activism, Children, Take Action

Reluctant Hero

Mendez Piano
Courtesy of the Mendez Family

Sylvia Mendez was nine years old when she became the center of the landmark court case, Mendez v. Westminster. Parents and neighbors joined together in a fight to desegregate education for children of Mexican descent in southern California. The 1947 court decision banned segregation in California public schools and paved the way for the national ban on school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education seven years later.

On her first day at school after winning the case, Sylvia recalls a white boy coming up to her and telling her she didn’t belong. She says, “I was crying and crying, and told my mother, ‘I don’t want to go to the white school!’ My mother said, ‘Sylvia, you were in court every day. Don’t you know what we were fighting? We weren’t fighting so you could go to that beautiful white school. We were fighting because you’re equal to that white boy.” (LA Times)

Mendez Book
 Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Méndez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh (2014, Abrams Books)

It’s easy to hold up these historic figures as superhuman. It seems they are made of sturdier stuff than us average folk. But Sylvia Mendez was herself a reluctant hero. Her name was on that important decision, but she didn’t feel brave and fierce.

Maybe her connections to her family and her community mattered to her more than the abstract idea of equality. And maybe it was from the strength of those connections that Sylvia drew her sense of purpose.

Sylvia went on to a successful career as a pediatric nurse. For decades, Sylvia didn’t think much about Mendez v. Westminster. Then her father died and her mother became very ill. In a conversation about the case, her mother told her, “It’s history of the United States, history of California. Sylvia, you have to go out and talk about it!” Hesitant at first but guided by her mother’s conviction, Sylvia began vising schools to tell the story of her family’s fight for civil rights.

Since her retirement from nursing, Mendez’ work has grown into a nationwide effort to help students succeed. She sees the de facto segregation that still exists in American education today, particularly in the scarce resources of schools in poor communities and communities of color. She wants all students have the opportunity that she did, and she has dedicated herself to advocating for educational equity.

Mendez Medal
In 2011 Sylvia Mendez received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama

Behind most hero myths lurks a story of uncertainty, hesitancy, and detours. Something propels (or drags) the protagonist to the path they are meant to walk. Mendez’ connections to her family called her back to courage.

For each of us, such a force exists. Maybe hidden, maybe silent, likely disquieting, most certainly mighty.

In what voice does it call us back?

Do we let it?


Mendez vs. segregation: 70 years later, famed case ‘isn’t just about Mexicans. It’s about everybody coming together’.  Caitlin Yoshiko Kandil, LA Times, April 17, 2016

The Mendez Family Fought School Segregation 8 Years Before Brown v. Board of Ed. Dave Roos, History.com, September 18, 2019

Who Is Sylvia Mendez? Separate is Never Equal, Sylvia Mendez School

 

 

Choices, Friends, Letting Go

the world is glimpsed through veils

glass sculpture ben young 3
Sea of Separation, Ben Young

Sometimes you sit in a room with someone who is doing something hard. You sit with them and let them do the hard thing. You sit with them not doing the hard thing for them. You sit there not answering the questions facing them unless the questions are some version of, “Can I do this?” The only answer you say out loud is, “You’ve done hard things before. Of course you can do this.” You offer them sips of water. You keep the glass filled.

Continue reading “the world is glimpsed through veils”

Family, Growing Up, Poetry, Relationships

Backstitch

thread fleur

The magnifying lamp on its swiveling neck,
bent glass thick as thumbs
guide her fingers to find the warp
and weft.
Putting off the inevitable.
Pretty much the whole story
from the moment we begin.
Don’t tell the kids this.
Let them lose their grip on immortality
the old fashioned way.

To outlive the sharp focus of adolescence.
We should all be so lucky.

Continue reading “Backstitch”

activism, prayer, spirit

The First Principle of All Existence is Utter Dependence

Santiago Mauro Mora

The discipline of gratitude reminds us how utterly dependent we are on the people and world around us for everything that matters. From this flows an ethic of gratitude that obligates us to create a future that justifies an increasing sense of gratitude from the human family as a whole. The ethic of gratitude demands that we nurture the world that nurtures us in return. It is our duty to foster the kind of environment that we want to take in, and therefore become.

– Galen Guengerich, “The Heart of Our Faith”

May gratitude carry us over the rocky places. May we remember to say thanks for the smallest gestures. For the simplest nourishment. For the hand. The comfort. The roof. The healthy parts.

Thanks to the fighters. The ones who take on the dangerous work. Who excavate the hidden graves. Conduct research on hunger, violence, trauma. Share their findings, speak the names, guide our practices. The eco-warriors. The anarchists. The witnesses holding vigil at the pipeline, at the refugee camp, at the courthouse. The cash bail activists, the public defenders, the protestors, the disruptors.

Continue reading “The First Principle of All Existence is Utter Dependence”

activism, prayer, Purpose, race, Take Action

The Spirit Calls Us to Liberation

20171214_101710
Vigil for Safe & Sane Gun Laws at the NRA in Fairfax Virginia on the 5-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting

Maybe you, like me, are trying to figure out what “spiritual practice” is all about. My Unitarian Universalist congregation and faith strive to be homes for spiritual sustenance; yet I’m often at a loss for how to nourish the spirit outside of Sunday services. I show up to the Women’s Ritual Council full moon circles when I can, light a candle before bed, write gratitudes in my journal. These seem worshipful. So too do yoga, meditation, singing, gardening. But not every stretch or song turns the heart toward Beloved Community.

What makes an activity a form of prayer? And when is it simply self-care?

Continue reading “The Spirit Calls Us to Liberation”

Letting Go, memory, Poetry, prayer

Charming

chirag-shenoy-neck-jewelsjpg

An angel, a puppy, a music note.
She was not wearing these when she left.
Neither the black and copper choker,
the latticework of wire,
the abalone cuff.
She had not strapped on even one of the five Wonder Woman watches
to keep track of the time
it would take.
If she had clasped the anklet with its tiny bells falling against her foot,
we may have heard her go.
She didn’t want anyone to stop her,
we tell ourselves.
She waited until the house was quiet
after all.

Continue reading “Charming”

Children, Choices, Love, Poetry, Relationships, spirit

Not a Bit Tamed, Untranslatable

Marlina Vera Couples

1.

“Would you rather,” he asks me, “never be able to use a public library? Or lose the dog forever?”

“The library,” I say. As long as they exist for everyone else. I could live without them. Besides, my friends could bring me books.”

“Would you rather,” he asks me, “never be able to read a book again? Or lose the dog forever?”

“The dog,” I say. “If she’s going to a good home, I would miss her terribly but she’d be okay.”

“Would you rather,” he asks me, “never be able to read a book again? Or the dog dies?”

“Neither,” I say.

“You have to choose,” he tells me.

“No, I don’t.”

I reject the false choice. No situation in this world demands such a splitting. I claim it all. My love is vast. Like Whitman, I contain multitudes.


Continue reading “Not a Bit Tamed, Untranslatable”

Art, Change, community, Relationships, spirit

Fishing for Plenty

Before I Die 4

The line between. A light spilling through. The friend dressed in flowers gazes up at a ceiling of filigreed wood. She describes her new love of colored pencils, writing one word across a page over and on top until the word is laced into a web of color. The expression carries her to tears. She folds her sorrow into a page stitched with threads of graphite and pigment and calling.

She can hold the prayer on the tips of her fingers. A weight anchoring her to the dark place breaks free. She lifts toward light. Continue reading “Fishing for Plenty”

body, Living in the Moment, Love, Outdoors

Desire Path

MacDonald Frances Desire Path

Then and this. Now and here.

A pause.

Cool air shivers skin. The bus engine grumbles below plastic seats molded to cup a human’s soft places. Thighs of meat padding bone. Outside, women in a pack bustle down the sidewalk in jeans stretched taut.

The days grow shorter.

Even so, I forget. Forget to stop and touch the zinnia with its five shades of orange tethered to a center like chocolate. Forget to let the crepe myrtle dip across my cheek. Barely notice a fat bee chugging past me towards what bursts from the hedges. A body that should be too weighty for the tissue of wings somehow stays airborne.

I forget that eventually, everything falls. I forget to catch drift.

Continue reading “Desire Path”

community, Learning

CrazyTown and the Ambassadors of Acceptance

Cranich Begin Within

We are the compulsives. The chameleons. The deluded. The wounded.
Addicts. Bigots. Enablers. Aggressors.
Gossips. Accommodaters. Over-sharers. Fixers.

We are the guarded. And the stuck.

We are passive. People-pleasers. Avoiders. Myopic.
We envy. We compete. We keep secrets. We give up.
Liars. Caretakers. Impulsives. Fanatics.
Re-enactors of traumatic events.
Prisoners of mindsets we refuse to reject.

Continue reading “CrazyTown and the Ambassadors of Acceptance”