Monthly Archives: June 2014

Mixed Messages

Obama asks Central American parents to not put their children at risk.

Obama asks Central American parents to not put their children at risk.

The local paper reported earlier this week that the trip to the US border is now done in an express five days, as opposed to the normal two weeks of peril and danger. An official and very stern message came out from the US just days ago, that children with at least one parent in their home country would be deported. News filters back each day of the ease the crossing has become.

The child immigration issue remains highly volatile and extremely politically charged. As such, the messages are quite the mix; the sternest warning always allowing exceptions. The message received and understood here is the exception part; we are after all Masters of Exception.

While true that there is too little information to call it conspiracy, there are too many coincidences to call it chance. Let us take a look at the perception here on the ground, in small communities off the beaten path.

Migration is restricted from deporting children detained at the US border.

Migration is restricted from deporting children detained at the US border.

Several weeks ago, the news spread through the grapevine that the USA was opening the border for children. Some sources actually put the number at 70,000. The beginning source of the news seems to be the “coyotes” who earn their livelihood by guiding immigrates north. It must be understood that the local perception of a “coyote” is not that of the negative “human trafficker” that is generally portrayed by official sources. Coyotes are often members of the community who have built up their reputation by providing this transportation service to their neighbors for generations.

The recent flood to the border did in effect open the gates. Normal procedures were set aside and new arrivals were just deposited at bus stations. Word got back very quickly and the flood north gained strength.

It is believed that the wave of young immigrants is due gang violence

It is believed that the wave of young immigrants is due gang violence

The trip north normally takes several weeks, as the coyote times segments of the journey with work shifts of collaborators and with negotiation for passage through territories held by differing, often conflicting organizations. The word is out now that the obstacles have been removed; coyotes are able to double the number of trips per month as it is now possible to arrive in just 5 days.

The “do not send your children or they will be deported” message, conditioned by “if they have a parent in the home country” is an invitation to keep coming. Most of the younger ones are going to be with their one parent or parents who are already in the USA. They are leaving grandmothers and aunts, very few are leaving parents.

"If they arrive, we will send them back..."

“If they arrive, we will send them back…”

 

Today´s paper, El Diario de Hoy, is a perfect example.
The headline reads “Obama asks parents in Central America to not put their children at risk.” Pages 2 and 3 detail the fact that children from Central America cannot be deported without a long process. Page 3 cites a study concluding that the immigration is due gang violence. Page 4 is the article from the headline citing President Obama´s message to Central American parents. Page 8 uses red ink to showcase the 307 violent deaths in June for El Salvador, 167 more than last year.

Violence leaves 307 deaths in June: 167 more than the sme period last year.

Violence leaves 307 deaths in June: 167 more than the sme period last year.

 

 

Put yourself in the place of a Central American parent, for a moment. You have been in, let´s say, Houston for six years and have a decent job which allows you to send support back to your family. You left your daughter behind, with your mother, when she was just four years old. Now she is ten, you haven´t seen her or watched her grow and you are starting to worry for her wellbeing. You´ve heard the rumors, seen the news and know of friends who now have their children safely with them.

What would you do, right now?

Too Big to Solve

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As a happening that could be interpreted as deliberate, the flooding of the southern USA border with children from Central America has jolted the immigration reform debate. It has also caused a flare-up of fear and insecurity for some people. The human rights aspect, always a factor in the reception and treatment of immigrants, especially those considered illegal, has become a major issue due to the drastic increase in “unaccompanied” children turning themselves in to US Immigration officials at the border.

All in all, an already unwieldy problem just warped into a complexity that borders on too big to solve. Many components contribute to the problem and fingers are somewhat justifiable pointed in all directions as human interest and unfortunately self-interest comes into play. While there are many facets to explore, today we will take a look at just one: The Money Trail.

“Who is paying for all of this?” is a very understandable question, especially in today´s economy where just making ends meet could be considered quite the accomplishment. So, let´s take a look at the immigration economic impact, not from a national aspect because spending has never been a problem for a nation, but from the angle of the groups benefitting financially from what we must accept, is a Growth Industry.

To understand the idea of a growth industry we must look at this issue within the larger context of the US Prison Industry. According to published reports, US prisons have become a very lucrative endeavor, since components of the system were privatized. Resources are invested to insure they are operated at maximum capacity, as with any other business, and the effect is that the overall prison population has gone from 300,000 in the seventies to over 2 million today. According to Prison Policy Initiative  over 50,000 of that number is represented by Immigration offenses and detention. At a reported $20-$33,000 a year per inmate, the “who is paying for this” question just made a substantial dimensional leap. Add to that the bail bond and parole businesses and you have a real industry that is managing serious numbers.

I just talked with a Salvadoran friend in the USA regarding this aspect of entering illegally. It really comes down to a matter of survival and those who cannot make the desert run turn themselves in. Normally they will be given a date to appear at court and be released on bail. Many will forfeit that bail. “You end up working for the courts your first year here,” I was told. It is also important to keep in mind that the costs involved do not fall solely on the US Border program. The immigrants themselves and/or their families have made an important financial investment just to gain entry.

To fully understand the cost for the immigrant, we must incorporate the economy of their home country. Most are leaving rural areas that offer no employment opportunity. The necessity of surviving on less than one dollar a day is widely used as the benchmark for extreme poverty in Central America. Minimum wage in El Salvador for commerce and services is $8.08 per day or $242.40 per month, less social security and pension for a take-home pay of $ 219.99 ($7.33 per day.) Agriculture salaries start at $3.50 per day.

Currently the cost, from where we are in eastern El Salvador to the US border is from $4,000 to $9,000. This is paid to the “coyote,” the local guide with all the connections to deliver you to the border. One thousand of this goes to the Zeta Drug Cartel for “safe passage” through their territory. This safe passage is no guarantee at any step of the two-week journey. Immigrants face robbery, extortion, beatings, rape and kidnapping into the sex trade. Once at the border, and opting out of the desert run, you turn yourself in and start looking for help to pay the bail bond, which I understand runs between $1,500 to $10,000. This latest border overload has caused a boom in the attorney business, which offers to get you through for another $3,000.

If you consider the number of immigrants and the cost figures mentioned, the dollar volume is staggering; In short, too much money is involved to allow a solution.

Causes me to ponder with regard to where people put their hopes and trust. Creating the conditions in which one could be confident of investing at home rather than risking life, limb and a huge debt to gamble on getting into the USA, needs to be our goal.

Pawns

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“Is that our cousin trapped at the border, Dad?” was the question from my five year old on the way to school today. My seven year old pitched in with, “yep, that´s her”, before I had the chance to try to divert the conversation, “she´s in trouble, now.”

Karen (fictitious name as I do not want to inadvertently make matters worse) is in effect detained at the US/Mexican border. She did not go unaccompanied, as reports claim regarding these children, but was abandoned at the border by the distant family member who traveled with her. The plan was for Karen´s mother to recover her daughter without trouble, as was promised in the news that went out through the grapevine. That plan was frustrated and the rules were changed as the border became overwhelmed by the sheer number of children crossing. The fact that Karen´s mother is in the USA illegally now prevents her access to her daughter.

Karen is alone. She is ten years old. She is a pawn in a political quagmire and obviously is of no importance in the big picture. She is a cousin to my children, and there she does have importance. Karen is also a student at Amún Shéa where she is very important. She did not want to go and resisted for quite a while. But her mother insisted and as it is she who supports the entire family in El Salvador, no one could really oppose.

Some thirty years ago, my wife and Karen´s mother, at about the age of my youngest ones, fled the Salvadoran Civil War as refugees to Honduras. Now this current generation of children, under different circumstances and for completely different motives, is repeating the same history. To what purpose…?

We began the Amún Shéa educational program precisely to break this type of continuation. Obviously we are not there yet, but are making headway and are committed to being an important part of the opportunities here in El Salvador which will lessen the need to migrate north in search of livelihood and substance for our families.

Political Correctness versus Just Being Polite

Bugs

I fully understand the wisdom or need to be sensitive that our actions and speech do not offend, unless offense is needed. I am not convinced, however, that Politically Correct standards are completely democratic. I find it quite tiresome that I must measure every word uttered against a no-no list provided by special interest groups, while gritting my teeth over insensitivity towards people with which I now share my life. That said, I am hopeful that in most cases it is unintentional by the “perpetrator” and in fact normally no offense is taken by the “victim.”

The purpose of bringing this up at all, far from adding to the selections categorized as hate crimes, is to share the heart-felt appreciation I perceive and openly receive while employing these simple behavioral courtesies. By no means do I wish to initiate a process in which we will all just stop speaking with one another in order not to offend. Perhaps we may call this Political Politeness, although in fact it is just being polite.

By way of clarification, I have resided in El Salvador, a small country in Central America, for the past 30 years. I also claim some understanding about what I am presenting because I grew up in rural Delaware and Virginia; meaning this may very well hurt me as much as it hurts you.

  1. While visiting another country on the American Continent, please refer to back home as the United States or the USA. You are accustomed to proudly stating, “I´m American,” and rightly so, for you are American. However, everyone else around you is also American. America is a continent; we are all Americans, from la Tierra de Fuego in Argentina to the Northern Territories of Canada. This is not an issue of ownership, just something to keep in mind.
  2. Please get off that Number One trip. It´s downright embarrassing. Really, like Beverly Hillbilly embarrassing, if you remember back that far. Do a little research and discover for yourself in which categories we are actually Number One. Those in actual top positions of achievement do not crow about it.
  3. Good intentions aside, you don´t need to have the answer to everything. Actually you do not have the answer to everything and when your mouth opens, your ears close. Learning comes long before teaching. As an old saying goes; “Better to remain silent and be considered a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.
  4. If you are a progressive supporter of human rights and through that activism happen to meet highly skilled Hispanic professionals who have been forced to flee their home country, please do not offer them a job doing your yard-work, unless it is absolutely the only option available. They may be in need of the cash, but put yourself in their shoes.

These are a few friendly tips, given with the intention of creating a better understanding among all of us, not to create defensiveness and not to be taken as an accusation of hate crimes. Political Correctness should not revive a McCarthy-like atmosphere, which only widens the divisions separating our combined talents, but become Political Politeness building greater understanding. An understanding of and consideration toward your neighbors should never go out of style.

The Great Sexual Orientation Dissonance

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by Ron Brenneman

Fully aware of the quagmire this discussion will lead to, I nevertheless launch myself headlong into the great sexual orientation debate. I do so, not because I have the solution or even a solution, but because I have an opinion and am availing myself of my inherent right to express it. Political correctness is disingenuous if it does not include space for sincere expression of opinion.

I must clarify, given my responsibilities in several organizations, that the opinion I express is my very own and by no means represents posture, position or stance by any institution I have had involvement with in the past, currently participate in or may form part of in the future. This is just me.

The specific issue of sexual orientation holds absolutely no interest for me; I just don´t care. I also do not care about your food preferences, your social background, your religion, your economic status or your academic titles. I hope this is clear. I just do not care and have very little interest in putting energy into these issues. To me, these issues are important only as components of personal identity. If you are comfortable with whom you are, great: if not, fix it. At the same time, my personal preferences, opinions and beliefs form part of my identity and unless I weld them in such a fashion as to harm another person in any manner, they shouldn´t be a great matter of concern to anyone else. A friendly debate on these issues may help to clarify one´s thinking as identity is built, but to grind a subject into the ground trying to homogenize everyone´s view into some kind of politically correctness is a pointless disruption.

The challenge here is to rise above the fray and take a good objective look around. There seems to be an effort in keeping us focused below the beltline, as it were. All aspects of personal identity are lodged in our lower self; in our lower chakras. While we are focused on our bellybuttons, an Armageddon-like scene is reality for communities of people throughout the world. Personal liberties have been severely curtailed even in “democratic” societies, a hostile takeover of governments seems to be underway and we passively accept being labeled “consumers” when truthfully the consumers are those who manage to “reap without sowing” and “producers” are consider unworthy of mention let alone credit for what they do.

Humanity is currently facing a major civilizational transition. Regardless of your view on evolution and creation, we are in the midst of events which will drastically modify the social and political structures currently known as religion, government, law and economy. This has begun; it is not some far removed possibility.

Our role is to be fully involved. This earth, the heavens and the coming age are our inheritance; yet we have been conned into misdirecting our precious energy into superficial, petty, struggles. It is high time to pull the focus up just a bit and to start dealing with reality. I would frankly ask my friends and colleagues who have come out, or are about to come out, “Why are you here? Is life about your bellybutton, or is it larger? Are you here just to make sure we understand who you are, or are you participating in the evolution of life?” Where in all the annals of history does a human create a difference on the basis of their sexual orientation? It´s immaterial; it doesn´t matter. Could we please start dealing with the continuation of life?

It is no accident that the recent focus of humanity has been from the waist down. Why is that? Fear of the power we hold in our hearts and in our heads? I propose, and hope with all my heart, and know as a fact (which is no contradiction), that the current generation of humanity has the capacity in their hearts and in their minds to recreate the world as it should be, to raise our sights beyond the beltline.

We hold the reins. What we focus upon becomes important. So, where is our focus?

Life protects itself in the end, even against us. And after all, each age of humanity reaches its deserved end…

Power, Influence and Authority

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Students taking ownership of their education is a lovely concept. Making it happen in real terms, is easier said than done. The mechanics involved in shifting power from one party to another are typically brushed aside as we speak glowingly of empowerment.

We are currently working through such a watershed moment, in our school cafeteria of all places, which exemplifies the fact that there are multiple adjustments and restructuring necessary for transferring ownership. It is a process more commonly known as a power struggle.

Twenty three of our students are participating in food preparation as part of their nutritional studies. This study involves organizing menus, calculating costs, determining supply logistics and much of the actual preparation of the selected menu. This takes place in the school cafeteria with food prepared for the student body and staff. This is not theoretical; it is real-time and real-world.

The kitchen staff and administration enjoyed the attention at first and supported the idea that the students should “learn how to cook.” Once the activity began to involve actual decision-making however, they felt encroached upon as this is their territory and their responsibility. The power struggle ensued.

The fact that the students are much better at some aspects of the organizing, calculating and logistics is a delicate matter; one which we will not bring up, as to not add fuel to the fire.

It is interesting that most will see this type of situation as it distraction from our task of education, rather than welcoming it as real and palatable classroom material. We have made the conscience decision to convert our administrative problems into valuable lessons for our students whenever possible. What is even more interesting is how the term, student, has broadened to include administrative and kitchen staff, along with our normal study group. We are all learning in this process.

IMG_0770The route we are taking is to introduce the interplay between Power, Influence and Authority in such a way that each party can easily understand the dynamics taking place. Our goal is to arrive at a win-win conclusion for all.

This method allowed us to identify the role that each party falls into naturally. The Administrator took the role of Authority, through control of the purchases. The Cooks had Power, as they decide what to cook, how to cook it, what to combine it with and what portion to put on the plate. The students, through their expressed interest, were able to exert Influence, but not enter into decision-making.

We did find that a shift in roles was called for. It just doesn´t make good sense that the Authority in our nutrition program is the checkbook, represented by the Administrator. IMG_0776We decided that the best role for Administration was that of Influence. If we are seriously “educating,” then the students must have the Power, in so far as production costs versus nutritional benefit are concerned, and in the introduction of new menus and dietary practices. The cooks do have the ultimate Authority, given they know what is and what is not feasible and other tricks of the trade known as experience.

Arriving at this conclusion by no means actually concludes a situation as dynamic as this. There are many details to work through and sensibilities to deal with before we call it a success. At the same time, it opens a real Pandora´s box of similar circumstances that can now to be examined in a new light.

Regardless of the perspective or the method deemed more appropriate, perhaps with greater academic foundation, to speak of empowerment without actually shifting power is a ridiculous exercise in counter-productivity.

Breaking it Down into Manageable Pieces

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“All problems, regardless of how overwhelming they may seem to us, start out small. All difficult situations under the heavens are a compilation of simple problems.”

paraphrased from Tao Te Ching, chapter 63

It is rather overwhelming to understand that I must deal with what seems to be an ever expanding epidemic of issues such as sexual abuse, harassment, misogamy and other actions which apparently have been prevalent for some time. Unfortunately these issues have been so successfully hidden, in plain sight, that we actually lack common vocabulary to describe them.

At the same time, they are generally taboo subjects, which explains how they can be hidden away in plain sight. We can observe and give opinions when observed from afar, but when it occurs in our circle of influence, we mum up very quickly.

“When you recognize a problem, you´ve just been handed the task of solving it,” is another ageless truth that comes without exception clauses. As a father of young children and with responsibility to a school full of children, it is now my responsibility to get over being uncomfortable with the subject and assume my assigned role in helping to solve it.

It is interesting how sanitized our abstract concepts are and how they tend to hide the foul realities that create them. Take the overused term underdevelopment; we hear it often and it conjures up images of poor, yet often noble people in need of a hand. But what are the base elements of underdevelopment, if not unsightly and often very ignoble displays of human nature coupled with dire economic conditions? With our work in northern Morazán in El Salvador, we often tout the fact that we have the lowest murder rate in the country. We will leave out however, the contradictory fact that we have one of the highest levels of interfamily violence. And what makes up interfamily violence? All of those phrases we don´t want to consider, much less openly discuss; neglect, psychological abuse, beating, molestation, incest and rape. This is not a blanket condemnation of the community, just some of the cold hard facts contributing to underdevelopment. And yes, much of the community deserves the distinction of noble and warm-heartedness.

It is high time we stop dealing with the abstracts and start applying that ageless counsel of dealing with the individual and simple components that comprise the overwhelming problem. Or better said resolve the problems while they are still small; nip them in the bud.

We had an “issue” several weeks ago at the Amún Shéa School. It consisted of a male teacher taking inappropriate actions toward several female students, to the point that they became uncomfortable. The short story is that the students spoke up, the teacher was fired and we showcased the incident as an example of empowerment and several of our supporters became uncomfortable.

On the surface, a very simple incident, but one that could actually provoke “much ado over nothing” comments. Just below the surface, however, lie key elements in “nipping the problem in the bud.”

First and foremost, the students involved have not become victims. They spoke up publicly in a transparent matter-of-fact setting and effected the necessary change, without the need to take on the role of victim. I believe this aspect deserves a good hard look. It is an area outside my personal expertise. I do appreciate organizations that work with victims, but firmly believe that in many cases we can prevent the victimization from occurring in the first place. Empowerment is another overused term, but self-aware young people with a sense of self-worth and self-ownership, who are supported by “us” and by involved institutions, are less likely to become victims.

Secondly, the negative role model being presented by the male teacher to male students was thoroughly thrashed. The public accusation was necessary for this important aspect. We cannot ignore the fact that most learning occurs through example, especially in terms of social behavior. Sweeping the incident under the rug only trains the next generation in unacceptable “manly” behavior.

The third point is that this is not a law-enforcement problem. This is a “just whom are we here for” type of situation. Law enforcement is required when total breakdown occurs and a victim is created. We have the responsibility of creating the conditions that do not allow the situation to get to that point. The guideline seems to be the comfort zone. No one should be expected to bear with impositions of intimacy from others that create discomfort. “Your freedom stops where mine begins,” a sometimes controversial phrase, works well here, as does the concept of individual sovereignty. They must, however be broadened to explicitly include minors and others considered to be “institutional wards.” Indeed, enrollment in a school does not lessen individual sovereignty of the minor, but rather doubles the institutional responsibility in the protection of that sovereignty.

An open, frank and transparent atmosphere is the fourth element in nipping this problem at the bud. We must be perfectly clear in the understanding that it is nothing more than our denial and embarrassment over given subjects of conversation that casts the shadows which allow these actions to originate and propagate. A conscience effort to name actions for what they are, in a public and very timely manner, must be our personal and institutional policy.

The world is not limited to our school, of course, not even for our students. This is why it is so important that empowerment and self-worth is instilled in each student. In the end it is they who will eradicate this stupidity and prepare for their own challenges. We are here only to support them and to break things down to manageable pieces.