Tag: politics (Page 1 of 2)

Small protests

Sorry, more politics.

Actually, not that sorry. Politics are personal. Politics impact us all. And lately, politics have been weighing on me heavily.

I’m not normally a march-in-the-streets kind of person. Heck, I’m not even a bumper sticker or yard sign kind of person. But these days, I cannot in good conscience do nothing.

My protests may be small, but they are full of good will, determination, and hope.

  • I am calling my representatives. This is reportedly one of the quickest, easiest, and most effective ways to have an impact. If you’re interested in doing the same, I highly recommend the site 5calls.org. It offers a brief overview of various issues you may care about, as well as the numbers of your representatives, and sample scripts to use when calling.
  • I am donating to causes and organizations that champion my beliefs. For example, tonight I donated to the ACLU in celebration of their success in halting the immigration ban. (There is much more left to go in that particular fight, but the court’s decision offered a swift jolt of hope.) There’s a lot of money going toward things I don’t support; it’s going to take a lot of money to counter them.
  • I am reveling in art that honors my experiences and my values. Because art reminds us of our humanity. Art broadens our humanity. Because art strengthens our empathy.

Tonight, in a stroke of serendipity, I happened to be watching Brooklyn, the quiet, moving story of a young Irish immigrant making her way in America.

I don’t know if this is enough. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as enough, right now. But I think that if we all do whatever we can, it will make a difference. I have to believe that.

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Thanks, Obamas

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, sit for a family portrait in the Oval Office, Dec. 11, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)  This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.Ê

Today, this is what I choose to focus on: The Obamas are wonderful people who have, for the past 8 years, given us a shining example of family and leadership. I’m sure they will continue to do good work, though I will miss having them in the White House.

I will miss having a President who reads, writes, and thinks so deeply.

“Fiction was useful as a reminder of the truths under the surface of what we argue about every day and was a way of seeing and hearing the voices, the multitudes of this country.”

“At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted, the ability to slow down and get perspective, along with the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes — those two things have been invaluable to me.”

And I will miss having a First Lady with so much grace, passion, and intelligence of her own.

“Our glorious diversity — our diversities of faiths, and colors, and creeds — that is not a threat to who we are; it makes us who we are.”

“To the young people here and the young people out there: Do not ever let anybody make you feel like you don’t matter or like you don’t have a place in our American story because you do, and you have a right to be exactly who you are.”

Something better is always possible, if you’re willing to work for it, and fight for it.

They’ll never read this, but I want to say it anyway: Thank you, Barack and Michelle. Thank you.

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World on fire

There is a stack of books on display in my living room that is very dear to me. One is a scrapbook of all the ideas that Andy came up with for proposing to me. One is the novelty book about our relationship that he actually did use to propose to me. One is the children’s book that my two best friends wrote and illustrated for me as a wedding present, based on our Twenty-Somewhere characters. And one is the scrapbook of our wedding weekend and three receptions.

If my house were on fire and I could only save one thing (other than Andy and Riley, of course) I would save that stack of books. It is priceless. It represents the best, most sacred things in my life. Love and family.

When I was in college, my sister-person’s house burned down. Luckily neither she nor her mother were home at the time, but they lost basically everything. Clothes, computers, photographs, heirlooms, keepsakes, and most heartbreaking of all, their cat and dog.

(We were told that the animals didn’t suffer. The smoke muddled their brains and caused them to simply lie down and sleep.)

My sister was not able to save anything. She was not given that choice. She could only make peace with the ashes and rubble, and move on. So that’s what she did, with unbelievable grace.

Last week, Paris burned. Literally and figuratively.

It seems like every day there is a “house” burning down somewhere in the world. And in the wake of those tragedies, we see what people chose to save. We see what they value.

We see people who have suffered yet still reach out their hands to offer assistance or comfort to others.

And we see people who turn their backs, trying to protect themselves from further pain and fear.

I am lucky. I have never been in a fire. I have never had to see my home or my belongings reduced to smoky nothing. I hope that I never do.

But I also hope that if that unthinkable worst were to happen, it would not reduce me to smoky nothing. I hope that I would not be ruled by anxiety and anger. I hope that, like my sister-person, the experience would reinforce my strength, not reduce it. I hope that I would honor my loss not by hoarding what little remained, but by sharing it freely. I hope that my heart would remain open, and full of compassion.

I hope.

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Straight Outta Compton

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On Saturday night, Andy and I went to see Straight Outta Compton, the biopic about (primarily) Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Easy-E, who together founded one of the biggest, most influential, and most iconic rap groups in history. Upon returning home from the theater, I immediately jumped on Twitter to sing the movie’s praises. I had to. The movie energized me in a way that would not be contained. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Those are my thoughts in a nutshell, but I wanted to discuss a few things in more detail:

F-bombs and n-words. I suspect that a lot of people will be turned off by the “vulgar” facade of Straight Outta Compton. The movie showcases a side of American culture that many look down on, and it’s easy to use the profanity as an excuse to dismiss the film, the music, and the many artists who created it all.

But as a writer, as a lover of words, I think it’s important to recognize that profanity is just a mode of expression, as valid as any other. So is “street” speak. So is broken or accented English.

Things do not have to be comfortable or pleasant or polished to have merit. Furthermore, who gets to define comfortable and pleasant and polished anyway?

Hip hop as a voice for the marginalized. Eddie Huang, the celebrity chef whose memoir inspired the TV show Fresh Off the Boat, talks openly about his love for rap music. He has said that as a chubby Chinese kid growing up in the suburbs of Orlando, he stuck out in pretty much every way, and he connected to hip hop because it is all about the hardships of being in the minority. It is angry, empowering, unapologetic social commentary set to music that makes you move.

Growing up, I knew a lot of Asian guys who were into rap. Coincidence? Maybe.

Maybe not.

Not just for black people. “Conventional wisdom” says that only black people will read/watch/pay attention to black stories — and thus, that black stories are “niche” and can’t be blockbusters. But I have never been convinced of that. I certainly don’t want it to be true.

Personally, I have read and admired books like Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Bondwoman’s Narrative, Beloved, Things Fall Apart, and Pointe. I have been a fan of shows like Sister Sister, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper, black-ish, and Empire. I have watched and loved movies like Bad Boys, Dream Girls, Precious, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Beyond the Lights. And I have never once thought, “This story was not meant for me. I cannot relate. These are not my people.” Just the opposite, in fact.

I know I’m not alone in this.

Straight Outta Compton’s screenwriter was a middle-aged gay Jewish man. Clearly he connected with the story of these young, impoverished black musicians, because he did a fantastic job with their story.

Of course, he didn’t do it alone.

Oscar contention. As I said, I think Straight Outta Compton is worthy of a Best Picture nomination. Probably Best Director and Best Actor (for Jason Mitchell, who plays Easy-E) too. Every aspect of the film was top quality, and the subject matter was a perfect balance of personal and political, historical and timely.

Skepticism and hope keep battling inside me. Last year Selma got nominated, yes, but it lost out to a movie that I couldn’t even finish watching. Plus, Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo were horribly snubbed. A few years earlier, Ray was also nominated and lost, but at least Jamie Foxx won for his amazing performance.

That’s not a lot of precedence to go on, though. And those movies focus on black heroes who are actually accepted and embraced by the mainstream.

Regardless, I have more optimism for Straight Outta Compton right now than I did Saturday night when I was tweeting. I just read about the film’s screening for members of the Academy Awards, which apparently went quite well. Fingers crossed that they prove me wrong. Fingers crossed that we really are progressing. Fingers crossed that we can recognize and reward excellence even when it comes in a less familiar package.

Police brutality. OK, this one doesn’t really segue well, but I need to talk about it. Sunday morning, I woke up with swollen eyelids. I had cried that much during Straight Outta Compton.

Throughout the movie, we see Dre, Easy, and Cube experience multiple conflicts with law enforcement. Not once are they treated with respect, or even basic decency. It’s very hard to watch. Even harder when you remember that it’s real.

The film also includes brief but harrowing footage of the Rodney King beating. In 1991, I was only 5 years old, so I don’t remember much of anything about the incident myself. But 25 years later, I’m very aware of the world around me, and it’s disheartening to see the same thing happening now. So much has changed, and yet so much hasn’t.

Treatment of women. Given the role women tend to play in hip hop culture, I had low expectations for what I would see in Straight Outta Compton. But I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a story about the men, yes, but the women who figure prominently are portrayed with a fair amount of respect. The mothers, the wives, even Dre’s baby momma. We see them as strong, savvy individuals, who play significant roles in the lives of these men.

The background women may not get as much respect, but I felt that they weren’t used gratuitously. There were plenty of bare body parts, but without the unnecessary lingering that I see in so many music videos and cable TV shows. It was more like set dressing, for authenticity.

Note: In real life, a few of these guys have reputations when it comes to misogyny, and even violence against women. I am in no way condoning that. But I do understand the decision to leave that out of the movie given that (A) these guys were producers on the film, and (B) it’s not relevant to the arc of their music careers or friendships, which is the heart of this story.

Update: Dre addressed his past mistakes. Ice Cube made new ones.

Last but not least, here’s a link to the original Straight Outta Compton album, free to stream on Spotify. Several of these songs were familiar to me already, but I definitely have a greater appreciation for them now.

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I’m listening (to the heartbeat of democracy)

I don’t post about politics often. There are plenty of other voices out there already — voices smarter and more relevant than my own — so I try to sit back, listen, and learn. I try to understand and really consider what people are saying, even when it’s not pleasant. Maybe especially when it’s not pleasant. I try to question my thoughts and feelings, to examine my own experiences and beliefs. I try to figure out what I can or should do to create positive changes in myself and my community.

(And usually I cry a little.)

Because I believe in the power of words and stories, I like to share the things that I think more people should read/see/hear/watch. Below is one such thing, written by a friend of mine from college.

* * *

Dear everyone,

Just wanted to say this: if you are angry, confused, upset, etc, consider this a call to action. If you are not okay with the verdict, consider this a time to act. If you’re wondering: what can I do? Google it. If you live in a major city, there are action groups around you, and they will be demonstrating. Join them.

So now: the hurdle. You’ve read articles about looters and rioting, about tear gas and arrests, of chaos and destruction. If you’re hesitant to go to a march, I can understand why. But I will just say this: I personally have been to a bunch of protests here in St Louis. We’ve closed down highways, marched downtown, you name it. I have seen no violence, I have seen no looting, I have seen no fires, no fights, no crazed and raging protestors. All has been peaceful, all has been constructive, all has been people joined together to show support.

Honestly, when things start to shift, it’s very clear (and also usually much later in the evening). You’ll see a line of police in riot gear, often times with gas masks on. This is the turning point. This is where everyone makes starkly different choices. Some people do not back down. Some people stay, but at a distance. Some people decide to go home. Whatever you choose, I really don’t care. I’ve chosen each of those paths on different nights, and I understand each one. So do what you feel you’re ready for.

My point is this: these protests are calm and organized. They are a show of support, and a way to find more local organizers for future action steps. They are a way to do something more productive than posting “WTF” on Facebook.

If you go, you will see what this is really all about. You’ll have a perspective formed from action, from experience, and not from a frenzied media. And if one night you decide to stay, you might see things left unreported, like your local coffee shop or church tear gassed by police. You might hear the heartbeat of democracy.

Do not be afraid. Go forth and help change things.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uf-z9zbeRys

Ruben Quintero

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