Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Immigration--the face that cannot be seen

For the last year and a half, several of us have been advocating with and for our three DREAM Act students--Monica, Jose, and Jesse. (to find out more search for "DREAM Act" in the blog search line...or go to Larry James' blog and search for "Monica.").

As the three of them have gone through multiple deportation hearings, they have also taken their time to speak to groups of people, helped initiate the DREAM Act coalition, worked toward getting the word out about immigrants' rights, and even traveled to Washington D.C. to talk to their state Senators. They also attend college and work to help their families.

Recently, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson filed a private bill on their behalf. The Dallas Morning News wrote about it, which has now caught the attention of the national media.

To me, that sounds like progress. I want more people to hear the stories of kids like Monica, Jose, and Jesse. I think it's important that the public understand more about the DREAM Act and who it would benefit. I want people to understand that the only crime kids like Monica, Jose, and Jesse committed was staying with their family and the only crime their family committed was to over-stay their welcome in a place they knew would provide their children with possibilities and options they didn't have in Mexico.

People need to hear that "illegal" children who have been here since a very young age are desperately trying to get an education and work in order to be productive and contribute to the good of our country, but we are preventing that...which not only hurts them, but hurts us as well. For example...our schools are taking time and money to recruit and legalize bilingual teachers from places like Puerto Rico when we have bilingual educators right outside our back door who would love to be able to use their degree. Unfortunately, our fear of being "soft" on illegal immigration will not allow us to accept the very people we need.

Though I can write about what I know, the people who could articulate these arguments the best are the people who are most affected...the children. Their voices are powerful. They help us see illegal immigration from a different perspective.

But they are scared.

Our country, the "land of the free," has scared our children into hiding.

They are afraid that telling their story and showing their face might create repercussions for them from hateful people at school. They fear underhanded tactics that could be used against them to deport them.

But most of all, they fear for their families. They are afraid that speaking out about their situation may bring hate crimes to their back door. They are afraid that the pressure of immigration officials would intensify. They are afraid that the knowledge of where they live and places they frequent would become public knowledge and they would become targets.

They are Americans in every sense of the word, but cannot be considered American.

They are upstanding citizens who are considered criminals because they crossed an imaginary line that we created.

They are stripped of their language in our "English only" schools...only to be told in high school that we all need to learn a second language.

They are people with faces who cannot show their face.

More than 60,000 undocumented students graduate from high school each year. Until more of us speak out and create more of a momentum, they will continue to remain in the shadows.

Ramiro, a friend of mine, is working on his website that will put all of the DREAM Act resources in one place and make it easy to find out how to get involved with the group in your community. But, until then, you might contact your local National Council of La Raza group to seek out DREAM Act groups in your community then click here for four ways to help pass the DREAM Act. Help us create the groundswell that will allow people like Monica, Jose, and Jesse to come out of the shadows.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Going to the movies...retro style!

The last time I went to a drive-in movie was in 1979. We watched one of the Star Wars movies. Yep...quite a while ago.

They were going out of style then. But I think, on some level, they are coming back.

I saw the Ennis theater (Galaxy Drive In) on a late night trip back from Houston one night. All four screens were showing...a very cool scene from the window of a bus driving down the freeway. So, when my friend asked if I wanted to go, I couldn't wait!

We went early so we could get a good spot. The movie doesn't start until 9:00, but they play 50s music from the movie speakers and have a little putt-putt golf course to keep early patrons entertained.

Everything is pretty cheap, too! They keep their movie prices cheap by making money on their can't take food or drinks in. However, even their in-house prices are cheap...$3 for a game of mini-golf, $6 for a movie (you can't beat that!), and very reasonable food prices on sno-cones, Dippin' Dots, hamburgers, funnel cakes, and so much more!

But don't make a trip out there without having cash on hand...they only take cash.

It took about 30 minutes from my South Dallas home...not much further than driving across the city to a mall or a restaurant. Despite the retro feel of the place, the movies were all current run movies.

It was a little warm at first, but after the movie got going, the evening breeze actually made it very comfortable.

I can't wait to go back! If you want to do something different or like new (old) experiences, take a short trip south of Dallas and enjoy a fun, retro evening with friends.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What can we learn from young people?

Several years ago I used to host a "Civil Rights night" at my house. Teenagers would come over and we would watch documentaries like Eyes on the Prize and Chicano! (though Chicano! is no longer available, Teaching Tolerance will have a new Viva la Causa! video released in September). After watching the documentaries, we would have honest discussions about racism and struggle--then and now. I was always amazed at the depth of their thoughts and discussion.

As I was looking back through some old files, I found the following poems they wrote one night:


People sometimes call me names
like immigrant.
I always respond with
I don’t know why, how what
I just go off
I see you looking
but am here to stay
am not leaving
instead am living here
and I plan to stay.

By: Nazareth Vidal, 4/28/05


What did I do wrong?

As I sit in the house wondering why? Feeling like I’m bout 2 cry. I think 2 myself what did I do wrong? As I think about the past instead of the future and traumatizing memories floating around my head I wonder…what did I do wrong? I try 2 think of the good but not the bad but the more I think of it I wonder why? Is it me? Or you? And as I think so hard I wonder…what did I do wrong? As I sleep I dream of what the next day has in store 4 me but I try 2 get the harsh moments out of my brain and as I wake up confused I ask myself…what did I do wrong? Now things aren’t the same I think the positive and search 4 good things and now I don’t ask what I did wrong…I know what I did right and nothings wrong about that.

By: Twasanna Lewis


Black History

Strange people
Long journey
New land
Work for free
Emancipation of proclamation
Not knowing what to do
Trying to make a better life
Being oppressed
Different standards
Standing up for rights
Civil Rights Act of 65
Same opportunity
Society improving
Able to sit in a room with Janet and Rachel

By: Adrian Williams


Civil Rights
Let freedom ring…let freedom ring…thank God Almighty…let freedom ring
Black Dignity Struggle
Freedom is like a bird
Courage Endurance Faith
Strength of heart
Bravery Perseverance Sacrifice
Fighting for your rights
Equality Leaders Senators
We’re not going to give up
Violence Pain Suffering
. . . . .
. . . . .
. . . . .
Changing the law…changing minds

By: Rachel Embry, Twasanna Lewis, Adrian Williams, Albert Ross, Nazareth Vidal, Janet Morrison, Raphael Bienavides


The voices of young people are powerful.

They have so much to tell us if we choose to listen.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Guilty...until proven innocent

Think about the last 27 years.

If you're my age, that's the majority of your life. In my younger years, we used to talk about the changes our grandparents had seen over their lifetime. But, truly, the last 27 years have been no less amazing.

We now have cell phones...3-D video games...high speed (and small) computers and those are just the technology advancements.

Along with all of the new technology, of course, jobs have changed as well. Even jobs at fast food restaurants require a basic knowledge of technology. What you have to know in order to get a job is very different than it was 27 years ago.

Imagine being frozen in time for those 27 years. What do you do when you wake up today? What kind of clothes do you wear? How do you quickly acquire new job skills in order to work and survive? If you knew anything about computers at the time, they were probably large main frame computers that filled an entire room. How do you learn to function in a world that most jobs require online submission of resumes and applications? How do you even know where you're going...since major land development has restructured the entire landscape since you were last familiar with it?

Some people are in that very situation.

James Woodard served 27 years of time in prison for a murder charge...a crime he didn't commit.

Billy Smith served 19 years for sexual assault...a crime he didn't commit.

Charles Chapman was misidentified in a photo lineup and served 27 years for rape...a crime he didn't commit.

How can I be so sure? Because DNA evidence cleared them.

In Dallas County, DNA evidence has cleared these three men, along with 15 others. The Innocence Project, Dallas DA Craig Watkins, and Dallas Judge John Creuzot are working tirelessly to reclaim fairness and justice in our "justice" system.

So far in Texas 33 people have been exonerated on account of DNA evidence...a total of 427 years of innocent time served!!

How did this happen?
  • 82% were misidentified (supposed eye witness accounts)
  • 18% convicted on false forensic testimony
  • 15% convicted on "snitch" testimony
  • 9% gave false confessions to reduce their time
  • I didn't catch the percentage, but others were simply prosecutorial misconduct (despite our "justice" system)
Finally, there are people in office who are listening. Finally, there are people in office who recognize that our system isn't always "just" to everyone. But more than that...they are not just listening. They are using their position in our goverment to create create fairness.

Saturday evening, Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson convened a panel including Chairman of the House John Conyers, Houston Senator Rodney Ellis, DA Craig Watkins, co-founder of the Innocence Project, Jeff Blackburn, and the exonerees.

Part of their purpose was to listen. They wanted to know, "Where do we start? How do we dig in?" ...and they wanted to hear from people who had been directly affected.

Several spoke about moving our prison system from a punishment system to a restoration system with one person explaining..."because they will be out eventually."

Judge Creuzot brought up the fact that we need a process that will allow formerly incarcerated individuals to move on once they are released. (currently, convicted felons who have already served their time have little ability to get jobs or even find places to live...yet we expect them to come out and be productive members of society and are irritated when they aren't...without realizing why).

An attorney thought it was necessary and crucial that our system begin to fund well-paid, criminal defense, court-appointed attorneys due to the fact that low-income people are many times provided with the least competent attorneys (since more capable attorneys want to profit from their expertise).

In combination with that, others talked about the need for federal mandates to fix the system because we don't have the will to do it on our own.

Evidently some people are angered by the efforts to reform the system. Evidently, it sounds better when prosecutors, judges, and politicians talk about being "tough on crime"--the more convinctions, the better we feel. However, it's also important to realize that for every wrongful conviction, the real criminal goes free.

This is an issue that affects all of us...not just in Texas. Dallas happens to have kept more evidence over the years than most places...which has now allowed for 18 wrongful convictions (to date) to be overturned based on the evidence. Other states and counties have not been immune to these wrongful convictions...but may not have the evidence needed to overturn the cases as readily.

This is an issue we would all be better for if we educated ourselves and got involved. Unfortunately, most of the cases are having to be re-opened by people outside of the system. The lack of will of our political system, at this point, has not provided the funds, despite the mistakes made.

If you would like to help this effort continue, donate to The Innocence Project, write your congressperson, and do what you can to help fix the system.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Opening doors to people

My parents changed our house into a Bed and Breakfast when I graduated from high school. They had the bed and breakfast up until a few years ago when they retired.

I remember being very skeptical of allowing people to come in and stay at our home. However, it ended up being a natural fit--my mom is an early riser, a talker, and a great cook.

I have no idea how many people went through our doors over the 15 years or so it was open. Many people came back over and over again...I can only imagine that part of their return was the great conversation and part of it was the homemade cinnamon rolls...pecan muffins...stuffed omelettes...english muffin bread...homemade strawberry jam...biscuits and gravy...mmmmmmmmmm......

Anyway...I digress. :)

My parents are very strong Christians. They always started breakfast off with a prayer. They always went to church on Sundays and Wednesday nights. If guests were planning to come in, they explained that they would be at church and then left the door to the house unlocked and told the guests how to get in (even if they didn't know them).

But above all of that...or maybe because of all that, they got to know people.

My mom would tell me stories about people from Germany, New York, or even others in Missouri. They exchanged recipes and talked about their kids. She kept a world map and put pins on the places where each guest was from. She took a picture of everyone who walked through their doors. She even convinced guests living in and around Dallas to meet up with me once they returned home and deliver the homemade goods she had packed.

My mom found common interests and she connected with people no matter who they were or where they were from. I believe she felt that each person she met had something new to offer her...and, in the process, her conversation must've offered them something as well...or they wouldn't have returned so often.

I appreciate that lesson.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Over-working to make our life easy

A friend sent me this anecdote that really made me think about my life.

Why is it that we work so hard to have something that we could've had all along?? Why do we feel the need to convince others that our long and frustrating days will lead us (and them) to something better? What if we listened to people like this man and learned from him??


Life: Explained

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

"Not very long," answered the Mexican.

"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life."

The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."

"And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City , Los Angeles , or even New York City ! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.

"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American.

"And after that?"

"Afterwards? Well my friend, that's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?" asked the Mexican.

"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

And the moral of this story is: ......... Know where you're going in life... you may already be there.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

America, the beautiful

My friend called me yesterday. She lives in Springfield, Missouri.

"People are so ignorant!" she stormed.

She had just been standing in line at a gas station when the woman in front of her handed the cashier $60 and proceeded to tell her, "I'm going to fill up my gas tank. I have given you $60. When I return, I want the change back." The lady behind the counter, of course, agreed. The woman patronizingly continued, "There is $60 there. I want to make sure you will give me my change. I have been in other gas stations with Pakistanis like you and they don't return your change. I want to make sure you will."

I can only assume that the lady was given her full and complete change down to the penny.


I attended my martial arts class that same evening. There is a 9-year old boy who attends. I see him with toenail polish on quite often. I have never asked why. I figure wearing toenail polish is his right. His mom brings him so if something needs to be said, that is her place. Maybe it's his preference; maybe it's a stage he's going through. Either way, it's his right.

During class, however, our instructor--low enough to talk directly to the boy, but loud enough for all to hear--asked him why he had on toenail polish and asked if someone else had put that on him. The instructor proceeded to explain to him that polish is for girls...and then asked him if he knew he was a boy. He continued to lecture the 9-year old for a moment, then turned to some of the other guys in the class and started talking to them about it.

I was proud of the young boy. He didn't seem phased. He nodded, accepted the lecture, and went about practicing his stances and combinations.

After class, some of the guys continued laughing and joking about it. When I expressed my irritation, they pointed out that it is better that he hear it now before he gets beat up on the street for it.

Today I read a commentary about Obama's volunteers shunning the ladies in Muslim attire so as not to associate Obama with something "negative." I read that Obama has entered many different churches and synagogues, but has yet to enter a mosque...presumably so that he doesn't get associated with being Muslim. I don't understand why Obama can't or won't point out that Muslims are a strong part of our country and deserve to be treated that way.

As I lamented over Obama's unwillingness to stand up for these beliefs, a friend pointed out that Barack Obama has to take that stance in order to get elected.


I don't understand. Why is it that the people being rejected are the ones told they need to suck it up and bear with it instead of challenging those who are ridiculing to think differently about people?

In my mind, the people who need to change...the people who need to adjust...are the ones who are ignorant enough to not accept people. Maybe if more of us who take a laxadasical attitude would say something to the perpetrators instead of the victims our world would change.

I know it's a lot to ask of Barack Obama...and I know it may not be the primary role we expect presidents to play...but I would hope that in his run for the presidency that he would be the voice of conscious, the voice of morality. I would hope that he would say, "We, as a country, do not and will not stand for the mis-treatment of people." (I would hope that John McCain would say so as well.)

I have that hope. But the reality is, it shouldn't be and can't be just on top leaders (though I think that they sometimes do set a standard). The rest of us have to take a stand as well. Instead of accepting life as it is and has been, we have to be the voice of change. We have to be bold enough to proclaim that inequality and injustice and discrimination is not fair and not right. Justice takes each of us. We can't wait passively until the change happens because we are the change.