Wednesday, June 19, 2019

We Are, An Introduction and A First Selected Work: This Is Why They Come - A Terrible Loss

This is why they come...

Every year, my class publishes what we call our ENL Magazine, a collection of writings by my students, all recent immigrants to the United States  At first, the goal of our little publication was to teach people in our community something about today's immigrant experience, but with all the fervor out there about immigrants these days, I feel that it's important for people to learn some things they do not know.  

I've been working with immigrant students for 16 years now, and in that time I've learned a lot of things I never knew before, things which inspire me to be their advocate as best I can.  Before I begin to share their words with you, I'd like to share some of the things I've learned over the years...

- Like elsewhere in the U.S., the population of immigrant students, especially from Central America, has grown and continues to grow every year.

- The young people I work with are just that...young  If they had had their way, they'd still be home in their countries, with their families and their friends.  The great majority of them did not choose to come here, but most know why they did.

- I have had students from many countries, representing five continents and more than twenty countries.  I have both documented and undocumented students, and every single one of them is a human being who deserves as good a life as anyone.

- My students have experienced things that you and I will never experience.  The only gun I've ever seen has been in the holster of a police officer.  I've never seen or heard a gun used, and I've never seen one used on a relative.  Many of my students have.  I've never been threatened with my life by scary people hanging around outside of my school, or have had my family extorted for money for 'protection,' nor have I experienced threats to my mother or father or younger siblings.  I never walked for days on end in the hot desert sun without food or water, or been made to ride in vehicles with literally dozens and dozens of strangers in a cramped little space, or holed up in a strange house, hiding in darkness, terrified, waiting for a signal that it's time to move on.  I've never seen dismembered body parts or been threatened with a machete or made to swim across alligator-infested waters in the darkness of night.  I've never experienced these things, much less as a child.

- How desperate does a parent have to be to set their children off on a journey such as this?  Pretty damned desperate!  I once was told by a student that his little brother of 12 years had just left El Salvador on his way here.  For six weeks, his mother had no way of knowing where he was or if he was safe all that time.  All she had was God.  

I think you get the idea, but that's just me talking.  Now I'd like you too hear from some of my students.  I've published excerpts from this magazine in the past, and now that we have a new edition, I'd like to share some more.  

This world, this country has a great shortage of empathy, and especially on the part of many who claim to follow Jesus, probably one of the most loving and caring people who ever walked this Earth.  It makes me sad.  Even so, I still feel in my heart that there are people I know who will turn their backs to these stories.  Ignorance truly is bliss!

I can tell you firsthand that it's really hard to get these kids to share their stories.  I tried my best to convince them that they have an opportunity to help somehow, and believe me, there is plenty more to tell far and above what I will share here, but even I may never hear it.  In the meantime, here's the first piece I'd like to share, a piece entitled A Terrible Loss.  It is a story that was borne out of one sentence this anonymous student had written in another piece and I thought it worthy of attention, so we created a separate essay.  This story is true.  I've listened to him speak it and I have seen photographs.  Please read on and stay tuned for more from We Are... (warning, some may find the following content disturbing)

A Terrible Loss

Something sad happened just one week after I came to this country.  My best friend, Cristian, who lived with his mother in the same town as me in Guatemala, was killed by gangsters.  She was murdered, too, by the same killers I escaped from just a couple of months earlier. It hurts that I could not to go to the wake and say goodbye to him.

You see, when the gangsters approached him to ask him for money for protection, he decided to not comply.  He tried to fight back.  He lost.  He tried to use his fists to fight off the gangsters, but they had guns.  My poor friend was shot in the chest, and then they shot his mother, too.  Both of them died.   

The news was a blow to me because we were like brothers.  We were friends ever since we met five years before in school.  It was also especially hard because it decimated practically everybody in his family, and left his sister without parents and without a brother.  My friend’s father had died when Cristian was very young.  To this day I don’t know whatever happened to his sister.    


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Hello...It's Me, Distracted

Why hello everyone...long time, no write.  Forgive me Lord, it's been three months since my last post...  

I miss writing!  There have been so many distractions in my life lately that have gotten in the way of writing.  Besides, the inspiration just hasn't been there.  Hopefully, this'll get me going.  At this point in my story, I don't even know what I'm about to write, but here goes...

The Move

The last time I posted anything here, I was preparing to move out of the house after selling it.  Well, that was three months ago and I am all about the new place these days.  I really lucked out in the end...selling so quickly and finding a comparable (and hella cool!) spot to call home.  

I'm now living in the village of Patchogue, about a mile from my old house, which is probably the best place I could have found myself.  I always wanted to live a city life, and this is about as close as I can get to that out here on Long Island.  

For those of you not from these parts, the village of Patchogue is a former major shopping destination turned neglected, depressed area turned revitalized minitropolis about twenty years ago, give or take.  It is today the most popular spot on this sprawling 118 mile island, with trendy bars and restaurants, cool housing, fun events, and shopping, too.  I am just outside of the main district, and also about 1/4 mile from the water...both great for walking.

Image result for patchogue downtown revitalization
Alive After Five in Patchogue

I mentioned above the hella cool spot I'm living in.  Well yeah, the square footage is comparable to my old place and it's one of five apartments in a big, old, Victorian house.  Lots and lots of character, plenty of space and tons of windows to make it bright and airy.  Here's a photo of my living room that I just took:

Nice, right?  I could post more, but the only ones I already have are a little light on the furniture, and it's too dark to take any more now.  Maybe when I take some new, homey ones, I'll share.  So this has been one of my distractions, but it's brought me to a happier place.  


Yeah, so there's a him in my life.  For a change.  For the first time in a very very long time, there is a him.  And almost six months now, too!  Who'd have thought?  Not me.  Anyway, out of respect for his privacy, I won't say much about him except that he is a beautiful person both inside and out and for him to even have gotten this far into my life, he's got to be a special one.  Again, distraction, but also, a happier place!    


It still feels weird for me to say that I am a professor at a well-known university, but it's already been three years now that I've been doing it.  It's weird where life takes you, almost as if I've just naturally grown into the type of person who can do this, but let me tell you, even though my teaching life made me well-prepared for it, professoring is hard!  I must be decent at it because they keep asking me to do more and more at the university and I am very conflicted about it.  

Currently I am teaching a brand new class, which causes me about ten hours of work per week outside the three-hour class.  And I've been asked to teach three more for the remainder of the school year.  Ugh!  But how do you turn down the money?  Teaching college classes helps afford me the opportunity to enjoy the summer without work and I have to keep telling myself that, but this is probably the biggest distraction of all, and it doesn't make me a happier!  Double ugh!    

The United States of America

The one, overarching distraction lately is the amount of attention I give and its resulting dismay I feel about the state of our country.  Multiple times a day, I follow news feeds on Twitter, watch news bytes on YouTube, and read news articles, all feeding into what I feel is this dark, ominous cloud hanging over all of our heads.  It's quite maddening all of the crap I see out there, and it makes me afraid for our future.  I'm scared to see how this craziness ends, and I could write pages and pages on this, but I'm going to leave this right here...for now.  

Image result for statue of liberty crying'

Well okay, I think we've got a post.  Hopefully I'll be around again sooner rather than later.  Lots of stuff inside my head!  I just have to learn to work around those distractions...  As always, thanks for checking me out.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Anticipating the End

One week.  Seven days.  Twenty years.  It's really here, the day I've thought about for so long.  I've had barely a minute to think about it these past couple of weeks, but I know it's coming and though I am excited to get into a new place, I'm apprehensive of the sadness that's coming. 

That's a picture of my house when Joe and I first bought it.  I found this and a few others while I was packing yesterday and looking at them made me a little sentimental.  We bought the house together back in 1998 and I bought it out from him in 2008.  That's a lot of time spent inside these walls and it's going to be an adjustment to go live somewhere else. 

The house looks so different in this picture than it does today.  Both Joe and I together and then just myself put a lot of work into this place over the past twenty years and though it never quite got to perfection, I'm proud of what we...what I, did to the place..a new kitchen, a deck with a new sliding glass door where a window once existed, a new bathroom, and lots of other smaller things, too.

It's been a great couple of months for me since I decided to put the house on the market towards the end of the summer, and I'm trying to ride that wave for as long as I can.  The selling process went easier and faster than I thought it would, I ended up finding a great new place to inhabit, and to boot, I met someone pretty special, too!  He's the first meaningful person in my life in awhile now, and having him around, well, just makes me happy.

His and my lives have had some parallels to them in the two-plus months we've been dating, and that's one of the reasons I'm apprehensive of the end of my time here.  You see, just a couple of weeks ago, he moved out of his own place, the very first place that he had ever called his own, to go live with his best friend.  And just like me, he was lead to have to move earlier than he had planned, and as the days wore on towards his move, I watched and observed with a keen interest. 

The experience was tough for him as he quickly dismantled his home.  He texted me pictures of things he was packing, and the sentiments he was feeling were much the same as those I've been feeling as I go through my things now.  Memories.  Reminders of time spent in my home. 

When the day finally came for him to move, though I didn't see him, I could feel him.  My mind empathized as he spent the last night in his own place, feeling sentimental and sad, and then the displaced feelings he experienced when he first began to settle into his new digs.  Now as my time approaches, I feel that my own last moments here will be even more sentimental and sad.  I am not looking forward to that, but I know he'll be with me, be it in body or spirit, and that makes it all a little better. 

I may or may not reflect a little more in my remaining days here, that depends on the time I'll have.  We shall see.   In the meantime, my guy has settled into his new environment well, and luckily for me I've got a great place to take my mind off of the past and get excited about what's to come.  Stay tuned... 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Welcome to Switzerland: Hello Amy, Davide, and Lausanne

After my little three-day stint in Amsterdam, I was to spend the rest of my vacation with my friend Amy and her husband David, who live in Lausanne, Switzerland.  Our plan was to hang out in Lausanne for about six days and then head on to Paris for the end of my trip. In the end it was like two separate trips for me, the one alone in Amsterdam, and this one, and though both were wonderful in their own ways, the second part with Davide and Amy were extra special because of them.

Welcome to Switzerland!

After only an hour's flight from Amsterdam, I was in Geneva, Switzerland.  Davide and Amy live in Lausanne, about 45 minutes awayy by train, and so I hit the rails and in no time Amy and I were bear-hugging at the Lausanne train station.  After a quick stop at a local cafe (I needed it!), we went back up to their place where I finally, after almost ten years, met Davide.  All I can say at this point is that he was as warm and welcoming as Amy, and as the next week or so wore on, he and I became fast friends in our own right.

From the very start, Amy was like, whatever you want to do, let's do, but as she and I always do, and with Davide in the mix, we had wine and cheese and meats and talked through till the wee hours of the morning...a perfect relaxing start!


Now I'd been to Switzerland a couple of times before, but on both of those trips I was in Luzern and Zurich and both times it was in April.  Those two cities are in the German speaking part of the country, more to the east.  Amy and Davide live in Lausanne, which is in the French speaking region and more to the west.  The city is located on the shores of Lake Geneva (which they call lac Leman), across from Evian, France.  It is also home to the International Olympic Committee.  I'd never been to Lausanne before this trip, and so my first full day was spent checking it out...

Amy and Davide live in the vicinity of the lake, and the major portions of Lausanne are located up the hill from there, so bright and early Saturday morning, she and I headed to the city's one subway line to get to the city center.   Maybe because it was a Saturday and maybe it was because it was the height of summer vacation season, but the city reminded me a lot of the city of my father's birth, Trieste, Italy, with the appearance of a mid-sized city, but with few people.  We meandered through the quiet streets, checking out the sites as well as the produce offered up on Saturday farmer's market day.

And of course, there was shopping!  Amy brought me to this very cool, Century 21-like department store where she helped me do some damage, but I am gonna look oh so good this year, lol.

Let's Get French

All in all, the day was a fun one, and again, just spending time with my buddy was what made it so.  Later on in the evening, the three of us had been invited to the home of a gay couple (who's names escape me at the moment), one of whom was cousin to Amy's friend Sylvie.  Neither of them spoke English, and so most of the evening was spent with the four of them speaking French and David and Amy stopping every once in awhile to keep me abreast of the conversation.  It was really a lovely evening, with good food and wine, and pleasant company, though admittedly for the first time in my life I wished I'd known French.

I do speak Spanish fluently and a little bit of Italian, but I French always confused me.  The rules of pronunciation in Spanish and Italian are pretty steadfast, but French is a whole other story,  Luckily, Amy had learned the language quite well in her nine years in Switzerland, and that day she slowly began teaching me both how to say words and what they meant.  That night I was also introduced to a little bit of French Swiss culture, which turned out to be a funny little sidebar to the rest of the trip.

Before heading out to the dinner, both Amy and Davide showed me that when you first take a drink of your wine and do a sort of cheers, you have to look the other person in the eye and say the word "Sante," which I took as "shantay," a la Rupaul.  Well, that was something I couldn't seem to get quite right during the rest of the trip and made for some pretty funny moments.  

So that was my first full day in Lausanne, definitely one to remember and the rest of my time spent there was equally as delicious!  Stay tuned...

In the meantime, check out my other posts on Europe 2018 below: