Tag Archives: Virgin Qualities
I believe the remarks that President Obama delivered in Tucson, a fraction of which I’ve copied below, may prove as memorable as Lincoln’s remarks at Gettysburg. They come at a pivotal time, when the mental health of one individual has called into focus the national mental miasma. Has the United States become unbalanced? Or rather, has polarized rhetoric left a gaping hole in the center of who we are as a people? The fulcrum we seek — no, need — may well be epitomized by the sharply felt absence of Christina Taylor Green. But in her physical absence, what nine-year-old Christina symbolizes is a powerful spiritual presence. She represents those virgin qualities that each of us longs for at the core of our being, the state of being unbroken, un-fragmented, un-invaded, un-captured, focused, whole and intact.
We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.
That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.
I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.
The President might well have added one more Bible quotation to the ones he so aptly chose to include in his entire speech. Isaiah prophesied an end to polarization when he saw the wolf dwelling with the lamb, and the leopard lying down with the kid. Whether one takes the verse literally or metaphorically, the determining factor is clear: “a little child shall lead them.” Children, simply by the force of being what they are, lead us out of and away from what would destroy us. Perhaps our collective memory of this particular child will sharpen our resolve to simply be better.
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.
I’m writing this piece under the solemn gaze of a four-year-old girl who is waiting to show me the killer dance moves she has learned from watching Shakira. “Espérate,” I tell Valeria. Wait a while. Like about eleven more years, please.
Quincianeras are celebrated in Mexico when a young girl reaches fifteen years old. They mark an official passage into womanhood. For one day of her life she changes costumes more times than Cher, gets the kind of attention Miley Cyrus takes for granted, and her parents hire a band to play sentimental songs like “Turnaround” from the Kodak commercial. Larry and I were invited to a big quincianera this past weekend.
I think we scored tickets because the proud papa at first considered staging it in our RV park. There have been parties there before because it’s pretty, paved, and has plenty of bathrooms and electrical outlets. It’s also private and easily secured, a major consideration these days when Mexicans throw a big party. It was available because with travel advisories against driving in Mexico, we’re not getting a whole lot of business.
But Papa’s guest list grew and grew, and our little RV park was not big enough for a sit-down dinner for five hundred, a VIP lounge area, a dance floor and a twelve-piece band from Guadalajara. Papa eventually rented Hacienda La Peñita, a square city block studded with towering palms, and enclosed by high stonewalls. It’s dreamy beautiful, but in the whole place there is only one outside electric outlet and not one easily accessible bathroom. No problema. There’s not a lot you can’t accomplish in Mexico if you’ve got pesos. Papa hired a semi-truck with fancy built-in restrooms, and a substantial “gratuity” insured a direct hook-up to a nearby power pole. Within hours the Hacienda was transformed.
The invitation said a partir de las ocho. “If it begins at eight o’clock,” I thought,” leaving at nine will make us fashionably on time — according to Latin standards.” I am married to a man whose lights go dim before the evening news, so leaving for a party around nine in the evening was a major challenge for him, let alone putting on a tie. But just after nine, we approached the Hacienda slowly, very slowly, cruising for a parking place, subjecting our open, honest faces to the scrutiny of armed guards who were posted on all four sides of the party place. Papa greeted us, seemed overjoyed that we’d come, and led us to a table with the four other gringos in attendance. We were obviously early.
We also thought we’d scrubbed up pretty well, but we didn’t hold a candle to the glamour that surrounded us. My Mexican neighbor had counseled me about quincianera protocol. She told me to expect elegance — una noche de largas mantelas – literally, a night of long tablecloths. Party after party of the most beautiful and stylish people gradually populated the tables around us. Languidly, guests staked claim to white-shrouded tables — and stayed there. Maybe it’s just hard to mingle on a soft lawn when you’re wearing four-inch heels. It was honored-daughter, with her attendant court of young men and women, who promenaded from table to table, greeting guests, allowing plenty of time to take in the details of each others’ dress. The young men were seamless in their manners, their partners accepting their attentions with a grace engrained since kindergarten.
There were also lots of waiters, bearing lots of wine, lots of tequila, and eventually – wait for it, because we did — dinner rolls. I’d fed us a little something before going, but the combination of soft dinner music and growing hunger pangs were putting a glaze in Larry’s eyes. Soup was finally served about ten thirty, cream of corn with a hint of curry, but Larry gave up around eleven and took a cab home. The entrees arrived about twenty minutes later, a variety of coconut shrimp, filet mignon, and garlic-laced dorado with side salads of baby lettuces and blackberries. Just before midnight, an MC took the stage and announced that honored daughter had una sorpresita for us – a little surprise. Serve Larry right for leaving early. Not only did he miss the meal. He missed her belly dance, complete with appropriate drapery.
It was after midnight before the live band struck up with Latin rhythms that finally pried guests away from the long tablecloths and out onto the dance floor. There were trumpets, drums, choreography and vocals that rocked the neighborhood. The teen-age queen had yet another costume change, and when I left just before one, the lively part of the evening was just getting started.
Are the rhythms of Mexican life really that much different than those of their northern neighbors? Concerning party times, manners, and table service, yep, they are. But some things move at the same pace north or south of the border – like waiting forever for a grown up to finish what she’s doing, or watching a young girl grow up in the blink of an eye. I’m almost finished, Valeria. I’ll watch you dance. It will only be a moment, and then it will be — gone.
I met Karen Figueres this morning at breakfast. She was upset. She’d flown in from Costa Rica to Boston yesterday, and in Miami had received word that her country had been invaded. She was hoping she could find something about the situation on U.S. television news yesterday evening. OK, you can stop laughing now. Not about the invasion, but about the chances she would find any news about it anywhere on American television. And you can start laughing again, because evidently it was a big misunderstanding caused by a Nicaraguan military commander using Google maps. Google maps about this area are wrong.
But Karen’s distress was real. You see, she’s a former First Lady of Costa Rica — twice. It was her husband Jose Figueres Ferrer who abolished Costa Rica’s army back in the 1950’s. That was one of the accomplishments of his first term in office. Among others, he also granted blacks and women the right to vote. Because of meeting her this morning (we were introduced via Facebook by a mutual friend), and thinking all day that her country was being invaded, I’ve been reading about him on wikipedia. I’d say more about him here, but it’s been a very long day. I’ll let you follow the wikipedia link and see if you agree with me — Jose sounds like someone who didn’t do things in the usual way — definitely a guy who was in touch with his Inner Guadalupe.
Posting an addition to this entry after a friend shared a link of official media photos.