Hold It All

Category: Latin America

Our Only Salvation Lies in Words: On Arenas’s Before Night Falls

All dictatorships are sexually repressive and anti-life. All affirmations of life are diametrically opposed to dogmatic regimes. It was logical for Fidel Castro to persecute us, not to let us fuck, and to try to suppress any public display of the life force.
-— Reinaldo Arenas

 

Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls: A Memoir

Powerful and gripping memoir by homosexual, writer, dissident, which awakened me to Castro’s crimes against naysayers and gays.

Herein are great passages about the beauty of Cuba, its beaches and the sea, the countryside, the animals, the rivers, the trees, as in “And the sky’s radiance was not constant but an unending blaze of changing hues and, stars that burst and disappeared (after having existed for millions of years) just to enrapture us for a few moments.” Or, “I always thought that in Cuba the only thing that saved us from absolute insanity was that, being surrounded by water, we had to chance to go to shore and swim.” Arenas appreciated the created order throughout his life and seemed not to take it for granted. Could not his sexual voracity also be an element of the Via Positiva? For it is all about pleasure and enjoyment and splendor, he seemed, after he came out, remarkably free of guilt and anxiety (from this anyway) and self-hatred. So: “To get to a beach was like entering paradise because all the young people wanted to make love, and there were always dozens of them ready to go into the bushes.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Share the Wealth with Brittany, Julia, and Suzy: Reflections from the 2017 Mev Puleo Program

We–Brittany Butler (junior), Suzy Kickham (sophomore), and Julia Nouse (sophomore)–spent 10 weeks studying liberation theology and living in community in Nicaragua this past summer. Now, after six months back in the states, lessons we learned in accompaniment, community, and gratitude have continued to shape us. We hope to share with you all some of our experiences of both joy and brokenness. While we will begin by sharing stories, we mostly hope to foster a conversation during which we can all share and reflect together. Join us Sunday 18 February Potluck dinner begins at 6:00 p.m. Sharing begins at 6:45 At the home of Julia Brucks 2819A Shenandoah Saint Louis, MO 63104

Suzy, Julia, Abbie, Brittany

Who Is Learning from History?

1.

Oscar Romero’s Letter
San Salvador February 17, 1980

His Excellency
The President of the United States Mr. Jimmy Carter

Dear Mr. President:

In the last few days, news has appeared in the national press that worries me greatly. According to the reports, your government is studying the possibility of economic and military support and assistance to the present government junta.

Because you are a Christian and because you have shown that you want to defend human rights, I venture to set forth for you my pastoral point of view in regard to this news and to make a specific request of you. Read the rest of this entry »

The Preferential Option for the Rich

“[You in the Western countries]  have organized your lives around inhuman values [which] are inhuman because they cannot be universalized. The system rests on a few using the majority of the resources, while the majority can’t even cover their basic necessities. It is crucial to define a system of values and a norm of living that takes into account every human being.”

–Father Ignacio Ellacuría
Quoted in Noam Chomsky, Deterring Democracy

El Salvador Connection by Martin Zaldivar

In our current class, I asked if anyone had a strong connection to El Salvador. Martin Zaldivar shared the following, and he gave me permission to post it. El Salvador is the home to half my family (father’s side). My grandmother spends most of her days in her dwelling, close to the noisy capital. She dozes on and off in the early mornings beneath a roof of corrugated metal, over a concrete floor laid by my deceased grandfather, and between walls which don’t do enough to muffle the sound of cats yowling their prowess or their other, undoubtedly sordid affairs. I have a cousin who is young enough to believe that running from the sounds of gunshots is completely normal, and an uncle who daydreams, incessantly and unreasonably- reasonably. My father spoke to my siblings and myself about the friends he lost during the Salvadoran civil war. He hid a book in his room which I found as a child on the civil war, which contained enough misery and anguish to open my eyes to the kind of truths which are hidden just under white lies. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »