Desperately needed: “Hearts as Big as Cities”


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!

Tragedy in Paris: A Lesson from Michael Jackson

From under the tragic stupor of the horrors unleashed in Paris, we are urgently ushered to foregone conclusions. The cheerleaders for maintaining the status quo work overtime to ensure blame’s proper placement and the enemy’s clear identification.

Every minute detail will be breathlessly dissected to write the history of now. The gallingly predictable might-makes-right, crime-and-punishment, eye-for-an-eye narratives that buttress all this madness are making their play for hearts and minds.

I am determined to not be counted among the unfortunate dupes of this insidious ruse. Above all, I wish to shout-out humanity, and to join the chorus of an alternative, hopeful narrative, one that we must write. As part of the soundtrack to this appeal to the best humanity has to offer, I submit Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”:

time = change

change is good.
(and it’s inevitable, as an aside)
might as well embrace it,
and enjoy the ride.

A Tale of Two “Rough Rides”

James Byrd, Jr.

Rough ride #1: On June 7th, 1998 James Bryd, Jr. was the victim of an unthinkably brutal, hate-motivated murder. A gang of white supremacists–a modern-day lynch mob–chained him to the back of their truck and dragged him for three and a half miles until his arm was severed and he was decapitated by a culvert. One of his murderers was executed in 2011. Another was given life in prison. The third has a death sentence on hold pending appeal.

Freddie Gray
Freddie Gray

Rough ride #2: On April 19, 2015 Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr. died in police custody following an illegal arrest. He was not afforded even a modicum of the most basic respect for human life and compassion by his executioners. His cries for vital medical attention fell on deaf ears as he was subjected to a state-sanctioned “rough ride” that severed his spine. Six officers now face charges in his death. (As an aside, could you imagine them facing charges if the people hadn’t risen up in rebellion in Baltimore? I doubt it.)

Media reports have revealed that “rough ride” tactics are a commonplace for law enforcement across the country. Black men are still without sanctuary in this country. Freddie Gray’s killers must face the consequences of their murderous actions.

A Dream Deferred, 2015

Deferred… no longer
















No longer…

Genocide is the word…

The details of the history surrounding the Turkish genocide of the Armenian people are not well known to me. I know that every year, around Earth Day, many people can be seen flying a vibrant primary-colored flag from cars, homes and storefront windows. I’ve encountered some lively demonstrations in different sections of Los Angeles over the years, and although I’ve looked on them sympathetically, I’ve never taken up the cause as my own.

Turkish Genocide of Armenian People

Several months ago, my wife and I moved to Glendale, a beautiful city that’s home to a significant portion of the Armenian diaspora (only Moscow’s surpasses Los Angeles’ Armenian community). Since we’ve been here, I’ve made some minor inroads into learning about Armenian people and their culture–and I’m definitely hungry for more.

While I’m not well-versed in the particulars of historical or present-day Armenia and its diaspora, I do know that a spade is a spade. That might seem a trivial point, but things have names for at least a couple of important reasons: to designate that which they are, and to differentiate them from that which they are not.

For deeply cynical political reasons (i.e. wanting to maintain favorable ties with Turkey as a base for U.S. marauding in the Middle East) Obama has again refused to utter the one word millions long–and deserve–to hear: “genocide”. The British ruling class has also taken this brazenly cynical stance (as they’ve also done in unwaveringly supporting U.S. military conquest in the Middle East).

While this is stunning, unfortunately it isn’t surprising. The powers-that-be in the U.S. are well-versed in the meaning–and practice–of genocide. In fact, genocide of the original peoples of this continent was the sine qua non of its invasion and conquest. Professor Ward Churchill, in his book A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, delves deftly into the history of genocide globally and its deniers.

Coincidentally, on a recent trip to Sonoma, I serendipitously encountered a very powerful essay precisely on this topic, entitled “National Hypocrisy: Why Do We Dare to Call It Genocide?” by Elbert “Big Man” Howard, one of the founders of the great Black Panther Party. He applies the term “genocide” to a number of historical and present-day realities, including the police killings and mass incarceration of our youth of color here in Uncle Sam’s back yard.

The closing paragraph of his essay is particularly salient in these times of genocide-denial as mass-media spectacle. It resonates deeply, as the need to call things by their true names, and to act based on such an understanding, pervades so many dimensions of our collective (global) her/history and present-day reality.

Big Man concludes:

It is of necessity and urgency, that in order to recognize and understand our present situation and strive for change, we must tie America’s history of genocide and racism to our current history, to our so-called system of democracy, which is fundamentally hypocrisy, and to the lives of our lost youths of color at the hands of this system. It is of dire necessity that we do all we can to enlighten our children, for that is what we owe them, and their futures depend on it.

I couldn’t agree with the Big Man more. Let’s enlighten ourselves and our children so that genocide can be spoken of exclusively in the past tense. Let’s strive for that change.

Man Kills Himself Holding ‘Tax The 1%’ in Front of Capitol—and Nobody Hears About It | Alternet

Man Kills Himself Holding ‘Tax The 1%’ in Front of Capitol—and Nobody Hears About It | Alternet.

This is a must-read article (click link above)! The following are comments I posted on the Daily Kos website via my disqus account:

“I’m with you all day 33.333!!! I hear you. Sadly, I also hear the soul-screams of the men burning to death (as they doubtless burned bright in life) with no Jon Snow to put them out of their misery with a swift, compassionate arrow. Mance Rayder could never touch their tragic nobility. Yet Mance’s name will be in madd people’s mouths while these true heroes languish in the swamp of media-blackout-land. Good thing for humanity we have knowledge-archaeologists like yourself, steady exhuming the remains of the lost and forgotten. Teach on, my friend. Be well! :)”

The Old Ways of Anza-Borrego: A Journey Photographic

In his magnificent book The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, Robert Macfarlane binds human imagination and endeavor to their inextricable roots in the routes we traverse. Listening to the audio book with my wife as we returned from a great adventure in the Anza-Borrego desert, his overstanding words couldn’t have resonated to greater profundity. Several choice sound-bites stood out as delightfully apropos to our splendid sojourn. Take in these words. Let them meander through your thought-life as you wander visually through these collective memories. Carry them with you wherever you may go.

“As I envisage it, landscape projects into us, not like a jetty or peninsula—finite and bounded in its volume or reach—but instead as a kind of sunlight, flickeringly unmappable in its plays, yet often quickening and illuminating.”

“For some time it has seemed to me that the two questions we should ask of any strong landscape are these: firstly, ‘What do I know when I am in this place that I can know nowhere else?’ and then, vainly, ‘What does this place know of me that I cannot know of myself?’”

Referring to Edward Thomas, the “guiding spirit” of his book, Macfarlane says:

“And the Icknield Way—with its uncertain history, its disputed routes and its debatable limits—becomes in Thomas’ hands a metaphor for the unknown domains that attend our beginnings, and our ends.”

Stretch your wings.
Span back, and forward, as far as the feathered tips will permit.
And take flight…

For Charly Leundeu Keunang aka Charley Saturmin Robinet aka Brother Africa

A beautiful human being lost his life here! Homeless lives matter! Jail the killer cops!

Does a rose by any other name not smell as sweet?

Does a person that goes by another name cease to be a child of Mother Earth?

What do the words “serve” and “protect” mean?

serve: to be a servant, a person who is devoted to or guided by something
protect: to keep (someone or something) from being harmed, lost, etc.

No excuses.

If you’re charged with serving and protecting the people,
you put your own life on the line every day for them.
You’re devoted to the people.
You’re guided by your commitment to their well-being.
Your mission is to keep them from harm.
All of them. Period.

Yet, so many fall at the hands of the police.
So many served nothing more than a volley of bullets.
So many robbed of protection, and life.
So many stripped of their humanity.

Brother Africa was a fellow human being.
He’ll never be replaced.
He’ll never see his chance to shine on the silver screen.
He’ll never set foot back in his native Cameroon,
feel the African sun on his hopeful face.
Never again will friends and loved ones
bask in the majesty of his humanity.

Some of us never knew you,
but we won’t forget you.
And those who did will carry
those indelible marks,
only you could leave.

Farewell, Brother Africa!


People paying their respects.

p.s. — This was my humble attempt to speak poetically to this tragedy. Countless others have done so much more effectively and beautifully than I can muster. Here’s a link to a magnificently damning collection of poems I found at the Black & Blue blog:

And just to whet the appetite, here are a couple pieces I’ve cut and pasted from the collection:

Southern Cop
By Sterling Brown

Let us forgive Ty Kendricks.
The place was Darktown. He was young.
His nerves were jittery. The day was hot.
The Negro ran out of the alley.
And so Ty shot.

Let us understand Ty Kendricks.
The Negro must have been dangerous.
Because he ran;
And here was a rookie with a chance
To prove himself a man.

Let us condone Ty Kendricks
If we cannot decorate.
When he found what the Negro was running for,
It was too late;
And all we can say for the Negro is
It was unfortunate.

Let us pity Ty Kendricks.
He has been through enough,
Standing there, his big gun smoking,
Rabbit-scared, alone,
Having to hear the wenches wail
And the dying Negro moan.


Black Power
(For All the Beautiful Black Panthers East)
By Nikki Giovanni

But the whole thing is a miracle – See?

We were just standing there
talking – not touching or smoking
When this cop told
Move along buddy – take your whores
outa here

And this tremendous growl
From out of nowhere
Pounced on him

Nobody to this very day
Can explain
How it happened

And none of the zoos or circuses
Within fifty miles
Had reported
A panther

Questlove shares the amazing story of meeting Robin Williams in an elevator

He was a Roots fan too?!! Awesome body of work… tragic loss.

Consequence of Sound

The sad news of Robin Williams apparent suicide at the age of 63 is still settling in. As we fondly remember the movie moments the comedian gave us, others are looking back on how he personally touched their lives. For his part, The Roots’ drummer Questlove posted an Instagram of Mork and Mindy-era Williams and shared his story about the band meeting the actor on one fateful elevator ride. Read his full statement below:

Man. The smallest gesture can mean the world to you. Robin Williams made such an impact on me and didn’t even know it. He named checked all of us in the elevator during the 2001 Grammys. I know y’all think I do this false modesty/T Swift “gee shucks” thing to the hilt. But yeah sometimes when you put 20 hour days in you do think it’s for naught and that it goes thankless. Grammy time is…

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Imagine a better world in the new year…

As we enter the new year, and cross the threshold of what’s to come, talk of resolutions abounds. Yearnings to be better, do better, and live better find their manifestation in personal goals for the future. While this is an important exercise in self-reflection and (hopefully) self-actualization, nevertheless we should also cast our gaze to a more distant, heroic horizon. We should embrace the spirit of John Lennon’s timeless anthem Imagine: let’s dare to dream of a better world for all humanity.

What might a better world entail? Well… what’s life like for our fellow human beings around the globe? What did their 2013 bring, and what hopes do they hold for 2014? Let’s look to our neighbors in Mexico, where the constitution has just been re-written after 75 years to allow international penetration into the oil sector. This was one of the last remaining sovereign sectors of Mexico’s economy. What kind of hope does 2014 hold, then, for our neighbors to the south?

There’s a beautiful and moving song by the Puerto Rican hip hop group Calle 13 entitled Latinoamerica The chorus declares:
“You cannot buy the wind,
you cannot buy the sun,
you cannot buy the rain,
you cannot buy the heat,
you cannot buy the clouds,
you cannot buy the colors,
you cannot buy my happiness,
you cannot buy my pain.”

In short, humanity and the planet are not for sale. And yet, capitalism insists on turning a profit off of them, off of us. We cannot accept the notion that the best we can hope for in the new year is simply some personal gain. Let’s set our aspirations beyond our selves… and imagine a better world. Yeah, I’m a dreamer… and I’m not the only one. I hope you’ll join us.

1000 Gratitudes

A personal project to increase happiness by 30%

Athena Sky Interpreting

Interpreting, Translation and Interpreter Training