Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ruling with an Overlord on Board

Hello minions, wipe your tears; I return from a wondrous adventure exhausted and surprisingly liberated. On Superbowl Sunday, just as the players ran out into the field, a little guy made his way out into the world and immediately proclaimed himself my overlord.

Having been raised by a tribe of Amazons, I’m not used to having a guy tell me what to do. But seven months of colic, then teething and endless wet diapers will really make you re-evaluate what strength really is. I’ve been humbled, terrified and awed at what someone so little can do to your life.

When I returned to work a few months ago I found myself with a new set of eyes; and I don’t just mean bloodshot. Suddenly the deadlines and the countless of “crisis” moments didn’t seem so big. Sleep deprivation will make you go through some mystic journeys—or make you completely delusional. I began to think about what every working mom does: How do I reconcile being a mom with my personal ambitions?

Common sense and this economy would dictate I should stick with my sure thing; a reliable enough job and steady paycheck. But now more than ever I find myself wanting to take that risk; to grab at my passions and hang on to dear life until I get what I want. Not that I wasn’t already working toward this, but I didn’t expect that the fire in my belly would go from burning to raging.

I look at this adorable little thug demanding so much of my attention and how quickly he’s growing. It won’t be long before I’m spouting platitudes about hard work and reaching for your dreams. And that’s when it hit me: kids don’t listen to what you say; they pay attention to what you do. He needs to see me striving. How else will he learn?

He and I are lucky that he’s got the most doting dad in the world. Having a Dad who juggles his work and his share of childcare plus late night feedings with finesse is a great thing. For a working mom it’s invaluable. So with this support on my side I move forward, knowing that every step and fumble I make will be watched.

For all the unsolicited tips and advice thrown my way, nothing prepares you for the unexpecteds; you see, each kid is unique and brings with him a set of curveballs that no one can predict. Like who knew you can contract tendonitis on your wrist from carrying a tall, hefty infant? Or that some babies sing with opera lungs at the strangest times--like the crack of dawn, so you wake up clutching your chest and heaving from the shock?

And in the midst of all that kookiness, it's not the situations but how you react that molds your character--and your baby's. So I get to working, then come right back to ruling my roost with a bandaged wrist, eager to pick up that boy because he ain't heavy; he's my baby!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Prop 8: The Ugly Stain on a Historic Election

The day after Barack Obama and the Americans that elected him made history came word that California’s Proposition 8, which sought to ban the gay marriage act that passed just this summer, won by a narrow margin of the popular vote.

That this Proposition even made it to the ballot was already absurd; technically this was an amendment to a law that had passed only months ago. At this point any change should have gone through the State Legislature and not a popular vote.

What hurt even more was discovering the high percentage of those who voted in favor of Prop 8 were African Americans, Latinos and Asians, many of whom probably were very happy to vote Obama in.

To me this is beyond absurd; it’s reprehensible. It’s no secret that most minority groups in America who are quick to point out the injustices their groups endure are also quick to discriminate against their own people of color and homosexuals. I’ve often wondered if this is a sick irony or is it just human nature to treat someone else like shit in order to feel good about oneself.

Since this Proposition was funded in large part by Mormon groups and supported by other churches and conservative backers, many of the minorities who explain their stance use their religion as the reason for passing Prop 8. Religion? Really? Is that really what would Jesus do? Or any other god for that matter? Let’s just call it what it really is—pure unadulterated bullshit.

There is no excuse that begins to justify limiting another citizen’s rights in this country. There is even less excuse if you belong to any group that has been discriminated against. How the hell can someone who has experienced racism or prejudice turn around and vote for any law that does the same to another group? No matter how you spin it, it’s despicable.

The gay civil rights movement will continue to move forward and so will the issue of gay marriage. As a flaming heterosexual I’ve got as much right to vote on a gay marriage proposition as does the government in making laws about what a woman should do with her reproductive rights. Who are we to decide on legislation that we would never have to live with?

If there is one good thing that does come from all this madness, it’s the revelation that prejudice and discrimination is hardly a problem isolated to white America. And good timing too, because if we are to embrace the United America that President-Elect Obama calls for in the years to come, then we must realize this will never happen so long as we continue to dehumanize parts of our society for no other reason than ignorance and unfounded fear.

How ironic it is that Martin Luther King’s dream of seeing all races united for a common cause freely elected an African American on the content of his character and not the color of his skin, while turning their back on another King’s dream—that of his wife Coretta Scott King. It was she who picked up the torch after his passing and expanded on his legacy, becoming one of the leading advocates for the gay rights movement. She got a lot of flack for it but she never backed down; famously saying:

"I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people... But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people."

So please, let’s get over ourselves and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Yes, we can! Si se puede!

Here’s what you can do to help: File a complaint against the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Knights of Columbus, the Mormon and Catholic organizations who used church funds to lobby for political influence and put these anti-gay marriage propositions on the ballots of California, Arizona and Florida.

An organization called Shut Down Hate has made it easy to file these formal complaints with the IRS. The forms are pre-filled; all they need is your contact info and your pick of one or two articles (also listed) you can submit as proof of these churches’ campaign to dictate government policy with their tax-exempt funds. Show your support and go to http://www.shutdownhate.org/

Sunday, October 12, 2008

For Answers to Our Busted Economy, Take a Hard Look in the Mirror

Republicans will tell you at every turn that Democrats facilitated this economic disaster, never mind that it was Republicans running the show and its president vetoing any dissent for the past seven years. Democrats will remind you we had a surplus in 2000 when Clinton left after two terms, leaving out that he opened Pandora’s box when he allowed company mergers to run amuck during his era.

The Feds will swear it was Wall Street greed and financial gurus will say Alan Greenspan was in denial about the early signs that “Free” credit for all wasn’t such a hot idea. There’s truth to all of it.

And during the last stretch of this election campaign, both candidates treat the voters like we’re abuse victims. Truth is we’re not. Whether we care to admit it or not, the time has come to own up to our part in this mess.

To be fair, we didn’t ask to be scammed into subprime loans that would eat up our savings and force us deeper into credit debt to keep our homes. We didn’t realize that when they started outsourcing those computer company help desk jobs to India that we’d soon be seeing IT jobs and most middle class technical jobs go along with them.

To be honest, it was something we could have seen coming had we not fallen prey to the lull of complacency and empty consumerism. There are too many stories of people who should’ve bought the smaller starter house, but went for the 4 bedroom mini-mansion instead. And this mentality of bigger is better, spend now and worry later permeated into much of our purchasing decisions all across the board.

We used to be proud of making smart purchases, but in the 1990’s we were living in hog heaven. Who wanted to be sensible we had spending money itching to be spent? During that time of financial prosperity, internet companies promised big profits and it seemed like technology was spitting out sexy electronics by the second. Cars were getting bigger, houses were flashier and we were giddy. We partied like it was 1999 but like the pesky guest that never leaves, didn’t want the party to end after long after 2000.

Which made us ripe for the picking. While we camped out in long lines for Apple iPods, Microsoft Xboxes, Razor and iPhones; while we threw out perfectly good TV’s to get the next sleek two thousand dollar flat screen panel of the moment (and its obnoxiously loud sound system), there were some serious clouds gathering overhead.

We were so busy being such good consumers we never once peeked up to notice that yes, something is wrong when it was too easy to get a credit card with a $20,000.00 limit and that even teenagers could get credit cards before they could even score jobs to pay for them. When the president threw $600 rebates at us like pigeons at a park, we ate it up and looked forward to seconds. It never occurred to us to ask: what did we cut to pay for those rebates?

After Hurricane Katrina, we felt awful but not enough to wonder if maybe their infrastructure failures might be a sign that our cities were also in danger of corroding bridges, roads or other lifelines in need of constant maintenance now neglected so we can have meager tax cuts. Soon after hospitals in cities began to close and teens graduating high school faced college tuitions that cost as much as a luxury sedan for just one year of education. And still, we never raised an eyebrow. Because as long as it wasn’t happening in our homes, we could pretend it wasn’t a problem.

Sure there was a big war to finance, but one in a country that had nothing to do with the terrorists who attacked us. Still we asked nothing of the administration milking billions from us to continue a fight that has cost us more U.S. lives than the ones lost in the September 11 attacks while the ringleader Al Qaeda remains at large—in a whole other country.

Back in Iraq we keep fighting; first for weapons of mass destruction that never appeared and then to “liberate” the Iraqis and bring them democracy. Have we asked how much democracy our money and our soldiers’ efforts has brought? We hear about the soldiers we’ve lost on our side, but find a news outlet that covers the death toll we’ve brought to Iraqi civilians. You won’t. According to the site Iraq Body Count, that number today stands between 88,269 and 96,356.

How much of this financial and human loss could have been averted, had we the people, the true bosses of the American government, stepped up and said Enough?

Now, as that American dream of the white picket fence and the house behind it crumbles around us, as jobs have disappeared so quickly to outsourcing and shoddy corporate business plans, we stand amidst the rubble around us. What now?

I see people waking up from the hangover now, much more sober than in years past. In a year where one campaign has garnered strength from a message of hope, I hinge my own in the wish to see us get back to questioning our leaders, no matter what side of Capitol Hill they sit on. Our economy used to buy us choices and better options for each generation. It’s about all we’ve got left to protect, so let’s wipe the crust from our eyes, take that aspirin and get back to reminding our government they work for us.

We may be done for the count in the Superpower department, but it’s not too late to revive a pride in creating instead of consuming; of solving rather than squandering and of investing in our future instead of into trends. In the new world economy those who have assets have something to work with; those who have debt have nothing to bargain with. And we should know; we once were the best at that game.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Why Giving Them Everything is Bad

It’s the noblest of causes, the issue of making things better for future generations. After all, who can argue with fighting to remove barriers so that those after you aren’t subjected to unjust challenges you and those before you endured?

But observe such movements long enough and you’ll find an ironic byproduct; future generations, without connection to these challenges, glorify the stereotypes that were once fought in the name of their dignity. In other words; they leap headfirst out of the frying pan and smack into the very fire the elders tried to save them from.

When women fought for suffrage and later for equal rights, they wanted future generations of girls to grow up just as boys do: feeling they could follow any dream they wanted; pursue any career or goal and be treated with the same respect. The goal was to be judged by their legitimate merits and not be objectified in the process. Fast forward to early 21st century, and you have a pop culture supported by young women who’d much rather be called sexy than smart. As if they couldn’t be both!

When hip-hop was born in the streets not far from where I grew up, I was still a kid but I knew I was witnessing something both hopeful and incredible. Once an upper middle-class haven, the Bronx we grew up had become a wasteland of abandoned and burnt out buildings surrounded by rubble-filled lots. This was our playground. The only parks and playgrounds still standing were infested with gangs, drug dealers and strung out junkies.

Those were the days when the Bronx was always burning. That summer the NY Yankees were in the midst of an amazing winning season. As their championship was televised across the country, Howard Cosell famously said the Bronx was burning because its people were torching their own city. Had he or anyone given enough of a damn to look, they would’ve seen the truth before the damage was done: Landlords, in an effort to cash in on the suburban boom Upstate, would hire arsonists to burn their own buildings then take off with the insurance money to build outside of the Bronx. Those families without the means to move out (mostly Black and Hispanic) had no choice but to live in the few buildings that remained standing.

Still reeling long after the Vietnam War depleted the country of resources (sound familiar?) the Bronx and the rest of NYC was left to rot. With nowhere safe to go, kids began gathering in the streets with milk crates of records and miles of heavy duty extension cords they’d rig to street lamps to power their turntables. A microphone and some speakers was all they needed and the sounds would echo through the empty buildings and into our windows. There, in the rubble, a party would break out. The guy on the mic would start rhyming over the beats, telling people to throw their hands in the air and wave them like “you jus’ don’t care.” Crowds would gather and kids would show up with cardboard and jean cuffs pinned tight around their ankles. They’d groove to the beats like robots, undulate like snakes and spin on their backs so quickly that their legs became helicopter blades. These kids made something out of nothing, and that’s what hip-hop was about back in the day.

Today, with few exceptions, the average hip-hop song sounds more like a shopping list of gaudy shit only new money would buy. The misogyny that was always an underlying part of the culture now takes blatant center stage, making old songs and videos tame in comparison. There are still some creative and even groundbreaking rappers out there, (Common, some Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, K-OS, Talib Kweli—to name a few) but they’re not the norm.

What happened to Hip-hop is the same thing that happened to the women’s movement. The new guard doesn’t know or therefore care what it took for them to get there. In the process, they’ve got nothing of substance to pull their aspirations from.

And nowhere is this becoming more of an issue than in the way we choose to raise the future generation of kids. Parents don’t want their kids to suffer any of the hardships they or their parents went through—great! But shouldn’t this be done so that the next generation is free to tackle new frontiers and challenges without being held back as we once were?

As a soon-to-be mom, I’m already thinking about what’s best for my little one’s well being. But I admit it makes me squirm when I see how some modern parents go to counterproductive extremes to make their kids’ world the best ever. Over-structured agendas, organic everything and constant self-esteem building sound great in theory, but too much of a good thing can be bad.

Making sure your children live in a safe, happy environment is something all parents should aspire to, but it’s ridiculous what we try to shield our kids from these days. As I learn about all the “must have items” I should be getting my new baby, I’m dazzled by how much we’re overdoing it: Baby wipe warmers! For shit’s sake—pun intended—will Child Protective Services come after me if it’s discovered that my baby experienced a cold snap on its privates with a wipey?

Don’t get me wrong, I want my little one to have it easier than his parents, but I don’t want a kid who assumes that he’s entitled to little or no discomfort in life. Striving has never been a bad thing, yet it feels that this has become taboo.

I’m not going off into a rant about how young people today are no good little punks with no drive; I don’t believe that, nor do I appreciate when older people punk out with that lame-ass excuse for their own generation’s failings. Kids can only do what they are allowed—or not allowed to do. If you don’t allow a child to face a challenge or resolve it on their own, then how will they learn? If you fix everything so that they never know rejection, loss or accountability for their actions, how will they really grow?

Give a child everything and you teach them nothing. With little learned, there’s little to inspire, hence why much of today’s pop culture lacks substance, why social progress seems to go backwards and why my little one will not be getting a Baby wipe warmer. It’s a cold world out there sometimes, and the sooner he learns it, the more prepared he will be for it.

Babycakes, you’ll thank me later, I promise. If not, I give you permission to write a “Mommy Dearest” book about me.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The McCain/Palin Ticket as an Eddie Murphy Skit

Disclaimer: La Generalissima swore she would not write about politics this week, but then John McCain saw fit to flirt with us women by showing up with Sarah Palin. I had no choice but to go there.

After the initial shock over the most desperate, insincere political gesture I’ve ever experienced, I couldn’t understand why instead of insult or rage, all I could think of was Eddie Murphy’s old MacDonald’s skit from his concert Raw. I know, I’m still trippin’ over it myself, but bear with me.

For those who never heard it, or those who’ve forgotten: Eddie Murphy goes on this riff about being a kid in the ‘hood and wanting to get some MacDonald’s. The mom can’t afford it, so she swears she can make a way better burger than at Mickey D’s.

So off they are at home and Momma orders the boy to get some ingredients from the fridge. The boy starts to question; “There ain’t no peppers in MacDonald’s.” The Mom tells him to shut up as she prepares the burger her way. Long story short: Kid was hosed big time and there was nothing he could do about it.

And I can’t help but wonder if this was the McCain campaign strategy. They figured that while many women were fine with having Obama win the Democratic nomination, there’s a bittersweet undercurrent that runs in the back of many a woman’s mind: in the socio-political buffet of life, will we always eat last?

The McCain people tried to capitalize off of this with the hopes of winning over the dejected older feminists angered by Hillary’s loss. But instead of finding a candidate that would actually appeal to this group, what do they do? They hand out a Momma Burger; a slapped-together, Wonder Bread-coated imitation of a well-rounded politician. But she wears skirts! She has lots of babies! She’s a girl!!

Sure, women have gotten hosed many times over. Women were the last citizens to earn the right to vote, after freed black men. Women are still making less money for the same jobs and responsibilities as their male counterparts.

But women’s civil rights battles have always been inextricably linked to the Black civil rights movement. It’s the cruel joke of America; we will make you all fight for one crumb at a time--and only one will be allowed to win first. Our consolation is that at least the one who emerged to represent Democrats has built a platform of true diversity in his policies and from the sound of things, in his picks for political allies.

Had the McCain camp showed some sincere intention of being inclusive in the VP choices beforehand, I would have treated the Palin pick with more respect. But it was clear this was a poorly-planned afterthought spurred by the raging numbers and excitement generated by response to Obama at the Democratic convention.

Then I heard Palin speak and I couldn’t fathom who they were going to win over besides their already committed conservative base.

She may be McCain’s but she ain’t no MacDonald’s. Luckily, unlike Eddie Murphy’s poor boy stuck with the Momma burger, we can do something about it.

Image from: http://brisbaneburgersafari.blogspot.com/2008/03/moo-cheese-chimi-burger-fortitude.html

Sunday, August 24, 2008

E Pluribus, Unum: A Dictum for Change in Your Change

Take a penny (or nickel, dime, quarter); pick it up. Read the back. Old or new, you’ll find in tiny etching, E Pluribus, Unum. A Latin term that translates to “From Many, One.”

I never noticed it myself until I started college. My late journalism professor told us to get a quarter and flip it to the back. He asked us if we knew what it meant and went on this lecture about our founding fathers and how they choose this as the de facto motto to represent the power of our unified states to make one country.

He added that in modern times this phrase had more relevance than ever. He asked us to write a piece explaining what it meant to us. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I’m sure it wasn’t worth remembering. At 19 I was already jaded about all the patriotic rah-rah we were fed since elementary school. I knew all about the liberty and justice for all, the purple mountains majesty and that one of the first truths to be self-evident was that all men are created equal. I just never saw any of that in my South Bronx neighborhood.

But my professor had at one time an illustrious journalism career covering, among many world and political issues, the civil rights movement. He really believed that this motto had a new significance, but I still wasn’t seeing it. Born to Puerto Rican parents I was taught that we were American citizens and had been for hundreds of years since the Spanish American war. Yet almost every other interaction I had with a white person went like this:

WP: So where are you from?

Me: New York.

WP: No, where are you FROM?

Me: Uh, the South Bronx?

WP: (frustrated sigh): Where are your parents FROM?

Me: They’re from Puerto Rico.

WP: So you’re Puerto Rican.

Me: But I’ve never been to the Island….

And no matter how I explained we were Americans, it was always interrupted with “You’re Puerto Rican.” So there it was. I was raised to believe I’m American, but constantly reminded that I couldn’t really be. I was other. And so I turned more toward the culture of an island I’ve never been to. And I’ve been richer for it since.

Which brings me back to this motto, E Pluribus Unum. The one that should’ve always been our nation’s motto, but was replaced in the 1950’s by “In God We Trust.”

Admit it or not, our country’s wealth has always been and always will be our diversity. From that diversity comes our ingenuity, diplomacy and cultural richness. And now that we stand in the crux of a rapidly emerging world economy, it’s that diversity that will prove to be the most valuable asset of this nation of many races, backgrounds and beliefs.

As we enter the start of an historic election season, we discovered that people were a lot more comfortable with the prospect of a biracial, bicultural president. So much so that after a long tug of war with our first female frontrunner, it is Barack Obama who emerged as our Democratic candidate.

Still, there are some self-professed liberals who are nervous that someone of color couldn’t possibly represent the self-interests of all Americans. It reminds me of the Spanish saying: Ladron juzga por su condicion. (The thief assumes all think like a thief).

To those people I say it’s your time to put your money where your mouth is. If we Americans of color can vote time and time again for a white guy and hope he’ll remember us when he’s in the Oval Office, then you can surely muster up some trust too.

At a time of tattered diplomatic relations and a domestic landscape torpedoed by elite special interests, I can’t think of a better time to turn to each other, see the power of our diversity and finally put that motto to action. Our businesses and education will be better for it, and so will our country.

Paul, it took me a while but I think I finally get it. Thanks for everything and rest in peace.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Lou Dobbs Crusade: Fear and Loathing of the Lettuce Picker

Dear Mr. Dobbs;

For years I’ve watched the Broken Borders segment of your show and waited to hear something about ALL illegal immigration in the U.S. But no, it’s all Mexico, all the time.

Like the more primitive of your ilk (the Limbaughs, the Drudges, 99 percent of Fox), your whole thesis of immigration-fueled problems in the U.S. boils down to two words: Blame Mexico.

Mr. Dobbs, do you really believe that EVERY serious immigration issue can be solved by closing the U.S.-Mexican border? Seriously?

No one denies the level of illegal immigration from coming from an impoverished country that once owned the territories they sneak into now can bring daunting problems, but to pretend that 1.) The U.S. doesn’t benefit as much or more than the immigrants themselves and that 2.) Some of our ugliest immigration issues have nothing to do with Latin America is rather na├»ve.

In the interest of understanding your thesis, I’ve got questions about some of your favorite Broken Border subjects:

Which ones? The kitchen and dishwashing gigs at your favorite restaurants? The crop picking stints or the domestic labor jobs for chump change they steal as the gather like hyenas in front of Home Depots?

I’ve lived in immigrant-heavy New York, Florida and Los Angeles and never seen one Latino laborer kick the door of a restaurant, hold a farmer or a homeowner hostage and demand to be underpaid to do heavy labor for them. Nope, it’s the bargain-hungry American that comes after them. Perhaps if we learned to love doing our own dishes or housework there will be less opportunities for these parasites to take advantage of the bounty they get from us. But I understand; it’s hard out there for a pimp, right?

To be fair, I remember you mentioned a couple of times how our white-collar jobs were being shipped to India and China. Wish you would’ve stayed on that story, but then you got distracted with lettuce pickers again while the middle class learned to compete with Third World rates in order to keep their jobs.

And in L.A. there are foreigners who sneak into our country for a shot at stardom in Hollywood. Many succeed to become directors, producers and actors. We don’t call them illegal aliens though. We call them Canadian.

Only Mexico’s border? The full picture is that some Al Qaeda terrorists did cross Mexico’s border to carry out the attacks in 9/11. But several also used Canada’s border and ALL secured legal visas into the U.S.

Yes, gangs and smugglers have come from South of the Border. Many other criminals from Latin America take advantage of the porous Mexican border to bring in drugs. But where are the stories about the mobs that run roughshod through the U.S.; the ones that deal in the most heinous of commodities; drugs, guns, and human trafficking? Modern day slavery is thriving around the world, including in the United States. Children and women from Eastern Europe, Asia and West Africa are brought to this country under false pretenses and exploited as forced servants and sex slaves. Every decade a new mob takes over inner cities like the one I grew up in and feast off the steady stream of undereducated young men to serve as minions to their drug cartels, only to die young or waste their lives in prison. What borders are they crossing?

You cannot be called a crusader when you’re only telling the smallest part of the illegal immigration story. Every day a young American falls prey to drugs brought in by mobsters, not Mexicans. So when will you talk about the illegal immigrant criminals from Italian or Albanian mafias that bring in those drugs? When will you talk about the innocent women from Albania or East Asia brought into this country against their will to live in subhuman conditions to serve as prostitutes?

Organized crime is the bloodiest and most destructive enterprise to thrive in American soil, run by illegal immigrants and supported by many Americans in power who seem to look the other way. They cost us billions of dollars and countless lives but no one talks about them. Instead we make movies and hit TV shows about them, give reality shows to anyone with Gotti’s last name and make chart-topping hip hop anthems about their lifestyle.

So Mr. Dobbs, next time you want to talk about the damage illegal immigration does to our pristine way of life, don’t half-ass it. Every time you complain about the Mexican laborer but ignore the dangers from other illegal immigrants, it demeans your cause. Like many talking heads in our media, there’s a nasty habit of getting self-righteous over the easier of our country’s challenges.

Admit it; it’s easier to bitch about the poor brown people coming in to take menial jobs that even our kids find beneath them. It feels like you’re doing something big without really tackling anything at all. Or maybe you’re right; maybe Latin American immigrants deserve your ire. If only they thought more like the mafia; bribed some government officials, rubbed elbows with the rich and famous, hire themselves out to kill people of power. Maybe then they wouldn’t be such a threat.