Lessons from the Village

A few weeks before my life completely changed, I wrote this:

“All divorce kids deal with a sense of abandonment that stays with us long after our parents’ sign the official papers. We’re victims caught in the middle, unsure of our loyalties and our safety.”

That is hard to read now because a mere two weeks after that, a series of events unfolded which eventually led to the end of my marriage. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. And this means that to some extent my kids are going to experience and are experiencing what I described about my own life in that previous post.

I don’t know what led me to write that particular line and blog post at that time, but now it feels almost prophetic, as if it was a warning of sorts.

And I don’t want to be overly dramatic here. Although my parents’ divorce obviously affected and although for years I secretly wished they would get back together no matter what, I’m okay. I turned out fine.

But still, as a parent, and as someone who knows first hand what growing up like that feels like, I’m always going to be a bit sad about it. Because I know exactly the thoughts that they’re going to have. But I know that’s okay because they will be okay. Kids are resilient. And one day they’ll learn the painful lesson that life is about finding that balance between reality and expectations.

No one, and I really mean no one, says “I do” thinking that it would only last a year or ten, in my case. Everyone that takes that step thinks of big words like “forever” and “ever after.” But things happen in life and sometimes “forever” is just a word and we have to learn to be okay with that.

Both of my parents always gave me unconditional love. There was never a question as to whether I was loved or not. And that’s something I will always model for my children. And I know that such is the wish of the kids’ mother.

So, in that regard, I’m not afraid or sad of how they will turn out. I know that they will be loved and cherished in both households, that their accomplishments will be celebrated with joy and that their defeats will be met with solace and encouragement. That’s what being a good co-parent is all about; it’s about making sure that your kids come first, that they feel loved and safe above all.

Seeing as my entire family lives in Florida, this new chapter in my life has been lonely and difficult. However, I’m really counting on that African proverb to be true; that it takes a village to raise a child. I’m counting on my village to show up and in a lot of ways they already have.

jazz band

Life is like Jazz

Almost every time I write something personal, in particular when it involves a moment of hardship or struggle, I always try to wrap it all up nicely with a hopeful conclusion. That conclusion could either be a lesson learned or a spoonful of unbridled optimism, but almost without fail, my blog posts or articles have such an ending.

By nature or nurture, or probably a bit of both, I’m an optimist. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I would argue that if one had to choose between optimism or pessimism, that the former just makes life go by a little easier. I truly believe that. Of course, the middle ground is probably the ideal scenario, but that is rare to achieve and never a permanent position. Most people rather call themselves a “realist,” but in reality, those people fall into the optimistic or pessimistic camp. They just don’t want to admit it.

I’m not an expert in this field, so take this with a grain of salt. These conclusions are purely based on my own observations and lived experiences.

I suppose another reason as to why I like to conclude my personal stories with a type of resolution is because when putting words to paper, or a screen in this case, there’s this obvious structure; beginning, middle and end. That structure typically leads me to make connections that otherwise I probably wouldn’t make.

With all that said, I’m finding that lately I’m okay with no resolution, with no cookie-cutter ending, with no grand lesson to be learned. Why? Because life is like jazz in a lot of ways; it doesn’t always resolve. And because after going through a separation and a divorce, after realizing that my life wasn’t going to have the conclusion that I once thought it would, I had to learn to be okay with improvising.

I want to write more on this blog. I want my content to be personal and without the constraint. of a bigger lesson or resolution. And I suppose that I’m partly writing this entry to give myself the freedom in order to do so.

Breonna Taylor

It wasn’t a shock or a surprise that no police officers were indicted for killing Breonna Taylor in her own home. We knew this would be the outcome. And yet, there’s always that one percent of hope in situations like these. After so much public outcry, marches, publications; one could easily be persuaded to believe that “this time they’ll do the right thing.”

Never mind that prosecutors even offered a plea deal to one of the individuals accused of selling drugs if he would only incriminate Breonna in his drug trade. The man refused. If anything, that only indicated that their case was weak and that they were cowardly trying to ruin Breonna’s reputation after her death as they do with so many black victims. We thought, well, maybe this time they’ll do the right thing.

They didn’t. We knew they wouldn’t.

As many have pointed out, the system is not broken, it’s working exactly as it has been designed. From qualified immunity to a number of SCOTUS decisions that essentially protect police officers from being held liable for killing civilians in their own homes, the system is stacked against the people.

That’s why we need to re-imagine what policing looks like. That’s why we need to divest more funds into programs that make communities safer. That’s why many non-emergency calls should be handled by mental health professionals or social workers.

None of these measures would have saved Breonna Taylor’s life, unfortunately. Until police officers who murder innocent people are held accountable and until the entire system is re-worked, re-imagined and re-built, they will be more Breonna Taylors.

The gut-reactionaries will read these words and immediately claim that I’m anti-police. I suppose that it’s easier to dismiss my arguments as “anti” something because they don’t have to examine their own biases and flawed arguments. For the record, I’m not anti-police, I’m anti-police brutality. I’m against people not being held accountable for their actions, regardless of whether they wear a badge or not.

Being a police officer is a dangerous job. No doubt. But you can just quit if you wanted to. Being a black person in America is an even more dangerous situation; one that has no off-clock, no qualified immunity and one that can’t even protect you in your own home from armed people breaking in.

Breonna Taylor deserved justice. The system failed her, but let’s work together to make a better system so that if we can’t prevent the next Breonna Taylor, at least we can bring her killers to justice.

Close the Camps

There are issues that feel and are so personal that even writing and thinking about them take a toll. However, we must do so, because the people suffering need us to be aware and to sound our voices and to call our elected officials and hold them accountable.

Last year Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accused the Trump administration of running concentration camps on our southern border and the conservative media lost their minds. But, she was right. She was right then and the recent revelations from a whistle blower prove her words to be true.

Just this week Dawn Wooten, a former nurse who worked at an immigration detention center in Georgia, filed a complain alleging a number of abuses against immigrants, including forced hysterectomies on immigrant women. Many of my white friends had a reaction of “This can’t possibly be true!” I envy their naivete.

The history of the United States forcefully sterilizing people of color and anyone the ruling white class deemed undesirable is long. It’s a shameful ableist and xenophobic history; one that inspired actual Nazis, as in Hitler personally.


“There is today one state,” wrote Hitler, “in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of citizenship] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.”

And if forced sterilization of immigrant women wasn’t disturbing enough, the complain also alleges a long history of abuse and denying sick patients any help. This is particularly heinous because we’re living under the scourge of a once in a lifetime pandemic that has killed 200,000 Americans already. But, it’s no surprise that this administration and its enforcers are treating immigrants this way.

The president has spent 5 years calling immigrants “animals” and “rapists” and “thugs.” Genocide prevention experts have warned for years that using dehumanizing language is a precursor to genocide, that it leads to people in power see those who are demonized as “sub-human.” That’s been happening under this administration for a while now. That a baby can be ripped off the arms of a nursing mother and that doesn’t cause Trump supporters to lose any sleep is terrifying and depressing.

Are we not human, too? Are we not worthy of respect and dignity? Is asking for asylum or crossing a border worthy of forced sterilizations or sexual abuse or death by neglect?

It’s time to close the camps. It’s time to abolish ICE, an organization that was founded in 2003 and has caused countless of deaths and abuses of immigrants of all ages. This is not left or right, Democrat or Republican, this is a human rights issue.

We need to get active and loud about this. We will not allow the “family values” people to ignore these human rights issues. This is about the soul of America. This is about the country that we want to be and not the illusion that the history books try and teach us. Please, contact your representatives and demand that they support an investigation into these allegations and to close the camps.

DC

Rejecting the Politics of Fear

When Donald Trump slowly descended from an escalator in 2015 to stand before a podium and declare that most Mexicans are rapists, I never thought that he would win the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency. And yet, here we are, four years into a administration mired in scandal and a country more polarized since at least the 1960s.

I underestimated the power of white supremacy, what Ta-Nehisi Coates calls the “bloody heirloom.” There is no other way to explain Donald Trump defeating more qualified and severely more conservative Republican candidates, than his appeal to the fears of a large section of white America. Whether the target was the Muslim community, or the Hispanic community, or the African-American community, Trump has always found a way to demonize us as “the other.” They are coming for your jobs! MS-13 is moving next door to you! Sharia law is imminent! All of these are things that he has said, retweeted, or someone in his administration or Party has said.

Fear works. Today, amidst the deadly violence in Portland, the president refuses to condemn it. He can’t because he knows the more scared his white supporters are, the better chances he has of winning reelection. Not once has he tried to unite the country. Hes’ not a peace maker, he’s an arsonist. He’s not a democratic politician, he’s an autocrat. He’s a raptor testing the fences for weaknesses.

In order to further polarize the nation and ignite a fire in his base, every political opponent must be deemed “unpatriotic.” Never mind that dissent is an old American ideal and a foundational principle. Not to this president. His campaign communications for the past four years have been riddled with dehumanizing terms, such as, “the radical mob,” or the “unhinged left” or calling the free press, “the enemy of the people.” He has not once been a president for “all” of the people.

Every word, every action, has been to appeal to his base and to the benefit of the richest people in this country. Immigrants are called “thugs,” a US-born judge can’t do this job “because he’s Mexican,” black players kneeling asking for police reform are “sons of bitches.” Despite the blatant bigotry, the white Evangelical church has convinced itself that he’s God’s chosen. And in their zeal to make Trump their personal savior, they have alienated countless of people from their churches and their brand of Christianity.

If Trump was a god-send, then why do only white evangelicals overwhelmingly support him? Why not black or Latinx evangelicals? Of course, this is a question that they can’t really answer honestly. Any honest answer would give up the game. Do only white evangelicals possess the divine nature to interpret who’s a messenger of God? I don’t think they can answer that question.

Another four more years of Trump would be disastrous for this country. He would get to appoint even more federal and Supreme Court judges, therefore ensuring that the bloody heirloom and its patriarchal policies would reign for generations to come. Not to mention the very real possibility that another four years of power would give his wealthy enablers more opportunities to rob this country even more.

While Joe Biden is not a perfect candidate, I have seen what four years of a Trump administration has done. If this nation has any chance at healing, we need a change at the top. We need to reject the politics of fear and it can only happen if we all come together.

The Fire this Time

The Republican National Convention spent a considerate amount of time trying to convince white voters that Donald Trump isn’t a racist. They brought out black and Latinx speakers as props; colorful decorations on a white and dusty shelf. It was a direct attempt to ease the consciousness of those who would like to pretend that Trump isn’t who we know him to be; a white supremacist.

Some people may find a legitimate reason to vote for Trump (the mind wanders at this), but they do so in spite of his racism and xenophobia. The fact that the president is a white supremacist who constantly seeks to divide the nation is not reason enough for them to cast a vote for someone else. Still, these same people have families and some go to church, and these more moderate Trump supporters have to face the mirror at some point. The RNC’s “diversity” may be the pill they needed to ease their conscience, but even they must know, deep down inside, that this is a lie.

More than any other president in modern history, Trump has used white supremacy to instill fear in the white population and has used that to his advantage. Immigrants, Muslims and black people are the enemy in Trump’s America. Is it really a surprise that there has been an increase in hate crimes since he won the election in 2016? He not only attracts and courts white supremacists and fear-mongers, he gives them a voice.

Congressman Matt Gaetz espoused this vitriol in his RNC speech referring to Democrats:

“They will disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door. And the police aren’t coming when you call in Democrat-run cities. They’re already being defunded, disbanded.”

Nothing in that statement is remotely true. But it does paint a picture of a bleak America, one where brown people are the enemy. That’s coming from a sitting U.S. congressman. He wasn’t talking to all Americans. He was speaking directly to white conservatives who feel that this country is changing too fast, too soon. It’s a list of imagined grievances that hearkens back to racist tropes and stereotypes. In this view, all Latinx immigrants are members of MS-13 and the police has been disbanded because of the pressures of the Black Lives Matter movement. Never mind that defunding the police is not the same as disbanding it, but extremists use inflammatory language to instill fear in the minds of their audience.

The fire is here. Trumpism is the fire and whether it was sent by God or not, it was surely given oxygen by a large conflagration of God’s supposed followers. To this day, 82% of white evangelicals say that they will vote for Donald Trump.

Between Gaetz’s fear-mongering and Kimberly Guilfoyle’s bizarre performance, the RNC featured the occasional brown or black person reassuring white evangelicals that they’re innocent, that Trumpism is not a form of white nationalism, that they can sleep at night. Of course, these people are quick to ignore that 12 U.S. presidents owned slaves, that when Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal” he owned more than 600 slaves. Proximity to a black or brown person does not invalidate someone’s racism.

Trump is a white nationalist driven by his ego and self-preservation. He will continue to stoke the flames of racism and xenophobia in order to win the upcoming election. He doesn’t care what happens to the country. Close to 200,000 people have died from COVID-19, and the president hasn’t lost any sleep over it. Between promoting conspiracy theories, bleach injections and golfing, he continues to tweet and call in to Fox News to promote his hate-filled agenda. If we’re this divided, he may win. If Russia gets their way again, he may win.

We have a lot against us, but we have the numbers. We need to show up at the polls, whether in person or by mail, but we must show up. We need to stop this fire from spreading because in another four years only ashes will remain.

Fresh Prince cast

Living in a Fresh Prince World

Recently, the actor Will Smith shared a photo on his Instagram account of a 30-year-reunion of the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast. The reunion is the subject of an upcoming HBO special about the show. Notably missing is the great James Avery, who played “Uncle Phil,” and sadly passed away in 2014.

fresh prince reunion credit Warner Media/HBO MAX

It’s hard to put into words what this show meant to me, but I’ll try. When I left Cuba in 1995, I left without both of my parents. That alone was hard enough to deal with as an 11-year-old kid, not to mention the newness of everything; new language, new school, and hopefully new friends.

One of the ways I decided to learn English was to watch TV. Unbeknownst to me, I would catch the last season of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air just three months after arriving in South Florida.

The show was about an outsider (Will Smith) coming into a land of opulence (Bel-Air) and wanting to fit in, while at the same time trying to stay true to his roots. If that’s not the immigrant experience, then I don’t know what is. On top of that, Will left his mom behind to be raised by his aunt and uncle. Well, I too was now being raised by my aunt and uncle, along with my two cousins.

To be sure, Miami, or at least my neighborhood wasn’t anything like Bel-Air, but compared to what I left behind in Cuba, it felt like it. Everything was new, shiny and illuminated.

Father Figures

While my father wasn’t exactly like Will’s on the show, my father did in a sense walk out on our family the moment he decided to have an affair. All divorce kids deal with a sense of abandonment that stays with us long after our parents’ sign the official papers. We’re victims caught in the middle, unsure of our loyalties and our safety.

When Will’s father come back into his life, only to later disappoint him, I felt that. I cried with him. His father walks out and Will tries to play it cool at first, as if it doesn’t bother him, only to later embrace his uncle as he cries, “How come he don’t want me, man?” Right then and there Will promises to be a better father, and so did I, even thought I was barely a teenager when I watched that episode.

Hip-Hop

But it wasn’t only heartbreak that the show taught me. It also taught me how to love Hip-Hop. From the catchy opening song, to several rap artists appearing on the show, Hip-Hop and its culture was front and center. 1995 was also the year that Tupac Shakur released Me Against the World, an album that featured Dear Mama, a song so beautiful and heartbreaking that it still brings me to tears today.

When Tupac released All Eyez on Me in 1996, I remember begging my aunt and uncle to buy me the CD. They did, despite not knowing anything about 2Pac or hip hop. When he was murdered, his popularity soared even more. That same year me and a few of my close friends I made in middle school started our own “rap group”. Our band name was “Apocalypse” and when each one of us had to pick up a stage name, mine was “Prince.”

I grew up listening to Juan Gabriel, Julio Iglesias, Willy Chirino and the like. I had no idea who “Prince” was. I took my cue from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I wanted to honor the show that I identified so much with, that while Will Smith was the “Fresh Prince,” I was just “Prince.” Whenever I engaged in freestyle battles or the like, many-a-jokes were made at the expense of my stage name. I didn’t care. I never changed it.

As a 12-year-old, the show also helped me, or so I thought, how to talk to girls that I liked. In reality, I was more like the shy and introverted Carlton around girls, than the smooth-talking Will. But still, I watched and tried to take notes. And what kid my age didn’t have a crush on Ashley Banks, played by Tatyana Ali?

In high school, I had asked my grandmother to buy me a really expensive and over-sized Nautica jacket. It was a yellow jacket that had the words “Nautica” on the right sleeve. When I got to the school-bus stop , one of the kids there said to me, “It looks like you stepped out of a Hip-Hop music video.” That was high praise, to be sure. By then I had already discovered Nas, Jay-Z and Outkast. I even had joined an online freestyling forum board where I’d won many “battles” and had proven myself as a dope MC. I was reading Neruda and Jay-Z as equals, interpreting both as important parts of my life.

The Fresh Prince World

Also in high school, one of my English teachers prompted us to write about our weekend and I straight up ripped off a plot from the show. I don’t remember the details now, but I remember that “Carlton” became “Carlos” in my story and that something hilarious had happened to us. The teacher gave me an “A” with a suspicious look on his face. Was this skinny immigrant kid really that interesting?

I didn’t know I was watching the last season when it was airing. I only learned that at the final episode, when the entire house was empty and Will goes back to look at it one last time. That scene reminded me of walking the tarmac to the airplane that would take me away from my island and my parents. I looked back one more time at Cuba, a beautiful island filled with so much sadness and potential.

The show much meant so much to me. It still does. Ironically, a lot of the jokes didn’t land at the time because I was still learning English, but I connected with it, with its characters, with its story and with its culture.

I think it’s time for a re-watch.

Havana

Miami Chemicals

To my Cuban family

I translate bills, interpret expenses,
and pretend I don’t hear you argue about
Cingular, or the rent.
I close my eyes and it’s all dark,
no American dream,
just an endless cycle of the mundane.

The mangoes in our backyard don’t taste as good,
it’s the chemicals in the ground, you say.
In Cuba, everything tasted better,
except for the bitter government.
English is another foreign taste
but I like its many inconsistencies.

In school my accent is an abomination;
but at home I’m the only solution.
Here the white kids have better shoes
and their backpacks are JanSport.
My best friend used a wite-out
to draw a swoosh on his tattered shoes.

There are too many “firsts” expected of me.
Sacrifice is too heavy a burden to carry,
but I do it in silence and knowing
that you gave up a lot more.
So I drown my sorrow in fruity chemicals
because I forgot what truth tastes like.

Hitler book on shelf

The President and the Nazis

By now, it’s no secret that Donald Trump has inspired Neo-Nazis and right wing militia to take up arms here at home. It’s no secret that he refused to outright condemn the Charlottesville Nazis, or that he has refused to condemn the actions of a 17-year-old in Kenosha.

Is it surprising then that he’s inspiring actual Neo-Nazis from Germany? As far I’m concerned Barack Obama didn’t inspire Neo-Nazis. George W. Bush didn’t inspire Neo-Nazis. However, Donald Trump has inspired far-right militia and Neo-Nazis all over the world. Those who refuse to see why that’s the case are willfully ignorant. I’ll say it clearly: white supremacists are inspired by Donald Trump because they recognize themselves in him.

From The New York Times:

Just before hundreds of far-right activists recently tried to storm the German Parliament, one of their leaders revved up the crowd by conjuring President Trump.

“Trump is in Berlin!” the woman shouted from a small stage, as if to dedicate the imminent charge to him.

She was so convincing that several groups of far-right activists later showed up at the American Embassy and demanded an audience with Mr. Trump. “We know he’s in there!” they insisted.

Mr. Trump was neither in the embassy nor in Germany that day — and yet there he was. His face was emblazoned on banners, T-shirts and even on Germany’s pre-1918 imperial flag, popular with neo-Nazis in the crowd of 50,000 who had come to protest Germany’s pandemic restrictions. His name was invoked by many with messianic zeal.

It was only the latest evidence that Mr. Trump is emerging as a kind of cult figure in Germany’s increasingly varied far-right scene.

The New York Times

It’s not the first time that America has inspired Nazis. In fact, the Nazis were huge fans of the Jim Crow laws and looked to them to form their basis on how to treat the Jews. But the admiration went further. In fact, the Nazis realized that the horrible way African-Americans were treated wasn’t enough for their situation, so they actually copied the way the U.S. had treated Native Americans, in particularly, the way that it had denied them citizenship.

The Nazis also looked to America for its anti-miscegenation laws, that is its laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage. However, America’s law of the “one-drop rules” was even too harsh for the Nazis. Now, that’s something for you think about. America’s definition of who had black ancestry in their DNA was even too severe for the Nazis.

That the leader of the free world in 2020 is inspiring these fringe groups all over the world and bringing them to the mainstream, should be a wake up call to the self-proclaimed patriots. Too many Americans gave their lives so that we can be free from the scourge of Nazism, just for the president of the United States of America to be their inspiration. There’s something really wrong with that picture.

But, what can we expect from the man who refused to visit the fallen WW1 soldiers “losers” and “suckers”? He has no respect for the military. He has no respect for honor and bravery.

Nazis and their ilk belong in the trash heap of history and that’s where Trumpism belongs as well. I hope that this November Americans can come together to send a resounding message to these hateful groups, “Not here, not ever again.”

The Audacity of Privilege

There’s something rather cynical from a president whose election into the highest office couldn’t have been possible without white privilege, to now prohibit federal agencies from teaching about white privilege and Critical Race Theory.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a direct link from a Fox News segment to Trump’s rash decision. A guest on white supremacist Tucker Carlson’s show was criticizing federal training on white privilege and racism, so Trump who’s an avid TV watcher, sprang to action just a few days later.

The surprising part is that it took this long. Trump has flaunted his white male privilege since 2015, showing America that as long as you’re a rich white dude, “They let you do it. You can do anything.” If Barack Obama had bragged on tape about sexual assault, there’s no way he would have gone to the White House.

Despite his family and home life being almost perfect, conservatives derided Obama and his family, but have no issues with the Trump family and their litany of misdeeds. A quick Google search will suffice. The list is long.

The president himself started a fake university that only sold empty dreams to the people who bought into a narcissist’s delusions of grandeur. He’s a con man, an exaggerator, a child of wealth and all that has been helped by his white privilege.

It’s this privilege that has allowed him to repeatedly encourage and applaud violence at his rallies and then feign ignorance when actual violence happens in his name or based on his ideas. The fact that he has chosen not to condemn the actions of the shooter who killed protesters in Kenosha, speaks volume in itself. He can’t condemn it because he knows it would upset his base. He has never once been a president for all the people. He’s been a president for a certain group of people, people who don’t want reminders that their privilege is a big reason why they’ve achieved or are given certain things in life.

Systemic racism is real. White privilege is real. Trump disbanding education on those very real issues in federal facilities is only going to make matters worse. He doesn’t care, of course. He only cares about the potential votes this decisions may gain him, or at least retain.

Furthering division and attacking minorities is what won him the election in 2016. He’s still using the same strategy today, still using the same playbook of hate. I sincerely hope that the nation is smarter this time around. Another four more years of Trump would prove to be unsustainable.

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© Copyright 2020 Israel Sanchez