To My Fellow Latinx

There are still a lot of people reacting to this week’s election results. I’m not going to say there’s a simple solution, or that everyone should just focus on solutions, because many people are rightfully afraid. If nothing else, I’d just like to add my voice to the (thankfully) many people who have said “I’ll be there for you.” Also, apologies for the fact that my vocabulary in Spanish is not what it is in English.

Dear Fellow Latinx,

You are beautiful. I know that statement may seem hard to believe after Tuesday’s election, but it’s true. No amount of hatred, bigotry, or votes otherwise can take away your inherent beauty and value.

I’m writing because I’ve seen many of you over the past few days. Whether you’re carrying a briefcase, a backpack, or nothing at all, there’s an uneasiness in your face. I get it; I can’t hide it either. The fundamental belief that people from everywhere are welcome in America has been undermined. There is no need to wait for the first draft of a new draconian law or the first brick in “The Wall” to believe that. If you’ll indulge me, I want to share a story.

Years ago, my sister worked at an ice cream restaurant. An elderly latinx man worked there, washing dishes. He was packed homemade food by his wife, which he would dutifully bring to work, heat up in a tupperware, and eat. In many ways, he reminded me of my grandparents. Also, he understood very little English. One day, some workers, many years his junior, began to make fun of him and laugh at him. Others joined in and laughed as well. The man, not knowing what they were saying but only reacting to their smiles and laughter, joined in to the laughing. The others, encouraged by this, only laughed harder at the mockery they made of this man.

I think about this story because it was one of the first times I thought about myself in a political way. I was heartbroken to think that someone who is trying to make his life better would be picked on like this. I was angry that people could find genuine pleasure out of demeaning another human being. I know situations like this have occurred ever since; but now, years later, this kind of behavior has been validated by the election of a monster.

What’s perhaps most infuriating to me is the nonchalance of people in the days following the election. The repeated claims of “We’ll be okay”, “It won’t be so bad”, or “We’ll see what happens” tend to come from well-off white men, often in the presence of working class people of color. Others ignore the inflammatory statements and focus instead solely on what the election means for them. Working latinx people have gone from being looked down upon before the election to being invisible afterwards. Our experiences, the threats raised (and now increasingly followed through) against us, our fears: none of them raise concern for some people in this country. Perhaps we should not be surprised by this when a mantra like “Black Lives Matter” received such a negative response from White America. We should not accept this as the new reality. We are not here to serve; we are here to live.

It’s okay to be stunned, or scared, or even really angry. The threat is by no means equal to all of us. No one knows for certain what kind of nightmare we’ve empowered for the next four years. That being said, it is also true that no one knows for certain how powerful we can be if we come together and fight back. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we need to realize we are not alone in this struggle. We are a patchwork majority of various backgrounds, passions, beliefs, and ideas. Our diversity, even within the latinx community, is an asset, not a weakness.

I believe in your beauty, your power, and our collective capacity to fight against what is to come. It’s because of this belief that I have something we all need right now: Hope.

Solidaridad,
Armando

On Diversity

Two poems in a day. It must be a record.

A difference in hues
Of eyes and of faces
Of homelands, of gods, and of races
Is this variation, this mixing of sorts
Inherent in conflicts, our disgraces?

The opposite case is hardly yet made
Homogeneity, no fill-in for peace
Why then is the difference, in any mild form
Labelled, often by many, with derision?

Perhaps it is fear
Perhaps it is not
Perhaps we’re too impatient to grasp
For diversity in thought, where we seek out the Truth
But instead build our walls with the same.

Apatico’s Den

Amazing to see what a flippant comment on election day can produce! Granted, there are people out there who refuse to vote but do tremendous work outside or within the political sphere. As the title suggests, this poem/rant is directed at a very particular audience.

Lounging in hubris
Apatico’s den
Shunning calls for any action at hand
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Tell me why should I get out of bed?”

Understanding our faults
Apatico’s den
Yet our fingers, not scheming, but still
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Tell me why should I think with my head?”

Convinced of half-truths
Apatico’s den
While half-lies are what guide your thoughts now
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Tell me why should I care if I’m fed?”

Primed for extremes
Apatico’s den
Doing nothing to make it more real
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Tell me why should I do what I’ve said?”

Whining, not acting
Apatico’s den
And the world just goes on getting worse
“The system is broken
The game has been rigged
Who cares if one day we’re all dead?”

The End

This is the way, the world it will end
Not with a bang but with laughter
The last man alone with his jokes
(And yes it’s a man, let’s just be clear
That the women, they were smart and they left)
But the last man will laugh
Between coughing bouts
For the air of this world, all afoul
“To whimper is weak, and these tears that I shed
They’re just from the smoky dense air.”
Even at last, man is over-absorbed
With his pride, even if all alone.

This is the way, the world it will end
Not with a bang but with glitter
The party is raging for emptiest minds
Who prefer the bright colors to truth
Damnation rain down
Or rise up from the sea
To engulf the orgy-porgy of now
The dancers will dance
Drugged minds in the trance
Ignoring the end that engulfs.

This is the way, the world it will end
With ignorance reigning supreme.
We’ll ignore every sign
Even as our best die
For we’re enamored so much with ourselves
Come hell or high water
We just can’t be bothered
‘Til the end, when it’s simply too late.

The Gilded City

Actually surprised that this poem wasn’t posted earlier as I wrote it back in 2013. I can thank Mayor de Blasio for reminding of this poem with his latest headlines.

Spires rise from the darkest of nights.
A city struck by crises in the dawn of an era
Looks to recover the innocence it has lost.

But while the building goes on
And life attempts to restablize
An incessant pursuit acts
As cure to our ills.

The mantra to buy
Or to simply engage
A marketplace of petty baubles.

Light is restored to the darkened regions
As rebuilding does goes on
But for all our will to come back better
We are drawn like flies to fire.

Our goals, to acquire
To continue the monotony
Of the rat race to which
We have all been played.

While abstract numbers reach new record heights
And mirror the rise of our fallen ashes.
We still allow our neighbors of this fair city
To be ignored by the march for a new Gilded Age.

Hang banners of patriotism and superiority
Hold true to the dream that crafted our crises.
History is dead. The good times are coming.
Forget the losers of the Great Rat Race.

How can it be that such a powerful place
A center of commerce, culture, and life
Can fail to invest in its very own future?
How can the greatest city on earth
Forget its responsibility to humankind?

There was once a dream
For a city upon a hill
Shining and glowing
For all the world to see
To believe, to aspire

While our centers of finance continue to blossom
Our hubs of education fall into decay.
As our stores grow larger and with more variation
Salaries and pensions are cut by the year.

As buildings rise to greater heights
In an effort to show our unbreakable will
To our foes both near and those afar
We neglect our own friends who seek shelter below
In the tunnels and subways that span the Great Gilded City.

What can be done to address this challenge
Without subverting the promise the city does bring?
How can the gold that gildes our fair city
Go deeper and into the streets without?

Through the Fields

It’s never quite simple
To traverse through the fields
Dark, unkempt, labyrinthine
And the muddy footprint
Provides no bearing or hint
For that print could be yours or be mine.

Grasses made firm
From unhindered growth
Majestic, impressive, unrestrained
They won’t bend to force
As a matter of course
For these stalks never cared if it rained.

The everlong field
Which engulfs us whole
Excessive, ill-equipped, ill-conceived?
It’s reliant on us
So to end all this fuss
The solution is true, if believed:

The taming of stalks
To walk through the fields
Unwavering, unbeaten, unafraid
Takes joining of hearts,
Minds from all parts,
And the activists lending their aid.

How Not Talking About Religion or Politics Made Us Worse At Both (Pt. 2)

Politics can be a beautiful thing. As the Supreme Court this week just upheld critical components of the Affordable Care Act and ruled on the constitutionality of banning same sex marriage, there is a great deal of excitement and discussion going on. One can only imagine just how historic this weekend’s NYC Pride Parade will be as it celebrates a tremendous achievement in the advancement of gay civil rights.

That all being said, it’s unfortunate that excitement, let alone discussion, of political issues comes after major decisions are made. Significant efforts had to be made to get the ACA case up to the Supreme Court. Years of organizing and jockeying outside the Court similarly elevated the importance of gay marriage. Admittedly, one can make the argument that to discuss gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act would be unfair, especially as it seems that, out of this week’s decisions, the greater focus is on former rather than the latter. While the ruling on gay marriage is, in fact, an historic achievement for the gay community, its scope really only falls within the (admittedly large and growing) gay community (unless you are one of those straight people who believe that gay marriage in some way will personally affect your marriage or relationships).

By contrast, the Affordable Care Act is an enormous document that completely changes the playing field for people who want or need healthcare. In other words, just about everybody. While the scope of the Court’s decision on the ACA is tremendous, I imagine the predominant narrative out of this week will be primarily on gay marriage, a decision that will not directly affect nearly as many people as the protection of the ACA. This also says nothing of the fact that with this fresh surge of ‘good’ news, it will only encourage the media, and by consequence, the general public, to move past the ‘bad’ news of racially motivated violence and inherent racism in this country (but we’ll get back to that in a moment).

The comparison between the ACA and gay marriage rulings isn’t meant to belittle the significance of one issue or the other. However, it does seem to illustrate a problem with how people in general address political issues. By and large, we don’t like talking about politics. Similarly to religion, we expect our beliefs and values to be respected for what they are. Unlike religion, however, the practice of politics is inherently between people; one can practice religion in a vacuum as they only need connection to his/her god(s). A person practicing politics by him/herself is just a person with ideas.

This distinction matters because while there can be some limitation to the challenging of one’s religious beliefs (example: you can worship that pancake that came out in the form of the Virgin Mary all you want), there are considerably less limitations to the challenging of one’s political beliefs (example: your political beliefs lead you to believe that people of color are inferior and we should establish laws to keep them to their rightfully lesser place). A person in the former example is pretty much harmless in a political discourse; a person in the latter is a serious threat to a free society.

The coupling of religion and politics has caused people to look at the values and beliefs in either to be treated exactly the same. In other words, my religious beliefs AND my political beliefs are sacred; to criticize either is an affront to my spiritual being and direct challenge to who I am. This is absurd and breaks down the possibility of being able to have an intelligent conversation about either.

In a time of social media and sharing of everything, this mindset is on full display whenever someone makes a ridiculous post. Luckily, such posts are not difficult to find in the immediate aftermath of the gay marriage ruling

gay marriage

Aside from the immediate frustration at the contents of the meme being shared (which itself could be a pretty sizeable blog post), the statement made by the poster is pretty childish in and of itself. “This is just my opinion. I’m not open for a debate so don’t bother commenting if you have something negative to say.” To voluntarily take up a hot-button issue like gay marriage but then request to only take feedback from people who are being positive is ridiculous. I can understand that people like to live in a bubble, but in case you haven’t noticed, a lot of people use facebook and the internet as a whole. If you want to live in an echo chamber where everyone agrees with what you say, you’re not using the right medium. If you don’t want to get into a discussion (let alone a debate) on serious issues, don’t post about serious topics.

The reason for sharing the above picture is that people who fall into this type of category, the “Here’s my opinion but don’t respond to this unless you’re going to agree with me” crowd are the unfortunate byproduct of narcissism, social media, and a lack of engagement on political issues. The priority for these people isn’t to engage in discussion of political issues, it’s to project their feelings of these political issues, to the point that the priority is their emotions, not the issues. Granted, there are plenty of people who are celebrating the decisions by the Court who have worked hard on getting to this point (and they certainly should be celebrating). However, not every person who is either celebrating or condemning the Supreme Court this week is willing to engage in dialogue on why this issue matters. Posts like the one above illustrate that clearly.

While people like the one above don’t wish to engage in politics at all, you then of course have your “socially-liberal-but-fiscally-conservative” people who will raise the alarm at the first instance of social injustice but shy away from the deeper discussion that necessarily follows any discussion on how to implement social changes. For a real-time example of how this happening, look at how the broader discussion that could be happening on systemic racism and whitewashed history in the US has become concentrated into a campaign to take down the Confederate flag.

Discussion of politics from a perspective based solely in social issues is the equivalent of saying that you’re swimming when in fact you’re just wading at shallow end of a pool. (For more on this issue, I’d highly recommend reading this great piece from Greta Christina).

In essence, we need to roll up our sleeves to engage in discussions of religion and politics. Without intelligent conversation on religion, we will repeatedly demonize, distance ourselves, and fail to reach common ground with those who are different from us. Without conversation on politics, the essence of our discourse becomes nothing more than another place for people to talk about “me, me, me” and less about what is actually going on in the world. We can’t do either of these without engaging with each other on the issues. And that means first opening yourself up to the possibility of being wrong (or right!).