It’s Okay If All You Did Today Was Survive

In the wake of

Non-stop violent tragedies

I ask myself,

What do we need to do

To save our world?

 

I desperately gasp

for a sense of freedom,

like air,

to alleviate

the asphyxiating

constriction

in my chest.

 

Not enough

to breathe

with ease.

 

I run my fingers

along the asperous

edges of my heart,

eroded by

constant sorrow and

disillusionment.

 

Does God make

mistakes?

Does he give

someone more than

they can handle

at times?

This is not

God’s work

to blame.

 

Am I up to

the magnitude

of this pain?

 

What do I do

with this?

 

Numb it

until I can no

longer feel

myself?

 

Stuff it

down so deep

it becomes

dense with

pressure?

 

Let it flow

through me?

Like the river, use my breath

to remove toxins,

impurities

and debris?

 

I’m afraid of

drowning under

its current, not being

able to come up,

catch my breath;

being crushed

by a cataract of

suffering.

 

Today, I allow

myself to feel

uneasy

uncomfortable

restless

tired

heavy

broken

battered

scared

 

I have enough

courage to

loosen the grip,

let go,

just a little, of

the constriction

and allow the pain

to flow.

 

With

each cry,

each tear,

each gasp,

the pain becomes

less overpowering.

I see

I’m okay.

It didn’t

break me.

It hurt, but

It didn’t

break me.

 

My first lesson

from pain:

I am whole

when I don’t

betray myself,

when I accept

my goodness,

when I don’t

need to be

perfect,

when I realize

I have everything

I need

to heal.

 

Tomorrow

I will endure

a little more.

 

Tomorrow

my next lesson awaits.

 

Tomorrow

I will have

more strength than

today.

Dedicated to my daughter and all those learning to heal, grow, and transform through their own wisdom and courage.

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I AM GOOD

feel better Yesterday, a student I’ve been mentoring was suspended for giving a xanax to another student. He was expelled earlier in the year for selling weed.   The adults all seemed to be disappointed beyond redemption, mostly angry, and intent on punishing the student. This does not mean the student should not be held accountable for restoring the harm and learning the lesson. But when a child falters, the last thing we want to do is shame and isolate him.

Stay with me on this one. . .

When we feel better, we do better. This is why a compassionate community is so important, and the greatest predictor to how well an individual will do. There’s a lot of trendy talk around restorative processes at schools, but these processes will become just another failed intervention if we don’t truly understand the incredible amount of mercy that it takes to support our children through transformation and change. It’s not only about understanding that we can hold children accountable for their behavior and give them an opportunity to restore the harm without being punitive and retaliatory; it’s also about understanding what it takes for a child to redeem himself and develop new behaviors that are positive, productive, and build their sense of worth.

Every river is born from a single drip of melted snow. The drips collect together and trickle down the mountain forming into creaks and streams that meet together and converge into a river. Moving water is a powerful force and can wear away soil and rocks through erosion. Once a path is created by erosion, because water takes the path of less resistance, water will most likely continue to flow through that path, creating further erosion and therefore, greater flow. Our thoughts and behaviors work in the same way. The more we think or behave a certain way, the more we entrench ourselves in those patterns. Our patterns are the result of the repeated behavior, like rivers are the result of repeated erosion.

Once a river is established, it takes an incredible amount of force for it to create a new pathway. In this same manner, rewiring our brain’s cognitive processes and retraining it to develop new patterns takes an incredible amount of very specific and intentional work, along with immense determination and support systems. Rewiring takes time. It’s not a consistent process. It takes an extreme amount of motivation to perform a habit. The most difficult part of changing a behavior is one’s life is to actually start the behavior. Like a river starts with a drip, a new habit starts with a small behavior change that doesn’t feel threatening or exhausting. Something that seems easy and reasonable to do consistently and constantly.

We can’t expect our children to change a negative habit from one day to the other, or as some would put it, to never fall off the wagon. They will, and we have to be compassionate, forgiving, and patient enough to support them in getting right back up; encouraging them to try again. Each time they try again, they are reaffirming their worth, their goodness, and the idea that they are deserving of better.

Here is what we can expect them to do:

We can expect them to make mistakes from which they will learn lessons, especially when given the space to process the experiences. Similar experiences will repeat over and over again until the lesson is learned. As parents, mentors, teachers, counselors, and guides, this is where we have to do better than punishment. We have to guide our children to recognize the patterns of the experiences they are living to try to understand why they continue to find themselves in those same circumstances. When we recognize that life provides countless opportunities to heal and our experiences are far more than isolated occurrences, we can begin to feel empowered and determined to take ownership of how we give meaning to our experiences. We can expect to hold them accountable by guiding them to take the necessary steps to restore the harm they have caused as a result of their actions. This not only strengthens their individual dignity, but also allows them to continue to see themselves as part of a community that is always working together for the betterment of all. We can expect to teach them problem solving skills, because when a child learns to work things out on their own, they are less likely to blame others and make excuses. Mostly we can and must expect them to be the beautiful, loving human beings they were born to be.

The following is a community process that was described online in reference to how a tribe uplifts, redirects, and restores the individuals in their community when they have lost their way: When someone does something hurtful and wrong, they take the person to the center of town, and the entire tribe comes and surrounds him. For two days they’ll tell the man every good thing he has ever done.

The tribe believes that every human being comes into the world as good; each of us desiring safety, love, peace, and happiness. But sometimes in the pursuit of those things people make mistakes. The community sees misdeeds as a cry for help. They band together for the sake of their fellow man to hold him up, to reconnect him with his true nature, to remind him who he really is, until he fully remembers the truth from which he’d temporarily been disconnected.. Ultimately to have him remember. “I Am Good.”

**Some sources state this is a made up story.  Some sources cite this process from a tribe in the continent of Africa.  It’s a beautiful process that I hope does exist in some form.

De Gotita en Gotita

Why getting your dream all at once can feel like too much:

My grandma used to say, “De gotita en gotita se llena el cántaro.” (The pitcher will fill up one drop at a time.)
A dream, working toward it, and obtaining it is a process; each step like a new beautiful stone, exciting to cherish, but also heavy if one has not prepared for the weight and responsibility of carrying it.

A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to contribute as a writer and photographer in an organization I have become very passionate for. I am absolutely in love with writing, and in the most recent years, I have have also fallen in love with photography, especially how it compliments my writing. These art outlets for which I have found deep admiration have become creative tools through which I heal, expose social inequity and injustice, and explore community and vision for a new kind of world.

But this invitation scared me. I wasn’t being offered a full time position nor was I turning into a full time writer, though I write an average of 30 hours a week, still and yet, it scared me. You know that “fear of failure,” kind of feeling, or maybe “fear of success,” it came over me, like the night that slowly shades in the edges of the day. I started to obsess:
What if I’m not good enough?
What if they don’t like the next piece I write?
What if my writing isn’t what they expect?
What if I lose my creativity?

You know all the if’s, but’s, and no’s we come up with when we haven’t built up to our moment of greatness. This is part of our imperfection as human beings – not being able to believe and see our greatness all at once. So the shadow helps to filter in the light, like a buffer if you will, that protects us from the fear of our own light. In part, there are many lessons we have to learn to step fully into our gifts, our abilities, our greatness, and power. Along the way, we also have to acquire knowledge, technical aspects we have to learn about our craft.

Each drop prepares us for the next. Each step for the next level of grandeur. We want our dreams, but they also scare us, so each small opportunity is the fertilizer that prepares us to grow and bloom. As we journey through our dream, we become stronger, wiser; we learn to listen to our intuition, to discern how to stay true to our passion and purpose, and to understand which opportunities align with our dream and which distract us from it. And when we reach our dream, if we have gone through this process, we will know how to nurture it, how to be responsible for it, and how to represent it with integrity.

Art by Alex Escalante

art by alex escalante

Desert Water Drop (Borderlands)

The work of the Border Angels (Angeles de La Frontera) is driven by the following words: “When I was hungry, who gave me to eat? – When I was thirsty, who gave me to drink?” (Matthew 25:35). They operate from an uncompromising core spiritual belief that all people must be treated and received with humanity and compassion.  One of their missions is to reduce the number of deaths of the immigrants crossing into the United States through the dangerous and almost inhospitable desert terrain along the Californian border.

Over 11,000 immigrants have died since the militarization of the U.S./Mexican border began in 1994.  Every summer, more migrants die on this border than the entire history of the Berlin Wall.  Border Angels leads water drops in which volunteers hike into the desert to strategically place gallons of water for migrants making the treacherous journey into the United States. This water can be the difference between life and death for many adults and children crossing.  There are many vigilante groups that slash these water containers, but there are many more angels that continue to protect and fight for the most vulnerable.

Continue reading after photo mosaic.

 

Besides blistering heat, temperatures soaring as high as 110 degrees, and burning cold, temperatures falling as low as 20 degrees, migrants must also contend with dangerous creatures that roam this unforgiving and untamed borderland such as the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, the Arizona Bark Scorpion, and the Brown Recluse Spider, one of the most venomous creatures in the area.  These creatures hide under rocks and shrubs where migrants hide from both the border patrol and the sun. The death of many of these migrants is not a painless death. Dying from exposure to the elements can be a brutally elongated process.

In his award-winning book “The Devil’s Highway,” Luis Alberto Urrea describes the stages of heatstroke in painstaking detail. “Those in shape will, sooner or later, faint. This is the brain’s way of stopping the machine, like hitting the brakes when you realize you’re speeding towards a cliff.” Initially heat cramps will develop primarily in the legs and abdomen area, followed by heat exhaustion, usually manifested by dizziness, blurred vision, and headaches. Once heat stroke sets in, one will begin to experience fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. “By the last stage of heatstroke, hallucinations occur, and the body’s nerves are aflame” leading to convulsions and eventually unconsciousness. “You are having a core meltdown,” Urrea explains. “Your temperature redlines — you hit 106, 107, 108 degrees. Your body panics and dilates all blood capillaries near the surface, hoping to flood your skin with blood to cool it off. You blush. Your eyes turn red: Blood vessels burst, and later, the tissue of the whites literally cooks until it goes pink, then a well-done crimson.”

It’s a painful, horrific way to die, yet many immigrants understand it’s a necessary risk to escape the violence, poverty, and injustices back home.  One of the volunteers I walked with, I’ll call her Socorro, is a 23 year old woman whose mother crossed the border when she was eight months pregnant with her.  I asked her what had made her mom take such a risk, to which she responded, “The risk of dying with me in the desert was worth the life of misery we were escaping.”  Socorro said the first time her mother attempted to cross the border, a border patrol vehicle had been stocking the area in which her and another woman, who was approximately 5o feet away, were walking.  They’d prowl, sometimes turning the vehicle’s lights off and then unexpectedly turning them back on.  She serpentined between shrubs and gullies trying to avoid being caught.  The woman in front of her was detained and raped by border patrol officers.  She could hear her struggle as she swerved in the dirt and made groaning and whimpering sounds.  Socorro’s mom recalls this event as one of the most powerless moments she has experienced in her life.  She stood there still as the night with every cell in her body wanting to jump out and stop the rape, but there was another life in her she was more obligated to protect.

Another volunteer talked about her brother being lost in the desert for three days after the group he was crossing with had scattered to avoid being caught by border patrol agents.  I’ll call her Daniela.  Her brother was deported when he was 17 years old and wanting to reunite with his parents and siblings in the United States, made the perilous journey through the desert.  Approximately 2 days into the trek, Daniela’s brother and another migrant became separated from the group and went on to roam through the desert for three days without sufficient food or water.  After three days of fear and uncertainty, Daniela’s brother and the man he was with were picked up by border patrol in a state of confusion and exhaustion.  Relieved, they told one of the agents their biggest fear had been not finding their way out.  The agent smirked and told them it had only been three days.

In case you are wondering why people don’t just apply to come to United States legally and wait in line like “law abiding” citizens, here is a link you may want to read:  http://g92.org/find-answers/process/

“We can tell people to wait their turn in line, but, for example, for a Mexican (or a Guatemalan, a Filipino, a Pole, or any other country) who does not have a college degree and has no close relatives who are U.S. citizens or green card-holders, there is almost certainly no line for them to wait in: without reform to the legal system, they will not be able to migrate “the legal way” to the U.S., not if they wait ten years, not if they wait fifty years”

Immigration is a human right.  Humans have been migrating from the beginning of our existence.  Most people who make the trek to leave their homeland, family and friends do so because there is no other option for their survival.  Most do so with a broken heart and heavy spirit.  In their circumstances, escaping their conditions, there isn’t anything different those who have the fortune to have been born on this side of the border would do to give their families a better life.

 

 

 

The Alchemy of Your Presence

In my heart I carry
the memory of
when I first me you.

I asked if you were mine;
Tita pressed you closer
to my chest, assuring me.

But as I saw you grow,
I knew you were so
much bigger than my arms;
you were for the world.

The only place you could
fit would be in my heart.

I meet you there
in the silence and
whisper blessings
carried out to you by
Grandmother
Moon.

I touch the silhouette of
your essence –
search for peace and solace
as you confront the chaos
of a world parched for
benevolence.

You are here to be
greater than the imagination of man,
to stave off the conformity
that binds us to fear.

Your purpose was carved into
the consciousness of the trees
when Mother Earth
envisioned you as her daughter
and me as the guardian
who would reverently usher you
into this world.

The alchemy of your presence
is a daily awakening of love,
a prayer answered
for the restoration of the
melody of our humanity.

To contain you is to try to
hold water in the grip of my hand,
embrace eternity in a second,
or confine the sky.

The most harrowing and liberating
lesson I’ve had to learn is,
you were never mine.
You are a gift through which
I glimpse freedom.

Dance in boundless spaces,
let your hair whirl in eddies of wind.
Grow roots from your bare feet,
let them go so deep, they go to
creation; let them be so strong
they break chains. Sing your song,
serenade the goodness in you
and fall in love the way the blossom
has fallen in love with her nectar.

Happy Birthday mi chiquita. . .

broken english

broken english

I’ve held on to this poem for quite some time, now. It pierced my soul, made me feel some kind of way when I saw it. Mostly the vast differences between the opportunities I had and the ones my mother had, so starkly highlighted in my ability to manipulate this language of global power, holding a degree in english, and her struggles and frustrations with not being able to express herself in a language as foreign to her tongue as it was to her heart.

She spent a great part of her school years working in the agricultural circuit of California, making it very difficult for her to attend school constantly, leaving her with many gaps in her learning process.

My grandmother never learned to speak or write english, and felt some of the same frustrations of not being able to navigate the basic systems of this country. Though in her later years, learning the fundamental cuss words in english, like you know, “beetch, fack you, and estuped uss-ole,” gave her a great sense of empowerment and satisfaction. LOL! And she definitely always knew what we were saying in english.

For my mother, the frustration of struggling with the english language meant a lack of opportunities to lift herself and her children out of the poverty she had met as a child. A few years ago, she joined San Diego Reads, a phenomenal volunteer organization that supports adults in improving and refining their literacy skills. For so long she questioned her intelligence , feeling inferior and insecure, and withheld so much of what she had to offer the world. She now works at the pharmacy at SDSU, has been there for 10 years, and continues to find the courage to express herself in a language that once tried to crush her under its angry syllables and hardened consonants.

The privileges and successes. I enjoy, the opportunities I have to live a vibrant and bold life, and the risks and failures I am able to endure, all are upheld by my mother and my grandmother’s (and all the women that came before them) sacrifices, humiliation, oppression, grit, and love. I am because they were. I thrive because they endured. I overcome because they conquered. I stand because they dug deep enough to give me fierce roots.

 

La Linea (The Border)

“La Linea” they call it – bars of steel

built to disrupt the natural order of migration.

There are no borders for politicians,

corporations, or narcos. Not for the

grey whales migrating from the Beaufort Sea

to the warm waters of Baja California.

Not for the Monarch Butterfly’s 2,500 mile

journey from Michoacan over the Great Lakes.

Only for the poor, the people with

skin like dusty, sun-baked clay.

.

We are born with dreams in our hearts,

looking for a better life for our families.

We make the trek to the country of dreams,

where the opportunities are vast and possible.

With hearts as heavy as our hunger and

as fearful as the incessant violence, we

kiss our children goodbye, imprinting their

faces in the softest part of our memories,

recording their voices into the sounds of our breath,

the only sounds that will puncture the suffocating

stillness of the desert whose unforgiving peaks

and valleys we attempt to conquer.

..

We leave for the country where streets

are paved with gold, hard work leads to

success, and education is the pathway to freedom.

Our expectations are high: back home

they talked about steady, abundant work,

about being able to save money to build a house

and start a little business for our family.

Not long after we get to the land of dreams,

we find ourselves toiling the fields for three

dollars an hour, working as dishwashers in

fancy restaurants where we can’t afford

a meal, competing with each other on

a corner for a day’s work like hungry ants.

.

We pay our life savings to the coyote, and

sometimes we pay with our lives, lured by

naïve expectations to 2,000 border-miles

of decomposed aspirations and desires.

“La Linea” they call it, an infected gash,

ripping lineages apart, disregarding cultures,

traditions and stories once told in the mother tongue.

T-shirts and tennis-shoes strewn about like

wilted wild flowers are a reminder of the

forgotten ghosts still wandering the parched sea,

trying to find their way home one last time.

.

We come here to escape government corruption,

officials taking our land because we don’t have

the right deed; to escape trade agreements pricing

out our crops and our labor, where the cost

of a coke is cheaper than “un kilo de tortillas”;

to escape the blood-drenched streets from

a war on drugs with endless consumption.

But it’s no different here. Just more insidious.

We’re slaves of the land our ancestors once owned.

and our spirits fade like the promise of a better life.

.

We walk in silence through the desert, talking

makes our mouths dryer. The crumbling of the earth

under our feet alerts us to the bones left behind

as a fine for dreaming and desiring more. The sun

lacerates our neck, face and arms like whipping flares.

The moon stings with cold, numbing our bones deep

into our remembrance of a place once familiar.

There’s fear in our eyes, but we don’t acknowledge it.

We simply glance at each other with brooding eyes,

praying for ”them bones, them bones, them dry bones.”

.

Some of us will make it to the other side, “al otro lado,”

with grit in our hands and determination in our feet.

Some will die in this merciless landscape with

no last name, no history, no DNA, to show we were

once here. Some of us will go on living, but slowly

die of heartache and disappointment, drinking away

the bitterness, stagnant in our throats. Some of us will

have a new dream, to go back, just one more time,

it will be the only thing that keeps us alive in this new

world made of competition, acquisition, and status.

.

With the help of volunteers, Border Angels leaves dozens of gallon jugs of water in the desert along high-traffic migrant paths. Why? Since 1994, more than 10,000 sons and daughter, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives have died from dehydration in their attempt to across our increasingly militarized border. Our water helps reduce the 475 plus deaths every year, that is at least one death per day. This past Saturday I was honored to volunteer for a desert water drop. I got a more intimate view of the life and death struggles that my brothers and sisters must overcome to escape hunger, state, narco, and gang violence, and to reunite with loved ones.

One of the most poignant and heart-breaking stories told to me during our water drop was of a 5 year old boy traveling with 19 men including his dad.  The little boy kept asking the men for water, but he was only met with head shakes.  The boy was the last to die, taking his last breath next to his father, who along with the 18 other men had already died.  This trip was not only about saving lives, it was also a powerful opportunity to invigorate me to continue the fight against borders, against policies that put profit over people, and laws that criminalize people who are simply doing what we would do in their shoes.

 

For more information about border angels visit: www.borderangels.org/

For Further Reading:

http://prospect.org/article/ghosts-rio-grande

http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2015/02/10/3617896/dehydration-scorpions-vigilantes-really-like-cross-border/