Support Proyecto Jardín: A Call to Thought and Action

Human rights and responsibilities

Inherent in a proper notion of human rights is its inseparable companion of human responsibilities. Humanity shines brightest when a spirit of care and stewardship infuses our communion with our fellow humans, our sister species, and our mother Earth. Whatever our faith or non-faith may be, together we can learn to respect and nurture this earthly trinity for the benefit of all.

Taking care of… the planet

Proyecto Jardín is a movement on the front lines of defending and expanding the most fundamental of human rights: the right to work in concert with nature to receive sustainable sustenance from its bounty. It is a life-giving oasis in the midst of Boyle Heights, one of our hyper-urbanized planet’s food deserts. It is a safe, liberating space that radiates empowerment.

Of rights and wrongs

And now, outrageously, it is facing elimination by usurpation. White Memorial Medical Center, the garden’s landlord, is planning to evict Proyecto Jardín in order to impose their own plans without input or participation from the community that’s made the garden into the thriving space it has become. Fortunately, Proyecto Jardín is nowhere near ready to go quietly into that goodnight.

Join the struggle

Proyecto Jardín urgently needs your support. This Saturday, January 30th they will be hosting an event at the garden from 9am to 5pm. Come out to show your solidarity. You can also help get the word out on social media by liking their Facebook page and sharing the event posting.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you out there! 🙂

Lessons from History for the Here and Now: Thoughts Inspired by “When Muslims Admired the West and Were Admired Back”

I highly recommend reading this article (link below) by UCLA history professor Nile Green. We need to learn more from the lessons of history as we endeavour to forge mutually enriching ties between Muslims and the “western world” in the present.

One of the key elements of such community, as the article illuminates, is the recognition of and unity in universal struggles across cultural frontiers. Insistence on this emancipatory principle is one of the reasons I find Slavoj Zizek’s works so compelling, and timely.

In the article, the Muslim students living abroad in London admired and learned from the feminist struggle there, and were moved to action. What could be more universal–and inspiring–than that?!

The only area where I see a need for expansion is with regard to the mutuality of responsibility to reach out and learn from the “other”. The onus cannot be solely on Muslims to do so. We all, as human beings, share in this fundamental responsibility. And in so doing we are walking the exhilarating walk of making a better world. Let’s do this!

Read and share the article here: Zócalo Public Square :: When Muslims Admired the West and Were Admired Back

Desperately needed: “Hearts as Big as Cities”

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As a Spanish interpreter, I’m constantly in a position to have others speak through me. It’s an honor and a solemn duty to strive to convey their messages safely across cultural frontiers. While my work deals in the crossing of metaphorical borders, vast and growing swathes of humanity (including most of the people I serve) know intimately the perils of traversing actual borders.

These are the least among the outcasts of today’s global capitalism, the base of those of us comprising Earth’s ninety-nine-plus percent. If there’s a lesson recent events should drive home for us, it’s this: we all must band together and support one another, recognizing that we’re all human beings on this planet. This week I had the tremendous fortune of interpreting for a woman who is precisely this ethic incarnate.

Olga Sánchez Martínez (pictured above) is a tireless warrior for the people who are most acutely feeling the suffocating squeeze of global capitalism’s vise. Extraordinary circumstances in her own life led her to undertake an extraordinary mission for the lives of others. She is the founder and coursing lifeblood of the Albergue Jesús el Buen Pastor del Pobre y el Migrante shelter in Tapachula, Chiapas, just across the Guatemalan border in southern Mexico.

As documented in Sonia Nazario’s national bestseller Enrique’s Journey, Ms. Sánchez Martínez is on the front lines of a great exodus underway here in the western hemisphere. She works  to provide shelter, medical care and the basic  necessities of life for those she finds most in need. They are primarily Central American refugees, fleeing the scourge of deprivation, gangs and devastation ravaging their homeland.

They are men, women and children who are running for their lives. In their quest for survival, many of them are maimed and lose limbs to the infamous “Death Train” freighters that connect southern Mexico to el norte. The tragic result of this deluge of disasters is that the migrants end up in a seemingly hopeless limbo where their disabilities won’t allow them to pursue their “American dream” up north, yet returning home is certain death. Many struggle to find a reason to keep living.

In steps Olga. Beyond a roof and basic needs, her shelter aims to provide prostheses, crutches and wheelchairs for the newly disabled. She and her modest team of mostly volunteers tend to the wounds, both physical and psychological, of those they take in. They train migrants in vital skills like baking, and donut sales become a fundraiser for the shelter.

To say that she operates on a shoestring would be a gross understatement. She has managed to fund her efforts by relying on the kindness of others, begging for donations on the street when necessary. The success she’s had up to this point is owing to her dogged determination to serve those in need. Presently, as the ranks of the needy are swelling, she is working to expand her efforts by opening a second shelter just for women and children.

In her presentations, in addition to the heart-wrenching stories of the individuals she has helped, she illuminates some of the basic ideas that animate her generosity of spirit and her undaunted optimism against all odds.
Smiling broadly, she says that:

* All around the world, people are the same. Race and skin color matter not.
* We all have dreams that we must and can make reality, if we work for them.
* Humanity needs “hearts as big as cities” to meet these challenges.

Finally, she entreats us to make this cause our own. Without our assistance, the vast and growing needs will continue to far outstrip the services she can provide. With our help, she can continue and expand her work. There are many dreams yet to be realized, owing to the scarcity of resources at her disposal. We can help, and grow our hearts in the process.

There are so many ways we can help. The only limitation is the scope of our imagination. Cash donations can be made, including donations made as a gift in others’ name (a great stocking-stuffer). Summer clothing, basic medical supplies (gauze, tape, etc.) and crutches, prosthetics and wheelchairs are needed. Volunteers are needed to work hands-on at the shelters. A virtual “street team” is needed to get the word out on social media and beyond. Help raise awareness among your social networks. Organize book clubs to read Enrique’s Journey. Host a potluck party fundraiser. Use you imagination. Get creative! And, share your ideas to inspire others.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions below, and I encourage you to take the initial step of sharing this post. ¡Sí, se puede!

On Education: A Clarion Call from Howard Gardner

intelligences

I first read this important article back in October. Since then I’ve been pondering the paradox of how, on the one hand, Gardner’s theory is truly straightforward and graspable, yet on the other hand it’s been widely misinterpreted and misapplied. This is not to say that the ideas are not complex, because they truly are. However, all educators are capable of understanding and creatively implementing them, if given the time, freedom and resources to do so. So, why, then, have these misunderstandings and misapplications emerged? What are the barriers that stand in the way of effectively implementing them?

Certainly a great many of these deviations could be simply owing to the fact that Gardner’s theories are novel ones. As with any new endeavor, early earnest attempts at execution will yield mixed results. However, it seems (as evinced by Gardner’s corrective, now 20 years later) that these misapplications represent a more fundamental disconnect from his insights. So, to me the question becomes, “What are the obstacles in today’s educational models that prevent the application of this crucial understanding?”

To answer this question, it’s important to look at the present state of education and the trajectory it’s currently on. Increasingly, the trend is toward homogenization–and not in any positive sense. This is reflected in the standardized-testing-sickness that afflicts our public schools and stifles educators’ and students’ creativity. It is also seen in the implementation of the Common Core Standards. Veteran educator Marion Brady lays out “Eight problems with Common Core Standards” that should be required reading and a focal point of conversation for everyone interested in education today.

Along with this suffocating homogenization comes degrading monetization, defined by Merriam-Webster as using something of value as a source of profit. The profit sought by the capitalists steering education today is not an exploration and realization of “the potentials of humanness” upheld as a primary goal by Marion Brady, and reflected in the hopes and dreams of most educators. Instead, it’s boiled down to the lowest common denominator of our communities being “best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy” (quoting from the Common Core Mission Statement). In other words, the inherently unequal and inhumane antagonisms of global capitalism are explicitly woven into these fatally flawed standards.

Within this framework, we can see why Gardner’s primary lessons for educators, to simultaneously individualize and pluralize, run into a brick wall. With the first key ingredient–individualization–the need for smaller class sizes becomes crucial. This enables teachers to really get to know and assess their students on a one-to-one basis, and to utilize techniques that make learning accessible to all. Gardner also cites the value of “apps” in this regard, but I’ve yet to engage the relevant research. Nevertheless, we should continue to insist on smaller class sizes, and not accept the lie that the funds aren’t sufficient or available. When the government decided to bail out the banks, no such limits were imposed.

As for the second key ingredient–pluralization–this is directly undermined by standardized testing. Teachers are obligated to “teach to the test”, and increasingly their jobs hang in the balance, depending on how well their students have been trained to regurgitate facts and figures. Little space is left, then, for educators to creatively ply their craft and bring students forward as inquisitive, optimistic human beings. Perhaps the most insidious result of this miseducation is the disillusionment with education itself fostered in students, and even in teachers.

In closing, it’s important that voices of opposition stand up and fight for a far better vision of education than the one that’s being driven by the Gates Foundation and others whose interests are located outside of the classroom. Their goal is to more fully infuse the dog-eat-dog outlook of capitalism into education and convert it into yet another arena for profit-making. We must reject this path and unite with the people of Mexico, Canada, and many other places around the world who are also swimming against the educational tide, as if the future depends on it–because it does. And it must be a grassroots movement, comprised first and foremost of students, teachers, parents and communities. A recent Washington Post article revealed that the leader of the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union is joining forces with a former union-busting governor and businessman to promote the Common Core. If we want justice, we need to draw on our greatest strength: just us.