Thursday, March 22, 2007

Climate of Intolerance Stretches Across the U.S.

The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio, Texas, recently came under fire because they put on a play about Che Guevara's last living days. This prompted ADULTS to question whether our tax dollars should fund the arts at all. The link to the NBC blog will show you the intelligent discussion that took place around this issue. Given that arts and arts education funding has been cut to nearly zero in the United States, I found it amusing that anyone still thought we were funding the arts.

One of the things I've noticed along the highways of Texas is that every time I see someone who has been stopped by a cop, the person is usually Black or Latino. No surprise there. That happens everywhere, even if you aren't driving. The difference is in Texas, they make their accusations stick, even if you are fourteen and female.

I have been welcomed, fed and taken care of by wonderful people down here in the South. Poet Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz, who is in New York right now, traveled all the way from Arizona to read at our budding poetry spot at the Guadalupe. June Pedraza, a local poet who started the Sagebrush Review Literary Magazine at the University of Texas at San Antonio, has asked me to read at several events. My friend Laura, who is married to the basist in Second to None, has been so much fun and is a breath of fresh air in Academialand. And the wonderful speaker/poet Nereida Reyes, who is from New York (!), has been nothing but warmth and real deal love. On top of that, my adviser Dr. Bridget Drinka, and the folks at the Hispanic Leadership Program, have been very supportive of my goals.

So I'm sure you can understand when I say that Texas is craaayyyyzzeeee! On the one hand, people have been very appreciative and supportive but on the other hand, I'm sometimes afraid to say a word, to pick that loud vinyl skirt to wear, or to even look at someone in the face. I'm still me, but wow. Being me caused one chick, who is younger and less educated than I, to call me tacky. Being me has caused another chick to question why I would identify with my African ancestry. Being me has been really interesting down here.

What is even more interesting, however, is that a month ago I received an email from a friend on the East Coast who lives in a very liberal city. He saw a Black man being beat up by a policeman while he was walking one evening with his wife. Another Black man who was observing this said something and my friend's wife said that the effort wasn't worth it, in hopes of avoiding the cop's wrath. Despite that, all three of the observers were jailed and are awaiting trial. It seems that it has become difficult to be oneself wherever one may be. Even back East.

Even in California, hateful language and actions have been so strong that they've found their way to my door in the media.

All these things are nothing new, I know. History repeats itself and what has begun to repeat itself is scary. How many more dead? How many more jailed? How many more confrontations of intolerance? How many more children in schools that don't serve them? How many more adults who don't have one idea about how to create life and positivity?

I find solace in the protests. But I would find more solace in the tolerance and compassion of my peers. I would find more solace in knowing that all of us could speak our minds without judgment and fear. I would find more solace in a country that didn't feel the need to silence anyone who might have a different point of view.

I know my parents lived in climates such as this one. I know my ancestors lived in worse conditions. What I don't know is....