Monday, July 13, 2015

Childhood Reflections of the 4th

Today I welcome author, poet and friend, Eva Santiago. I had asked her to post here after I read something she wrote on Facebook for July 4th. Hope you enjoy her story, her poem and her work.  

I am Eva Santiago, an author/poet from Colombia. I immigrated to the US after the death of my parents when I was a small child. I am proud to call myself an American and am happy to share part of my life story here with you. 

I came to the US in 1976, that summer I learned about July 4th when something I had never seen before happened right before my eyes. After the family went to church, we were driving down palm tree covered McGregor Ave, Fort Meyer's main street back then.I was seated next to my uncle who was driving his '75 avocado green Chevy station wagon. The whole family came along; my grandma, Isabel, next to her my aunt Blanca, my sister, Mireya, cousins Frank and Mike and my uncle's wife, Graciela. Suddenly, in the middle of that humid, balmy, South Florida summer day, all the church bells were ringing, all the cars had their lights on and everyone was honking their car horns. I asked my uncle what that was all about. He paused and tossed me a smile saying," Today is the Bicentennial birthday of this great country and people are celebrating! This is her 200th birthday!!" 
The rest of the family nodded their heads in agreement as they smiled back at me. They had come here  as immigrants a few years before so they knew the answer to my curious inquiry.

At just 6 years old, I was fascinated with the mere fact that a country had a birthday. From then on the 4th of July became one of my favorite holidays and it still is. I even shed a tear or 2 every time we go see fire works. Yes, this country has huge struggles, but nonetheless, I received a way better life than if  I had stayed in my birth country of Colombia. Because of the U.S., I have had more opportunities to make my dreams come true and I always explain this to my 4 children who had the privilege of being born in the US. When I became a US citizen in 1991, it was one of the proudest moments in my life and I will be forever grateful!!

Recently, our country has been facing some tremendous hurdles. You conquer a people by dividing them up and pitting them one against the other. The racial war is escalating and today as we celebrate the country's birthday please let us never forget that we are ALL Americans. 
At the end of the day we all go to sleep under the same sky where the same red, white and blue banner flies. I want to share this poem to remind us all that in God's eyes, we are all the SAME and that the last bastion of freedom is our minds. 
Let us unite in one mind, one purpose and one accord from this day onward and bury any hatchet of hate by promoting UNITY through LOVE!  

The race card, the race card,
everyone likes to play the race card.
You are white,
and that’s all right by me.
You think you alone have the light,
and no one else compares,
‘cause you’re the one who’s always right
so you go on putting on airs.
The race card, the race card,
everybody likes to play the race card, the race card.
You are black;
you come in all hues and shades.
In the past, you’ve been held back;
in the past, you were the slaves.
In the past, you were the maids,
sabotaged in midnight raids.
And nothing’s changed for you…
So you think.
The race card, the race card,
everybody likes to play the race card, the race card.
Your skin is red; you discovered America.
Didn’t come over on a ship;
you walked over the great land bridge.
Never beaten with a whip,
you owned and farmed your land
with you own hands
and not labor from Africa.
Then Europe came and said, “Move over!”
“We want what you have, so move on!”
From the Rockies to the Great Lakes all the way to Dover,
north, south, east and west, you were tread upon.
The race card, the race card,
everybody likes to play the race card, the race card.
Everyone’s a slave
in one form or another.
After Pearl Harbor’s worst attack,
they called out all the Asians.
History repeats itself, never holds anything back,
Rounded them up; today it’s called profiling.
Your yellow skin and slanted eyes
would be the cause of your confinement.
The masses believed all the lies
Uncle Sam told as he dealt you the race card.
The race card, the race card,
everybody tries to play the race card, the race card.
Then there was Hitler and his great hate,
for of all the worst of evils,
his bone chilling hatred of his own people.
The darkness in his soul so sinister;
I’ve stood inside one of his incinerators.
One by one, the Jews faced slaughter;
no songs were sung under the church steeple,
no sermon preached by the minister…
Mother, father, husband, wife, son, and daughter;
they all went up in smoke.
The race card, the race card,
Everybody tries to play the race card, the race card.
Please don’t tell me I’m too young,
please don’t tell me I don’t know;
I’ve been on the bottom of the ladder,
hanging on to the last rung.
The race card, they dealt me with it too,
been too many places where nasty words flew.
My parents crossed racial lines and broke with taboo;
their love so strong, it grew and grew,
and one by one they had us,
oh we are quite the crew!
Then we get the biggest slap,
yeah, it still stings my face—
the family said to us, “You aren’t wanted, get away!”
They too played the race card,
with their own flesh and blood.
Racism sucks no matter its source.
When it flows from within,
a torrent a flood,
it comes with a terrible, destructive force.
You can get away from mean-spirited strangers;
you go home and shout, “Shut the front door!”
When racism bit
from the family who bore me ,
when they told me “You’re lower than a dirt worm,”
implying I haven’t many rights,
that’s when I packed up my bags;
I threw out the board game
and burned all of their cards.
I learned to travel light,
and I love all people, and treat ‘em the same.
I learned to pray, and that’s how I fight.
When I hear of racism,
One group smearing another
In endless battles of bitter words,
I appeal to the Captain of the Host
to bring out His angelic forces with all of their swords…
And that, my friend,
is how the battle is won.

I have published 2 books: 
As Clear as Claire Gets: A Conversation with the Past--my life story and how my faith brought me through terrible obstacles, and made me who I am today. 
Salsa! The Taste of Life--a collection of short stories and some poetry from the 3 continents I grew up on. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

A Painted Lady, a Lecture and a Parade

Woman, “I’m so humbled by being here in the room with you—“
Gloria Steinem, “Uh, uh, uh. No, I’m here to un-humble you.”

Gloria Steinem has been an icon of the women’s movement for over 50 years, a humble and quiet woman who speaks her mind like an iron fist in a velvet glove. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to hear her speak live.

The Painted Lady
Sometimes our lives hum along at a predictable, steady, if not comfortable pace. Other times monkey wrenches muck up the works. My trip started out humming along as I took off with my author friend, Sunny Frazier, to San Francisco to the American Library Association conference (ALA). Our plan was to man the Sisters-in-Crime booth for an hour and give away our signed books to librarians and promote the organization to support female writers of mystery and suspense. (My secret agenda was to hear Gloria Steinem speak at the conference.)
At the last minute I had to scramble to change our lodging (The Utah Hotel--one of the "painted ladies" of San Francisco, circa 1908) and get as close to the event as I could get. Well, ‘close to the event’ should not have been my primary concern. Parking should have been. More ahead on that.
We had a room with a view of the city from the south side. The three concave windowed room of the old Victorian reminded me of one of the first places I rented when I was younger and a newbie to S.F. ($90 month with a shared bath down the hall—boy, those were the days!!!—that apartment now probably goes for $$$$ per month).
Did I mention there was no parking? With construction on the street in front of the hotel (this is an ongoing event in San Francisco) there were only parking meters available (No parking between 12 a.m. and 7 a.m –so basically no parking except for short stays (it took $3.00 in quarters for 30 minutes—just enough time to run in, register, unload and get back to move the car). To make this short, let me just say—it was an ‘adventure’ to locate a parking lot and walk back to the hotel past the mission at meal time. 

The ALA Conference
Next day at the conference, we got there early to get good seats to hear Ms. Steinem. And she was amazing. Her story briefly:
She was born to a Theosophist mother and a father who was a ‘gypsy’—on the road for her young years before eleven, so she was free of the indoctrination and limitations of elementary school. It was the librarians who rescued her and “saved my internal life.” It gave her open and thoughtful mind from the knowledge and perspective she gleaned from reading widely. Librarians always suggested books to stretch her curious mind, ones she would never have been given in school.
She always wanted to be a writer but didn’t think she could be monetarily successful. She got into journalism as a freelancer (assigned to fashion, food, make-up, and babies). In 1963 she went undercover as a bunny in the New York City Playboy Club for an expose of the treatment of women in the club. After an abortion hearing she covered, she realized the great need for a women’s movement and became one of the forces behind it.
Laurie King and Cara Black
In 1972 she co-founded MS. Magazine (which began covering all those issues only being whispered about until then: domestic abuse, sex, media beauty standards, and sexual harassment in the workplace, to name a few). She began speaking and advocating for equality and wrote her essay, “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation.” (For more on her basic biography is full and lengthy and easily accessible on the internet.)
That was the high point of my day, my motivation for coming to this conference. After manning the SinC booth in the afternoon it was my goal to leave the city before the traffic rush. Only that’s when the monkey wrenches really mucked up the works.

The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day; a movement is only people moving. Gloria Steinem

The Parking Caper
Sunny always laughs at my parking god. He ALWAYS finds me parking right in front of wherever I go. But he was on hiatus this day—well, technically I DID find parking right up front in the parking garage, but the problem was getting out of the parking garage.

2:50 p.m.
Me, “We have to hurry and get out of town to beat the traffic, so let’s get to the garage as quick as we can.”

3:00 p.m.
We find we are parked in a restricted parking area (per the signs that weren’t there when we arrived at 7:30 that morning—both Sunny and I remember this clearly—no signs). Aaaand, there is a car parked behind me so I can’t get out. Aaaand there is no parking attendant. Can you say, “Oh crap?”
After walking in circles trying to figure out what to do, I notice the assistance button on the automated parking-ticket-payment-machine. I press it and a voice says, “Can I assist you?” It sounds like, “wadda ya want?” After explaining the situation he says, “Give me some time to locate someone to send.” I feel relieved until we wait and wait and I start going over his words, “locate someone.”

3:30 p.m.
Now I’m stressing to get out of town before the traffic (You will only understand the importance of this if you have recently been to San Francisco at rush hour). I press the button again, and again that man’s voice says, “I’m working on getting someone there.”
What? He’s working on it? He hasn’t already sent someone yet? What does that even mean? Getting someone out of bed? Maybe calling someone from outside the city to drive in to release us? Hiring someone?
Now I’m stressing but Sunny assures me I am handling this very well, not getting anxious. I look calm but I am getting anxious—what if we have to spend the night to get the car in the morning (now it would cost over $400 a night at this late date if we even found any lodging close by)? 

3:45 p.m.
After ruminating some more, I press that button but no one answers. He is ignoring me. Should I panic, is this an idiot button and they are really not planning on sending anyone?

Someone else comes in to retrieve their car and they use another machine to pay into to get their ticket to exit. So I press the ‘panic button’ on that machine and get a woman. But when I start talking, that man’s voice comes on, “We have sent someone over.” I’m relieved but after a while when no one comes, ] I wonder from where? How long will it take? I contemplate pressing that button again to get more answers.

Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That's their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood. Gloria Steinem

4:00 p.m.
A man comes walking down the ramp. Is this is the one? Yes! He sees the situation and immediately blames me for parking in the restricted zone (even though I tell him the signs were not there that morning, it is useless because he says the signs are always there) I argue for a few moments and then stop—simply acknowledge that maybe I didn’t see them but what are we going to do now? He makes a call for someone to come to move the car. Oh, no, are we back to square one? 

4:10 p.m.
Another man comes walking in, moves the car and we are off, duly chastised—only it’s been an hour since I paid my ticket and now I owe more money for that hour gone by and the gate won’t rise and let me out. My head drops to the steering wheel in resignation and I press the assistance button, ready to scream at someone this time, but I get an apology and the gate magically arises. The parking god must finally be with me! And we’re off—but only into the midst of traffic.

A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves. Gloria Steinem

Oh did I mention that the Supreme Court had just ruled for gay marriages in all 50 states on Friday and we are in the heart of San Francisco’s gay community on Saturday with the annual Gay Pride Parade scheduled for Sunday? People are already in the streets celebrating. So round and round we go in a 5 mile radius, crawling through the city, around detours, being redirected by traffic cops and waiting while hundreds of people move down the streets. I finally reach a block I used to live on and know of a back way out. I feel like a caged animal running for freedom and we escape.

5:30 p.m.
We go over the Twin Peaks hill, hit a little traffic, but by now it’s not significant and we are on our way home!

6:30 p.m.
All our plans for dinner go by the wayside through San Jose. If we hope to make it over the Pacheco Pass and through Los Banos before dark (my eyes don’t focus well on long dark stretches so I try to be home before nightfall) we have to keep going. But we are starved and cave to stop at a fast food place. It’s awful, but we make do. We stop again at Casa de Fruta (last stop before home) to load up on chocolate covered nuts, caramel corn and drinks. I figured I might as well make the best of the situation and just go with the flow (I can always detox tomorrow!). 

8:15 p.m.
I arrive home after a beautiful sunset, with just enough daylight to slide into my driveway. Check one dream off the bucket list.

Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.  Gloria Steinem
Does everyone have trips like this or is it only me?