My article Mexico: The House the US Has Set on Fire was published on Huffington Post. You can see it here. If you like it, please pass it on or buzz it up. Thank you.
Mexico is a house the US has set on fire, then covered its doors and windows with bars, allowing the people inside to burn alive. Fueled by easy access to weapons from their neighbors to the north, drug lords have infiltrated all sectors of society, and now Mexico is arguably the most dangerous country in North America and one of the most dangerous in the world. Deregulation, privatization of government services, liberalized trade, and the “war on drugs” have made life and poverty in Mexico so unbearable that Mexican citizens risk their lives to try and escape the burning conflagration and come to the United States. The US created this mess, and, through “border reform,” seeks to keep Mexican citizens from attempting to escape.
Even more so than in the US, the rich have gotten richer on the backs of the Mexican poor. Thanks to corporate America’s demand for low wages, Mexicans confront American sweatshops, pollution, congestion, horrible living conditions, and no resources to deal with the increasing violence. As in the United States, agribusiness has destroyed the family farm. Wal-mart has put thousands of small, local businesses out of business. Free trade was sold as a means to improve the lives of Mexicans and Americans. It has led only to greater exploitation. American jobs were sent to Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor with little or no safety or environmental oversight. The “war on drugs” has made outlaws wealthy and created a dangerous and corrupt police state where no one is safe. Mexicans want to escape–how can we blame them?
Immigration reform is constantly on the US agenda, yet it isn’t really about reform; it is about racism, ignorance, and fear. Americans, suffering from decades of the same economic policies that are leading to greater poverty in Mexico, blame their woes on Mexico’s victims of those policies. The smoke and mirrors illusion that the rising level of poverty in the US is caused by liberal systems, government socialism, and immigrants is part of the same lie that keeps Americans blaming and fighting one another. As long as everyone is fighting each other, the bulk of the population won’t focus on the true causes of economic disparity taking over the planet.
While it is highly unlikely that this approach will happen, Americans need to reach out and support Mexicans and Mexico. Rather than turning immigration reform into a battle at the border, the US must eliminate trade policies that benefit only the wealthy. The US also needs to help Mexico build its infrastructure, providing access to basic services such as clean water and functional sewer systems, decent transportation, and a healthy environment. We must help it form a strong education system so its citizens can achieve their dreams. We need stronger gun regulations of our own so drug dealers on both sides of the border cannot get cheap and easy access to weapons. Finally, we must end the failed “war on drugs” that has made outlaws unimaginably wealthy and forces millions to live in fear for their lives every day.
Unless the US is willing to embrace difficult solutions to a complex problem, there will be no true immigration reform. Killing, jailing, or sending back those who seek refuge here is not any answer. Real reform is formidable and ambitious, but it is also possible. True immigration reform would make the citizens of Mexico want to stay in their homeland rather than escaping to a place where our worst is still the best they can hope for.
When I was 9 we lived in some apartments in Salem. I was not happy there. The other children did not like me and would not play with me. I spent most of my time reading. When I wasn’t reading, I was trying to get the other children to play with me. When they would not, I would hang out with local dogs and cats and imagine I had friends who were mostly horses. As might be apparent from this and has been mentioned elsewhere, I was somewhat peculiar.
Our apartment complex was surrounded by fields. A few years after we moved away, the fields were mowed to put in a GI Joe store, Bi-mart, and strip malls. Ugly places. But when I lived there, the fields did too, filled with scrub trees and brush high enough in which to make forts. Our apartment had a patio that faced the main road, which was lined with oaks. There was also a tall, thin oak in our patio area. On this tree, there were often buggy creatures.
One cool, fall day while sitting on the patio breathlessly discussing my latest gymnastic championship with an imaginary sportscaster, I noticed a movement on the tree. Always curious about things of this sort, I went over to investigate. The movement was that of a fluffy, brown-and-black striped caterpillar. She was crawling rapidly up the tree. Bump. Flat. Bump. Flat. On she moved to some unknown destination.
I was utterly enchanted. A friend! I picked her up and placed her in my palm. She rolled into a small circle, the two black ends of her body touching. I walked over to a lawn chair and sat down, waiting. Her fluffs were kind of prickly, but also kind of soft. She had a shiny, black hood for a head at one end of her oblong body.
Eventually, she wakened and began crawling up my palm and onto my arm. I picked her up to turn her around. She rolled back into a circle. We continued like this for several minutes. She would begin crawling until she started to get too far up my arm, then I would move her back to my palm. After several rounds, I placed her on the table on our patio and watched her inching crawl.
This caterpillar was fast! I knew if I did not keep an eye on her, she would soon be gone. She was so fast, I decided she needed a fast name and decided on the highly original Jet. I loved her. I wanted to keep her until she grew into a butterfly.
I went into our apartment and began to rummage around for a jar. I placed Jet into a bowl on the kitchen counter and located a small jar with a lid. I took the jar and Jet out back and looked for some nature-like things with which to furnish Jet’s new home. I found some leaves, sticks, old brush, and a few dandelion flowers, and arranged them carefully in the jar. Then I placed Jet inside and twisted on the lid. I then, however, began to worry that Jet would suffocate in her new home, so I reopened it and went back into the house to locate a hammer and nail with which to create a ventilation system. I found the tools and headed back outside once again.
A short time later, Jet’s home was properly aerated so she would not suffocate. At this point I figured she might also need hydration, and went in to get a cup of water, leaving Jet in the jar while I did so. When I returned, I placed some droplets of water for her on a leaf. Jet crawled around the minute space for a bit, and then just stood there on a stick. I thought perhaps the home was boring for her, and brought her out again to play. This went on for a couple of hours until my mom came home from work. I showed her Jet and Jet’s new apartment before she began making dinner.
That evening, as I sat and watched television with my sister, Jet sat with me in her jar. I would take her out to crawl, then return her to her house. Finally my mom pointed out that Jet might be tired. I agreed and took her upstairs to my bedroom window sill for the night.
The next morning, upon awakening, I immediately went to Jet and her jar. She was not there! I looked and looked, but there was definitely no fluffy, black-and-brown caterpillar in the jar. I ran hollering into my mom’s bedroom, sobbing. Jet is gone! She isn’t here anymore!
My mom looked into the jar as well. Then she pointed to a soft, brown cocoon. See that? She made her cocoon. So fast? I could not believe it. I looked skeptically into the jar. Lo and behold, there was a cocoon! In my frenzied excitement over the missing caterpillar, the cocoon had completely escaped my attention. Part of the reason may have been because the cocoon was much smaller than Jet had been, or so it seemed. It was about the same width, but only about half the length, and it was light brown.
I kept the jar in my bedroom for the next few weeks. At first, I checked it constantly to see if a beautiful butterfly had emerged. As time progressed though, I began to wonder if maybe Jet had died in the cocoon. The grass and leaves shriveled up, and the jar looked decidedly bleaker than it had when I created the nest. The cocoon looked so light and fragile, I wasn’t so sure Jet was still alive.
My childhood existed before there was an internet where one could go and look up the incubation time for caterpillars, or what kind of butterfly or moth would emerge. I had gone to the library to see if I could find a book about Jet, but was not successful. I had no idea how long it would take for her to grow. Little did I realize that Jet would be wintering with me for months.
One morning the following spring, upon wakening, I went immediately to the jar, as had become my habit. I never expected a change because it had been a very long time since she had moved into the jar and turned into a cocoon. But this morning was different. The cocoon was spliced neatly up one side. However, I could not see any butterfly inside the jar.
Having been fooled once into thinking Jet had left, I was not so easily deterred this time. I took the jar into another room where the light from the windows was much brighter than in my room. There, among the dried leaves, grass, and dandelions, was a brown, spotted moth. Jet was not a butterfly, but a moth! I thought she was beautiful. Her wings seemed still to be wet and not completely ready to fly, so I left her in the jar while I went to school. After school, I took the jar and placed it outside with the lid off so she could fly away. Later when I went to see her, she was gone.
Since thinking about Jet recently, I went and looked up this type of caterpillar on the internet. Somewhere along the way I learned they are often called woolly bears. I played with many more such caterpillars throughout my childhood. In my recent research, I discovered that the moths that grow from woolly bear caterpillars are called Isia Isabella, or Tiger Moths. I love it that these creatures who brought enchantment to my life as a girl share the same name as my youngest daughter. I also learned that I had created just the perfect habitat for little Jet to cocoon for the winter. They like cool, small, dimly lit spaces with dirt, leaves, and dandelions, and once they are ready, they will hunker down until spring. My cool window sill was to the west under some trees; the jar an ideal woolly bear habitat.
Interestingly, there are legends that the woolly bear can predict whether winter will be more or less severe based on the thickness of their stripe. Some believe that if the woolly bear’s stripe is wide, winter will be mild. If the stripe is narrow, winter will be severe. Others believe the narrow stripe arises from more moisture, while a wide stripe comes from dry conditions. Considering wet winters are also often severe, these two lines of thought seem in corroboration.
I don’t remember what the weather was like the year Jet wintered with us. I lived in Oregon, so it was likely a wet winter. Compared to the many woolly bear photos I have now seen, hers was a narrow stripe. If this one woolly bear’s stripe was any indication, perhaps the legends about the woolly bears are true. All I know is that she was an interesting companion and brought happiness to an introverted and often lonely child, and she gave me something fun to look forward to.
Little girls and horses. I think part of why girls fall in love with horses is to have someone big on their side, someone on whom they can fly. I fell in love with horses before I had a logical brain, then they just lodged there, between the myelin bulges. Later when I actually acquired a horse, they were my escape from a reality that was less than. Horses were my winged gods and goddesses, flying on four legs. I was naive, silly, and fearful, but with a horse I could forget all that and imagine anything. And I did.
Before a real horse actually came to live with me, I would ride my imaginary horse along next to the school bus in the morning and again in the afternoon. Galloping freely, jumping driveways, mailboxes, shrubbery, and drainage ditches; along we would glide. As the flattened shadow of the bus crawled in among the deep spaces, lengthening and shortening according to the landscape, I would fly over them, stopped by nothing.
When I was fifteen, my dad the auction-hound bought a thoroughbred off the track. He was handsome in the way of thoroughbreds, so we named him Prince. He was a nearly black bay, a Sam Savitt thoroughbred, with perky ears and an unruly mane. He watched the world sideways, as if to ask, You talkin’ to me? I love thoroughbreds; love their minds, their impossibly long legs, the way they are fretful because they can be, but give them an opportunity and they will prove what they are capable of.
As is often the case with thoroughbreds who have been racehorses, Prince was damaged goods. Something had happened to one of his legs–I can’t recall which one now–so he was not able to jump. However, he could still be ridden, and he could certainly run. I would ride him bareback, my skinny legs clinging to his slippery back, and canter around the field below our house.
One afternoon when Prince had only lived with us for about a month, I decided to take him for a ride down the driveway. Ours was a legendary driveway. We actually had to walk a mile, one way, to the school bus, regardless of the weather. Rain, shine, snow, sleet, you name it, no matter what, we did not get down that driveway by any means other than our legs. Down the long hill into the curve over the creek, up the steep curve, down the long, rocky stretch under oaks to the west and a pasture to the east, then through the gate at another bend in the creek, around the corner, and down the last flat stretch for another half a mile. This portion ran under a cove of cottonwoods. Once while walking to the bus a bird pooped in my sister’s hair. I imagined the birds up in the trees, taking careful aim and firing. We would see poop land nearby as we trudged toward the bus. I laughed hysterically when one finally hit. Melanie did not laugh. She was mad and she hit me in the arm for my glee. It was worth it because it wasn’t me.
The day I rode Prince down the driveway, it was severely overcast, but not yet the sort of gray where the clouds seem almost to meet the earth in their desperation to drain. The light was nearly fluorescent, and cold. I threw a small snaffle bridle on Prince, hopped on using an old tractor as a mounting block, and headed down the hill. We walked carefully along the rocks on the first part of the road. Prince was not wearing shoes and the rocks along the beginning of the driveway until it met the long flat place were large chunks, uncomfortable to bare horse hooves. Where I could, I guided him into the grass along the edges to protect the soles of his feet.
As we headed down the long stretch downhill, I felt the itch to run him, but I was also afraid. We hadn’t had him long and I wasn’t riding with a saddle. I did not know if I could get him to stop if he started to run. Yet I was an overconfident rider. I believed myself capable of so much when it came to horses and my family did nothing to disabuse me of this notion. Ignorance is bliss, obviously. If I had only any clue then what I know now. But I didn’t.
As we met the straight, flat place, I squeezed him into a real gallop. He was only too happy to oblige. I felt his energy surge forward, the strength of him move under my narrow thighs. Too late I realized just how fast he would run and what little I meant, perched there on his back like an organ grinder’s monkey. Wrapping my fingers into his black mane, I held on for dear life and screamed.
Rock. Cold. Fear.
The wind rushing at my face ate the scream right out of my mouth. It didn’t make a dent. I lowered my head and wrapped my arms around his neck. Wind lashed my bare arms icy. I had read of landscapes passing in a blur. Now I could see what this meant–the landscape really was blurry.
In spite of the speed, in my brain it was as if time stopped, like a narrator hovering above, watching a train veer off its tracks. First the engine, then the cars, and finally the caboose, whipping like a snake’s tail where it didn’t belong. There she goes, I thought. See the horse galloping? See the skinny girl holding on? I cannot fall from here. I will not live if I fall from here. I must stay here until this horse stops running. But how can I make that happen?
Yet the road at the end of our driveway was coming, and across the road there was a fence, then there was a field, and Prince could not jump, so at some point the train’s tail would whiplash and there would be a problem. On and on we thundered and I actually settled in. I was not falling off and had joined the rhythm. But there was an end. What if someone was driving on the road as I came to meet it? I controlled nothing. If a car was coming at the same time we were coming then there would be severe damage.
No car, just the road, hooves sliding on cement, then mud, grass, fence, and crash. I hit the ground with magnificent speed, I rolled over onto my shoulder, Prince rolled across me and up and continued to run, reins flinging wildly around his neck. I sat up and screamed and screamed and screamed. Prince slowed. I screamed and screamed and screamed. Only there was something about the cold light and the wide space that made the screams seem small and insignificant.
I could see far up the road, see a car, see it drive along, slow, then continue. It did not stop so I screamed again. Prince had trotted back over towards the fence, away from me, but not far. Another car moved along the highway. It slowed beside Prince, then sped along, then slowed as it saw me. I screamed and screamed and screamed. These sounds were so tiny, escaping me. I felt like I was putting all my lungs into the screams, but they were silent in the wind. The clouds moved closer. A drop of rain landed in my hair and then another. I realized my left shoulder was screaming too, in a different way.
The car cruised by, long and slow. Then it stopped and backed up. The people disgorged from all the doors. A gold sedan. I was rescued.
I severely bruised my shoulder that day, but other than that, I was okay. Prince was none the worse for wear. The only real difference was that for the first time in my life when it came to horses, I had fear. The next time I climbed on a horse, I remembered. I stayed on and kept going, but I could not ride bareback for a month. I would not go on the driveway. Over time, the fear faded. Horses came back to me as gods and goddesses, my protectors, my escape from a dismal reality.
For some reason, Prince came to me recently. I remembered the merciless run down the long road, the sharp, icy air, the cold, gray light. I remembered all of it except being afraid. In spite of everything, the fear was forgotten. In its place instead was this lightning god on four legs, flashing down the road at magnificent speeds.
No wonder girls love horses. They give us power and help us fly and they do so without brutality. Winged gods and goddesses, indeed.
Today I went in for my annual booby squishing appointment. Having been a “victim” of breast cancer, I have to have them every year. Compared to the one where the cancer was initially discovered, these are a cake walk. In that initial visit, the doctors could see some specks at the top of the film and therefore assumed the specks were in my armpit. They spent the next hour and a half attempting to squish my skinny shoulder into the mammogram machine. It did not work. It hurt. Finally they figured out that it was possible that the specks could be on the other side of my breast, towards the center of my chest. One try at that location and voila! Pay dirt. A lesson learned that day that has since been reiterated is that mammograms are easier if one is fleshier. There is more flesh to grab in the flat, plastic jaws.
Today’s mammogram was relatively simple. I knew from previous visits that mammogram appointments mean waiting around, so I brought some knitting. This visit was in the new “Safeway Cancer Center.” I hate it when medical facilities or sporting facilities or any facility that isn’t what is being used is named for some corporation. If I go into a grocery store and it is called Safeway, fine. If I go into an office supply store and it is called Staples, so be it. However, I don’t want to go somewhere that is going to squish my boobs and have it called Safeway. It’s too much of a non-sequitur. But as is often the case, I digress.
The new booby squishing center was clearly designed with the needs of women in mind. In fact, it looked like they got together a focus group from Lifetime television and Oprah to create a calm, breathable space, in calm, mellow colors, with calm, earthy tones. All of this is spoken in a calm, monotone voice. One enters a lovely, spacious lobby with a fountain. Let the deep breathing and Ohms begin. You are escorted into a high-ceilinged, glass-enclosed waiting area. Nearly immediately you are called back into the “guest space” –a nice name for another waiting room. But wait, there’s more! This space is lavishly furnished with low-slung chairs and sofas. Surrounding this loungey place are all the doors to the little rooms where one leaves one’s top attire and personal belongings in a locker. Each “guest” has a personal escort to show them their own special dressing room. This person then informs them that there is coffee and tea in the corner for them while they wait. Dutifully, the guests remove their top garments, lock all of it in the specially-designed wooden locker (nothing like the banging metal contraption I had in high school, these are sleek, wooden, and smell brand-new). One exits the personal dressing room to wait in the low-slung chairs. Calm, watery, pan flute music fills the air, further adding to the illusion that one is away at a spa, awaiting a massage and relaxation, rather than waiting to have one’s boobs squashed beyond recognition. All of it is an illusion to distract us from the fact we are squishing our boobs to catch cancer. A couple of the women, when they spoke, betrayed in their quivering voices the fear that this could be their fate. I wanted to let them know that sometimes, it really isn’t all that bad, even when the mammogram is positive, but I remained quiet, focusing on my knitting.
For me, nearly immediately upon sitting after changing out of my top clothes, my escort came to take me back for the actual booby squishing. She performed her duties, creating the ethereal, opaque half moons from my breasts. I find it intriguing that mammogram photos are so moon-like when the moon has long been considered the planetary body for women.
I had a mammogram a year ago. At that time, Isabel was about three months old. When the plastic plate slid into place on the top of my right breast, milk squirted out in about five different directions. I loved that. It seems so appropriate that my gland was doing what it was supposed to while taking the photos. Today, my breast was emptier, Isabel having just supped shortly prior to my appointment. No milk came out at all. When no milk flowed, I realized I actually had hoped that it would.
After the photo-taking, my mammogram technician escorted me back to the waiting area. I gathered up my knitting, grabbed a cup of tea, and waited. And waited some more. During this time, a dozen women came through in the same pattern. The escort brought them in, showed them their dressing room, they sat for a moment ensconced in their pond-green dressing gown, then were called away, only to return shortly to wait and wait. In the meantime, some who had been there were called into their dressing room for a “private discussion.” I say private in quotes because we could all hear what was being said, that the films were clear and we will see you next year.
I expected this, that my films would be clear. Then I thought for a moment, what if they’re not? What if they call me back to squish me some more? I imagined me telling them that I knew something was up because this is what happened last time: they called me back for more and more and more, flattening and pressing and prodding my flesh. I imagined that if this were the case then 2011 would begin as awfully as so many of the last years have, and I wondered if this is how life would always be, and then I realized I was going a little off the loony end and returned back to the spa room with it’s trickling music, low light, and women in green gowns.
And no, they did not take me back for more squishing. My escort called my name, called me to my dressing room, and let me know the films were fine and they would see me next year. All was well.
I liked this place, this woman spa space for boob squishing. I could have sat there and knitted all day. As I waited with the other women, the only thing missing was some womanly conversation. If that had been present, the illusion would have been complete. As it was, this missing piece kept it from being all it could have been, but still it was all right. Let some grocery corporation pay to keep us from contemplating why it is exactly we’re hanging out with strangers and squishing our boobs in a modern day female communal space, creating moons and attempting to avert disaster. Whatever works, right?
Perhaps part of why I have not become a pillar of the intellectual community, aside from the fact I’m not thick enough to serve as a pillar, is that while growing up, I did devour books, but I was mostly interested in stories, particularly stories about horses or animals. As a teenager, I expanded my interest to include books where girls chased boys, but not much really. I was only interested in those if there was something especially intriguing about the girl–like if she had a horse.
I especially loved horse/girl books where the girl was the underdog who wanted a horse and succeeded through grit and determination in getting one. I wanted to be like those girls, and I was to the extent I succeeded in getting a 35 dollar Shetland pony.
Once I acquired the pony, I had big dreams for us. We would win competitions and show everyone it did not matter if my steed was forty inches tall. I imagined interviews with sportscasters. I would ask questions then answer breathlessly, as if interrupted in an effort.
Actually, interviews of this sort also extended to my gymnastic prowess. It mattered not that by twelve, I was nearly five foot eight. In my mind I had achieved gold in gymnastic floor exercises. I would breathlessly answer these sportscasters as well.
So while I indeed spent my childhood buried in books, I can say without equivocation it was only towards the effort of avoiding other children and immersing myself in worlds far more desirable than my own. If I happened across a great piece of literature, it was always the result of happenstance. I had no illusions about reading my way to fame and fortune.
Ironically, if I think of it now as I seek to live so much in the moment, I absolutely did so as a child. My parents’ chief concerns seemed to be to first ensure we did all of our chores, second that we did not bother them with sibling arguments, and finally that we entertained ourselves so they did not have to. I was very good at the latter.
I did the chores grudgingly. We were promised allowances that never materialized and performed jobs I still consider beyond the necessary scope for children. The chores usually resulted in fights with my sister. We argued prodigiously over whose turn it was to do what, then raced to be the first one done, if only to prove our superiority over one another. The race to finish jobs served my primary purpose, which was to either read a book or ride my horse, and preferably both. Melanie wanted to play with her friends. I didn’t really have a lot of friends beyond the horses in my imagination, so rushing off to live in my head was my priority.
Before I got a horse I would pretend I had one. i once cleared my closet, opened one side, and strung a rope across the opening to keep in my stick horse. I shredded paper for her bedding.
She was lovely. Her stick was yellow, her fur head white. She had large, brown button eyes with long, plastic lashes. I called her Snowflake.
I spent the time creating this stable, enjoying every minute I did so, imagining the conversations I would have with my trainer over her care. Again, I played both parts. As myself, I explained very carefully what would be the best plan for my horse’s future. My trainer would nod and take notes, her head cocked to one side as she leaned in the stable doorway, loose breeches puffed around her hips, a cap pulled low over her brow, alá Mickey Rooney.
Snowflake stayed in my closet for months. I was attentive for about two days, feeding and brushing. Over time I needed my room for other things and the stick horse was relegated to the corner again, her home prior to the stable.
Finally, when I was twelve, I acquired a real horse. Of course, this horse was only 40 inches tall and therefore a pony, but I did not care. She was mine and I loved her. Her name was Rosie. She was a bright, red chestnut with a thick, flaxen mane and tail. But she was tiny. I rode her anyway. My best friend Jodi and I both rode ponies. We made plans together to start our own pony farm as adults, no horses allowed.