Spanish Comes Just in Time.
Once upon a time, about two and a half months ago, l was stuck in a motel in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where my car had died: suddenly, without warning, and in the middle of a six lane highway .. wait –
during rush hour. When else?
The cost of the tow truck, a new alternator and the motel bill had left me with exactly $4.26 to my name. Sounds about right. I mean, what’s my point here?
Let’s see..twenty minutes before my car came to a dead stop, I’d been lying in a hospital bed a few blocks away, expecting surgery and rehab for which I’d been waiting three and a half years. I’d prayed only that it wasn’t too late: that is, I’d certainly been able to walk three and a half years earlier. Had New Mexico’s public health system included actual medical treatment, I’d have been walking long ago.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was told there would be another delay, but I was. By now, though, I’ve learned that filing complaints, calling Santa Fe, appealing to state social workers and otherwise pitching a fit are stupid things to do if you are poor in New Mexico. So two nice medics wheeled me out to the hospital parking lot, sort of shoved me into my car, tossed my walker in the back seat and waved as I pulled into rush hour traffic. Hopefully, there’d be someone around to shove me back out of the car when I got home. A few blocks later, my car suddenly slowed down….
And that’s where you came in.
Five years ago, I stood alone against Vampires Are Us Media Group, aka GateHouse Media and its neoliberal lawyer and/or journalist pals.
At stake was the life of a Mexican-American father who was being framed for murder after he had acted to defend himself from a white supremacist attack .1
During and after the case, I was attacked by a relentless barrage of lies, threats, retaliation, libel, and textbook defamation. 2
It turns out that the idea of a reporter’s faith in the truth is actually a huge media joke.
Everything that made up my life was smashed and broken in order to destroy my credibility.
After they broke my heart, they broke my back.
Meanwhile, Business Begins in the Motel Lobby
In spite of the increasingly surreal quality of my world, I nevertheless maintained a dim sense that life went on. For example, I awoke the next day from motel dreams of swerving traffic and began lurching down the hall toward the free breakfast. A sharp flash of pain immediately reminded me that I’d left my walker on the passenger seat of my old Crown Victoria, which had been towed away. The pain remarked, in the overly familiar tone of a permanent guest, that the motel hallway had certainly grown longer overnight. I ignored it hatefully and leaned heavily into the wallpaper, sliding almost horizontally toward the distant lobby.
The breakfast area was a sea of Anglos: half of them were attending business meetings, and the rest were families on vacation. I looked around for something to help me through the line and as I grabbed a large luggage rack on wheels, I was pierced with longing: a memory of gliding swiftly through crowds, able to estimate their size, take photos, grab phone quotes and spot the outside auditors arrive without missing a beat.
Then I moved my back the wrong way and cried out as a flash of electricity instantly knocked me over – I mean way, way over. I was bent completely in half and I couldn’t move. Everyone just sat and pretended they weren’t looking at me. I looked at the floor because it was all I could see.
“I’ll get to her as soon as I can,” a motel employee said impatiently (and to someone else!) from behind me. Instantly I was resolved not to ask for help.
However, I knew that I would soon fall to the floor, so I rapidly ran through my options. I was fairly sure that if I cried in front of this large group of strangers, I would hurl myself in front of the first rapidly approaching cement truck I could find.
I heard what sounded almost like a sort of scuffle, and twisted my neck as far as I could. A man rapidly approached, elbowing people aside so that he could place a chair under me and – very slowly – help me to sit down. With the authority of a single gesture, he signaled a passing businessman to assist him in lifting the chair into an adjourning lounge and getting me onto a couch, Once lying on my side, the pain soon subsided.
The man’s name was Ruben, and he was evidently pissed off at the entire breakfast crowd.
(Hey, me too hermano! Over here! I am pissed off too – at everyone. !Mira – aqui!)
?”Usted hablan Espanol?” I asked Ruben. English was not working out for us.
“Si, si!” he replied enthusiastically and I arranged my brain in preparation. At least ten or twelve minutes later, however I realized that my brain had bypassed the prep zone and gone, unsupervised, straight to Spanish.
This blew my mind. I’d been speaking Spanish freely and effectively without thinking about it!
Let me tell you, it was like a visit from magic! I shall never forget it. My brain had inexplicably changed in significant, even profound ways, and my world had suddenly become much bigger. Infinitely bigger than if I had suddenly been able to get up and run.
Ruben and I didn’t have a complicated conversation, but it was, by every measure the best kind of conversation because it connected us. He was a Mexican national who had recently taken his time exploring North America’s west coast from Vancouver to San Diego. He said he had seen Mexicans everywhere he went. I told Ruben that I have been studying Pancho Villa and E. Zapata. Some of Villa’s generals were actually Americans – these were by far the most moronic scoundrels in the conflict. ( No, I didn’t say “by far the most moronic scoundrels” in Spanish.)
Villa himself, of course, had the heart of a lion.
When I mentioned the EZLN and “Commandante Marcos”, Ruben gave me a huge smile and a small victory sign. I told him that for 15 years my life’s biggest dream has been to join the Zapatista struggle in some way. Ruben said they are a role model for every resistence struggle in the world. He thought the right-wing coup in Brazil should be a global priority right now, because it represents a huge threat to all of Latin America. Looming right behind that is, of course, the relentless aggression of the United States.
We ended by vowing that Hugo Chavez will live forever and the Bolivarian Movement will triumph. The very last thing I told Ruben was that although I was born in New York City, Mexico is the country of my heart. Ruben didn’t roll his eyes. (Thank-you, lord ) Instead he called me a sister of Mexico before disappearing around the corner.
That afternoon, I drove north through the bright desert. To the west, eight or ten coyote loped along at easy pace, out well before sunset and close to the flatland farms they know to be dangerous. They were looking for water.
What I knew had been lost to me: I didn’t believe it anymore. But Spanish had returned it to me that morning (or at least pointed the way) because Spanish holds memory forever. It infuses the past into the present until collective memory crackles in the air. As itself a living thing, Spanish recognizes you.
I was more than halfway home. Although the day remained shining yellow and blue, the earliest signs of evening had begun to appear in the western sky – so subtle as to be nearly invisible. By now, Ruben was zipping through West Texas, heading southeast to San Antonio, where he planned to cross the border at Laredo Nuevo
If only one comrade can hear you, all can hear you.
Some families are lost to their daughters forever, and some are not. Somewhere, the people are waiting intently for snow.
The last and smallest of the yellow flowers are blooming now in the New Mexico desert,
Still, even in loneliness, no heart beats alone.
!JaJaJaJaJa! (Ha, ha, ha!) That is the sound of my remembered laughter. No matter what anyone says, it is also the sound of Sandinistas laughing from far away.
Was it magic? Well, my Spanish adventure hasn’t happened again – not like that, not that way. For the most part, except for the common exchanges of daily life, and a political vocabulary known to all, my road to Spanish remains a careful and deliberate, albeit always generous one.
But hey! Don’t you know that God sends Spanish just in time?
N O T E S
These are meant for readers interested in further clarification, and supplement the numbered statements above.
111. Media and popular support for my refusal to identify a confidential source evaporated in the face of my conviction for contempt of court. Without my knowledge, First Amendment stars such as Harvey Silverglate and Lucy Dalglish joined corporate media lawyers in a behind-the-scenes effort to force my testimony. This is in and of itself a basis for disbarring all attorney on both sides.
2 Worse, the coverup was itself a series of flagrant federal civil rights law violations that propelled already alarming evidence of entrenched press/corporate corruption into a much more chilling sphere. It revealed that non-profit public policy giants such as the ACLU have a real disregard for both the First Amendment and sections of federal civil rights law. It’s a disregard as genuine as that displayed by the most recalcitrant corporate offenders.
Harvest Moon, Godzilla vs. Zozobra / David Bradley 2009 Museum of Indian Arts and Culture
Here’s how you can tell: everything you’ve known will happen is, in fact, happening, and yet, you still feel wrong. The faster the unrelenting progression of harrowing confirmations, the harder it is find any real echo ot them in the affirmation of others.
Without Reporter’s Shield Laws, who Would be willing to Speak up?
Presented at the 124th annual convention and trade show
Of The National Newspaper Association
Sept. 30 to Oct. 3, 2010, in Omaha, Neb.
By Les Anderson
Professor, Elliott School of Communication
Wichita State University, Wichita, Kan. 67260-0031
††† Note: This paper has been greatly condensed, without detracting from its original meaning. My primary purpose in posting this shortened version is to emphasize the political nature of the defamatory campaign that was unleashed against me when I objected, in a civil manner, and on appropriate grounds , to the unprotected status the bill leaves reporters in rural western Kansas. It’s a “whole other country” from the eastern part of the state.
In February 2007, Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association, addressed members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Kansas Legislature about a proposed reporters’ shield law.
Anstaett told the legislative committee that we in America can handle the truth, and that it is the job of professional news gatherers to do their best to deliver that truth to citizens.
“The American people have shown time and again throughout our history that not only can we handle the truth, we demand it as an absolutely essential ingredient of our form of government,“ he said.
Without the protection afforded by the proposed reporters’ shield law, however, Anstaett said in 2007, sources will continue to be intimidated and will continue to choose to not come forward, and journalists will not learn what public officials and others want to hide.
The proposed shield law didn’t gain much traction in Kansas for several more years. One of the problems Anstaett and the state’s journalists faced was providing real-life evidence to back up their request for new legislation.
In the fall of 2009, Anstaett, the press association and journalists in Kansas got the ammunition they needed. Claire O’Brien, a reporter in Dodge City, had been subpoenaed to testify at an inquisition, where she would likely be ordered to give up her unpublished notes and her confidential source for a story in a local murder case.
According to an Associated Press story by John Hanna, the county attorney was trying to force O’Brien to hand over notes from a jailhouse interview with a man charged with second-degree murder. He also was trying to get her to divulge the identity of a confidential source who suggested the man acted in self-defense and that one of the victims had ties to an anti-Hispanic group. O’Brien refused to comply with the subpoena.
Initially, the Kansas Supreme Court granted a temporary stay of a subpoena for O’Brien’s notes, according to the AP story, but the next day, the reporter received a subpoena (from the county prosecutor) to appear at the defendant’s trial as a witness. The Kansas Supreme Court (immediately)… refused to block the subpoena (without considering the appeal).
Anstaett commented: “It (the supreme court ruling) sends an unmistakably chilling message to our reporters and to their sources that no protections exist for those who want to blow the whistle on government, uncover corruption and abuse, or report on the criminal element in our communities.“
The Senate majority leader agreed that because of the Dodge City case, “We should strike while the iron is hot.“
With his help, a new proposal was enacted into law in that same 2010 session.
Kansas became the 38th state with a shield law.
Not everyone connected with the Dodge City case was happy with the new shield law, especially O’Brien, the reporter who brought the plight of reporters to the attention of the public and the legislature.
O’Brien’s newspaper, the Dodge City Daily Globe, is one of nine Kansas dailies owned by GateHouse Media, which is based in Fairport, N.Y., and owns ( close to 400 newspapers)
In an e-mail in late January to the state press association, her company’s division manager and publishers of four Kansas newspapers owned by GateHouse Media — including her own — O’Brien said she was disappointed in the bill. This e-mail came before it was signed into law.
“(The bill) strikes me as the kind of compromise that will give the legislature an excuse to avoid passing a real shield law for another couple of decades,“ O’Brien said in her e-mail. “We won’t get another opportunity to pass a bill with real teeth in it for a long time, and with the feds packing reporters off to prison in record numbers, I still think our best hope is a proactive and vigorous appeal to public opinion.
She continued: “This bill leaves ample room for forced testimony. If it serves as the basis for my protection, I predict that I’ll soon be right back in the same courtroom. I know this county attorney and this judge well enough to be certain of that. And I gave my word to my sources that their identities would be protected.
O’Brien added in her e-mail: “I’m not willing to go to jail for this bill. I don’t think it will protect me. However, I do remain willing and ready to go to jail in order to achieve real protection for all Kansas reporters.“
“I realize that the above scenario would transpire in theory only if the state meets certain criteria, but, in Ford County at least, the court has clearly demonstrated its willingness, if not eagerness, to rubber stamp every claim the state has made in that regard.” (My note, included here, not a part of the original email or of this paper: as a reporter, I had observed our county prosecutor and Judge Love in action for almost a year. It was clear to people in Ford County that if the shield bill passed, our DA, who went hunting with this judge every other weekend, would simply hand his pal, I mean his honor, a statement claiming that he had, as required by the bill, exhausted other resources. The judge would sign the prosecutor’s subpoena with no pretense of reading the statement. An hour later a deputy would appear at a reporter’s desk and hand him a subpoena.
“I realize that I’m just one factor in this whole scenario, and that each of you will make decisions as you see fit. I realize also that I’m just a beat reporter who probably appears to be getting too big for her britches. But for what it’s worth, and again with sincere respect to all, I’m risking your displeasure only because of deeply held personal convictions.
O’Brien was fired from the Dodge City paper shortly after the issue was resolved.
(She) told an Associated Press reporter that it was in retaliation for comments she made to news outlets after she was found in contempt for failing to appear at the inquisition. Her newspaper’s parent company, GateHouse Media, denied her allegations.
Obrien said she never testified before the legislature on the proposed shield law, although she had initially been asked to provide input. She wasn’t mentioned at the bill-signing ceremony either, nor at the annual state press association banquet, where everyone who played a role re the bill’s success was individually thanked. Except O’Brien.
It emerged late in the press banquet that O’Brien had not only won first place in the news division – and with the very story that had attracted the wrath of the DA in the first place – but that she had broken a state record by winning three additional awards at once.
“Fortunately, the judges were from the Nebraska Press Association,”” the unrepentant reporter commented on the RCFP website.
. In a July 2010 interview after her firing, O’Brien said …she was outside the information flow between the court and the newspaper’s parent company.
..”I was forfeiting some basic rights,” she said.
…She didn’t think it was unreasonable to want copies of everything associated with the case.
“I didn’t want to be leading a parade,” she said. “I wanted to be informed. I had to fight just to be told when motions were going to be presented… anyone facing a criminal charge has a right to information.”
O’Brien received four Kansas Press Association awards for her stories that appeared in the Dodge City newspaper. Ironically, among the awards was a first place for the story on her jailhouse interview.
O’Brien maintains the new shield law may protect the urban Democrats of eastern Kansas in places such as the famously wealthy Johnson County, and in Topeka and Wichita, where the state’s only two large newspapers are respectively located. As for the towns, large and small, that dot the high arid plains of Kansas’ vast central and western regions, the bill provides the reporters who put in 12 to 16 hour days for an average wage of $24,000 a year “about as much protection as nylon netting.“
“Out here,“ she added, “prosecutors rule like kings.“
♦ Purple text – highlighted email, incorporated by Professor Anderson into text and quoted directly by myself.
♦ Blue text – extremely condensed
♦ Orange text – added by me
♦ Black text – by Professor Les Anderson, Elliot school of Communication,Wichita State University
The above paper was also published in Editor and Publisher, November 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – PRESS RELEASE
Contact: Cemelli de Aztlan (915) 799-2890/PeoplePowerPR@gmail.com
SEMBRA LETRAS – COSECHA LIBERTAD
Border Agricultural Workers Library
El Paso, Texas – Centro Sin Fronteras Farmworkers Center, a local non-profit providing assistance to farmworkers to empower themselves, will open the Border Agricultural Workers Library, “Sembra Letras – Cosecha Libertad” on March 31st, Cesar Chavez Day.
According to Centro Sin Fronteras, there are about 14,000 farmworkers in our tri-state region. Farmworkers earn approximately $6,000-$7,000/year. Centro Sin Fronteras provides farmworkers with shelter, health care, food, GED & English courses, and family recreational activities, alongside their organizing efforts to address farming conditions, food regulations, pesticides, health care and worker’s rights.
“Most people are not aware of the hard labor and human suffering that lies behind the fruits, vegetables and meat they serve on their tables. It’s only right that we honor these workers any chance we get.” Carlos Marentes, founder of Centro Sin Fronteras.
“Farmworkers provide our families with nutrition and sustenance on a daily basis. While they are essential to our survival, farmworkers are greatly neglected by society as a whole. Our community is committed to providing services which empower our farmworkers and provide them and their families with well-deserved dignity and justice.”
Georgina C. Perez, founder of Tu Libro.
In Lak’ech Ala K’in . Quetzalcoatl
Empower. Love. Educate
Georgina Cecilia Perez / www.TuLibro915.com
Second to last photo by Claire O’Brien/2012
Understanding these issues should make every American feel a new responsibility for what it means to be an heir to conquest.
Anywhere near El Paso? Please come by!
If not, Harvest of Empire is widely available, and has also been made into a documentary that will knock your socks off.
ARIZONA HAS ALREADY DONE THIS: PEOPLE ARE HAVING TO SMUGGLE BOOKS TO ARIZONA’S CHILDREN! PLEASE EMAIL THE TEXAS EDUCATION AGENCY NOW!
The Agency is deliberating over the next several days, including tonight. Due to bad weather, the T E A is accepting your testimony via email.
Send a note:
Support Mexican American Studies & Mexican American Literature Courses.
Demand that researched and proven curriculum & pedagogy be provided to our students!
Send your email to: email@example.com
No need to mention your state!
There are some American places where history overlaps and becomes so condensed, so close and nearly visible, that each layer is almost like its own separate lens
Lorraine Gomez grew up in such a place
Colorado’s San Luis Valley is the world’s highest alpine basin, and one of its oldest, created by the great river that formed it thousands of years ago in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Valley follows the Rio Grande south to New Mexico, where the river tumbles over the border and the two join the Camino Real in its long journey to Mexico City.
Gomez’s connection to the 120-by-75 mile valley stretches back to the Spanish farmers who settled the land before the Mexican Revolution. The communities they established have retained a strong and continuous Hispanic identity for generations (the term “Hispanic” refers specifically to Spanish-Americans in this region.)
Gomez is so deeply rooted in this valley that it defines the heart of her own identity as well, remaining her central reference point, regardless of whether or not she happens to be living there.
“It’s like a compass that’s a part of me,” she said. ” And that actually allows me to go further and stay away longer – I don’t even get homesick because in a way, I’m always there.”
“Of course hardly anyone did grow up like that. We were country kids. We had pick-up trucks. Very old pick-up trucks,” she laughed. “You drove through the Valley when I was growing up – I’m 44, so it was roughly 30 years ago when older teenagers began to let me ride along – and you’d come to a town where everyone was Anglo, and I mean everyone. Then, five miles down the road, you came to a town where everyone was Hispanic, meaning no one else was allowed…then Anglo, then Hispanic, Anglo, Hispanic, all the way through. That’s the kind of message that speaks for itself.”
Gomez added that the strongest messages she received were not often delivered verbally.
“It wasn’t something anyone sat kids down to tell us, just what everyone grew up knowing: that it took everything we had, our tiny towns, small farms and churches combined with our history, to keep the Anglos …well, frankly, to defend ourselves from them. Latinos didn’t have their own towns, they were rarely able to buy land, they rented mobile homes and small houses, and they worked for large farmers – mostly Anglo farmers, but some, a few, Hispanic farmers, ” said Gomez. “But this message wasn’t really about Latinos. It was much more about Anglos. I mean we worked for the Anglos too. I picked lettuce for them starting when I was twelve years old, because my family had lost its small farm. We kept the old house we had inherited, and that was extremely important to us – I always knew that we had been here for well over three hundred years before the Anglos arrived.””
Gomez paused for a long moment before she added one more group. She is still unaccustomed to including its members, even as they become increasingly significant to her. When she was growing up, no one had included the small settlement of Utne Indians who had been allowed to remain in a southern portion of the valley when the rest of their Nation was forced to a reservation in Utah.
And when did the Ute arrive?
The shortest period confirmed by Western scientists place the Ute in the San Luis Valley 3,000 years ago. The Ute’s own religious traditions date their presence from the Creation.
“I can’t tell you why we never thought about them. The truth is, I never gave any thought to the small reservation in the Valley,” said Gomez. “No one ever told me about them, I hardly ever even heard them mentioned that I can recall.”
The last King and Queen of the Ute Nation before conquest/Photo info unknown
Meanwhile, the Valley’s Mexican-Americans (“Latino” has refered specifically to them since the mid- 1960s, according to Gomez), were descended from Mestizo ancestors who had accompanied the Spaniards to present-day northern New Mexico.
Two and a half centuries later their descendents did not need directions home.
Most of the other Latinos who settled San Luis Valley had roots in the surrounding region, generally. Their ancestors had not come from Mexico: Mexico had come to them. They also were perfectly aware of their location.
The Ute had fought long and hard to prevent intrusion into the Valley, and weren’t fully conquered until near the turn of the 20th century, when Anglo settlers prevailed upon the federal government, which sent troops and constructed Fort Massachusetts.
Not all that long after their final defeat, a 17-year-old Hispanic ranch hand was working alone, miles away from his San Luis Valley home, fixing fences along the New Mexico/Oklahoma border in the summer of 1916. Young Gomez came upon a 15-year-old Native American girl, also working alone. Word has it that she was herding sheep, although this isn’t certain. Over several months, the two teenagers had occasion to meet again and again, although they were periodically called back to their respective ranches, one in Oklahoma and the other in New Mexico.
The girl told the boy she was a slave, bought and paid for.
The two teenagers fell in love.
Determined, the young couple made arrangements to escape, and that’s what they did. One night they simply removed the boy’s fencing repair materials and tools from his wagon, hitched up his horse, climbed in, and drove away to the nearest train station. No one knows where that was. All Gomez knows is that her grandfather took his beloved to Denver and married her, then the two settled down in the town of his ancestors, La Jara, in the San Luis Valley.
Everything else remains a mystery. Gomez’s grandmother never revealed the name of her tribe, or the circumstances of her enslavement. That her own tribe had sold her is essentially unthinkable, and in fact she never claimed that it had. Whatever happened was evidently too traumatic for her to discuss – and/or there could well have been political factors at play.
In any case, this is what Grandmother Gomez chose to share, and it is what her granddaughter chose to share with me. Lorraine is pursuing the issue slowly, carefully, and in her own time and way.
“In the end, I was a Latina before I found out about my grandmother, because my experience in the world, my language and my identity here in this place and in America – in the world, actually – makes me a Latina,” she said.
“A Latina is what I am.”