Memories of Dad for Father’s Day

Posted June 18, 2010 by cgonzal
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For the past few weeks every commercial on television and radio is hawking something to buy for Dad for Father’s Day. My Dad never golfed or fished, only reluctantly wore ties and wasn’t even remotely interested in tools, but I never paid much attention to the commercials.

Dad died two years ago this month and although I mistakenly thought the pain of that loss would diminish over time, in some respects it has not. Mostly, I think, because the time becomes a distance between me and the last time I saw him. I still experience things he would’ve enjoyed hearing about – work situations, funny stories or baseball talk of the day. I really wished I could talk to Dad about Galarraga’s almost perfect game, but I can’t.

But I can remember who he really was as a Dad.

When we were small, Mom was the center of our world. I don’t remember her admonishing us to “wait until your father gets home.” She was the swift hand of justice. He came home after teaching, and during its season, wrestling practice, and quietly ate his dinner and didn’t appreciate any giggling or nonsense at the table. I can still see him reach out to take someone’s glass of milk to pour a bit in his coffee before rhythmically stirring it in the heavy brown mug.

Once when I was about 5 or 6, Mom and Barbara hurt my feelings, which was common because everything was a slight to me as a child, and I went into my room to cry on the bed. Dad came in and held me on his lap soothingly. That might have been a typical thing in many families, but it was atypical in mine.

I remember him sitting out on the back porch asking about how things went at school. “What did you learn today?” was his most frequently asked question. And when I lost some of his old coins when I took them to school for Show-and-Tell he didn’t get mad at me.

I remember him taking us to the State Fair on Highland High School’s fair day, which meant we never went when other kids from school did.  Mom would pack a picnic dinner for us and Dad would walk us through every exhibit. It was a bit like the Bataan Death March does the New Mexico State Fair because he loved to walk and hike. I guess he thought it was okay for 8 year olds, too. We looked at the trains, animals, vegetables, crafts and art. If there was an exhibit of it, we saw it…year after year. And because my birthday fell during the fair, my friend Ann sometimes went with us. We would find a place to open the picnic basket and have dinner. Once it got dark we headed to the midway where each child got to get on one ride.

When I was in high school my Mom spent the summers at the University of Oklahoma where she earned a master’s in library science, a degree not offered in New Mexico. Her time away was payback for the years that Dad went off to summer institutes or traveling through the south visiting Civil War battle sites. Everything on the home front was an adventure for Dad. He was never much of a cook, but by then Barbara was an accomplished cook and we agreed that she cooked, and I cleaned. She told me that Dad would take her to the grocery store and would try to save a few pennies by buying things that we didn’t like. She would tell Dad that no one would eat the stuff and it would go to waste – that was the only way around his frugality.

I became an obnoxious teenager around age 16. I did stupid things – hanging out with an older guy, sneaking out of the house and taking Dad’s car. I remember one night when Dad was exasperated with me, he threatened that I would not be allowed to go to Northern Michigan to spend the summer with a friend of mine who’d recently moved there. I shot back, “You’ll let me go! You can’t wait to get rid of me!” He nodded in resignation and left the room. Going to Michigan was a good thing. I enjoyed myself and learned a lot about myself. Since my friend MaryAnne’s mom was more open to talking about emotional things, I was able to work through my teen angst about the older guy I’d been seeing.

Dad and my brother Barry came to meet me at the airport. I didn’t recognize Barry because he’d grown 6 inches over the summer. Dad took one look at me and said, “You’ll need to get out and play some tennis.” I’d put on a few pounds over the summer. Back in my routine, they came right off.

I came back ready for my senior year. I found responsible friends to hang out with and it was a calm school year. I even got the Humanities Award at honors assembly which provided a small amount of money for my first semester at UNM. Mom and Dad were both proud and noted that the school should have let them know. Seeing that was more interesting to them than watching another commencement ceremony – they did enough of that at Highland and Rio Grande, where Mom was librarian.

I didn’t really like UNM and in my second year met Frank. We moved in together the second semester of my sophomore year and got married a year later. I dabbled in school, but wasn’t really interested and ultimately quit. That never sat well with Dad. Every time I visited he’d ask if I was going to take a class. It didn’t matter if I had a baby or a baby on the way; it was always, “When are you going to finish that degree?” I would be working full time, caring for kids and a house and yet I always heard, “How is the class?” because by then he’d get me taking one or two at a time. Ultimately, I got a job at Parish Library at UNM after years of working in the public library system because UNM employees had tuition remission – 8 hours of credit and time off each semester to take a class. I discovered the professional writing program and enjoyed it. So, finally, at age 39 I graduated.

No one was happier than Dad. He wrote me and each of my siblings a letter describing his pleasure and satisfaction that all his children had graduated from college. He enclosed a check. Since I was the last to graduate, Barry said I owed him interest.

After that, Dad and I had great discussions about the University – the administration, the faculty, athletics – if it was in the paper or on the news he had questions about it. Mom was the keeper of the archive of my writing, but Dad kept track of the tales. We still talked baseball – UNM baseball coach Ray Birmingham – the Giants – Dad’s team; the Red Sox, mine. He explained the DH and Tommy John surgery. He remembered players of old and told their stories.

When I took up tennis in a big way, he was always interested in hearing about my game. He even came out to watch me hit once. I wish I could tell him about the progress of my serve and the power I’m developing.

For his birthday one year I suggested to my siblings that we go in together on season tickets to Lady Lobos basketball. We gave him the tickets and sometimes I went with him. The next year he told me not to bother – I think he didn’t like finding someone to go with him, so I bought them and then invited him to go with me. He liked that much better. I maintain those tickets still because I think of him as I sit there.

I often imagine Dad with my friend Phil – a contemporary of Dad’s whom I met in a German class. Phil was a retired pharmacy prof who became a dear friend. He died about a year and a half after Dad. Phil was also a baseball fan – he liked the Red Sox and the Mets. I wish I’d been able to introduce them when they were living. I wish they could have met Sam Suplizio, a UNM alum I wrote about who played ball for UNM. He gave me baseballs signed by Joe Torre and Whitey Ford. I gave the Torre ball to Dad – at Suplizio’s insistence.  Suplizio has also gone to the great dugout in the sky.

I imagine Dad, Phil and Sam now, especially during baseball season, taking in the games of their choice. I miss them all, but especially Dad.

And I still wouldn’t know what to get him for Father’s Day.


James P. Cramer Roundtable Discussion, UNM School of Architecture and Planning

Posted March 17, 2010 by cgonzal
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“While you can’t afford to be in denial about the recession, you don’t want to fully participate in it, either,” reminds DesignIntelligence Founding Editor James P. Cramer. Cramer co-chairs the Design Futures Council, an interdisciplinary network of design, product, and construction leaders who explore global trends and challenges.

Cramer visited the UNM School of Architecture and Planning recently to lead a discussion around the theme “What Does the Future Look Like and What Are We Going to Do about It?” for  architects, planners and others. Roger Schluntz, dean of the school, invited local professionals from his Council for Design and Planning Excellence to participate.

“Short-term constructive paranoia is for the long-term good,” Cramer said. He indicated that architects and others will have to work harder in the next 10 years than the last 10 years. “Think of it,” he said, “The Yellow Pages, video stores, film cameras, checks, analog televisions and ash trees (because of the borer), have disappeared.”

Next generation tools will be very different and play a pivotal role in determining the winners and losers in these professions, he said. The time calls for using survival skills, expanding entrepreneurship to battle the emotional and financial depressions, Cramer  said.   “As the economy improves, the profession will be different and it will attract different kinds of people,” he said.

Cramer presented some of his “25 Trends Transforming Architecture and Design,” featured in the January/February 2010 issue of DesignIntelligence.

  • Effective leadership —  individuals with strong human skills, willing to make the hard decisions necessary to remain relevant and healthy
  • Meritocracy — results-based compensation will find favor in the leading organizations
  • Disproportionate emphasis on customer service — design firms need to find new ways to add value to their product, become devoted to the clients’ well-being
  • Improve professional ethical standards
  • Establish long-term policies of values and behaviors that trump the commitment not just to be better, but “going for the Olympic team” better

Cramer cautioned against being an unprofessional “chronic victim,” but rather think about and act upon being the “inventor of our own success instead of the victim of circumstance.”

Change isn’t always comfortable, but it’s real. He said that leaders emerge to take advantage of those changes. The cycle begins with denial, moves to resistance, which in turn encourages explorations — of technology, the market, the economy what is being changed, and finally commitment to a new form of practice. “This takes us to interesting territory,” he said.

“We are the people we’ve been waiting for. Leadership is defined when challenges are the greatest,” Cramer said. He notes that the recession isn’t an indicator of the future of the profession, but rather reveals its vulnerability and wasteful practices.

Bill Sabatini, UNM graduate of the master’s of architecture program in 1979, is currently the lead design principal for Dekker Perich Sabatini Architects, where he manages specialized design projects for large corporate administrative facilities, higher education and health care.

Sabatini asked, “How do we position ourselves for the world post poor economy?” He added that the public perception of architects has eroded over the past 25 years. “Public clients don’t value what we do as a profession,” he said.

Cramer pointed out that new construction is about 1 percent of all the design and construction work done in the US. “Most professionals want to experts in a very specific area rather than working in the 99 percent of the work that’s out there — remodel, retrofitting, energy redesign. You’re at a scale disadvantage,” he said.  He added that firms need to demonstrate that they are doing a wide-range of interesting projects in order to bring in talented professionals.

Albert Moore, principal, Albert Moore and Associate Architects, in Santa Fe, specializes in residential, commercial and municipal facility design. He posits, “Architecture is the habitat for all human social systems: health, education and government. Those social systems are in a decline in the US. How can we respond to a moving target? We need to prepare for a shift in consciousness and maybe even encourage it along. We need to diversify — take our design and creative skills and apply them to refine social systems.”

Moore also said that if those social systems are retooled, demonstrating their interconnectedness, then it would eliminate their burdensome hierarchies that are set to demolish them.

Cramer said that the government — often as client — views designers as technicians rather than as the Renaissance people they are. He added that he still sees the glass “half full.”

Among Cramer’s list of 25 trends is the potential loss of another generation of talent, as was seen in the 1990s when many young architects and engineers left the profession from a lack of available positions. They never returned to the profession. Emily Brudenell, a 2008 master’s in architecture graduate , is an intern at Hartman + Majewski Design Firm, where she specializes in GSA/Federal development projects.  Brudenell said that she is seeing many of her former classmates going into industrial and furniture design, or developing online design businesses, because they can’t be employed as architects.

The consensus was that with a 3.4 percent increase in the need for architects each year, getting architects licensed is still critical. The Intern Development Program set out by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards dictates that to gain licensure as an architect, one must be employed as such. That body needs to address the vacuum of positions and the desire on the part of recent graduates to acquire the license.

Cramer said that a Los Angeles firm is taking the ambitious step of annually going after the top 30 architecture students coming out of school. Geraldine Forbes Isais, director, UNM architecture program, said that the new students aren’t really “practice ready,” despite having great expertise in new skills and possessing new ideas. Cramer isn’t so sure…

Cramer thinks that good design isn’t going away because of tight budgets. “We can still be creative, beautiful and sustainable,” he said.

The conversation turned to another one of Cramer’s trends: “Will Contractors Eat Architects’ Lunch?’ With many contractors already turning toward design-build, they are aggressively growing their in-house design services.  The discussion turned toward BIM — which had me flummoxed for a bit, until someone actually defined it as “building information modeling,” the detailed drawings the contractors worked from. Architects don’t think they’re paid enough to do them — or maybe do them in a detailed sense — and contractors need information not always provided by the architect’s BIM. Those drawings include all the systems for the building as well as the design.

Moore said that contractors make changes to the BIM that need architect’s approval and they don’t always get it. “A building is an integrated system of subsystems. To change the details without the architect’s approval can compromise the entire system. The building can fail,” he said.

Clients don’t also value the architect’s work or want to pay for it.

Robert Mallory, president of Southwest Noise Control, a firm providing soundproofing materials for new buildings, said, “Excellence in design work influences human thought and the beings themselves.”

Sabatini added, “Health and welfare is improved by the physical environment.”

Cramer noted that evidence-based design is an approach to design that give importance to design features that impact health, well-being, mood, and safety, as well as stress and safety. The approach focused on the relations between the quality and features of the environment.

Cramer challenged the professionals to look at the strategies they employ in the current context and then look at strategies to be relevant for a new context.

Day 3, Tec de Monterrey, Estado de México, Feb. 2010

Posted February 26, 2010 by cgonzal
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We started the day with a little café de olla and a mandarina and then headed to the school to work. We met Gosia in the faculty lounge. She asked us if we planned to attend any of the day’s sessions, this being the final official day of the 3er Congreso Internacional de Relaciones Internacionales. We contemplated attending Jon Luckhurst’s presentation with his friend and colleague from Chile on analysis of political discourse, but decided to hold out for the book discussion featuring several authors including one journalist.

The book, funded by the Ford Foundation will be available online free of charge. It is titled, “Security and Defense Atlas of Mexico, 2009.” It features work by 53 writers/editors, many of whom are academics, but others are journalists. One author, Jose Luis Piñeyro, spoke about the connections between drug trafficking and politics. He also spoke about the border region as a region of money, drugs and human trafficking.

Honestly, I had a hard time hearing and understanding many of the speakers, and there were 6 of them. The sound quality was poor (Richard said they had too much bass for the speaker who attended via teleconference calling), many didn’t use the microphone effectively and sometimes they just spoke too fast for my ears and brain to keep up. That being said, I followed just fine when the journalist spoke. Nydia Egremy Pinto, Revista Contralinea, wrote about the threats and dangers to journalists in Mexico as well as access to information. She indicated that 72 journalists have been killed and another 11 have disappeared in recent years. Others have been the victims of personal assaults. Some of her frustrations included gaining access to convenios Mexico signs with other governments. What is the military – both army and navy – doing to combat narco-trafficking? How is the military trained? What materials do they study? Stories on security and defense are of interest to the people in the republic, she said. She has experts who can translate complex information, if needed, so why are there 40 archives that are “reserved”? She wanted access to commercial agreements between the US/Canada/Mexico, but was told the information is in the reserved materials. She considers access to such critical to watchdogging business in Mexico.

Regarding the US/Mexico border, Pinto noted that US intelligence officers cross into Mexico all the time to conduct investigations, but if Mexicans were to do it, it would be considered a crime.

Military, governmental and business archives are all among collections of materials that are “reservados.” Failure to provide the media with access to information is an impediment to democracy, she said.

Following the presentations, we went down to meet the journalist and to congratulate Gosia on a job well done – she had introduced all the speakers and was the easiest one to hear/understand. We were very pleased that Pinto and her colleague, whose name I didn’t get, unfortunately, gave us a printed edition of the book. We were very surprised. The night before, Gosia and I talked about libraries and I told her I worked in libraries for many years before moving into public relations/media writing. The book will be for UNM’s Zimmerman Library. Another gentleman approached us. Raúl Benítez Manaut, investigator at the Research Center on North America, UNAM, had heard of our presentations the day before and was interested, as well. He invited us to participate in an event on border issues being held at UTEP in the next week or so. He’s going to send us some information.

We were getting ready to head out the door, get a little snack and head back to the computer lab, when Gosia stopped us. Would we mind waiting just a moment? There’s a professor who heard about us and our presentation from students and he wanted to meet us. He had been busy with his own conference and hadn’t been able to attend any of our sessions. Dr. Luis Eduardo Zavala de Alba, professor investigator, Graduate School, Public Policy and Public Administration (EGAP), Tec de Monterrey, greeted us. He said that he works at several Tec campuses doing human rights training. He’s a big researcher and has money from the Ford Foundation that has funded human rights programs at both Harvard and Tec de Monterrey. He is interested in doing perhaps 3 day’s human rights training with us and our students during the Cross-Border Issues Group program this summer. He has connections in Guatemala City and that might help us when we’re in that country. Richard suggested that perhaps some of his students might like to participate in our program – we are trying to make it more interdisciplinary to gather various perspectives and present different insights. We suggested if any of his students might be interested that they attend one or the other of the sessions we’re holding with students tomorrow. We’ll see!

We were quite heartened and happy. After a little bit more time in the computer lab, we caught the bus – which stopped so a passenger could hop off and pop into a little store, so I did the same. I got my Coke Zero and was ready for some Añejo once back at Graciela’s. She treated us to our last wonderful meal at her table. It was liver – don’t say “ewwww,” because it was awesome. Richard thought it was veal and it probably was calf’s liver. We also had spaghetti with crema, beans and a wonderful portabello mushroom dish she created. We didn’t linger long at the table, however, because we both wanted to get some work done.

I went upstairs to see if I could get us reservations at Del Principado. Struck out. Looked and looked for a reasonable hotel in the Zona Rosa and finally settled on Suites del Angel on Rio Lerma. We have our reservations and after our final student meeting tomorrow, we head to the heart of Mexico City for a little WR&R: work, rest and relaxation.

Day 2, Tec de Monterrey, Estado de México

Posted February 25, 2010 by cgonzal
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With our presentations behind us, we woke up Wednesday morning far more relaxed than the day before. Graciela had pan pobre and café olla for us to enjoy. We joined Kim for a brief walk to the bus stop and bounced along looking at the businesses, traffic and people going by.

We entered the faculty lounge building which is equipped with computers. Gosia had given us her password, so we were able to work. After answering email and blogging, we met Jon Luckhurst and Gosia at Starbucks. Of course there’s a Starbucks. They treated us to a light lunch and a heavier discussion. I think Jon had been waiting for someone like Richard to arrive with whom he could compare notes about political discourse in the context of international relations. Luckhurst and a friend of his are working on a project that incorporates discourse analysis with game theory and how it can influence international relations.

A point Richard made was about how the US always thinks it can “make its own weather.” The US wants to be lead dog in all things and isn’t particularly interested in perspectives of other countries. Luckhurst noted that the US needed to look at immigration issues from an international relations/policies perspective rather than a domestic one. It made me realize that interviewing an international relations expert would be a good thing for our project, particularly if we write this book.

Luckhurst, quite the scholar, noted the term “glocalization,” popularized by sociologist Roland Robertson. Glocalization describes the tempering effects of local conditions on global pressures. At a 1997 conference on “Globalization and Indigenous Culture,” Robertson said that glocalization “means the simultaneity — the co-presence — of both universalizing and particularizing tendencies.”

The increasing presence of McDonalds restaurants worldwide is an example of globalization, while the restaurant chain’s menu changes in an attempt to appeal to local palates are an example of glocalization. Perhaps even more illustrative of glocalization: For promotions in France, the restaurant chain recently chose to replace its familiar Ronald McDonald mascot with Asterix the Gaul, a popular French cartoon character.

Luckhurst will be sending us articles by Robertson as well as by Jan Neederveen Pieterse.

Pieterse is Mellichamp Professor of global studies and sociology in the Global and International Studies Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He specializes in globalization, development studies and cultural studies. He currently focuses on new trends in twenty-first century globalization and the implications of economic crisis. He has been visiting professor in Brazil, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, and Thailand. He is an editor of Clarity Press and associate editor of Futures, Globalizations, Encounters, European Journal of Social Theory, Ethnicities, Third Text and Journal of Social Affairs.

We also discussed the fact that hybridization has always existed and therefore immigration, and its impact on identity, is really not so significant. Well, we’d kept Jon long enough from his meeting, and I was concerned that his scalp would burn as we sat outside. He went off to his next engagement and Gosia, Rodrigo, Richard and I prepared to make our way to Lecheria.

A word about cabs in Mexico. They don’t always know where places are. Lecheria isn’t very far from Tec, but it isn’t a direct path to get there. Finally Rodrigo chimed in and we arrived. We noticed a sign above the door that wasn’t there in the summer. It recognized DIF, Desarrollo Integral de la Familia. We knocked and were not greeted by either of the Guadalupes or Gustavos who have been there on previous occasions, but rather by Rugelio.  He didn’t know us, but after a few minutes, Gustavo called him to let him know who we were and then he opened up to us.

Milagro. That’s the only word I could think of when we saw the transformations to Casa Migrante since I was there in July. It was in the same condition when Richard visited in November. Milagro. New bathrooms with two toilets in each facility, a new shower and nice tile floors and walls. Milagro. Brand new beds lining both sides of the large common room. We moved to the back and saw two people sorting donated food. Milagro. We walked outside and across to the chapel. A portion of it had been converted into a bigger kitchen with greater capacity to prepare food. And there were lots of fresh vegetables and cans of food stacked neatly in the pantry.

This was a far cry from the previous Casa Migrante at Lecheria. Then, they cobbled together whatever meals they could with what little had been contributed.

Rugelio explained that he had approached the previous mayor about some funding to improve the facility, but was turned down cold. The current mayor (and that’s our interpretation of his position) has greater political aspirations and saw the benefit in creating some goodwill and doing some good in the area. DIF got involved and very quickly the change occurred.

The changes weren’t just physical. There are now teams of volunteers scheduled daily who come in to help. The migrants themselves help take care of the place, tending to the cleaning. Rugelio said that he tells the migrants that they will be treated with respect and that in order to continue to serve the migrants still coming, they need to keep the place clean. Two Hondurans  busily sorted vegetables and then swept and mopped the floor.

Rugelio told us his story. His mother and aunt had always been “muy católica,” and had been involved in various mission work. He helped on occasion, but when his mother died, he and his father didn’t get along well so he decided to go north to the United States to find work there. He worked in restaurants in LA for five years. He pocketed some money and decided to return to Mexico because the faith he had always held waned upon his mother’s death and he was feeling the need to reconnect with God in an important way. He found his aunt, Guadalupe, “Lupita” still working in Casa Migrante, quietly going about doing what needed to be done to meet the needs of the constant flow of migrants. He wanted to do more. He started going out and talking to people about what they were doing. He was working to get support for the albergue, or mission. He took some time away and visited Oaxaca and the albergue at San Luis Potosí. “I’m not married. I don’t have children. I don’t need much myself,” he said.

He told us that a group from Comisión de Derechos Humanos, Estado de México, came to take two of the Hondurans to Toluca, the capital of the state. They wanted to go back to Honduras. Because of the dangers of the trip, the Human Rights Commission pays their transport and accompanies them back to the border, feeding them along the way.

He also said that they often get indigent Mexicans who show up. “We feed them, we let them bathe, but we don’t let them stay here. They have other options as Mexican citizens,” he said.

He said that the flow of migrants, now more than 90% Honduran, required them to change their policy from a 3 day to a 24 hour stay. “It also makes it harder for the coyotes to prey upon the migrants. It’s hard to keep the coyotes out completely, but we do try to minimize their contact,” Rugelio said.  He asked a Honduran what it was about his country that was driving people north. Is it the poverty? “It isn’t the poverty. It’s the misery,” he was told. It’s being robbed because of desperation of many. It’s the gangs and the drugs, he said.

He is convinced that he had God’s backing. I told him that seeing the well-stocked pantry after seeing the paltry food stuffs they had in the summer reminded me of the story of Jesus and the loaves and fishes. He told me that one night they had a group of migrants show up. “All we had to offer them was coffee. We felt bad because we didn’t have food for them. There was a knock at the door and standing there was a woman who gave us two bags of bread,”Rugelio said.

We took a walk along the tracks to see where the migrants get off the train. We thought about going to where they get on, but there weren’t many migrants in the shelter at the moment and didn’t think we’d see much. We walked to the tracks and observed the people walking along them. Construction workers carried ladders, a woman pulled a cart over the tracks, workers finished with their jobs made their way home along the tracks. A train came, but it was loaded with chemicals. It didn’t have the kinds of cars the migrants ride. Still, we visited with Rugelio. And I talked with Gosia. The experience, she said, made her think of her grandfather. “I hadn’t thought about him before,” she said. “He was not a migrant by choice, but rather was exiled from where he lived what is now the Ukraine when the map in Eastern Europe was redrawn. He was moved to Poland. Like these migrants, he didn’t ride in a passenger train. He rode like cargo,” she said.

I told her that everyone has an immigration story. Many in the US aren’t familiar with their story, but we actually started a presentation at a church by asking people to recall an immigration story in their own families.

I talked to Rugelio about the work that Padre Alejandro Solalinde is doing in Ixtepec, Oaxaca. He said that many of the migrants speak of this great man. Richard and I both encouraged him to make his way down to visit with him. They are kindred spirits.

After about an hour of waiting along the tracks with no train in sight, we made our way back to the albergue. It was getting late and Carlos was going to be picking us up. When we entered, Rugelio’s attention fell upon two young migrant men. They spoke for a few minutes. Both looked visibly upset. Soon Rugelio asked if they would be willing to talk to us. And although they were unwilling to be videotaped, they were willing to talk to us. We went to the entryway to the kitchen to talk.

We told them a bit about what we do and how important it was for us to show Americans that the migrants are human beings, just like us. We wanted them to see that they also want safety and security, the opportunity to work and raise their families.

One young man was tall and thin with a head of beautiful curly hair. His eyes were red. When we started to ask him about his family, he wept. He was leaving behind his wife and 4-year-old son. He was leaving because he couldn’t feed his family. He worked painting automobiles. He said he could make a decent living if he had his own tools and could open his own shop, but in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, your position of employment was terminated with no cause. He kept trying to find work, but exhausted his resources.

He’d had 6 years of formal schooling, but spoke as one with more education. He was one of 7 children. He was very close to his mother. “She made clothes for me and made sure I had toys, even Crayolas,” he said. She has since died.

He and his friend joined the migrant trail 10 days earlier. It is a brutal road, fraught with kidnappings and robbery. They had to pay several bribes, some to Mexican law enforcement. We asked if it was local police or federal. Both, they said.

His friend was stockier, but also tall. Also 23, he looked more like 19. He is also a father – his wife and 3-year-old daughter are still in Honduras. He had more education including certification in two different trades. Yet, his job prospects were the same as his friend’s. With so many young men coming north, we asked them, what has become of the friends you grew up with? Are they up north? “Many are dead,” the second man said. Gangs, drugs, selling drugs because it’s the only way to make money, is risky business, they said.

Rodrigo explained to them the road ahead of them. They planned to cross in Arizona. He explained that the Sonora Desert is equivalent in size to the country of Honduras, only isolated. It can be quite cold in the desert at night and the days will start heating up. Did they know where they were going? The first young man has a friend in Phoenix, but they want to make their way to San Francisco.

We wished them well. I gave them a hug and the first young man said that usually no one wants to touch them because they are dirty.

Later, back at Graciela’s, she told me that I needed to use less of my heart and more of my head in working with the migrants or their suffering would become my own. I occasionally hold onto a particular migrant and his story, but Guadalupe told me last summer that that holds true for her, as well. I don’t think it’s a problem because Richard and I, and often the students, or in this case Rodrigo and Gosia, talk about the interviews afterward as a way of debriefing. It helps us keep our eyes on our reasons for being involved in the Cross-Border Issues Group.

Graciela fed us mole Oaxaceña and then she, Richard and I cleaned the kitchen in an atmosphere of joyousness.

Tec de Monterrey, Estado de México, February 2010

Posted February 24, 2010 by cgonzal
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We arrived in Mexico City and took a cab to our hotel. Sadly, it was not Del Principado, but rather the Segovia Royale. It might have been “royale” in the ’70s, but it really wasn’t any more. I am not complaining, though, because the price was right. I was on the 3rd floor and Richard on the 5th, but we each had a computer and communicated through Skype when we both experienced wireless problems. Despite all our attempts, it simply wouldn’t stay on. We spent time up in the Business Center and it short order we discovered that even their hard-wired computers weren’t connecting to the Web. It was a bit of a panic for both of us. We had work to do to prepare for the next day’s presentations and we needed our Web!

I went over the two PowerPoints again, making the language changes that Ernesto had provided and generally giving them another look-see. Richard was diligently working on his economic presentation, which he had outlined on the bus coming in from Cuernavaca.

I bowed out earlier than Richard, mostly because there was nothing else I could do without the Web. I went to my room and settled in for the night, knowing that the next day would be a big one.

Richard called me at 6:30 to wake me, but I’d already been up for a half hour. I think I was getting a bit nervous about the presentations. Gosia Polanska, our contact at Tec de Monterrey, cheerfully greeted us in the hotel lobby. Rodrigo and his father were to meet us all there at 7:30 because it’s about a 2 hour drive from the center of Mexico City to Tec, on the northern reaches, actually outside Distrito Federal and in Estado de México.

We got to know each other pretty well. Rodrigo and his papa, Carlos, were running late. Traffic, of course. Gosia is from Poland, speaks beautiful English and Spanish. I couldn’t test her Polish, but I’m sure she’s fluent. She studied in Poland before going to Denmark to earn a master’s degree. Her area of interest is violence. She is only 26, with a head of curly blonde hair all trapped on the back of her head. She’s got clear blue eyes and the sweetest face. Her personality matches her outward appearance. She doesn’t look like someone you’d expect to be studying the darker side of humanity.

Carlos and Rodrigo finally arrived. Rodrigo looks good. No longer bearing a cast on his left arm, he said he’s been lifting weights…and it shows. We made our way through Mexico City traffic. Lots of people would probably hate it, but I love looking out the window at the public art, interesting buildings, landscaping and people. Gosia hadn’t gotten my resume so I drafted something quick and easy for her to use to introduce me. My resume pales in comparison to Dr. Schaefer and his many experiences including teaching in Beijing.

We arrived at the school and Carlos was going to take our luggage to the house where we would be staying. We made arrangements to meet later in the day. We were already running late and according to Gosia, tardiness is not tolerated at Tec. Fortunately, there was a class already in the room we were to use, so we cooled our heels until they cleared out.

We set up. A number of people came and sat at the table up front. Several students lined up next to the podium. Introductions were made of the VIPs at the table and at 10:25 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23, the 3rd congreso got underway. I didn’t realize our presentation was the kick-off event. No pressure! None!

Dr. Jon Luckhurst, international programs researcher, Tec de Monterrey, spoke in English. Then I knew we were in trouble. They’d asked Richard if we wanted to present in English and Spanish and we’re used to Mexican students who know very little English. Their English, I was thinking, is going to be better than our Spanish. Gosia introduced us and we were on.

After just a few slides, one of the organizers came up and whispered to us that it would be fine for us to do it in English. It could have been humiliating, but we’d said from the beginning that we want to communicate the information. If we can do it in English, all the better. For those who maybe didn’t have quite the level of English, the PowerPoint was still in Spanish, as were the videos we showed.

The students were very attentive. They asked very interesting questions that allowed us to include information we’d left out for time considerations. Afterward, several came forward and requested information about participating in the summer. Score! Our intention was to recruit and that was a good sign.

We went to lunch in their faculty club. Joining us were a couple other conference organizers. Later, Dr. Virgilio Bravo Peralta, director of the Social Sciences and Humanities division, joined us. I think his position is equivalent to our dean. He expressed interest in our program and in Tec’s involvement in it. It is great to be so well received.

After lunch, it was all Doc Schaefer. For a guy who picked up economics out of a genuine interest, but not as a profession, he did a great job of connecting all the dots to show how economics play a strong role in driving people to migrate to the US. I was beginning to wonder if his voice would hold out because he isn’t completely recovered from his neck surgery, but he didn’t even falter. When describing the type of people migrating north from Central America, he turned to Rodrigo to explain about the Nicaraguan couple we met in Oaxaca who were walking to the United States to avoid the perils of rail travel. Rodrigo rose to the occasion and described them as well-educated accountants who’s son had been accepted into a big university in Nicaragua. They would be able to make the necessary money to send him to school by working as laborers in the US, more money than they could make as professionals in Nicaragua. Many Central Americans who migrate are educated. That also means a “brain drain” from the region.

After a short break, we headed back up to the podium, wondering if the students were sick of our faces and voices, to present about Backpack Journalism. We made it a light presentation and I think it was well received, noting the great questions following.

We were done. We were spent. We went back to where we were to meet Rodrigo’s father to get a ride to our accommodations. We arrived at the house of Graciela Erceg, our hostess. She lives in an area called “Arboledas,” or tree-lined, and it was designed by Mexican Architect Luis Barragan. She bid us welcome and we entered in to a very different house than I’d ever seen. She showed us to our rooms and Carlos, bless his heart, served as porter. My room is upstairs and shares a bathroom with Graciela. Many aspects of the bathroom are still a work in progress. Richard’s room is on the other end of the house, outside the back door by the pool and up some stairs. His bathroom also isn’t completely finished. He has a great frosted sliding glass door through which he said he gets great morning light.

Graciela took us through the house, upstairs and downstairs, up to the roof, into a room being converted into a library. There, she opened a closet door and started pulling out framed and unframed old photos of Mexico. We saw Bellas Artes surrounded by Model Ts, we saw soldiers with their sombreros and belts with bullets. We saw old school migrants riding on the front of the train. She gifted each of us two pictures. I have one of some revolutionaries relaxing, but my favorite is on Emiliano Zapata, his brother, and their wives. It will join my other Mexican treasures in my den. Richard got one of a couple guys drinking pulque. I don’t remember the other one he got. As always, I need to buy a tube with which to bring back posters.

I finally had a chance to change out of my “presenting” (presentable) clothes and into something comfortable. Armed with my bottle of Añejo from Cuernavaca and a Coke Zero I was ready for a good time. Graciela had dinner ready – spaghetti with mushrooms and meat and crema. She had more desserts than Furrs restaurant. We had rice pudding with raisins and cinnamon. There was pan pobre, which was really quite rico and Richard had a frozen dessert made with rum. Better than the food was the company. Graciela’s daughter Kim, an engineering student at Tec, one of the students who boards was there, and Carlos stuck around as well. He and Graciela are good friends – Kim and Carlos’ daughter played soccer together. They refer to each other as “licensiado (a).” It means someone with a degree, but it’s more of a pet name and poking fun a bit at academia. We can relate.

We talked about each other’s lives and families. There was a bit of joking. Graciela has dogs…and she seems to acquire new ones daily. Her favorite is Barbara, or “Barbie,” who was supposed to be a teacup poodle, but must have taken steroids because she hardly represents Mattel’s vision of Barbie. The dog is a roly-poly who gets beat up by the other little dog who has to stay on the front porch in exile for his aggressive behavior.

She has a big dog, Joey, but it sounds more like “Cho-ee,” and Flaco (skinny), who really isn’t, but is the only thinner one. She acquired a new female dog that night when we went for a walk.

After the walk along the “arboleda,” we all turned in for the night.

Cuernavaca, Mexico, February 2010

Posted February 24, 2010 by cgonzal
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Richard Schaefer and I, two of the Cross-Border Issues Group team, arrived in Mexico City on Sunday afternoon. After catching a bite to eat – tacos al pastor – in our favorite airport eatery, we caught the bus to Cuernavaca. I worked on the Cross-Border Issues Group PowerPoint on the airplane and then turned my attention to the one for Backpack Journalism while in the bus. Both were in good shape, but needed translating into Spanish. By the time we got to Cuernavaca both the laptop battery and I were spent.

We got to Gloria’s glorious house and were greeted with her usual, “Mi casa es tu casa.” We quickly made ourselves at home, having implored the taxista to stop at an OXXO so I could buy rum and coke, we made some drinks and caught up with Gloria’s life and general conditions in Cuernavaca and at Fray Luca. It was great to be there! We’d not been in Cuernavaca in winter and even though it was now evening, it was still relatively warm, by our standards, not Gloria’s, and the greenery off her porch were candy for our eyes, weary of the brown of New Mexico in winter.

Gloria offered us food, but we didn’t want to impose since we know she doesn’t eat late. We also have a favorite place down near the glorieta featuring the one and only Emiliano Zapata. We was great to stretch our legs after a day of travel. We walked down, had some more tacos (of course we did) with the various salsas, limones, cilantro, and onion (for Richard). We enjoyed watching the people and generally being outdoors and back in our home away from home.

We hiked back up “Gloria’s Hill” and called it a night.

The next morning, we were greeted by Mara, always in her hat, providing us with fresh coffee and fresher papaya. We also had grapes and there were pastries, but I stayed away from them. Ernesto came in and it was great to see him. He’s lost some weight and the beard he was sporting. He looked very good. We gave him an English exam over breakfast because there were some words in our PowerPoint for which I couldn’t find the Spanish equivalent. He was very helpful. After breakfast, it was pack up again and head to Fray Luca.

Fray Luca! We had a meeting planned with Gloria, Vero, Arturo, Ernesto and Christian to go over our plans for the summer. We also wanted to make sure we had all the information about why they weren’t coming up in April. We heard it was about the economy, and we knew that could be a factor, but we wanted to make sure there were no other institutional impediments to them coming. We have so looked forward to having them come up, traveling with them through Hopi country. In addition to money, they were hearing from UNM that they needed to bring up a group consisting of at least 12. That’s difficult for them. We said we would see what we could do about it. Additionally, they are now being charged as much now for 2 weeks as they used to pay for 4. We’ll check that out, too.

As for summer, dear Vero had done her homework. She had her Guatemala information and had already been looking into logistics. We discussed the possibilities of using public transportation to get down to Guate/Honduras, as well as partnering with universities in Huehuetenango in Guatemala, and Tegucigalpa in Honduras. It looks like some of Arturo’s students will be working with us, including possibly Paola, a veteran from last year. All went well. I think that we’re starting to firm things up a bit. As Richard said, we’ll know more about everything we can do once we know our numbers. He’s expecting to have a firm grasp on that by the end of April. We are planning as if all is a go, with a couple of nights, perhaps, in Chiapas.

Gloria expressed great interest in the research side of our project and making sure they had all of it because she’s got an accreditation visit this summer and plans to feature it.

Following the meeting, we went to Arturo’s shop for a great video swap. We gave him ours and he gave us his. His students pulled together a great video highlighting our efforts this past summer. He pulled some of the best Padre Alejandro soundbites as well as some great footage from Casa de Buen Samaritano in Oaxaca. He did a good job with the footage and information from Magdalena Teitepac – and telling the hearbreaking story of Roberto Hernandez Cuevas.

Leaving his office we looked east southeast and got a breathtaking view of Popocatépetl, or just “Popo” to its friends — this magnificent mountain. It was the first time we’d seen it covered in snow! It was magnificent. The previous week they’d had lots of rain…I mean LOTS of rain, and the mountains got snow. I told Arturo they had no excuse to only have one Mexican in the Winter Olympics.

Ernesto then drove us to the bus station because we needed to get back into DF and get ready for our presentations. It was hard to leave Cuernavaca after such a brief visit, but the good news is, we’ll be back!


Posted August 21, 2009 by cgonzal
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The Cross-Border Issues Group small group — Richard Schaefer and myself — traveled to Tucson last night with a goal to follow through on our promise to Roberto’s family to try to find out what happened to him in the desert in May. We also want to connect with the various groups that research migration, handle the bodies of migrants pulled from the desert, and speak to Border Patrol officials, an attorney who works with migrants’ legal issues, and whoever else crosses our path in the next few days who is on the migrant trail.

My buddy Donie Gignac is not only kind enough to put us up, but she didn’t even get bugged when we came in late — after 1 a.m. — and still got up in the morning to make us coffee! She didn’t mind us rambling on and on about what we’re doing and who we would like to connect with. And, as a good librarian, she had some solid leads for us. She shined us on to Adjunct Lecturer Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith of the Mexican American Studies & Research Center at the University of Arizona. She also suggested Isabel Garcia, attorney, Pima County Legal Defender’s Office. We love librarians!

Our first appointment of the day was with Rubio-Goldsmith. She is an older woman, probably approaching 70. Her hair is tied back in a bun and she walks with a cane. Before bad knees took travel off her docket, she was in Chiapas researching the effects of NAFTA on that poor Mexican state. She is comfortable and confident on camera, and outspoken about migrant issues. She told us that immigration laws haven’t necessarily changed much in recent years, but the way they’re enforced has. She told us that for many years, Mexican immigrants, many of whom were undocumented, would be convicted of petty crimes and misdemeanors — or even for more serious offenses. They would pay fines, serve time, whatever was deemed appropriate, and would put those events behind them. Now, she said, those individuals are being targeted by ICE or the Border Patrol. “They pound on doors at 2 a.m. demanding to see ‘Jose Perez,’ let’s say. They storm in, demanding to see everyone’s papers. They round people up who don’t have proper documentation and they leave children behind. I’m a historian. It reminds me of Nazi Germany,” she said. It also constitutes double jeopardy, by U.S. law.

She also described deportation policies that select some 70 people out of approximately 800 to be “tried” as immigration criminals. “They say they’re randomly selected, but we don’t think so,” she said. She said that the group is tried together. “A judge may spend an hour or an hour and a half on the entire group. The good judge will talk to each migrant, but translation services aren’t always very good,” she said. Then, the entire group is found “guilty” and signs documents attesting to that. The result is they can be prohibited from legally entering the country for 10 or 20 years–or if they have a prior criminal history of any kind–they are forbidden to return to the U.S. for life. Rubio-Goldsmith admonishes, “Although right now they are using those procedures with immigrants, when rights are stripped from any group, it isn’t difficult to imagine that those same policies will ultimately be applied to the general public.”

Our next stop, after popping into a gas station for directions, was the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office. Dr. Bruce Parks, Chief Medical Examiner, told us about the huge numbers of cases his office receives of migrants found in the desert. In 2001, the office received so many bodies in July — I think he said 69 — that they had to rent a refrigerator truck to hold them all. Ultimately, they had to purchase an additional cold storage unit for the bodies because the time it takes to identify them is lengthy and difficult, and meanwhile more cases are coming in all the time. The bodies are hard to identify because many have no, or invalid, identification. And the desert is a harsh environment. Animals and insects ravage the bodies. The heat bloats the body and then dries it out. It is hard to get fingerprints or any other identifying marks from the bodies. Many times all they find is bones — incomplete skeletons — bleached by the sun. But they try very hard to put a name to the bodies of mostly young, very recently healthy, men. They catalog all items found on the body, plus the location where it was found. They document the clothing and then Parks said, “We launder the clothes the migrant was wearing because colors change from dirt and sweat, or a design fades. After washing them, we have found names and numbers written on the inside of shirts.”  If someone remembers what the person was wearing prior to going missing, it might help to identify him or her.

Parks also said that most of the people die from dehydration and/or heat stroke. “A person can be fully hydrated and still succumb to heat stroke if the body cannot regulate its temperature. People usually maintain a 98.6 body temperature through sweating, if they are in the heat. In extreme heat, their temperature rises, they may experience abdominal pain and exhibit unusual behavior and become disoriented,” he said. They sit down and they die.

Parks gave us a tour of the facility, but quickly whisked us out of the in-take room as a vehicle arrived to deliver a body. He handed us off to Robin Rieneke, a U of A anthropology graduate student who is working in their office investigating cases of missing migrants. She receives information from the Mexican consulate, parents, and migrant groups. She is a friend and classmate of Wendy Vogt, whom we met in Oaxaca. Vogt had told her about Roberto.

She explained that she sent one of their forms electronically to Vogt, who filled it out with the requisite information — Roberto’s name, age, height, weight, clothing, tattoos and anything else that could help identify him. He had four black plastic bracelets, black pants, “rocker” shirt and a black backpack, she reported. They also document the last place he was seen alive. Because so many of us have approached the coroner’s office about Roberto, Rieneke has more information, including a map written by Abel, one of the people who traveled with Roberto.

Rieneke is angry that the U.S. government has enacting these “funneling policies” that make it more difficult for migrants to pass through normal urban areas — El Paso, Nogales and Tijuana. The U.S. deems the harsh desert environment as a natural barrier to migrant travel. But it isn’t. What it is is an extreme danger to people who don’t think they have an alternative. And, as Rubio-Goldsmith said, it is a human rights issue. She said she applied for funding to study the human rights abuse present in the way the U.S. government controls its border, but learned that capital punishment is the only human rights abuse in the U.S. that qualifies for research money.

Rieneke checked her files on unidentified migrant bodies against the information she had on Roberto. One individual was found in July in roughly the same area and had a black plastic bracelet. She plans to ask the forensic anthropologist to check to see if she thinks it could be Roberto. But, she thinks Roberto’s body is still in the desert.

Tonight, we will take Donie to dinner and maybe get some sleep instead of driving across New Mexico and Arizona in the middle of the night. It’s an idea…