My friend and colleague, also known as “Awesome Dad,” recently brought his two kids to the office and it was an excuse for me to have fun. Both under age 5, “Sweetness” and “Adorable” like to color with my glitter pens and make pictures on my shiny stationary. They like stickers, and gladly used my colored file folder labels for their artwork. They have such a creative perspective on the most ordinary things. Together we used a strip of giant bubble packaging cushion to create a symphony of popping.
Sweetness carefully picked up a sea shell on my desk and used it as a phone. “Hello?” (Pause.) She leaned over to me and asked, “Are you here?”
“No,” I replied. “I’m busy.”
She put on a serious face and sternly said into the shell, “She’s busy.” And then chatted away starting a new conversation.
Adorable asked me how old I was, and didn’t believe me when I said, “100.” “Noooooo,” he said with a giggle. “20,” I offered. Satisfied, he said, “ok.” Ah, what’s not to love about someone who doesn’t question a blatant lie about age? Now, I’m not delusional about the challenges of parenthood, but hanging around children makes me consider the possibility.
Like nothing else
“Being a parent is the best thing in the world. It’s like nothing else you’ll ever experience,” explained Awesome Dad.
Easy for the dad of this precious duo to say. He doesn’t know what a terrible little monster I was as a child. And God would surely bless me with a child I would likely call, Terrible Little Monster II.
Funny thing is, I believe my friend. And still, I don’t know if the parenting path is for me. I’ve taken the quizzes, talked to people, and made my lists of pros and cons, but the results are inconclusive. I’d like to think I have something special to give to a child, perhaps just sharing my perspective on the world. Some have said, if you are questioning it that much, parenting is not for you. Others said, you’re just scared. That is true. I’m afraid of all the tragedies that can happen when someone (even a Terrible Little Monster) is dependent on you. I’m afraid that I’ll be a bad mom.
“What if I break the child? They look fragile,” I told Awesome Dad.
“They’re hard to break,” he said. “I play wrestle with them all the time and no breakage.” But I have a feeling his wife keeps rough behavior to a minimum.
Gaining more than you give up
For most of my life, I never wanted children. I saw enough child rearing with my two (much younger) siblings to know that I had things to do and places to see and none of it welcomed a toddler in tow. I am a firm believer that babies are best raised by two people (if possible) and even more people (if available). With a string of bad relationships, I never imaged I would find someone I’d want to have as a co-parent.
Then, I did find someone special who would be a great parent. And I realized that most of those things on my to-do list were done. Even as a parent, I could still chip away at what’s left.
I used to look at parents in awe and wonderment, knowing what it took to care for a young life—and then immediately consider all they probably had to give up. Today, I still look at parents in awe of their dedication, but I now follow that thought with the understanding of all they must be gaining because of that young life.
Sweetness recently called her dad—using her mommy’s cell phone and not a sea shell—to say that she was going to be a good girl and take a nap and she couldn’t wait to see him at home. It’s those moments that prove there’s a special kind of love reserved for moms and dads.
Breaking the silence
My spouse also is not completely sold on having a child, even though she thaws in the presence of cute babies. When I told her about my encounter with Sweetness & Adorable, she asked, “Don’t kids run around a lot? Don’t they ask a lot of questions? Don’t they make a lot of noise?”
“Yes,” I responded. Looking around our very still, very quiet and very spiritless home, I added, “A little noise could make life much more interesting.”
On Dec. 1, 2010, World AIDS Day, Lady Gaga will die. So will Justin Timberlake and Kim Kardashian. Alicia Keys and Usher gone too. Missing from life: Jay Sean and Katie Holmes. Ryan Seacrest will really be out.
Ok, they’re not really dying and they won’t be dead, but they’re letting their social networking sites rest in peace until they raise $1 million for the nonprofit organization, Keep A Child Alive, which fights HIV/AIDS in Africa and India.
While people joke that they are not going to donate precisely to keep these celebrities offline, I think the support is so interesting.
AIDS, the early years
I was in middle school when I first heard about the disease that we now know is AIDS. I remember, living just 45 minutes from San Francisco, the fear that was injected into our collective thinking about this disease and the people it affected. We then knew very little about the disease or the affected. It’s a textbook case of how to promote hate through fear. We would catch it with a handshake. We would catch it sharing a glass of water. The gays, who happened to get it first and most often, were easy targets. They were already stigmatized. They brought the disease on themselves, some preachers and other moral folks argued, for living an immoral life. Genocide begins with this line of thinking—Hitler was a master at it.
This fall, Oprah brought back the family of the late Andrew Bender, a man who in the 80’s came forward as being gay and HIV positive. Watching the video clip, I got chills listening to the insults and rants against this man, despite the presence of a physician who explained facts about the disease—information that today we know is true. The hate-spewing people were brought back 23 years later and apologized, but with little sincerity. It was obvious the disease gave their already existing hatred validation.
In the late 80s, I was in high school and I began to know people who had the disease, people whose lives weren’t really that different from my own. I wondered why my cousin, born mentally challenged, wasn’t blamed for her situation. I wondered why my friend’s mom who had breast cancer wasn’t blamed for her situation. I wondered why some people were the unlucky victims and others “asked for it.” I wondered why so much was being done medically for the failing health of smokers dying of lung cancer, but the research into this devastating disease, AIDS, was limited. It’s so easy to look back now and understand.
I hope these celebrities reach their goals and bring medical care and attention to corners of the world ravished by HIV and AIDS. Although the stigma has mostly faded in the U.S., that’s not true for all parts of the world. It’s changing. And now we have a Pope who agrees that the use of contraceptives, specifically condoms, might be something to promote to stop the spread of this disease. And a cure is so close to becoming a reality—at least that is what I want to believe. But I hope when the next unknown global disease strikes—and there will be a next one—we understand the disease and help the victims, no matter who they happen to be.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I heard a lot complaining and not a whole lot of being thankful. “I hate this holiday,” said one friend. “It’s too much work to cook this big meal.” “I overeat and have to work off all those extra calories.” “I have to see my family—and they are so annoying.” “I have to travel in traffic.”
Does anyone notice that most people in the world would be lucky to have complaints like too much food to cook and eat, living family members (annoying or not) and a car and resources to travel?
In search of traditions
My favorite Thanksgiving was one I spent with complete strangers. For a newspaper article, I teamed up with photojournalist Adrian Mendoza and we randomly dropped in on families to see how they were spending Thanksgiving. Of course, we went to certain neighborhoods to make sure we had all of the newspaper’s coverage areas included, and in many ways that guaranteed some diversity. Each home celebrated in a different way, but each celebrated with family and friends over a meal. And each welcomed us into their homes—two strangers who showed up unannounced with a camera and a notebook in hand.
The traditions varied from those passed down from past generations, such as how to perfectly deep fry a turkey without burning down the house. Some families added a new twist to the traditional meal. One Italian family opted to create a Mediterranean fish dish. A Mexican family served turkey and tamales. A family of German Baptists served the meal in the garage—the only room big enough to fit a table that would seat everyone present. And having everyone together was important to this family.
Understanding an American holiday
Some families we interviewed were from countries that did not have this particular holiday tradition, and yet they embraced it. We stumbled across one woman, originally from Loas, who cooked a traditional Thanksgiving meal for the first time. (Of course, she included side dishes of sticky rice and a Laotian vegetables.) We ran into her as she carried the bird to a neighbor’s house. She had no family in the area, and her neighbor had been ill and could not cook for her family. So, they decided to “celebrate what they had to be thankful for” together. And I found it so interesting that someone who had been in the country a couple of years could appreciate so well the meaning of a holiday that so many Americans, who have celebrated it their entire lives, seem to miss.
I talk a little about my hope for him to fulfill his dreams.
It’s a little sappy, but that’s just how I roll.
By 3:30 p.m. on Election Tuesday, polling locations in Bridgeport, Conn., had begun to run out of ballots. Voters reported waiting more than an hour in some cases until more ballots could be delivered, or until poll workers got the green light to photocopy the ballots.
According to an Associated press article, the city’s Registrar’s office ordered 21,000 ballots for a city that has 69,000 registered voters. The registrar claimed they ordered the amount for the voters who typically show up for elections and she didn’t want to lose money on unused ballots. Why would more voters come out to vote? I mean, it’s not as if Obama held a rally in the city just three days before the election. Oh, wait, he did hold a rally. Guess he stirred up excitement about voting–who would have thought that could happen?
Sadly, we don’t knows how many people left without voting. We don’t know if some people couldn’t make it to vote even with the polling locations kept open an extra two hours. Please tell me this isn’t going to hang a question mark over the heavily contested race for governor? Of course it is. More important, I wonder what were the economic and racial demographics of the polling places that ran out of ballots, given that the city has about 13 percent Latino and about 12 percent Black, and more than 18 percent live under the poverty level. Whose votes were missed? I also wonder this, given the recent GOP ad that encouraged Latinos NOT to vote. Latino votes were key in several races across the country.
Why aren’t people more outraged? Do people understand the value of a vote? When historically only about 30 percent of the registered voters usually come out to vote–as is apparently the case in Bridgeport–I have my doubts.
Because I’m frustrated by the insanity that permeates American politics, and for that matter, most discourse in America. I wanted this rally to put a spotlight the ridiculous behavior (often scare tactics) of politicians and pundits as well as their followers. It’s behavior that has not only overshadowed important issues, but also in some cases, has prevented real change from happening at a time when our country desperately needs it.
I like to think I was part of a “sane” (and I use this term loosely) group of people from diverse races, socio-economic backgrounds, corners of the country, sexual orientations, genders, religions, occupations and yes, even political ideologies (as was apparent from the “Palin/Snookie 2012″ sign) who want to end the propaganda and the pointless screaming. We want get people talking about facts and reality. And perhaps, we might attempt to compromise on some issues. As one sign said: “Shhh! I’m listening to an opinion.”
On Saturday, we didn’t solve any problems, but seeing so many people at this rally gave me hope. Just as candidates were at the height of their mud slinging, fear-inspiring election campaigns and pundits were busy shouting at each other, we gathered to call ’em out.
And honestly, a rally organized by Jon Stewart and attended by hundreds of thousands of sane people being pushed to the edge of insanity can only be described as one crazy good time.
Four Loko, a caffeinated alcoholic beverage—also known as “black out in a can”—hospitalized nine Central Washington University students in early October. The caffeine in the beverage allows drinkers to consume more alcohol for a longer period of time without feeling the side effects, such as dizziness, that usually signal people to stop drinking, according to a CNN article. Over consumption of this product, as we saw with the Central Washington students, can lead to hospitalization. It could also lead to death.
A little too late?
Now, universities across the country are publicizing warnings about the effects of these “juiced” energy drinks. Others are banning them altogether. I question why companies are allowed to sell these products over the counter in the first place?
Clearly, they have dangerous properties. I always found it strange that most states criminalize marijuana use, but cigarettes are legal. We criminalize the use of cocaine, meth and speed, with good reason, but prescription drugs are legal as along as they’re used under the supervision of a doctor. So amphetamines, such as speed, are illegal, unless you get a prescription from a doctor to, say, help lose weight. And don’t get me started on nutritional supplements that are at best minimally regulated by the FDA. Most of the time we have no idea what’s in these pills and powders. We don’t have a clear understanding of what the ingredients of Four Loko do.
I’m not making an argument for or against legalizing one substance or outlawing another. I just want to point out the contradictions that exist in what we deem a legal or illegal substance.
Who is penalized for drug use?
Here’s the kicker: “The number of people incarcerated for a drug offense is now greater than the number incarcerated for all offenses in 1980,” according to the 2009 report, The Changing Racial Dynamics of the War on Drugs. The report also found that two-third of those in prison on drug charges are African-American and Latino. It’s not that these groups have more drug users, the study found, but they are most often targeted by law enforcement. Drug users in more affluent communities–think celebrities–are more likely to use prescribed legal drugs, such as oxycontin. Still just as hazardous when used for the wrong reasons.
So, you can legally host a party with cases of Four Loko, which can impair your guests enough to hospitalize or kill them. But get caught in the wrong state with marijuana, and you could face prison time. It’s enough to make you think, someone’s smoking something.
In NBC’s show Outlaw, award-winning actor Jimmy Smits plays Cyrus Garza, a Supreme Court Justice who steps down from his post to become a lawyer with the noble goal of promoting justice. We’ve come a long way from Chico and the Man.
Garza is different. He’s a Republican (¡Aye Dios mio!) who has a gambling problem and whose tawdry flings with women just might make him a step closer to Justice Clarence Thomas than Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
That complex character makes this show appealing. It challenges those fading, but persistent stereotypes of Latinos on television as either hard-working immigrants or low-life criminals. His character also shows that people who happen to share a certain ethnicity don’t necessarily think the same way.
In one episode, a white cop shoots an unarmed Latino after he became aggressive when the officer had asked for identification. The altercation happens in Arizona, which has the controversial law requiring police officers to request proof of residency from any person they suspect to be in the US illegally. Garza, who is opposed to the law, wants to work on the case. So, he represents the white officer. Dang! I didn’t see that coming—and I like it!
In the episode, Latinos are outside the courthouse protesting the former Justice, for supporting a law that targets Latinos. Everyone else is questioning his motives, and even more so when he selects a heavily Latino, and assumed biased, jury.
Garza’s wingman, who happens to be African American, says, “Everybody deserves a defense, I’m just saying it doesn’t have to be you.”
But it did have to be him. As a Latino, he could illustrate how easy it is to allow our passion for a particular issue—in this case the Arizona law—to cloud our judgment of right and wrong. He set out to show that a jury could set aside their own opinions to see the facts of the case. In his closing statement, he urges the jury to make legislators repeal an unfair law, but not to persecute an innocent man who only did what the law required him to do and injured the man in self-defense.
And because this is television, the jury finds the white officer innocent and all is well for race relations.
Ok, it’s cheesier than a fake enchilada at Taco Bell. But how often do we challenge this belief that just because you have a certain identity you must think in a certain way? Today more than ever, as we face complicated problems, we need to be able to see beyond our biases and challenge assumptions. And a multi-dimensional character like Garza who is grappling with his demons—some rooted in his culture—while he pursues justice at least begins the conversation.
Yes, he’s too idealistic, the endings of are too tidy, and the acting is a little overly dramatic. But the show has a good storyline. Unfortunately, it’s a storyline we might not see unfold. Low ratings have the network ready to pull the plug on this “Outlaw” fiesta.
Television has made significant progress in its characters since Freddy Prince appeared as Chico, the Mexican mechanic. I just hope Outlaw isn’t replaced with a Latino version of the Jersey Shore. Unfortunately, there’s more room on TV for the “Situación” than there is for an idealistic lawyer.
Looking over glasses that rested on the edge her nose, the woman behind the desk informed me, “That is none of your business.” Each word dripped with smugness.
She was a staff member in the president’s office at a public university and I had asked for the president’s new salary. She apparently didn’t know—or perhaps didn’t care—that my newspaper published salaries of public officials, including the heads of local universities.
I smiled sweetly and said, “I’ll just get it from the budget. The budget is public information.”
We both knew that the budget for this public institution would list the president’s salary. If I were in a worse mood, I would have reminded her that her salary was in the budget too.
She scrunched her face and snarled, “Who wants to know that sort of information anyway? Just nosy people getting in other people’s business.”
Who wants to know? Anyone who pays taxes, because it’s their tax dollars that fund the salaries of the people who head government offices, government agencies, and yes, public schools and colleges.
Even though this woman decided to be the self-proclaimed “protector” of the president—this particular president didn’t need protection. Her salary had been reported before, sometimes in more than one story, and she never complained or even mentioned it or any of the other details of her job that fell under the heading of “public information.” Most of the time, if someone doesn’t have anything to hide, they don’t mind showing you what they’re doing. And most people who accept these positions understand the transparency that is expected.
But government transparency didn’t exist for the 36,000 residents of the small city of Bell, Calif., where local government officials surreptitiously gave themselves enormous salaries. The Bell city manager, for example, received about $1.5 million in salary and benefits, while nearly 20 percent of the city’s population lives below the poverty line. Even worse, these cowardly officials hid their pay increases from public scrutiny and denied residents’ public information requests.
The Los Angles Times broke the story this summer. On Aug. 3, the Times reported:
“Despite vowing greater transparency in the wake of a salary scandal, the city of Bell is refusing to turn over public records to The Times, community activists and even a sitting councilman.”
“They continue to keep us in the dark,” said Councilman Lorenzo Velez, who has been critical of the high salaries paid to top Bell administrators and other City Council members. “The problem is a continuation of so many years of doing whatever they wanted in City Hall.”
People were shocked that city officials could get away with these indulgences and hide their actions for so long.
News outlets reported that residents who requested information about city officials’ salaries and the city budget were insulted and intimidated. These corrupt officials counted on people not knowing their rights. They knew that news organizations don’t have the resources to cover every community.
So whose business is it to ask about the salaries of government officials and the cost of government-run programs? Whose business is it to follow the money and make sure that every tax dollar is spent wisely, especially today, when so many people are jobless or just scraping by?
It’s everybody’s business.
In the much-anticipated documentary Waiting for “Superman,” David Guggenheim shows the gritty, heart-wrenching problems of America’s failing educational system through the lives of five children.
Daisy, one of these children, is a fifth-grader who wants to be a nurse…or a doctor. A bright girl with an angelic giggle, she studies hard. Her parents, who did not graduate from high school, want her to not only graduate, but also attend a good college. But that’s not likely if she attends her East Los Angeles school, which is one of the worst in the city. So, she is waiting for someone to save her, and she believes that person—Perhaps Superman? Perhaps one of us?—will arrive.
The film digs into the politics and bureaucracy that cripples schools, and applauds those hard-working teachers and educators who are succeeding. But I cheer for this film for what it doesn’t include: a sole focus on race. It uses five diverse students—from different regions of the country and backgrounds. The common thread between these children is that they all are slated to attend poor-performing schools—or schools that will place them on low-performing academic tracks.
Don’t get me wrong, race is part of the conversation about academic success and failure. Latino children are trailing academically in record numbers. Only 56 percent graduate from high school in the U.S., according to the Education Equality Project. Why is this group falling behind?
Too often educators say there are many “cultural” problems that are too difficult to overcome. Challenges exist: some Latino children are learning the language, some have parents who may not have an education and can’t help with homework, and others have familial obligations that take away from school work. This thinking dismisses the fact that there are Latinos who have succeeded (How the heck did that happen?) This also ignores the diversity that exists within the Latino community. (Note, what the heck really defines the Latino community anyway?) Not all Latinos are Spanish speaking and may still have problems completely unrelated to ethnicity. And this assumes that the problems rest in the hands of the children and their families. It’s almost like saying, why bother trying to educate these kids.
Yes, there are cultural issues, but every child has specific needs based on his or her abilities and background. As the film points out, some educators have found ways to help their students succeed, regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic status or academic level when they enter the class. They’ve found that all students are capable of meeting expectations in the classroom.
So let’s see what these educators are doing so well. Let’s follow those amazing teachers who inspire children. Not every child will succeed, but let’s at least start the conversation believing that every child can succeed.
Let’s give Daisy hope that someone will save her. Perhaps one day in the future, a failing heart or a cancerous tumor will have us in a hospital room, and we’ll need “Dr. Daisy” to save us.