Yesterday at the Writers Who Love Mexico meeting, we heard from three different authors who have committed themselves to preserving history. Joan Singler gave a brief description of Seattle in Black and White: The Congress of Racial Equality and the Fight for Equal Opportunity, a book she collaborated on with three others, which will come out next month. Mexican history was served with a healthy dash of British insight by Gordon Preston, author of The Chacala Story and descendant of the pirate Thomas Cavendish who plied these local waters. And Carla Stellweg departed from her accustomed field of expertise, Latin American Contemporary Art, to share the first chapter in a personal memoir which wove strands drawn from her childhood in Indonesia during the second World War, her education in Holland, and the beginnings of her art career in Mexico and Japan. The whole program was a feast of cosmopolitan flavors that I’ve been savoring ever since. What a variety of voices and perspectives, speaking of races and places all over the globe!
Before we adjourned, Carolyn Kingson, a writer from San Pancho, posed a question she categorized as “ethical.” Someone had posted an anonymous comment on her recent blogpost, addressing her as “an idiot” for using the word “terrorism” in relation to living in Mexico. The terrorism she was referring to was that of a opossum that was holding her family hostage with its night-time antics. It was supposed to be funny, and anyone with any sense of humor and who has dealt with invading wildlife would sympathize and laugh. Her question went to what extent should we watch our words and cater to what search engines might pick up or what readers might take out of context. I’ll take the liberty of saying the consensus of the group was, “write honestly with a good heart, and then step back and let people make of it what they will. There will always be someone who will take issue with what you have to say — or how you’ve chosen to say it. Don’t try to cater to dodos.”
In this spirit, I’d like to share a link about someone who has always been a hero of mine. Hers was a presence I followed since girlhood when I wanted to grow up and work for a newspaper. I think I was in junior high school when my journalism teacher explained how press conferences at The White House worked — how the key figure was Helen Thomas, sitting there on the front row. She was the one who set the tone and the timing. And she was the one who asked the really hard questions. As I watched her through the years, I admired how she didn’t back down, how she seemed to grow stronger and more trenchant with age. But her presence is no longer there. She disappeared last June, because she spoke honestly, if perhaps unwisely, from her heart. Here’s an account of what happened. While many have characterized her departure as ignominious and tried to paint her as racist and bigoted, she was none of these. I think her experience is another example of the Guadalupe Presence that gets covered in pelican poop from time to time. Like the concrete statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe out on the jetty I see from my office window, flocks of mindless squawking feather-brains cannot knock her off the rock of her conviction. Helen Thomas is an inspiration for me — as are all writers who speak their truth and preserve the many-voiced chorus of our common history.