until the recent scandal, served as director of the order's La Reja seminary. The Interior Ministry ordered him out of Argentina within 10 days because he failed to declare his true job as director of the seminary on immigration forms and because his comments on the Holocaust "profoundly insult Argentine society, the Jewish community and all of humanity by denying a historic truth." Argentina's Jewish community, estimated at more than 200,000 residents, is the largest in Latin America and was besieged by terrorist attacks in the 1990s.

As for his situation before the Vatican and whether or not he will be allowed to continue as bishop, Williamson has asked Pope Benedict XVI for time to review the evidence about the Holocaust. German Cardinal Karl Lehmann and many American Catholic Congressional representatives have protested at this stalling tactic, urging the Vatican to fullly and quickly repudiate Williamson's position.

Today, a side dust-up occured. Fr. Hoyos duly expressed outrage over Israeli comedian Yair Shlein's satirical and blasphemous portrayal of Jesus and Mary in which he denied certain tenets of the Christian faith, but what got glossed over is that Shlein said he was doing so as a "lesson" to Christians who deny the Holocaust. And, unlike Williamson, Shlein and the TV station that aired the program have apologized. The most Williamson has managed is apologizing for causing any inconvenience to the Pope. He doesn't care about the feelings of the Jewish people as is amply evident in his writings about them:

From "True Anti-Semitism":
Most people seeing how Pope Benedict XVI has changed the Church’s Good Friday prayer for the Jews will think he has been their friend, because the change was in a direction demanded by spokesmen of theirs, who made themselves heard. However, for any Catholic who has the Catholic Faith, Benedict XVI has been in this not their friend but their enemy.

The difference is quite simply the difference between our brief life here below, and life everlasting: For purposes of this life, lasting for each of us, let us say, 70 years, he has been their friend, because by, for instance, taking out of the 1962 text the references to the Jews’ “blindness”, “darkness” and “the veil over their hearts”, he has softened the Church’s solemn criticism of their condition.. On the other hand by the same softening he will also have diminished Catholics’ awareness of how especially Jews need the charity of Catholics’ prayers...

...Therefore the recent Good Friday liturgy change, by diminishing Catholics’ awareness of that real “veil”, etc, has done a disservice to Jews’ eternal salvation.

From False Anti-Semitism:

Now ever since the Jews were responsible for the crucifying of Our Lord Jesus Christ -- "His blood be upon us and upon our children", Mt.XXVII,25 -- they have as a race and as a religion, always with noble exceptions, continued to reject him down to our day. Thus St. Paul observed that they not only "killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets", but they also prohibited St. Paul himself from "speaking to the Gentiles so as to save them". In brief, their behavior was such that "they please not God and are adversaries to men" (I Thess. II,14-16). Closer to our own time, it is a matter of historical record that the designing and launching of, for instance, Communism, to wrest mankind away from God and to replace his Heaven with a man-made paradise, was largely their achievement.

And this person can still call himself a bishop? In the Catholic Church? And the Pope does nothing??? And we wonder why Catholic-Jewish relations are so strained during this Papacy.

Incidentally, Williamson not only believes that the Holocaust didn't happen, he also thinks 9/11 was "an inside job" and says as much in his blog -- appropriately titled "Dinoscopus" with a fetching satirical drawing of the bishop as a dinosaur -- which makes for interesting reading. The guy isn't too enlightened about women's place in the world and the church either. He says:

"Scripture, the Word of God, tells us that woman was created to be the helpmate of man (Genesis II,10). Commenting upon this text, St. Thomas Aquinas (Ia, 92, 1) says that she was created to help him in the engendering of children, because in any other work man could be better helped by another man. St. Paul (also the Word of God) similarly says that woman will be saved by childbearing (I Tim. II,16).

Here is the key to woman´s nature as woman: she is designed to be mother. Do we not observe, and does not St. Thomas Aquinas suggest, that in everything involved in motherhood – which is no less than the future of the human race - she is man´s superior, whereas in everything else she is his inferior?"

It's time for this dinosaur to make himself extinct.

The Death of Language Diversity

The Old Testament reading for today is the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) which could be called our Judaeo-Christian "creation story" for the evolution of language divisions in the world -- divisions which would later be overcome in the unifying experience of Divine love at Pentecost (Acts 2). But Pentecost did not mean that everyone spoke the same language -- usually the dominant language of a political and economic colonizing power such as the United States and Britain, France, Portugal, or Spain. Instead multiple languages were welcome but a common Spirit transcended all of them.

As someone who loves languages, I was reflecting on this as I read the news coming out of UNESCO's presentation of the updated Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing. According to the Atlas, unveiled on the eve of International Mother Language Day (21 February), nearly 200 languages have fewer than 10 speakers and 178 others have between 10 and 50 speakers.

The data shows that out of the 6,000 languages currently in existence, over a third are endangered. More than 200 have died out over the last three generations, 538 are critically endangered, 502 severely endangered, 632 definitely endangered and 607 unsafe.

As the last remaining speakers of a language pass away, the language itself dies. The language of Manx in the Isle of Man died out in 1974 when Ned Maddrell, the last speaker, passed away while Eyak, in Alaska, United States, met its demise last year with the death of Marie Smith Jones.

We should care about this because, according to UNESCO, " every language reflects a unique world-view with its own value systems, philosophy and particular cultural features. The extinction of a language results in the irrecoverable loss of unique cultural knowledge embodied in it for centuries, including historical, spiritual and ecological knowledge that may be essential for the survival of not only its speakers, but also countless others."

The late Evenki poet, Alitet Nemtushkin, expressed these feelings beautifully when he said:

If I forget my native speech,
And the songs that my people sing
What use are my eyes and ears?
What use is my mouth?

If I forget the smell of the earth
And do not serve it well
What use are my hands?
Why am I living in the world?

How can I believe the foolish idea
That my language is weak and poor
If my mother’s last words
Were in Evenki?

Evenki is spoken by only some 29,000 people in Russia (Siberia), Mongolia and China (Manchuria). In Russia, it is in danger of becoming squeezed out by Russian, which is spoken by over 90% of Evenks. The Atlas lists it as being "severely endangered".

In the Americas, our school systems have unfortunately contributed substantially to the demise of languages by their insistence that indigenous students abandon their mother tongues in the classroom. Franc Camara, a computer consultant and motivational speaker from the Mexican state of Yucatán reflects on being told by his 4th grade teacher that he needed to "learn Spanish well, and forget Maya since it was worthless." ("How I learned English", National Geographic, 2007 p.13) Maya is not endangered yet but with attitudes like that, it may one day join the list.

Edna Chekelelee, a North Carolina Cherokee teacher and community leader, reflects on her school experience:

I learned your language when I was five years old.
I had to, regardless if I wanted to or not.
When I went to school we were told that we had to learn
one way or another
If I didn't learn I had to go to the bathroom
wash my mouth out with Ivory soap.
But I never did wash my Indian language out,
I still got it in my heart,
and I still carry on my Indian language.

("The Origin of the Milky Way and Other Living Stories of the Cherokee", Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2008, p.100). The Cherokee language is now in the "critically endangered" category, according to UNESCO. In Mexico and the United States, over 100 indigenous languages are on the endangered list.

We need to begin to appreciate and encourage diversity in all its forms because we lose too much by becoming homogenized into one big, white, English- or Spanish-speaking society.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sounds of Silence: Why Catholics Don’t Go to Confession

Lent is fast approaching and I’m sure Fr. Hoyos will write a serious article about the Sacrament of Reconciliation. That is his job. I, Rebel Girl, want to provide the counterpoint – an article I resurrected from my previous blog and embellished: “Why Catholics Don’t Go to Confession”.

I myself managed to avoid the sacrament from the day I was baptized until a particularly grievous sin forced me into the only confession that was ever meaningful to me. After that, I dabbled at the practice, trying to be a “good” Catholic, but not finding much to inspire me. I am not alone. According to Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate in 2008, 30% of Catholics went to confession less than once a year and 45% didn’t go at all. The decline is particularly noticeable in the Vatican II and post-Vatican II generations, when the Church left an opening for lay Catholics to determine how they would interact with the Magisterium. This annual survey, however, does not offer much insight into why Catholics are shunning the confessional beyond the fact that 62% agreed with the statement “I can be a good Catholic without celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year.” Let’s fill in the gap.

1. Confession is boring and meaningless for both priest and penitent. All of us who have friends in the priesthood know that for most priests hearing confessions is far from a favorite activity. Hence the unimaginative “quick fix” penances. The following dialogues are real and only slightly edited:

Scene 1:

ME: I’m really struggling with the anger I feel towards Mr. and Mrs. X who consider themselves the dueños de la Iglesia and treat the rest of us like peons. What should I do?

FATHER A (who doesn’t much care for Mr. and Mrs. X either): You can’t let those people treat you like that. I absolve you. Three “Hail Mary”s.

Stunned silence.

ME: You know, Father, I say at least 53 “Hail Mary”s every week when I pray the Rosary…

Later I invented a creative variant on this penance. Whenever Mrs. X comments about my shoes or bosses me around, I’m going to smile at her sweetly and say: “Dios te salve, María. Llena eres de gracia. El Señor es contigo….”

Scene 2:

ME: The anger I’m feeling towards Mr. and Mrs. X is really burning me up. I wish they would just dry up and blow away.

FATHER B: Sometimes praying for people can help us be more compassionate. I want you to pick one person from home, one from work, and one from the church and pray for them.

ME: I already pray for several people from work and church.

FATHER B: Just pick one from each.

ME: But what about the others?

FATHER B: One each. I absolve you.

Now, to be fair, the man is consistent. He uses the same approach to volunteer recruitment. Handed out a bunch of forms and told us to each suggest 1 person for 1 ministry. “But Father, I got a lot of people to nominate who told me they wanna help.” “One person; one ministry.” Punto final. ¡Que locura! (I guess that’s another three “Hail Mary”s for arguing with a priest!)

Scene 3:

ME (crying): I can’t take it any more in my parish. This couple treats the other lay leaders disrespectfully and it makes me really angry…

FATHER C: Believe me, I know. The same thing happened to me in my congregation. Let me tell you about it…

Half an hour later I got my absolution and an assignment to read the 51st psalm, but I felt like I had already done my penance by having to listen to the priest complain about his problems.

And this is just business as usual. Back in 2007, Riccardo Bocca, a reporter for the Italian news magazine L’Espresso, posed as a penitent and asked priests across Italy for help with common but controversial problems such as euthanasia, condom use, and homosexuality. He was stunned by the number of priests who, behind the secrecy of the confessional, gave responses that were contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The article he published and his journalistic ethics were immediately vilified by the Vatican.

2. The average American Catholic and the Church no longer have a common consensus on what constitutes a sin. Most of us wouldn’t dream of telling a priest when we masturbate, use a condom, cuss out the driver who cut us off, or use the office copier for personal business. “Everybody does it” and besides: “I got needs”, “Pablito and his novia used NFP and she got pregnant”, “All the drivers in this area are self-centered morons!”, “The company don’t pay me s---; I’m just getting what’s mine” and in any case: “It’s no big deal, Padre!” The average American Catholic would be astonished if they actually read the Catechism and found out the sins they didn’t know they were committing. “You mean I gotta confess all that? No way, Padre!” Which is how the “one or two juicy ones, etc…” approach to confession evolved. Neither priest nor penitent has the time or inclination to really delve into matters of conscience.

3. People don’t believe priests really keep secrets and/or they think the priest will treat them differently (hence the shopping around for a confessor we don’t know). They’re right. I used to earnestly explain in catechetical talks about the absolute secrecy of the confessional, that a priest can be excommunicated for violating it, that a priest is supposed to conceal what he hears even from himself. I hang out with priests who swear they forget everything they hear but, when you hang out with them a little longer, it’s clear that they don’t. They don’t attach a name to the story, but they don’t forget it either.

And as for the differential treatment, it’s real too. A woman whose priest fancied her once told me that she would confess to him about other sexual relationships and he would get so jealous that he would give her the cold shoulder for weeks. I told her to find another confessor and send that dude back to his spiritual director.

4. If you go to confession, you must be guilty of something. This is especially true in the small and gossipy world of the typical Hispanic parish. “Hey. I just saw hermano Fulanito go into the confessional. Wonder what he did…” “Pues, I did see him talking to la señorita Tal y Tal in the mercado last week…” And the chismosos are off and running! So if you have a reputation to protect, don’t be seen in that booth.

5. Last but not least, we’re embarrassed because we don’t know what to say or how much to confess. There are situations in which words fail us:

ME: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I find you extremely attractive and I think I’m falling madly in love with you. What are you doing after Mass?

FATHER H (suppressing the urge to laugh): I absolve you. Three “Hail Mary”s. Hasta luego.

This dialogue didn't -- and never will -- happen, because actually most confessions are duller than dishwater. Titillating sex in the confessional only happens in Internet erotica because most Catholics don’t have the narrative abilities of porn script writers. Whatever sex tales you want to tell, your priest has heard them 100 times and he’s already half-asleep before you get to the first orgasm. One priest friend of mine who is an excellent confessor believes the Church focuses too much on sex and he actively discourages penitents from doing the same.

I’m sure I haven’t exhausted the reasons people avoid confession. I am also sure that some readers will think I’m too flippant, that I’m dissing one of the most cherished rituals of Catholicism. No, I’m using humor to suggest that it may be time to re-examine the sacrament and make it more meaningful to modern Catholics so it is no longer fodder for stand-up comedians.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Examining America's racial soul

I'm sure that Attorney General Eric Holder will catch a lot of flak for his remarks today but I think they are excellent and represent the reality of race relations in this country. As I read them, I thought of a conversation I recently had with a couple of African American women while waiting for the bus. We started out OK, talking about the outrageousness of high CEO salaries and perks in the companies that are requesting federal bailouts. But then the women turned to bashing immigrants, blaming them for their economic problems and joblessness. My heart sank. How far these women are from the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose courageous civil rights activism made a public conversation between a white woman and themselves even possible!

But my heart also sank when a charismatic Catholic hermano told me he couldn't support Obama because Obama would be indebted to African-Americans and everyone knows African-Americans hate Latinos and discriminate against them. He was also being prejudiced but, unfortunately, the women were proving that his prejudices had a foundation in reality. So Eric Holder is right. We may have come a long way, baby, but we still have a long way to go.

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department of Justice African American History Month Program

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Every year, in February, we attempt to recognize and to appreciate black history. It is a worthwhile endeavor for the contributions of African Americans to this great nation are numerous and significant. Even as we fight a war against terrorism, deal with the reality of electing an African American as our President for the first time and deal with the other significant issues of the day, the need to confront our racial past, and our racial present, and to understand the history of African people in this country, endures. One cannot truly understand America without understanding the historical experience of black people in this nation. Simply put, to get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul.

Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must - and will - lead the nation to the "new birth of freedom" so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation.

We commemorated five years ago, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. And though the world in which we now live is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races. This is admittedly an artificial device to generate discussion that should come more naturally, but our history is such that we must find ways to force ourselves to confront that which we have become expert at avoiding.

As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by "American instinct" and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated.

As a nation we should use Black History month as a means to deal with this continuing problem. By creating what will admittedly be, at first, artificial opportunities to engage one another we can hasten the day when the dream of individual, character based, acceptance can actually be realized. To respect one another we must have a basic understanding of one another. And so we should use events such as this to not only learn more about the facts of black history but also to learn more about each other. This will be, at first, a process that is both awkward and painful but the rewards are potentially great. The alternative is to allow to continue the polite, restrained mixing that now passes as meaningful interaction but that accomplishes little. Imagine if you will situations where people- regardless of their skin color- could confront racial issues freely and without fear. The potential of this country, that is becoming increasingly diverse, would be greatly enhanced. I fear however, that we are taking steps that, rather than advancing us as a nation are actually dividing us even further. We still speak too much of "them" and not "us". There can, for instance, be very legitimate debate about the question of affirmative action. This debate can, and should, be nuanced, principled and spirited. But the conversation that we now engage in as a nation on this and other racial subjects is too often simplistic and left to those on the extremes who are not hesitant to use these issues to advance nothing more than their own, narrow self interest. Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable with, and would like to not have to deal with, racial matters and that is why those, black or white, elected or self-appointed, who promise relief in easy, quick solutions, no matter how divisive, are embraced. We are then free to retreat to our race protected cocoons where much is comfortable and where progress is not really made. If we allow this attitude to persist in the face of the most significant demographic changes that this nation has ever confronted- and remember, there will be no majority race in America in about fifty years- the coming diversity that could be such a powerful, positive force will, instead, become a reason for stagnation and polarization. We cannot allow this to happen and one way to prevent such an unwelcome outcome is to engage one another more routinely- and to do so now.

As I indicated before, the artificial device that is Black History month is a perfect vehicle for the beginnings of such a dialogue. And so I urge all of you to use the opportunity of this month to talk with your friends and co-workers on the other side of the divide about racial matters. In this way we can hasten the day when we truly become one America.

It is also clear that if we are to better understand one another the study of black history is essential because the history of black America and the history of this nation are inextricably tied to each other. It is for this reason that the study of black history is important to everyone- black or white. For example, the history of the United States in the nineteenth century revolves around a resolution of the question of how America was going to deal with its black inhabitants. The great debates of that era and the war that was ultimately fought are all centered around the issue of, initially, slavery and then the reconstruction of the vanquished region. A dominant domestic issue throughout the twentieth century was, again, America's treatment of its black citizens. The civil rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's changed America in truly fundamental ways. Americans of all colors were forced to examine basic beliefs and long held views. Even so, most people, who are not conversant with history, still do not really comprehend the way in which that movement transformed America. In racial terms the country that existed before the civil rights struggle is almost unrecognizable to us today. Separate public facilities, separate entrances, poll taxes, legal discrimination, forced labor, in essence an American apartheid, all were part of an America that the movement destroyed. To attend her state’s taxpayer supported college in 1963 my late sister in law had to be escorted to class by United States Marshals and past the state’s governor, George Wallace. That frightening reality seems almost unthinkable to us now. The civil rights movement made America, if not perfect, better.

In addition, the other major social movements of the latter half of the twentieth century- feminism, the nation's treatment of other minority groups, even the anti-war effort- were all tied in some way to the spirit that was set free by the quest for African American equality. Those other movements may have occurred in the absence of the civil rights struggle but the fight for black equality came first and helped to shape the way in which other groups of people came to think of themselves and to raise their desire for equal treatment. Further, many of the tactics that were used by these other groups were developed in the civil rights movement.

And today the link between the black experience and this country is still evident. While the problems that continue to afflict the black community may be more severe, they are an indication of where the rest of the nation may be if corrective measures are not taken. Our inner cities are still too conversant with crime but the level of fear generated by that crime, now found in once quiet, and now electronically padlocked suburbs is alarming and further demonstrates that our past, present and future are linked. It is not safe for this nation to assume that the unaddressed social problems in the poorest parts of our country can be isolated and will not ultimately affect the larger society.

Black history is extremely important because it is American history. Given this, it is in some ways sad that there is a need for a black history month. Though we are all enlarged by our study and knowledge of the roles played by blacks in American history, and though there is a crying need for all of us to know and acknowledge the contributions of black America, a black history month is a testament to the problem that has afflicted blacks throughout our stay in this country. Black history is given a separate, and clearly not equal, treatment by our society in general and by our educational institutions in particular. As a former American history major I am struck by the fact that such a major part of our national story has been divorced from the whole. In law, culture, science, athletics, industry and other fields, knowledge of the roles played by blacks is critical to an understanding of the American experiment. For too long we have been too willing to segregate the study of black history. There is clearly a need at present for a device that focuses the attention of the country on the study of the history of its black citizens. But we must endeavor to integrate black history into our culture and into our curriculums in ways in which it has never occurred before so that the study of black history, and a recognition of the contributions of black Americans, become commonplace. Until that time, Black History Month must remain an important, vital concept. But we have to recognize that until black history is included in the standard curriculum in our schools and becomes a regular part of all our lives, it will be viewed as a novelty, relatively unimportant and not as weighty as so called "real" American history.

I, like many in my generation, have been fortunate in my life and have had a great number of wonderful opportunities. Some may consider me to be a part of black history. But we do a great disservice to the concept of black history recognition if we fail to understand that any success that I have had, cannot be viewed in isolation. I stood, and stand, on the shoulders of many other black Americans. Admittedly, the identities of some of these people, through the passage of time, have become lost to us- the men, and women, who labored long in fields, who were later legally and systemically discriminated against, who were lynched by the hundreds in the century just past and those others who have been too long denied the fruits of our great American culture. The names of too many of these people, these heroes and heroines, are lost to us. But the names of others of these people should strike a resonant chord in the historical ear of all in our nation: Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Walter White, Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Charles Drew, Paul Robeson, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Vivian Malone, Rosa Parks, Marion Anderson, Emmit Till. These are just some of the people who should be generally recognized and are just some of the people to whom all of us, black and white, owe such a debt of gratitude. It is on their broad shoulders that I stand as I hope that others will some day stand on my more narrow ones.

Black history is a subject worthy of study by all our nation's people. Blacks have played a unique, productive role in the development of America. Perhaps the greatest strength of the United States is the diversity of its people and to truly understand this country one must have knowledge of its constituent parts. But an unstudied, not discussed and ultimately misunderstood diversity can become a divisive force. An appreciation of the unique black past, acquired through the study of black history, will help lead to understanding and true compassion in the present, where it is still so sorely needed, and to a future where all of our people are truly valued.

Thank you.

La Nube Oscura

Hacia muchos años, vino a mi parroquia un sacerdote hispano buenísimo, el padre Ricardo. Lo que más me impresionó fue la manera en que el padre Rick se presentó a los feligreses. Hablando directamente a su pueblo, nos dijo su secreto: él padeció de la depresión y estaba tomando unas medicinas para aquella enfermedad. “Espero no tener problemas en mi ministerio,” nos dijo, “pero quiero que ustedes sepan mi situación.”

Yo querría abrazarle y agradecerle al padre Rick su transparencia. Vengo de una familia en que muchos sufrimos de la depresión de varios grados. Hay el hijo de mi prima que se suicidó, otro primo que tiene una depresión tan seria que tiene que estar hospitalizado de vez en cuando y a mí me diagnosticaron una depresión de bajo grado hacía varios años. Mi hermana también sufre de otro tipo de depresión vinculado a la falta de sol en la ciudad donde ella vive – “seasonal affective disorder”.

Yo tengo altos y bajos. Usualmente estoy normal pero hay largas semanas en que vivo bajo mi “nube oscura”. No quiero levantarme de la cama. Al amanecer, mis ojos se llenan de lágrimas al contemplar otro día que tengo que enfrentar, y cuando abro mis labios para orar, la única cosa que puedo pedir a Dios es que me lleve de esta vida, que no la aguanto más. Camino hasta mi trabajo bajo esta nube oscura con estas lágrimas y siento como si estuviera fuera de mi cuerpo. El cuerpo físico hace lo que tiene que hacer para sobrevivir aunque duele, pero el alma no está. No tengo ánimo para nada. En la noche me repongo un poco pero en la mañana sigo igual.

Cuesta admitir eso. En la Renovación Carismática, me parece que muy pocos hermanos(as) entienden lo que es realmente la depresión. Cantamos: “Levantate y regocíjate, el Señor está aquí” pero para una persona depresiva es dificil levantarse, regocijar es imposible, y nunca sentimos que “este gozo no va a pasar”. Para nosotros son nada más que canciones, no es la realidad que vivimos. La nube oscura siempre regresa y además nos da vergüenza porque los hermanos(as) nos dicen: “Pídele a Papa Dios y Él te quitará estos sentimientos de tu corazón” y pensamos que es por nuestra falta de fe que la nube oscura no desaparece de nuestra vida. Aún el Catecismo de la Iglesia Cátolica nos enseña que la desesperación que experimentamos es un pecado contra la esperanza, que nos estamos oponiendo a la bondad de Dios (CEC 2091).

¿Porque escribo este artículo en español? Porque quiero dirigirme a mis hermanos(as) hispanos y especialmente los de la Iglesia. No hablamos suficiente de la depresión y tenemos una alta tasa en nuestra comunidad, especialmente entre las mujeres jóvenes. Según la encuesta “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2007” de los Centers for Disease Control, el 42.3% de las jóvenes hispanas mostraron síntomas de depresión, el doble de los jóvenes en general, 21.1% pensaron en suicidarse y 14% intentaron el suicidio.

Es urgente que aprendamos los síntomas de la depresión. Ustedes los padres piensen que sus hijos son perezosos cuando no quieren levantarse ó que sus hijas son rebeldes porque no quieren participar en las actividades de la familia. ¿No sería más bien que sus hijos estén sufriendo de la depresión? Hay que reflexionar y reconocer los síntomas para poder ayudar a nuestros hijos(as) recibir los tratamientos que necesitan. La depresión es una enfermedad y no una falta de fe ó de carácter. Puede evaluarse con este sencillo test:

Síntomas de la depresión clínica

Revise la siguiente lista de síntomas y señale los que usted ha sentido. Consulte a su doctor o a un profesional de la salud mental, si experimenta CINCO o más de estos síntomas por un período mayor de dos semanas o si los síntomas son tan severos que interfieren en su vida diaria.

  • Estado de ánimo de tristeza, ansiedad o "vacío" persistentes
  • Dormir muy poco o dormir demasiado
  • Pérdida del apetito o de peso, o aumento del apetito y de peso
  • Pérdida del interés o placer en las actividades de que disfrutaba antes
  • Inquietud o irritabilidad
  • Síntomas físicos persistentes que no responden al tratamiento (como dolor de cabeza, dolor crónico, estreñimiento y otros desórdenes digestivos)
  • Dificultad para concentrarse, recordar o tomar decisiones
  • Fatiga o pérdida de energía
  • Sentimiento de culpa, desesperanza o inutilidad
  • Pensamientos sobre la muerte o el suicidio


¿Y luego que?

1. Si estás muy deprimido y estás pensando como quitarte la vida, esta es una emergencia. En la depresión es el equivalente a un infarcto. Llame a la Red Nacional Para la Prevencion del Suicidio al 1-888-628-9454 inmediatamente.

2. Hazte examinar por un médico pues hay también varias enfermedades que pueden manifestarse con depresión. Tu doctor te dará una evaluación completa y te enviará a un psicólogo o un psiquiatra según los resultados si es necesario.

3. Cosas que puedes hacer ti mismo para superar la depresión:

  • Fíjese metas realistas, tomando en cuenta la depresión, y no trate de asumir una cantidad excesiva de responsabilidades.
  • Divida las metas en partes pequeñas, establezca prioridades y haga lo que pueda cuando pueda.
  • Trate de estar acompañado y de confiar en alguna persona; siempre es mejor que estar solo y no hablar con nadie.
  • Tome parte en actividades que le ayuden a sentirse mejor.
  • Haga ejercicio liviano, vaya al cine, vaya a un juego deportivo, o participe en actividades recreativas, religiosas, sociales o de otro tipo. Todo eso puede ayudar.
  • No espere que su estado de ánimo mejore de inmediato, sino gradualmente. Sentirse mejor toma tiempo.
  • Es aconsejable que posponga las decisiones importantes hasta que la depresión mejore. Antes de hacer cambios importantes, como cambiar de trabajo, casarse o divorciarse, consulte con personas que lo conozcan bien y tengan una visión más objetiva de su situación.
  • La gente rara vez sale de una depresión de un día para el otro. Pero se puede sentir un poco mejor cada día.
  • Recuerde, patrones positivos de pensamiento eventualmente van a reemplazar los pensamientos negativos que son parte de la depresión. Los patrones negativos van a desaparecer tan pronto su depresión responda al tratamiento. Recuerde, tan pronto su depresión responda al tratamiento, los pensamientos negativos van a ser reemplazadas por pensamientos positivos.
  • Deje que sus familiares y amigos le ayuden.


Finalmente quiero terminar este artículo con un video de Martín Valverde cantando una canción que me ayuda cuando la nube oscurece la Luz de Nuestro Señor: “Sigue”

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Protestan por acoso a los inmigrantes en Virginia

Tomás Guevara
Diario de Hoy
Lunes, 16 de Febrero de 2009

Activistas de organizaciones que luchan por los derechos de los inmigrantes en el condado de Prince William tomaron la calle este lunes para hacer oír su voz en la ciudad de Manassas, en una lucha por anular medidas del gobierno local que han deteriorado la calidad de vida de los inmigrantes de ese condado.

Los manifestantes exigieron la anulación de los acuerdos 287g entre el condado, el departamento de Policía de Manassas y el Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE) para laborar en tareas conjuntas contra la inmigración ilegal.

Pero, el detonante para retomar la lucha de calle, a la que acudieron unos 160 manifestantes convocados por la organización Mexicanos sin Fronteras la tarde de este lunes, fue la golpiza que un policía de Manassas propinó a la salvadoreña Agueda Domínguez, originaria de San Vicente, la noche del lunes 2 de febrero en la zona de Manassas Park.

La salvadoreña resultó con golpes en el rostro y el torso cuando un agente policial de Prince William la sometió al negarse a firmar una esquela por manejar sin licencia y con las luces de su carro sin funcionar. La ley de Virginia faculta a la policía ha arrestar a un conductor cuando se niega a firmar una multa de tránsito.

Ricardo Juárez, vocero de la organización, animó a los marchantes para exigir que se haga justicia en el caso de Domínguez, en un recorrido desde una de las calles principales de la ciudad hasta la sede de la corte del condado, ubicada en el centro de la ciudad. Manassas es habitada en un 22 por ciento por inmigrantes, en su mayoría salvadoreños y mexicanos.

"Lo que estamos pidiendo son cuatro aspectos puntuales: primero anular la resolución antiinmigrantes del condado de Prince William y los gastos que apoyan las misma, suprimir el acuerdo entre los departamentos de policías; pero sobre todo, un alto a los abusos contra la comunidad inmigrante y que se haga justicia en el caso de Agueda Domínguez y su familia", reiteró Juárez.

Compatriota asiste a marcha

La salvadoreña también asistió a la concentración para sumarse al rechazo contra el accionar de la policía, pues alega que fue atacada por el teniente Rupert Prinz, por su condición de inmigrante.

Sin embargo, en su primera presentación en la corte el martes 10, la parte policial ha reiterado que el teniente cumplió su deber de imponerle la multa por manejar sin licencia de conducir, con un foco delantero roto y posteriormente debió someterla a la fuerza por negarse al arresto.

Los abogados de Agueda Domínguez, de 38 años, quien es beneficiaria del TPS, aún estudian la posibilidad de presentar una demanda contra el departamento de policía de Prince William, según razonó el defensor Stuart Sears, quien la representará en la cita pautada por el juez para el 12 de marzo.

En la vigilia que se extendió pasadas las 6:00 de la tarde de ayer frente a la corte de Manassas, Juárez alegó ante los medios de comunicación que desde la aprobación de la resolución antiinmigrantes en octubre de 2007, la calidad de vida de los inmigrantes del condado ha ido en decadencia.

A los roces por el tema migratorio, también se suma la crisis económica que se ha acentuado con mayor fuerza en esta zona aledaña al Área Metropolitana de Washington, donde la pérdida de empleos, los embargos hipotecarios y las migraciones internas han marcado una decadencia en la zona.

Immigrants march to protest Va. county's policies

By Gillian Gaynar
Associated Press
February 16, 2009

MANASSAS PARK, Va. - More than 100 immigrants and their supporters marched through Prince William County on Monday to protest policies they say have torn apart families, caused racial tension and made them fearful of reporting crimes.

With chants in Spanish of "Justice!" and "Stop police brutality," the immigrant advocacy group Mexicans Without Borders demanded that county officials rescind a 2007 resolution that allows county police to enforce federal immigration law and denies some public services to illegal immigrants. They say the policy, which drew national attention, has created strife between Hispanic immigrants and police.

"We're fighting against all the injustices being committed against us," said 34-year-old Adrian Games of Woodbridge as he walked along a sidewalk holding his 6-year-old son's hand.

Games said the march is a way to pressure lawmakers to reconsider policies that he said have caused families to flee and have hurt the local economy.

"This is the start of something we're going to continue until we reach our goal," Games said.

Protesters on Monday also demanded justice for Manassas Park resident Agueda Dominguez, who claimed that earlier this month a police officer beat her during a traffic stop because she's Hispanic and doesn't speak English. Authorities have said that both Dominguez and the officer were injured in the incident, which is under investigation.

"We feel that the Dominguez case is the straw that broke the camel's back," said Nancy Lyall, legal coordinator with Mexicans Without Borders before the march from Manassas Park to the Prince William County courthouse.

Lyall said what happened to Dominguez is directly related to the passage of the resolution in Prince William County.

"That resolution sets the tone ... to look at our immigrant population differently than the rest of the people that reside here," Lyall said.

Prince William is one of a handful of Washington-area counties that has cracked down on illegal immigration in recent years. In Virginia's Loudoun County and Maryland's Frederick County, law enforcement authorities also are trained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to enforce federal immigration law.

And though not as strict, Maryland's Montgomery County--long recognized as welcoming to immiwrants--announced this month that it plans to send to ICE the names of every person arrested for violent crimes and for illegally carrying or transporting handguns so their immigration status can be checked.

Monday's demonstration comes a week after small-business owners in Prince William demanded that lawmakers rescind a part of the anti-illegal immigration policy that requires business people to prove they are legal residents of the country.

The county had asked about 4,000 business owners to provide proof of legal residency by March 1 to get their business licenses renewed. Area doctors, architects and others have resisted the effort.

A Valentine for Father Jack

Some people are probably reading the last post about “Gloria” and her telenovela and are thinking: “Wow, that Rebel Girl is one hard-hearted woman!” But I learned from the best – Fr. Jack, OP. He was our chaplain at Vanderbilt and when we complained to him of the aches and pains of adolescent love, his usual response was: “Come and follow me behind “The Wall” (the Tennessee State Penitentiary) and you’ll see what real suffering is.”

Without Fr. Jack, I might never have become a Catholic. My Quaker high school planted the intellectual seeds by introducing me to Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, the Berrigan brothers – those whose thinking and actions would shape my faith, but Fr. Jack tended those seeds so that they blossomed.

I remember stepping into the Catholic Church on Ash Wednesday and seeing a man who looked sort of like the singer Jim Croce and preached “as one having authority” – prophetically and fearlessly. I immediately asked to meet with him and Fr. Jack and I discovered kindred spirits in each other. One hour became two, became three, became several years of working together for justice until I graduated and flew away.

For the next four years, I curled up in a corner of the chaplaincy office, soaking up every opportunity to learn about hunger and poverty, about prisons, about human rights in Latin America and above all, about what the Catholic Church was doing to address these problems. I learned that the Church was not just the Vatican but also Christian base communities in the favelas, not just the Pope but also Dom Helder Câmara and other courageous men and women who lived the preferential option for the poor.

Ours was a small, nomadic Catholic community. We worshipped wherever the university would give us space. From Fr. Jack I learned that a baking pan makes a dandy baptismal font and that some dinner rolls begged from the cooks on the cafeteria line and properly consecrated were every bit as much the Body of Christ as those communion wafers (of which a Catholic Worker friend of mine famously said: “The real act of faith is not believing that bread is the Body of Christ but that these dry cardboard-like hosts are bread!”).

To this day I don’t have much tolerance for liturgical purists who prioritize form over the substance of love, who have become “like whitewashed tombs beautiful in appearance, but inside there are only dead bones and uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27)

Fr. Jack lived his beliefs to the fullest. He did not believe it was OK for us to spend money on luxuries when others were lacking basic necessities. And he was a keen observer. He noticed that his other “flock” behind “the Wall” needed a place to stay when they were paroled in order to rebuild their lives. So we started the first Dismas House, paid for with money that the diocese had been saving for a Newman Center that we didn’t really need.

And Fr. Jack didn’t just set up the house and go home to some comfortable accommodations provided by his order. He lived in a small room in Dismas House, sharing a bathroom, simple meals, and household chores with the students and ex-convicts who formed that first Dismas community.

Fr. Jack is now in Heaven and there are many Dismas houses throughout the country. Fr. Jack, thank you for showing me what it means to be a good Catholic, for nurturing my faith without pressuring me to convert, and for the trust you placed in me even when I didn’t always deserve it. Te quiero mucho and I hope that some day – assuming I don’t screw up my life too much – I’ll curl up in a corner of your cloud and we’ll chat. We have a lot of catching up to do.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Turn off the telenovela and get a life!

I wish I hadn't listened to the radio again yesterday. Eugenio started out well enough, talking about the need for immigration reform, but when that didn't draw much response, he switched to "Gloria". "Gloria" is a woman who is so jealous of her enamorado that she has become alternately suicidal and homicidal. She wants attention to her problem and Eugenio has provided her with ample exposure -- his blog, his Washington Hispanic column, and now his radio show, all devoted to "Gloria".

On the radio show, the story developed a new twist: "Gloria" has a gun! But that begs the question: If "Gloria" is real, is really suicidal, and really has a gun, what is the responsible thing to do? Is it really to indulge her desire for air time and let a bunch of well-meaning carismáticos tell her how much she needs Jesus?

Not that this is a bad line...I used it once myself on an ex-boyfriend who left me for the Jesuits and then tried to come back when the Jesuits kicked him out. When I didn't take him back, he told me he was going to swallow a bunch of pills and end it. I told him he didn't need me, he needed God but....I also gave him the phone number to the DC suicide prevention line and told him to call it pronto! He survived, found a good woman, married her and lived happily ever after. Moral: "Gloria", if you are real and are reading this, suicide threats as chantaje don't work on anyone whose brain isn't addled by too many telenovelas and daytime talk shows.

Suicide is the ultimate form of egoísmo. YO no puedo más. Si YO me mato, el(la) se arrepentirá de lo que me hizo. YO no valgo nada. Yo, yo, yo...But what about the people who love you? You don't think about them, do you? ¿Crees que estoy dura, que no comprendo? Gloria, my cousin's son killed himself -- shot himself with a gun, just as you are thinking of doing. We don't know why he did it, but I know that his death left a big hole in our family's heart and deprived the world of a young man whose scientific abilities might have led to some life-saving discoveries. Suicide is a permanent answer to a temporary problem.

But you are looking for an answer and here are my suggestions:

1. If you need psychiatric help for your depression and obsessive thoughts, seek it out...pronto. Prayer is good but sometimes it's not enough. Even priests take psychiatric medication when they need it. Mental illness is not a sin.

2. "Gloria", stop turning your life into a telenovela, and Eugenio, for God's sake stop broadcasting it!

3. Stop focusing on your boyfriend problems and start focusing on how you can use your gifts to help others. We already know you can read and write, that you are probably computer literate. Write that letter of support for immigration reform. Volunteer with a community center and help a child learn to read or teach a senior how to send e-mail. I guarantee you, you won't have time to worry about your novio's other mujeres or his celular, and you WILL start to feel good about yourself again.