Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Finished Tony Morrison’s Love – Hey, Celestial!


I was convinced I had read all of Tony Morrison's works, but somehow, after reading A Mercy, when I really needed a mercy, I found Love. I have always said I wanted to translate Morrison's books into Spanish. I believe no one can say in Spanish what she says in English better than I can. Hopefully, my children won't be able to say it either, even if they reach perfection in Spanish, because language comes from lived experience, from a place where happiness and pain cohabitate, a place I don't want my children to ever know. But they probably will; it's hard to avoid that place and pretend to be alive.

I went for a run in the afternoon. I need to work out of me the Manchego cheese and the vino tinto that I'm inhaling as if they were drugs you need to take by the pound to get a high. Our neighborhood is absolutely beautiful.

Carmen and Belén are making serious progress in their comprehension of evolution. They have discovered that the lower extremities were intended for walking. "Mom, people walk here!" And, later, at the sight of the elder number 154 going from point A to point B by putting one foot in front of the other: "Mom, even old people walk!" At this rate, by the time we leave, we may be able to grasp the concept of humans descending from primates – at least, most of us, some, like Bush, seemed to descend from one of the beings in the Temptation of Saint Anthony of El Bosco.



Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chronicles de España


We landed in Madrid at 7:20 am. Our refugee's passports raised the eyebrows of the Spanish immigration officer, but they concluded that Belén's American passport offered enough legality for the three of us.

I feel so at home here. I guess there is something to be said for La Madre Patria. I have a very severe case of Europhilia. Like the poet Julian del Casals, I would have voted for Cuba to be annexed to France back in the day. On the other hand, it also feels like home because, like in the U.S., everyone in the service sector has a foreign accent. The pool boy is Colombian. The cashier is Ecuadorian – which launched us into the familiar real of "my husband is from Ecuador. Are you from the Costa or the Sierra?" as if I could tell the difference. The cleaning lady, the baby sitters I cross on the streets while on my daily run (I'm writing the Sunday post on Wednesday…Madrid is too hot for daily blogging.), the baggage carriers. So, I guess the South is indeed in full fledge reconquista, but somehow we start from the bottom…supposedly on the way up.

Belén and Carmen have soon discovered they do not speak Spanish. This made Belén grateful for the Escuela Argentina of every Saturday, but made Carmen conclude that she would speak Spanish just fine, thank you, if she were living in Spain, where the bread is "waaay better." I guess there is a point there somewhere.

I did not go to sleep. I was determined to get on with the Spain's program and not to let jet lag affect me. After all, I only have four weeks!

My brother, Liardo, and his wife, Begoña, were they usual adorable self. We got up to date with family stories. There is plenty to be updated on, given that our grandfather, the illustrious mambí General of Independence Francisco Estrada Estrada (don't ask why he has the same last name twice) left a small progeny of 51 children. Liardo and I were steeped in the glorious memories of our very rellolla family (there is no translation for that word, which basically mean we are more Cuban than the indio Hatuey), and reminiscing of the heroic – and hereditary – stubbornness of our grandpa who was among the few Generals who did not accept the shameful Paz del Zanjón, when we were fighting against, a hem, Spain; and who – in my version of events, somewhat mistakenly – fought his way through Santiago de Cuba to clear the way for the very helpful Americans who managed to keep the mambises out of Santiago…and real independence out of Cuba, but I digress.

By now, Belén and Carmen's eyes were permanently lodged on the back of their necks. They showed an interest on the Estrada's genealogical tree that's only comparable to their interest for the Supreme Court written decision on interstate commerce. Only a little less, because at least the Supreme Court writes in English. Oh, well!



Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Solutions from the Green Economy

Everyone now understands that the economy is broken.

While many name the mortgage and credit-default-swap crises as culprits, they are only the most recent indicators of an economy with fatal design flaws. Our economy has long been based on what economist Herman Daly calls “uneconomic growth” where increases in the GDP come at an expense in resources and well-being that is worth more than the goods and services provided. When GNP growth exacerbates social and environmental problems—from sweatshop labor to manufacturing toxic chemicals—every dollar of GNP growth reduces well-being for people and the planet, and we’re all worse off.

Our fatally flawed economy creates economic injustice, poverty, and environmental crises. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can create a green economy: one that serves people and the planet and offers antidotes to the current breakdown.
Here are six green-economy solutions to today’s economic mess.

1. Green Energy—Green Jobs

A crucial starting place to rejuvenate our economy is to focus on energy. It’s time to call in the superheroes of the green energy revolution—energy efficiency, solar and wind power, and plug-in hybrids—and put their synergies to work with rapid, large-scale deployment. This is a powerful way to jumpstart the economy, spur job creation (with jobs that can’t be outsourced), declare energy independence, and claim victory over the climate crisis.

2. Clean Energy Victory Bonds
How are we going to pay for this green energy revolution? We at Green America propose Clean Energy Victory Bonds. Modeled after victory bonds in World War II, Americans would buy these bonds from the federal government to invest in large-scale deployment of green energy projects, with particular emphasis in low-income communities hardest hit by the broken economy. These would be long-term bonds, paying an annual interest rate, based in part on the energy and energy savings that the bonds generate. During WWII, 85 million Americans bought over $185 billion in bonds—that would be almost $2 trillion in today’s dollars.

3. Reduce, Reuse, Rethink
Living lightly on the Earth, saving resources and money, and sharing (jobs, property, ideas, and opportunities) are crucial principles for restructuring our economy. This economic breakdown is, in part, due to living beyond our means—as a nation and as individuals. With the enormous national and consumer debt weighing us down, we won’t be able to spend our way out of this economic problem. Ultimately, we need an economy that’s not dependent on unsustainable growth and consumerism. So it’s time to rethink our over-consumptive lifestyles, and turn to the principles of elegant simplicity, such as planting gardens, conserving energy, and working cooperatively with our neighbors to share resources and build resilient communities.

4. Go Green and Local
When we do buy, it is essential that those purchases benefit the green and local economy—so that every dollar helps solve social and environmental problems, not create them. Our spending choices matter. We can support our local communities by moving dollars away from conventional agribusiness and big-box stores and toward supporting local workers, businesses, and organic farmers.

5. Community Investing
All over the country, community investing banks, credit unions, and loan funds that serve hard-hit communities are strong, while the biggest banks required bailouts. The basic principles of community investing keep such institutions strong: Lenders and borrowers know each other. Lenders invest in the success of their borrowers—with training and technical assistance along with loans. And the people who provide the capital to the lenders expect reasonable, not speculative, returns. If all banks followed these principles, the economy wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in today.

6. Shareowner Activism
When you own stock, you have the right and responsibility to advise management to clean up its act. Had GM listened to shareholders warning that relying on SUVs would be its downfall, it would have invested in greener technologies, and would not have needed a bailout. Had CitiGroup listened to its shareowners, it would have avoided the faulty mortgage practices that brought it to its knees. Engaged shareholders are key to reforming conventional companies for the transition to this new economy – the green economy that we are building together.

It’s time to move from greed to green.

--Alisa Gravitz

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Loving Obama…with critical eyes

I remember when I was 19, back in the university in Cuba, my mom, my boyfriend and I had a political argument and I said, "Yes, I have plenty to criticize now. And I will have plenty to criticize if the regimen changes. I guess I will always be in the opposition to anything because there is no perfection. The next political class, if we ever get one, will be full of problems as well." My mom took this comment as proof of my stubbornness and rebellious nature. And, indeed it is. I converted to Catholicism in Cuba when it was problematic, because in that case, religion was actually revolutionary. Then I outgrew that and realized it did not go well with two main traits of my persona: my cerebral self, and my love of science. Religion was a nice escape, but when I delved into it, I found all the same problems that plague humans everywhere. Except that, supposedly, if you add God, those problems should be fewer, shouldn't they?

Anyways. I am in love with Obama. Oh, yes! I cried like a baby when he won – I was a Hillary supporter until she lost –, I went to the streets of DC at midnight. I also feared for my health: I may have died of something if McCain had won. The reasons for this love affair are many: he is black and president of the U.S.; he is liberal – not as liberal as me, but certainly much more than McCain and Palin; he is smart and nuanced; he wants policies that work, not just ideology; he is black, but that's not all he is. The most important part for me is that finally we will see a son of Africa leading the world, so that's important for all black children everywhere.

But my cerebral nature also tends to put a stop to things that go too far. Lincoln's bible? Vintage train? The symbolism and parallels are a bit over the top. There is a sense of adoration that really rubs me the wrong way. Even Jesus had to do something before the cult started. After seeing what the cult of personality can do to a country – I'm Cuban, what can I say? – I'm terrified when I see the excesses around this inauguration.

Also, this adoration leads us to cut him infinite slack.

Obama and I parted company when he chose Rick Warren to give the invocation at the swearing in ceremony. I have no problem with Rick Warren. I have a problem with Obama giving him a platform. And in this case, the biggest platform there is, at this historical moment, with the world watching. Our message is: we value all opinions in America, even those discriminatory ones that promote hatred.

There are plenty of pastors to choose from – since we apparently must offer a religious invocation in this state ceremony – so there was no need to go for the extremist. We cannot chose which group we can annoy and offend in our quest to build unity, to seem open minded and willing to compromise. I want compromise. I did not want the democrats to win the 60 seats in the Senate because I want practical, enduring reform, no stuff that will be undone when the next wave of republicans take over. But there are things we cannot compromise on: minority rights, and opposition to hatred and discrimination being just a few of them. We cannot kill the Jews to make peace with the Muslims, or vice versa.

I was for Hillary – the calculating bitch (I'm being sarcastic here, of course) who would do anything to win. I remember how David Brooks kept saying Hillary should ask Obama which of his principles he would be willing to compromise to be bipartisan and non-ideological. She never did, of course, although he would have sweat talked himself out of that one. Now we know which.

Obama has said Warren and him don't agree on everything. Well, that's comforting. But Obama knows full well this is not a matter of differing opinions, but of professing hatred and discrimination, likening committed gay relationships to incest, polygamy and "an older guy marrying a child" is a bit more than a disagreement. I don't believe Obama would say that Warren's comments are just words.

What we opposed and disliked in the Clintons was their turn to the center, funny how things turned out. Ironically, we went to Obama trying to run away from the Clintons but at the end the cabinet looks Clintonesque and one wonders, would have Hillary's cabinet look much different than Obama's?

What we loved in Obama was his desire for a new politics, non-calculating – an oxymoron, of course, but we wanted to believe it. Warren, actually, is not someone who would want to compromise in issues of guy marriage, abortion rights, etc.

Would Obama invite one of the pastors who blessed the KKK to give the invocation? He loves blacks way too much for that.

Will he choose Lou Dobbs to be his press secretary? No, unless he wants to count Latinos out of his tent for 2012.

Lastly, didn't Obama renounce Rev. Wright because he was…divisive?

The defense of the decision was also based on Warren good deeds, say, on AIDS. Well, just imagine the alternative! Not to mention that if churches had not been so bigoted against guys and so blind about sex, the epidemic of AIDS could have been contained much earlier.

The sad thing is that this was a calculated decision to choose a very controversial issue that would give the appearance of compromise and openness without jeopardizing any important voting bloc. Basically, who can we push in front of the bus without sacrificing too much. Gays it is.

The consolation prize of nominating the gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson to deliver the invocation on the concert on Sunday almost feels like an insult.

Oh, we will succeed, and Obama will succeed, because we can and because we have to, but let's temper our adoring looks and our tears and lend the brother a hand and a critical voice…He will need as many of those as he can get.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Respite with the oppressors

I just had the pleasure of attending the Martin Luther King celebration at the Strathmore Music Center. There were several young minority artists extremely talented, as well as young students full of accomplishments and promises, which speaks well of the ability of Montgomery County to cultivate and allow to flourish, with a climate of inclusiveness and outreach to parents, those talents in black, Latino, Asian, minority children in general. I assume our minority kids in Montgomery County are not born smarter than those in other areas of the country. Would it be the Chesapeake Bay's water?

But there I also had a different realization. The event was excessively religious, which kills me every time, but at the beginning a young pianist led the crowd on singing the Negro National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, by James Weldon Johnson. My anthropological self was looking around at the crowd and noticed that even black children – there were two just in front of me who couldn't be over 8 years old – knew the song by heart.

It always surprises me why black people are so enamored of the church, given that the church and religion in general was used to enslave and oppress them. A friend said church is therapy for many. Perhaps. But, it is still incomprehensible for me. I was wondering if, maybe, the beauty of the music, which can lift any spirit, indeed, the same way that the beauty of some churches in Europe left me gasping for air, command in the people what they assume is a supreme, heavenly calling, and I just know and experience as the sublime effects of beautiful art. I do believe in rapture, I just experienced one reading A Mercy, by Toni Morrison. Literature and music can make me go heights I never knew possible. Pair the excellent music with the excitement of the congregation as a whole, spearheaded by a pastor screaming nonsensical things, and the knowledge of being in the only place in which you are considered human, and even looked amorously down by some freedom loving and almighty God, yeah, I guess I would believe too.

It does require a great measure of imagination and forgiveness. It requires imagining an almighty God who can give you the Holy Ghost, but can't give it to your masters so they come to terms with the injustice of their ways. Actually, this is the God of your masters; they gave it to you, as they were taking away your lesser gods…and your freedom. It requires forgiving the ways in which God ignores your prayers day in and day out while your daughters are being raped, your sons are being beaten, and you are violently separated from your children.

At the celebration a soloist sung the Negro spiritual Watch and Pray.

Master Going to Sell Us Tomorrow 

Mother, is master going to sell us tomorrow? / Yes, yes, yes! / O, watch and pray.
Going to sell us in Georgia? / Yes, yes, yes! / O, watch and pray.
Farewell; mother, I must leave you / Yes, yes, yes! / O, watch and pray.
Mother don't grieve after me / No, no, no! / O, watch and pray.
Mother, I'll meet you in heaven / Yes, my child! / O, watch and pray.

It is beautiful. It tears your inside apart. And it gives you an incomparable rage. Pray for what??

I know many will say, Martin Luther King was a pastor, the churches also were a place of organizing, etc. Yes, but none of that has anything to do with God. Actually, the "watch and pray" attitude preached in churches for centuries helped sustained slavery much longer than it would have otherwise, if slaves hadn't had the hope of heaven.

Yes, religion poisons everything.

But time has passed; the church clearly has not answered the problems. In many cases, it has become the problem, such as in the fight against AIDS, in the struggle for equality for gays and lesbians, and the promotion of a culture of abstinence without solid health education that, if it had worked, the numbers of teenage pregnancies wouldn't be on the rise.

Sadly, the church has become the locus of bigotry in many cases, and, in particular, against the people who don't believe. The stronghold of church in society, the continuous need of explanation of people's beliefs or lack thereof, the interference of religion with state matters should be things of the past, but aren't. If society were ok, I could ignore it. But it does not seem like it is, is it now?