Category Archives: United States

I March For My Niece

My niece, Emely, is nine years old. She is bright, and funny, and loves to read, and loves math, and wants to become a singer and actress. A couple of years ago she had a list of books she wanted me to buy for her. Of course, as a bibliophile, I complied and bought all the books she asked me for and more. When I visited her again, she told me about one of the books I had given her.img_7249

I still remember when Emely started school. Since Emely grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, when she started school she didn’t speak English. She learned the language from her teachers and her classmates. On one occasion, when I asked her to speak Spanish with us and use English for other conversations in order to help her stay bilingual, she said something that shook me to my core. “Spanish is UUUUGLY!” she said. With a heavy heart, I asked her why she said that. She said that everyone in school said it. Spanish is ugly. English is beautiful.

I have talked with Emely about the importance of learning as many languages as she can. I have told her about the importance of using both English and Spanish to communicate, and to take any opportunity she might have in the future at school to learn other languages. I have told her how proud we are of her. I have continued to make sure that she is proud of her Mexican heritage and that she understands what it means to be a USAmerican too. I have shared with her my own Puerto Rican culture and heritage and have encouraged her to adopt what she might want to adopt from it. I have shared with her how wonderful it is to have a non-traditional family, and what a blessing it is that she has a wonderful, supportive, caring mother, and two dads, and so many uncles and aunts, and siblings who live in different homes, and a madrina and a padrino who care deeply for her.

img_7149Today, as a white supremacist, xenophobe, and sexual predator took the oath of office as President, I worry about Emely and her future as a Latina woman growing up in the USA. I know I cannot protect Emely or her brother all the time. I also know that her parents’ immigration status prevents them from providing all the protections that she – both of them, my niece and my nephew – deserve. But there are some things I can do. I can join the RESISTANCE and stand up for my niece.

And so, Emely, I will march tomorrow, Saturday, January 21st. Emely, I will answer the invitation from other women around the USA and the world to stand up to injustices against women. Even though you might be too young to understand, I will march because I love you, because I respect you, and because I believe in you as a woman.

There are also other reasons why I march in solidarity with my niece tomorrow. These are not the only ones, but here are some reasons to march:

I march because I believe that my niece Emely’s brown body is hers and only hers. No one, no matter what position of authority they might have, even if it’s the Presidency of the USA, has the right to touch your brown body, let alone grab it violently and without permission.

I march because I believe that you have the right to education, and that you have the right to make choices as to how far you want to take your education and what profession to pursue or not pursue. You have the right to access a job that is suitable to your abilities and your passions, and to be paid fairly and at the same rate than any male who will do the same job.img_9337

I march because, when the time comes for you to make choices about your body, it should be you, and only you, who make those decisions. Because your brown body is yours and deserves to be respected and honored. Because your brown skin is beautiful, and normal, and is neither “exotic” nor a stereotype to be paraded at the whim of those with power.

I march because I know that your parents can’t be exposed to deportation and because I want to continue being your uncle, not having to be your foster parent should something were to happen to my brother- and sister-in-law.

I march because I believe that, although you have been raised Roman Catholic, you should have the right to make the decision that makes YOU comfortable. I march because, if in the future you want to wear a hijab, you should be able to do it without fear of intimidation. I march because if in the future you choose not to believe in anything, you should not be punished for having no religion.

I march because I believe that you should feel safe in wearing whatever the hell you want to wear in public. I march because I believe that you should feel safe walking down the street and that no one should be cat-calling you, or intimidating you, or threatening your life and safety.

I march because I believe that you should be free to choose to love whomever you want to love, just as I love your uncle who gave me the blessing of being welcomed by this wonderful family that now both you and I, as outsiders, call “nuestra familia.” I march because I believe that you should love as many people as you wish to love and not being condemn for it.

I march because, if I march today, I know… I know… that by the time your Quinceañera comes, this will be a safer place for you and all your loved ones.

I could continue listing reasons to march, Emely, but I can’t. My eyes are filled with tears – you know how much I cry – and I can’t write anymore. But be sure, sobrina, I will march for you. I march for you, mi querida sobrina. I march because I know that staying home is not an option.

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Filed under Culture, discrimination, ethnicity, familia, Feminism, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, History, Human Rights, Identidad, Identity, immigration, justice, Latino, niña, niñez, niño, Peace, race, racism, resistance, Social Movements, United States, USA, Women rights

A Few Signs of Hope

I have to say that for most of the US American people, the next four years of a possible fascist-leaning regime are not the safest, nor is there much hope for most of the US American people (no, not even for the white poor who might have voted for the president-elect, as his policies *will not* benefit the larger society but just a few upper higher class individuals and corporations.)

However, I did see some glimpses of hope for the future. Sure, there is no way of knowing how many of us will survive the regime. And certainly, we can’t even say for sure whether the authoritarian democratically elected will actually follow the Constitution and rule for only the allotted time. But, for whatever time we might need to suffer this regime, the signs of a hopeful future are out there. img_0579

As I was talking a walk around the campus of the university near my office, I saw many messages of hope, acceptance, and support for minorities. This gave me some hope that many young people do understand the significance of this historical time. Perhaps the older generation are so fed up with democracy that they did not care about using their democratic rights to bring an authoritarian into power, but the next generations DO care about democracy and pluralism.

img_0586The resistance has continued to grow, and just like in previous authoritarian regimes, this time there will be martyrs and victors. Sure, the democracy of the USA has come to an end for the time being, but out of this coming regime a “more perfect union” will arise… Our youth are leading the way!

#RESISTANCE

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November 14, 2016 · 10:40 am

I Have No More Tears Today

Oh, no! She sits alone, the city that was once full of people.                     Once great among nations, she has become like a widow.                  Once a queen over provinces, she has become a slave.                             She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears on her cheek.                           None of her lovers comfort her. All her friends lied to her;                   they have become her enemies.                                                                          Lamentations 1.1-2

I have no more tears today. I have cried since last night.

I have cried for the future of my family.
I have cried over the prospect of having a Supreme Court that will undo my marriage, and with it, all the protections that my immigrant spouse has.
I have cried for the well-being of my niece and nephew whose parents might be taken away from them.
downloadI have cried for my other relatives who live and work and contribute to the economy of this country while not being able to access proper documentation.
I have cried for the prospect of my own, Congress-imposed US citizenship been revoked with no other alternative to fall back on.

I have cried for my friends.
I have cried for my gay, lesbian and bisexual friends whose rights are now at the hands of vice-president elect Pence, who has done all in his power to strip LGB Indianans of their rights.
I have cried for my transgender siblings whose lives are placed in great danger due to the same vice-president elect and his antics.
I have cried for the many women I know – young and old – whose safety is not guaranteed anymore as a sexual predator takes over the highest elected position in this country, thus giving permission to other predators to “grab”, to touch, to violate their beings.
I have cried for the workers of this country, whose wages are going to be frozen for decades to come and whose jobs are not guaranteed anymore as they are being shipped overseas as the president-elect has done with all the other bankrupt businesses he has run.
I have cried for the poor and sick who could barely access healthcare and had a last fighting chance with the soon-to-be-overthrown Affordable Care Act.

I have cried for humanity.
I have cried for the black community whose safety – which has never been guaranteed – will now face “stop and frisk” experiences with the proposed changes in law and order.
I have cried for the Native American communities whose ancestral lands will be desecrated without impunity.
I have cried with the immigrants and refugees who will no longer find relative safety in this country nor will they be welcomed to access it anymore.
I have cried with those of us who practice some form of faith – whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, or any other – whose religious liberties will be at the whim of the far-right Evangelical Christian camp that will dominate this fascist regime.
I have cried for the environment and all the relentless desecration that will occur.
I have cried for all the people of all the countries that the president-elect has promised to destroy making use of the military forces that are now under his control.
I have cried for all the children who will not be safe any longer for a generation or two as laws protecting them will be revoked.

I have no more tears today. The only thing that I still hold on to is the hope that the fascist government ahead will help this country wake up from its deep slumber and that it will shake it to its core as to make it see how terrifying the near future looks like.

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November 9, 2016 · 10:59 am

Vigil For LGBTQ Orlando Victims — Vigilia por las víctimas LGBTQ de Orlando

I shared these words with the Madison community during a vigil in honor of the victims of the recent massacre in Orlando. | Compartí estas palabras con la comunidad de Madison durante una vigilia en honor a las víctimas de la reciente masacre en Orlando.


image1

Rainbow flag with the names of the victims of the Orlando massacre. | Arcoiris de banderas con los nombres de las víctimas de la masacre de Orlando.

Buenas tardes, y gracias por decir “presente” en esta vigilia de recordación de nuestros hermanos y hermanas en Orlando. Soy el Rvdo. J. Manny Santiago, director ejecutivo de “The Crossing” un ministerio ecuménico para estudiantes en la Universidad de Wisconsin – Madison. Estaré compartiendo con ustedes unas palabras en español y luego en inglés. | Good afternoon and thank you for being here at this vigil honoring the siblings we lost in Orlando. I am the Rev. J. Manny Santiago, Executive Director of The Crossing campus ministry at the UW-Madison. I will share some words in Spanish first and then in English.

Español

No es fácil para mí el encontrar las palabras para compartir con nuestra comunidad. Hay ocasiones en el ministerio cuando tragedias como la que hemos sufrido nos dejan así: sin palabras, con dolor, con furia y confusión. Al mismo tiempo, sabemos que necesitamos levantar nuestras voces, ya sea para animarnos los unos a los otros, para denunciar injusticias o, en ocasiones, hasta para cuestionar la bondad de Dios cuando solo que podemos ver es violencia y muerte. Todo eso es parte del proceso de duelo y nadie nos debe decir que no sintamos estas cosas. Para mí, he pasado por todas esas etapas en menos de una semana: he sentido dolor, rabia, miedo, confusión y hasta he cuestionado la bondad de Dios que sirvo.

¿Por qué? Pues porque la tragedia de Orlando me ha tocado muy de cerca. No solamente tengo familia en Orlando – algunos de los cuales asisten al Club Pulse de vez en cuando – sino que, igual que la mayoría de las víctimas, soy Latino, puertorriqueño y abiertamente gay. Sí, soy un hombre Latino, pastor y gay. Desde pequeño escuché que esas cosas no podrían vivir juntas en una sola persona. Ese discurso de odio y rechazo que escuché de pequeño en la Iglesia me llevó a cuestionar, no solo mi identidad, sino el mismo amor de Dios y mi familia. Hoy muchas personas – políticos, líderes religiosos, etc. – están tratando de borrar las identidades de las víctimas de la masacre de Orlando. No queremos reconocer que son personas LGBTQ, no queremos reconocer que en su mayoría eran Latinos, no queremos reconocer que había entre ellos personas sin documentos… Algunas personas incluso han intentado poner a nuestras comunidades Latinas o LGBTQ en contra de la comunidad Musulmana.

Para mí, como persona de fe, Latino, puertorriqueño, gay, quiero dejarle saber a todas las personas que estamos tratando de hacer sentido de la tragedia: no va a ser un proceso fácil. Necesitamos crear espacios para procesar el dolor, el miedo, e inclusive para cuestionar la bondad de Dios. Pero en ningún momento podemos dejar de luchar por la justicia, por la paz, por reformas legislativas que ayuden a las comunidades de minoría. Reconozcamos que, en especial en nuestras comunidades Latinas, es tiempo de rechazar el machismo, la homofobia, la violencia, el racismo, la islamofobia y el heterosexismo que tanto permea entre nosotros. Es tiempo de levantarnos en unidad, en honor a todas las victimas de tragedias como esta y decir: ¡BASTA!

Que el Dios que se revela de muchas formas y de muchos nombres nos llene de valor, de amor, de sabiduría y de paz para hacer el trabajo…

___

English

It is not easy for me to find the words to share with you today. There are moments in ministry when tragedies like the one we have just witnessed leave us like this: without words, in pain, furious, and confused. At the same time, we know that we must lift up our voices, whether to support each other, to denounce injustices and even, in occasion, to question God’s goodness when the only thing we can see is violence and death. All this is part of the mourning process and nobody should tell us that we must not feel it. As for me, I have gone through all of these stages in the past week: I have been in pain, furious, scared, confused, and yes, I have questioned God’s goodness.

Why? Because the tragedy in Orlando is too close to me. I have family in Orlando – some of whom frequent Pulse Club – but also because, like the majority of the victims, I am Latino, Puerto Rican and openly queer. Yes, I am a gay, Latino pastor. Since childhood I’ve heard that these things cannot coexist. This discourse of hatred and rejection that I heard in Church brought me to question, not only my identity as a human being, but also God’s and my family’s love towards me. Today, many people – politicians and religious leaders in particular – are trying to erase the many identities that the victims embodied. Many do not want to recognize that the victims where LGBTQ, they do not want to recognize that the victims were Latino, they don’t want to recognize that among them there were people without proper documentation to work in the USA… Some have even tried to put our LGBTQ and Latino communities against the Muslim community.

As for me, as a person of faith, as a Latino, a Puerto Rican, and gay, I want to make it clear to all: trying to make sense of tragedy will not be easy. We must build spaces to process the pain, the fear, and even to question God’s goodness. But under any circumstances must we stop working for justice, for peace, and for legislative reforms that would support minority communities. We, Latinos, must recognize that it is time to reject our machismo, our homophobia, our worshiping of death and violence, our Islamophobia, our racism, and our heterosexism. It is time to rise up, together, in honor of these victims and all the other victims of past violence, and say: ENOUGH!

May the God who is revealed in many forms grant us courage, and love, and wisdom, and peace for the work ahead of us…

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What Will Come…

rainbow-flag

(I wrote this poem as a reaction to the recent events of terror and homophobia that have taken from us 49 of our siblings in the city of Orlando, FL.)

What will come
When the lights of the candles are extinguished
When the rage of the moment has passed
When the strength we have found
In community tonight
Has faded into the memory land

What will come
When the queers are once more
Pushed into hiding
When our voices are
Once more overwhelmed
By the money and power
Of the radical hate

What will come
When our tears are silenced
And when our pain is ignored
And when our strength faints
And our wounds are too deep but forgotten

What will happen
When the deafening silence
Of our so-called allies
Becomes once again
The norm

What will happen
When the prayers are fading
When the hugs are no more
When the lights are shut down
And the cold of the night
Overcomes our fickle souls
When the next attention-grabbing
Political squabble
Erases forever
The names and the faces
Of the saints that lay down
In a desecrated sanctuary
That our kisses once housed

What will happen
Once that all is forgotten
Once that their names are not mentioned
For ever no more

What will happen
When I will look at the mirror
And realized once again
That this is not the largest
Nor the last of them
Violence
Against people like me

What will happen
Tomorrow
I wonder
What will happen
I dream.

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La comunidad comes together in Wisconsin

In the past few months, the GOP delegation in the Wisconsin state Assembly, in the hopes to support Governor Walker’s agenda of destroying the state, have been trying to pass anti-family and immoral legislation. They have already succeeded in making easier for big developers to contaminate our waters. We all know that they were pretty successful in stripping workers from their rights, preventing heads of households from securing a future for their children and other IMG_4862dependents. More recently, they have been trying to put students’ lives in danger by proposing to allow criminals to openly carry handguns and other firearms around university campuses and even into classrooms. Now, they are also coming after whole families: immigrants, people of color, and other groups that do not conform to the wealthy, white, WASP majority. Two proposed bills are now before the Assembly, to criminalize brown people just for being brown. The legislators swear is to “protect” the communities, but this is just code talking to say that brown peoples are not to be trusted and we must be controlled just as the police has been encouraged to control black people by threatening their lives.

Yesterday, February 18th, the Latinx comunidad from around the state came together in an unprecedented way to say ¡BASTA! People from all over the state came to Madison as the Assembly debated two pieces of anti-family legislation, to let the government and the larger Wisconsin community that our lives matter, that we will not stand idle as they try to destroy our families, and that we not a comunidad and a voz to be dismissed.

Politicians, especially Republican politicians, think that they can play with our lives as they wish. They have stood up against every single moral issue that prevents our lives from being taken from us. In fact, it has been their lack of moral character what has killed so many of us – on the fields, at the hands of police, on the farms and factories, in jail and in immigration detention centers… Their hands are tainted with the blood of thousand Latinxs, yet they keep thirsting for more. It is not enough for them to see our children suffer, our parents mourn, our youth are anxious… They are not satisfied with seeing our IMG_4859suffering, they also want us to completely disappear, just as we bring them water, and tea, and their meals; just as we clean their homes and cultivate their fields or milk their cows; just as we tend to their wounds, and teach their children, and run their businesses… It is not enough. Never enough! Brown bodies are to be disposed of as if we are trash. To this, our comunidad says ¡BASTA!

As I stood at the Capitol square with thousands and thousands of my hermanas y hermanos Latinxs and allies, I could not do anything else but be hopeful. I know that the fight is going to be long and arduous, but we are not going to keep silent. La raza es fuerte. Moreover, we are not as divided as they want others to believe. Yesterday, there were flags from all over Latin America because we know that this “divide and conquer” strategy is not going to work. We are ONE, and as such we will fight. As Calle 13 sings: “cuando más te confías las hormigas / te engañan atacan en equipo como las pirañas / aunque sean pequeñas gracias a la unión / todas juntas se convierten en camión.” We will rise and call out our ancestors, our guiding spirits and the power of the women and men who taught us how to fight and win.

To be there, in the presence of such a beautiful cloud of witnesses was a real blessing for me. It filled me with hope, knowing that I am not just one Puerto Rican fighting alone; I am a part of the great América, and we will stand together to reclaim what is rightly ours. La comunidad came together yesterday in Wisconsin, and we will stand and fight because it is the right thing to do.

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Filed under Culture, ethnicity, familia, Heritage, Hispanics, Hispanos, immigration, justice, Latino, race, racism, United States, USA, Wisconsin

I Have An Accent… Get Over It!

It was the first board meeGlobe_of_languageting of the year for a large, international organization. As there were going to be new members for the board, it was needed to go around and introduce ourselves. There were people from the four nations where the organization has a presence plus individuals from other nations who reside in one of the four nations represented. Everyone was sharing their names, location, and their job. It was right there when it happened…

With no hint of irony in her voice, the white, middle age, college-educated woman states that she lives in one of the places that was taken first from the native inhabitants and then from the nation to the south. Proudly she tells her audience – an international audience – that she “teaches foreign students how to lose their accents so they can get jobs” in the United States. Yup. Right as you read it. Immigrants who had spent years of education, who probably speak more than one or even two languages, needed this woman’s help to lose their accents so they could get in with the system.

I looked around for the reaction of my fellow immigrants and non-white colleagues, and, unsurprisingly, we all cringed a little. What this woman was saying, unconsciously, is that our accents make us look dumb, uneducated and unprepared for the professional challenges that jobs in this country offer.

Not long ago, something similar happened to me as I was about to take a new position and someone suggested that the organization paid for a coach who would help me lose my accent. (Full disclosure: I was not informed of this until after I had accepted the position, which caused much pain as I worked there.)

The USA culture states that, no matter how ethnically diverse the country is, those of us who have kept our accents from our mother tongues do not quite belong. For some immigrant communities this has meant that their ancestors’ languages have been lost because the parents are worried their children might not be able to find work or succeed in life. Interestingly, the culture has also incorporated words from other languages into the US English. Think, for instance, about words such as Kindergarten (German), pierogi (Polish), mesa (Spanish), bouquet (French), Brooklyn (Dutch), finale (Italian), tycoon (Japanese) and shtick (Yiddish), just to name a few. Other languages are part of the US culture, but nobody wants to acknowledge it. Moreover, if those of us who emigrated here from other countries with a different language use our own languages to communicate or express ourselves in English with an accent, then we are scolded for it.

Yet, nobody pays attention or asks Australians, South Africans, Jamaicans, New Zealanders, Trinidadians or British to lose their accents. Why?

It is true that communication is extremely important in academic and professional settings. (The personal settings are a bit different due to the familiarity of the people involved.) However, our accents and language backgrounds should not dictate our – the immigrant’s – capabilities to do the work. Being able to speak a language different than English does not mean that we have less education, less knowledge or less professional abilities. It only means that our education was in a language that was comprehensible to us as we grew up and became professionals. In fact, nobody questions the intelligence of English-speakers when you come to our countries and often times refuse to learn at least basic phrases to communicate with the people who live there.

Here are three other things that US Americans need to understand about people who speak other languages. First, most of us do speak English. Our accents only mean that English is a second, third and sometimes even fourth language (I had a seminary professor for whom this was the case, where English was the fourth language he learned.) The use of English along our own mother tongues only points to the fact that we are bi- or multi-lingual. How many languages you, English-speaker, are able to read, understand and speak?

Second, the truth is that every chance we have, we use to learn how to pronounce words, how to expand our vocabulary, and how to find the correct way to use your language in all contexts. Have you thought how difficult it is for a foreigner who was only exposed to “proper” English to figure out some of the common idioms and day-to-day phrases of your language? Take, for instance, “cut the mustard”. I know what the verb “cut” is, and I know that “mustard” is a condiment. How in the world am I supposed to know that “cut the mustard” means “to succeed”?! My mental references for mustard do not even allow for cutting! Mustard, as a seed, is too small to be able to be cut, and as paste, there is no need to be cut as it spreads. Do you follow my thoughts? (There’s another one!) I can tell you, from my personal experience, that I even take time to listen and practice pronouncing a word over and over and over again trying to find the correct way to pronounce it.

Third, there is the issue of pronunciation and hearing. You, who grew up listening to words in your language all the time, might be able to catch the subtle difference between “leave”, “live” and “leaf” but, trust me; it all sounds exactly the same to me! I need to pay attention to the context in which you used these words to find which one you used. How hard it is for you to do the same exercise? All of this is tiring, but it is exactly what non-English speakers have to do every day of our lives in this country (and what English-speakers have to do every day if they live in countries outside of the English-speaking world.)

There are two final thoughts I want to share with all of you. First, is the issue of regional accents within the United States. Most people fret about and want to change the accent of foreigners, but you seldom hear about changing the accents of people from different regions within the country. There are not-too-small differences between the accents of an Alaskan, a West Virginian from the mountains, a person from Brooklyn and one from Massachusetts. Yet, nobody will dare recommending that we all come to an agreement about speaking with the same “standard” English accent. Why? Because there is no such thing as a standard accent in any language! All languages have regional differences! Hence the ridiculous idea of asking British, Jamaicans, Australians, South Africans and Trinidadians to change their accents… they all speak English with regionalisms and it is a matter of adapting our ears to those regionalisms in order to understand each other.

Finally, my accent is, to me, a point of pride. It tells me that I speak more than one language, that I am able to communicate with more people than mono-lingual persons, and that I bring with me to this country a history. It defines who I am at this moment of my life and it makes me feel part of the global community, not just of a small community of either people of the United States or people of Puerto Rico. I can drive through the northern border of the USA and make myself understand just as I can cross the southern border and still engage in conversations. (Unfortunately, I do not speak French; therefore any visit to Quebec would be an adventure… And one that I would gladly welcome!)

My best advice to those who complain about my accent, or about any accent for that matter? Get over it.

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