Let’s All Participate in the Census

By now, everyone in America will have received a letter in the mail from the Census Bureau urging you to stand up and be counted, and giving you several very easy ways to do so. I filled out mine on line. It’s about 10 questions. It only took about 5 minutes.

Come on, now. You’re stuck at home. What else do you have to do?

And here’s some very good news: there is NO question regarding your immigration status. Nor can any information be shared with law enforcement. It’s mainly about who lives in your household, how you are related to one another, whether you rent or own, your race, your age, and your gender. It doesn’t ask sensitive information such as your income, your political affiliation, your social security number, or your bank accounts.

Your answers will remain confidential for 72 years. Then it is available for people researching genealogy. I know I’d have been lost without that information when I was researching my family tree.

For family tree purposes, I was kind of disappointed that the long form questionnaire isn’t available as it was in decades past. They used to give a small percentage of households that form to complete, and it gave a lot more details about your life. I could always imagine my relatives, a hundred years from now, looking over that data and being fascinated. But I never got the long form, and this time around they don’t even have it. Pity.

It’s really important for you to participate in the census, because it helps determine your congressional representation, and how federal funding gets allocated. Many politicians would prefer that you do not participate, because they feel that an accurate representation of what this country truly looks like will not be in their best interests. Don’t let them draw an inaccurate picture of this nation! The 99 percent should show that it’s a force to be reckoned with! Represent!

Your participation will indicate which areas of the country need new schools, libraries, clinics and roads. It will determine funding for hospitals, fire departments, and school lunch programs. It helps entrepreneurs decide where to open new restaurants, stores, and factories.

Your participation in the census will positively impact your community for the next decade. And it will keep some poor census taker from having to knock on your door to get the information that you didn’t already provide. Let’s keep each other safe from COVID-19 by saving these folks the trip.

Thank you!

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A Senseless Monument to Ego

Even as you read this, bulldozers are plowing a trench through some of our most precious landscape. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is theoretically federally protected, but it’s the federal government that is doing the plowing.

Why? For Trump’s border wall. Because he wants to get re-elected, he’s trying to score political points. Never mind that this is a designated International Biosphere Reserve that is recognized by UNESCO. Forget that it will go right through one of the oldest inhabited places in North America, and the ancestral home of the Tohono O’odham nation, which has existed on both sides of the border since at least 1450.

According to this article, this 30 foot wall will impede the migration patterns and habitats of mountain lions, javelinas, the endangered pronghorn, and countless numbers of bird species. And talk about draining the swamp. This will impede Arizona’s last free flowing river, and as aquifers are drained to make the concrete, it will decimate the habitats for the endangered Quitobaquito pupfish and Sonoyta turtle. It will also cause light pollution with its continual spotlights, in a place where you could always see millions of stars in the night sky.

Trump has waived countless laws to make this travesty happen, including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act. He claims this is a national emergency. Pfft. This area sees about 5 percent as much human migration as the Rio Grande Valley in Texas does. This catastrophic monument to Trump’s ego is poorly thought out, a taxpayer drain, and an environmental disaster, all for an emergency of his own construction.

I’m so angry right now.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

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El Norte

After graduating from college for the first time, I was struggling to figure out what to do with my life, so I took a series of jobs. None of them were a perfect fit, but they all taught me a great deal.

At one point, in an effort to keep the student loan wolves from the door, I took a minimum wage job at Video Action, a video rental place in Apopka, Florida that, needless to say, no longer exists. I was only there for two months because I needed to make more money than that, but I remember the place fondly.

Working there was fun. To prevent theft, they’d leave the video boxes empty on the shelves, and then when the customer brought them up to the counter, you’d have to go get the vhs tape from the back for them. There was a lot of running around, and a lot of fascinating people to meet. The shift always went by quickly.

At Video Action, I met an octogenarian woman who would come in every week and rent about a dozen porn videos. She gave me hope for the future. Getting old doesn’t mean you’ve died.

Another person that gave me hope for the future was the 16-year-old girl who owned and managed the place in order to raise her baby. Jessie was amazing. She showed me that your life is what you make of it. I often wonder how her life turned out.

There was a large Mexican migrant population in Apopka, because it was a farming community. I was kind of drawn to them because I majored in Spanish in college, mainly because I got tired of people being able to talk about me on the school busses in Apopka without me understanding them. They kind of shaped my life without knowing it.

Whenever they came in, I’d recommend the movie El Norte, ostensibly because it was the only bilingual video we had, but also because it is an amazing film about Guatemalan refugees who are forced out of their country due to violence, and they travel through Mexico and sneak into the US, undocumented, in an effort to have a better life, with very mixed results. I figured these people could relate to this video on a lot of levels.

And it’s a beautiful movie, too. In Guatemala, in particular, it’s infused with rich color. And I truly believe it makes you get inside the immigration experience in ways you could never understand otherwise.

Recently I was thinking of this movie and decided to watch it again. Yes, it’s as beautiful and moving as I remembered. The horrible thing about it is that even though it came out in 1983, it’s still relevant to our current immigration situation. If anything, things have become much worse under our current racist administration. How heartbreaking. Shame on us.

See this movie. See the special features that come with it, too. Your eyes will be opened.

El Norte

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A Different Perspective on Immigration

Recently, I heard someone read the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire. It moved me to the very marrow of my bones. It made me understand, on a level that I never had before, why people come to this country.

The majority of  Americans have been very lucky and have never experienced the feeling that if you stay home, the place you have always lived, then you will surely die. We have never had things explode all around us. We have never lived under the imminent threat of gang rape or abduction or starvation. Most of us know what it is to feel relatively safe.

This poem gives a voice to refugees. It’s a voice that you have never heard before. It’s insight that all of us need to have. Before you say, “Go back to where you come from,” please read this poem.

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Warsan Shire

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A Blanket Apology to Everyone on Earth

This post is for all of you who read my blog outside of the U.S. I am an American. I can’t speak for all Americans. No one can. Or at least no one should. But I can certainly speak for myself.

It breaks my heart that my country as a whole is being judged by the rest of the world based on what they see in the news. Most of us are not like the insane people who grab the headlines these days. Many of us are as appalled by what we read as you are. I don’t know if that will be a source of comfort or of increased anxiety for you, but there you have it: for many of us, that feeling of disgust does not stop outside our borders.

So let me tell you a little about who I am, so you can see that not all of us fit that stereotype that has been created by Washington D.C., our nation’s capitol, where you can’t sling a dead cat without hitting someone who is morally bankrupt, unforgivably selfish, and rotting from the inside by the sheer weight of his or her greed. Such blatant abuse of power is unconscionable.

First of all, I am horrified at my government’s total disdain for the environment. We are one of the most environmentally selfish nations on earth, and the least likely to do anything to turn this global warming situation around before it destroys us all. I’m so sorry for that. I wish I felt like I could do something about it. I mean, I vote. I speak out. I do the best I can to reduce my carbon footprint. But I feel like I’m not making an impact, and I know this negatively impacts you as well.

I also happen to think that my country’s stance on guns is absurd and dangerous. We have more mass shootings than anywhere else, and we can’t even agree that the average citizen has no legitimate need for semi-automatic weapons. It makes no sense.

And this damned border wall that Trump is so in love with? I don’t want it. No one I know really wants it. All this political maneuvering is an embarrassment. Honestly, how do these people even look themselves in the mirror?

I don’t think immigrants are a threat. In fact, I’m a second generation American myself. This country would be lost without immigrants. I’m not so greedy that I’m not willing to share the wealth. I actually like you unless you give me some personal reason to feel otherwise. I don’t believe in kidnapping your children at the border. I think the day we stop granting asylum to people in danger is the day when we lose the most vital part of what makes us decent human beings. Jesus wouldn’t turn you away, so how can a country that considers itself mainly Christian do so? I don’t understand this attitude of xenophobia. It makes me sick.

I am also profoundly sorry that we don’t step in to help nearly as often as we butt in to serve our own best interests. We have no right to do this. Clearly, we struggle to get ourselves right, so it’s the height of arrogance to think we can fix anyone else.

And we imprison people to a much higher degree than any other country. I can’t blame you if you think twice about visiting us. I’d be afraid to, if I were you. But I genuinely believe that we need you to come visit. We need our horizons expanded. It’s hard to think of someone as an enemy once we’ve broken bread with that person. Please, come break bread with us.

I guess I do sit squarely in one stereotype. I tend to forget the world doesn’t revolve around us. Perhaps you could care less about what my country says or does. Perhaps you have more important things on your mind than my pompous country. That’s a legitimate response, too, and I can hardly blame you for it.

I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry about all the destruction we cause. I just wanted you to know that somewhere here, in this unbelievable circus of a country, sits a woman in a bridge tower who is every bit as outraged as many of you are. And I know for a fact that I’m not alone. So, please forgive us, individually, even if you cannot bring yourselves to forgive us collectively.

American Flag

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Facts about the Caravan

There is so much panic and false information floating around social media about the migrant caravan that’s making its way northward through Mexico that I thought I should weigh in, here. People are using these migrants as political pawns. Fine. But if you’re going to base your mid term votes on this issue, please at least get your facts straight. Then feel free to make your own decisions.

First of all, lets look at the raw numbers. Seven thousand people sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Enough for an invasion. Actually, given that the population of the US is now well over 328,800,000, well, this caravan comprises less than 0.002 percent of our population.

That’s a tiny little number. Think about it. If you had acne on 0.002 percent of your face, you wouldn’t even have bothered asking the photographer to airbrush your high school yearbook photo.

And of that tiny little percentage of humanity, many of them are women and children. So no need to lock up your daughters. You’re safe. (Also, from the looks of them, they haven’t even crossed the bulk of Mexico yet, and they are already exhausted, thirsty, hungry, and hardly in any shape to mount an invasion. Could you walk 2000 miles with toddlers and then kick the butt of the most militarized nation on the planet? I don’t think so.)

Even if all 7,000 were given asylum in the US, that would come to 140 people per state. Surely we could absorb that number. Especially since they are fleeing violence and/or seeking a better life for their families, just as my grandparents did (and yours as well, most likely).

But here’s the thing. 7,000 will never be given asylum in this country, even in a more politically friendly atmosphere. More like a couple hundred at most. If that. You know how I know? Because these caravans have been happening FOR THE PAST 20 YEARS.

Yup. Years. Matter of fact, the last one happened just last April. There was also one in April of 2017. You know why you’ve forgotten about it, even though Trump predictably freaked out back then as well? Because, of the over a thousand people who participated that time, only 108 sought asylum in the US, and of those, more than half were immediately denied. So the world did not come to an end.

This particular caravan just happened to be timed badly enough to be twisted into a conservative talking point prior to the mid term elections, at a time when the republicans are terrified that they will lose congressional power.

Here are some other things you need to know, according to Politifact.

  • Trump tweeted that “unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in” with this group, but even he had to finally admit that there is ZERO evidence of that. The fact that he would even say that should show you what his motivations are. He wants you to be afraid. And that will probably work, if you are the type that thinks that all Middle Easterners are terrorists.

  • This caravan is not using trains or buses. The photos you are probably seeing floating around Facebook are from previous caravans. Most of these people are walking, and many have toddlers in tow. They’re lucky to make 10 miles a day.

  • These immigrants are not burning the American flag, nor are they carrying the Honduran flag. They also haven’t painted any swastikas on the American flag, or defaced one in any way. (It would be rather counterproductive if they did, wouldn’t it? Think about it.)

And here’s a good point from Snopes. It’s not the Mexican government’s responsibility to make immigrant decisions for the United States. They are not our servants or our lackeys. They are their own country and can do whatever they want therein. So stop being pissed off at Mexico for not turning these people around before they become “our problem”.

Another point. And I’m drawing from an article in Wired for this personal conclusion: While many conspiracies out there are trying to say that this is some grand liberal agenda, get a grip. Why would liberals want to fire up the conservative base in such a fashion? What on earth would liberals gain?

Please use some common sense, people. Breathe. Think.

And please vote.

Migrant Caravan

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An Embarrassed Apology for Our #ShitholePresident

Eight years ago, almost to the very day, I met an amazing young lady named Martine. She is a rare gift in my life, one of those instant connections. I knew right away that we would be friends.

The reason I know when we met is that a few days afterward, Haiti experienced its most devastating earthquake, from which it is still struggling to recover. I immediately contacted Martine, because she is Haitian-American. My heart broke for her as I watched her go for weeks not knowing whether her relatives were alive or dead.

She could have chosen to collapse under this pressure and do nothing. But I’ve since learned that that’s not who Martine is. She will always be part of the solution. She decided to raise funds for Haiti, and I am proud to say that I joined her in this effort. It was exhausting for me, so I still can’t imagine how she did it while going to college full time.

Since then, I’ve seen her graduate, and take on jobs of ever-greater responsibility. I’ve seen her prioritize her health, both physical and emotional. I’ve seen her make some pretty hard life choices. Martine is intelligent and strong and beautiful inside and out. She has integrity. She is one of the reasons I have hope for this country’s future.

If America were designed to Donald Trump’s sick, twisted specifications, I would never have met Martine. We wouldn’t have accepted immigrants from “shithole” countries like Haiti. And oh, we’d be much the poorer for it!

According to this article, were it not for Haiti, we would not have been able to make the Louisiana Purchase, and this country would be one third smaller. Haitians have also contributed to our culture through food, music, dance, and art. They’ve even provided us with our Major League baseballs, and what’s more American than baseball?

There’s a Haitian Scientist working at NASA. Haiti has also provided us with untold numbers of doctors, lawyers, and engineers. They fought beside us in our revolutionary war, and we left them to fend for themselves in theirs.

Today, more than ever, I am ashamed of America for allowing our current leader to represent us. I can think of few people that could symbolize this country in a more despicable way. I want to apologize to the entire world, and tell them that this racist, lying, misogynistic, semi-literate, war-mongering ignoramus is not who we are. I want to tell them that most of the American people would never presume to describe any country as a shithole. Most of us would never brag about grabbing pussies. Most of us care about the environment. Most of us care about the health of our fellow human beings.

And believe me, most of us wish this man had never been elected. I hope that some day we will look back at this administration, bow our heads in shame, and promise to never, ever sink so low again. As with the earthquake in Haiti, it will probably take many years to repair all the damage that Donald Trump has caused. But with Americans like Martine, I have hope that it will be not only possible, but highly probable.

shithole

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The Pansy Connection

“Is there anything of mine that you’d like when I die? Tell me now, so I can make note of it,” my sister said.

(Not that she’s going anywhere anytime soon, I hope, but yeah, it never hurts to have all your funerial ducks in a row.)

“Just the pansy picture,” I replied.

“As a matter of fact, I have a housewarming gift for you,” my sister said, handing me a package.

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When I unwrapped the present, it was the pansy picture! I had coveted it since childhood, but being the youngest, I never thought it would be mine. Sisters connecting. I flew home to Seattle with it sitting on my lap, encased in bubble wrap for safe keeping. If it could talk, it would have quite a tale to tell.

That painting has been a part of my family since long before I was born. My grandmother, Helga Schon, brought it over from Denmark around 1916, when she was 24 years old. She taught herself English on the way over, using the Saturday Evening Post, newspapers, and a Danish/English dictionary. Her husband, my grandfather, insisted that his family would speak English. We would be Americans.

Helga came through Ellis Island with only 10 dollars in her pocket. My grandfather arranged for her to be met by a Danish minister in New York. He arrived soon after, and they started a family. Through it all, this pansy picture bore witness.

Imagine. My grandmother moved 3845 miles away from home, away from everything she had ever known, to a place she’d never been, where she knew no one. I can sort of relate to that, because I moved 3100 miles from Florida to Seattle a few years ago. I knew no one, and had never been here before. And it was scary. I can’t imagine adding additional layers of complexity to the mix, such as knowing you’d probably never see your loved ones or hear their voices again, and barely speaking the language. She was brave. I have cell phones and e-mail and skype to stay connected. She may as well have been jumping off a cliff into a bottomless pit.

But the story gets even more poignant. My cousin once sent us a ton of old family photos, and my sister mentioned that in the background of one is another pansy painting, almost identical to ours, but not quite. If you zoom in on it, you’ll see that each one has a few differences, the most obvious being the fact that they both have a different number of fallen petals. (I love that these pansies are in typical Danish copper pots, because that is another thing that has been passed down to me. My grandmother’s copper pot sits proudly on my mantelpiece.)

 

So the question became, where is the second pansy picture now? I asked my cousin about the photo in question. She’s the family’s history expert. She felt that the photo may have been taken at the house of my grandmother’s sister, Else, who lived in Copenhagen until she died. She never had any children. They also had a brother, Paul Petersen, who lived near Birkerød, who apparently did have children, so maybe one of them has the painting now.

The third photo from the left below the pansy is my great grandmother, Sophie Dorothea Nielsen. My mother shares Sophie’s middle name. Grandma loved her very much, and never saw her again after coming to America. That must have been particularly hard for her, because shortly after she got here, she had her first child, Henry, but he died within a few weeks. She had to cope with that in a foreign land without her family. She went on to have 4 more children, including my mother, but my grandfather died during WWII, when my mother was only 17 years old. The family was pretty much destitute for many years after that.

Helga did visit Denmark one last time in the 50’s, but her mother was long gone by then. She did see her sister. I’m sure she also saw that second pansy painting and mentioned that she still had hers, too. Sisters connecting.

Did they know the artist? (The signature seems to say Ayn Kras, but nothing pops up on Google.) Did the family buy these paintings at a festival as a remembrance of a wonderful day? Did they get them just before Helga boarded the ship, as a way to feel connected? We’ll probably never know, now. My grandmother died when I was 8. She was 80.

I think my grandmother would be amazed to know that her painting has been from Copenhagen to New York to Pittsburgh to Portland to Connecticut to Florida to Georgia to Washington State. That’s approximately 15,000 miles, or the equivalent of more than half of the way around the planet at the equator.

Somewhere in Denmark is a pansy painting hanging on a distant relative’s wall. That branch of the family has probably forgotten that it even has a twin. As for the one that made it across the Atlantic and across America and has witnessed births and deaths and wars and sacrifices, it now hangs proudly over my bed. I like to think that it watches over me while I sleep, as it has watched over my family for generations.

I wrote this to demonstrate that immigration (and art) provides us with a richly-woven historical tapestry. It connects us to the wider world. We are much the better for it.

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How Lucky are We?

Can you imagine living in a country where you are in constant fear of having your door kicked in? How about living in a place where your neighbors can and will threaten your life and no one will protect you? Coming from my place of white privilege, I can’t even conceive of an existence in which I do not feel safe. It never would occur to me to worry that I couldn’t keep my family intact.

How lucky we are to live in America, right? Well, some of us, at least. Because I’ve been talking about America. Trump’s America.

Even as you read this, many of your neighbors do not feel safe. You are much, much more likely to be raided by ICE or incarcerated in this country than you are to be harmed by a terrorist. That’s even if you are someone who has been contributing to the economy for decades and have harmed no one in your entire life.

As noted in this story from Public Radio International, there has been a sharp rise in immigrants fleeing across the border from the United States to Canada in recent months. Winter months. These people are willing to risk frostbite to get away from us. From us. You can see pictures of some of these people in this article from The Guardian.

We are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave.

I am so ashamed.

The only thing I know to do is add my tiny little voice to the many others who are saying, “This is not who we are.”

kristin_joiner_image

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Malala Vs. Trump

I am always fascinated by that moment when two people interact. It’s like an intersection of fate. Each brings different things to the table; different life experience, different perspectives. In every encounter, it is almost as if another entity is briefly formed as a result of the mixing of two unique individuals.

If I could witness just one encounter, I would love to see Malala Yousafzai meet with Donald Trump. Talk about a study in contrasts. Malala is one of my personal heroes. She’s only 19, but she is still who I want to be when I grow up. She is intelligent, dignified, and a pure embodiment of what is good and decent in this world.

Trump, on the other hand… well, I think I’ve made my feelings crystal clear about him in past posts. A meeting of these two would be the closest one could get to good vs. evil outside of the movie theater. I’d be craving popcorn.

It would be a lot more enjoyable to have a ringside seat for this epic meeting if Trump had a conscience and a moral compass. If so, he’d probably turn into a pillar of salt. That would be enough to make me go on a low sodium diet.

At the very least, he wouldn’t be able to look Malala in the eye. This amazing young lady isn’t someone you can grab. She’s not someone you can discount, either. She has seen and done too much.

In fact, she has more life experience than Trump has ever had while sitting in his gilded tower, spewing his hatred and racism. Her biggest claim to fame isn’t some reality show. It’s real life.

Further, I don’t think Trump would be comfortable in the presence of Malala’s quiet dignity. Trump is neither quiet nor dignified. He’s all bluster and braggadocio. Malala would probably politely listen while he held forth about himself, but she wouldn’t be particularly impressed.

In contrast, every word Malala would speak would be about others. She would be talking about the importance of education to someone who is functionally illiterate. She’s also about truth and compassion, which are words that Trump can barely pronounce.

Malala is also a Muslim that Trump would be hard-pressed to turn into a caricature of violence. Her very existence counters his entire belief system. Malala could very well be the bucket of water that we throw on the witch that is Trump. He would melt away to nothing. He has no substance.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a conscience or a moral compass, so he’d probably say something condescending, dismiss her out of hand, cut the meeting short, and never realize he had just crossed paths with one of the most amazing people of our time.

I’ll leave you now with Malala Yousafzai’s statement on President Trump’s latest executive order on refugees:

“I am heartbroken that today President Trump is closing the door on children, mothers and fathers fleeing violence and war. I am heartbroken that America is turning its back on a proud history of welcoming refugees and immigrants — the people who helped build your country, ready to work hard in exchange for a fair chance at a new life.

I am heartbroken that Syrian refugee children, who have suffered through six years of war by no fault of their own, are singled-out for discrimination.

I am heartbroken for girls like my friend Zaynab, who fled wars in three countries — Somalia, Yemen and Egypt — before she was even 17. Two years ago she received a visa to come to the United States. She learned English, graduated high school and is now in college studying to be a human rights lawyer.

Zaynab was separated from her little sister when she fled unrest in Egypt. Today her hope of being reunited with her precious sister dims.

In this time of uncertainty and unrest around the world, I ask President Trump not to turn his back on the world’s most defenseless children and families.”

malala

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