Post 289.

US government inhumanity is being broadcast as globally as World Cup soccer. Yet, few are tuned in.

Maybe you’ve seen the anguished images. The US Department of Homeland Security reports that close to 2000 children were separated from their parents in just the six weeks between April 19 and May 31. More than a hundred children separated under this policy were under four years old.

One Honduran woman reported US agents taking away her breast-feeding baby and handcuffing her when she tried to resist. It would be unimaginable if it wasn’t being broadcast as real. The United Nations has called for an end to the deep violation in current Trump policy toward illegal migrants. Humanitarian organisations have called it “willing cruelty”. The American Civil Liberties Union alleged that border patrol agents were kicking, beating and threatening children with sexual abuse.

The words on the Statue of Liberty say, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Yet, this about-face from a country whose majority population are immigrants, and which is ruled by white supremist power established through a history of illegal, violent and genocidal entry, is the height of hypocrisy.

Only those seeking a better future from difficult lives try to irregularly cross borders. From El Salvador and Honduras, migrants are escaping forced recruitment by gangs, extortion of their small businesses, rape of women, and kidnapping of children for the sex industry plus straight-up poverty.

People with wealth, power and opportunity in their own countries don’t experience such desperation and have the resources to legally negotiate migration. Vast class inequality in migrants’ home countries, at the hands of their own governments, cannot be ignored here.

Inequalities among countries are also key. Countries such as Mexico were impoverished by the North American Free Trade Agreement which created higher levels of unemployment, lowered labor rights and reduced environmental rules. Subsidized US corn flooded Mexico’s market leading to some two million being forced to leave their farms. These and other effects of NAFTA have had a direct effect on Mexican migration to the US.

Finally, the facts are that immigrants produce net benefits to the US economy by slowing an aging workforce, slowing the declining birthrate, contributing disproportionately to innovation, filling workforce gaps, and enabling high-skilled Americans, such as working mothers, to maximize employment.

However, more powerful is a language of immigrant-blame which fed Trump’s campaign, his insane call for a border wall, and his ability to rally supporters around zenophobia or hatred of foreigners, as a distraction to his undermining of labour, environmental, health, gender and equitable tax policies.

Once just an administrative process, the new ratched up response is that any migrant family entering the U.S. without a border inspection will be prosecuted for this minor misdemeanor. Parents get incarcerated and children sent to a detention centre or foster care. Parents are having difficulties reuniting with children, and may be deported alone.

Even credible asylum seekers are at risk in this new policy effort. Families are broken up because children cannot be kept in the jail-like immigration detention centres which house parents, but the decision to jail such people who haven’t violated any laws is a choice, not a mandatory or long-established practice.

The Trump regime is now playing politics about an approach that leaves children deeply traumatised. One legitimate, woman asylum seeker in particular, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was separated from her seven year-old daughter for months. Children have been reported to be at risk of running away, self-harm and suicide, and arrive at over-crowded centres thinking their parents are lost or dead.

Commentator Dan Savage’s tweet got it absolutely right: “Reminder that the people currently justifying tearing children away from their parents spend the last twenty years insisting “every child deserves a mother and a father”.”

One on the one hand, “family values” are touted as the basis for Republican undermining of women’s right to safe and legal termination of pregnancies, and undermining of challenges to homophobic laws regarding marriage, adoption and inheritance.

On the other hand, this is a vastly anti-family practice, enacted by almost no other country in the “free world” experiencing such migration. The world should also remember that, despite being a signatory, the USA has never ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, undermining its global accountability for violation of children’s rights.

Even illegally migrating children should not be treated this way. In between football games, join a world closely watching Trump’s border policy foul play.

 

 

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Post 288.

Back in Trinidad, the brown grass in my backyard makes the threat of hurricanes seem far away, but islands up the Caribbean chain are already looking ahead. I didn’t even notice the clock ticking its way into official rainy season until a few days ago when I was up at midnight watching lightning repeatedly tear down through Havana’s cobalt sky.

The next day, amidst heavy, dusty heat, I listened to a panel on climate change at a Caribbean Studies conference. You wouldn’t believe the words speakers threw around: Infrastructurality. Disaster capitalism. The Age of Disaster. The politics of recovery.

They made it seem like one morning you wake up and you understand why Indigenous People believed in Huracan, the god of wind, storms and lightning, because on some dark night you may be too powerless to do anything but pray.

Hurricanes decapitated Grenada’s houses, and almost decimated Barbuda and Dominica. They’ve submerged Havana and flooded roads in Kingston. Parts of Puerto Rico are still without restored electricity since last year’s Maria.

Disaster capitalism is corrupt or exploitative profiting off natural disasters, strategically using them to land grab or forcing privatisation in ways that make governments and populations dependent and pliable to foreign or corporate interests.

In Puerto Rico, people had to resist push to privatise not only electricity, but also public schooling, and push back against reconstruction loans at interest rates that meant permanent debt.

Climate change is the region’s singular crisis, caused by the impact of a global economic order that continues to arrive in waves on our shores. It’s a repeating story of these islands.

The colonial encounter with the Caribbean was fueled by enough profit motive and warped logic to fell thriving Indigenous belief systems, landscapes, ways of life and populations by the millions. The effects were cataclysmic.

Today, scholars consider fossil capitalism a contemporary form of extreme and devastating economic violence. It wields power over our life and death. It leads to overnight collapse of tourist capacity, agricultural output, public health provision and GDP, along with developed country status. It’s also our own brand of development so we have a hand in our demise, and no plan for saving ourselves.

A three-hour rain floods the Northern Range down to the Central plains, submerges Port of Spain, and drowns millions of dollars in crops. The best we can do is have strong, resilient infrastructure in terms of water provision, roads, buildings and the electric grid, but Trinidad and Tobago isn’t near ready.

If you are in a community prone to flooding, start hammering at the doors of your MP and Regional Corporation. Demand a plan that’s bigger than household compensation, which is increasingly going to be insufficient, and unable to protect us from what is considered a ‘tragedy of the commons’.

This is a tragedy that starts with our inability to protect the temperature balance in our shared planetary atmosphere and therefore to prevent worsening regional storms. It continues with our inability to protect our nations from the socialisation of losses resulting from privatisation of fossil exploitation gains. Finally, it ends with our failure to collectively decide what disaster and recovery measures are best for whole, interconnected communities.

We will not survive attack on commonly shared resources and realities through short-term, individualistic or selfish recovery strategies. For us, it’s not an ‘if’, but a ‘when’, once the global economic order continues as is.

Soon, our brown grass will turn brilliant green. Our Caribbean neighbours will become anxious about the eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes predicted. Besides climate change, there’s a natural climate pulse cycle that produced hurricanes in the 1950s and 1960s, and is back again.

Following Huracan’s sweep, the disaster isn’t just the damage, it’s also the recovery. Global media will descend to package stereotyped apocalyptic scenes of devastated citizens in need of rescue. What we need is resilient, regional power to stop this exceptional harm.

After its first category 5 hurricane in recorded history, Dominican PM Roosevelt Skerrit described Dominica’s state with the words, ‘Eden in broken’. This metaphor of Eden isn’t random.

The whole point of the Caribbean in the Western narrative of modernity is to be a perfect paradise, to be beautiful and consumable and an escape from elsewhere.

That was the story of the region repeated for five hundred years and it’s how we understand ourselves today; In Eden, under God’s eye, in fear of his wrath, wondering how much, this season, Huracan will weep with us along our tragic path.

Post 287.

Wandering through Havana’s streets and Cuban history this week, I wondered what lesson to draw from their contradictions.

Then, independent Afro-Cuban artist, Nancy Cepero, softly shared a saying she lives by, “Cuando la verdad despierta, no puede volver a dormirse”. In English, “when truth wakes up, she cannot go back to sleep”. I’ve been walking with it since.

I was here in 2004, still dreaming of the 1959 Cuban revolution and its renegade socialist idealism. The Museum of the Revolution, with its bullet-holes, and letters and photographs of lost, loved comrades, struck my heart with the intimacy of its remembering.

Trinidad and Tobago has nothing like that for the 1930s height of Indian-African labour solidarity nor independence in 1962 nor Black Power consciousness in 1970 because we identify with the modern and Miami, as if our past and its foot soldiers have neither familiarity nor value.

It’s like Ziya said to me during one of our moments of internet connection, “Auntie is travelling to a better place than you”. “Where’s that?” I asked “Walmart”, she responded, leaving me mid-sentence about the devastation of hurricanes on the Cuban economy, the crumbling dignity of once-beautiful buildings, and the inspiration of a place that bravely waged armed war against imperialism and injustice.

Now in 2018, I know better than to over-invest in myth. At the same time, I still can’t shake off admiration for a boldfaced, small-island Caribbean experiment that might have succeeded if not for the punishment of a half-century US blockade, the wielding of tightly controlled state power, and human fallibility.

Listening to lectures on sociology, economics and international relations with the fourteen UWI graduate students whom the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) brought here on a study tour, we heard the official story: everyone has a house, women are excelling in academics and professions, sex workers are assisted out of their exploitative occupation, the nation is a democracy, and racism is firmly rejected by the state.

Later, as we listened to the marginalized voices of Afro-Cuban scholars, grandmothers, lesbians, trans-women, sex workers, poets, artists and activists, the official story rang as both narrow and untrue.

In her own youthful experience, Nancy felt too excluded from the Cuban revolutionary dream to identify with its national women’s organization, the Cuban Federation of Women (FMC), to which all women automatically belong.

In her twenties, she was a generation too far from 1959 for nostalgia. She hasn’t seen enough Afro-Cuban or politically independent women, or both, to feel such state politics is truly inclusive.

She’s not alone. Afro-Cubans describe the invisibility of their role in Cuban struggles and how blackness still correlates with greater poverty. It’s a continued injustice that one isn’t really supposed to organize against. Still, once alert to your reality, it’s impossible to be lulled by yesterday’s dream.

In old Havana, we almost missed a small plaque dedicated to the massacre of about 3000 Afro-Cubans who were forming an independent party in 1908.

Such struggles against racism are hardly taught in schools, we heard. Many countries, including the US, with its whitewashing of vast Indigenous genocide, are guilty of such amnesia. That’s why truth awakens and then quietly seethes.

The polishing-up of Old Havana has meant that its urban neighbourhoods are increasingly becoming wealthier and white as poor Afro-Cubans are pushed to outskirts.

Their buildings may be left to fall apart slowly over years and eventually become unlivable, while a new hotel might be up and running in the same spot in a year. All over the world, valuable urban real estate changes hands through such gentrification.

The IGDS brought our graduate students here so that they could be intimate with iconic places of Caribbean envisioning and resistance; so that they could know our own regional history of small island big dreams. The kind of dreams that confront the Goliath of elites, empires, global economic orders and big-stick neighbours with a slingshot, small like Haiti, Grenada or Cuba.

Students also learned a lot about the risks and challenges of being truthful about failures amidst hugely admirable successes in health, education, international solidarity, and equality.

In sleep, you can dream to change the world. However, having awakened, you can learn from the ancestors and become better makers and movers of history.

It’s a less romanticized Cuban revolution that teaches the lesson students need. When truth wakes you up, do not go back to sleep.

Entry 286.

Beyond the Bullet.

I met Caron Asgarali under the hot sun on International Women’s Day this year. We were standing amidst booths in Woodford Square when she told me her story of being shot in a robbery; the bullet shattering her jaw. Its path missed her heart, but near fatally pierced her soul. Such horror stories crisscross our landscape today, like terrible scars.

I glanced at her face while she spoke, seeing only an incredibly beautiful and courageous woman. Somewhere in a corner of my mind, I thought about how we associate beauty with flawlessness and perfection, until we meet those individuals who show us that it is far more a light that shines from within. It was a reminder to pay attention to and respect unexpected lessons.

Caron spoke with the gentleness of a lamb, but the fierceness of a lion and I imagined how I may never have had the privilege of meeting her. You never know which person next to you is the walking wounded or whose force of spirit can hold you rooted to the spot while all you do is listen. Maybe you have to feel it to know how humbling it can be to simply look someone in the eye.

I learned about her efforts to establish Project R.A.R.E. ‘Raising Awareness on the Ripple Effect of gun violence: promoting peace and building resilience’ is the longer title, and ‘transforming hurt into hope’ is her vision. I have a huge amount of respect for groups like this, led and sustained by citizens from across the country, who are individually committed to helping us all develop empathy, humility, forgiveness, respect, gratitude, and personal and community responsibility.

Connecting to her seemed to open a door to connecting with other survivors. On Monday, RARE organized a forum on gun violence at UTT. I came in just in time to hear the testimonies of Kyle Phillip of East Mucurapo Secondary School, and Jeremiah Ferguson of El Dorado Life Centre, run by Servol.

Both young men told stories of having family members shot at and killed. Kyle himself lost a cousin the night before his speech, and broke down at the microphone, his grief holding his audience still in their seats with its oppressive weight.

It’s such singular stories that pierce your heart because violence and its scars seem in our day and age to have become so ordinary. It’s worse to hear those stories from youth still in school uniform, and to understand that they can’t carry the future of the nation in their school bags if we callously break their spirit and strength.

“Guns are like cell phones in my community”, said Kyle. He described “serious peer pressure from youths in my community that are in my age bracket to get involved in that life”. It was clear that he knew that only education could get him out, though he was “not sure to be here tomorrow”.

“Even now a scratch bomb still sends me into a panic”, said Jeremiah. “The youth of this country are traumatized. The national as a whole is traumatized. It is almost like we are living in a war zone. Is this how a war zone feels?”

His advice is worth repeating: “Youth, if you want to lime on a block, make the library your block. If you want to steal, steal words from a dictionary. You will learn some new words and their meanings. If you want to kill, kill all your negative thoughts. We need change. We need to create opportunities for youth so they can choose other pathways. I lost my brother. Because of a Gun”.

We need to think about gun and gang violence not only as problems, but as solutions for many boys and men who want to access status, respect, money, brotherhood and other markers of real manhood. This is particularly true because poverty emasculates, creating both pressure and temptation to live and die by a gun in a glamourous and profitable, but dehumanizing and wasted life. The traditional association between manhood, toughness and authority, in which we are all still invested, is the real problem. It’s an ideal we teach which is also toxic to boys and men’s souls.

Until manhood becomes also about nurturing, care, emotions and equality, schools will churn our shooters who have found shortcuts to manhood and power, rather than brokenness and failure. Recognising this one day, we will have to forgive them as we forgive ourselves for not quietly listening to this humble truth.

Post 285.

Terror is tightening its steel-knuckled right hand around our throats, and when steel talks everybody listens. Yet, somehow, people continue to try to live as they are used to, raising families, contributing to communities, and nurturing creativity.

That alone is a miracle. To provide a sense of normal amidst the not-normal, for another generation which wakes up not knowing anything else, but deserves so much more. To raise children as if this is still a place where they are safe from meeting murder on any junction.

This seems the best we can do when politicians and police jump up with criminals and abandon citizens, causing collapse of the city.

This long-established and well-known honour among thieves is what most powerfully sets the difference between our reality and our ideal, leaving mothers to tie their belly against such a war federation.

We cannot live as if this terror is only of Lego and Play Dough, not people’s future, family, and daily food. Perhaps this is why people everywhere are committed to children’s collective learning and exuberant joy, knowing that it is to them, not God, we will turn to save our nation.

I thought about all this while sitting in the dark of Queen’s Hall as Lilliput Children’s Theatre, led for decades by Noble Douglas, put on this year’s production of Juliet and Romeo – A Tobago Love Story. Tobago Love, as we all know, is a deep love beset by continuous feuding. Sounds like us, fighting over drug block, over maintenance payments, over votes and over kickbacks when, deep inside, all our children want is more love.

It is a claim to pride in which we are almost failing, which is why Terrence Deyalsingh’s well-meaning, but clueless, insistence on children playing outside fell on so many deaf ears.

After almost fifty years of PNM power, even in the neighbhourhood streets where we’d once played rounders and rode bikes, few parents feel their little ones are safe outside, even supervised. ‘I go tell meh mama don’t send me down dey’, sang the children, already wise, and almost in answer to Deyalsingh’s mocking pretense at their generation’s strange and tragic tale.

But, we may not be there yet. Held in the arms of the darkness, my heart could only lift and lift at the sight of little ones growing up with a chance to dance traditional steps, cooperate in theatrical story-telling, and learn music from the decades that led us here.

The whole audience of adults seemed to feel that if we could just enable them to shine, we could invest all our hope in their Lilliputian light. As Mighty Shadow long told us, it’s clear that we must believe in the little children.

The whole wide world is caught in the mad war between Is and Ought” seems the truest line of the day, as it best explains the fire raining down on temple and town, with so many unfortunate deaths already met and still to come.

Like with the Minister of Finance, the whole country wonders if the charts and graphs of the ambitious King of Is are a lie. Meanwhile, like the King of Ought, few of us can find a way beyond hopeless delusion to how the revolution we need will be done.

Much of Shakespeare is about a play within a play, and about life and art imitating each other. On stage, Juliet repeatedly comes to her senses as she knows Romeo for far too little time, has far too much going for her to sacrifice, is too young to choose both marriage and death, and therefore decides against violent delights that have violent ends.

Romeo acquiesces, setting an example of how to act that big men murdering their women still haven’t learned. Indeed, in the larger national story, its not just women’s subordination, but their empowerment, not just their choice to get into relationships, but their choice to leave, that lead to violent ends.

On stage, communities feud while wanting respite while being threatened with death by authorities with a say over their lives. Seeing it play out before our eyes, perhaps this is why we try to lift our children, despite the trauma of our reality today.

So that they can dream, imagine, create together, nurture, encourage, support each other, challenge, grow, dare to be bold and strong, and engender the principles of discipline, hard work and love.

Maybe we continue to empower our children because we wish that when they talk, everybody will listen.

Post 284.

How to explain the exhaustion a mother feels? As I try to keep up with Ziya’s various school projects, and all the items that have to be printed, collected, bought or recycled in addition to completing revision and homework, I wonder how other mothers keep up. I especially wonder how working mothers manage. Families are collective projects, with all having to pull their weight, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

For example, the International Labour Organisation’s report on Women at Work Trends 2016 shows that in twenty-nine countries surveyed, women spent more time on household care than men. In many countries, except for the UK, Norway and Sweden, it was double or triple the time spent.

The Nielsen Global Home-Care Survey, which covers sixty-one countries, also found that women do the majority of cleaning. Men are increasingly putting in care and cleaning time as well as shopping and driving children to and from activities and school. However, for almost all regions surveyed, except for North America, the percentage of women doing the majority of household cleaning is higher than men doing the majority or it being shared when both those figures are added together.

Such women are also working for wages outside the home. Here, in the Caribbean, where women’s employment numbers are lower than men’s, those women may be working informally, in self-employment or part-time, hence their greater responsibility for the home.

Nonetheless, even when women are working full-time or are the breadwinners, they put more time to management and care of household members and to household cleaning anyway.

In Trinidad and Tobago, according to the 2011 Population and Housing Census, between 24% and 45% of households are female headed. So, on average, two out of three households in the country are headed by men. It is likely that women are also in these households, and that responsibility for families is more greatly shared.

It is unlikely that in the households which are female-headed, which are about one third of those in the country, fair share of care takes place. It is also unlikely that fair share of the costs of raising children also takes place.

Indeed, the caseload related to child maintenance, as mediated by the Family Court for example, points to the challenges of equal care and equal financial contribution for children, particularly among middle and lower-income families, who are not only more likely to end up in the court, but also more likely to experience economic insecurity.

This problem of women’s unequal burden won’t change quickly or dramatically. As Caribbean women of all classes continue to pursue higher education in numbers vastly exceeding men, they will increasingly become primary breadwinners even in households where men are seen to be the head, for headship may be based on the status of manhood, not income-contribution.

At this point, it is mainly in energy, manufacturing and construction sectors that men can provide higher incomes on lower levels of qualifications, but outside of those and illegal activities, we can expect lower-income and less-well educated men’s earnings to be less stable and less able to equally meet women’s over time.

It is also reasonable to expect that, at least in the short term of the next decade, many men will not take up the majority of housework, elder- and childcare, even when they earn less. First, globally, this has been delegated to other women, especially domestic workers, aunts and grandmothers.

Second, even where time-use studies indicated the reverse, in a 2015 survey of eight countries from Brazil to Rwanda, between 36% and 70% of men reported a role “equal to” or “greater than” their partner in childcare. In other words, women’s unequal contribution remained invisible, uncounted and undervalued.

The picture of women working full-time, contributing more financially as well as putting in more hours of care, cleaning, cooking and management at home is the near future. It will affect women in married, common-law and visiting relationships, and those that are without partners.

This is one explanation for the exhaustion that mothers feel, and its toll on their emotions and health. If there are any women out there for whom this sounds familiar, know that, my sister, it’s not just you.

Post 283.

All you have to do is walk around with your eyes open. Words said to me by Lloyd Best, one of the now-deceased founders of the 1970s Tapia House movement for a politics that empowers everyday people, not political elites.

I was already following this path, but have lived by these words since. With your eyes open, you can understand much more about our geography and its history.

Take the road from Grande to Point Galeota, and take your children with you. First, your drive through Sangre Grande and Sangre Chiquito (Big Blood and Little Blood) marks the path of slaughter following the Arena Uprising by Indigenous people in 1699, and their subsequent massacre after killing the Spanish Governor and priests.

Eight-four were captured on the run, sixty-one were shot, the rest were tortured after revealing that they were beaten by priests forcing them to attend Catholic services and to labour in the encomienda system. Later, twenty-two were hanged and dismembered, and the women distributed as servants.

Just past the slope to Manzanilla, named by the Spanish who thought they saw “little apples” on the trees, Nariva Swamp begins to emerge on your right as the ocean flings itself onto the shore on your left. It’s in Nariva Swamp, on the sacred Manatee Island, that the surviving Indigenous rebels were caught.

Full of biodiversity and village history, the Swamp became a protected wetland in 1993 after marches and protests against the effects of illegal rice farming, organized and led by women such as Molly Gaskin and Karilyn Shephard of the Wildfowl Trust. It’s hard to imagine such public protests to protect our ecology today.

You might buy watermelons at the side of the road, in front of the villages of Kernahan and Cascadoux, which began to be populated during the second World War when Trinidad was providing food through its ‘war gardens’. In 1999, I was a researcher documenting the lives and beliefs of those villages and, led by Andrew from Cascadoux Village, scaled the cliff-sides of Point Radix, over the ocean, exhilarated and barefoot.

Andrew later fell while picking coconuts, leaving him disabled. Even while remaining positive, as I visited him while Ziya went up to the mud volcano bubbling behind his house, he talked about how the PNM government took away his food card when they came into power. “It was so little money”, he said, “I don’t understand why”.

It’s a UNC constituency, so these things happen. The PNM also closed the Guayaguayare fishing depot, a glossy, windswept compound with storage facilities for fishermen which was opened by PM Persad-Bissessar in her day and with much ado. Why would they so completely lock the local people out?”, I asked UWI historian, Professor Brinsley Samaroo, “because that’s politics”, he said, reminding me just how little we effectively fight for our rights in the face of party leadership and their practices of punishment and reward.

Guayaguayare means the “clashing of waves” and Ziya, my seven-year-old, was keen to visit a place she’d heard about in an often-played, slow love song to the area by Trinidadian musician Drew Gonzales and his award-winning band, Kobotown. One day, going to Guyana, Zi may visit Georgetown’s famous sea wall, and recollect our own small island version.

Still open are the old green and blue grocery shops of John Lee Lum who, at the turn of the century, helped found the Guayaguayare Oil Company  along with Randolph Rust, from whom Rustville gets its name. Rust drilled the first successful oil well, and looking at the thick mangrove tentacles embracing Pilot River, you wouldn’t know that early drilling took place there.

To the left are rigs and tankers out at sea, and closer in is Point Galeota’s centre. Ziya stood contemplating two wells pumping out the compressed fossils below. As sohari leaves danced nearby, I wondered if the crude oil she saw in black pools around the pumps was a sign of our times, their presence soaking into our land. Perhaps, all – the fossils and the money – will be gone when she reaches my age.

If she keeps her eyes open to enough for long enough, she’ll connect those very pumps to Galeota’s tiny South-Eastern wealth, and sea level rise that will almost certainly claim Manzanilla’s coconut trees, the anaconda-like Mayaro road, and all this history.

Then, she’ll be left to picture chip-chip gathering, and the spirituous silk cotton tree at the mouth of the Ortoire River, in her mind’s eye and from childhood memory.