30 May 2006

Why be an Optimist?

Memorial day never used to mean much to me. I am against the war, and do not hold too much weight for the overall good of the military. However, with the passing of both of my grandfathers in the past year, I had to pause to at least think about what it meant to be part of the military. They, of course, had no choice, but to be in the military. My paternal grandfather, was, as I like to call him, a reluctant soldier. He didn't want to be where he was, but he figured he'd make the best of it. He took these amazing candid photographs of fellow soldiers totally goofing around!

My maternal grandfather had a lung condition and was forbidden to participate in combat. He was a weatherman, and absolutely loved it. That was what we connected about when I was a kid - the weather. And, people joke about discussing the weather, but with him, it was the greatest way to spend an afternoon.

My maternal grandfather was in the Optimist's Club, and for the longest time, I thought this was something like a Rotary Club, a civic organization of some sort. Recently, at a bed and breakfast, I was drinking tea out of a mug, and it was imprinted with the Optimist's Creed. What? It's really about being an optimist!

So, I thought again about both of my grandfathers and how they really did look to the bright side of things. I felt that on this Memorial Day, (well, a day after), I would post this creed in their honor, and try to live a little of it.

Optimist's Club Creed
Promise yourself . . .

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness, prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that there is something of value in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only the best, to work only for the best, and to expect the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
To forget the mistake so the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit presence of trouble.

24 May 2006

note from a student

I've been quiet on here, but super busy otherwise. School is wrapping up, and I only have a day and a half left as a high school teacher. Now it's starting to hit home . . . it's bittersweet to say the least. I hope that I can keep up with some of my former students.

Here's what one of the said, as a comment on my website.

hi ms. s! i see that you're doing a wonderful job with your web page and i wanted to drop by and say hi and to say that i'm really going to miss you this next school semester. you're the best! don't forget me and thankyou for opening my world even more to art.'] your student, Vicky Quintana

Thanks, Vicky!

16 May 2006

Hurricane Preparedness

How do you know when it's almost Hurricane Season? When, at 1 PM students peek outside the classroom door and are afraid they signed up for night school. Oh, and when the news media starts showing more satellite pictures like this one from the Miami Herald (5/16/06).

For the past two days the earth has poured down, gusted winds and even hailed all over the Miami area, and left many wondering if they're prepared for the upcoming Hurricane Season. I, a Miami native, feel like I've got a handle on it. I know what to do, when to do it, and I DO IT! This is not one of those things you can procrastinate about. If you aren't prepared for a storm, it's still coming. The good news is that there is a lot people can do now to help themselves out during a storm. It really scares me to think that folks still believe that zig-zagging masking tape over their windows will prevent anything! So, if you read this, pass it along and spread the knowledge. Help each other stay safe and be prepared.

There are several sites you can go to for a lot of information (weed through what you know, and you'll get some good tips)
National Hurricane Center
FEMA (I know, I know, but it has some info)
Florida Disaster Site

Here's what my family and I do:

1. Get together a Hurricane Kit,yes an actual bag, box or something, which includes food and water for 2 days of more, for each person, flashlights, batteries, battery-operated radio/tv, an old-fashioned plug-into-the-wall phone, sanitary items (wipes, tampons, toilet paper), and games (Cranium and Uno are my favorites).

2. Close the shutters early.

3.When you hear that a storm is coming, fill up your gas tank, and keep filling it up until you are home for the duration of the storm.

4. Pick a location where everyone in your family will go when a storm is coming, and go there ASAP.

5. Charge cell phones, laptops and cameras so you can still use them after the power is out. Last year my power was out for two weeks! And, dammit, I need to take pictures. Seriously, though, you'll want your cell phone,laptop and camera operational for use after the storm.


10 May 2006

caribbean woman writer as scholar

The Caribbean Woman Writer as Scholar: Imagining/Theorizing/Creating
May 30 - June 3, 2006, Hollywood, Florida

At the end of this month, I will be presenting a paper at the Caribbean Woman Writer as Scholar Conference, put together by African New World Studies at FIU. I have received the preliminary program and it looks to be a jam packed conference with presentations, art, performance and good company. Some of the topics include: Caribbean Spirituality; Race, Nation and Imagination in Caribbean Women's Writing; Zami, Sexuality and the Politics of Desire; Beyond the Mother Construct; Language, Voice and Caribbean Women Writers; and Unpacking Masculinities.

Here is a brief description of my presentation:

The Rests between the Beats: Addressing the Silencing of a Voice

In addressing the systematic silencing of Caribbean women, we often look to the outside world for rationale. However, just as internalized racism causes much harm, so too does internal silencing. For women who self-identify as artists, scholars, writers or activists, the time in between “productive” activity can produce a heavy burden. These women may feel a loss of self-esteem, self-worth or direction. Or, they may simply abandon their passion along the way. This work in progress attempts to uncover women’s views on this silent period, and how their internal dialogue is exists with societal systems of racism, sexism and homophobia. This work will be part of a larger work in which I address the ways in which Afro-Caribbean women utilize their bodies to explore theories on exile and displacement.

08 May 2006

artists' exchange: create and share

A fellow artist and I discussed swapping pieces of work. Well, actually, she brought it up and I was hesitant. I thought, "Give away my artwork, why the heck would I do that?" Later on, I realized that she had a point, we could all benefit by sharing our work with fellow artists. I see two primary reasons: 1) Community is hard to come by,and 2) my old work ends up sitting in a box in my studio. Instead, I'd like to get in out there into the world again, and bring someone else's work into my home and small art collection.

So, this is my proposal, and it is limited to visual artists, at this point in time. Find one piece of work in your studio, and exchange it with another talented artist for one of theirs. There aren't necessarily any size limitations, but the artist is responsible for shipping of the work, therefore it may be worthwhile to pick an unframed work, and let the other party handle that. The work should be something that you consider some of your best work, not something headed for the trash (although maybe to some self-deprecating people, that is their best work, and they just are too hard-headed to see it . . . but that's another discussion for another day). This swap is limited to those who view themselves as professional artists (meaning that in your head, or in reality, that is your primary occupation). In this way, we can ensure the highest quality of the work to be swapped, and artists won't feel jipped out of their hard-produced work.

Once you get your artist swap partner, send or deliver the work to them by June 9 (sooner is ok, later is not!) Please only sign up if you feel you can commit to sending a fellow artist one piece of work by the deadline. It would be a shame to have a one-ended swap and a sad artist.

And, by the middle of June, each of us will have a new piece of artwork by a talented artist. How's that for starting an art collection and community building at the same time?!

Get started, create and share
You'll need to set up a free swap-bot account and enter the password "artist" to join the swap, as it is not a public swap.

Email me with any questions or concerns:

04 May 2006

Travel and Research in Cuba Threatened

In a ridiculous attempt to ban intellectual pursuits and creative knowledge, Florida's Legislature has approved a ban on travel to Cuba by students and professors. While they say that this only applies to those trips using certain funds, it includes nearly all possibilities a student or professor has - grants and even private donations! Private donations! That means that they are legislating organizations which are not even technically under governmental authority.
But, that point is merely an adjunct issue to the main issue- Why place this ban on research, education and outreach? Many important projects take place in Cuba, and Florida has a particularly important role to play in keeping up with Caribbean nations - blockade or not. Their rationale is that Cuba is a "terrorist state," and the money will benefit this "terrorist nation." That is really a load of garbage. What it is doing is keeping knowledge about Cuba out of the US, that is the true intention. People fear what they do not know, and this is a propagation of that intention.

I urge you to write to dissuade the governor from passing this bill. Without the ability to pursue research or other creative/intellectual endeavors, we are only hurting ourselves with self-imposed ignorance.

My senior thesis was on Judaism in Havana, Cuba. A photo series can be viewed on my website. I completed this research at the University of Colorado with the support of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Grant. Through this research I was able to add to the body of knowledge on Judaism in Cuba and the state of Cuba after the Special Period. It was an important step in the foundation of the work I plan to do while working towards my PhD in Anthropology at the University of Michigan. It is unfortunate that I am so happy to leave Florida for my education, but it would be impossible for me to enjoy the intellectual and creative freedom that I would have in almost any other state. Why does Florida want to push out scholars and artists?


School trips to Cuba face ban Legislation banning college and university students and professors from traveling to 'terrorist nations' -- including Cuba -- is headed to the governor.
TALLAHASSEE - A bill aimed at banning public and private universities and community colleges from sponsoring trips to Cuba and other nations labeled as ''terrorist'' by the U.S. State Department cleared both chambers of the Legislature and is on its way to the governor.

The plan, which is the brainchild of Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera, will block the schools from using state funds, private donations and grants to ``implement, organize, direct, coordinate, or administer activities related to or involving travel to a terrorist state.''

That's bad news for students like Brett Jestrow, who says he could not have written his doctoral dissertation on plants native to Cuba without doing research in the island nation.

The 27-year-old South Miami resident was able to go there in 2004, study at the National Botanical Gardens in Havana, work with Cuban botanists and drive around the country looking for different plants -- all possible because of a $1,000 grant from the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

''Taxpayer money should not be used to support or subsidize terrorist regimes -- period,'' Rivera said. ``Particularly when America is fighting a war on terrorism.''

Under the plan, colleges and universities in Florida -- both public and private -- would not be allowed to send students, professors or other faculty members to Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria.

Rivera made no secret of the target of his legislation.

''Its practical impact in Florida will focus squarely on one country -- Cuba,'' he said. ``Cuba has been a sponsor of terrorism. The Castro dictatorship is a force for evil.''

School administrations, Rivera said, would be responsible for enforcing the law.

For the University of Miami, that is not a problem.

''There is no question the University of Miami would always be compliant to any bill or law that is passed,'' said Margot Winick, a university spokeswoman.

Even if the governor signs the bill into law, professors and students still could travel to terrorist nations -- but they would have to pay out of their own pocket.

Critics of the measure say it is ''political demagoguery'' and that Rivera, a Cuban American, is trying to use anti-Castro legislation to appeal to the emotions of voters.

''His record representing his district has been rather poor,'' said Lisandro Pérez, a professor at Florida International University and former director of FIU's Cuban Research Institute. ``It's reprehensible that Rep. Rivera uses Cuba and this issue to further his political career.''

Perez, who regularly travels to Cuba for research using grant money, said he will continue his studies, regardless of any changes to the law.

''My research is on Cuba and if I need to go, I will go,'' he said. ``I'm not going to change my behavior because of a ridiculous law.''

The push by Rivera was fueled by the January arrests of FIU professor Carlos M. Alvarez and his wife, Elsa, an FIU counselor. The couple is accused of being unregistered agents for Cuba.

Rivera tried passing a similar bill two years ago, but it was killed in the Senate.

This session, the Senate bill won unanimous approval April 27 and the House version also had unanimous support during its final vote Wednesday.

Despite the country's communist regime, students and professors who conduct research in Cuba say they have a right to go.

''It would be a real drag, a real drawback if students couldn't go to Cuba,'' said Jestrow, who spent a month conducting research on the island as an FIU student. ``For some people, it's really important to go there.''

02 May 2006

Go Back to Mexico? thoughts on a Day of Action

“Go back to Mexico!” That’s what one of my students heard while she was on Spring Break.
“But, I’m not Mexican,” she replied.
“You’re a beaner.”
“What is that? I’m Cuban, not Mexican.”

Identity is important in every person’s life. It is also important to realize when everyone needs to come together for something larger than an individual’s country of origin. And, this does not mean giving up that identity. It means realizing that amongst the many differences there are also a load of similarities.

Miami had fewer protesters than every major city in the United States. In a city where most of the population was born in Latin America or the Caribbean, one would think that people would turn out in droves when asked to support immigrants’ rights. However, a disappointingly low 10,000 spread among 4 separate protests was all Miami could muster. Denver had 75,000 people, Oakland with 17,000 and New York and LA each gathered a whopping 400,000 people.

So, why the low numbers in Miami? Despite cries to come together as one large “American” immigrant community, the answers lie in countries of origin. There is no shame in identifying country of origin. It does not imply dissent, when used to express identity.

Our largest immigrant community, Cuban Americans, unlike Haitians, Mexicans and others, have rights and benefits thrown upon them in Miami. In the hotly debated "Wet Foot/Dry Foot" policy, any Cuban who reaches land is eligible for political asylum in the US. This policy does not apply to any other people who attempt the same dangerous pursuit. Namely, it does not apply to Haitians, who are the second largest group to attempt long sea voyages to Miami in search of asylum. If they are caught, they are first held in horrible prison-like conditions, and then sent back to Haiti. But, I digress. To be sure, there are many immigration issues which are not only unfair, but also unjust. Primarily responsible for low numbers in Miami, low Cuban turn-out.

Why Miami immigrants did not feel part of yesterday's Day of Action? Cuban Americans already benefit from the unjust system in place now. Haitians have a lot to lose by gathering in large numbers to protest the US government, and I do not think many felt safe enough to take bold actions. As Marlene Bastien, executive director of Haitian Women of Miami, explains, Haitians attempted to boycott shopping, but went to work "because they don't know their rights" (Herald article 5/2/06). Unlike Cubans, Haitians feared being fired from work, found out as illegal, being viewed as illegal even if they are not, and need to keep up a good public image.

Across the country it seemed that there was an idea that this Day of Action was aimed solely at Mexican Americans. I do not believe this to be the intent, but many here in Miami may have felt that this was not their issue to debate. There was a belief that traversing the waters from Latin America, the Caribbean or other country to the US is not the same as crossing a “land border.” But, borders are borders, and they come in many sizes, shapes and spaces. Crossing them requires different tactics of negotiation and risk, but they are being crossed, no less.

Portrayed as a Mexican American issue, many rallies addressed issues of farming and work in related fields. Here in Miami, there are many Mexican American immigrants who do work in farming. They work in Homestead and turned out for the rallies and protests. Many of the growers were in favor of the Day of Action, and gave their employees the day off. (This gesture, I think, has much to do with their need for labor at cheap rates. If their workers are legalized, then they would ultimately face less risk of punishment for hiring “illegal” workers.) In fact, according to the front page article in the Herald today, this was the largest rally in Miami, with 5,000 people.

(from BBC, Homestead Protest)

Finally, what goes unrecognized are the thousands of people who are “in limbo” – not with papers, but not without. Many of these people have been waiting patiently for years on end for their day to come, for immigration officials to send them their precious promised documents. I know many people in this situation, and they do not have the same concerns as those who have come on a more “illegal” basis – ie rafting, swimming, running to shore. These people have tried to pursue all “legal” lines of residency and citizenship, and yet still await any official action. Herein lies the dilemma. If some sort of “legalization” occurs, will it provide any benefit to those people still waiting in line? Or will they be asked to take a back seat, and wait patiently for a few more years while they process everyone else? These are major questions which need to be addressed before any official immigration action can be taken by Congress. And, these people need to stand up and let themselves be heard as well.

It thrills me to see so many people stand up, nationwide, and demand to be heard. This is only one step, and cannot possibly stand for every voice. Miami, in particular, is in a unique situation, with people coming from many countries trying to form this diverse city.