Category Archives: Essays

Living There

Among my father’s favorite memories were the times he played baseball as a kid in his East Dallas neighborhood.  Growing up in those environs more than six decades, with scores of other Hispanic families, ago gave him a sense of community and freedom.  He had plenty of others, he once told me: holding me for the first time; buying this suburban Dallas home; working in the yard; and playing with our dogs.

“I keep reliving those moments over and over,” he said, following another late night talk.  “If I could go through them again, I would.”

Most of my own best memories occurred in the 1990s – the best decade of my life so far.  And one of the greatest was my 1991 trip to Ixtapa, México – a small hamlet on the nation’s Pacific Coast, northwest of Acapulco and far from the touristy ruckus of Cancun and Cozumel.  That was the furthest away I’d ever been from home at the time and only the third time I’d been outside of the U.S.  My first two international trips also were to México; college spring break jaunts that were hazy and less relaxing.

Ixtapa was incredibly soothing and quiet.  It was the first time I’d ever seen the Pacific Ocean, or any ocean for that matter.  The closest I’d come to an ocean was the Gulf of México.  On my first night, the pounding of the waves along the shoreline echoed deep into my mind and lulled me to sleep.  While I savored the beach and the warm weather, my parents feared for my life; that I’d be kidnapped by local hoodlums.  That had crossed my mind, too, but I was enjoying the simple sights too much to worry.

The Ixtapa excursion allowed me to live out a few of my dreams: lounging along the waterline for hours; roaming through a quiet Mexican town, wallowing in the community without boisterous intruders or Americanized visages; stuffing myself with as much food in the all-you-can-eat buffets; and, of course, consuming plenty of alcohol.

Sitting in the sand, wearing a skimpy Speedo, and letting sea water roll around me remains one of the best therapies I’ve ever had.  I thought, if some giant tsunami accosted the beach and sucked me into the Pacific depths, I probably wouldn’t mind.  Another fantasy didn’t develop until the moment I stepped onto the beach, beneath a cloudy sky.  I didn’t get to experience it, which is probably a good thing.  It might have killed me.

A tall islet laden with tropical vegetation languished innocuously offshore – perhaps a mile at the most.  I thought it beckoned me, and after a couple of days, I dared to attempt a brief excursion to its narrow shores.  I tried swimming out to it, but quickly realized the allure was strictly my own cogitation.  And I wisely returned to shore.

I returned home looking like I’d been attacked by some animal rights activists, which startled family, friends and coworkers.  I couldn’t praise Ixtapa highly enough.  I loved it then and I love it now.  I hope I can visit again.  If not now, then maybe in another life – if there is such a thing.

I’m not thinking of reincarnation, but rather, a life beyond this one.  The post-Earth kind of life.  Out there.  Wherever it is.

I’ve never been so arrogant as to say I know exactly what will happen to me after I die.  I’m certainly not a self-righteous evangelical Christian or “72 virgins at the end of the hallway” maniac.  But, for the bulk of my life, I’ve wondered what happens to us when we cross over to that “Other Side.”  What do people do?  How do they navigate time and space?  Why do they not visit us back here more often, especially when we call out their names in prayer?

I don’t know.  But I’ve begun to ponder a simple possibility – why would they come back here?  For any reason.  As much as they love us.  Why return to Earth?  They’ve served their time in this life.  So, what awaits them – all of us – on that “Other Side”?

All of those happy moments they experienced.  The people who have gone before us are, perhaps, reliving the best times of their lives.  They’re once again experiencing those events that gave them the most pleasure and made them feel the happiest.  I don’t suppose this would include the times they might have hurt other people for pleasure – whether it was accidental or deliberate.  Certainly not deliberate!  I imagine others who shared those grand moments slide in and out of the reoccurrences.  A sort of crossing time and space.

Therefore, my father is reliving the days he played baseball in his youth; when he first met my mother; holding me shortly after I’d been born; caressing my dog, Wolfgang, just a few years ago.  He absolutely loved that little four-legged monster!  Petting him was one of the simplest – yet best – pleasures my father had.

All of those things made him feel good.  Why in the hell would he come back here to help me with Earthly troubles?  Why would anyone want to give up reliving those special times to deal with plumbing problems and credit card debt?  They’ve already dealt with that shit!

I can’t imagine my father trading in the joy of having his own lawn for a day of listening to me moan about lower back pain!  Who in their right mind would want to make that kind of trade off?!

That’s why we don’t see our dearly departed that much.  And it’s why tampering with séances and Ouija boards is dangerous.  Disturbing the dead may be the subject of many bad jokes.  But I think it’s wrong.  It’s also kind of pointless.  Imagine you’re undergoing a full body massage and a relative interrupts to tell you they got into a road rage incident.  Wouldn’t you be pissed and want to startle the crap out of them, as they got ready for bed?

What’s it really like on that “Other Side”?  How is it living out there?  Again, I don’t know.  And I’m really not eager to find out anytime soon!  I have more stories I want to publish.  I want to adopt another dog.  So, I’ll continue paying my Earth-bound dues.  And one day I hope to lounge in that Ixtapa surf for hours – not concerned with anything.

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Amend This

After more than four decades of watching American politics in action – I’m old enough to remember Watergate – I’ve come to realize the U.S. Constitution is a fluid document.  It’s more of a guide than a text carved into stone or marble.  That’s why it’s been amended 27 times over the past 240 years.  Therefore, as a devoted yet concerned citizen (meaning, pissed off at the crappy way things are going), I propose 3 additional amendments to the U.S. Constitution:

Amendment XXVIII

Note: This Amendment affects Section 1 of the 22nd Amendment.

Section 1: No person shall be elected to the Office of the President more than once, and that term is limited to six (6) consecutive years.

Section 2: If the Vice-President, or any other designated official ascends to the Office of President within one (1) calendar year from the day the originally elected President is sworn in, that person will be able to serve as Chief Executive only for the remainder of that particular term.  That person will not be allowed to seek election as President on their own.

Section 3: If the Vice-President, or any other designated official ascends to the Office of President within no less than one (1) calendar year and one (1) calendar day from the day the originally elected President is sworn in, that person will be able to serve as Chief Executive only for the remainder of that particular term.  That person will then be allowed to seek election as President on their own for only one term of six (6) consecutive years.  Therefore, the longest any one individual can serve as Chief Executive is one (1) calendar day short of eight (8) consecutive years.

 

Amendment XXVIIII

Section 1:  All candidates for the Office of President who enter the first primary in their respective field will be subjected to a mandatory physical exam by an independent, non-partisan medical professional selected by the current Surgeon General.  The results of this exam will be made public no more than one (1) calendar day after that initial primary election.

Section 2:  All candidates for the Office of President who enter the first primary in their respective field will be subjected to a mandatory psychological exam by an independent, non-partisan medical professional selected by the current Surgeon General.  The results of this exam will be made public no more than one (1) calendar day after that initial primary election.

 

Amendment XXX

Candidates for the Office of President must submit their financial records, including tax filings, to both Houses of the U.S. Congress within ninety (90) calendar days from the day they announce their candidacy.  Failure to comply within the allotted period will result in automatic disqualification from the election process.  That person will not be allowed to resume their candidacy, but will be allowed to seek the Office of President for the next appropriate election.  That person will then be subjected to the same protocol set forth in this Amendment.  Failure to comply within the allotted period for a second time will result in both automatic disqualification from the current election process and forbiddance from seeking the Office of President or the Office of Vice-President at any time in the future.

 

Please let me know what you folks think!  We, the People, must take more and better control of our nation’s leadership – just as our Founding Fathers (and Mothers) intended.

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Things Jussie Smollett Could Have Done for His Career

As if things couldn’t get any stranger since the election of Donald Trump, the so-called actor known as Jussie Smollett has made a sad name for himself by apparently staging an assault on himself and claiming it was a hate crime.  Investigators in Chicago – where the alleged attack occurred – arrested Smollett on Thursday, the 21st, and charged him with fakery.  (Fakery is essentially the same as dumbfuckery.)  I’d heard of the show Empire, but I’d never heard of Smollett.  I mean, who has?  In the high-pressure universe of television entertainment, people are only as good as their last scandal.  But, if Smollett seriously wanted to advance his career, there are a number of things he could’ve done, instead of conjuring up a hate crime scenario.

To help him – and other would-be assholes who have dared even thinking of doing the same – I’ve composed a list of things Smollett might have done to enhance his notoriety.

 

  • Take acting lessons.
  • Post nude selfies to social media.
  • Get arrested with marijuana in his underwear.
  • Pose for Playgirl.
  • Announce he’s turned heterosexual.
  • Express his support for Donald Trump.
  • Rent an expensive sports car and wreck it.
  • State publicly he hates queer people.
  • Fake a seizure while on a plane.
  • Claim he had a one-night fling with Anderson Cooper.
  • Go to work part-time for Wal-Mart and say he needed the gig to supplement his income.
  • Say he has 4 testicles.
  • Travel to Acapulco for vacation and “disappear” for a few days.
  • Get into a fight with an old woman in a wheelchair.
  • Say he’s trying to find a child he thinks he fathered 20 years ago.
  • Start wearing a t-shirt that says, ‘I Beat Vitiligo.’
  • Visit a therapist claiming he’s a masturbation addict.
  • Tell everyone he’s NOT vegan and eats gluten.
  • Publicly condemn scientology.
  • Say he hates Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.

 

On a more serious note, I have to confess my disdain for Smollett.  I’ve known plenty of non-White people who have been victimized by hate crimes (beyond name-calling), and most of the queer people I’ve known could recount one or more harrowing tales of hate crime episodes.  For Smollett to pay someone to inflict an attack on him, just for the sake of seeing his acting career skyrocket, is an offense to REAL victims of hate crimes.  It may also prevent future victims from reporting these events, lest they be questioned and even mocked.  You know the right-wing establishment is going to have a field day with this shit, don’t you!

Fabricating criminal behavior won’t advance anyone’s career, but it can set back the progress marginalized groups have made towards equality.  The public truly doesn’t care about the notoriety of a little-known actor on a ubiquitous television show.  But we do care about people who have fallen victim to hate and oppression.  Smollett can now fade into the obscurity where he was already languishing.  Maybe Wal-Mart will hire him.

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It’s Okay to Kill Men

The jokes were seemingly endless.  “No hard evidence.”  “Won’t stand up in court.”  This was part of the chaos surrounding the infamous John and Lorena Bobbitt fiasco from two decades ago.  In June of 1993, Lorena Bobbitt was an Ecuadorian immigrant living in Arlington, Virginia and married to a former U.S. Marine, John Bobbitt.  Lorena claimed John returned home in a drunken rage one night and raped her.  In retaliation, she grabbed a kitchen knife and severed his penis.  Then, she fled their apartment with the organ in her hand, dropping it into a field.

The story quickly made international headlines, and Lorena Bobbitt became an instant feminist heroine.  And then, the jokes started – about John Bobbitt.  Everyone, it seemed, especially television and radio talk show hosts, had a good time with it.  Women in my own workplace laughed out loud about it, carrying on as if they were discussing the antics at a family dinner.  But, I noticed no one made fun of Lorena Bobbitt.

Exactly one year after the Bobbitt incident domestic violence took a deadlier turn when O.J. Simpson was charged with murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and a friend of hers, Ron Goldman.  Shortly after Simpson’s arrest, a group of women’s rights activists, led by Los Angeles-based feminist attorney Gloria Allred, demanded that Simpson be put to death, if he was found guilty.  Legal semantics did not concern them in that Simpson qualified for the death penalty under California law because supposedly he’d murdered two people at the same time.  Too many men, they declared, had murdered their female partners and gotten away with it.  They wanted an example made of Simpson.  Keep in mind that they called for Simpson’s life even before he was arraigned in court and long before the actual trial began.  But, amidst all the talk about the volatile relationship between Simpson and his ex-wife, one person was consistently left out of the picture: Ron Goldman.  He was hardly mentioned.  In fact, he was almost always referred to as “her friend,” meaning Nicole Simpson’s.  It took a lawsuit by Goldman’s father to bring Ron’s name to the forefront.  But, even now, Ron is still often referred to as “Nicole’s friend.”

Four months after the Simpson case erupted family violence took yet another tragic turn.  In York, South Carolina, Susan Smith placed her two young sons in her car and rolled the vehicle into a local lake whereupon the boys drowned.  Smith claimed that a man had carjacked her.  As with the Simpson case, race played a significant role because Smith had specifically stated a Black man had committed the crime.  As officials scoured the local area for the missing car, they also descended on every Black man in the county.  Not just those with a criminal record, of which there were few.  Virtually every Black make who passed through York, South Carolina found himself with a target on his back.  Finally, after intense scrutiny, Smith confessed to the unthinkable: she had fabricated the entire story, from the kidnapping to the pleas for her boys’ return, and led police to her car.  She had driven it into a local lake – her toddlers strapped into their car seats.  The boys’ bodies were still entombed in the submerged vehicle.

The media did a good job of showing many women lovingly holding onto their children, as if to emphasize that most women wouldn’t dream of behaving like Susan Smith.  In the Simpson case, however, the media didn’t make any effort to note that most men don’t abuse, much less murder, their wives or ex-wives.

Then, during her trial, Smith made a stunning accusation.  She claimed her stepfather, Beverly Russell, had molested her as a teenager.  And, after Smith was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, the focus suddenly shifted away from her and her dead young sons and onto Russell.  And the same band of feminists who had been so quiet throughout the trial suddenly rose up in anger, demanding that Russell be investigated.  And, just like Ron Goldman, Smith’s two sons were lost in the heated discussion about domestic violence.

I thought of these cases Both the Bobbitt and Simpson cases brought the ugly specter of domestic violence into a new light.  Virtually every analysis of this subject, however, has focused on males as the aggressors.  If anyone mentions the term battered husbands, they are met with incredulity.  But, in a 1974 study of couples in which violence had occurred, researcher Richard Gelles found that while 47% of the men initiated the violence on a wife or girlfriend, 33% of the women did the same to a husband or boyfriend.  In 1980, Gelles joined with fellow researchers Murray Straus, a pioneer in family violence research, and Suzanne Steinmetz, another prominent sociologist, to analyze an even greater number of similar situations and found that the percentages had increased exponentially – for women.  In 1999, University of Wisconsin psychology professor Terrie Moffitt confirmed those findings and added that, contrary to feminist proclamations, women don’t often initiate violence as a measure of self-defense.  They are often the aggressors.

Admittedly, roughly 75% of arrestees in domestic violence cases are male.  But, does that mean men simply are more violent?  Or, that police are more likely to arrest men?  Still, the idea of women being violent is somewhat foreign.  It contradicts the stereotype of the helpless, passive female.

So, just how many battered men are there in this country?  No one knows.  Despite years of analysis – even of that particular subject – researchers still can’t present an accurate count.  To feminists, this proves that domestic violence is strictly male-on-female and nothing else.  But, to those studying this issue from an analytical perspective, it points to a cultural definition of manhood.  Men who are abused emotionally or physically by women are considered weak; the objects of ridicule; less than human.

To me, it points to a long-held assumption that violence against men is perfectly acceptable; that the male life is expendable.  It starts in infancy, when many newborn males in the United States are routinely circumcised without any type of anesthetic relief and for no established medical purpose.  The procedure became common in the early 1950s in the U.S. and soon reached a peak of roughly 90% within a few years.  That figure remained relatively steady for the next 30 years, when it began to decline.  By 2010, the rate of newborn male circumcisions had dropped to an astonishingly low 40%.  But that’s been a difficult battle to fight.  It’s still perfectly legal to sever part of an infant male’s penis for the ridiculously mere purposes of religious means or aesthetic sensibilities.  Any efforts to ban the procedure – even at a local level – have always been met with hostility and ultimately abandoned.

Yet, in the 1990’s, the issue of so-called female circumcision became prominent, and women’s rights activists pushed for laws to ban the procedure in this country.  They achieved that in 1996 with the passage of the Female Genital Mutilation Act, which received 100% support from all members of the U.S. Congress and took effect immediately.  Opponents of FGM declared that female circumcision is worst because it removes all of the genitalia, while male circumcision only removes part of the penis.  That’s like saying, if you’re going to hurt somebody, stab them.  But, for God’s sake, don’t shoot them.  Still, FGM never has been practiced in the U.S. or most other developed nations.  Personally, I’d never heard of it until the early 1990s.

On the issue of child abuse, male children are six times as likely to endure physical abuse and ten times as likely to suffer injury than their female counterparts.  Some school districts, even at the elementary level, maintain policies that forbid corporal punishment from being administered to girls, but not boys.

And then, there’s Selective Service.  Mandatory military service for men in the U.S. ended nearly half a century ago, but Selective Service was reinstated in 1980.  All males in this country are required to register for Selective Service within thirty days of turning 18.  While there’s no penalty for late registration, there are some severe penalties for failing to register; such as an inability to obtain financial assistance for college, find employment, or get a driver’s license.  Non-registrants can be fined several thousands of dollars and be imprisoned.  Even men who are only children or only sons and those who are physically disabled (but can leave their residence under their own power) are required to register.  Selective Service means young men can be drafted into the military in times of national crisis; meaning they can be forced into a war; meaning they could get killed.  It turns young men into cannon fodder.  Yet, all of that is perfectly acceptable.

Not until 2013 did the United States finally allow women already enlisted in the military to serve in combat roles.  But they still can’t be conscripted.  And Americans remain squeamish about the thought of women coming home in body bags, or with missing limbs.  Apparently, though, we’ve made peace with seeing men return like that.

In the realm of capital punishment, men comprise 98.5% of death row inmates.  Death penalty opponents often point out the racial disparities in meting out capital punishment, which are valid.  But, in reality, the death penalty is more sexist than racist.  And, when women are sentenced to die, the objections are especially boisterous.  In 1984, Velma Barfield of North Carolina became the first woman executed in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment eight years earlier.  At the time, she was only the tenth woman executed in the U.S. since 1900.  Barfield poisoned a number of people to death, including her own mother.  But, when she was sentenced to death, a tidal wave of protests, including some by religious leaders, ensued.  And, the same cacophony of protests surrounded the execution of Karla Faye Tucker here in Texas in 1998.  No one actually has declared that it’s immoral to execute a woman, even if she is a proven killer.  But, it seems to be implied.

I’m not trying to defend the likes of John Bobbitt or O.J. Simpson.  Neither has been an upstanding citizen.  And, no one really knows what happened those two different nights so many years ago, except the parties involved.  The police had been called to the Bobbitt home several times in the months preceding the knife incident.  As one observer put it, to say that John and Lorena Bobbitt had marital problems is like saying Jeffery Dahmer had an eating disorder.  It somewhat trivializes the entire matter.

Violence is violence, regardless of gender, race, age, or any other attribute.  It’s morally wrong and it serves no purpose.  We need to stop putting prices on people’s lives and categorizing violence according to how much injury the victim incurs.  Despite decades of progress regarding basic human rights, most societies – even those with high standards of living and educational rates like the U.S. – seem to believe it’s okay to kill men.  Except in rare cases of self-defense, it is not okay to kill anybody.

 

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)

Image: J.L.A. De La Garza

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Spickland

“And why is it that when you’re dining here today to honor me as Hispanic Officer of the Year, I look around the room full of ranking officers, and the only other Hispanics I see are waiters and busboys?  As far as I’m concerned, you can keep your awards.” – René Enriquez, as Lte. Ray Calletano, “Hill Street Blues”, 1983

 

“A part of me wants to kick their ass.  A part of me feels sorry for their stupid ignorant selves.  But if you’ve never been farther south than Nuevo Laredo, how the hell would you know what Mexicans are supposed to look like?

There are green-eyed Mexicans.  The rich blond Mexicans.  The Mexicans with faces of Arab sheiks.  The Jewish Mexicans.  The big-footed-as-a-German Mexicans.  The leftover French-Mexicans.  The chaparrito compact Mexicans.  The Tarahumara tall-as-a-desert-saguaro Mexicans.  The Mediterranean Mexicans.  The Mexicans with Tunisian eyebrows.  The negrito Mexicans of the double coasts.  The Chinese Mexicans.  The curly-haired, freckle-faced, red-headed Mexicans.  The Lebanese Mexicans.  Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about when you say I don’t look Mexican.  I am Mexican.  Even though I was born on the U.S. side of the border.” – Sandra Cisneros, Caramelo, Chapter 72. Copyright 2003, Vintage Books.

 

Recently FX Networks announced the premier of “Mayans MC,” a spinoff of their highly popular, award-winning “Sons of Anarchy.”  Airing from 2008 to 2014, “Sons of Anarchy” followed the lives of an outlaw motorcycle club in the fictional town of Charming, California.  Exploring government corruption, personal loyalty, racism, redemption and the vigilante spirit, it’s sort of what you’d get if the Hells Angels produced a show for the Hallmark Channel.  “Mayans MC” essentially continues the storyline, but with a Latino cultural flair.  While the real Mayans charted the night skies, these “Mayans” are drug runners who immediately encounter another gang, Los Olvidados (The Forgotten Ones).  They might as well have called it ‘Mean Ass Mexicans on Motorcycles.’  I guess not much has changed since 1983.

It’s slightly reminiscent of “Kingpin,” a severely short-lived series that dealt with “the machinations of an ambitious Mexican family . . . displayed in graphic detail as the family faces challenges from both the United States Drug Enforcement Agency and from the dangerous underworld in which they work.”  The show was the brainchild of the late David Mills, a “light-skinned black man whose racial identity was not always evident to those around him” and who “wrote white characters and black characters with equal zeal.”  Okay, great.  He may have placed Black and White folks on equal levels, but he kept Hispanics on the criminal platform.  There are more colors in the rainbow of equality than black and white.

The start of 2005 saw the debut of “Jonny Zero,” a Fox series about an ex-con named Jonny Calvo, played by the underwhelming Frankie G. (Gonzales), who returns to his old neighborhood to begin life anew.  He naturally finds it tough to stay on the right side of the law because his former employer seeks his tough-guy services to engage in new criminal activity, while the FBI wants him to snitch on that same former employer.  Decisions!  Decisions!  Aside from taking place in that most Latino of all American metropolises, New York City, “Jonny Zero” was also filmed there.  I presume that was meant to lend it a sense of gritty urban realism.  Fortunately, like “Kingpin”, “Jonny Zero” lasted all of a nano-second in TV land.

Even now, in this allegedly post-civil rights era America, Hispanics are still portrayed on television as gang bangers, maids and illegal immigrants.

In 2011, Demián Bichir received praise and a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in “A Better Life”, the story of a Mexican immigrant father who chooses to remain in the U.S. and work as a gardener in Los Angeles.  His goal is simple: do for his kids what the movie’s title says to do.  It’s supposed to be melodramatic and sweet and, perhaps, make the case for a more sentimental view of illegal immigration.

In an interview last year, actor Benito Martinez lamented, “I had all these images of elegance and range and style, so when I, naively, was trying to build my career, those were my examples,” the soft-spoken Martinez says. “But what I was getting in the ‘80s as a young Latino actor was, ‘You’re going to be a gang member and you’re going to go in and rob the bank.’  I had to then learn about pigeonholing.  I had to learn the power of no.”

Martinez’s latest role?  A migrant laborer on a tomato farm on ABC’s “American Crime”.  The “power of no” often runs hard up against the need to pay bills and beef up a resume.  The show was cancelled last year.

Another ABC program, “Modern Family,” has been heralded as a depiction of America’s ethnic diversity.  But the main female character – portrayed by the immensely untalented Sofia Vergara – is yet another Hispanic trope: the sexpot.

Twenty years ago critics wondered aloud why the highly popular show “Friends” didn’t feature any Black characters, given that it took place in New York City.  Well, it didn’t have any Asian or Hispanic characters either.

Again, not much seems to have changed for Latinos in popular culture since 1983.  The late Lupe Ontiveros once calculated that she’d portrayed maids and housekeepers some 200 times in her 30+ years as a professional actress.  Yes, I’ve seen plenty of Hispanic housekeepers – have even known a few.  But most of the Hispanics I’ve seen and known throughout my life – even those outside my own family – have been well-educated, well-spoken, gainfully-employed, law-abiding, military-serving U.S. citizens.  These are MY people – not the illiterate wetbacks scurrying across the border at midnight or hyper-violent drug cartel leaders.  I’m not familiar with those latter groups.  I can’t identify with them.  Neither can most other Hispanic-Americans.

So why don’t we see more of us on television or in the movies?  I suppose my life as a 50-something freelance technical writer taking care of his elderly mother is too bland for the American entertainment – an industry still dominated by mostly White (usually Jewish) men.  And I won’t start a life of crime just to get attention and maybe a reality TV show!  Hell, that would cut into my writing time!

The ordinariness of the average Hispanic-American is perhaps why I had such a hard time getting my debut novel published.  Traditional publishing houses couldn’t see the reality in a book with Hispanic characters who are well-educated and speak perfect English.  Yes, one publisher actually told me that a little more than a decade ago!  That’s why I’ve resorted to self-publishing, which I’ll get to in a different essay.

The only way I see things changing for the general American perception of Hispanics – aside from letting the ‘Old Guard’ die off – is for Latinos to get angry.  Yes, just flat out pissed off and demand more AND better from the entertainment industry.  To some extent, that’s already happened with the cancellation of shows like “Kingpin” and “Jonny Zero”.  But we have to point out – forcefully – to TV and film producers that they don’t have a true understanding of who we all are.  Who we really are.  Stereotypes are pathetically old school and don’t have a place in 21st century societies.

Years ago some White people at my father’s workplace told him he wasn’t like “other Mexicans”; that he was “different.”  He honestly didn’t know what to make of it, but I did when he mentioned that to my mother and me at dinner one evening.  “They’re stereotyping you, Dad,” I told him.

 

Image: Erik De La Cruz, Latina Lista

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Sexual Dealings

“The hearings ripped open the subject of sexual harassment like some long-festering sore.”

Nina Totenberg

 

The U.S. Senate hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court have gone from the mundane (replete with the standard and predictable inquiries into the candidate’s judiciary paper trail) to the hyper-dramatic.  Not since Clarence Thomas’ 1991 confirmation has an otherwise routine and constitutionally required procedure descended into the chaos normally reserved for daytime melodramas.

The Thomas fiasco was a ready-made soap opera.  Gossip columnists and entertainment industry executives all felt they’d died and gone to ‘Trash TV Heaven.’  In general, only the nerdiest of academic scholars viewed SCOTUS hearings with rapt attention.  But the Thomas proceedings quickly devolved into a media event when the Senate discovered – among the slew of Thomas documents – a complaint by one of his former colleagues, Anita Hill, accusing the judge of sexual harassment on the job.  Hill had worked for Thomas in the early 1980s, when he was head of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.  The hearings had technically concluded, and a vote was about to take place.  Then Nina Totenberg, a correspondent with National Public Radio (NPR), received a copy of an affidavit Hill had completed several weeks earlier in response to a Senate request for any and all information regarding her dealings with Thomas.  Such requests are standard for Supreme Court nominations, as well as other high-level government positions.  The vote on Thomas most likely would have taken place without further discussion had the Hill affidavit not appeared.  (The source of the leak to Totenberg has never been revealed.)

The vote was delayed, and the soap opera commenced.  Hill described in graphic detail how Thomas asked her out repeatedly during their time working together.  She made it clear, however, that he never touched her and never threatened her.  But his behavior made her uncomfortable, and she was concerned for her job.  Apparently, he got the message and stopped.  Hill wasn’t the only woman to file a formal complaint against Thomas, but she had been the first.  And she was the only one called to testify before the Senate during Thomas’ hearing.  Despite her testimony, Thomas was confirmed 52-48, in one of the narrowest Supreme Court votes in history.

The controversy – especially the sight of an all-male Senate committee questioning Hill – prompted a feminist backlash.  Months later, 1992 was dubbed the “Year of the Woman”.  It also happened to be an election year, which subsequently saw large numbers of women elected to public office across the nation.  It also put Bill Clinton into the White House.  As anyone of a certain age might recall, Clinton became the focus of his own sexual indiscretions.  Ironically, many of the same people who demonized Clarence Thomas championed Bill Clinton and proclaimed accusations of his flirtatious peccadillos were simply good old-fashioned sludge politics.  Or what Hilary Clinton deemed a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”

Apparently, the New Feminist Order didn’t include the likes of Gennifer Flowers or Paula Jones.  I recall plenty of women scoffing at the news that – in 1990 – Jones visited then-Governor Bill Clinton in his hotel room late at night on the promise of a job offer.

“What a dumb broad!” my mother told me one day.  She, as well as some of my female friends and colleagues, laughed at the idea that Jones believed Clinton would invite her to his hotel room at 11:00 p.m. wanting to conduct a job interview.  Right-wing sycophants portrayed Jones as a naïve 20-something who didn’t know any better.  James Carville, Clinton’s campaign manager, remarked, “Drag a $100 bill through a trailer camp and there’s no telling what you will find.”

When Clinton’s sexual tryst with Monica Lewinsky came to light, self-righteous conservatives actually tried to impeach him for lying about it under oath.  But again, no word came from the feminist camp.  In fact, they were suspiciously silent throughout the entire ordeal.  Clinton supported abortion, so I guess that’s all some women’s rights activists cared about.

Personally, I always liked Bill Clinton (Hilary not so much) and didn’t appreciate the news media focused so much attention on his hormonally-driven conquests.  Yes, he likes women.  He’s also one of the smartest and most verbally eloquent men ever to serve as Chief Executive.  What a stark contrast to his immediate successor or the buffoon currently in the White House!  But, if character counts – as so many social and religious conservatives proclaim – why are sexual indiscretions more important than, say, financial irregularities?  Conservatives were quick to defend Thomas and just as quick to defend Trump.  But they championed the ousting of Clinton because he got a blow-job from some unknown overweight intern.  Conversely, liberals were quick to defend Clinton, but had no problems dragging Thomas through the mud.  Character may be important for public officials, but politics keeps interfering.

All of that came back – like another “Rocky” sequel – recently with the Kavanaugh ordeal.  This situation is different, however, but much more disturbing.  Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward about her traumatizing encounter with Kavanaugh in the summer of 1982, when both were high school students.  Whereas Clarence Thomas allegedly asked Anita Hill out on dates repeatedly and made one too many off-color jokes, Blasey Ford claims Kavanaugh and another teenage boy ambushed her at a house, dragged her into a bedroom and tried to rape her.  If true, Blasey Ford is recounting an incident that goes far beyond mere uncouth behavior.  It’s a harrowing tale of a felonious assault; one where she literally felt she could die at the age of 15.

I know first-hand what both sexual harassment and general bullying-type harassment on the job can do to a person’s sense of self-worth.  I know it happens.  I’ve experienced it from men AND women.  In the fall of 1985, I was a naïve 21-year-old working at a country club when my openly gay male supervisor admitted to me one night that he’d “really like to suck your dick off.”  It startled me more than it offended, but I didn’t know what to do.  Working at a retail store just a few years later, I got into a verbal altercation with my immediate supervisor who threatened to “bounce me right out of here.”  We eventually made amends, realizing it was just a bad misunderstanding.

While working at a large bank in downtown Dallas a few years after that, a woman came up behind me as I stood at a copier and literally jabbed a well-manicured fingernail into my back.  We’d had an ongoing dispute about some otherwise small business matter.

“Oh please tell me you didn’t just poke me in the back like that!” I said to her.

She promptly jabbed me in the chest with that same finger and said something like, “I’ll stick it up your ass…”

Whereupon I literally shoved her back and told her never to touch me again.  She marched out of the room and had someone call security on me.  When I relayed what all had happened, attention turned back to her; she had merely said I’d “physically accosted” her in the copier room for “no good reason.”  I informed management that, if I lost my job because of that, she’d “better come out with me” or the bank will buy me a new vehicle and give me an early retirement.

In 2006, while laboring as a contractor at a government agency elsewhere in downtown Dallas, a woman with the security division deliberately ran into me, as I and a male colleague started to enter through a secure doorway.  I didn’t see her approach; she’d moved in on me that quick.  She then grabbed my upper left arm and demanded to see my badge.  When I told her (shouted at her) never to touch me again, she threatened to walk me out of the building.  My immediate supervisor was more upset with me for talking back to her than the fact she’d literally attacked me.  Again, I threatened legal action.

“I can be a real asshole about this,” I told him, “and tell everyone she hit me and tried punch and scratch me.”

My constituent vouched for the veracity of what happened.  I suppose if he hadn’t been with me, I might have lost that job.  But I had no fear of that.  I would have ensured the same happened to her.  But the matter quietly (amazingly) went away.  Still, my supervisor and a few others seemed to be more upset that I’d actually had the nerve to talk back to a woman and not that she grabbed my arm.

I’m aware that, in this politically correct society, gender politics has taken an ugly turn.  And it seems, whenever men are accused of sexual abuse and harassment of females, they are presumed guilty until proven innocent and the burden of proof lies with them.  In other words, the standard protocol of due process is undermined.  But only in those cases where a female – especially an adult White female – is victimized.  Or claims to be have been victimized.

It was with all of that in mind that I viewed the life story scuffles between Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford.  I compelled myself to view it all with an open mind and hear both sides of each tale.  I noted that Anita Hill had been subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, but that Dr. Blasey Ford had written to her local congresswoman about a one-time incident with Kavanaugh five presidents ago.  And, when the Senate asked Blasey Ford to testify under oath, she agreed (via her attorneys), but only after a long list of conditions were met.

Who is she, I asked myself.  Why is JUST NOW coming forward with this?  And how pertinent is it to Kavanugh’s confirmation?  His judicial record opposing abortion and gay rights, while recklessly supporting large corporations is more critical.

Even after listening to Blasey Ford’s statement and all the vitriolic after-effects, I wondered where this would lead.  Then I witnessed with some degree of amusement Kavanaugh literally lose it, as he tried to defend himself and rebut Blasey Ford’s claims.  The once-stoic, almost bland, jurist melted into near hysteria.  His loudly defensive behavior was telling.  I’ve been around long enough to know that people who grow hostile in such a manner are most likely guilty of the accusations laid before them.

But then, I realized something even more important; something about Blasey Ford.  She had stated repeatedly that, while her involuntary interaction with a teenage Kavanaugh was a “sexual assault,” it didn’t culminate (apparently) in an actual rape.  Neither Kavanaugh nor his friend managed to penetrate any part of her body with some part of theirs.  She credits much of that to the fact she fought so hard – terrified for her life – and that she had on a one-piece bathing suit, which would be more difficult to tear off.

Yet, if she had fabricated this entire story, or at least had embellished it, there would be no such ending.  If the story was born from the mind of a bitter middle-age female, both boys would have penetrated her somehow or another.  In fact, there probably would have been more assailants.  She would have ended up bruised and bloodied; stumbling out of the house naked and screaming.  But that’s not what she says happened.  That’s what made me realize she can’t be lying about this.

It’s not that I doubted her altogether.  I didn’t have an opinion either way about the alleged incident.  I’ve become accustomed to seeing male public figures – politicians and sports stars alike – be targeted by supposedly scorned women.  Almost every man who has entered public life (at least here in the U.S.) has fallen victim to a plethora of accusations from a gallery of victims.  And, once again, understand that men accused of sexual violence in this country aren’t always accorded due process.

But now, I realize Blasey Ford can’t be lying.  It’s still odd that she wrote to her local congresswoman about Kavanaugh just this past summer.  Yet, I’m certainly glad she did.  Now other stories about Kavanaugh are coming to light; stories of his alleged drunken binges in high school and college; of verbal slurs and physical attacks.  The accusers are both women and men.  It’s not that the men are more believable – at least not to me.

Kavanaugh had portrayed himself as a studious, virginal, choir boy-type puppy dog in his youth; a kid who volunteered to help old women cross the street and attended church as he was headed for the priesthood.  He proclaimed as much before the Judiciary Committee.  Under oath.  In public.  With his wife and daughters seated behind him.  Now all of that’s in question.

If character really does count – and we know it does sometimes – then people like Kavanaugh don’t stand a chance.  And it’s fair game to dredge up their past indiscretions the way archaeologists dredge up ancient coins.

Sadly, this fiasco is not quite over.  It will continue into this coming week.  Sometimes, true-life soap operas are just too overbearing.  Stay tuned.

 

Supreme Court Historical Society

Image: Rob Rogers

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Goddamn the Roman Catholic Church

“Most of the alleged victims were not raped: they were groped or otherwise abused, but not penetrated, which is what the word “rape” means. This is not a defense – it is meant to set the record straight and debunk the worst case scenarios attributed to the offenders.” – Bill Donohue, PhD, Catholics for Religious and Civil Rights, “Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report Debunked”, 16 August 2018

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

Albert Einstein

 

Once more, the ugly head of hypocrisy has arisen for the Roman Catholic Church.  A mammoth report issued by the state of Pennsylvania last month has left the oldest and largest denomination of Christianity in turmoil – again.  According to the results of a grand jury, top Catholic leaders covered up roughly seven decades of abusive child behavior by hundreds of priests.  More than 1,000 victims, the report alleges, fell prey to the antics of pedophilic clergy.  During that lengthy period (more than half a century, if you think about it), the Church put the welfare of itself over that of the affected children.  That should surprise no one.  One of the wealthiest and most powerful institutions on Earth, the Roman Catholic Church has metamorphosed from its humble beginnings as an ideology that regards everyone as essential and vital to the construct of humanity into an omnipotent criminal organization more intent on destroying anyone who dares question its authority.

The Pennsylvania scandal is painfully reminiscent of a similar fiasco that tore through the diocese of Boston nearly two decades ago.  That mess centered mainly on one man, John J. Geoghan, a former priest who had molested a gallery of young boys in the Boston area starting in the 1960s.  The focus then shifted to Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the former archbishop of Boston who was forced to resign in 2002, when proof arose that he became aware of Geoghan’s perverted predilections not long after he had arrived in Boston in 1984 to helm the diocese.  Like any criminal syndicate (think a street gang or a drug cartel), the Church decided to handle the matter quietly and internally.  The results have been catastrophic – and sometimes deadly.

Instead of doing something reasonable and decent, such as turning Geoghan over to outside authorities, Law moved him around.  Even one of Law’s own bishops thought assigning Geoghan to another parish was too risky and wrote a letter to the prelate that same year, 1984, protesting the transfer.  As early as 1980, Geoghan himself admitted to church officials that he’d engaged in predatory behavior with children!  In one case, he repeatedly abused 7 boys in one extended family – something he claimed wasn’t a “serious” problem.

These various allegations and the Church’s documentation analyzing them were eventually uncovered by the “Boston Globe” and revealed in 2002 in a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning editorials by 5 investigative journalists.

Not until the mid-1990s did some of the Boston-area survivors begin coming forward to tell their stories.  These couldn’t have been easy decisions for them, especially when confronting such an indomitable monolith as the Roman Catholic Church.  No one wants to believe that someone like a priest, or any religious official for that matter, is capable of such horrors as sexual assault and child molestation.  People often look to their places of worship as refuges of safety and hope; places to seek guidance in moments of trouble and despair or to reaffirm their faith in the greater good of humanity.  The men and women who function as leaders in these institutions are supposed to be above such humanly transgressions as sexual perversions.

We often forget those leaders and officials weren’t born into those roles.  They came into this world like the rest of us; they’re human beings first and foremost.  But they made the decision to lead lives of religious individualism.  Being a faith leader may be a spiritual calling for some individuals, but it is also a profession; something that person chooses to do with their lives.  People, therefore, choose to become drunk on the power bestowed upon them – supposedly by some deity – but, in reality, by elders in those organizations.  They choose to take vows of celibacy or piety and to stand as the proverbial beacons of hope.  And they choose to use their positions for good or bad.

In the Roman Catholic Church, priests don the fanciful regalia befitting their roles as leaders of the masses.  They dress differently and (are supposed to) behave differently.  Sex, which is a natural part of the human experience, is strangely viewed as base and demeaning.  It is too much of a distraction for the individual; hence, the vow of chastity.

But the human libido is often stronger than the human-designed definitions of proper individuality.  Thus, many priests (and nuns) stray from those vows and either hide their moral transgressions or leave the Church altogether.  Church history is replete with priests and nuns who had the audacity to fall in love.  I personally feel it’s perfectly normal and don’t see anything wrong with that.

Yet no one in their right mind can look upon the scourge of pedophilia within the Roman Catholic Church and consider it misguided love.  The tap-dancing semantics that people like Bill Donohue spit out to explain these transgressions doesn’t mitigate the significance of it; it only amplifies it.

Me at my 1978 confirmation with the late Thomas Tschoepe, then Bishop of the Dallas Roman Catholic Diocese.

I was once a strong devotee of the Catholic faith.  Like most Hispanic-Americans, I grew up in it.  It was a fact of life for me.  I even became an altar boy at a church in Dallas in the 1970s and served that church – and what I felt was the greater good of my community – with some measure of faith and distinction.  And, in case you’re wondering, no, I was never molested by anyone in the Church.  I was never molested by anyone outside of the Church, for that matter.  I never knew of anyone at that particular church who suffered physical or sexual abuse at the hands of a priest or a nun.  In retrospect, I realize most were good and decent; a few of them were actually fun to be around.  And sadly, some were assholes.  But I can’t find that any scandal erupted within its walls.

It’s ironic, though, because the Dallas diocese was the nexus of one of the largest pedophile priest scandals within the Church.  In 1997, a Dallas County jury awarded 11 plaintiffs of a class-action suit $119.6 million; the largest monetary award of its kind at the time.  Eleven young men claimed they had been molested by a former priest, Rudy Kos.  Tragically, by the time the case went to court, one of the young men had committed suicide.  He was 21, and his family had pursued the matter.  The Kos case served as the proverbial catalyst for the avalanche of similar claims and subsequent lawsuits across the U.S.  Then Bishop Charles Grahmann testified in court that he knew nothing of Kos’s antics; claiming he’d never even opened Kos’s personnel file.  If he had, he surely would have found letters dating to the 1980s from other priests warning of Kos; that the latter often gave alcohol and even drugs to some of the boys.  Grahmann surely knew something was amiss, as he moved Kos around – which apparently had become standard procedure within the Church by then.  Grahmann only exacerbated the dilemma when he blatantly insinuated that some of those boys were partly responsible for the abuse.  That, of course, is a typical reflex-type response to sexual assault victims, especially those who are male.  Remember, in the bloodthirsty psyche that is American culture, males – even very young ones – are never supposed to be victims.  Kos was sent to prison, and Grahmann remained bishop for another decade before resigning.  He passed away recently.

As with serial killers, I often wonder how many victims of a pedophile remain hidden.  Who else is out there who just didn’t have the courage and / or support to come forward and tell their story?  Like I stated earlier, these matters aren’t easy to discuss.  Going up against an outfit as powerful and affluent as the Roman Catholic Church is overwhelming and sometimes impossible.  What the Church has done to distance itself from these crimes – and even discredit the victims, in some instances – is beyond abominable.  Their actions are truly monstrous.

One thing I find curious, though, is that other people within individual parishes had become aware of the pedophilia (or whatever crimes were taking place) and chose to put their concerns in writing.  They apparently tried to do something; to bring it to the attention of higher authorities within the institution.  Yet, when nothing was done, what did those other people do?  Were they so bound to the laws and regulations of the Church that they felt it could go no further?  It had to stop there and then?  It is against the law to fail to report child abuse.  But, with the separation of church and state a building block of the United States, how is that to be handled?

I haven’t waited for either the Roman Catholic Church or the U.S. government to respond.  I left the Church more than a quarter-century ago over its disrespectful behavior towards women who comprise more than half of the world’s estimated 1.2 billion Catholics.  Like its siblings, Judaism and Islam, Christianity is patriarchal at its core.  A number of men within its environs had dared to say women should hold more leadership positions than head nun or head housekeeper.  While other branches of Christianity have moved towards gender parity, the Roman Catholic Church remains unyielding.  But the pedophile priest scandals that have exploded over the past several years solidified my decision to leave the Church in the dust of its own glittering arrogance.  Shortly after the Boston fiasco, many wondered if the Church would survive the chaos.  And I thought, who cares?  The real question should be if the Church will admit not only that it has a serious problem in its ranks, but that it has been conducive to that problem.

I also have to be fair in that I know the majority of people who run the Church aren’t pedophiles or accessories after the fact.  Most do try to uphold to the Church’s two millennia old principals that all humans are valuable and should be treated with respect.  They work hard to ensure a safe community for everyone.  When I think of those who embodied this dogma, I always think of Oscar Romero; the former archbishop in El Salvador who spoke out against the country’s dictatorial regime and was gunned down while performing mass in 1980.  While Romero tried desperately to feed and clothe his parishioners in one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere, his counterparts in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world were paying out millions in settlements because they didn’t want any bad press.

Yet, I now feel the Church has run its course.  It’s done; it’s served its purpose.  It no longer has the right or the power to dictate how people should live their lives.  Indeed, it is wishful thinking on my part that the mighty Roman Catholic Church simply fold up and somehow melt into the rest of society.  It has too strong of a grip on the world.

In the late 1930s, my paternal grandfather, a carpenter, landed an ideal contract with the Catholic Diocese of Dallas: build a new parochial school.  My grandfather, Epimenio, had mixed feelings about the Church.  Sometime before then, my grandmother had fallen ill, and my grandfather had called their local parish priest to ask for some money to take her to the doctor.  When he arrived at the rectory, the grumpy old priest flung the few dollar bills at his feet.

“If this wasn’t for my wife,” my grandfather told him in Spanish, “I’d make you pick this up and hand it to me like a real man should.”

One afternoon, as my grandfather and some of his men were atop the newly-attached roof of the school, the bishop appeared at the construction site to survey the project.  One of Epimenio’s employees immediately stopped what he was doing and began bowing, as was the custom at the time, upon seeing a high-ranking Catholic official.  Bowing to the bishop while perched on a slanted roof of a 2-story structure.

“Pendejo!” Epimenio muttered to the man, a Spanish curse word whose closest (polite) translation is moron.  “You’re going to roll off this roof and die when you hit the ground!  Then the bishop is going to wonder what happened!”

That’s what I’m thinking now.  The Roman Catholic Church seems to be marching itself into oblivion.  Its acolytes are literally dying to keep it relevant.  Can any of them see that?

 

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro releases the findings of a two-year grand jury investigation into clergy abuse at six of the state’s Roman Catholic Dioceses:

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