For those afraid of immigrants and refugees: embrace your laws and your highest cultural light.

Someone asked me if I thought we should bend over and forget our laws and our culture and just allow the people marching from Central America to come in, and if I thought they came to assimilate and work, or to be supported by us. This person also said that we should not feel responsible for the mistakes they have made and they should leave us alone and fix things in their own land.

Here is my response:

In the first place, they would not need help if we left them alone to begin with. It is our intervention in their affairs that have created this situation. Historical ignorance is bliss to nationalists, they do not have to see what they do to other nations in the name of economic privilege.

Second, they are not breaking the law. They are following it. These people are marching to seek asylum, as our laws allow. They are not breaking the law, but following it. When they are here, they ask for asylum and we should, under our own laws, process them and reject those who are deemed dangerous or undeserving.

Third, yes, they will come here and assimilate into our laws. They will contribute and add the richness of their culture just like every other wave of immigrants have done since the beginning of this nation.

Lastly, I don’t know any Central American who wants to be supported. And I know thousands of them. It is part of their culture to be hard workers.

So, I suggest you follow your own laws, pay attention to your own cultural roots, and welcome those who seek a chance to contribute in this vast land of their ancestors (they are, for the most part, natives after all). Do not bend your laws or culture. Embrace and be true to them.

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The online boldness of a drowning man

Ever since that #shitholetrump was given the White House, some of his followers believe their fascist and racist ideals now have a hero. I’m not talking about all conservatives. True conservatives have valuable ideas and contributions to the ongoing dialogue of humanity, and its search for destiny. No. I’m talking about those true fascist that dream with their past glories of white supremacy, segregation, and slavery.

These people have been silent until now. They can feel their resurgence. They see every step toward xenophobia, suppression, oppression, and cruelty their leader takes as the pavement of a road to their paradise. Emboldened, they are more vocal on social media, in government, on television, and the pulpits.

Because of my opposition to their mouthpiece, and my immigrant status, I get attacked a lot online. So far, they have threatened me with violence and deportation; called me animal, criminal, liar, terrorist, and subhuman (for being Salvadorian); and on, and on. This happens almost on a daily basis now.

Not one of them have said anything in person, but always hiding behind their screen names. Fascist cowards. They are showing themselves, in their impotent pseudo-bravado. They are the last kick of a drowning man.

Untamed

Nothing has been tamed in the continent of my heart.

My blood floods rebellious through rivers of memory, under the empty expanse of the Heart of the Sky.

Celebrate the genocide you benefit from, #shitholetrump.

Celebrate with unfettered greed, even, for the night of five hundred years evaporates as I wake.

I crossed the border, because I am free.

Many people in this country tell me I do not belong here. I do.

They tell me to go back outside the imaginary border they set over my people, and they tell me that I should not come over here. They say they will build a wall, and that they will criminalize my existence if I live here as a free human.

I say they are wrong about this. They say that their fear of terrorism and crime justifies their wall, a wall that will keep me and other worthy humans out. I say their fear is not reason enough. Why? First, because their wall, as their border, is already a way to divide my people, to keep the poor poor, and to justify violence over the people. It has been the case ever since the conquerors divided the land by violence, rape, and enforced poverty. The borders currently existing did not evolve from the natural growth of communities. They were imposed through inhumane violence, and maintained by institutional violence.

The reason I had to come to the United States was directly because of the violence of the Reagan administration against me and my people. This is no political discourse, I demonstrated this in a US court, and it was determined that it would be a violation of human rights to expel me. I came here illegally, when all I wanted was to live in my land. But I had the right to live, so I came, I crossed the border illegally, because my right to exist and live free takes precedence over the right of the United States to draw a border.

Living here, does not make me a criminal, as many are wont to say. Living here without permission is only a misdemeanor, not even a crime according to the laws here. But the wall is designed to keep many worthy people out, like me and most people I know. It is designed, moreover, to cast a shadow over my people, to stigmatize me as illegal, as dangerous, as criminal.

Looking at today’s messages on Facebook, in just one day I have personally been called criminal, brown, ignorant, dangerous, illegal, and terrorist in the walls of at least 5 friends. All because these people commenting want to find a reason to build a wall. The wall won’t protect them against crime. Crime has always been part of the human condition. It won’t protect people from terror, for terror is executed first by those who build walls and define borders. It is meant to protect people’s prejudices and inhumane acts against the marginalized, the free, and the outsider.

I say, that all people are free to live on this earth, as it was for all our ancestors, as long as they do not thwart the rights of others.

I am a free born human being. My freedom and humanity takes precedence over any immigration law, any racist ideology, all artificial borders, and the economic interests of any nation, class, corporation, or crime syndicate.

I am a human being.

I am here.

Freedom is my home.

Stop the madness inside

Shame on those of us who perpetrate lies and misinformation against those who are already marginalized, oppressed, different, and feared.

It is disgustingly easy to propagate rumor and innuendo, dismissing the sad actuality of the lives of those who are persecuted.

When you contribute to the hate, by repeating thoughts and reasons to attack them, you are not really looking at them, but to your ego image, and what you think you are protecting is nothing but the false image of reality your thoughts are creating.

Stop the madness inside, and seek to the highest and truest values your silent self adheres to; and before you spread any sentiment against the poor, the immigrant, the minority, the oppressed, and the bereaved, search in silence those values that best reflect the nobility and sensitive intelligence in you.

Doors and Windows

I used to rent an apartment in a big city. The walls were shared with neighbors on each side. The floor was someone’s ceiling, and my ceiling was someone else’s floor. Surrounded by walls and divisions up and down and all around which already were used by someone else, I couldn’t help but wonder: what am I paying for when I pay rent?

“Doors and windows,” said the sunlight. “Doors and windows.”

I come from a “shit-hole”

I am not an American.

I was born in the continent known as “America”, yes. But somehow this United States has given itself the name of the entire continent.

Ronald Reagan demoted the rest of this magnificent continent to the mere “Backyard of America.”

That’s when I came here, to the “land of the free,” when Ronald Reagan sent billions of dollars to military dictators so they could use the money to rape, torture, and massacre my people. I didn’t want to come here. Oh, how I hated coming to this land so full of restrictions, prohibitions, and people kept so ignorant of their own history!

Once I came here, almost no one I met knew where my country was. They all assumed I was Mexican. Except for Mexicans. They knew where I was from, and knew they couldn’t trust me because if I was from where I was, I had to be a drunk, a rapist, a criminal, a thief, and a repulsive human being. Few others ever knew where I was from.

After Reagan was done paying for the killings and tortures of 100,000 of my people, I was able to settle in this bastion of democracy–where I had to prove at every turn that I had the right be here, that I had the right to work, and that someone like me, too, could be educated.

Donald Trump gave the label of rapists and criminals to Mexicans, right when he announces his candidacy; so as to signal to his people that he will make this country great again by getting rid of all the human shit that is now stinking up the place with their Spanish and their colored skin and their desire for freedom.

However, that doesn’t remove the labels from me. After all, if he ever met me he would think I am Mexican.

The truth is that it is hard for me to say what I am. I was born in El Salvador, and its land and people are synonyms with love and freedom in my heart. But the country itself is an invention of an invader from another continent. Its language, its religion, its traditions all were imposed by the invaders, burned into us with fire and cauldrons. Our 500 year old resistance has left its mark in a perennial PTSD so ingrained in our bones that we don’t even know any other way of feeling is possible.

I am Salvadoran, even if the term was imposed by Spain. I am American, even if the US thinks they own the name. I am güanaco, even if you think it’s an insult.

I am not Mexican. Mexicans call me “cerote”–a piece of turd.

Today, Trump agreed with them. Today, he said he didn’t understand why liberals want to bring people from those shit-hole countries.

I am a piece of turd from a shit-hole country in the backyard of Ronald Reagan.

Yet, I am here. And I come from the Land of the Jewel, Cuzcatlan, the last bastion of resistance.

I am here to stay, and to change this land, this entire continent, into what it truly is: the mother land in the process of awakening.

You may see in me a turd from a shit-hole country, but I see in you and me and all the true silver light of the empty mind, the freedom from the past, the glory of the New Sun that heralds the coming of the True Human Being. I am here to share that future with you, my reader, without hatred in my heart, without resentment, and without any names to hurl back at you.

I am a Dreamer

I, too, found myself making a home of a place that called me alien.
I, like you, was uprooted without knowing why.
More than once, my name was taken, and my dreams turned nightmares.

Away from home and mine,
awake in a hostile land,
I dreamt me an infinite land.

Where you and all can live,
Love,
Be,
And dream.

Dream, dreamer, dream.
Dream this dream that make us true:
A land of justice and love.

Dream with me the future true.

Dream, for the time of waking comes.
And in the wake world the high dreams are Law.

The long silence of exile.

In those long silences of my exile, I learned nuances of silence: silences that were vast and deep like oceans, and stormy silences; silences that were short, like lightning; silences that were ominous; and silences that were threatening.

I learned nuances of silence that later I would learn to carry through speech. So that when I talk, I would pay little to no attention to the words I was saying, for I was not interested in communicating words. I was more interested in communicating spaces, pauses, silences—create perhaps rhythms and arrhythmias of stops and pauses.

What the Hell am I doing here?

It is the end of 1992. I am sitting in a hallway in Santa Clara University, waiting for the door to the examination room to open. I have been sitting there since 7:00 a.m. It is now 8:25 and the test is due to begin in five minutes. My eyes are fighting hard to close, but I don’t let them. If I drift into sleep right now, I’ll be too groggy and unable to think during the test. I’m preparing myself for it. The results will determine whether or not I can be considered for the UCSD’s doctorate program in Philosophy and Cognitive Sciences. If they are too low, all my previous work will come to nothing.

It has been almost eight years since I left my country, where I was doing my first year of college and volunteering to help the children of the war refugees in San Jose de la Montaña learn to read and write. Eight years ago, I was saying goodbye to my friends, and the group I had formed to study Magick, mysticism, and spiritual discipline. I was saying goodbye to my sacred tools and my books, the ones buried under a palm tree in the house we lost––buried so they wouldn’t be found and burnt by the authorities. Goodbye to the UCA, the Jesuit university where I dreamt with graduating and maybe teaching in later years. Goodbye to the job as assistant journalist for ECCA, a periodical dealing with analysis of the social, economic, and political realities of Central America. There, I was in charge of reading the newspapers and radio transcripts of the five countries that form Central America for all items referring to the economy of the region, and then summarizing the most important points for our main editor. I had gotten this job even though I was just a first year student, by impressing Professor Beneke, my philosophy teacher, with the way in which I could synthesize and regurgitate the main points in her class. She set up an interview with the German editor in charge of the publication. He told me his command of German was not as good as his command of spanish, because German was the language his parents spoke when they didn’t want the children to understand. He pulled out a huge volume of a doctoral disseratation and gave me two hours to summarize. I couldn’t read it all in time, so I went through the main body and skimmed to the beginning and end of chapters, paying more attention to summaries and conclusions. He said it was good, that I had missed some key elements but that he could work with me and I’d only get better.

Eight years before, I said goodbye to the volcano and my grandmother, to my sister and the girl who took my thoughts in the day and returned them in sleepless nights. I said goodbye to all the people, but only said “hasta luego” to the revolution and the mystical path that had uplifted my spirit and focused my moral compass. After all, I did not want to leave for ever. “Six months in the United States, tops,” I told myself. Six months to get away from the imminent threat in my country. Six months to hide from the death squads. Six months, that was the deal I made with my older brother, Atilio, the one who had become an impressive warrior and guerrilla commander. But work, life, and necessity intervened, and the 6 months stretched to 8 years to accommodate a family, a daughter, a college career, a life.

Eight years before siting in this cold hallway, hungry and sleepy, watching the rich students in this excellent Jesuit university walking down the hallway with warm stomachs and full rest, complaining about all the things they have to do and how early their class is. I was their age eight years ago. It had taken me this long to finally graduate from college. Things didn’t go as planned. I didn’t graduate in four years, didn’t get a post-graduate scholarship to a socialist country, didn’t teach philosophy, and didn’t contribute further to the revolution. My esoteric group never heard from me again, and many other friends wondered if I had disappeared in the trunk of a Cherokee Suburban, if I lied anonymously in an unmarked grave, or if by any luck I had taken arms and went to war against the oppressor. I didn’t stay here for only six months.

Eight years ago I was getting the visa from the American Embassy, and booked my flight where I had my first screwdriver––my first 8 screwdrivers. Where I saw my mom and dad and little brothers again, after a couple of years in exile themselves. Where my mom got sad because, even though I dressed up in a suit to show respect for the airplane crew and the people of this country when I arrived, I looked emaciated to her, with my meager 120 lbs. inside a light blue suit. I arrived with a few clothes, one book of yoga Mario had given me, and a wooden box.

“Do you want to see my treasure?” I asked Carlitos, my little brother who followed me into the room where we would sleep now in my aunt’s house in Echo Park. He smiled widely, and his sweet honeyed eyes opened more when I pulled out the box. Of all the things I left behind, I chose this one to bring with me. It was the tarot deck my father had given me when I entered high school. “I will never learn this, but I think you will,” he told me. I was so happy to open this mystery, and to unveil it in my hands all night long, seeing the strangely familiar figures tell me tales of initiatic import, the story of my soul through this life.

I would get a job a week after that. All the things I had done meant noting now. No education, research, or ability other than the uttering or meaningless phrases in a difficult language. I learned to take care of the elderly, to wash them, feed them, change them, and help the nurses. I got two full time jobs doing this, and a part time for the weekends. I worked hard to learn the language, always dreaming with finishing my philosophy degree, but dreaming harder with going back to my country.

I moved up to Daly City with my friend Juan. There, I attempted to go to a community college to get back to my studies. I also kept working at a convalescent hospital. The battle with depression and alienation continued, and I dropped out, unable to keep up with work and study in a foreign land. I was hard on myself, I didn’t know about depression and PTSD, about the unfairness of demanding the same level of performance now that I was out of my element. I moved many times, got married, had a beautiful daughter, and worked hard to be able to work at a school as a teacher’s aide. I also attempted to get into college many times, and dropped out of community colleges each time, unable to understand why. All of this before my 22nd birthday. Finally, when I was 24, I heard that I could apply directly to Santa Clara University without having to finish a community college program. “But I couldn’t afford a private university,” I told the young recruiter that had come to Canada College. “There are many scholarships for the right student,” he said. Something turned on in me. I didn’t occur to me to ask what the right student was. I knew this was for me to do. Shortly after the decision was made, the army of El Salvador, under the cover of doing battle with an insurrection erupting in the capital city, where many good and dear friends died, had entered the UCA and assassinated its director, Ignacio Ellacuria, four other priests who taught there, their cook, and her 15 year old daughter. These had been my teachers, and I had long ago hoped they’d be, one day, my colleagues. On a whim, I borrowed a hand-held recorder and conducted an interview with the Salvadoran consul, and with the director of Santa Clara University, because the Jesuits had been his colleagues and friends. I published an article with these interviews in the local paper, and somehow this made me promise to myself that I would finish what I had started back in El Salvador.

I enrolled, then, in Santa Clara. It felt good to be back with Jesuits. I felt among friends again, even if I couldn’t make many friends among the student population. The distance was vast. They were busy fighting for the traditions of a “Greek life” and complaining about the service of their cafeteria, about the classes being too early and the curriculum too hard. I was loving the curriculum, and would have loved the cafeteria food if I could afford a meal plan. I begun to realize the reason I kept dropping out of community colleges was that it was too boring. I needed the intellectual challenge. They allowed me to enroll in seminar classes, usually reserved for juniors and seniors.  I was promptly invited to the honors program, and a few honors societies. Just the week before today, I had been accepted in the Phi Betta Kappa society, which they tell me is very prestigious, but I have no idea why, or what to do with that. Last month, I finished a paper on artificial intelligence for the National Endowment for the Humanities, for which they gave me a grant of $5000. I know exactly why that is important, and what to do with that money.

It hadn’t been easy, of course. This morning, I drove from work, slapping myself to stay awake and driving while hallucinating after an all-night shift. I haven’t been able to eat since noon yesterday, because I was too tired to get up 20 minutes earlier to eat before going to work. This was the routine almost every morning for the past three years. I managed to keep a job as a security guard; in the graveyard shift, so I could read my text-books and write my papers between perimeter rounds. I managed to support my wife and little Xochitl, my cacarica. I learned so much, and I discovered I had a writing voice. I managed to graduate with a straight A, 4.0 GPA, even if every single professor questioned whether I should be taking their class the first day of every higher level class, because, perhaps because my accent, I didn’t seem like the type of person that could manage to comprehend the material. “Maybe you should consider an introductory class first,” they would say. “You can take my seminar, but don’t expect to maintain your GPA,” they would warn in their most friendly and compassionate voice. That was okay. It gave me a chuckle, each time. And each time I reminded myself to sit in the front, to raise my hands, to challenge myself and the teacher, to write more, read more, think more… much more than was expected of me. This was my life, and I loved it.

I didn’t complain; not about hunger, not about difficulties, not about expectations. I was grateful to be here on this cold hard floor, with the echoes of young students walking to way too early classes. I was a little hungry, but not as much now that I just had a cup of coffee I could buy in the cafeteria, and I have just finished a delicious banana that Julia, the Guatemalan cafeteria worker had slipped into my bag without been seen. Julia often gave me a piece of fruit or a muffin whenever I came to the cafeteria, I think happy and proud to see a Central American brother there, one of her own, making it in the midst of privilege. We never talked about anything other than family and weather, but she knew, I know she knew, what it was like to be in this country just to survive. She was a silent angel who blessed me with potassium because there was nothing else she could give.

Because of Julia, my family, my past and the Jesuit order, I am here now, siting in this cold, hard, and lonely hallway. My stomach not so empty, and my heart full. I am awaiting the moment the doors will open and I will take the exam that will decide if I go to graduate school or not. Either way, I have already accomplished much. I take the last bite of Julia’s stolen banana and sip the last of my coffee. I fold the banana peel, knowing that, in five minutes, I’ll be able to demonstrate to people I don’t know that I have the mettle to make it in grad school. I begin to close the lid of the styrofoam cup with the banana peel inside, when a group of young people stand next to me, looking at the list on the wall. It is the list of the people scheduled to take the exam. There are empty lines under the list, for people who wish to take the test but didn’t apply in time. If someone didn’t make it, they would be called into the room. They write their name in, complaining that the sheet is full. There is three of them, two males and one female, all young, all white, all rich. They hope they can make it. They hope they didn’t walk all the way here from their dorms, this early, in vain. They are about to leave, and one of them takes a closer look at the sign-in sheet on the wall. They look at the name on the list, he reads it out loud: “Ricardo Flores…” They start to walk away, they don’t seem to see me, or do a good job of ignoring me. “What the hell is a Ricardo Flores doing in a place like this?”, he asks. The others nod, understanding.

What the Hell, indeed?

Throughout the test, I kept hearing those mocking words. I kept getting flashes of the last 8 years. I kept telling myself to let go of all that, to concentrate on the test. I was too exhausted to fully succeed. I still scored well enough to be invited to UCSD’s Ph.D. program. I scored better than 81% of all other graduate students taking the test that year. “Not enough for Berkeley, but maybe it’ll be good enough for UCSD,” said my thesis advisor. Obviously, all the hard work done before that test prevailed, and I made it through. And making it through is, like any marathon, a very good success indeed.

During the test, I couldn’t take that mocking question out of my mind. “What the Hell is a Ricardo Flores doing here?” It carried in essence what this new land demanded of me.

Twenty-five years later, the sting of that memory has faded away to the background, and what stand out are the eyes of Julia as she slides a stolen banana inside my bag.