43: more than a number

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong. Abraham Lincoln

On September 26, the police forces intercepted buses transporting students from Ayotzinapa Normal School in Guerrero, Mexico and the ensuing clash resulted in the death of 6 people and the disappearance of 43 students.

When separated by a label “students” or a number “43,” it is easy for us to forget that Jonas Gonzalez, Antonio Maestro, Marco Molina and Jose Torres (only four of the 43 missing) had hopes, dreams and families that they loved and lived for.

To some these students were rabble-rousers, but to others these students were breaking the cycle of poverty and lack of education.  Their disappearance leaves far more than 43 empty chairs in the classrooms of Ayotzinapa, it leaves a gaping ache in the lives of their loved ones who were left behind and countless dreams unfulfilled.

With them they carry their dreams of creating a better Mexico, a Mexico that stretches far beyond a land ridden with drugs, violence and cartel activity.  They, and many others, dared to dream of Mexico where children were not bound to a life in poverty, but garnered the tools to live the life they choose for themselves.  Faced with obstacles, they didn’t cower down to life, they rose up- even to the government- to be the change they hoped to see in the world.

They understood the power a teacher has to change the world of his or her students. . . They believed in the power of education to transform the world they lived.  They believed that their individual lives mattered.  They aren’t the 43 disappeared students.

Son 43 companeros, 43 vidas. . .  (They are 43 of our peers, those are 43 lives). . .

said Ernesto Guerrero, who survived the clash, in an interview with VICE news.

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No eres tu, soy yo

No eres tú, soy yo , a 2010 Mexican film,tells the story of a Mexican surgeon, Javier, whose wife leaves him shortly after their wedding. It shows his desperate and often seemingly pathetic way of trying to move on without actually letting go.

Director Alejandro Springall does a phenomenal job showing Javier’s transition from maintaining an unrequited hope, desperation to healing and reconciliation with himself.  He tells the story of a man who is forced to look inward to find beauty and healing.

The movie subtly tells the story of a love that exists beyond a check-list of “Mr. Right” or “The One.”  It shows that love comes in all shapes, forms and packages—- and it finds us how and when we least expect it.

Javier finds it in the clumsy and to his surprise single-mother, Julia, who makes her living working at a pet store.  Julia shows up to their first date with her elementary aged son.  Javier initially reacts with a seemingly disappointed face, but quickly regains his composure and asks Julia and her son to stay.

No eres tu, soy yo challenges movie viewers to step outside of their boxes and see someone as they are: a human being searching for love.  It may not show up in a 6’1”, PhD package, but the one who is eye to eye with you.

Sometimes love is found in the person who knows better than you what your second favorite flower is, the person who understands “Green” by Brendan James, sends flowers on October 24th, the one who asks the questions that no one else dared to ask, “What middle name would you choose?” Or, isn’t afraid to make plans with you.

Love may find you weeks later at 2 a.m. when you check the results of the Cowboys v. Giants game and realize that their most recent win is one step closer to a playoff game.

It may not be the person who holds you all night long, but the one who shares a safe space with you where time ceases to exist.

What if finding the one is on the other side of giving someone a chance who you otherwise normally wouldn’t date?

What if it is simply allowing yourself to embrace someone as they are rather than checking off a list of expectations or demands that he or she must meet?

 

Is silence the next step?

What is the future of journalism in Mexico, and does it even exist? If so, in what context?

Will Mexico become a country that distorts the facts, reports the truth or turns a blind eye to its problems?

Mexico is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.  In the state of Veracruz, more than ten journalists have been killed since 2010.  Between January and September 2013, more than 225 attacks on journalists were reported in Mexico.  These attacks do not take into account those who have disappeared or were too afraid to report their attack.  With death threats against foreign correspondents, kidnappings and killings of local journalists and most recently the tracking and killing of citizen journalists the future of journalism in Mexico seems uncertain.

There are journalists and bloggers who seem unabashed by the risk of reporting the truth, but there are those who have chosen silence.

With thousands of journalists forced to adopt the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” mantra, is there a reliable source for news in Mexico? Already thousands of people have turned to online social media pages to read about issues in their area that are not being reported by the local or state newspapers.  Valor Por Tamaulipas, Blog Del Narco and local Twitter and Facebook pages are some of the sites residents use to find out what is going on in Mexico.

There seemed to be a recent trend in citizen journalism, but the safety and anonymity of online reporting comes into question especially since the most recent killing of well-known online reporter “Felina.”  Is there a safe way or even viable way to report the truth in Mexico anymore?

Will the violence waged by the cartels awaken in the Mexican people a sleeping giant whose mouthpiece will be heard all over the world?

Amores Perros

I have been enamored with the idea of love since I was a little girl. But, what if love isn’t the way I feel after I listen to the live version of “Crazy Beautiful” that Andy Grammer played in Boston or the way my eyes light up when I think of the person or object of my love?

What if love is hard?

What if love isn’t a romanticized feeling that Hollywood often depicts?  What if love-is in fact- hard, messy and complex?

What if truly loving something means letting it go, or in “El Chivo” from the Spanish film Amores Perros (Love is a Bitch) case it means seeing your daughter grow up from a distance?

The film depicts the complexities of love.  It depicts “El Chivo” as a man who went to prison when his daughter was 2-years-old.  In an attempt to save his daughter from the shame of having a father in prison, he let her believe he was dead.  When he is released from prison he tracks down his daughter and saves any money he earns to give to her.  A hired hit-man, El Chivo breaks down when he confesses to his daughter,

“Not one day has passed that I have not thought of you.”

El Chivo’s reaction to his daughter explores a human element to all of us.  It shows that even a hired hit man and violent offender understands in his or her own way the complexities of love.

Amores Perros explores seemingly taboo topics on love: an interrelated love triangle, dysfunctional sibling relationships, the vain foundation of some relationships and how, in this film at least, all of these stories intertwine with one another.

The love triangle between the two brothers, Ramiro and Octavio, and Ramiro’s wife, Susana begins when Octavio becomes frustrated with the way his brother treats Susana.  Ramiro verbally and physically abuses his wife while Octavio steps in to defend, protect and provide for her.  Susana initially dismisses Octavio’s advances, but eventually succumbs to having an affair and planning to runaway with Octavio.

Then, there is the story of Daniel and Valeria.  Daniel leaves his wife and two daughters for his super-model lover, Valeria.  Everything seems to be going well for the couple until Valeria is injured in car accident that initially leaves her wheel-chair bound.  The couple work through her injuries, but as Valeria loses a major modeling contract and slips into a depression, Daniel starts backing away.  Eventually, Valeria’s leg has to be amputated.  Daniel is shown calling his ex-wife and the love he once swore to Valeria seems to be nothing more than a mere bane desire.

What if love isn’t the superficial notions we once grew up believing?

What if it isn’t simply “the spark” we claim to feel when we’re with the one we love, but, rather the willingness to struggle alongside that person?

Carmen, Enrique and the writing of a book

Several years ago, journalist Sonia Nazario had a conversation with her housekeeper “Carmen” that changed the trajectory of her life as a journalist.  Suddenly Nazario found herself catapulted into the story that is now known as the “border children.”  Long before the immigrant children carrying Ebola into the United States made headlines in our news media, Nazario had completed the trip that thousands of people make every year in an attempt to get to the United States.

Enrique’s Journey,” Nazario’s journey is the story of 17-year-old Honduran boy who travels from his hometown in Honduras to Orlando, Florida in search of his mother.  The journey began when Enrique was only five-years-old and his mother left him in Honduras while she worked in the United States.  Nazario stated that the absence of Enrique’s mother created a sense of loneliness that Enrique could never move past.  She stated that the sense of longing and questions drove Enrique to leave his home in Honduras and search for his mother. . . He had one question.

Do you love me?

She explained that the children who came ten years ago are coming for entirely different reasons than the children who are fleeing their native countries today.  Nazario cited that the current situation in Central America has created what is now a refugee crisis on the United States-Mexican border.  She reported that increased gang violence, kidnappings and threats have forced thousands of children to flee their homes in search of safety.

While speaking at the Chicago Cultural Center this month, Nazario stated that she has made the same journey these children have made from Honduras to the United States on two separate occasions.  A journey that she said forced her into therapy following an attempted rape.

Nazario urged attendees that change is possible.  She stated that rather than simply addressing the current border crisis there is a need to address the root of the problem by creating a stable economy in the countries these children are fleeing from.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that served as a catalyst for something greater?  Looking back, what was that experience like?

If the cartels read poetry

What if terrorists, cartel members and violent offenders read poetry?  What if they learned to lose themselves in the words of Pablo Neruda, Paulo Coelho, Rumi, Emily Dickinson, Victor Hugo, Langston Hughes or even a lesser known poet or writer?  What if they-like journalists-learned the language of words: the beauty and emotions they evoke?  What if they understood that words have the power to change and alter our moods in a far greater way than drugs?

What if instead of being defined as a person who uses violence to evoke terror or force people into submission they wrote in a way that evoked social change?

What if they stopped being defined as a “cartel” member and instead opted to serve as an individual human being described as the individual in Mary Oliver’s The Journey poem?

. . . But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own. . .

Or, what if they related to the words of Octavio Paz?

Between now and now,
between I am and you are,
the word bridge.

What if instead of reigning terror on Mexico-that has cost the lives of more than 60,000 people since 2006- the members in the cartel nurtured their obvious business savviness into a legitimate global business enterprise?  What if life in Mexico could be different than what it is today?

Every day journalists are forced to be silent and turn a blind eye to the violence that plagues Mexico.  Those who have spoken up count as one of the thousands of people who have been killed or disappeared in Mexico. . .  It’s hard to even imagine the Mexico I once knew: the Mexico where I could cross without fear and walk around aimlessly through the streets of Reynosa.

The use of poetry or literature is not to make light of the death of any of these people, but to evoke a question, would a better quality education change the course of Mexico?  Would it help to eliminate the daily terror millions of Mexicans live with every single day?

A story worth dying for?

Have you ever celebrated Lent or for whatever reason fasted or given up something you love?

Can you imagine running for 212 consecutive days or going more than 133 days without eating any sweets?  I couldn’t. But, every moment since I made these commitments areas of my character that previously laid dormant were exposed.

For any person to change a habit or give up something they love there has to be an internal motivation that gives them the strength to keep going when the going gets tough.

Each of us has dreams, passions and interests that we invest ourselves in, but how committed are we to these things? Are we willing to die for them?

I don’t mean a heroic notion celebrating our life’s accomplishments, but a truth gripping, silently brutal, lonesome and painful death.  Are you willing to die as a seemingly nameless human being?

Thousands of Mexican journalists, bloggers and citizens journalists have been threatened, disappeared, been kidnapped and or murdered for daring to report on cartel activity.  Their deaths and disappearances are underreported. . . and tragically, the majority of their stories will only live on through their loved ones and the ones that were left behind.  But, there are those whose death shakes and inspires others to live boldly.

Last week, “Felina” an online citizen journalist who was notorious for speaking up about cartel violence was kidnapped and murdered.  Her kidnappers gained access to her Twitter account and tweeted photographs of her before and after she was killed.  Felina is only one of the many Mexican journalists who have lost their lives fighting to tell the truth.  She lived and gave her life with an extraordinary courage that makes me wonder: what made these stories worth dying for?  What would drive a doctor by profession to put her life on the line when countless others choose to stay silent?

“An angel that gave her life, her future, her security, for the good of the people in our state. Today Miut3 stopped reporting, but what criminals do not know, is that Miut3 is in our soul and she will never leave us, or surrender to organized crime.”  – Valor Por Tamaulipas posted this on their Facebook following her death.

Her life was threatened several times before and a bounty was offered for her, but none of the threats ever stopped her and her colleagues from reporting about cartel activity.  Telling the story of her people and even giving her life to be a voice meant more to her than life itself.  Truly, how many of us when faced with death would it embrace it so boldly and valiantly?