Sunday, November 16, 2014

Holidays, LGBT & AIDS Activists, Latest on Cuba, School Interpretation, Cycle of Misinformation

Now with the anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I wonder what, if anything, is being reported in China, or in North Korea—where it must be a sensitive topic—or in Cuba, where most citizens have no access to the internet?
Veterans Day, which featured an outdoor concert on the Smithsonian Mall, was dry and mild, with a high in the low 70s, very lucky for the observance of holiday events.
In case I don’t get back to the blog before Thanksgiving, wishing you all the best.
The above photo, taken at a meeting in a DC residence, shows young Jamaican LGBT activist Angeline Jackson, whom I had met before and mentioned previously on this blog, and Nakibuuka Maxensia Takirambule, an AIDS activist in Uganda. By their embrace, they are expressing a collaboration between LGBT and AIDS advocacy across continents. Angeline heads up a fledgling Jamaican LGBT organization, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica in Kingston, focused mainly on gay women, who seem to have even less support than gay men and are often subject to rape, as in her own experience. (Jamaica is one of my Caribbean countries for Amnesty Int’l USA.) Her group tries to counter biblical passages that are used against gays and also works in prisons. She connects women’s rights with LGBT rights, as does Xensia from Uganda, who uses a nickname (thank goodness) and is the executive director of Lunguzza Community Health Caring Organisation in Kampala. Xenia has been HIV+ since 1998, having contracted it from her husband, who died in 1999 (a pattern similar to what we saw in Honduras in the Peace Corps). She has felt stigmatized by her HIV status and has made common cause with LGBT Ugandans with HIV/AIDS. She has been working on reducing social rejection of both LGBT persons and those with HIV. They were brought together by St. Paul’s Foundation, a religiously oriented gay rights advocacy organization now focusing on gay rights in Cameroon, Jamaica, and Uganda.
Readers of my books know that my Cuban foster son, Alex, who came to the US at age 16 as an unaccompanied minor in 1980 via the Mariel boatlift, had been freed from jail and put on a boat at gunpoint, as happened with many prisoners then. He was gay, learned he was HIV+ in 1990, and died of AIDS in 1995, one year after my son had died as the result of a work accident. Xensia contracted AIDS a few years later, when anti-retrovirals were just coming into use. AIDS was also a priority for us as health volunteers in Honduras where women often contracted it from their husbands, as Xenia did. Now, the incidence in Honduras has leveled off, in part because of our educational campaign. Of course, there is much anti-gay discrimination in Honduras.  In Cuba, one of my Caribbean countries for Amnesty, Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela has been an advocate for gay rights there, but only within the Communist Party—all independent gay rights efforts, like any independent action, are not permitted. Still, that’s progress from the time of my foster son, when gays were jailed or sent to labor camps. 
Last time, I mentioned that Sonia Garro, the Afro-Cuban human rights activist and member of the Ladies in White, scheduled to finally go on trial with her husband and neighbor on Nov. 7 after more than 2 ½ years of detention, has had her trial postponed without explanation again, for the 4th time.
I’ve never called attention to an article from the Wall St. Journal before, but am doing so now, because it’s something I’ve been saying for a long time, both in my Cuba book and on this blog. Bravo to Cuba for sending doctors to West Africa to fight Ebola, but it’s not a matter of pure altruism, despite the NYTimes editorial that praised “impoverished” Cuba for sending doctors there, saying it put US Ebola efforts “to shame.”  (Americans are no slackers in Ebola efforts, which have eclipse those of other nations, both in terms of sheer money, expertise, and the number of medical volunteers going to the area.)
Cuba’s Slave Trade in Doctors. Havana earns almost $8 billion a year off the backs of the health workers it sends to poor countries.
Well now, after a balmy fall, winter has finally arrived ahead of schedule, and we’ve found out the radiators on the 3rd floor of my big old house are not working. Of course, with overloaded furnace repairmen, it’s been a long wait to get the problem fixed and, alas, it’s not fixed yet. Reminds me of being in the Peace Corps in La Esperanza, Honduras, and bundling up because houses and buildings there had no heat, despite winter temperatures sometimes falling into the 30s F. There, when using a computer, I wore gloves with holes cut out for my fingertips. I wish I could find those gloves right now, as my home office is on the 3rd floor.
I had a most enlightening interpretation assignment at a parent-teacher day at a DC public high school that focuses on teaching newly arrived students English in a special unit. As you would expect, most of the students in that unit are Spanish-speaking, though I was told some are also from India, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia. Non-English-speaking parents of those students had to make do with telephonic interpretation using a speaker phone. In the unit that I was assigned to work with, we went non-stop from noon to 7 pm, talking with 40 parents during that time (only 10 minutes each, using a timer), most of them from Central America, though one was from the DR and another, Peru. According to their teachers, most of the students were doing very well and were actually learning English by leaps and bounds, as well as other subjects like math and science that they hardly knew anything about, as many had not attended school recently in their home countries. Some parents were not literate themselves and I had to help them fill in a sign-up sheet. Most were from El Salvador or Guatemala and at least one was from Honduras! Most kids had arrived during that surge earlier this year and immigration court appearances and possible deportation are still hanging over them. Some parents had not seen their children for 10 or 12 years, so there have been family adjustments as well as adjustments to a new country and language. One mother, in tears, said her 15-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son had had some terrible experiences going through Mexico together that they have been unwilling to talk about. Another mother, who brought 3 small US-born children to the meeting with her, said her 2 teenage daughters had surprised her by arriving pregnant--pregnancies that began in El Salvador, not en route. The surge has stopped now, mostly because Mexican authorities have agreed to a US request to stop migrants trying to cross their southern border.
We cannot take in all the needy people in the world, still, but after the tremendous risks and efforts these kids have made to get here, I hope President Obama lets them stay and that he gives relief to a major proportion of other undocumented people; as with squatting or common-law marriage, after a certain amount of time, their existence and right to be here should be acknowledged—a path to citizenship is more controversial and not as crucial. And it’s unfortunate that Obama has deported over 2 million people, more than any other president. Now, he needs to make good on his promise to give some relief to the undocumented.
Politicians encourage and reinforce misinformation that helps them get elected and then promote legislation based on false premises. Most Americans think the foreign-born population is many times greater than its actual 13% and that President Obama is soft on illegal immigration, when his administration has actually deported more than any other. They also overestimate by far the percentage of Muslim citizens and residents. The public and voters also believe crime statistics to be much higher than they really are, and that they growing, when they are actually falling. Teen pregnancy has also taken a nosedive, though most Americans believe the opposite. Nor will most Republican politicians want to set them straight, preferring to berate the Democrats with erroneous, but still widely believed, conjectures. As I note in my recent book, an ignorant public and deliberately deceptive politicians mutually reinforce false impressions in a vicious cycle.

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