Blog Archive

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Girls' Day Out

Dawn and I had an afternoon out yesterday. We went to McCormick Place to check out the climbing wall at Mayor Daley's Holiday Sports Fest, or whatever they call the two exhibit halls' worth of athletic extravaganza. The only problem was we left so late that by the time we arrived, they had closed the line for the climbing wall. We got there after 3 and it was closing at 4, so they stopped taking in people an hour early to let the line finish. Too bad.

At least Dawn got to see it. They had pulleys at the top so you didn't have to have another person belay you, which was different from how I learned it when I went in San Francisco with my sister. I'm not sure if this is the exact place we went, but it has cool pictures:

She thought the rope helped pull you up, so it was a revelation to her that no, you get yourself up. The rope just breaks your fall if you lose your footing.

After watching the climbers on the wall, we went over to watch gymnastics. Dawn was fascinated at the girls doing the vault. Later we watched them do the uneven parallel bars, something I love to watch and wish I could do.
One older blonde girl was chalking her hands. She got on and had a lot of power, flipping between the upper and lower bar.

"Go, Britney!" her teammates called. "Brit, come on, Brit!" She did a flip coming off and only staggered slightly as she landed.

Later, we saw another girl, fully stretched out mid-air, miss grabbing the bar. She fell flat on her chest--thank God her head was still lifted up so she didn't hit her head on the ground. My heart was in my mouth watching her. You don't see stuff like that happen very often when you watch the Olympics.

Once we'd had enough, we walked over to Chinatown and had dinner at Joy Yee's. They have the best smoothies. I had mango with tapioca balls. Dawn had passion fruit with jelly--hers was more like a drink than a smoothie. She tried mine and it took a minute to get used to the tapioca.

The line out the door was much shorter than usual, maybe due to the holiday, and we got a table in record time. We split the appetizer platter: spring rolls, egg rolls, shrimp, chicken, and some slices of an unrecognizable white substance that tasted like mortadella. Dawn discovered she likes hoisin sauce. She wants to take her dad over there some time.

Afterwards we went window shopping in old Chinatown. We poked through Giftland, where I can get all the house slippers I want if I can just remember to bring money next time. Dawn liked checking out the anime posters and the lucky bamboo. We stopped to look in windows full of shiny jewelry and tiny knickknacks. "It's so small!" she marveled.

At the very end I stopped at the grocery store and the dry cleaners. "Sorry to make you wait through that," I said.

"It's OK," she said. "It's always an adventure to go out with you." I'm glad she thinks so.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Bad News for Big Picture

Last week the Chicago Tribune wrote a small, unsigned and rather scary story about the high school where Dawn and her brother go. I'm pasting it here because the link will expire soon. For now, just read this and reflect on the head of high schools saying central office needs to "make sure our kids are receiving the support they need." (At a price society is willing to pay is the subtext, I'm afraid. And their per pupil costs would likely be slightly lower now if CPS had permitted them a freshman class--they would have had to pay for two more teachers, but the rest of those costs were fixed, I suspect.)

Costly, small high school becomes a closing target

Published December 21, 2006

BACK OF THE YARDS -- Chicago Public Schools is considering phasing out an expensive high school that stresses small classes and internships, officials confirmed Wednesday.

Big Picture-Back of the Yards High School, 4946 S. Paulina St., was not allowed to accept any freshmen this year because district officials had concerns about the academic program at the tiny school, said Donald Pittman, district director of high school programs. Pittman said a decision about the school's future is expected by next month.

The school currently serves about 75 students and has a budget of $1.6 million, which works out to more than $21,000 per student. There are about 25 students each in grades 10 to 12, and class sizes are around 12, compared with 28 in a regular high school class.

"We need to take a closer look at the school ... and make sure our kids are receiving the support they need," Pittman said. "The money is not what's driving it, but it's definitely a factor."

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Friday, December 22, 2006

more on Oaxaca

Today was a national day of solidarity with Oaxaca. In its honor, I'm going to post some links to check out more information from a journalist we met with, John Gibler. I'm having trouble getting the hypertext to work, so you may have to cut and paste these in your browsers, people. So sorry.

And here are some links to what delegation folks are getting out to the world:

Finally, here are some great photos from the trip:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Un Milagro en las Posadas

....or a Miracle in las Posadas. Las Posadas are a Mexican tradition for the nine nights before Christmas Eve, when everybody goes and walks from house to house re-enacting the efforts of Joseph and Mary to get a room the night Jesus was born. They sing songs and we end up back at the church hall for pozole (stew), pan dulce (baked goods) and a pinata. Some nights they even have tamales.

Anyway, Joey decided to go with me last night. We had hot punch at the house on the next block up for starters, then walked up Marshfield to 46th and over to Ashland, where we made a big parade crossing the street with our tiki torches, stopped at the bakery next to IHM, then went to the hall for marimbas with our pozole. Fr. Bruce plays! I didn't know that. He got up and played with some of the young guys for a while. Jose seemed pretty interested in watching the marimba players, who are all teenage boys. There were three girls there who were watching and giggling. At the end of their first number one called out, "Your number one fan!!" and they all started laughing. Who knew you could be a rock star playing the marimba?

But believe it or not, that's not the miracle. The miracle came when Joey turned to me out of nowhere and said, "I'm thinking about transferring." This was a reference to my yearlong campaign to get him and his parents to think about putting him in San Miguel. Here's a link to see what the school is like:

Frankly, I had pretty much given up on it since Joey has been saying he wants to stay with his friends and his mom seems to be looking at the idea more as a threat to get him to work than as an opportunity he should take advantage of. (His parents may be worried about the cost, too, even though it's much cheaper than regular Catholic school.)

So I don't know what hit him, but he said he was interested. "I'm glad to hear you say that. I think it would be very good for your future," I said. "They work really hard with all their kids to make sure they go to good high schools."

"At Chavez they only do that with the good kids," he said. (Much as I love Joey, I know he's not considered a "good kid" at school. He's not a bad kid, but C's are his top grade and I know he's fooling around in class a lot.)

"I know. At San Miguel they do that with all the kids."

On the way home we started talking about how to count time from B.C. to A.D. He was telling me about some timeline he found with a friend on the Internet, so he came over to my house and we found it on Google. We started looking through it and got all caught up in photos of the Great Wall of China. Here's a fun one that was part of the Wikipedia article:

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Amnesty International Alert on Oaxaca

Here is the link to the December 6 AI alert on Oaxaca. It mentions EDUCA and the Red Oaxaquena (Oaxaca Human Rights Network). Although I think you have to print and fax the letters, they do give you sample text to work with and make it relatively easy to get the letters done.;jsessionid=B830A5B3AB705B0A6F0373C18AA800EE

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors!

And beautiful wrought-iron ones, built by father and son in the garage, make outstanding neighbors. Dawn's dad and older brother brought out the gates for the front and the side entrances to the fence today. Julian told me he helped make the main fence, too. "I put all the swirls in. Twenty-six of them," he announced proudly. "All in one day. At the end, my arms were hurting."

Julian and I had a very nice conversation this afternoon while his dad was welding the frame for the side gate. He was telling me they have been studying global warming in school and so at home the whole family has switched to longer-lasting, energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs. Julian swears that when he's in the basement watching TV he's turning off all the other lights. (I don't know if that's good for his eyes, but I didn't say anything.)

He was also telling me how his little brother is making a lot of progress toward walking and talking. He likes to be held upright and to kick his legs as if he's walking. And he's making those "ma,ma" noises that prep for the real "Mama" to come. Julian says he talks to his brother in English and so does Aurora at least some of the time. I brought back some baby books in Spanish from Cuernavaca--I need to go out and get a couple of English ones, too.

Then Dad called for Julian to come and put the gate in the frame. I took some shots of them working together. Later, they borrowed my flashlight so he could weld a couple more specific points. I'll have to get a shot of them together in front of their finished product tomorrow or later in the week, when they get the side fence up between my house and theirs.

I just locked the gate a few minutes ago. Tony came by in search of a few bucks but I had to tell him I'd been cleaned out already (by the less desirable element, I thought to myself). When he left, I locked the gate behind him. Somebody rang my bell at 8 o'clock this morning. Now that the new, much taller fence is up next door, people won't be able to jump the fence and bother me. Hurray.

Also, it appears someone is pouring a foundation on the corner lot across the street to build another house there. "Maybe it's somebody rich from another part of town," Julian guessed. It's certainly cheaper to build here than in other parts of the city, I'd imagine. I hope whoever is building it already has a buyer in mind (or is building it for themselves), and that they plan to live here, but we'll see...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Oaxaca comes to Cuernavaca

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of seeing former Chicagoan Kathy Long, OP (Dominican, for those not in the know), who is now running an awesome social justice program, the Cuernavaca Center for Intercultural Dialogue on Development, or CCIDD. Here's their web site:

If you look at the staff photos, you can get a little sense of the beauty of the center's buildings and grounds, but not as much as I wish you could. It's a former mansion that can sleep more than 30 people. I arrived just after a group had left, and it was incredibly quiet and peaceful, a welcome change from the nonstop delegation pace and the sprawl and mystery (to me) of Mexico City.

While at the center, I had the privilege of meeting three indigenous activists from northern Oaxaca state who had taken refuge outside the state after other members of their group were detained as their bus was going to the march in Oaxaca City on November 25. They made the important point that much of the focus has been on the capital, but human rights violations are taking place across the state. Last Friday an activist of the Trici nation was killed by snipers, I believe also in Northern Oaxaca.

Here is the action alert, from Christian Peacemaker Teams:

Thursday, December 14, 2006


I got home a few minutes ago and there were three messages on my voice mail: two from Oscar and one from his big brother Fernando. "Could we come get our presents????" was the major thrust of all three--at least in the last one, Fernando's, he said, "I'm sorry we didn't come last night. We had to go somewhere."

I waited for them for an hour last night. Today I have a sore throat I didn't have yesterday, and I still have a house that needs someone to come through with a backhoe to clear the crap out of every room on the first floor. But it was kind of fun to hear the excitement in their voices through the messages, so I held off dinner and called them to come over. This time they were here right away.

While I was in Cuernavaca last weekend, I went shopping with my friend Kathy at the main artisan's market. She introduced me to a young man named Federico. Federico, who looks to be in his late teens or early 20s, used to live on the streets of Cuernavaca. He found his way to a local group that helps street youth develop their talents and make a legitimate living as artists. Federico carves and paints wood into various decorative pieces. I bought two sets of coasters, two crosses and two Christmas-tree ornaments, which were the gifts for the boys.

When the doorbell rang, I picked up the ornaments--one a fish, one a bird, both with many and varied colors--put one in each hand and put my hands behind my back after opening the door. "OK, guys, you have to pick who gets which hand," I told them. Fernando chose my left hand and won the bird; Oscar got the fish in my right hand. Federico had delicately printed his name in white paint in unobtrusive places on each object. I pointed that out, and Fernando and I showed Oscar where Federico had drilled a hole to put a string through his fish and hang it on the tree.

"Wow, that's cool!" said Oscar. "Thank you," they chorused, with big smiles. I'm glad to know some kids for whom this kind of present is a big deal. And iI'm glad to know Federico's Christmas will be a little nicer, too.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Action Alert

Hi, friends-- I'm well and in Cuernavaca, but folks in Oaxaca are still under threat. This is an alert about the executive director of EDUCA, the main local partner our delegation worked with. Global Exchange put this word out and I heard the same story firsthand from EDUCA staff last week.

2.) On Monday November 27, the pro-government station, "Radio Ciudadana"falsely identified the offices of Services for an Alternative Education(EDUCA, A.C.) as a site where, "Molotov bombs are being fabricated andseveral [tactical] movements of the APPO are taking place". The broadcasturged listeners to burn down the office. Marcos Leyva, the director ofEDUCA was named and likewise threatened. In the same broadcast two otherChurch affiliated) NGOs -- Pastoral Centre and the Parish of SietePrinicipes were also named.Marcos Leyva is a friend of Global Exchange. He is a man of greatintegrity who has been involved in social justice work for many years.***

Action Request: ***Please act to safeguard both Marcos Leyva's safety and that of the otherstaff members of EDUCA and other non-governmental organizations.We ask you to please write the following officials to urge an immediatede-escalation of the conflict that includes withdrawal of Federal forcesfrom Oaxaca, the repatriation and release of all political prisoners, aswell as full investigation and prosecution of those using the radio tocall for violence against non-governmental organizations and their staff.Please write to:
Felipe Calderòn Hinojosa--see ealier post for contact info.



Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What to Say

Sorry, guys, I was having tech trouble and had to post quickly. Here are some key points to make in an email:

1. An immediate end of acts of intimidation and repression by the federal and state police and government authorities

2. A guarantee by the Mexican government for the respect of the human rights of all Oaxaqueños most especially those who have been arrested.

3. An immediate end to the arbitrary detention in the streets of citizens.

4. An immediate end to the illegal entry of homes.

5. Cease the torture and abuse of prisoners.

6. Safe return of those who have been "disappeared".

7. Access of detainees to legal representation, family members and medical attention to those who are injured in order to ensure their well being and protection of their human rights.

8. Immediate withdrawal of the arrest warrants for those who are social activists, including members of the teachers union (SNTE in Spanish).

9. Immediate withdrawal of Mexican military from the state of Oaxaca.

Emails to the president and governor are most important, the ones further down are to state and federal human rights organizations. We heard the state org has no teeth and the feds are so far not very willing to intervene, so I'd try the federal one first.

If you send an email, please post a comment and let us know. Thanks!

Send Emails on Oaxaca!

Finally, I have some email addresses for Mexican government officials. If you have time to send a short email requesting respect for human rights in Oaxaca, I'll list officials and their email addresses below. Underneath that I'll put a list of demands put forth on an action alert from a church-based human rights group in Mexico City. Here are the emails:

Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa
President of Mexico

Ulises Ruiz Ortiz
Governor of Oaxaca State

Dr. Jose Luis Soberanes

Presidente de la Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos

Fax +55 5681 7199

Lic. Lizbeth Caña Cableza

Procuradora General de Justicia del Estado de Oaxaca

Fax +951 5115 519

Lic. Jaime Mario Pérez Jiménez
Presidente de la Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos Oaxaca

Fax +915 513 5185

Monday, December 04, 2006

"There is no government today in Oaxaca"

That quote was spoken by Raul Ruiz, president of the local association of electrical suppliers here in Oaxaca City. We spoke with him and with the owner of one of the finest restaurants in Oaxaca, Luis Ugartechea, who have helped a local NGO here, EDUCA, with a citizenship initiative.

The message they asked us to send to the US government today was as followsÑ

Human rights are being severely violated here in Oaxaca.
There is no government functioning here. "The government of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz is nothing."

They encouraged us to remind the US government to encourage Mexico to live up to human rights standards. Other folks have told us that Mexico is currently chair of human rights at the UN, a very ironic position to be in given the detentions in Nayarit, raids on schools and roundups of civil leadership happening here.

Luis: "I feel sad. I feel very angry. I don't want to live in this situation. We didn't have to live in this situatin. If we had smart people in power, this would not be necessary."

Tomorrow we go to the town of Zaachila, outside Oaxaca City, where federal police raided schools last week and arrested teachers in front of their students. We understand some people we would have stayed with have left town due to outstanding warrants for their arrest. We have been told there is hope our presence there tomorrow may defuse tensions between police and the citizenry.

I may not be able to write again until Wednesday, but I'll try to get on tomorrow to talk about one of our other meetings today if at all possible.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

No Justice in Oaxaca

Today we met with two surviving relatives of people who were killed in the struggle here. One was the sister of someone who died during a peaceful march, the other was connected to a shooting at a barricade, Amnesty International sent out an alert on this case which I will post later. I'll let their quotes speak for themselves:

From the relative of the person who died during a march: " We didn't ask for justice (in regard to her brother's death) because we know it doesn't exist. We know first hand that the person who determines justice is Ulises Ruiz. What does he do? He pays money in abundance to snipers, to assassins that have salaries."

"Teachers have been attacked in schools. They've been captured in front of students.It's happened in little towns outside Oaxaca (City). Imagine what's happening in towns further out who have no way to communicate."

(Crying) "I want someone to know what's happening in Oaxaca. So many people are disappeared. So many people are prisoners."

From the person with knowledge of the Amnesty International case: "This was part of a fear campaign to show people they could get killed for being at a barricade."

"All this for bringing coffee in the streets. Is there justice? I don't know. And how to resolve this situation, I don't know."

And this from a human rights defender working with them and with others imprisoned in Nayarit state: "A lot of human rights defenders are leaving Oaxaca state because they are afraid."

Her organization, the Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights, is committed to staying, though they are already facing intimidation from police. "Maybe there will come a time when the danger is so great we have to step back, but not yet."

Please consider calling or writing the Mexican consulate in Chicago to ask that those imprisoned in Nayarit be treated legally. So far they have not been charged, seen lawyers or been able to contact family members. I'll try to get contact info for the consulate up here tomorrow.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Dancing among the Tanks

After our meetings today, Sam and I headed out to the Zòcalo to check out the scene. Despite the huge federal police encampment and the slight drizzle, Saturday night still goes on. There was a mariachi band playing alongside one of the churches. We had to walk through police trucks to get to the steps, and the crowd was not large, but they were there. The band played a tune from the 50s and 60s dance halls, and a few older couples got up to dance. I took some photos. One silver-haired tall guy with a bald spot was amazing--fancy footwork and lots of combinations with spins for his partner. Who knows if they were PRIistas celebrating or APPistas refusing to be cowed by the troops? Hey, it was all fun. And the bandleader said they did a song in Zapotec to honor his mother tongue.

On the more serious side, we met with reps from the Oaxacan Human Rights Network today. They had a lot to say about the weakness of the state human rights commissioner, who is a political appointee, thus a flunky of the governor. They also had a lot to say about police treatment of detainees, including torture tactics straight out of the Jon Burge playbook in Chicago, like electroshock to the groin. They are putting together a fund to support those imprisoned in Nayarit. For more information, check out their web site (in Spanish):

¡Hasta mañana!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Oaxaca Tattler

Well, Marshfield Tattler makes it to Mexico this year after all. If you are reading this, please pass the word that I will be trying to give updates daily on the tense situation in Oaxaca City.

This morning I arrived in the Mexico City airport just in time to watch Mexican congressional reps throw chairs and come to (very stagey-looking) blows over the inauguration of Felipe Calderón. The Televisa people loved showing that footage over and over again. I hear there were large street demonstrations in Mexico City, but I didn t leave the airport. Here in Oaxaca I was told there was a very small march, much less than feared by state officials, who reduced bus service to avoid the chance that demonstrators might commandeer them to reconstruct barricades.

The state made a concerted effort this week to remove as much trace as possible of the popular demonstrations against Gov. Ulises Ruiz. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of troops are patrolling the Zocalo and environs, the last barricade was removed a couple of days ago, and there has been some effort to remove anti-Ruiz and pro-APPO graffiti. However, there is plenty of graffiti left in areas outside the Zócalo.

Also this week, Citizen Radio (a station reported to be run by PRI supporters) encouraged people to come and burn down the offices of EDUCA, a local NGO that provides popular education, citizenship and economic development to Oaxacans. They are a partner organization of Witness for Peace. Death threats were issued against their executive director. He is now in hiding and the office was closed this week.

I will try to get links and action steps up here tomorrow. In the mean time, Anice, if you want to post the key links from the email you received about letters to Mexican government officials protesting the detention and out-of-state transfers of people here, I would appreciate it.

We have been told that we are the largest international group in the city right now. I will write more as soon as I can.

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