Monday, October 5, 2015

Grandson (Again), DR Citizenship, El Sexto, Pope-mania, Cuba (Again), Haiti Elections, Nicaragua, Adios Sabado Gigante, PC Recruitment, Hafa/Hapa, Boehner, Print Books, Mideast Christians, Interpretation, Toilet Etiquette, Bulger Girlfriend, Gun Violence (Again)

If some topics are repeated throughout these postings, it’s because they are recurring, like
my new grandson Kingston, who is growing and changing daily.

On Oct. 2, on a stormy afternoon, my local Amnesty International Group 211, along with students and activists from all over the Mid-Atlantic region, participated in a series of rallies at several embassies, including that of the Dominican Republic, where we were protesting the court decision of 2 years ago that essentially stripped Haitian descendants of Dominican nationality, leaving them stateless and often unable to work or go to school.


#Rights4ALLinDR Fact-Checking the DR Ambassador to the US:
"Despite the government's assurances that no one born in the Dominican Republic or with legal documents will be deported, several media and human rights organizations have interviewed people whose harrowing experiences contradict that claim: 33% of the people forcibly removed to Haiti were Dominican-born. In one such case, Juan A. Corporán, a construction worker, was picked up by immigration officials and told he was Haitian, even after showing the officers his Dominican ID." #UncertainFate #WeAreAllDominican
Danilo Maldonado, nicknamed El Sexto, a Cuban performance artist who painted 2 piglets with the names Fidel and Raul, has been held without trial since December, placed in solitary confinement,
and on Sept. 8, went a hunger strike, having said his farewells.
We at Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience (POC) and sent out Urgent Actions on his behalf, also  supported a campaign by artists around the world, among them Venezuelan artist Carlos Luis Sánchez.

Orlando Zapata, another Cuban hunger striker and Amnesty POC, did die in 2010, so it could happen again, even if we at Amnesty International, as well as the Obama administration and Raul Castro’s regime, would not want to see El Sexto die. Well on Oct. 2, the Cuban government promised to release him in 15 days if he would start eating again, which he reportedly agreed to do. Hunger strikers do take some time to recuperate, slowly taking on nourishment, reportedly usually beginning with sugar water.
Whew! The Pope left DC after 3 tumultuous days with events occurring near my home. Mostly, I liked what he said and did in the US, but in Cuba, he could and should have been a bit more forceful against the regime, especially after having gone through the “dirty war” of military rule in Argentina. He visited with US prisoners, but not Cuban ones. He might have reached out and been more accommodating to dissidents who desperately wanted to see him, though his friend Cardinal Jaime Ortega may have urged him not to do so, fearing harm to the church’s slowly growing role in Cuba. I do hate crowds, so I failed to see Francis. President Obama’s first inauguration, where we were all squished together and stepping on each other’s toes, was the last crowd I ever want to be in. I admire the pope at his age going so gracefully through such a grueling and packed schedule, first in Cuba and then immediately on to three major US cities. In general, I admire him, but on Cuba, he was uncharacteristically not up to the task. Did he have a blind spot or was his seeming indifference calculated? It’s hard to square the image of a benevolent pope, man who showed himself in the US to be funny, spontaneous, and kind, preaching forgiveness, charity, and tolerance—someone who kissed the disabled and babies, who visited prisoners here—but, in Cuba, going out of his way to ignore disenfranchised and officially reviled Cubans who desperately wanted to see him and give him a message while he met cordially with Fidel, arguably the main architect of their long decades of desperation? Maybe he said something privately to Raul and Fidel, but the beleaguered dissidents and disenfranchised Cuban people never heard it.
Nestor Campanería Angel, a Cuban exile living in Miami, wrote a letter to Pope Francis in February and has never received an answer. In the letter, he told how his older brother, law student Virgilio Campanería Ángel, age 23, was executed in 1961 by firing squad along with 7 others after a trial lasting one hour. He invited the pontiff and everyone else to visit the Cuban Memorial to 12,000 people who had lost their lives to the Castro regime.
I’ve heard that some of those gathered for the pope’s Masses in Cuba were forced to attend. A Cuban American tells me: I learned recently from a sister of a friend who lives in Cuba, that the crowds at the pope events in Cuba where composed of the military, security officers, and their family posing as ordinary citizens.  Her sister is Catholic and she said that the people in her church were not able to attend because no transportation was available (transport is controlled by the government) and they were not able to arrange anything else. She said that other Catholic churches were in the same situation. The visit of the pope was for international consumption. 
 Outspoken Archbishop Bruno Musaro, former papal nuncio in Cuba, found himself last Feb. being sent to Egypt, a country almost devoid of Catholics.
The Cuban leadership and the pope may show distain for capitalism, but both rely on it—Cuba is betting on American capitalist bounty to rescue it from the mess made by its presumably more benign and generous “socialist” policies.
Cubans brace for the American invasion, Oct. 4, 2015
Raul Castro, speaking at the UN, declared that the US embargo against Cuba is the main “obstacle” to Cuba’s development. Is there a need to reiterate here the exaggeration of such a statement? Food and medicine are exempt from the embargo, a record number of visitors are arriving in Cuba from the US—more than from any other country—and Cuba trades with the rest of the world. The main obstacle to Cuba’s development is the stranglehold that the elite and the military have on the Cuban economy, which enriches the few and impoverishes the many and has led to a country largely self-sufficient in agriculture before the revolution to one that must import most of its food. If something is repeated often enough, such as by Cuba’s leadership saying “Poor little Cuba, the giant US is picking on us”—the David and Goliath myth—people begin to believe it’s actually so.
Ideals or blueprints can never be fully realized. They have to be tweaked and modified. To his credit, Raul has tweaked the blueprint Fidel originally gave him. Clinging too strongly to an ideal can be harmful, leading to estrangement between spouses or between parents and offspring on a micro level and, on a societal level, to coercion and dictatorship—like the molding of the “new man” that failed in the USSR, China, Nicaragua, and Cuba. But a guiding set of principles is essential—democracy, human rights, women’s rights, racial equality, living wage—all those can be guides without being coercive, even though there may be divisions of opinion about their proper realization. Capitalism may be considered evil by Pope Francis and certainly by Raul Castro (except for the state capitalism that benefits him, his family, and his associates), but Raul is counting on the capitalism and relative bounty of the US economic system to rescue him and ensure his own position and hold on power. It is hard to believe that Raul, perhaps unlike Fidel, has been personally and philosophically wed to “socialism,” whatever that is, except to give it lip service. Surely he is too savvy to fail to see that what exists in Cuba today is nothing like economic or social equality and that the fault for that inequality is not the US embargo.    
Oct. 25 is the date set for presidential elections in Haiti, with a record 54 candidates vying for office out of 70 originally declared candidates. Incumbent President Michel Martelly is constitutionally barred from running for a second term.
Translation: We’ve had rain, but little, and I don’t believe it’s a good idea [referring to the Chinese canal being built through Lake Managua]. Now we don’t all have access to work; the situation here is bad and sometimes I feel like going “wetback” to your country.
Sabado Gigante (Giant Saturday), a Spanish-language music and variety show with Chilean-born host Don Francisco, now in his 70s, finally went off the air after 53 years. While for almost 2 decades, it has been broadcast from Miami, it was transmitted all over Latin America. Where I had TV access in Honduras, it was a Saturday night staple, a loud, cheesy sort of show, with half-naked women, risqué jokes, pratfalls, and simple contests, not really my cup of tea, but Hondurans loved it and many will miss that Saturday family TV-watching ritual. However, apart from the host getting older, apparently ratings in the US were falling, so advertisers considered it time to pull the plug, though advertisers in Latin America might have been more reluctant to do so. I wouldn’t be surprised to see reruns south of the border.
 More Peace Corps recruitment ads are appearing in magazines and on the radio, about 7000 volunteers of all ages serving in more than 60 countries. I do hope to be able to serve again before I get too decrepit, but am too busy right now.
Hafu is apparently the Japanese term for a mixed race person, half Japanese, of which someone half Japanese, half African American (as with a GI father) has been especially looked down upon in that purist culture due to the double stigma of African “blood” and illegitimacy. But a recent Miss Japan whose GI father was African American has helped win more acceptance for Hafus. Hawaii has Hapa-Haoles (in this case half-Caucasian), including my own daughter Stephanie, but there, being mixed race is pretty common, so does not carry any great stigma, although full Haoles (Caucasians) are in the minority (the only state where that’s the case) and, it seems, are not held in quite as much esteem at “pure-blood” Asians and Native Hawaiians. Since Haole tourists predominate, the term is sometimes applied to ignorant mainlanders untutored in local ways. (Photo shows me in 2003, at daughter Stephanie's wedding in Honolulu in 2003, an event I had to travel to from Peace Corps in Honduras, quite a trek.)
 More than 13% of people living in the US are foreign-born, the highest percentage since the 1890s. Apparently Asian immigrants are the wave of the future, projected to edge out Hispanics over the next decades.
 You can’t blame John Boehner for quitting the House leadership and Congress. I’m sure he’s sick and tired of such a thankless task. He not only cries easily, but, with good reason, always has looked to be on the verge of tears.
I love print books, holding them in my hand, turning pages, and viewing photos and illustrations. My home office holds a whole library of books old and new. But truth be told, print books are going out of style and even famous world libraries are pruning or jettisoning parts of their collections.  Many libraries no longer accept collections willed to them. More and more, only rare and historical physical books are being kept, while both patrons and libraries are going digital. What is easier and more convenient in this mobile world than having hundreds of books saved on a single hand-held device, words at your fingertips wherever you are and whenever you have time to read them?
I attended a book event in my neighborhood at the home of George Marlin, Chair of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. He was distributing his new book, Christian Persecutions in the Middle East, about a topic that hasn’t gotten much attention. After millennia of living in the area, Christians are being harassed and expelled and essentially cleansed from the Middle East. The book quotes Catholic bishop Macram Gassis, whom I met in south Sudan in 2006 and about whose work I wrote in America magazine. One-fourth of Syrians are Christians, certainly represented among the migrants now flooding Europe. The book offers little in the way of solutions, especially since the US is moving away from the role of the world’s policeman.
 Just finished reading another book called The Yankee Comandante about the life and execution by Castro forces of William Morgan, an American who first fought with Fidel, then turned against him. The co-authors worked for the Toledo Blade, meeting his widow Olga Rodriguez, who eventually ended up in Toledo after Morgan’s death in 1961, joining his mother living there. The authors had featured articles about her and Morgan in the paper in 2002. Olga herself had spent 11 years as a Cuban political prisoner after his execution. Whether they were actually married is a little murky, as Morgan already had a wife and children back in the US. In any case, he and Olga were joined in a guerrilla ceremony and had 2 daughters before he was executed by firing squad. Of course, Fidel never showed mercy to anyone he suspected of disloyalty. The book, cast as a love story based mainly on Olga’s recollections long after the events, is what I would call “faction” or novelization. It makes for an engaging story, but may be wanting in historical accuracy. Olga must have had a photographic, and indeed keen auditory, memory if she is the source for the dialogue, including conversations when she wasn’t present. “Morgan didn’t know what to say. He never expected this kind of questioning.” Morgan is dead and Olga wasn’t there, so how do we know what he expected or what was said? Another time, apparently, he buttons up his shirt and leaves the top button open. Maybe he habitually did that, so it’s a detail Olga remembers? Other people are said to have thought or feared certain things, again, how would the authors know? Then in the middle of a tale woven by omniscient narrators, there suddenly appear photocopies of Morgan’s actual FBI files, as well as traditional family photos, which is jarring and makes the reader wonder what part is actually true and what is embellished? I’m a translator, as well as an interpreter, and so am also knit-picky about Spanish grammar and usage, finding myself annoyed by the irregular and inconsistent use of accent marks throughout the book. But what annoyed me most was that Eloy Gutiérrez Menoyo, another Castro guerrilla fighter who fell out of favor and ended up spending decades in prison, is referred to consistently as Menoyo, that is, by his mother’s maiden name. Either it should have been Gutiérrez or Gutiérrez Menoyo, but not just Menoyo, although occasionally even Spanish speakers use the mother’s maiden name as a sort of familiar nickname. Americans seem consistently unable to fathom usual Spanish last name usage. Likewise, they habitually refer to Gabriel García Márquez as Márquez, when García was his real last name, though he used García Márquez to distinguish himself from his father Gabriel García. An article about Morgan’s life and death by David Grann that appeared in 2012 in the New Yorker seems more factual, but he also refers to Gutiérrez Menoyo, as simply Menoyo. Cubans who knew him in prison, many of my acquaintance, always refer to him as Eloy or Gutiérrez Menoyo.
I’ve started Spanish interpreting again at DC public schools at a recent Back-to-School night. I was impressed to see several fathers there. Years ago, Hispanic fathers rarely attended school events. So many public school students have Spanish-speaking parents. Only 17% of the US population is Hispanic, according to 2010 Census data, but the population of those under 18 is much greater. Thanks to immigration and birthrates among this group, the US population is not shrinking, as it otherwise would. (Europe, also with an aging and shrinking population, is now getting its own influx of immigrants.)
I've worked as both a translator and an interpreter (English-Spanish), also in rehabilitation, social work, social policy research, as a writer and editor, and as a Peace Corps volunteer. All the latter experiences have helped inform my translating and interpreting work, also given me a preference for interpretation with live people over translation of the written page. Being an interpreter means entering lives I might not otherwise know (though in strict confidentiality), often on an intimate basis. Surprisingly, when I am interpreting, the client often gets into the rhythm and doesn’t even seem to notice that I’m actually there, even when talking about sensitive subjects. But that was not the case for one memorable child welfare interpretation involving a deaf girl apparently sexually molested by her Spanish-speaking father (interpreters are not given background details, but I’ve been a child welfare worker). She and her mother were being interviewed by an English-speaking child protective services worker. The girl communicated via American Sign Language, interpreted into spoken English by a sign-language interpreter, and I, in turn, translated that into Spanish for the mother. It was a cumbersome exchange, and, so, it was rather hard to ignore the role of interpreters in that particular case. But under more usual circumstances, I keep a straight face and use a clear, but not excessively loud, voice, trying to blend into the wall paper.
Of course, more and more, enterprises are using computer translations, not 100% accurate, but much cheaper than human translation and often sufficient to convey the gist. Of course, for book translation, a human being is required. And telephonic interpretation, paid by the minute instead of the hour, is also a money saver; I don’t particularly care for it but it does make the interpreter less intrusive. Sometimes I’ve done it with a speaker phone on the other end, usually with a group of people gathered for a meeting, and I have to figure out who is talking to whom. Savings on one side, such as this, are someone else’s loss of income (mine in this case). Oil and coal workers are now feeling that pinch, while the rest of us enjoy cheaper fuel prices.

I’ve been consulted on what to do about Central American migrants, especially in public parks in suburban Maryland, throwing toilet paper on the floor and not flushing. Restroom problems are something I have not confronted lately, but I know why they throw toilet paper on the floor. That's because in Latin America, the plumbing cannot accommodate toilet paper, so it's thrown into a receptacle and burned periodically. I guess, it has been drilled into them--never put toilet paper into the toilet. Since I travel to Honduras annually, I have to switch gears myself, though, really, putting it into a receptacle to be burned is not the greatest solution. Some also have habitually used latrines, not toilets, and you don't flush those. Others have only gone outside behind the bushes. I’d suggest that school kids make bilingual signs with drawings for those who cannot read, showing proper bathroom conduct: someone throwing toilet paper into the toilet, then flushing, then washing hands and throwing the paper towel in the trash. I suspect local schools that have accepted Central American migrants have to give them the same instructions.
The girlfriend of convicted Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger was indicted for contempt of court for refusing to testify about the couple's time in hiding. Catherine Greig, 64, had been ordered by the U.S. District Court in Boston to answer questions before a grand jury about people who helped Bulger while he lived on the lam for 16 years to avoid arrest. My prediction is that she will not testify, as the worst crime for a mobster is “ratting out,” considered even worse than murder. So, at least as long as Bulger is alive, she is likely to stay mum, even if it means she spends more time locked up herself.

Another mass shooting—is the unrestricted right to bear arms so sacred that it supersedes the right to life of innocent others? According to CDC figures (as reported on, US firearms deaths (suicides, homicides, accidents) from 2000-2013 exceeded those from wars, terrorism, AIDS, and illegal drug overdoses combined.  

In the NYTimes, columnist Nicholas Kristof (Oct. 3) posits ways to make guns safer, though most such measures have been opposed by the NRA: Public health experts cite many ways we could live more safely with guns, and many of them have broad popular support. A poll this year found that majorities even of gun-owners favor universal background checks; tighter regulation of gun dealers; safe storage requirements in homes; and a 10-year prohibition on possessing guns for anyone convicted of domestic violence, assault or similar offenses. We should also be investing in “smart gun” technology, such as weapons that fire only with a PIN or fingerprint. We should adopt microstamping that allows a bullet casing to be traced back to a particular gun. We can require liability insurance for guns, as we do for cars.

Dear Readers, believe it or not, I’m trying hard to be less wordy, as there are only a few faithful readers willing to hear me out. However, I have so much on my mind and so many issues engaging my attention that putting it all down on paper helps me sort it out, so thanks for your patience. I’ve also figured out how to place photos with the corresponding text. And you can always skim and focus on bolded key words. Gracias.