Chalk It Up is a three day festival held in Fremont Park, Sacramento every year to help raise money to fund children's art education and activities in the area. There are sponsored (paid) squares and community (free) squares, music, vendors and food, covering the entire park. We went on the first day and I was impressed by how much talent there was compressed into one small area! It's a fantastic way to raise money for a great cause and gives all kinds of artists and kids a place to showcase what they can do. You can see all of the photos HERE.
Over the past few months I have discovered that while California may be the state with the second highest deportation rate in the US (Texas is number one) , there are actually many laws that protect immigrants, documented and undocumented. While undocumented immigrants cannot benefit from state or federal welfare, they can obtain a driving license just like anyone else and it is illegal for a prospective landlord to ask your immigration status when applying for an apartment. The driving license part seems like a no-brainer to me and should be widespread across the US, I think it’s more important for everyone to follow driving rules than it is to flush undocumented immigrants out into the open. It makes me pretty happy to be living in a state that actually tries to protect us with basic human laws.
Anyway, I was at the Capitol last week and my mind was immediately drawn to a tent on the grass and people camping out peacefully beside it. There were signs all around and flyers at our disposal, all with the word “immigrant” clearly visible. Of course I couldn’t help taking a closer look to see what was going on and have to admit that I felt both horrified and so privileged. I was lucky. I came here as an immigrant into a good job, and even when I left said job and lost my visa I still worked and had no problems finding work. I got a SSN the first day I arrived in this country and still have the same one. I haven’t suffered from any more discrimination than your average white female does (meaning not much), and I have never been afraid of the law, or of reporting anything that may have happened to me.
This is not how it is for many female immigrants.
Writing this is actually making my eyes well up with tears. My first jobs as a teen were working in the janitorial industry, cleaning hotel rooms, offices and even a factory, and we were all female employees, often working alone. I never felt under threat, just usually looked down upon. If I had ever felt threatened I had immediate access to the union, the police and to a myriad of laws set up to protect the worker from harassment of any kind. I didn’t live in the US at the time, but in a country where the employee is majorly protected (France). Let’s just say that last week I learned that in the US a huge percentage of female janitorial workers still work for extremely low wages, have no ability to apply for benefits and are often confronted with sexual harassment and rape in the work place. Many janitorial workers are immigrants, and rather than lose their job or expose themselves to a system that may denounce their lack of status they suffer in silence.
While there has been a Justice 4 Janitors movement around for over quarter of a century now, women janitors, and specifically women immigrants, are not protected by any sexual harassment laws in their place of work. Can you imagine going into work every night, fear tying your stomach into knots, wondering if you will get through the night without being raped? Not being able to speak up out of fear of reprisals? When you don’t exist in a system it leaves you completely open to exploitation, whether that be working for much less than the market wage, doing the jobs no one else wants to, working without breaks or being exposed to violence, assault and rape.
On September 12th the SEIU United Service Workers West started a Survivors 5-day fast where women janitors who have suffered in silence over the years fasted in front of the Capitol, requesting Governor Jerry Brown to sign Bill AB 1978. Basically the bill, amongst other issues, pushes for the creation of a registry for janitorial contractors and super importantly, mandates training for both janitorial supervisors and employees on sexual harassment, sexual assault and human trafficking.
I briefly talked to a couple of the volunteers at the tent to find out what was going on and was horrified that first of all I was completely unaware of how entrenched and ongoing these situations are, and second of all by the fact that in this country so many women are still reduced to suffering in silence at the hands of men in their workplace. The women who were fasting last week were only a small number of survivors, the faces of many, many women who are still behind them in the shadows.
On September 15th, four days into the fast, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB1978, giving many families a sense of relief and accomplishment. While this will hopefully make life a lot better for female janitorial workers, we still must think of all of the pain, guilt and shame that so many women have had to suffer through to get here. I hope this will help all women, especially those who feel like they cannot speak up because their immigration status is not stable, to report abuse and to therefore help bring the abusers and rapists out into the open, where they will be tried and sent to jail.
For more information on the subject, including some extensive coverage of the fast last week and some bone-chilling survivor stories, please visit SEIU United Service Workers West’s Facebook page here.
There is also a harrowing PBS documentary entitled Rape on the Night Shift, that was released last year and can be viewed online right here.
I also picked up some leaflets on My Sister’s House that were available at the volunteers’ booth. My Sister’s House is a safe haven set up for women and children of Asian and Pacific Islander descent (as well as any other women and children) where they can find help against domestic abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking. These issues, and those of underserved women and children, are issues that are very important to me and I will be joining in with their sponsored run/walk on October 22nd, and if anybody would like to join me please let me know.
This month's photo album can be found HERE.
Twelve months… One year… I think back on the last months and everything seems to be a little bit of a blur to be honest. I try to enjoy every minute as it comes, but I haven’t been sleeping very well, and that coupled with having quite a bit of work to do and running after the kids has left my brain resembling a piece of Swiss cheese! My brain keeps darting all over the place, focusing on three or four things at a time, and I need to remind myself that it’s OK to slow down sometimes. So Aurora finally turned a year old at the end of August and it was a very emotional time for me (and for Cesar too). I feel that the last year has been so full of changes and that in a sense it feels like it was both longer and shorter than just twelve months. Watching a tiny toddler grow into a bigger, talking-in-full-sentences toddler, and a tiny baby growing into a big, smiling toddler has been amazing. Having two children under two for 8 months was a challenge, and one that I would most likely repeat, even with hindsight. I do have to say that my brain just isn’t as fast as it used to be!
Aurora had her 12 month appointment earlier this week, got all of her shots and boosters, and now weighs in at nearly 25lbs (the same weight as her older sister), and is nearly 30in in length. She’s in great health and growing perfectly well, which I pretty much knew already anyway. She’s a great eater, will try and eat pretty much everything (including pickles and spicy salsa) and still nurses pretty frequently. She’s still not very good with cow’s milk, so we are avoiding that for a while (and there is no need for it anyway, especially as she is still breastfed). Can I say how wonderful it is to finally have a doctor who not only recognizes us and asks how the other kid is doing, but also approves of breastfeeding as long as you and the child want to. I actually realised that we never see the main doctor, but usually a nurse practitioner, and she is absolutely wonderful with the girls, even Luna actually lets herself be examined. So I’m really happy with our choice over here.
I know I say it very frequently, but I don’t think I have ever met a child as happy as Aurora is. She has her fussy moments and her upset moments, but most of the time she is just a happy, smiling little kid who loves to shake her head from side to side in guise of dancing, and walking around holding tightly to your hand. She did take her first unassisted steps really early at 10 months, but then kind of decided that it was faster to crawl everywhere (and she’s FAST). Then just recently she realised that it was also fun to walk by herself again, much to Luna’s delight (and sometimes anger as Aurora can’t yet run with her!). We bought her two pairs of adorable little shoes and after a little adjustment period of a day she seems to walk around in them just fine. A pair of moccasins and a pair of little white boots, both absolutely adorable!
Both kids are napping while I write this, for the first time in what feels like forever! Their napping schedules have been completely off recently and it’s been causing some issues sleeping at night too (nothing different for Luna, but very much off for Aurora). I think we have some more teeth coming in soon too, all the better to chew more food with, and in addition to all of these physical things some language updates too! Aurora can now say “mama”, “dada”, “cat” and “George” (Peppa Pig’s brother I am assuming), although often everyone gets called “mama” as I think it means “pick me up” rather than “mummy” (it’s OK, Luna didn’t actually start really calling me Mama until she turned two and now she says it a million times a day, although Dada was mastered pretty early on). She also tries to repeat everything you say which is really adorable! She has mastered getting up and down steps, as well as climbing up onto things and riding around on Luna’s scooter. Oh and climbing out of the crib she never sleeps in.
Last month came with a visit from my little brother where he finally met Aurora in real life (as opposed to via FaceTime, videos and photos), and four days just weren’t enough! Both girls took to him immediately and demanded to be held and played with quite consistently. I can’t wait for Thanksgiving and Christmas for Dylan and his wonderful wife Lacy to come back and see the girls (and babysit haha!). Karli, my little sister, has also been spending quality time with the girls as she will be flying off to England and France for three months next week (incredibly it will be her first time back home in 16 years). This also means that we will be taking care of the lovely Bria dog during that time. There is a lot of mutual adoration between the girls and Bria already, and I think we will be finding our family bed even more crowded in the very near future! I’m so glad that modern technology will allow my family to keep up to date on how the kids are doing and for the girls to be able to see everyone consistently even if they are far away.
I know a lot of people think it’s important to live close to family when you have kids, but I honestly don’t feel like we suffered anything growing up far away from grandparents, aunts and uncles! It’s true that most of my cousins are much younger than me (so much for some that I feel more like an aunt than a cousin), and I’m not as close to them as I may have been if we lived nearer, but I know that it was always a treat to visit my parents’ families and that we are all as close as we would have been if we had lived on the same street. At the same time, I love watching the bonds develop between the girls and their Nana, aunties and uncle. And it’s nice for me to sometimes be able to ask if one of them can babysit so I can have a shower by myself or run a quick errand!
This time last year I was getting used to having two little children, tandem nursing and working out how to get everyone to bed at a decent time without meltdowns, while working on a huge writing project. A lot of that hasn’t changed, just that now the little girls are quite a bit bigger and we live in California. This is the first weekend in a while that I don’t have any assignments to deliver, so I am going to make the most of it by catching up on writing blog posts, guest blog posts and editing photos, as well as some of my favourite TV shows and much needed sleep! I also need to sort through clothes and donate as much as I can because we are running out of room again. I think while we have kind of decided that we will most likely have another next year or so, I don’t want to keep hanging on to clothes just in case. Our thrift stores here are wonderful and really cheap.
Aurora’s birthday was really sweet, she really loves her new tricycle and I’m looking forward to the days when both girls will be racing each other around on them. She seemed a little overwhelmed by all of the attention (Luna was slightly overwhelmed by the fact that not all attention was on her at times), but it was a lovely day and balloons and cake was enjoyed by all. We are not ones for big parties just yet, I think we will save those for a few years time when they will remember them. In any case, I will remember this one my whole life!
So, anyway, one year old already! This marks the end of my monthly summaries for Aurora, moving into one every three months from here on out, and I feel a little bittersweet about it. I remember writing her first one and wondering how I was ever going to find the time to make sure that I did it every month in the same way I had for Luna. I suppose we always find the time for the things that matter. You probably realize that the sorting of the photos happens over the space of a few days and I can only thank my need for organization that it doesn’t take longer. I rarely write a summary in one sitting, and sometimes I wonder how much I have left out. But in the end that doesn’t really matter, because all of the little gestures and smiles and bites and food all over the wall moments have been captured and stored in my mind forever.
My little Aurora, so affectionate and sweet, so daring and mischievous, always looking for something to try, throw or climb on, and making sure that I always have those eyes in the back of my head open and aware. She’s taught me that it’s OK to scream when you feel like it, happy or angry it doesn’t matter, and that big brown innocent eyes usually mean trouble. <3
Can you imagine having to leave your country because you don't have the right skin colour, religion or just because you don't belong to the right family? While the previous stories that I have published depict images of voluntary migration, the next few are heartbreaking stories of forced moves. I vividly remember the Berlin Wall coming down, and the slow crumble of the Soviet Union in the following years, cheering when states gained their independence one by one. But I never really delved much further into those countries that are often forgotten about on the eastern side, countries where civil wars and ethnic cleansing initiatives forced people to flee for their lives with their families. Please read on for a true story of heartbreak and strength, and remember that refugees are not refugees by choice, but because they want to live.
It was late at night when the call came, long after everyone in Rustam’s house had gone to bed. The words that came over the phone, though, jolted his mother awake. “Leave now – they are coming for you.”
It was 1992, and Tajikistan, newly independent from the Soviet Union, was swiftly sliding into what would turn into a brutal, grinding war. Simmering rivalries between different regions and ethnic groups bubbled over into horrific violence, stoked by regional powers and the steady flow of guns, gunmen, and heroin that flowed in from chronically unstable Afghanistan to the south. As prominent members of the Pamiri, or Mountain Tajik ethnic minority, Rustam’s family were on what would ultimately become the losing side of this conflict, which officially lasted for half a decade, though sporadic clashes continued for many months after peace was officially declared.
The Pamiri minority, made up of around a dozen different related Eastern Iranian tribes, each with their own unique and distinct language, historically had lived isolated in the high mountains of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region in eastern Tajikistan, and spilled over the borders into neighboring China and Afghanistan. As Ismaili Muslims who also incorporated elements of Zoroastrianism and shamanism into their worship, they were religiously distinct from their countrymen, and were also often easily identified by the light hair and eyes and relatively fair complexions that made them physically distinct as well. During the Soviet era, many Pamiris had moved to the cities of western Tajikistan, where they earned a reputation for ambition, high education, and loyalty to the Soviet regime. For their part, the Soviets felt that the Pamiris were a more trustworthy group than their western countrymen, in part because (as Ismailis) they were considered impervious to the jihadist radicalism that the Soviets sought to keep out of their mostly Muslim southern republics. As a result, many in western Tajikistan resented what they saw as preferential treatment of Pamiris by the Soviet authorities.
An alliance of Pamiris, Tajiks from Gharm in the southern part of the country, and others, fought with Tajiks and ethnic Uzbek militias from the western Khujand and Külob regions. As 1992 ground on, the tide of the war was clearly turning against the Pamiris and their allies, and an exodus began towards their ancestral villages in the mountain fortress of Gorno-Badakhshan. Pamiris who were unfortunate enough to be caught as they fled eastward were typically killed outright, either by soldiers, militiamen, lynch mobs, or some combination of the three. So Rustam and his family hastily gathered a few possessions, left others with trusted non-Pamiri neighbors who vowed to safeguard them, and drove as fast as possible east to Gorno-Badakhshan. When they arrived, they found the provincial capital, Khorog, crowded with thousands of other Pamiri refugees from the west, with more refugees dispersing into their ancestral villages, tucked away in the lofty Pamir Mountains.
With the cleansing of Pamiris from the western part of the country practically complete, the victors then blockaded Gorno-Badakhshan and destroyed fields, orchards, and flocks, with the aim of starving out as many Pamiris as possible. It wasn’t long before famine set in, and it became clear that staying in Gorno-Badakhshan would mean dying a slow, painful death. Rustam’s family made the difficult decision to flee the country, at least until it was safe to return. Like many other Pamiris who were unable to get air transport out (usually to Russia), Rustam’s family was forced to take the only possible land route, which lay south, through war-torn Afghanistan. Months went by in tent camps where cholera and starvation were rife, and international aid was virtually non-existent. Overwhelmed with the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, many international agencies and governments were unwilling or unable to assist the refugees from Tajikistan. Ultimately, the Iranian Red Cross and the local Ismaili community in Afghanistan provided the bulk of the meager assistance that was received.
Once the weather conditions were right, Rustam’s family knew that they had to leave Afghanistan. While Pamiris in particular were not being sought out for death there, the situation was still extremely dangerous, in addition to the lack of adequate food rations, medicine, and housing for refugees. The next step was to cross into Pakistan, to the east, which was far less chaotic than Afghanistan, and where they would be able to begin the process of emigration to the West. Many Pamiris ended up emigrating to Russia, but Rustam’s family dreamed of the United States. His mother told him why: “In Russia, we can live there, work there, serve the country our whole lives, and we will still be foreigners. Europe is the same. But in America, we can become Americans, and we can be truly accepted.”
Rustam was frightened of the United States, which seemed worlds away from everything he knew. At the same time, the situation in Pakistan, while moderately better than Afghanistan, was still untenable. The Pamiris, coming from the cold, high mountains of Gorno-Badakhshan, found the tropical heat of the Pakistani plains unbearable. Untold thousands succumbed to heat exhaustion, starvation, malaria, cholera, and other afflictions. Rustam had lost count of the number of bodies of relatives and friends that he had helped wash and bury since the war and the subsequent flight began. He was starting to forget what normal life was like; what it felt like to be able to sleep without nightmares; what it felt like not to be hungry and weak; what it felt like to have a home; what it felt like to belong somewhere; what it felt like to be wanted. He often wondered why his people had even been created, if they were only suitable for slaughter.
Months in Pakistan dragged on into a year, and one year dragged on into two, as the long process of vetting Rustam’s family’s application for asylum slowly progressed forward. Conditions improved somewhat, as the Pakistani Ismaili community – many of them wealthy merchants in the country’s commercial center, Karachi – pulled together to assist their coreligionists from Tajikistan. Rustam’s family moved into a small apartment, and then a larger one. As Rustam’s English and Urdu improved, he felt a little less helpless and was even able to help support his family by doing odd jobs now and then.
In early 1997, Rustam’s family’s application finally was approved, and they made their way to the United States, where several other relatives had already recently arrived and settled down. After more than two days of travel, Rustam’s family marveled at the vast skyline of New York City as they circled over the airport. Rustam’s heart was torn – he hoped very much that he would find the safety and sense of belonging that he craved, and felt profoundly grateful to the United States for permitting his family to come. Still, he knew deep in his heart that he would likely never again see his beloved homeland, half a world away. It was time to start over and build a new life in a new country.
This is one story of many, anonymous amongst the masses, one of the people who cleans your house or your car, fixes your roof, cooks your 5 star meal or mows your lawn for you; one of the people who pays into the system but who never asks for any of it back; one of the people who is so often cited as the cause of all issues by politicians but who you don’t even notice in your everyday activities. While this is one person’s personal story, it is also the story of millions of people, dating back decades.
In the Dead of the Night
It didn’t really take that long to organize, it’s not as if I was the first person to make the journey, and I was definitely not the last to. The network runs like clockwork, via word of mouth, safe houses, people who know certain routes so well they could do them blindfolded, with headphones on and turned round and round before setting off. The entire process may be dictated by money, but it’s a well-oiled machine, you just don’t pay the ferryman until he gets you to the other side. Wherever you are in the US you have met one of us, although you probably have no idea that you have. And that’s fine, because that’s the whole point: we come here to work hard and to cause no trouble. Although that’s not what some politicians would have you believe.
It’s been years, but I still remember it all quite vividly. The sudden noises in the middle of the silent black night, the bright, sweeping light of a helicopter approaching, throwing myself to the ground, face pressed into the dirt and stones, the freezing cold AC blasting in the detention center, and then doing it all over again two days later. I’m lucky; I only had to try twice. Others aren’t so lucky. You see our faces, but you can’t really imagine the stories behind them. You can’t really imagine the sacrifices that we have made and why we made the decision to go. And we don’t really care that you don’t know, because you can only try to understand, but you never will really.
I don’t even know why I decided to go anymore. It was what was best for my family at the time I suppose. There is no point in wondering how things would have been if I hadn’t left, as I did, and this is my life now. I packed a few things and made my way to the next town over where I was given a plane ticket and a few instructions. You didn’t really write much down, just memorized what you were told. And you kept your mouth shut. The less people who knew where you are going, the better. People talk, and talk doesn’t help anybody.
I landed somewhere near the border where I spent a night in a hotel, waiting for dark until we started out on our way. You may think that people just randomly try to cross the border at any given time, but it’s not that simple. I mean we aren’t stupid… The light of the moon may provide guidance but it also makes you visible from miles away, a perfect target for border control or for thieves, murderers and rapists. I’m not one of the latter, nor do I have drugs on me. Actually all I have on me is a few gallons of water, a change of clothes, and about $300 for food and other small necessities. Dark clothes for the crossing, clean clothes for the next step. But there are always people lurking, preying on those who, if they survive, will never dare to go to the authorities. If you have to get caught by someone, it’s probably best that it be border control. Nobody wants to imagine anything else.
There were about 20 of us, walking single file, staying as close as possible in the dark, silent, listening to our hearts beating, wondering if anyone could hear them. A broken stick seemed to reverberate for miles; a stone scuttling down a hillside became a siren pointing towards our existence. One night, two nights, three nights, sleeping in dry river beds during the day, hiding from the sun and police and anyone else who wanted us gone. On the third night we were told to listen carefully and to duck whenever anyone said to, duck as fast as possible, play dead until the danger passed. I can’t remember how many times I threw myself to the ground, head in the sand and stones, daring not to think of snakes and scorpions that were lurking, waiting for my code name to be called, the sign I could get up and move along. It was one for all and all for one. We were together for a few days, banded on this journey, never to see each other again. The fence, so significant in our minds, so insignificant in the grand scheme of things, as the danger wasn’t over once you put your foot on the other side, it was just the beginning.
There is silence and then suddenly the sound of a helicopter above, sweeping its lights across the plains, looking for us, or others like us. You can hear the border patrol trucks driving around, headlights off and then on. We would wait and then move along, coming to roads here and there, waiting, then running as fast as we could across, hoping that we would make it safely to the other side without being seen. And then, after three days of interminable walking and ducking and hiding and keeping our fingers crossed so tightly they were beginning to hurt it happened. We ran across the road and just as I threw myself into the grass on the other side the lights of a truck lit up the road, our coyotes yelled “DUCK” and people started running in all directions. I stayed hidden with a few others, but we ended up getting picked up a little way down the road.
The detention center was freezing, but I was lucky and they only detained me for 12 hours, I suppose because it was my first time trying. I’ve heard that laws are a little different nowadays and it can be much, much longer. Then again, I doubt that I would be doing the journey all these years later anyway. Not with all of the hindsight that I have now.
They dropped me off back in my home country, right across the border. I went back to the safe house, collected some food and a few gallons of water and started right back on the journey again. This time I made it further, three more nights of walking and ducking and hiding, face in the sand, hearing my heart beat in my throat, running across those roads and waiting for the helicopters to move along, beaming their lights upon other stretches of desert. We made it to our pick up point, and hid in a truck, head to foot, head to foot, breathing in gasoline and fear and no idea what was going to happen to us. The truck would drive in spurts, light the headlights for a second and zoom along, stopping and starting in order to avoid detection, enough to make anyone lightheaded and nauseous.
I made it to the safe house and spoke to the person who organized my trip. He transferred the money to the handler and I was lead to the truck that would take me to the city that would become my home for a decade. As I said before, I don’t expect you to understand or to even want to understand. But this is my story and that of many, many people who walk the same streets as everyone else.
I‘ve photographed a lot of street art over the past ten years, mainly in NYC, often just random shots during my walks around, camera around my neck or in my bag. There is so much freedom, diversity, and talent in this art, paintings that sometimes appear overnight under the cover of a darker sky, or sometimes just commissioned by a company. I love walking around a corner to see a mural staring back at me, or finding a tiny little sketch in a corner, hidden by a colourful tag. Streets shouldn’t be perfectly bland and clean, they should be flamboyant, dusty and loud, full of each and every one of us. Streets should represent us all and streets should change over time, capturing our thoughts and actions, portraying what we are and where we are going. Art isn’t meant to be kept behind lock and key, art is for us all to appreciate, take in and assimilate, look at and smile. We have so many forms of expression and visual art is one of the most evocative and also the one most open to interpretation. It always makes me happy to be in a city that allows artists to freely express themselves on walls and railways and bridges.
It’s sometimes hard for me to walk around Sacramento. I still feel a little disconnected, slightly lost, and wonder why everything is just so quiet. I’m slowly getting more used to it, and continue to walk around hoping to find that part of me that I left back in NYC 7 months ago. I may never find it, as it’s probably just waiting for me to come back, but I am finding that there are more and more things that inspire and motivate me. The Art Hotel 916 back in February for example, and just recently the Sacramento Mural Festival. The festival took place between August 20th and 27th and involved 11 artists (and some assistant artists) and 11+ walls around the midtown and downtown areas of Sacramento. During the week the artists each created a mural (or more than one mural) for us, the people who walk around the streets of Sacramento. These 11 artists (Add Fuel, Alicia Palenyy, Andrew Schoultz, David Fiveash, Dog and Pony, Drew Merritt, Irubiel Moreno, Jake Castro, Kristin Farr, Michelle Blade, and Nate Frizzell), were picked earlier in the year (thankfully they made sure to represent some local artists too) and all went out of their way to really make some buildings and alleyways look spectacular. You can find more information on the official website, including a map of locations and artist bios.
I walked around the area on the 20th, the first day of the festival, where some of the artists were just starting up, laying the foundations of their work. I then went back again on the Tuesday, August 23rd, and took more photos, walking around the J, K, and L streets, and then over towards Old Sacramento, and shot some of the works in progress. And then back again during the day on the 27th to see some of the pieces getting their final touches and others already finished and dried. The only mural I didn’t manage to get to was Dog & Pony’s over on C Street, and as soon as I do I will add some pictures to the album. Other than that I have seen every mural in some form or another, and most of them more than once. While I have my own personal favourites, every single piece of art is super original, beautiful and inspiring. To take an idea and to recreate it over such a vast canvas takes such skill, and it was amazing to see it happening in real time.
I chatted briefly to Irubiel Moreno about just how beautiful I found his mural to be, and he was so humble and friendly, explaining that it was all for us, people of Sacramento. He also told me that he didn’t know exactly what he was going to do or how it was going to turn out until he had actually finished it. The pastel colours were a wink to the name of the location, Lavender Heights, and I found that the sheer amount of work that he put into the mural over the space of a few days was just spectacular. I’m really looking to go back and see the final, final result, and again, stroll through the streets of Sacramento and discover more.
Sacramento is all-in-all a beautiful city, still hovering between small town and big city, and for its size has a huge amount of artistic incentives, festivals and exhibitions. I need to get out and about more to join in. You can find the full album of photos taken last week HERE, as well as a collection below. If you know of any events that you think I would enjoy around here I would love to hear about them, and maybe even join in! All photos taken with a FujiFilm XE-1 and a Canon Rebel.
Back in 2011 I came across an article discussing the plight of a woman named Naomi Dunford who was being viciously bullied on the internet. It was on that same day that one of my sister’s friends found a photo of herself up on one of those horrid slutshaming sites. Anyway, I wrote a short post on all of that on my blog here, with a few links to cyberbullying and how to help take a stand against it. At that time, although I had been blogging for years, I was only just starting to actually take it more seriously, and was trying to finally start a real career in freelance writing. I was so disgusted by how easy it was to completely tarnish someone’s reputation or even ruin their lives by just a few well-placed malicious words and images. Little did I know at that point that the internet had started to mimic a school playground, but on a much, much higher, larger and more dangerous level, and even more so today, just a few years later.
I don’t know about you, but back in the days when I was at school, primary and high school, there was no internet and there were no cell phones. Bullying was probably just as bad on school grounds, or on your way home, but once you were away from the bullies they left you alone. Not that it made bullying any better, so to speak, but nowadays there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to hide. At school, at work, at home, in your car, anywhere in the world… And we can still say that old song of “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me”, but we all know how incorrect that is. Words can hurt more than anything, twisting and turning their way inside, embedding themselves as deep as possible. Words hurt, even when they come from a faceless stranger.
I remember writing an article about internet comments and how terrible people could actually be, hiding behind their computer screens, a while back, before my second child was born. This time I was outraged by the sheer meanness coming from people just because a woman had decided to run a marathon without wearing a tampon. You know, maybe if we all got a little more outraged by how kids have been blown up by bombs in Syria for over five years, instead of over the trivial sight of some period blood, or a breastfeeding mother, then this world wouldn’t be so bad. But then again, I suppose it’s much more “fun” to bash another person online rather than raise awareness about some real evil that continues to happen. (Insert sarcasm font).
So here we are, five years after I shot off that cyberbulling rant back in 2011, and a lot more aware of what happens nowadays online. I’ve managed to avoid most of the mean comments myself, but mainly because I am not always comfortable putting myself out there so much, and I also have a great group of online friends who are genuinely wonderful people and who fight against these waves of mean girl gangs and women bashing each other. While I was never a mommy blogger per se, From the Inside has existed since 2002 in some form or other (LiveJournal then Blogger and now on Squarespace), and I do write a lot about motherhood and my own personal journey as a mother. This also means that I spend time reading through other parenting and “mommy” blogs, often learning something or other, disagreeing with some things and agreeing with others. I also used to spend time reading through comments too, but I gave up on that a long time ago. It is horribly disheartening when you see a bunch of women just lashing out at each other from behind their computer screen, insulting each other and trying to make everyone else feel like whatever they may be doing is wrong. It feels like high school all over again, except a lot nastier and a lot more vicious. And these comments and these attacks are not reserved just for parenting blogs, they are everywhere, men and women, adults, attacking each other about beliefs, lifestyle choices, guns, whether women should be allowed to choose what they do with their wombs or not, even probably even ridiculous things like the use of soap vs. shower gel.
Granted, people have bitched about each other for ever, people have fought about things forever, but the relative anonymity of the internet, or at least the fact that you can type something into the universe and not really feel the fall-out of your words, makes bullying so much easier. I try to be very careful with my words, I have always been one who prefers not to say something rather than hurt someone’s feelings, and the idea of putting a part of myself out there for others to judge still scares me (and part of the reason why I blog because it pushes me to do so). Reading strangers criticize and insult each other’s choices makes me feel quite sick to my stomach. Not that my personal opinion is going to change anything, but I will continue to be kind to people unless they attack me.
Because we have to lead by example.
I’ve never been a model human being, and of course I have my faults, but I want to raise my kids in a world where they don’t have to worry about being bullied by both people they know and people they don’t know. And I want to also make sure that they don’t join cliques that spend their time putting others down in order to feel better about themselves. Yes, it is easier to feel strength in numbers, but how can you be a real leader if you aren’t able to see beyond the group? We all want our kids to live in a better world than the one we see around us, so let’s try and build a better one for them from the ground up.
So what am I trying to say with all of this? Our kids learn about interacting with others from us. If I am always talking badly about others in front of them, how are they going to learn not to do that? If I am constantly talking about someone’s weight or look or face or hairstyle behind their backs, then how will my kids know that that isn’t a very nice thing to do? If I spend my time telling others what they should be doing with their lives and why what I think is more important than what they think, how are my kids going to learn about tolerance and diversity? Seriously. We lead by example. I do not want my kids to fall into the hands of bullies, and I don’t want them to become bullies either. I want them to stand up for their rights, for equality, for love, for diversity and for all the good in this world. And I want them to stand up for their friends and not fear the mean girl waiting to trip them up. Nothing wrong with falling on your face now and again, but it’s important to stand up and stand tall and show everyone around you that you cannot be bullied.
You know, it’s OK to sometimes feel a little envious of someone else’s life. It’s so easy to feel bombarded with perfect stills of perfect lives on social media, but we have to remember that what people show on their feeds is not always their real life day in day out. I love photography and capture moments on my cameras all the time, but for every photo of a smiling child there is a blurry one and probably two tantrums in between. Life is so multi-layered that there is no way to know what lies beneath each photo or each caption, and that is fine. I mean, honestly, I have friends who I have spent many a day or evening with and I only really know one side of them too. So yes, it IS fine to feel a little envious, but that envy should never be translated into bitterness or anger, or just a downright mean attitude towards others. In my own humble opinion we only have one life and we should try to spend it by seeing the beauty, experiencing the world and loving as much as possible.
And that said, I adore the wonderful group of women I have “met” online who, however tired, depressed, happy, grateful, overwhelmed or just downright disappointed they feel, always take a moment to make sure their friends are feeling OK and to encourage and help others. Because in the end we are all in this thing called life together whether we like it or not.
I’m not going to change the world with my words, but I want to lead by example, empower my girls to be strong and good, and stick up for others around me. Nobody should be bullied online or offline and I feel like we should all take a stand to speak out about things that matter rather than spend time talking shit about others. Who has time for that anyway?
There are quite a few resources to help fight against cyberbullying online, one of the most comprehensive I found here. I also recently wrote an article for Mamazou where I discussed how we don’t use the words "fat" and "skinny" at home in a way to hopefully empower my girls to see beyond the physical. There are also some great Facebook pages that are dedicated to helping prevent bullying as well as supporting those who are being bullied (Suicide Baiting Prevention and It Gets Better Project). Join and share if you can, and if you, your child or a friend is suffering from bullying reach out and get the help and support that you need. There is no need to suffer alone.
Here is Henna's story straight from the heart. Daughter of Indian immigrants, growing up Punjabi and American, navigating through the mix cultures and finding herself right there, right in the middle of it. Actually this isn't really Henna's story, as she talks about her father, but really it is. You will understand what I mean after you have read it... (And if you don't like curse words then I suggest you move along, as Henna loves to curse and there is no way I am editing her writing because it shoots straight from the fucking heart).
Before I dive into the topic of immigration, my story, and my father, I want to remind everyone that in the end of our lives we do not take this body with us, so to fear someone based on their appearance, their religion, or sexual orientation is just plain fucking stupid. People I want to remind you that when we die all this shit stays behind. Your hair, your eyes, your art, and the trees that surround you. They are all fucking staying here when you die. Oh God I sound dark again. Quite frankly, I’m just trying to make a point. I shit rainbows I swear. I also take pictures of pretty flowers all the time. Anyways, my point is that we are not immortal, so do you want to spend this life fearing and hating what you don't know or do you want to dive into it and grow from it?
There is a lot of fear and hate that surrounds the topic of immigration. Hate’s mother is fear. Fears births hate. It’s really that simple.
The Mexicans are taking my jobs.
There are too many black people.
The Indians are taking over IT.
The Asians are taking over our neighborhood.
I don’t like her hijab.
She sounds like a redneck.
I bet they have small dicks.
Why are they here?
These are all sentences with an undertone of fear or hate. You wanna know what my response is to these motherfuckers?
GIVE ME A FUCKING BREAK. IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING THEN FUCKING DO IT. STOP BLAMING OTHER PEOPLE FOR YOUR LACK OF SUCCESS. WORK FUCKING HARDER. STOP COMPLAINING. WHY ARE YOU ALLOWING HATE TO HAVE A PLACE IN YOUR LIFE? LOVE BABY LOVE!! THIS IS YOUR LIFE. FILL YOUR SPIRIT WITH ALL THAT IS AMAZING IN THIS WORLD. STOP FOCUSING ON OTHERS. WHY DO YOUR CARE SO MUCH ABOUT THEIR APPEARANCE? IS IT HARMING YOU? WHAT? YOU JUST DON’T LIKE? BABY YOU’RE WASTING PRECIOUS MOMENTS OF YOUR LIFE HATING THINGS FOR NO REASON. LIVE THIS LIFE AND FUCK IT LIKE YOU WOULD THE LOVE OF YOUR LIFE. IF YOU DON’T HAVE ONE THEN PRETEND. I LOVE HUMANITY AND THEREFORE I LOVE YOU TOO. YEAH I DON’T KNOW YOU, BUT WE’RE HERE IN THIS WORLD TOGETHER, SO LETS JUST ENJOY AND LEARN TOGETHER.
… OK maybe I wouldn't say the besos part, but everything else I would. Yeah I’m being blunt. Maybe I just wrote a really long rant, but my intentions are for the love of humanity.
Oh fuck, right my story!! Sorry readers. I’m a little scatter brained. I also confuse my left and rights all the time. Last night I took a cab from Manhattan to Brooklyn and I kept messing up my left and rights. As you can imagine my driver wanted to murder me. Is there a term for people who fuck up their left and rights all the time? Oh fuck. I did it again.
Ok Immigration. My story. Let’s get into that. I’m an American Citizen. I don't have a crazy immigration story. Actually you know what? Let’s talk about me in another blog post. This shit is getting long. I've got mad emotions and opinions and stories people.
I want to talk about my father right now. Let me tell you about him. My daddy is an immigration lawyer and is one of the most inspiring, charismatic, and giving people I know. My father came to this country after marrying my mother. So mom put a marriage advertisement in the Indian newspaper and after all the men who responded my father was the one who stole her heart. I’m going to be honest with you. My mother was vain as fuck. She thought he was the best looking guy after all the guys she met. I mean she did mention that he also came off as good person too, but I know my mommy. She thought he was hot. Great for baby making.
Dad went to law school. Passed the bar exam on his first try and then opened up his own practice within 5 years of just being in America. Dad did it. He made it in America. Then he got famous. Dad had commercials for his law firm playing constantly on ZeeTV (An Indian television channel). Man, when dad would come on TV I would light up. I was 7, but I was proud to be his daughter. The commercials aren't there today, but he still has an advertisement in the Indian newspaper. He has for over 20 years now. If I mention my father’s name to any cab driver of Indian descent they know immediately who he is. My father has given people the opportunity to freedom and a better life. He is a man who came from poverty and has never forgotten his roots. This man never makes a trip to India without giving back to his people. He sends money for his relatives to give to people on the streets of India. If one poverty stricken child wants ice cream then he’ll buy everyone ice cream. If another girl says I don't want ice cream I want flour, so I can make roti, then he’s going to buy over 30 bags of flour for the beggars on the street. By the way this is a true fucking story.
I could talk about my father for hours and tell you all the amazing things this immigrant has done, but it’s time for me to conclude. Freedom is everyone’s right. Everyone should have an opportunity for love, family, and even all the fuck-ups that come with life because not everything bad is bad and not everything good is good. In the end we learn from the good and bad. Who are we to deny anyone of these good and bad experiences?
The definition of humanitarian is:
- Having concern for or helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people
- Pertaining to the saving of human lives or to the alleviation of suffering
- A person actively engaged in promoting human welfare and social reforms
If we all had the heart of a humanitarian then immigration wouldn't be so scary.
This week's story is my own mother's... We have lived thousands and thousands of miles away from each other for many years, but now all live together in sunny California.
I am an immigrant. I have been an immigrant, and an émigré, for much of my adult life: not because of dire need, or suffering, but from a desire to travel, to experience the world, and to provide a good life for my family. I’d always dreamed of travelling; as a child it was to Canada and France, or exploring the South Pole, as a teen I wanted to work on a kibbutz or travel the desert on the back of a camel; as an adult, to visit the ancient sites of Greece and Turkey and Jerusalem and Egypt and Japan. (I’ve been lucky enough to be able to do all of those, except Greece the South Pole, and while a visit to the Galapagos is still on the bucket list, I’m a little more wary of the cold these days.)
It all began when I was offered a short-term contract in the Netherlands when I was looking for full-time employment in Thatcher’s UK. The idea of spending a few months outside of what had become a depressed and gloomy Britain under Thatcher’s iron rule, in the country of windmills and clogs and Edam, was exciting and liberating. We packed a very few belongings into a mini-bus and took the ferry from Harwich to Hook of Holland, and never looked back. The children went to Dutch schools and my daughters were fluent in the language within a very few months. The short-term contract became three years, we experienced life as Europeans, and then a new job offer came along, from an American multinational with a large site in France.
Nine years in France, a country full of culture and life and history and strong friendships, and then, once again, I’m offered another job—with the same company, but this time, in the mothership—in the USA. Moving between European countries, pre-Brexit, was one thing. Across the world was another. It was a major decision: three children, divorced parents, oldest child already in university in France… but it was another adventure, it felt right, and it was an opportunity to experience yet-another way of life.
I entered the USA on an L-1 visa. That’s a visa specifically for “management transfers”: companies can bring in their managerial staff and workers with specialized knowledge, transferring them from overseas locations to a (new) location in the USA.
My employer provided help with the visa. They also provided legal help to make sure that the green card I applied for, for myself and children, were expedited, because my second child would celebrate their twenty-first birthday a few months after our arrival in the USA. Wait. Why is that important??? Because after 21, a child is considered “just another relative”, and you have to petition for them to join you, and wait years. But what about my eldest child, who is already over 21, yet still in full-time education and supported by me? Oh tough. They’ve “aged out”. No green card. You have to petition for them to join you, once you have a green card yourself, and then wait. And wait. And wait. At least seven or ten or more years.
My eldest was denied a visa to visit the USA for a few months, on the grounds that, “All your family is in the USA and you might be tempted stay.” Well duh… yes, all close family was in the USA. So you deny a child the right to stay with their only surviving parent???”
We found a work-around. My eldest was able to claim Canadian citizenship due to her father’s own citizenship, and then work in the USA on an annual TN visa, which wasn’t without stress. We waited and waited for her green card to be approved. We paid all the fees. Eventually, after several years, the green card was approved… but there would be another seven or more years before “the number would come up”, and the card would be issued. I learned that if I became a US citizen—by this time I was eligible, having held a green card for five years—then the wait for my daughter’s green card would be cut to just a few months.
So I paid all the fees, studied for the exam, and became a US Citizen. I now hold two passports, British and USA. My daughter has a green card, issued a few months after I became a citizen, and can live and work in the USA. The family is together. But am I a proud US citizen? Do I feel this glowing patriotism, and the need to put hand-on-heart when the Stars and Stripes are played? The belief in the right to bear arms? Not for one second… Do I feel somewhat compromised, and coerced into embracing a nationality, just to enable my family to be together? Some days, indeed I do. Resentful? No… I’m happy with the life we have, though I miss the history, the discussions, the cultural richness that is outside the USA. I don’t understand the American money-based mentality that drives everything and blinds people to the fact that there are better ways to manage health care and social welfare and ensure that everyone – EVERYONE – is taken care of. I don’t understand the shoot first mentality. And I really, really don’t want to live in the USA that Trump is proposing. I’m disturbed by the way the world is turning, whether it’s insulting click-bait political lies here in the USA, Brexit votes in the UK that will deny future generations the freedom of movement we enjoyed, and the rise in fear and hatred and intolerance around the globe… Maybe once you’ve seen more of different cultures and languages, you ask more questions, and are more frustrated by a brick wall of ignorance. I don’t know.
Those people who talk about immigration “done the right way”, obviously have no clue about how broken the “right way” is, how it can divide families, how much stress and anguish it can cause, how many years of wondering if your child will be allowed safely through the airport “this time”, or if they will be deported, or worse… and yes, that’s doing immigration “the right way”.
#iamanimmigrant. But I’m one of the lucky ones who had a choice, and tried to make the right decision. Was it? Ask my kids. I think you’ll get mixed answers.
In addition to being a wonderful parent and all-around great person, my mother (Alison Toon) is also a fantastic photographer and you can check out her work on her website, Facebook page and Instagram.
The mockingbird sits up on his perch every morning, right there on the electricity wires, picking up a new tune every few days, partially resigned to the routine of the days, partially trying something a little more daring. I love hearing his voice as I push the kids towards the park, a sense of common ground, a need to blend in and stand out, and a sense of recognition that routine is what keeps us all going right now. The days are either hot or even hotter, the sky is consistently blue, apart from the grey wisps of smoke that congregate on the horizon when a forest or brush fire starts closer to the city. Every morning we go to the park on the corner, walk around and around a few times to in guise of exercise and then find our special tree to sit under and enjoy the fresh morning breeze. It gets hotter as the day wanes here, so mornings are the nicest times, the time when you get everything done that you need to. The grass is usually damp from the very early morning sprinklers and the dragonflies and butterflies congregate in the air and the squirrels play in the trees, giggling at each other.
The park is part me-time, part breathing time, part place where the girls can roam semi-freely, as long as they stay where I can see them. Luna hands me flowers as Aurora takes her tentative steps in the grass; all of us roaming around barefoot, toes in the dirt and feet in the wet grass. Sometimes my mother comes along, other times my sister, sometimes Cesar when he isn’t at work, but usually it is just me and the kids and often a camera, catching little moments that always feel so important to me and to the girls. We pick up sticks and count leaves, talk about colours and sing songs. We meet the same people every day and smile and say hello, and that always makes me feel somewhat grounded. It’s such a beautiful, peaceful place where we make up stories and dream of flying with the butterflies and talking to the squirrels.
It is now mid-Autumn but summer will still be here for a while, months maybe, and we will continue to enjoy the cool breeze under the trees and the sound of nature in our ears, and I will take many, many more pictures to document all of those simple, but special moments.
There is a full album of photos up on Flickr right here. All photographs taken using full manual mode on a Canon Rebel and a FujiFilm XE-1 with little or no editing.