So long in exile,
I’ve made the wandering winds
my most firm abode.
So long in exile,
So long in exile,
I’ve made the wandering winds
my most firm abode.
Trump is trying to slip a Trojan Horse. He’s making it seem like he’s swiftly solving the situation by keeping children and parents together. However, in exchange, he is turning what has always been a misdemeanor (I.e., crossing the border without documents) into a federal crime. As a result, he will be holding the entire family as criminal and they will be processed as criminals (maybe even the children). Asylum seekers can then be denounced because they will be charged with a crime before their claim’s merit is properly considered. Also, after convicted by a court, those children can be forcibly removed again.
Be careful. This is no victory yet. It is a trick.
Be watchful and keep up the pressure. They are feeling it. Keep it up.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The morning started calm and tranquil. It was the age of the butterfly. They came with the light of dawn. They left in surprising breaths of wind and stars.
Behind are the night and the cold, dark and forgotten, like the chrysalis which being neither worm nor spirit is the nothing which hides the All.
And so, as the faded memories of a life that is no longer mine are left in the musty corners of my mind, the shadows and the starlight that saw the Sun-born vanish into the oblivion of forgetfulness, dissolved by the golden light of I-Who-Am-Here.
It is said somewhere that he mother spider, when the hunting has not gone well even after building the perfect tapestry of a thick, sturdy, heavy and sticky cobweb, she still manages to feed her children. They wait, somewhere unseen and protected. She walks towards the center. She lays down. She wraps herself up with her own string. Once she is completely covered, the way she would bind a fly, she taps on her web. She taps a signal designed to tell the children that there is game. The tinny little children come running. They need to feed this night or they won’t survive. They come to the mother and they begin to devour her, not knowing it is their mother. Thinking it is just an insect, just another nurturing bundle, they open her up. They go inside her belly and eat her from the inside out, devouring her completely.
Her sacrifice allows the children to grow into adulthood, to live one more night so they can go and hunt. So they can go and have other little children who would devour their mother.
Mama spider. Mama spider.
Weaving and forming. Teaching and feeding.
Out of your bowels we ate.
Out of your spirit we grew;
to hunt one more day,
So was the spirit of my mother, even when I did not see her.
From the depth of her corpse, I grew and came out.
The ladies of fate always seemed to be weaving a strange web around my mother: strange happenings, magical, astonishing and weird. A teacher in a school for poor children, she took it upon herself to help a child who reminded her of my younger brother. She didn’t know why she felt compelled to take him under her wing, to buy him a pair of shoes, to bring groceries to his mother. It was pure compassion, or motherly love springing from unknown currents in her soul. She wanted to take care of him and protect him. She brought this little boy to play with us. We took an instant liking to him. I took him outside to play soccer, to meet my friends, to talk, to be one of us. With his confused eyes full of wonderment and restrained joy, this boy joined us for a moment in our lives. A few months later he disappeared from our lives. He became a ghost, a shadow, a memory––like so many people in El Salvador, never knowing why, where, or when they went.
Years later, my father was in exile. Death squads came after him, and he managed to escape. One day, my mother was coming out of the school for rich kids where she was also teaching (she always worked at a rich school for the money, and at a poor school for the government pension). She was about to get into her car, when two cars with tinted windows blocked her in front and behind, and men with dark glasses came to her with even darker motives. They told her, “Ma’am, you’re coming with us.”
Those simple words filled her spine with a chill. She knew what was coming next. She knew. She could almost experience the ride in the back of their car. She could almost feel the boots on her face. She could predict the raping and the flame. She knew the cutting of the nipples. She knew the breaking of the teeth. She knew of the brutal interrogation of “Where is he?,” “What else do you know?,” and “Where are the others?” She knew the longing for death. She knew it was all coming to an end. She knew what followed. That time line was flowing right in front of her, and she was just about to be carried away in its current.
Her body paralyzed, she couldn’t move. It was just the coldness of certain death for her. She couldn’t move, she couldn’t react.
She only could say, “Me?”
“Yes ma’am, you’re coming with us now.”
Once again she repeated, “Me?” and the “Come with us” was the only answer, with a hand grabbing her by one arm, leading her to a sequence of events that were long ago written, and nothing at this moment––nothing, no one––could come to her rescue.
She was in that space where we found ourselves so many times in that jungle, when reality had become so hard, so heavy, that no escape is possible. No light, no hope, no brilliance seemed to exist, just the pulling into heavy hardness. This was the harshness of reality. And here she was, knowing that all she could do now was to follow this thread.
At this moment, at this exact moment, the driver of the car in front comes out. Dark glasses. From some remote whisper of awareness, she felt she recognized him. One day, a year or two before this, she went to the house of the little boy she had taken under her nurturing love–because he looked like my brother perhaps, or compelled by unknown oceanic depths. She had come to see the mother of the little boy that day, a year or two ago. She brought the child’s mother some food, shoes, shirts, love and compassion. When she was leaving, the father was approaching the house. The father of the illegitimate boy, in a suit and dark glasses said to her “Ma’am, I know what you’ve been doing for my son and I want to thank you for everything. For the love you’ve given him.” It was a brief encounter. She left. He went. And here he was now, again, same dark glasses and suit, driving a car for men of money and death, looking at the woman that was about to die under torture. There he was, telling the other men: “That’s not her. We’ve got the wrong one. Lets go.”
They left, and the specter of death vanished, and the lightness of being filled the flesh of my mother; tears coming out, of pain and joy; but more than anything, tears for having recognized the silver and red threads of the tapestry being woven by fortune.
And, as she tells the tale, the magic of the Kindly Ladies becomes entrenched in our consciousness, and our words. And so the mother spider weaves a thread. A chance meeting one day, a voice heard another day… moving… changing… Creating a knot here, a thread there. And so it went, this tapestry of light. My mother, always silent; always absent; always inside her cocoon of happenings; always surrounding us as we devoured her. Always giving. Always threading. Whispering. Silent. But providing the legs and the thread and the moving.
I hail from a very small town in the smallest country of this American continent. My home town, Santa Elena, was named after a woman who married a Roman emperor and was promptly left aside for a second wife with much better political connections. Her son eventually ascended to the throne to become Constantine the Great, and brought his mother home to be honored. Santa Elena dedicated her life to healing the sick, and now with the power of the empire at her disposal formed a group to search for the True Cross where Jesus shed his blood. She unearthed three, according to legend, and brought them to a dying woman she had been helping. When the sick woman was touched by one of the crosses, she immediately recovered, and Santa Elena declared this to be the True Cross and founded a church on the spot.
This legendary woman is the patron saint of my birth place, and the birth place of as many as five generations of ancestors that I have been able to count. The name was given by invaders of a strange continent with a strange tongue. They also called us all “guanacos”, the same name given to the dromedary of the Andes who spits at anyone and takes any kind of burden on his back, and named the country as a whole after their savior himself: El Salvador.
I was born in a town named after the mother of the church that ruled Western civilization for almost two millennia, in a country named after the man-god who is arguably one of the most influential in human history, none other than the savior of the world according to his followers. This is the same town renowned for its violent people, even in a country infamous for being one of the most violent.
I was born in the smallest, most bloody country in this continent. El Salvador is known for having started a war over a soccer match. It is known for the worse performance in the the soccer World Cup, the only time it managed to qualify. It is known for a massacre of 30,000 indigenous people in 1932, and a death toll of close to 100,000 in a brutal civil war in the 80s. It is now famous for the deadliest gang, the Mara Salvatrucha.
Yet, it is the “thumbelina of America”; the most insignificant, irrelevant, forgotten, poor, and bleeding country that still exists in this magnificent continent so bathed by two oceans and soaked in the blood of its people.
I want to write this blog because the true story has not been written.
I wish to write the history of my ancestors. I wish to tell the stories my eyes have witnessed.
Ultimately, I will to write this blog because my blood, meant to be shed, now wants to unveil its true color. It wants to tell the wisdom of the jungles and the visions of volcanoes. It wants you, my people, to remember the lost stories never told.
I will write every day, with tears and laughter, with sorrow and joy. All so that the invisible may be known, and the silence of my people may penetrate the walls of this false world.