Sunday, November 22, 2009

Show me what real faith looks like

I am a recovering Catholic. I have survived every sacrament, five years of Catholic school, numerous Catholic funerals and the brutal regimens of wearing a uniform, overseen by strict nuns who were not averse to using physical punishment.

My sister was yanked out of school one day after a nun pulled her and another child to the front of the classroom and slapped them both right across the face. Then the entire class was told they could not tell anyone what had just happened. Naturally my mom got a number of calls that night from other parents upset about what happened. She was out of uniform the next day and at the public school.

As an institution designed to provide spiritual guidance, the Catholic Church has had some horrific failures. Looking back over the years we can see the Crusades, the Inquisition, the colonialization of the American west with its subjugation of American Indians. In recent history, the proliferation of pedophile priests without any Church intervention has caused not only loss of millions of dollars but also a loss of spiritual leadership.

In Spanish, there is a phrase, sin verguenza, which literally translates to “without shame.” The Catholic Church has become a sin verguenza. After all this history of untold pain and suffering they have entered new territory of creating the same kind of pain for gays and lesbians through the electoral process.

After the loss of Prop 8 in California, it was revealed that the current archbishop of San Francisco, George H. Niederauer, began this plot against gay people. In previous work as a priest, Niederauer was in Utah and formed relationships with his Mormon brethren. From this unholy alliance sprung Prop 8.

We know the outcome of this effort. Then the spawn of Prop 8 in Maine, Question 1, appeared with the same antagonists, same ending. Now the Catholics have thrown a big tantrum in Washington D.C. saying they will pull themselves away from their $10 million dollars worth of contracts to feed and house the poor, if, gasp, the District allows gay marriage. This recovering Catholic cannot help but wonder if they had spent half as much energy dealing with their flock of pedophiles how many lives would have been spared?

A few years back during my time in New Mexico, there was a huge controversy between the Church and the arts community in Santa Fe.

When we had first moved there, the controversy at that time was the grand jury testimony of the Archbishop of Albuquerque. The holy man had fathered a child with a parishioner and had full knowledge of the rampant pedophilia occurring in northern New Mexico.

In fact, a high number of priests who were known pedophiles were sent to pray their way out of this problem at a retreat in the Jemez mountains. When they were “cured” they were released to do the lord’s work in New Mexico with the Archbishop’s blessing. I bet you know what happened then.

The Archbishop testified to the grand jury that, yes, he knew about these problems. But he thought that hitting a priest and having an abortion were greater sins.

(A brief background is here from the NY Times.)

Gloria - Virgin Mary artNow with this as a backdrop, an exhibit comes to Santa Fe with this picture in it. It is a representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She is a mestiza, brown skinned woman in all representations, who showed herself to a Mexican Indian. Long considered the patron saint of the Americans, some of the locals went nuts.

That’s a polite way of saying it.

The artist, Alma Lopez, is a lesbian living in Los Angeles. The fact that a lesbian would put bare breasts in a picture of the Virgin made some people apoplectic. She had threats made to her life. The curator of the show, Tey Marianna Nunn, was set upon by the mobs in Santa Fe as if she were Frankenstein and the mobs had pitchforks and torches. There were community forums, people who had known each other all their lives stopped talking to each other. There were out in the open brawls between men and women, traditionalists v progressives. Many lives were threatened.

Myself, I tried to instigate a few counter protests. If there were attempts to shut down the exhibit, CyberArte: Tradition Meets Technology, the feminists would chain ourselves to the front door and then take our tops off as a sign of solidarity. OK, not everyone thought the topless part was such a good idea.

In December of that year, I went to Mexico, to the border city of Ciudad Juarez, for the feast day of the Virgin, Dec 12. I had heard about this event for years and finally drove down to see it.

Gloria - feast day virginWhat I saw in Mexico were true expressions of faith and commitment to her service by thousands of people. I am sure I was the only one in the Plaza that night who even knew Alma Lopez or cared about her art. What was important was their faith in her.

Reverential looks, lips moving in silent prayer, many groups dancing to show their devotion to the Goddess of the Americas on her special day. People sat in the Cathedral for hours until the midnight hour so they could sing “Las MaƱanitas” , our version of Happy Birthday. What was controversy for men who wear hats with the Virgin on it was irrelevant to these faithful.

So as the Catholic Church in DC continues to weep and wail and gnash its teeth, I wonder how the poor, the homeless, those suffering who the church is supposed to be serving, how do they feel that they are about to be tossed out because of some unknown gay and lesbian people who want their rights. Seems like another overreaction to me.

But then I don’t know how I could expect anything different from men who plotted for years to attack us over our marriages and thought a picture was more important than true belief and acts of faith. After all I am a recovering Catholic. We have been slapped too many times by this church. That won’t stop me from performing real acts of kindness. It shouldn’t stop any of us from showing our kindness and having a generosity of spirit.

Catholics (and Mormons) may think they are blocking our way but ultimately our acts of faith – faith in our cause, faith in ourselves – will get us to the finish line as equal citizens. Yes we have had setbacks but we haven’t lost our faith.

Artist Alma Lopez has her own blog and says her new married name Alma Lopez Gaspar de Alba. She writes that:

Alicia and I are working on editing a publication of essays titled Our Lady of Controversy: Alma Lopez’s Irreverent Apparition. Please read more about the Our Lady image and the controversy on my website at or Either address leads you to the same site.

If you are an artists (or if you know an artist, please forward) who has created an image using the icon of the Virgen of Guadalupe, please submit your work for consideration to be included in the DVD which will accompany this book.

This publication with DVD will be published by the University of Texas Press (Chicana Matters Series) in the Fall of 2010.

Gloria promo for Alma's book

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards helped my breaking heart

While living in New Mexico, I heard many folk stories. Tales of emergence, creation stories, even UFO sightings. One in particular has always had a profound impact on me, the story of Apache tears.The story says that some Apaches were all lost in a battle with the colonizers. The men were all killed. When the women found out they had lost all the men, they cried such pure tears of grief, the gods were so moved they captured the tears and made them into the stones, the Apache tears. So now we are witness to the tears of the Apache women and their grief. Today there are Apache tears from Maine all across the country.

Grief, such a small word for feelings that can swallow a life.

At Maria Shriver’s Women’s Conference in Long Beach, Ca, on October 27th, a panel of women who look from the outside that they have rich, fulfilled lives, opened themselves to 15,000 participants to talk about their own grief.

Maria Shriver, the First Lady of California, moderated the panel. Elizabeth Edwards, a mother who lost her teenage son in a car accident, Lisa Niemi, Patrick Swayze’s widow and actress Susan St James who also lost a teenage son in a plane accident, talked honestly and emotionally about their grief.

The lessons are many, especially for us in the LGBT community. Each woman spoke about the challenges of facing a life without their children, husband and mother. How does one accept a life when the calls no longer come from your mother or that you will no longer see your child? How does one face a husband who has cheated on you and that the entire country knows what he has done?

For us, how do we live our lives when we have been told we are second-class citizens time and time again? How do we face a day having lost our partners, our brothers and sisters to an early death from a disease no one seems to care about any more?

The grief they talked about was so overwhelming, I felt paralyzed listening to the discussion. That gut wrenching, soul suffocating pain of loss had taken over my life in the past six weeks. I had no idea until I heard my pain being described by these women and realized I had curled up into a ball and let the pain take over everything.

Since the defeat of Proposition 8 in November, 2008 I have felt completely overwhelmed with grief. It wasn’t just my shove into second-class citizenship, it was loss of a job, then the loss of our house and the loss of a beloved dog. All the loss, the soul searching for a reason to get up in the morning that had become my life for weeks at a time.

Now we can add Maine to that list. We are now second-class, non-human beings in this country where our rights are voted on. The tyranny of the majority willingly believes the lies told by church after church both in California and Maine. Look at where the money for these campaigns comes from? Here is the link to the Maine money reports.

Here is the link for the Prop 8 donors.

So our community continues to be grief stricken and doing what to help our broken hearts? Some want to march, some want to go organize to go back in 2010 for another election. (I do not support that idea in anyway shape or form.)

Elizabeth Edwards said with such clarity that if one does not heal one’s self internally all the grief will come out sideways – as rage, anger or other behavior that is not good either for ourselves or the people we care about.

I wonder, can we heal ourselves after these defeats? Can we treat each other well? Can we say to the people in Maine, you did a magnificent job and here is my hand so I can help you up when you are ready? And get up we must. Probably not today, maybe not tomorrow but at some point we must get up. Elizabeth Edwards, a woman with stage 4 cancer, offered her hand to me, a total stranger, and helped me get up to fight another day. Betsy Smith, can I offer you my hand when you are ready to get up? Can all of us do that when the chance comes to comfort another?

Maybe not but I promise we make ourselves better people when we have compassion and show our generosity of spirit. We can all help heal each other in this small way.

Of course we will win someday. I remember asking Del Martin once about why she would work on marriage if she may not see marriage in her lifetime. It was always about the people coming behind her, “I’m doing it for them.” Del beat the clock by two months, she died married to Phyllis Lyon. No one can take that away. Del had faith in the movement, in all of us, to keep getting back up and keep going to the end. I think I made that same promise to Elizabeth Edwards. Maybe not in so many words but in my heart, I promise to keep going. Grab my hand and we’ll walk this path together. Maybe we will pick up a few on the way! I'll be the one with Apache tears in my pocket.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Check these out

Haven't been blogging much here lately. I am now on the SF Chronicle, Bilerico and LGBTPOV
I will continue to pop in here and submit other original work.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11

Today is a sad day in the annals of this country. Eight years ago we lost so many Americans which led to losing so many more Americans in a war started on lies, pomposity and subterfuge. I better be careful or Sarah Palin will start calling me out on her Facebook page. I'm white with fear.

On November 4, 2008, 16,000 people went into legal limbo because we had gotten married after the California Supreme Court said we could stay married but no one else could join our country club.

These two moments in history are related because of Alice Hoagland. We all met Alice the day she came to the rally in downtown San Jose the Saturday after the election. She was wearing a picture button of her son, Mark Bingham, a gay man who was on the United flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania. Alice took the mic that day and talked about her loss, our loss of a man named Mark who helped stop that flight from crashing into the White House or the Capitol.

Alice is an amazing woman, exactly the kind of mom we may all have wanted at some time in our lives. She has thrown herself full bore into the causes Mark believed in-LGBT equal rights, air safety and rugby. Whenever we have meetings about events and planning, Alice is with us offering heartfelt, smart opinions.

She knows our lgbt history better than most people I know. She has brought her mother's heart to our battle and will not be silenced about her loss and our loss of Mark. Alice has been walking this path with us and offering her strength to get us through the losses and set backs.

The government sent her to Guantanamo to witness the trial of Khalid Sheik Mohamed. She described her trip as seeing the face of evil in front of her. Alice was quoted on the front page of the New York Times from her time in Guantanamo. This is no shrinking violet!

Today is the anniversary of her loss. Our country's loss, the LGBT community's loss and a reminder that we can all be heroes when the opportunity presents itself. Unfortunately, Mark's heroism cost him his life.

His mother carries on for him. Alice is a great woman, a true partner in the struggle for equality. I wish I had never met her and that her son was among us, living a fulfilled life. That wasn't Mark Bingham's story though. He gave us the gift of his mother instead.

I wish I had met Mark while he was among us. I am certainly grateful for his gift of Alice. Please take a moment today and remember Mark and all the others who lives ended tragically today. Please remember their families, the people who love them and the pain they have today as a reminder of that dark day.

Please remember the bright lights that remain among us carrying their sorrow in so many hidden ways. Their pain is our pain, we remain a country wounded but still surviving.

Thank you Mark for your sacrifice. Thank you Alice for all you do and who you are to all of us.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


I got married on August 30, 2008 during the summer of love. My one year anniversary is coming up soon. Our 20 year anniversary is on August 14. Most of that time we have lived in California, with a decade in New Mexico.

I did all my growing up in California, schools, drinking, getting arrested, getting sober, getting politically active and educated. From the really bad days of AIDS to Prop 187 and now Prop 8, I have struggled in the trenches to do the right thing to win at the ballot box.

Let me be clear now. I am not and have not been part of the “leadership” in California even though I have a strong, experienced background in the science of elections. There was no Latino leadership in the November election aside from that provided by mi hermanos in LA, HONOR PAC. I do not fall into the scorned category of “those people” who have been in charge.

Trying to be a cool chick all the time, I have been riding the wave of the recession for a couple of years now, few jobs, lots of unemployment. My spouse and I are in the process of losing the house we were married in. After four months, I have gotten my first unemployment check. I do not have the resources to go to meetings for a weekend in a place as far away as San Bernadino. At 54 I also will not tolerate heat and, trust me, being cooped up in a hot room for hours is a recipe for an arrest.

At this point I am writing this because I want to make some observations about the strong disagreements in the LGBT community in California. It is truly irresponsible for me to not say something at this point and try to bring my point of view from where I live.

One of the key issues that I continue to see is the total unwillingness to listen to each other. This next campaign is supposed to be about changing hearts and minds among the electorate. Yet in meeting after meeting we do not listen well to each other and from that springs growing animosity towards other LGBT people. So without these skills how in the hell are we supposed to listen to the California electorate who does not agree with us right now?

Does anyone truly think that by just showing up on people’s doorsteps they will welcome us in and want to hear our stories? These conversations require the ability to listen to other people’s beliefs and not just maintain a superior attitude that we know best how people should vote. Do we magically take the place of their clerics or their religious community?

What is even more important is that vast numbers of people do not know us. In the Latino community, it is necessary to spend time with us to gain any measure of trust. That means going to different events, sharing some values with us, like is poverty or immigration an issue for us too. If it is, prove it.

Ask yourself when was the last time you publicly supported an issue where you had nothing to gain? Support for immigration reform? March for Iranian freedom? What have we all done to work for other causes? I will give a shout out here for Courage Campaign who does a great job of working on the multiple issues that we face as progressives.

But really, can we back up a little here? A lot of paens I have read about going in 2010 have not dealt at all with the issue of people of color in California. Just in case you missed the demographics on the Golden State, we are a majority minority state. The majority of people in California are minorities, primarily Latino. So to have these opinions completely skip over the statement made by people of color organizations, the Prepare to Prevail, does not take into full account the true demography here.

In Karen Ocamb’s blog post at the Bilerico Project about the San Bernadino meeting, she quotes at least two participants wanted to ignore the African American and Latino communities in the next votes. That’s a good idea - don’t deal with a significant part of the state. Wouldn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable now.

We must engage everyone in this next battle. Communities of color are saying there is not enough time to do this for a 2010 vote. Does anyone really think we don’t want our full equality? But what happens if we lose again? Who gains from that?

My community, the Latino community must be engaged in this vote if we are to win true equality. We know what discrimination is and we don’t like it. There was polling a few years back about marriage in the Latino community. It was done all over the country in both Spanish and English. The results were the same, when discrimination was described to the participants, we totally understood what it meant. Doesn’t anyone want us to do this task properly? Then give us the needed time to do it!

I have one more thing to mention. There is now an attempt to put another anti-immigrant measure on the 2010 ballot. In the same way we were used as political piƱatas in 2008, so will the brown people be used next year. The same people will be involved voting against civil rights of another group of people.

In the last election over Prop 187, we lost. In the aftermath we discovered there were 5 million people in California who were eligible to become citizens and had not done so yet. The effort is going on now to make sure we have gotten all eligible people in California ready to be citizens by November 2010. The battle was ugly, racist, a pitched battle for the soul of the state. The voters believed all the lies about what immigration was “costing” us the same way they believed the lies about us.

Whether we like it or not, there are many unpleasant conversations in the future. Unpleasantries with our families, our co-workers, our neighbors are coming. We should be able to turn to each other to support in the days ahead. But the name calling, insults, the demands of “my way or the highway” campaigning or the covert and overt racism does not make that unity possible. If we cannot trust each other, who can we trust.

I have many beefs with the way the last campaign was run. I have called people out in public for their mean spirited behavior. I may forgive but I won’t forget. I also won’t make the same mistakes twice like allowing the Latino community to be ignored the next time. So don’t get me wrong since I consistently can’t get a job with these campaigns despite my abilities, I will find a way to get around the road blocks. I also will not be insulted and degraded for being a grass roots person of color who worked on the No on 8 campaign.

But I will listen and agree on some arguments being made for 2010. I also don’t think it should be too hard to practice listening to each other and finding a way to do this without hurting each other. We have to find a way to lean on each other otherwise we are not a movement but kids who don't play well with each other.

The test is here let's make this a movement.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sanford and puns

Iraq continues to be a bloody quagmire. Check out HuffPo and Nico Pitney's live blogging there. Andrew Sullivan continues to bring updates also. I feel so sick inside watching the videos from Iraq. But seeing what real bravery and commitment to democracy looks like makes me want to support the Iraqi people even more. Especially the women that are leading this effort.

In the meantime, another Republican is added to the hypocrisy list. The guy who didn't want stimulus money, which, as Ana Marie Cox has pointed out, has a whole new meaning, apparently ran off to Argentina to do the tango mattress dance with his mistress. Here is a good little parody of his lies about where he was.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Repeat after me

The revolution in Iran is not about the US. Not one bit. Not even a hint. Time for everyone to get over the USitis and recognize shit happens in the world that is not about us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Plenty to Be Proud About

The rainbow flags are up on Market street. The excitement builds til next weekend with the patented Dyke March and Pink Saturday leading up to one of the most massive Pride parades on the face of the earth. This is fun for lots of people. Not so much for me.

It's not that I don't love a good parade. I revel in the tractor parade at the Santa Cruz Fair every year. The neighborhood Fourth of July is fun, too. But here's the problem for me, I am, in a politically correct sort of way, vertically challenged. Translation: I'm short, damn short.

So it becomes impossible to see much around all the very tall people there. They certainly do not see me and I have had way too much beer splashed on me over the years, followed by the "Oops, didn't see you" refrain. I don't drink alcohol so getting beer accidentally spilled on me isn't much fun.

But I noted that this week is Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin's wedding anniversary. They were married as the first couple in California in City Hall by the handsome mayor. The pack of people in the room was just filled with excitement at seeing this piece of our history in front of our eyes. It was even funny for us menopausal types trying to shed jackets as the room heated up from bodies dealing with hormones.

Outside, there were hundreds of people celebrating this moment. Additionally there were ugly, hateful signs decrying what was happening inside. I kept thinking, why this level of hate against two eighty year old women who just want their relationship recognized after 55 years. How does this hurt anyone?

Before all you biblically correct people start the bleating about different opinions and religious freedom, I dare you to tell me one thing these women did to hurt you? Yes, you personally so that you and your followers were so enraged that you had to run up the steps of City Hall as we walked in to scream hateful speech at us? Jewelle, you had the perfect response and then kept right on going to our date with history. Thank you.

I have my current issue of Us Weekly magazine here by my side. The cover is classic. Makes my point completely about all these fallacies about the sanctity of marriage. The four headlines on the cover :"Adam comes out gay." "Jon cheated on her birthday." "Heidi Pratt-Tears, Lies and Torture," and "Ashlee and Pete Marriage in Crisis." Guess who looks the happiest? Yep, Adam the gay guy from American Idol.

So next time you have the desire to do something that preserves the sanctity of marriage, here's some suggestions: Senator John Ensign, Senator Larry Craig, Congressman David Vitter and that towering testimony to hypocrisy and cheating, Newt Gingrich. Wait, I almost forgot Rush and his three wives. Go talk them. The rest of us want to just get on with our lives. Not to mention going back to the ballot box because that is our right. Whether you like it or not.

Posted By: Gloria Nieto (Email) | Jun 18 at 10:22 AM

Monday, June 08, 2009

Silence=Death, still

Many years ago, my friend Larry told me at a dance that he had just been diagnosed with AIDS. He was 27. WE sat and cried, held hands as we walked back to our hotel and promised each other we would fight this together. He died less than a year later.

My relationship with Larry was just the beginning of my time spent with people living with AIDS. I, too, have the long list of friends who are no longer here. I shared a Halloween birthday with Gary. His partner Chet with the wonderful, sparkling laugh always made me feel special. Jay, the very busy man who one day woke up and realized he didn't want to be so busy anymore so he quit everything, his job, his volunteer activities, all of it. He was dead less than a year later.

There were men, women, children, all struck down with this disease and living a very short time after their diagnosis. Their contributions were many, their lives lived preciously every day. The lessons they shared with us were many. I even remember Jay saying to me that he measured his problems based on one thing, "Will this matter a year from now?"

Now we have AIDS drugs. Protease inhibitors, cocktails to slow down the progression of the disease have caused a shift in many viewpoints on AIDS. People are living a long time now so this is now a chronic disease, not what was causing walking cadavers back in the day. My spouse's friend, Gary, held on so he could be Grand Marshal of the Santa Cruz Pride parade. Then he went home and died that night.

The only drugs available were the pain killing drugs. We became experts at administering morphine - two for you, one for me - in the singsong manner meant to cheer up the patient and the caregiver. No we weren't taking any, just playing a form of jump rope to alleviate their pain and the horrible deaths we were watching in front of our eyes.

California appears to be heading back to those horrible days of AIDS without life saving drugs. Millions are being cut from the state budget for the funding of these drugs and with those cuts are the federal funds that accompany these expenditures. Specifically California is cutting HIV/AIDS funding by $80 million. We will also lose $88 million in federal and an estimated $234 million in private matching funds.

There are lots of horrible cuts coming that could mean death for the poor, elderly and the sick. Education will surely suffer. I keep seeing letters to the editors repeating the message, we didn't vote no on the measures so that you could punish the most vulnerable.

Many years ago there was an often used saying: Silence=Death. I can no longer stand silently and not keep my promise to Jay, Chet and Gary. It is time for the governor, the legislature and citizens of this state to find a way to solve these problems and not on the backs of the ones we are charged with aiding.

My friends died long painful deaths, covered in cancer, gasping for every breath. But I promised them that I would always remember them and keep their memories. They lived, they were loved and their lives mattered. Just like all the people in California who depend on the state to get them their drugs, I wonder who will tell them their lives are no longer important enough and they are not loved enough to get the drugs they need to stay alive?

Figure it out folks, this is your job! Hopefully no one dies while you are silent.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

We'll be back.

Doesn't matter how the courts ruled on Tuesday. We will be back.

Doesn't matter that this was a setback for equality. We will be back.

Doesn't matter if people think they are speaking for the Almighty. That's up to the Almighty. And we will be back.

Doesn't matter if we are sad, mad or want do something bad. We'll be back.

I asked Del and Phyllis once about marriage in their lifetimes. They both thought it would never happen in their lifetimes. But look what happened.

We know how to get up, we know how to help each other get up. In our time, with our families, communities, friends and allies, we will all be back.

Until the day comes when we can just sit down and be equal citizens, we will be back.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

For the Love of a Lhasa

A week ago today I had to say goodbye to one of the family, our lhasa apso, Chula. We had her for 13 years from New Mexico to California, crisscrossing until we got to what we thought was our forever home. It was Chula's forever home as long as she was with us.

She was the first dog and she opened my heart to a way of loving I never thought possible. It was love at first sight. Jo had her in the car when she came to get me at the Albuquerque airport from another trip. When I held her in my arms and looked in her face I knew there would never be another time in my life without a dog.

Now I slowly move through each day without that dog. I wait for her high pitched bark to tell me I have done something wrong, like closed the bedroom door with her on the other side. That was one amazing trait about lhasas, the incredible loyalty. Chula always wanted to be near one of us. If that meant in the yard, in the garage, sitting on the couch, that's where she wanted to be too.

I so miss her warm body next to mine while laying in bed while I read, Talking to her about her day and what she did while I was at work. What did her and her sisters do that day. Then she would loudly remind me that it was time for food or if the water bowl was low or if she wanted a walk.

It's so quiet around here now without her voice, her personality guiding the pace of the family. I sit, waiting, for some sign that she is ok without us. That she is taken care of were ever she is now. Maybe that she can take care of us now as we weep over our loss, the loss of a very much loved lhasa named Chula.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Judy and Karen sitting in a tree in two countries

J & K sitting in two trees and two countries

My friend Judy left the country this week for Canada. Spring in Canada seems to make sense, the land is coming alive, new horizons, the Aurora Borealis is making appearances all over the northern hemisphere and there are still Canadian teams in the hunt for the Cup, eh?

Judy didn't go north for any of those reasons. She had to go to Canada to see the love of her life, Karen, a British citizen. Judy is a US citizen living in San Jose. Karen has all the correct paperwork, the passport, the visa, everything necessary for the visit. Thanks to our antiquated immigration system that doesn't recognize same sex bi-national couples, Judy went to Canada to meet Karen because a British citizen can fly into Canada with virtually no problem and enter the United States with, hopefully no problems

Here again with our old, broken system, they have to find a country which will allow them to live their lives together in peace, not hurting anyone and just wanting to grow old together. If they lived here in the U.S. they would have to pull up stakes every six months and relocate out of the country when Karen's visa ran out. I know lots of people who like living like that but these two would like to have a choice and not be ordered to live like that. Judy has mentioned more than once to me that she does not know where she and Karen will be for Christmas this year.

There is a chance their situation and thousands of other bi-national couples will get some relief. Locally, Congressman Mike Honda, D-San Jose, is co-sponsoring a bill (HR 1024), Uniting American Families Act (UAFA), along with Congressman Luis Gutierrez from Chicago to be included as part of immigration reform this year.

If Karen and Judy were a man and a woman I wouldn't even be writing about this. I mean really, man meets woman from England. Man falls in love with woman. She comes across the pond, loves it here in the Bay area. Has her own business, visas, always obeys the laws about when to stay and when to go. Man says lets get married, they say "I do." She turns out to be a wonderful singer, becomes an overnight sensation. Wait, wrong story.

The reality is they can get married in Canada but once they cross the border they get unmarried immediately. Say they are not in one of those areas that recognize marriage, like say Iowa. If something happens to them in Minnesota, there are no guarantees that they can even see each other if one is hospitalized. Is that right thing to do? Would any person have denied Phyllis the right to visit Del when she was dying?

So here it is, a broken system that doesn't recognize that people change, times have changed, situations have changed and some of us just want to live our lives with the person we love. We don't want to corrupt your children or encourage them to marry their own princess or prince but wouldn't that be swell if they found someone to love and who loved them like a prince and or princess?

Judy and Karen treat each other like princesses because Karen is from England and she knows royalty. But also because they have had to live long periods of time away from each other. Our government told them they had to live apart. So their time together is very precious.

Maybe if all of us treated our time together and our own princes and princesses so preciously then the thought of everyone being equal and all couples having the right to marry wouldn't be so scary after all.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

An open letter to Governor Schwarzenegger from an unemployed California

Dear Governor:

I hope you or someone will take a moment of time to read my letter here about my experiences with EDD. I know you are trying hard to get this economy corrected while also managing the multitude of problems within the state of California: the air we breathe,this flu, the ocean on our coasts, the redwoods, the homelessness, the budget, the prisons. It's a very long list

Unfortunately for me, I am one of those 2.2 million unemployed Californians, Governor. I have tried really hard to find a job but just like all the others out there, we continue to hope that something out there exists that will pay us enough to pay our bills and have something left over for food. We are all looking with not much luck. Some have even given up, lost

I turned to EDD for unemployment the first weekend after losing my job. Putting those forms online was brilliant. No waiting in lines, getting everything submitted correctly from the homey confines of one's house or library or even the EDD office with help all around really is quite helpful. What happened after that was anything but helpful.

My next contact from EDD was a letter which assigns me a telephone interview with an "interviewer" who will ask me questions about why I am no longer working at my former job. The letter has these questions listed on the back. It also has the time and date for this interview. I am warned that if I cannot make this interview I must contact EDD and reschedule. If I do not do so I will automatically be rejected for benefits. Very strict, very precise language as to the consequences for my not making this appointment.

But what, if any, consequences are there for EDD not showing up for the appointment? That's right, they never called. They didn't call Thursday or Friday either. I was literally on house arrest for all the rest of that week waiting for a call from an interviewer. No call ever came. Governor, is this any way to run a business?

In the meantime, I tried calling in to EDD. Anyone who has ever tried this knows what a battle this is. It takes literally over four minutes of pressing key pads to get to the end of the line and guess what happens? They literally hang up on you! The system is overloaded and they can't take your call so they just say hang up and say try again, click. Why on earth doesn't this system do that at the beginning of the call instead of making you hang on and go through all the bells and voices only to find out there is no one to help at the end? Click, no luck this time. Try again. It's not like being unemployed isn't frustrating enough but have to go through all this, too, is just down right aggravating.

I have also sent emails through the EDD site and that page says EDD has three days to answer my email. What this all says to me is that there are not enough people working there at EDD to serve the vast numbers of unemployed in California. How would a business that depends on good service survive if they had to only answer their email in three days? Not very well, I would imagine. In those three days they would have found somewhere else to go.

Because I sent my initial email on Wednesday I did not get a response until Sat with a phone number to call until Saturday. Of course that office was closed on a Saturday. I called first thing Monday morning and talked to a man who was not a trained interviewer but would ask me questions and pass his notes on to a trained interviewer who would then make a decision. So I was not interviewed by a trained staff, I don't know what his position was but he clearly did not have any idea of labor law. I had to explain to him the difference between hourly and exempt positions which is critical to my case. There were other issues that he did not understand and I had to spend a considerable amount of my interview time educating him about all manner of issues. Again, Governor, having enough staff, trained staff aleviates this problem and gives everyone a level playing.

Needless to say, I was turned down for unemployment. I am completing my appeal to be in the mail this week, well ahead of my 20 day deadline. However, I am concerned how long the appeal will take. My friend went through the whole process. He was terminated in October, appealed in November and his appeal wasn't heard until March. That is a six month process. It occurred even before the incredibly high unemployment California is experiencing now.

It is also my understanding that local Assembly and Senate offices are swamped with the same requests, helping get people through this process. Why? Because the EDD offices are so understaffed that if anyone's case falls outside a very small definition of qualifying for unemployment then we are denied what we have paid into and have to do the work to get our unemployment insurance. Again, more staffing and full training, if for only for temporary staffing, up to a year, helps us out here struggling, can you please find a way to help? The flu will pass faster than this recession but the recession will leave more disaster in its wake.

Thank you for listening. I assure you many lives hang in the balance these days. We need you as our advocate now more than ever.

Your constituent,

The unemployed but trying to be hopeful,

Gloria Nieto

I am still not recovered from the Sharks spectacular crash and burn in the first round of the playoffs so no mention of the Stanley Cup here. Can't even think about another season yet.

Friday, April 17, 2009

James D Houston - A California voice lost

James D Houston - A California voice lost

California just won't be the same without the melodious voice and glorious words of James D Houston. He died yesterday at his home in Santa Cruz.

Through some sort of a magical stroke of good luck, I have been a close friend of his oldest daughter Cori, for over 30 years. We played soccer together for years in Santa Cruz. We connected one afternoon after finishing a tournament in Sacramento, sitting on a dock at the river next to the field where we had played.

We discovered that we were both literate, had actually thought about life, struggles, what we wanted to do with ourselves, kind of grown up, adult things. A special friendship was born in the steamy heat of a summer afternoon.

She opened her door to her family who lived in a special house near the water on the east side of Santa Cruz, explaining the architecture of a cupola, a widow's watch, the outdoor shower and what's that, what the heck is a hot tub? Why is this room full of a room full of typed index cards and a typewriter. Oh, both your parents write books. Like what kind of books?

Now almost all of these books are in my bookcases: Farewell to Manzanar, Snow Mountain Passage, Bird of Another Heaven, and Hawaiian Son. One of my favorite opening lines in a book was in one of his. Unfortunately you have to go to the link at my personal blog to read it otherwise my normally easy to get along with editors might not be so easy to get along with anymore.

Okay here it is but it is not a direct quote cus I don't have the book in front of me:

The man wakes up and turns to his wife.

"Do you wanto play county fair?"

Woman responds:

"What's county fair?"

"You sit on my face and I tell you how much you weigh."

See??? I couldn't have that in the Chronicle.

He was always Mr Houston to me because he was Cori's dad. Not in that Eddie Haskell kind of way, "Oh hello Mr. Cleaver." But more out of respect for my friend's father. Or maybe because he was an award winning local author, someone I aspired to emulate. As someone recently graduated with a degree in journalism from Chico State, I was impressed with his graciousness and easy going manner. Why was he like that? Was it his time in Santa Cruz and Hawaii? Or his confidence in his writing skills? A combination things or some other variable I had no knowledge of at age 23? I know, it was the old Mercedes and the Panama hat with the Hawaiian shirt!

Both Mr and Mrs Houston were always friendly and open to me, answering questions about how they wrote, how they got ideas for books, what drove them to complete books. Their writing styles were completely different, as different as they were as people and as different as a Japanese American and Anglo guy could be. What a surprise. Together they wrote one of the first books about the Japanese-American experience, Mrs Houston's experience in internment camps, Farewell to Manzanar.

During that time I had been going over there and just whining about every little thing. Drama, drama, drama, whine, whine. I read that book and was just embarrassed that I had complained so much to Mrs Houston after what she been through, imprisoned for years by her own government. I told Mr Houston about it once and he just smiled in a very knowing way, clapped me on the back and moved on.

Over the course of knowing a friend and her family for over 30 years there are vignettes, meals at the Santa Cruz wharf discussing politics, the unexpected death of Kathy Akao, Jeanne and Jim's niece, Cori's cousin, the weddings and always in the background the Hawaiian music. The Houston family, especially Mr Houston, was close friends with Hawaiian musician Eddie Kamae who came over to play at Cori's wedding. Mr. Houston wrote the book, Hawaiian Son, about Eddie. I have managed to compile stacks of Hawaiian music thanks to the introduction by James D. Houston.

The tears many of us shed today are for a man who had a life well lived. Aloha Jim. Mahalo for all the gifts you gave us while you were here.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Texas seems to have a surplus of idiot legislators

From Think Progress among many outlets:

Texas lawmaker Betty Brown: Asians should change their names to make them easier for Americans to deal with.

What? Really?

Lee is too difficult? How about Chung? Wait, wait, I know, it's Chang, Low, or Lew. It's really those Japanese names, like Devin Setoguchi, a star forward for the San Jose Sharks. Perhaps Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston who wrote about her own painful experiences in one of America's most shameful chapters, imprisoning its own citizens on Japanese descent in the award winning "Farewell to Manzanar". How about Evergreen Community College Trustee Randy Okamura, that's a tongue twister. I bet Betty Brown, the Texas legislator who made this asinine comment and wanted the Asian population to change their names would surely like Randy to become Randy Smith or probably Randy Brown in order to make her life easier.

I grew up in Santa Clara Valley and it has always been a magnet for people seeking a better life. Before a silicon wafer was an idea and a computer was the size of an elephant, the valley was an agricultural hub, full of orchards, prunes, cherries, citrus and called the Valley of the Heart's Delight.

The population was not nearly as diverse as today. The current demographics show the population to be 64% either immigrant or children of immigrants. California is a majority minority state. We are growing and changing together in this valley. Our successes are interdependent on each other as much as our need to understand each other culturally.

Forming political coalitions has made us more effective. I have worked on campaigns with Asian candidates, learning different cultural norms, ways of approaching problems, respecting different points of views. I have always come away far more educated and wiser from the variety of experiences. In the Prop 8 elections, the Asian Pacific American (APA) population voted the most heavily for equality, well over 60% voted no. At my own wedding in August the guests were over 50% a combination of Latino and APA. I looked out and saw the faces of my friends, family and the reality of California.

In an earlier post about same sex marriage, someone said this lgbt civil rights movement is not the same as earlier movements based on race or gender. I wonder why, then, Dolores Huerta stands firmly with us? Coretta Scott King, when she was alive, said we are part of the civil rights movement. I know I can always count on State Assemblyman Paul Fong to stand up for equality for all no matter what setting, no matter how difficult the conversation. The same is true for San Jose City Councilor Madison Nguyen, Congressman Mike Honda, Asian Americans for Community Involvement Executive Director Michele Lew. It's a very long list of APA politicians who are allies and friends.

My generation understands a lot of things today. Our parents understand and our grandparents understand racism and discrimination. No one wants to be treated the way we have been treated. No camps, no name calling, no segregation, no calls to change our names. We wear our names proudly because it has taken us a long time to get to this place where our President has a different kind of name and a different color skin.

So, no, Ms Betty Brown, we are not going to change our names, not in Texas and not in California. For once it is not all about you and your folks. We learned that lesson, too.

Here's another really important one. When is your re-election? Lots of us are going send some money to your opponent. Maybe even go work on that campaign. Together.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Funny that

Barry Bonds made me a hockey fan.

How did a California gal who has loved baseball and the San Francisco Giants her whole life become such a San Jose Sharks fan in a mere four years. Barry Bonds, that's how. I hate cheaters. I hate people who lie. And I detest when people do all those things in order to get ahead, make a lot of money or make a name for themselves. Hello Barry.

I grew up watching Mays, McCovey, and Marichal. I always wanted to be Orlando Cepeda when we played outside because the Baby Bull was my favorite. My first time freezing my ass off at Candlestick was with an uncle sitting on the third base side for a double header against the Cubs when I was in the fourth grade. We all just don't forget those things.

Nor would I ever forget the first hockey game I went to with my cousin Steve. I saw the zamboni for the first time. I saw men on ice skates doing things that most of us cannot do in tennis shoes on solid ground. I didn't know the rules, nor the plays or the nuances but I knew I really liked this game right away. It also helped that this was the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This is one of those times it pays to have an obsessive personality. I absorbed everything I could about hockey and the San Jose Sharks, names, numbers where the guys were from. I checked out Hockey for Dummies at the library. Got all the hockey videos and watched them on hot summer nights.

Tonight, the Sharks beat the Edmonton Oilers in Edmonton, 3-2. We have 5 games left and are ahead of Detroit by six points. We are ahead of Boston by three points. If we have the most points on April 11, we win the first part of the season. That means we will have home ice during the Stanley Cup.

All of Canada is watching this tourney, the US is watching, for the most part, the opening of baseball season. One of the many reasons I like hockey, as I said was because I consider hockey players to be much better athletes. OK, if I didn't say, that's what I meant. Know what else? they are really nice guys, at least the Sharks are. I go to practice sometimes and they autograph my jersey, have given me hockey sticks and just chit chatted with me. Can you imagine having a chat with Barry Bonds? I can't imagine wanting to chat with him. That's the difference for me, who would want to talk to him unless you are a sports writer? If I wanted to get abused, I could go get another crappy job.

My point, with dwindling resources, we all have to make decisions about where to spend our money. Sometimes in the past I had to choose between food and meds. I would not go to a Giants game unless someone handed me a free ticket and free food, drove me up there and paid for the parking. Obviously I am not a cheap date.

Ah, but for my bos in teal, I would ride my bike down to the Tank. I would still need a free ticket but I was offered one the other night. My friend Genevieve is struggling in this economy but the Sharks always take care of her because she helps out the guys with errands and cooking, things like that. How's that for helping the community.

Or even better, one of our local councilmembers had to cop to taking free tickets from one of the Sharks owners before voting on one of his projects coming to a council vote. Oh whoops! Big mistake.

Anyway, thanks Barry for steering me away from baseball and towards my local team. good luck Gigantes, maybe I'll come back some day. At least the new park is way better than Candlestick.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Trying again

I guess I have to be unemployed to get back in to my blog on a regular basis. So here I am unemployed as of last Friday. Bad economic times but I would rather be able to hold my head up as my own person than get scolded every day for stupid, micromanaged things. Not to mention scolded in front of others every day. But my story about a bad fit at a job is only relevant because of the last two weeks when I was working at a drop in site, a needle exchange program.

But it was more than that, it was a place for people to come in off the streets, to have a refuge from the weather, to just be able to sit on a couch and not be hassled. I needed to interact with junkies in need of needles, homeless folks in need of food or or a friendly face and the police needed to keep order in the downtown and serve warrants while keeping the businesses and their customers happy.

When I first went down there, I did it to get away from the other offices. I really didn't like being watched all the time, being micromanaged. I also went down there with a judgement about the people who were coming in there. They were gonna be mostly stinky homeless men, in my mind anyway, who would be loud and bug me so I would hide out in my office and just do my work, Boy was I wrong.

One day when I was down there before I moved in, we had gotten food donations. One guy had cut a piece of cake and because the agency had not been spending any money on supplies down there at the drop in center, there were no plates, forks, napkins, nothing to be able to eat humanely with. So here was this guy cutting a piece of cake and having to eat it off his knife. We didn't give him a way to be able to eat like a person with manners and he was hungry. Our eyes met and I was so ashamed that this place where I worked didn't have enough respect for him to give him a plate and a napkin and a fork.

The next day I put all three items on the shopping list for Costco. When I got those packages I was questioned why I needed these items, were we having a party? No I wanted to treat our clientele with some dignity and respect. They deserved that. They were just hungry. I didn't think it was that complicated. Apparently it was complicated and I got scolded again because the director claimed to not know we were feeding people and she did not like that. Well too bad.
Maybe that's another reason why I don't have a job today.

There were regular programs at the drop in center. One afternoon a week there were women's hours. Not a whole lot of women came by but I was particularly affected by one woman. She was homeless, had a few mental issues could be really stubborn. She was also 73 years old. I kept thinking, why is she homeless at this age? She should be sitting down somewhere enjoying her last years, not wondering where she is going to sleep tonight?

I tried to give her my inhaler once because she was having asthma, nope she didn't want it. I tried other things, no, I don't want that. But finally, she started trusting me. She would come to the back door and ask to come in to sit on the couch. I always let her in and she would visit with me a little. Aske me goofy questions sometimes like why are there wires across the street? I would share my sandwich with her and I gave her $3 once so she could get some coffee. She went out and walked a couple of miles to McDonald's so she could sit down, have some coffee and a hamburger and still have a ham sandwich left over.

In remembering those couple of weeks, I am sad that I had judged thes people because of their conditions. I saw their suffering up close. I'm just so sorry I didn't get to stay longer with them. But at least I learned their names and got to treat them as humans who were suffering and ease that suffering for just a minute or two. I hope Barack helps them more. If he does help, all our boats will rise together.

Maybe Phyllis will get to spend her last years with her luggage unpacked and a place to call home. All our boats will be together, happy and calm, with names, food, plates and forks, jobs and no scolding.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Martin Lyon Leadership Institute

Tomorrow is the launch of the new project I am working on, the Martin Lyon Leadership Institute (MLLI). This came to me after the disaster known as the Prop 8 election when I saw how little our community knew about campaigns. We were reduced to nameless, faceless amoeba with no stories, no families and no way to tell anyone about ourselves. Since I have had more than a little experience with campaigns and considering the shitty way myself and a lot of others were treated by the campaign, I decided to do something about it.

So MLLI was born. It has been painful so far. Many people have expressed support and think it is a great idea. Once a month I will be having speakers come talk about the history of the movement. Tomorrow Jo and I are going to pick up Phyllis Lyon and bring her to San Jose so she can chat for a group of people. I am going to ask questions and people in the audience can ask questions too.

Next week I am doing two workshops, one in Santa Cruz and one in San Jose on how to lobby. this will be just in time for Marriage Equality Day in Sacramento. We will be putting new skills to use right away. Then I will see where this leads. Community driven, hopefully community supported. We'll see.
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