Monday, February 20, 2017

The Deportation of Dreams

On Saturday, I participated in my first official demonstration, which I guess technically qualifies me as an activist of some sort, right? After several years of arguing for refugee and Muslim rights on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, and in the past few years of working with predominantly undocumented individuals at work, I realized I needed to take a more active approach in the real world to support the cause. So I guess Queen Rania was right all along that online activism can lead to real world action and change, it just takes a few years more than I realized (check out my less than honorable mention at 3:03).

I am the daughter of an immigrant. My dad traveled to the United States from Mexico legally in the 1950s with my grandparents, aunt, and uncle. It was a gradual and difficult process as my grandfather scrimped and saved the money he earned from two full-time jobs in order to gather enough to secure green cards for his entire family. There was separation involved as my grandfather sent for the family members one by one to come to El Paso, Texas, Eventually they moved to Huntington Park, California, which was still a sprawling white only neighborhood back in the day, and, in the face of rampant racism, began the lengthy and expensive process of obtaining citizenship. My family worked hard to achieve this and they fervently believed in the importance of moving legally, following the rules, and beginning their new life in the US with a clean slate.

This is the environment I was raised in. Understand the sacrifice, appreciate the struggle, and observe the integrity that it took for our family to come here as documented immigrants, legal workers, and eventually legitimate Americans. My family looked down upon the undocumented immigrants who waded across the Rio Grande or high-tailed it through the desert with some shady coyote who may take advantage of their desperation or rape their women. Different sacrifices to make some feeble attempt of reaching the American Dream that so many hope for, but illegal sacrifices nonetheless. "If we came here legally, so should you!" I was fed many lies about illegal immigrants, the crime that they bring, the leeching off the system, the ineffectiveness of their existence in our economy.

For a long time I bought into this. I believed what my family would tell me because why would they lie? But as I've gotten older and wiser, as my critical thinking skills have kicked in and my brain decided to start working on its own for a change, I realized not everything is so black and white. I have come to understand the nearly impossible process involved in trying to come here legally from south of the border, and why so many break the laws to do so in any way they can. I have seen the hard work these people put in just to survive and feed their families. I have learned that while many of them are not legal residents, they have jobs that also pay taxes. I have seen them strive just to provide their children a small slice of what we all hope for growing up in this land of opportunities. I have seen them desperate to accomplish, to grow, to contribute to the country they love.

Now please do not mistake me, because I am not in support of illegal immigration. I believe that we must have an effective system in place to track and document any individuals coming into this country, whether it be our southern neighbors, our friends to the north, or any country from across the sea. These are difficult times with terrorism and violence, and we need to be aware of who enters our country, who is living in our neighborhoods. I think there is much to be done to improve the system that we already have, which clearly is not working if a terrorist can fly with his wife into California from Saudi Arabia and shoot up a regional center. But does that mean that deporting functional members of our society will solve our problems?

ICE raids have been rampant in the last few weeks, more so in Southern California where undoubtedly the Trump Administration has targeted undocumented immigrants because of the LA County Sheriff Department's refusal to help with deportation efforts and recent announcements that LA is looking to become a sanctuary city. Though the White House claims that these raids are targeting criminals, reports throughout SoCal indicate that anyone without papers is being picked up and deported. I admit I personally have no qualms with deporting undocumented individuals who have come to my country to commit crimes; if you can't respect the sanctity of our social laws, you must go! If you're here to mooch off the system, goodbye! But I can't comprehend the benefit of deporting mothers of small children who have been here for 14 years and have done nothing wrong. I can't understand why we would send a father packing for working in the fields of our agricultural divisions for 10 years and leaving his family without a provider. Why would we send parents away, leaving their American born children alone and susceptible in the US foster care system?

As I marched, I saw strength and unity in many groups of people: Muslims, Jews, Africans, Latinos. Some were refugees from war torn countries, others refugees from corrupt nations and politicians. All were marching for their right to not only exist, but to exist in a safe and secure environment, away from dropping bombs and gunfire, away from cartels and backwards police, away from poverty and disease. I also saw glimmers of fear and desperation as families pleaded to stay together, and children holding both American and Mexican flags who don't comprehend the dire situation they and their families are in with the risk of being separated forever. And I realized this is not my America.

A change must come. People who are already here must become documented and we must facilitate this process in order to help them do so, not provoke fear and intimidation in threats of being sent back to the murderous, corrupt hellhole from whence they came. Likewise, moving forward, people who plan to come here must follow the regulations set forth by our federal laws; we shouldn't make coming to America a difficult process, but it should be a required process either way to monitor for safety, security, and the economical issues of living in this country. Everyone should have the right to pursue the dream that we all strive for, no matter what the hypocritical immigrant in the white house has to say about it. Because let's not forget, FLOTUS is an immigrant who worked illegally in the US too, so if his wife deserves the opportunity, why doesn't everyone else?

Inarguably the best poster at the march

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Porte Fermèe

On November 13, 2015, members of the Middle Eastern terrorist group ISIL organized an attack on Paris, France. A triad of extremists descended upon the darkened city and began systematically detonating previously placed explosive devices around the city, namely in restaurants and cafes. One unsuccessfully tried to enter a sports stadium and detonated his bomb outside the area. One group of gunmen raided other eateries and began shooting several innocent patrons. Another group carried out a massacre in a local theater where the metal band Eagles of Death Metal were performing. Bodies and pools of blood filled the roads and sidewalks and screams filled the air. Innocent civilians were fleeing through the streets of the City of Lights as the country was enveloped in the darkness of senseless violence.

As first responders arrived on scene, authorities advised everyone to avoid travel, seek shelter, and stay off the streets. Then the Open Door Movement began. Parisians all over the city began publicly tweeting their addresses with the hashtag #porteouverte, translated to Open Door, indicating that their home was a safe house to anyone who could not get home that night, that shelter, food, and a place to sleep would be provided until the city was safe again. Parisians knew the dangers of allowing strangers into their homes. What if they were robbed? What if they were attacked? What if the person they were letting in was one of the terrorists themselves, seeking a gullible family to eliminate? But they didn't care, because the danger of helping a complete stranger was far less greater than the danger that lurked in the shadows on that fateful night.

There is a great danger lurking in the Middle East. Between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian conflict, there are thousands of innocent civilians being brutally murdered with bombings, shootings, massacres, and even burnings. In Aleppo, men, women, and children caught in the middle of a civil war have been ruthlessly slaughtered, and make every attempt to flee the city if they have somewhere to go. Many don't.

Jordan, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt have taken most of the load in the Middle East in terms of providing safe havens. Over the past four years, over 4.8 million refugees have sought asylum in their neighboring countries. Gradually they started shifting over to Europe, where countries including the UK, Germany, and Sweden begin accepting refugees and estimate to have housed 500,000 of them as they cross into EU borders. Some families become desperate, like Alan Kurdi's family, who drowned when attempting to cross the sea into Turkey. He became international news when his small body washed up on a Turkish beach, reminding everyone of the gravity of the dire situation in Syria.

In spite of their great intentions to help their fellow man, eventually the efforts of these countries fell far too short. The conditions of the camp deteriorate as funding dwindles and many of the countries can no longer manage the extra thousands and millions of mouths to feed, clothe, and house. In camps in Jordan, they live in sorry excuses for a tent, where they struggle to stay warm through the frigid winters without enough blankets, sweaters, heaters, and few doctors to treat them when they become sick. In other camps, many described the settings as degrading, some were housed in what they described as imprisonment. Some Syrian women resort to prostitution to feed their families. And though many countries provided asylum away from the bombings, the death, and the terror of war, the refugees were not always out of danger. In many camps, refugee women were being sexually assaulted. In one Turkish camp, a worker was discovered to be sexually abusing young Syrian boys, at times paying them 70 cents to $1.70 to have sex with him. He did not deny these allegations, but he reported multiple workers in the camp were doing the same.

The added pressures of taking on refugees and the economic strain that tightened around these nations was beginning to take its toll. Turkey began to turn from the humanitarian cause and began unofficially refusing entry into their country. Soldiers were found to be shooting and beating Syrian refugees at the borders, and a Turkish factory was discovered to have been making fake life jackets that were provided to migrants attempting to flee to Greece. This was found after 30 emigrants washed ashore Greece's beach, prompting a raid and investigation.

Distrust also began to grow in the EU as well. As a very select few of the emigrants committed criminal acts (like select individuals of every ethnicity, race, and nationality do), Europeans began to associate these acts with the culture and religion as a whole. If one migrant acts like an asshole, they all must be assholes. Likewise as terrorist attacks surged in Europe, more and more people began to believe that the open door policy they have maintained have made it easier for terrorists to enter their country (however, attacks like the one on Paris were carried out by French citizens). Intensifying dissent regarding the refugee policies grew, which largely contributed to the Brexit motion of the UK.

The US is not immune to such suspicions. After the attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade centers that killed 3,000 Americans, Islamophobia has been growing steadily, along with hostility. As refugees began filing into the states, more and more people began to turn against them. Though it seemed tensions eased a little under the comfort of Obama's presidency, with the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has been spewing from Trump's mouth since he began his campaign, hostilities are burning hotter than ever. Following the attacks on Paris, more people called for closing our borders, and Trump set out to do just that.

On January 27th, he signed a bill indefinitely restricting Syrian refugees from entering the country, along with temporary bans of other Muslims from various other nations including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. This includes refugees who have already been approved to come to America, students who went home to visit their families during the holidays and cannot re-enter, and immigrants with valid green cards, whom are set to be sent home. There was chaos at the airports as many incoming Middle Easterners, Muslims, and refugees were detained by customs and set to be deported. Some were handcuffed and interrogated. One New York judge stopped the deportations but has not motioned to allow them entry into the US. Protests are rampant, but Trump reports that they were "well prepared" for the rollout and felt that it was "working out very nicely, you see it at the airports, you see it all over." Apparently he hasn't turned on a TV. His ban has already brought legal challenges from two refugees, and more are set to follow. In response, Iran is blocking US citizens from traveling to their country as well. The silver lining for refugees is that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is happy to accept them and perhaps they can be re-routed up north until we can get Trump fired.

Some have supported the ban citing these ongoing fears of terrorists getting into the country. Let me briefly touch on the 9-step process refugees must go through in order to be approved to come to America for those of you still concerned with national security:

1. Basic identifying information is collected, applicants are interviewed on their need for relocation (only 1% of all applicants are approved to move on to step 2).
2. They are relocated to a federally funded camp, formal identification documents are collected, biographical security checks begin
3. They are screened by the National Counter-Terrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Sate Department to ensure they are not a security risk, they are not connected to other security risks, and have no history of criminal activities
4. They are heavily interviewed by multiple agents from Homeland Security and they run fingerprints
5. Fingerprints are run through the FBI, the Homeland Security office, and the Department of Defense (any security concerns result in rejection of application)
6. Medical checks are run (any medical issues result in rejection of application)
7. Applicants take cultural orientation classes and have a location identified for them
During this time, ongoing security checks are run repeatedly to ensure no new information arises on their records before they are sent to their new country.
8. Travel, processing through customs and TSA regulations
9. Arrival in the US, immediately begin the lengthy process to obtain a green card, including more security and background checks. If they do not obtain one within one year, they are deported.


This entire process takes approximately one and a half to two years as applicants are excruciatingly, painstakingly screened. Knowing the extent of this process, knowing that their records will arise and not only will they be rejected but detained and prosecuted, I sincerely doubt that ISIS or ISIL was using the refugee status application as a means to get to the US. And closing the borders won't stop them either. Do you really think the rebels of ISIS are going to say "aw shucks guys, they closed the borders! Well, I guess we should give up and go back to being farmers!" All we are doing is condemning the innocent civilians of war torn countries to die in their homelands, be sexually assaulted or starve in their camps, or to be recruited by ISIS.

In Paris, whatever dangers were present, on that night, the people were united. They opened their doors, they risked their own safety to provide safety to their fellow man from the evil of this world. They didn't ask for ID first, they didn't demand papers, they didn't ask about their religions. They simply said "come in, you will be safe here." Had I the opportunity, I would open my door to you, I would welcome you in and keep you safe. Sadly, there is no safe haven here for you for now my friends, no American dream, no opportunity or liberty, no pursuit of happiness. Our doors are portes fermèes; closed. But please believe that we will continue to fight for you. When Trump closes a door, we will break it down.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Contraceptive Deceptions

On January 21st, one day after the inauguration of Donald Trump, millions of women, girls, and their male-counterpart allies worldwide took to the streets to march and protest for Women's Rights, along with the human rights issues of ethnic minorities and LGBTs piggy-backing on the movement. I couldn't make the march myself, but I kept a close eye on the videos and photos streaming through my Facebook news feed, and teared up at the overwhelming and impassioned global response. This was one of the most historic events I have ever had the privilege to witness, and hope and inspiration for our future flooded my heart.

Everyone marched for various reasons: some marched for educational rights for girls throughout the world; some marched for equal pay; some marched for pro-choice rights and contraception; some marched for pro-life; some marched against the rape culture. Others' reasons weren't directly related to women's rights, but they marched for climate change, for marriage equality, for Black Lives, and for refugees and Muslims. But the underlying motive for many on this day was the swearing in of who is probably one of the most blatantly misogynistic presidents the US has ever known. With derogatory and brutal ad hominems attacking any woman who challenged him, with locker room admissions of sexual harassment and assaults, with promises to defund organizations that work to ensure women's health, Trump became the biggest liability to the Women's Rights movement in the western world when he became the leader of the most powerful country on the planet.

I have seen many people from various countries comment on the election and the ensuing danger that Trump's inauguration would bring. Many trolls on the internet often told these people to shut up, mind their own business, and stop sticking their noses in our politics. What they don't understand is the monstrous influence our country has on the global community and how our international relations, our foreign policies, our social issues trickle down and impact other countries and our fellow (wo)man. This is why multiple protests took place around the world, not just in our backyards. But, as if to perfectly demonstrate this point, Trump's first Monday in office tackled women around the world to the ground as he flipped a giant middle finger to us all.

In spite of the sea of protesters that packed into the streets and subways to demand their protection, Trump moved forward with his first blow to Women's Rights when he signed the Mexico City policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule. The Global Gag Rule is an international law which cuts funding to family planning organizations all over the world that utilize, promote, or even discuss abortions as options for expectant mothers. Even if the organizations continue these practices with alternate funding, they will be disqualified from receiving any US funds. This was no secret plan and really no shock, as Trump and Pence had been fighting Planned Parenthood from the beginning and promised to demolish the agency, but, as with most of his misinformed platform, Trump jumped without looking, without thinking, and the effects are going to backfire on a global scale.

During the presidential campaign, in order to garner more support for shutting down Planned Parenthood, the GOP fed a colossal lie to the public when it alleged that 95% of services provided by PP were abortions. Pro-Lifers ate this up and immediately joined the cause to level the murderous bastards by any means necessary, which of course meant electing a giant narcissistic carrot. But when actual facts come into play, the story is drastically different, making this move with the Global Gag Rule that much more detrimental.

The irrefutable truth is that organizations like Planned Parenthood provide a wide array of services to lower income and uninsured families, including STI/STD testing and treatment, providing contraception and sterilization procedures, pregnancy tests and prenatal care, and various forms of cancer screenings. All of these bypass abortions significantly, as they account for roughly 97% of the services provided by PP, and the remaining 3% is pregnancy terminations.

So what does it really mean when you close a Planned Parenthood down? By stopping free pregnancy tests and prenatal care, you eliminate early pregnancy detection, critical prenatal care, and you significantly increase the risk for unsafe labors. By shutting down STI/STD testing, you accelerate the spread of of HIV/AIDS worldwide, and shave years off the lives of those who test positive, since they can no longer receive the medications that save their lives. By ending cancer screening, early detection is non-existent, therefore factors that extend their lifespan are too. By refusing to provide free contraception, you will dramatically increase unwanted pregnancies, which will in turn, increase abortions. Yup, just because you shut down a clinic that does abortions on occasion does not mean you will end abortion. In fact, abortions will grow exponentially. How do we know this? Because it's been done before.

Though there is a long standing law that the US cannot use taxpayer money to fund any form of abortions, various presidents have toyed with it and signed the Mexico City policy in and out of activity with every change in office. Originally enacted by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton lifted the policy when he entered office. George W. Bush re-enacted it when he took over, and Obama lifted it once more when he moved into the big house. Now Trump has signed it back in  just one day after the 44th anniversary of the passing of Roe vs Wade. According to the World Health Organization, when Bush signed the policy back in, abortions increased by 40% worldwide. Imagine that, if you take away birth control pills, condoms, and IUDs, people get more kids they don't want and will do anything to get rid of them, including risking their own lives. During this same period, the majority of the abortions that took place were illegal and unsafe, which ended in several maternal deaths. If the past is any indication, estimates are reporting that abortions will likely rise by 2.2 million internationally, and maternal deaths are estimated to increase by 13%.

During the election, I was appalled by the 44% of female voters who elected Trump into office. Hadn't they been listening? Hadn't they been paying attention? They rationalized away his horrific statements as being "misquoted," "edited by liberal news outlets," or just denying anything was said at all. This made it so much easier for them to look past this impending danger and allow the vicious beast past the gates. Even during these marches, women continued to berate other women from the comfort of their own computer chairs, not comprehending the significance of this moment or the benefits they already reap from so many marches that took place before this to secure the rights they enjoy today.

So many Trump supporters urge us to unite, and too often the abyss is too wide for us to bridge the gap, but finally this is something we can work together on, because right now we're all losing. If you're appalled by maternal deaths and unsafe abortions, this should scare the shit out of you. If you are pro-life, you should be infuriated that the GOP lied to you and enacted a law that will cause abortion rates to explode across the globe. This is the beginning of a long road of lies and bullshit that you will have to fight right alongside us to stop this giant farting T.Rex from not only hurting us, but destroying women's lives all over the world. Stand with us.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Bridging the Trump Gap

Inhale. Exhale. Disengage. Re-engage. Try to figure it all out. Just forget it and move on. Try to be positive. But I can't.

After Tuesday night's election, where Donald Trump was elected as the next President of the United States, I was thrust into a state of grief, hopelessness and devastation I haven't felt in awhile. I cried alone Tuesday night. I cried Wednesday with my colleagues and co-workers. And we cried not simply for the loss of Hillary, but for the loss of our faith in humanity. Eventually my depression subsided, but as I watched the surge in hate crimes around America, I became afraid. And now, as I see more and more people supporting Trump, glossing over the "fine details", and ignoring the impact that his election has had on the social climate around us is simply pissing me off. And to process these feelings, I must blog.

Now I recognize that there are varying degrees of support for Trump: some people (like the KKK) are blatant racists who identified with the candidate who systematically attacked every non-white ethnic group from Hispanics to Middle Easterners, from Blacks to Asians. Some people (like right wing Christians) are not at all racist, but they identified with the man who swore to abolish abortion and overturn the Supreme Court ruling of Marriage Equality because he aligned with their religious beliefs. Some people are none of those things, but they are still feeling the after effects of 9/11 and are facing the very real dangers of terrorism in an ISIS world.So they identified with a self-proclaimed leader who has promised to ban potentially dangerous Muslims and refugees because they are scared and need to feel safe somehow.

Others on the other hand are not at all racist, heterosexist (this is the more appropriate term beyond homophobic), or misogynistic, and they're not against refugees or Muslims. These are the people who simply agreed with Trump's actual campaign and platform about changing the welfare state, securing gun rights, creating more jobs, reforming socialized medical care, etc. Now I highly doubt that there has ever been a political candidate that anyone has agreed with 100%. There are always issues that we don't necessarily care for, there are usually topics which we find ourselves on the exact opposite side of the debate, and often times there are presented solutions that are not as powerful or effective as we would like them to be. But we prioritize the issues that are most important to us, and use this as our guiding compass to determine which candidate will help the country become the home we want it to be.

Unfortunately many people don't seem to prioritize racism, sexism, heterosexism, and sexual assault as bigger issues. As one person said when I was debating over the precarious Trump campaign on Facebook, "we need to agree to disagree on the fine details and recognize that we agree on the major points." The fine details. So suddenly these extremely perilous social illnesses are minute details in the greater scheme of the race to become the most powerful leader in the world. For those who glossed over the fine details and voted for Trump, what they don't understand is whether or not they agreed with the racism, the sexism, the heterosexism, and the sexual assault, they voted for a man who represented these things.

Now he's president. It's a catastrophe that...ahem...trumps the debacle of Brexit in the UK and our future is dreary and uncertain. But the difference between us and Brexit is the morning after their vote, most Brits realized they made a mistake. Most people, steeped in regret, begged for another chance to vote. And they now cling to hope that as Parliament reviews the decision, the vote will not be honored. Here, many people have cheered, many people have celebrated, no one has uttered a single "my god what have we done?" Trump supporters are arguing, justifying, and ignoring in the worst case of confirmation bias I have ever seen. Many refuse to discuss the hate-filled rants that made Trump notorious throughout the world. Others acknowledge their existence only to refute it, blaming the media for making Trump look bad with doctored videos, edited sound bites, and fabricated quotes, even though the evidence is there in front of them. Some people have pleaded with us to "find the good in him" and give him a chance. While he may have had a few positive moments worth highlighting during his campaign, Trump's escalating derogatory comments against minorities often eclipsed any good deeds, and this was no one's fault but his own. In the end, he made it very clear that today's colorful America was not the America he planned to maintain. And now our society is falling apart at the seams.

Hate crimes are rising. More and more reports are flowing in all over the nation of people attacking minorities and many of us do not feel safe walking down the streets. Adult men are grabbing Muslim women's hijabs off their heads, throwing them to the ground, telling other women they are going to grab them by the pussy, and actually trying to. White men are beating black men and gays. The KKK is throwing a celebratory march for Trump's victory, and came out in droves yesterday in Anaheim, California to battle the anti-Trump protests. Children are chanting "build that wall" in lunchrooms, driving Latino youth to tears. One high-schooler created homemade Deportation notices and handed them out to everyone in his school who looked even remotely Hispanic. Someone hanged a black baby doll in a college university. A friend of mine told me she witnessed a hate crime sitting outside a restaurant in Long Beach, where a white man told an Asian man to "pack [his] bags, because [his] time in this country is limited." Following Brexit, another vote saturated in xenophobia, hate crimes rose by 60% and are continuing in spite of the time that has passed. This is our future. With his demonizing, divisive speeches, our President-elect has created an atmosphere where people feel it is okay to perpetuate these acts of violence and hatred, and we're terrified of it. But Trump supporters refuse to acknowledge it. They don't mention it and won't denounce it. Trump finally did, in an interview with 60 Minutes he gave a very effective "stop it."

They also refuse to acknowledge the very real threats Trump/Pence poses to minorities with promises to overturn Marriage Equality and stop any protective measures for LGBTs, promises to kick out refugees and refuse to provide them a safe haven from their war torn countries, promises to bring back torture tactics in the military, ending environment protection, and defund planned parenthood (which is mostly HIV treatments, contraception, and cancer screenings, far beyond the small percentage of abortions).

I can't count how many times I have heard that we are acting like babies, throwing tantrums, whining like children because we didn't win the game. Others maintain that we should respect other peoples' opinions, that we need to learn to agree to disagree. Many say that we are being uncooperative and we need to learn to unite and work together for our country. So how do we bridge the gap?

First of all, let me tell you, there is not and never will be an "Agree to Disagree" on racism, sexism, heterosexism, or sexual assault. There is no gray area, no common ground where we should compromise on these issues. But if we agree that not all of you who voted for Trump are racist, misogynistic, heterosexist, or rapists, you must acknowledge that Trump has made very racist, misogynistic, heterosexist comments that are not okay, and you cannot pretend that he did not admit to sexually assaulting women. Secondly if we agree that not all of you are going to attack us or rob us of our rights, you cannot disregard or dismiss that we minorities are being threatened and attacked by other Trump supporters and by Trump's own promises to degrade and devalue us as human beings. You cannot mock us for feeling unsafe just because the violence and future laws don't impact you. Thirdly, if you think we are overreacting or panicking needlessly, you can laugh skeptically and assure us that nothing bad is going to happen, but you must promise to stand with us if we are being attacked in the community or if our basic rights are going to be threatened by some law or Supreme Court ruling in the future.

This is the beginning of this compromise. Refusal to acknowledge these basic truths is a refusal to begin the conversation. If we listen to you, you must listen to us, support us, and stand with us. Then and only then can we converse, problem-solve, and unite.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Darkness Beyond The Donald

I was sitting with my supervisor in the lunchroom at work today, and of course the conversation inevitably steered towards the upcoming election, as I'm sure it has for so many others 'round the water cooler for the past year since Donald Trump announced he was running for President. We sighed in utter exhaustion over the psychological battering we've endured from the media, especially in the past few months as the race has heated up and the scandals have forged a colossal blaze that would put the bowels of Hell to shame. We set our weary eyes to the rapidly approaching finale to this nightmare, November 8th, election day. Like so many others, we can't wait for this circus to be over. But as I settled back into my office alone, I realized that it is not that simple, that win or lose, this nightmare will not end once the final ballot is cast and counted. The presence of Trump has changed the face of America, and this election has propelled us into a darkness we cannot easily rebound from, because Trump was never the problem to begin with.

When Trump first announced his intention to run for president, I rolled my eyes as I'm sure many did, expecting this to be a publicity stunt for his TV programs, an upcoming project, or just a desperate attempt to stay relevant. As the election carried on and Trump gained momentum, I continued to cling to hope that he would announce his resignation from the run and we would all have a good laugh at the absurdity of this self-righteous silk-stocking seeking any position in our governmental system. But the announcement never came. Instead, we were pummeled with rage-filled tirades promoting violence toward the opposition, eliciting riots and assaults. This quickly escalated to sexist and racist rants, leaving no demographic untouched and none of us were safe from his degradation unless you were a rich, straight, white, Christian male. As the Donald became more and more of a loose cannon and the GOP slowly realized they were losing control, the Republican party began to back away from their elected candidate. Many withdrew their support, some even demanded that runner-up Ted Cruz be passed the torch for the election. But the catalyst came when a tape from Trump's past was exhumed and the GOP world collapsed.

Just before a scheduled television debate with Hillary Clinton, a 2005 audio interview with TV personality Billy Bush hit the internet. In the midst of what Trump would soon write off as locker room talk, the boys bantered about women, and Trump gave horrifying details of how he slayed the ladies, including forcibly kissing them and grabbing their genitals. Following the release of these tapes, tens of women came forward to give their own account of assault and harassment they have endured from Trump. Like drowning rats trying to escape a sinking ship, the GOP exploded, but it was too late. They had missed the deadline to recant their nominee; the ballots had been printed and sent out, and some absentee votes had already been cast. They were stuck with him, and thus, so are we.

With his radicalized spouting, his comments supporting the Japanese internment camps, the vows to "make America great again" that were followed by the abolition of several cultural and religious groups, it was all too easy for people to draw parallels between Trump and dictator Adolf Hitler. After rising to power in the 1930s, Hitler was eventually responsible for the deaths of millions of innocents, including Jews, blacks, Indians, Muslims and other non-Christians, homosexuals, and psychologically and physically disabled Europeans. Many have fired off warnings about the potential for historic repetition if Trump is elected, fearful of whatever ethnic cleansing would follow. But as I look back at the past year and the campaign trail Trump has traveled, he is not the one we should be afraid of, he's not the one that frightens me.

It's true that Trump bought his way into the running. The billionaire's net worth circles around $3.7 and with that kind of cold cash sitting in the bank (or is it in a tower like Scrooge McDuck's?), it's not hard to finance your own campaign. He had more rich friends who secured his first few months on the trail and helped his popularity for a time, but as Trump became angrier, as he spoke louder, as he lied, denied, and repeated his slogan without any substantial statements or clear plans to make anything great, he appealed to the masses. Granted, many of the masses were inbred rednecks with a 6th grade education, but there are a hell of a lot of them in America. The others are people who are scared or angry and horribly misinformed. Feeding off the fears and suspicion that the right-wing media has fueled through the years, Americans were led to believe that the problems they face were the fault of dangerous minorities. If you're scared, it's because of the terrorist Muslims and the criminals who migrate illegally across the border. If you're poor, blame the mooching minorities on welfare. If you're suffering in any way, blame the sins of free-loving homosexuals, bleeding emotional aborting women, and overzealous comb-overs (did you think you'd get through a Trump blog without a hair joke?). Trump latched on to these stereotypes and swore to exorcise America of these foul demons that plague our society. With these fears comfortably stoked, Trump was able to use this ace in the hole to strengthen his popularity and carry him through to the GOP nomination. And in spite of the outrageous statements, the sexual assault, the lies, the tax evasion, the support has continued to grow for him in greater America. This is what terrifies me.

When Hitler first composed Mein Kampf and began to gain support, he too fed off this Us vs. Them mentality. Wounded and weakened from the loss of World War I, the pride of the country suffered, and so did its people as many were struggling: destitute, hopeless, and hungry. Seeking a scapegoat, Hitler set his eyes on the Jews, though to this day, I'm not sure why he initially chose them. Drawing from beliefs that had been ingrained in European thought for years, Hitler told the Germans that their desolate plight was because of this dark-haired studious population. He continued to circulate rumors that the Jews had sabotaged the military efforts and contributed to the fall of the German government, that they were richer than others because they stole and embezzled money, and that they were weakening the country from within like a parasite because they didn't share the patriotic views of the Aryan race (sound familiar?). Eventually he expanded his hatred to every culture that didn't fit the bill of tall, blonde, blue-eyed, heterosexual Christians. The people ate this rhetoric up, and the rest is history.

The one similarity that rings all too true in these two stories is that these men did not deserve to succeed, they did not earn their success, and they did not succeed on their own. They only succeeded because they were allowed to. A dangerous man is only as powerful as the people who follow him. Hitler only rose to power because enough people bought into his bullshit. Trump has only come this far because people agree with his nonsensical ranting and his sniveling grade school retorts. With all his racism, sexism, and incoherence, he has garnered 42% of America's support. Forty two percent of Americans agree with this carrot-hued ape because he feeds off of and fuels the fear and anger Americans already had, and the reality is, Trump is and would be nothing without them. Americans have created a social and political climate in which ideas like his can thrive; America has made Trump great. I see their defenses on Facebook, I see their protests and their tailgating rallies on TV (presumably recorded before they begin crushing beer cans on their heads and head off to Wally World for another 24 pack), and I can't wrap my head around it all. But as one so eloquently put it, never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups, and these stupid people are the substance of my nightmares, my deepest fears for the future of America.

The dark side of America has re-emerged, the animosity has saturated the land. While Trump may have awoken this sleeping giant, the racism and sexism we hoped was dissipating has been lingering in the shadows so quietly, like the glowing embers of a dying fire that was never quite extinguished. Though Donald has fanned the flames back to life, the hatred and ignorance has burned within the hearts of his supporters long before he hit the campaign trail, and win or lose, they will be there long after November 8th. With America so deeply divided, how can we bridge the gap when the dust settles and the anger subsides? Will it subside? Like that horribly awkward moment when a friend accidentally lets a racist or homophobic comment slip and you realize the friendship is over, how can we learn to function with the 42% who were ready to elect this genetic defect as our Commander in Chief?

I used to find comfort in my belief that Trump will lose next week and he will fade away, hopefully never to be heard from again, but I now realize that the darkness that consumes his supporters, the darkness that fueled his success over the past year, is alive and well, and the brush fire that has begun is showing no sign of receding. Darker days are coming, my fellow Americans, and this is not Trump's America, this was our America all along.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Lump Named Lucille

I sat in the chilly examination room, my legs dangling from the padded table with nothing to shield me from the germ-annihilating cold but a thin cloth gown, opening in the front. My heart was racing, which prompted a warning of concern about blood pressure from the nurse, but I stopped short of arguing. How do I point out that my heart is racing because I'm terrified of doctors' offices, that I dread being poked and prodded, and that I'm here because I found a large lump in my breast?

In reality, I found the lump over a year earlier. The small, marble-sized bump in my left breast was easily discernible, but my doctor wasn't concerned. She noted that I was young and that there was no history of breast cancer in my family, writing off the lump as a simple anomaly. She advised me to monitor it nonetheless and sent me home. She wasn't worried, I felt foolish for overreacting, and I went on about my life.

Over the months, I continued with blase breast exams, grazing my hands haphazardly over my chest once in awhile, checking to make sure the little marble hadn't grown, and finding virtually no change. I began to experience a distinct ache in my chest and beneath my left shoulder blade, but chalked it up to stress and a poor sleeping position. It wasn't until March of this year that I noticed changes in my breast I had never seen before. Distinct dimples had developed over the side, creating a field of pock-marks in my skin. A bulge had begun to distend slightly a few inches from my marble. In a panic, I began aggressively examining my breast, digging my fingers deep into my skin until my chest ached. As I dug deeper, I found that my little marble was not so little anymore. 

I have a large chest, sporting a DD bra, and one of the pitfalls of having such a large chest (besides the adverse effects of gravity) is that detecting changes in your breasts can be extremely complicated. While the little marble felt small on the surface of my breast, what I didn't know was that the lump was extending deeper into the center of my chest, where I could barely detect it. Coupled with half-assed breast exams, anything could grow, any change could happen without my knowledge. I began to panic but tried to reason with myself and rationalize the anxiety away: this lump has been here for over a year, surely if it was cancer some other signs would have been obvious, right? There's no family history of breast cancer. I'm young, it's rare for women my age to develop breast cancer! But the negative thoughts flowed in and overpowered my feeble attempts to set myself at ease: the lump has grown. I have dimples and a bulge, which I learned could be a sign of breast cancer. There's still a family history of cancer in general, and young women can develop breast cancer just as easily as older women.

Initially, I tried to avoid overreacting, fearful I would look like a hypochondriac rushing into the doctor's office again. I noted I was due for a physical, and figured I would schedule one, then mention the change when I saw my doctor. The problem with scheduling a physical is because it's considered a routine examination, the appointment is not given priority, and I wasn't scheduled to see the doctor for another month. I tried to keep myself busy and distracted, but it seemed stories of cancer and diagnoses were everywhere I went, and I couldn't bear the wait any longer. I called the doctor's office to request an earlier appointment and I was in the examination room two days later. 

The doctor, a per diem physician I had never met before, examined me, and like me, had difficulty locating the lump at first. After detection, she considered conducting a biopsy then and there, but noted that the lump was too deep to draw a good sample from. Noting again that I am young and there's no family history, she eventually advised I get an ultrasound and a biopsy done and provided the number. If I have one complaint about Kaiser, it is the extreme difficulty in scheduling these critical tests. I was instructed to call a number, and was informed by the individual who had answered that she would leave a voicemail for the specialist and they would contact me in 2-3 business days. Of course, I was calling on a Friday, so I had to wait the weekend in addition to the business days. My weekend was spent in angst, my stomach in knots. By Wednesday the following week, they still hadn't called. Frustrated, I called again, and was met with the same response: she would leave them another voicemail and hope I get a response. Finally the following day I received a call, and my ultrasound and biopsy were scheduled for the following week.

Another week to wait. Sadly, I've never been one of those chicks who lose their appetite when they're nervous or stressed, and I began to eat my way to an unattainable comfort, gaining a fair amount of weight. I lost sleep, and my hair began to fall out as well. I made the mistake of not telling anyone about my circumstances, which only added to my burden. Though I wanted to reach out to my mom, like me, she tends to jump to the worst conclusions and instantly panic. Given that my mom had just lost her mother a few months earlier, I didn't want her faced with the prospect that her daughter may be ill as well. So I kept it to myself. Eventually I told my best friend, but it did little to relax me. Humor is usually the best medicine, and the only way I could cope was trying to lighten the mood in the dark cloud around me. Having a propensity for naming the lumps and bumps on my body (I have a bunion named Bertha), I found it only fitting that I should name the lump in my breast as well, and the pestilent mass became known as Lucille. I personified her, talked shit to her and about her, and vowed to mercilessly shank her ass if she turned out to be cancer. I could laugh about this at times, and other times, I just cried and hated Lucille with a passion.

When the time for the appointment came, I drove myself to the hospital and checked myself in to Radiology. The technician was friendly, and attempted gentle conversation with me while taking pictures of Lucille (she too had trouble locating Lucille, this bitch is like Carmen San Diego running around the globe that is my boob). She rose and stated she needed to consult with the doctor, which surged my anxiety. Did she find something? Was something wrong? Is it worse than we thought? I lay on the table freezing in yet another paper thin gown with a horrible pattern scattered across it (who designs this shit?) with my heart racing again. Finally she returned, and with a smile on her face, she informed me that I was clear. There was no need for a biopsy as the scan had come back clear. She stood in wait as I attempted to process this information, then cracked a smile and breathed a sigh of relief. I think she expected me to jump up and scream and shout, but after a month and a half of anxiety and stress, I couldn't switch my mood up that fast. I thanked her, she hugged me and guided me back to the lobby. As I walked to the car, I teared up and allowed the emotions to wash over me as I broke down crying. I called my mom that night and shared the news, finally disclosing what I had been struggling with for the past 6 weeks. She chided me for not telling her sooner and I cried on the phone with her for awhile. For the first night in weeks I slept soundly, and the weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

This moment of bliss was to be short lived, as a few days later I got another call from the doctor's office. I sat in my car listening to the voicemail as the doctor informed me that they wanted to run more tests and wanted me to get a full mammogram. Lucille was ruining my life. I yelled and cursed in my car as I was thrust into another episode of panic and distress. I called my mom crying, and this time I had her shoulder to lean on. I went through the disastrous process of scheduling another appointment, again waiting the weekend and the 2-3 business days for a call back, then was scheduled for a mammogram a week and a half later. Another week and a half of waiting on this bitch Lucille. I had my mom accompany me to the hospital this time, and put on the all too familiar, poorly designed gown in preparation for my pancake boob tests. The technician was not as friendly as the ultrasound one. She stuck little metal stickers on my nipples (likely used as a point of reference for the x-ray), and she stretched and pulled my boob like it was a lump of bread dough with absolutely no sense of feeling. She flattened me between two slabs of plastic and demanded I hold my breath and hold still. One photo-shoot for each side and I was sent to another waiting room. The consensus came back and I was told again that Lucille was nothing but an obnoxious presence in my chest, not a deadly one. My ultimate relief was almost overshadowed by trying to pull those super-glued stickers off my nipples (a pain rivaled only by childbirth), but I went home with a sense of peace I hadn't known in two months.

It turned out that Lucille was a mass of hardened breast tissue that had gained considerable density over the year. This contributed to the pain in my shoulder and chest as well, as my breast has become heavier and my body is struggling to adapt to the added weight. But this process has been an important one, and in spite of having a clean bill of health, there are many things to be noted here during this Breast Cancer Awareness month. First off, age doesn't mean shit. I have had many friends, one as young as 16, who were diagnosed with breast cancer, and while it is not as common as it is in older women, it is not impossible for a woman my age to get cancer. Second, while family history is a good predictor for breast cancer risk, it is not the only indicator; clearly you can get cancer even if your family has never had it. Third, breast exams are crucial, and you might as well start them now to get into the habit. Check here for information on how to correctly check yourself, and ladies, if you have big breasts, remember to dig deep! And last, in spite of being afraid of overreacting, don't let your doctor make you feel foolish or crazy, you know your body better than anyone else. Taking time to go to the doctor only to find out nothing is wrong is far better than avoiding the doctor only to find out it's too late when you finally get the nerve to go.

I was fortunate that my journey stopped here. Given the emotional toll the diagnostic process took, I can't imagine the anxiety, the stress, the overwhelming feelings that come with a true cancer diagnosis, and I give all my admiration and respect to women everywhere who have fought and are fighting this terrible disease. The sad reality that I found is the reason Kaiser takes so long to schedule these appointments is because there are so many women getting the exact same tests, some routine, some out of concern, and we should haven't to go through this any longer. Though we edge closer to a cure in the future, self-exams, early detection, and good health care make all the difference today. And if you are fighting, give that lump a name and beat the hell out of that bitch with everything you've got.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Driving Out the Darkness

Our world is drowning in violence. Terrorism, rape, homicide, police brutality, and the aggressive responses such attacks foster in a social existence that is tired of the blood bath we've been wading in. Anger is of course the natural reflex that surges when we see our families, friends, and countrymen harmed by a perceived outsider, and even more so when they're hurt by the very system intended to protect us. But what dangers could this fury unleash when left unbridled in the hands of a nation scorned? What could we possibly accomplish with the draconian eye for an eye mentality that leaves us blind beyond the pupils of our enemy? There are many battles to fight, but there are many paths to victory, and the descending spiral of violence is not one of them.

Many arguments in the history of the world have been settled by war in one respect or another, but while they led to ceasefires and peace agreements, they rarely led to harmony and tranquility. More recently, the wars waged across the geographical lines of international borders have raged on without any possibility of resolution in sight. The war on ISIS and Al Qaeda, the Boko Haram Insurgency, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict have been battling on for years and even decades, with millions dead and more dying every year. Even here in the US, internal combats have spattered our streets with blood thanks to gang wars, drug wars, gun violence, racism, homophobia, and yes, even police brutality.

In a country where law enforcement has been given the ultimate power to protect the innocent civilians of the US, it seems the long arm of the law too often sees color beyond Justice's blindfold, and reaches for the firearm on its hip too quickly. As a result, several innocent black lives have been lost. Violations of the law that include being in the wrong place at the wrong time, following directions, lying motionless on the ground, placing your hands in the air are all things that can get you killed when you are the wrong color in this country. Especially if you are confronted with the misfortune of having a police officer who is quicker to reach for more lethal means beyond a taser or pepper spray.

Of course every time, and far too often, when these stories splash across my computer screen, when they haunt the water cooler at work, the anger rises in my chest, bitter as bile. While I admit I have never faced the onslaught of violence and aggression the boys and girls in blue deal with on a daily basis, I have worked in high intensity environments, where individuals were unstable and as such became violent and aggressive towards themselves, towards others, and towards staff, including me. We were taught (minimally) how to address these attacks, usually involving a quick ProACT restraint, tackling the client to the ground, holding them in place as they writhed and struggled beneath our grips. We fielded globs of spit as they flew in the general direction of our faces, we shifted our hands so they were just out of the reach of their gnashing teeth, we fought to gain and regain control of their flailing arms and legs as we were punched, kicked in the the face and the chest. Sometimes we had to wrestle potential weapons from them, including broken shards of glass, broken bottles, and rocks. Our safety and well being was endangered. Many staff ended up in the emergency room with cuts, abrasions, bleeding bite marks, and concussions. But at the end of the day, we understood this was the job.

We worked with psychologically disturbed clients. Granted the facility was not well run and the clients were out of control, but still we did our best to keep the peace with the little training we had. We were not afforded tasers, pepper spray, batons, or cuffs and certainly not granted guns. We had many opportunities to lose our cool in the heat of the moment and lash out at our attackers, we had every reason to panic in the many crises that flooded our hallways. I even developed mild PTSD after being strangled at work. But this was the job. This is what we signed up for. And this is what police officers sign up for every day when they put on the badge. Now of course I am not asking them to risk their lives, and if the gun is genuinely necessary, they must do what they have to do. But with the extensive training they have to de-escalate and manage crises and the multiple tools in their belt they can work with, what excuse do they have for impulse, for panic, for repeated deadly force?

I can't wrap my head around it. I never could. But as angry as I get, I understand that violence is not the answer. Fighting brutality with brutality brings no calm to the tumultuous sea of our society, but adds to the confusion, the irrationality, and the impulsive decisions that can completely destroy the remaining scaffolding of our crumbling world. In spite of the overwhelming desire to bash in the heads of the guilty parties across the nation, I understand that killing innocent officers during a protest is not a solution. Assaults and arrests are not the solution. Rioting and looting is not the solution. Much like the result of police brutality, violence breeds nothing more than distrust, suspicion, and fear. There are thousands of peaceful demonstrators in the Black Lives Matter movement, but the more aggressive members seek to garner attention, notoriety, progress and respect, these intimidation tactics only breed deep-seated trepidation which will eventually turn to animosity and onward toward hostility. Blame will be placed, distrust will grow, the Us vs. Them mentality will thrive, and violence will build in an ever-growing cycle until it becomes an unstoppable force; before the nation is swallowed in a bloody tidal wave.

Violence begets violence. Martin Luther King, one of the more prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement built his legacy on non-violent approaches to challenging the constructs of social injustice in the 1960s. There were several other leaders in the movement who made their own contributions, but aside from Malcolm X, they have not been as prominent, and unlike Malcolm X, MLK made his lasting mark in history without the "any means necessary" tactics. There were sit-ins, there were boycotts, there were peaceful marches that garnered the attention and the notoriety the movement deserved in order to facilitate change. Many people have turned to his teachings and cited his speeches in their tireless arguments for peaceful battles, not because they're trying to change history or "whitewash" the violence out of it, but simply out of desire to follow the path that he cleared through the decades. Because it was the better path of the two laid out before us.

Now in the midst of these desperate pleas for peaceful strategies, I was called complacent, accused of indifference because I wasn't angry enough to be aggressive. I was even told that my opinion on the ineffectiveness of violence was invalid and unwarranted because I'm not black, and I don't have the right to criticize the way black people address their own issues. I don't need to be black to know that violence is not the answer; I don't need to be violent to prove that I care. I can be and will be a peaceful warrior in fostering change in the world, because this is my tactic: to avoid adding a deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.