Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Latin America

What I’ve Learned from El Salvador by Maria Vazquez-Smith

since August 2011

1. I learned that life is unpredictable and cannot be controlled.

2. I learned that there is a wide, visible gap between life in the United States and life in the many developing countries around the world.

3. I learned that Spanish is easier to learn when trying to make friends, though still intimidating at times. I learned it is easier and dare I say, actually fun, to learn Spanish when talking sweetly to your life’s forever flame. I learned it is very frustrating to learn Spanish when trying to put the “right” words together to share something difficult, frustrating, deeply personal or confusing. It is equally as frustrating to learn Spanish when unable to understand someone’s deeply personal testimony or sharing of emotions, and also jokes. Man, I know I have missed some good jokes shared in Spanish.

4. I learned, just as Jim “Jaime” Lochhead told me before I left, that it really didn’t matter how bad my Spanish was. I still came back changed, re-arranged and broken in the best way.

5. I learned that lines can be blurred and borders are only imaginary. Deysi’s brother lives in Texas, probably not too far from my own family members. William has a family member in or around the DMV. Rosa’s daughter and I surely have walked the same streets in Baltimore.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Dear “Hermana Ann”   by Maria Vazquez-Smith

Maria is taking a class with me based on The Book of Mev.  One of the weekly themes was Direct Address, and Maria wrote the following and gave me permission to share it.

Dear “Hermana Ann”                                                                                         September 12, 2017

Hello, my name is Maria Smith and I am a 2013 graduate of Saint Louis University. It has been a true honor getting to know you through The Book of Mev (as in your friend, Mev Puleo. Her husband,  Mark Chmiel, wrote a beautiful book that you’d enjoy. It includes people like you that make me proud to be a SLU alum). This afternoon, I read an excerpt that features you being interviewed by Mev. During the time of the interview, you were both in El Salvador, perhaps sitting outside somewhere. While I read the interview, I was sitting outside my office. I had just finished eating lunch and was taking a moment to breathe and sit in the sun before returning back to work. Read the rest of this entry »

Share the Wealth with Carolina and Christina: A Glimpse into Two Cubana-Americana’s Stories

Carolina Dominguez from Miami and Christina Arrom from Chicago, are Cubana-Americanas who were influenced by the stories of their parents, but especially their grandparents’ lives in Cuba.

After Carolina served with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps for two years in Belize City she moved to Chicago to study social work and work at an all girls high school. “Growing up in Miami allowed me to taste their stories and almost feel like I was in La Havana. However, leaving Miami and living in Italy and Central America allowed me to see how other people viewed Fidel Castro and the new relations between the U.S and Cuba. Working at both a geriatric urology center in the pulse of Little Havana and a poetry organization once back from Belize allowed me to witness the stories of patients who lived the exile, the Mariel Exodus and the title ‘Peter Pan kid.’ In attempt to understand and document this close history of my family I began to write poetry to try and delve into what being Cuban meant to me. Writing poetry about the stories I heard opened me up to write about my own story.”

Christina served with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in San Antonio, Texas. She Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Noam

I’m currently facilitating an on-line class, Be in Love with Yr Life, based on The Book of Mev, with 11 very special people.  The other day, I posted a short response  to a Barsamian/Chomsky book, and afterwards, going through my files, I found the following letter.

 

Wednesday 9 October 1996
Professor Noam Chomsky
M.I.T./ 20D-219
Cambridge, MA
02139

Dear Noam,

I hope you are doing well  these days.  To refresh your memory, since I know you receive hundreds of letters, I invited you to speak at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley a couple of years ago (while a student at the Maryknoll School of Theology in 1990, I did a thesis on your Mideast work).  Your visit then was just before the time that my wife Mev Puleo was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.   Mev died this past January  at the age of 32 after a long and excruciating deterioration here in St. Louis.  Actually, she took pictures at your talk to us on “Intellectuals and Political Responsibility” —  that was the last  shooting she did before her surgery. (One of her photos appears in the enclosed review).

Anyway, I have been slow to resume my work since it has been quite difficult to face the loss of wife, partner, and best friend, in addition to someone whose commitment to solidarity was simply exemplary.  I am hoping to finish soon  my doctoral dissertation for the GTU on Elie Wiesel; your work has been immensely helpful to me as I  examine the connections between Wiesel’s work of memory and his august status in the U.S. intellectual and political community.  (I’ve recently written Professor Shahak to see if he had translations on Wiesel’s reception in Israel, to which you’ve referred). I am hoping to trace the evolution of Wiesel from “unworthy victim” to most “worthy victim,” in your and Ed Herman’s classification.  You were the first person I’d ever read who dissented from  the strong Christian consensus that Wiesel is a prophet of our times. Read the rest of this entry »

A New-Old Saintliness

On Maria Clara Bingemer, Simone Weil: Mystic of Passion and Compassion

French intellectual Simone Weil has had many biographers, interpreters, and critics since she died in 1943.   Brazilian liberation theologian Maria Clara Bingemer’s recent book is a generous retrieval of Weil ’s relevance in this decade.  What Latin American liberation theology eventually named  in the late 1960s as “the preferential option for the poor” Weil as an individual  was  practicing, sometimes awkwardly,  but always with fierce intensity, in the 1930s and 40s.  Bingemer sees Weil as an inspiring, even exemplary, figure for those who may be distant from the forms and rituals of  traditional religiosity. Read the rest of this entry »

Share the Wealth with Natalie Long–Abogados Descalzados: or, How Latin America Taught Me to Be a People’s Lawyer 

From the period of September 2009-January 2012, I was a law student, a law school drop-out, and a pupil of revolutionary Latin America. I eventually finished my law degree and became a licensed attorney…but only after spending time learning at the feet of communities in Mexico and Guatemala, where people taught me what it means to struggle (and to be a lawyer accompanying those in struggle).

It gives me joy to share the stories of the people who welcomed me into their homes and the lessons they taught me. Please join us for an evening of storytelling, reflection, and fellowship.

Join us
Sunday 26 March
Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m.
Natalie begins sharing at 6:45
At the home of Marty and Jerry King
830 DeMun Avenue, 3rd Floor
Clayton, MO 63105

 

US Subversion of Free Elections

In early November 1989, the Bush Administration brought the US candidate Violeta Chamorro to Washington for some publicity. President Bush promised “to lift the trade embargo and assist in Nicaragua’s reconstruction” if Chamorro won the election, the White House announced.

It took no great genius to perceive that the US would continue to torture Nicaragua, with elite support across the spectrum, until it restored US clients to power. This renewed display of the traditional fear and contempt for democracy among US elites, which reached new peaks in the 1980s, could hardly be understood in respectable circles here, however. There was much discussion over proposals to send aid to the opposition or to involve the CIA in covert operations. In comparison with the actual and virtually unchallenged US actions designed to subvert free elections in Nicaragua, these questions are trivialities.

–Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy

 

photo by Mev Puleo

 

From Cheryl Sullivan in Santiago, Chile

la tumba de Víctor Jara
que alma más apasionada
que letra más bella

The tomb of Víctor Jara
What a passionate soul
What a beautiful letter

victor-jara-tomb

The Real Crime of Cuba

The following comes from a 1990 discussion among U.S. and Canadian activists with Noam Chomsky. It may provide food for thought given the current focus on Cuba after the death of Fidel Castro.

 

Look, the real crime of Cuba was never the repression, which, whatever you think about it, doesn’t even come close to the kind of repression we have traditionally supported, and in fact implemented in nearby countries: not even close. The real crime of Cuba was the successes, in terms of things like health care and feeding people, and the general threat of a “demonstration effect” that follows from that–that is, the threat that people in other countries might try to do the same things. That’s what they call a rotten apple that might spoil the barrel, or a virus that might infect the region–and then our whole imperial system begins to fall apart. I mean, for thirty years, Cuba has been doing things which are simply intolerable–such as sending tens of thousands of doctors to support suffering people around the Third World, or developing biotechnology in a poor country with no options, or having healths services roughly at the level of the advanced countries and way out of line with the rest of Latin America. These things are not tolerable to American power–they’d be intolerable anywhere in the Third World and they’re multiply intolerable in a country which is expected to be a U.S. colony. That’s Cuba’s real crime.

Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, edited by Peter R. Mitchell and John Schoeffel.

It Was Love at First Haiku

Maria told me to contact you
When you were fresh back from El Salvador

And perhaps needing another shoulder to lean on
After re-entering this meshugah militarized greed culture

There we sat at a table
At Café Ventana

And soon you spread before me
Your final project from the previous semester

You stayed up all night to do it
It had to be that way

Had to cut through the sleepiness
To pour out all that had accumulated—

On each page a water color by you
And a special photo

And a haiku on one page in Spanish
And on the facing page your translation into English Read the rest of this entry »