"There is a vitality, a life force,
a quickening that is translated through you into action, and
there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique,
and if you block it, it will never exist through any other
medium, and be lost. The world will not have it." --Martha
Graham "The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next." --Helen
"Roxanne-Dunbar-Ortiz has defined
the term engaged intellectual through a life spent
on the frontlines of the past four decades of social struggles.
She has never abandoned
her roots through the process of becoming one of the most respected
in the United States." --James Tracy
" In the summer of 2010, a foreign intelligence
officer offered me cash in exchange for classified
information. I turned down the pitch and I immediately reported
it to the FBI. So, the FBI asked me to take the guy out
to lunch and to ask him what information he wanted and how
much information he was willing to give me for it. They
were going to put two agents at a nearby table. They ended
up canceling the two agents but they asked me to go ahead
with the lunch so I did. After the lunch, I wrote a long
memo to the FBI — and I did this four or five times.
It turns out – and we only learned this
three or four weeks ago – there never was a foreign
intelligence officer. It was an FBI agent pretending to
be an intelligence officer and they were trying to set me
up on an Espionage Act charge but I repeatedly reported
the contact so I foiled them in their effort to set me up."--
OPEN - PSA Spring 2013 City
College of San Francisco: An Important Question
Our District colleges are currently in the midst of investing
amount of time, energy and money in preparing for another
the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
which accredits two-year colleges in California and Hawaii.
imposed on colleges by the ACCJC in recent years have far
total sanctions by all other accreditation bodies in the
Who actually runs the ACCJC? What is the basis for the huge
sanctions they have been imposing? What laws govern the
decisions taken by
ACCJC and who oversees their actions? These are some of
the many questions that were taken up in an eye-opening
report, titled ACCJC Gone Wild
Erika and Antonio
("Tony") A Love Story That Lasts Forever
In Memory of
My Mother, Little Mom
Erika Redl Trentacoste
June 15, 1919 to September 27, 2012
It was Abraham Lincoln who said, "All that I am or ever
hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother." I could not have said
that better, for I feel exactly the same way. My mother had an
enormous influence on my life. She affected my philosophy, spirituality,
code of ethics, and the very work I do each day.
I loved my mother's sunny optimism and hungry curiosity about
the world around her. She was still small when Charles Lindberg
succeeded at making the very first transatlantic flight. Later
she got to see man walk on the moon and recently, to marvel at
the Curiosity Rover land and explore Mars. She saw the widespread
use of the telephone, television, air conditioning, microwaves,
all the way to present day, with the advent of personal computers,
Wi-Fi, the Internet, smart phones, and social media. She wanted
to know about the newest invention, and read newspapers, and watched
TV news daily to her very last day.
Everyone marveled at her darling disposition - young and spirited
in a way that is hard to describe. Besides the nickname I gave
her of Little Mom, sometimes I would call her Little Cuteness,
and other times, Little Peanut, as she was quite tiny. She had
a way that made you want to come up and give her a big kiss -
always grateful for little things you would do for her that really
required no thank you at all.
She was deeply philosophical and religious in her own way, and
she also had a solid practical sense about life that formed the
underpinnings of all the decisions that she was to make in life.
She didn't stress over facing hard facts - she dealt with life's
hardships in a very matter-of-fact way. She also displayed an
unshakable sense of humor that remained steadfast in the face
of even the most difficult conditions. She gave all those qualities
My mother had very modest beginnings. Born the youngest of five
children of German parents who had come to America, the family
quickly moved to upstate New York when she was 5, in 1924. They
had to move because my grandfather's doctor suggested he build
a "sleeping porch" to help bring relief to his
tuberculosis, a leading cause of death at the turn of the 20th
century. Sleeping porches were commonly used in those days, for
it was thought at the time (and still somewhat undisputed today)
that fresh cool air improved the condition of lungs and brought
relief to TB suffers. In those days, air conditioning was not
Times were hard in those days - the Depression was in full swing
by the 1930's - and because my mother's family lived in a small
town, my highly educated and skilled grandfather, an engineer
from Germany, had problems finding well-paying work to support
his family of five children. My grandmother started a small garden
and raised chickens in a small hen house on the property to bring
in extra income and also experimented with grafting fruit trees.
Grandma's techniques came to the attention of Cornell University.
Grandmother was invited to submit papers on her research, which
grandma did file, by the light of kerosene lamps after her
children were asleep.
My mother had problems with seeing chickens the family was raising
slaughtered, so to this day, my mother refused to eat any chicken.
She ate turkey once a year on Thanksgiving only to please us.
The town that she lived in was so small that her school was a
one-room schoolhouse that housed many grades. At home, before
doing homework, she and her siblings would do chores, such as
to fetch buckets of water from the creek at the bottom of Ice
Cave Road where they lived, to be sure the household had enough
Additionally, once old enough, all the kids chopped wood throughout
the year to ensure that the family would have enough fuel to last
through the winter (even though they had other forms of fuel,
too). The idea of my little Mom, then a young girl, wielding
an ax is a picture in my head that is incongruous to her delicate
femininity, but she assured me that chop she did. She used to
tell me that she would also tap the maple tree sugar sap in March
that her mother would boil down to make maple syrup for the pancakes
my grandmother would cook up on their wood-burning potbelly stove.
At 18 she saved enough to move back to New York City, leaving
behind the small town where she had spent most of her childhood.
She found work as a governess for the children of some of the
most powerful and wealthy families of New York. She said
she always loved going to Horn & Hardart for dinner, enjoying
putting coins in the slots to get her meal. She loved the excitement
of the big city, but inside her always remained a bit of the country,
too. Open any of her personal books and a beautiful autumn leaf
would fall out, or a pretty spring flower that she had pressed
into that book.
My aunt Harriet, one of the five children (actually, the oldest),
was devastated to hear her favorite sister - my mother - was planning
a move to New York City. In an effort to stay in close, she suggested
they both take a correspondence class so that they could call
each other to go over their homework. My mother, always the avid
student, loved the idea. "What will we study?" she asked
- my aunt said "Astrology." My mother was floored. "Are
you kidding?" My aunt was persistent. My mother was excellent
at math, and my aunt Harriet said she needed her to help her calculate
the natal charts they would be required to do. My mother loved
her sister Harriet - she was her favorite - so she agreed to help
her by studying astrology, but promised to show her sister why
astrology didn't work. They took astrology courses for eight years.
The rest, as they say, is history. My mother became quite a scholar
in astrology, for upon close inspection she became fascinated
with its inner workings, and how it could be used to find solutions
to tough problems, but also to use to take advantage of beneficial
trends. She never did consultations and readings for strangers,
but concentrated her time on the further study of her new hobby.
During that time, my mother met my father at a dance in New York
City, but the way they met was so charming, I must tell you about
that meeting. I had heard the story many times, but my sister
and I loved it so much we would pretend we had completely forgotten
the story so that my father would recount it again with his trademark
The AT&T telephone company would have special dances for
their employees at the Hotel Astor in Times Square, and they were
called the Pioneers Dances. These parties were known to be special,
and intended only for telephone company employees, but as the
story goes, if you came looking like a good kid - clean, neat,
and presentable - the guards at the door would look the other
way and let you in.
My father noticed my mother one night. As he would tell us, he
had seen her once before, and noticed she had come along with
the same girlfriend. He told us he was instantly smitten with
my mother - 5'2", chestnut hair, and eyes of blue. That night,
he got up the courage to ask her to dance. He was Italian American
and looked a little bit like Sean Penn. As he told us, she turned
him down. (At that point my sister and I would howl in disbelief
as we glanced at my mother, "You said no?" My mother
would just laugh and nod, clearly enjoying the recounting of this
Undaunted, my father went back to the friends and the brothers
he came with. (My father was the oldest of seven siblings, and
four were boys.) He asked Joey, his friend, if he had a pencil
and paper. As my father would recall, Joey replied, "Why
do you need pencil and paper? This isn't school, this is a party!"
My father insisted. Joey suggested, "Go talk to Sal - I think
he has a pencil. I think Pete has a piece of paper" My father
got what he needed. These were the precise words my father told
us he wrote:
This is my son's reference. He is a good boy.
My father then folded up the paper into a tiny square and went
back across the dance floor and handed it to my mother. She
was a little bewildered, and asked, "What is this?"
He replied, "I know you don't know me. This is my mother's
reference." Still a little confused, she unfolded the paper
and read it in the dim light - and laughed. Smiling, my father
asked, "Now that you have my mother's reference, will you
dance with me?" Still laughing, she said yes. What was to
ensue was a love affair that would last their entire lives.
My father, Antonio, worked with my grandfather in an Italian
specialty store on Manhattan's Upper East Side at the time.
My grandfather and great uncle owned the store, so at the time
my parents first met, my father was young and working as a junior
helper. (My father was still just learning the ropes of running
a business that dealt in highly perishable foods in the hopes
he would eventually take over the store with his younger brother,
Charles, my uncle, which they eventually did much later.)
When my father heard that my mother had fresh farm eggs to sell
him, he jumped at the chance to sell those eggs, for it was a
good way to get to know my mother.
They dated 10 years before marriage. She was modern in every
respect - she wanted to enjoy her independence and first learn
to be self-supporting. She would laugh and tell us, "Your
father kept asking me to marry him, and I kept saying 'No - and
that's final!'" Even though they dated a full decade - she
was 28 when she married - it's important to add here that my father
was her first love and only love. She never dated anyone else,
for she knew in her heart that he was the one for her.
She was modern and far ahead of her time. Why did she keep refusing
my father's proposal to marry? She wanted to get to know herself,
and experience some of the fun and sights of the city. She also
wanted to experience supporting herself first - unheard of in
her day. She always gave me the advice, "Get married when
and if you want children. If you are not ready for children, wait
until you are ready, for otherwise, there is no point." I
have to say, I agree with her view.
She asked my father to promise that if they were to marry, that
all their children would go to college. In her day, not everyone
went to college, and if any child went, it was assumed it would
be only the sons. She wanted to be sure if she had girls they
would get to go, too. As luck would have it, my parents would
have two daughters, my sister and me. I have a BS degree in business,
and my sister would get her Masters degree too, in business. (Coming
from an ever-practical family, we both chose a major - business
- that would lead to a solid job.)
I am getting ahead of myself, however. After my parents were
married, I was born first, and then my sister came along several
years later. I was born with a severe birth defect that baffled
doctors, so she was hesitant to have another child until doctors
could decide what was wrong with me. But time went on, so she
gave up trying to find out the answer. Astrology told her that
the mystery of my illness would not be discovered until I was
fourteen. Rather than wait, they went ahead with another baby
a few years later, and my sister, Janet, was born, completely
I loved that my mother was always my staunch advocate, always
believing in me, even when the rest of the world seemed against
me. Every child needs an advocate - without one, I feel the child
would grow up to feel weak and defenseless in this world. My birth
defect caused excruciating pain whenever I got a sudden attack,
and once it had struck, would last 6 to 8 weeks, one or two times
a year. When I was well, I was near perfect in every way, but
when an attack would come I was not able to move an inch in the
bed. I had different names for pain, in the same way Eskimos had
made different words for snow. White pain was the worst and made
you want to leave your body, so badly did you want to get away
from it. It was worse than red pain or blue pain - it gave you
the feeling mustard was in your mouth.
Doctors could not diagnose the problem, and therefore would angrily
accuse me of making up my illness so I could avoid going to school.
Some doctors suggested I needed a psychiatrist. All of this was
preposterous and very hurtful - I would come to identify with
the vast number of people accused and unjustly sent to jail. It
was hard enough to be in pain, but not to be believed was even
worse. The Board of Education would ask, "What kind of illness
keeps a child out of school for six weeks at a time and has no
name?" Talk about pressure!
I remember one day, as I lay in bed, her putting on her black
suit, her red lipstick, her lady-like purse, and black leather
gloves and heels, to take the subway to Brooklyn to fight my case
with the Board of Education - officials again were demanding answers.
She was smart, and could talk circles around anyone who debated
her, but did it in a way that was kind and very feminine. This
was evident in her gestures, the tenor of her words, and the softness
in her big blue eyes. I would be on pins and needles until she
got home, but once in the door, she would say we were OK for now,
but that the day was coming where we would have to get to the
bottom of my mysterious illness.
As things turned out, she was right about the timing of the mystery
being solved about my leg - at 13 and 11 months, I had the attack
of my life and I was not healing. I waited, but it was not to
come. I had to have exploratory surgery. By now I was old enough
to do so, so I held my breath and said OK, let's do it. I was
tired of never knowing whether the day would end happily or in
agony with an attack.
Doctors found the problem was severe malformation of my veins
and arteries that would simply turn to tissue paper and cause
massive internal bleeding spontaneously from time to time. Something
as simple as being excited about my birthday or Christmas would
set it off. There are only 47 cases on record - I am the only
person to survive surgery, for it is so treacherous. During the
surgery, my brilliant surgeon, an orthopedic specialist and protege
to the chief of staff at the time, expected to do a simply cartilage
surgery but I disagreed. I was feeling a volume of thick
liquid suddenly drop into my leg, something like glycerin, or
the consistency of chocolate syrup. (What is closer to blood than
chocolate syrup?) My doctor, who was to become one of the most
famous doctors in the world in time, and who was even knighted
by the Queen of Sweden, was faced with several harrowing surgeries
He had to find a way to keep me from bleeding to death and at
the same time save the left leg from amputation - the place where
all my circulatory problems were based. When I woke up from surgery,
I realized that I had become paralyzed from the knee down that
year, but my doctor promised to get the leg working again. I was
later to break my femur (thigh bone) four times because so many
of the vessels were removed, the bone was starved for nourishment.
My doctor got a rod in, but I died on the table during the surgery
and he somehow managed to get me back.
I could have never recovered without the brilliant skill of my
doctor, but it was also my mother's love that would get me back
on my feet, quite literally.
Little Mom was not going to trust my recovery to hospital food
so each day she made homemade meals that she kept hot by jumping
into a taxi to the hospital. She did this during the whole time
I was a patient, 11 months straight. I had many blood transfusions
and too many close calls on my life to recount. The hospital staff
had me on tilt tables, parallel bars, and wearing big metal brace
to my hip - and then I was back in the operating room for more
surgery, a skin graph and other procedures. My mother remained
my cheerleader - I did none of this alone - and I walk today because
of her indomitable spirit and willingness to keep me going, even
when the pain was crushing, and interns were telling me privately
not to bet the farm on my recovery. (They were wrong, she was
During those teenage years, after I finally got home, I was to
be home schooled, so that I could do the 6-hour-a-day physical
therapy for three years to regenerate the left leg's nerve that
had been damaged by the powerful, extremely tight compression
bands that my doctor had use to tourniquet the bleeding. I went
from junior high to college, home through all of my high school
years, from sophomore to senior year. My mother taught me all
that I learned, although the Board of Education sent a teacher
two hours a week to my house, and a teacher to monitor state exams
on a regular basis. It was during that time I had so much time
with my mother, and her influence in me grew. She was always there,
step by step to keep me optimistic - I would walk again - and
She never dwelled on the pain of what I was going through but
instead painted a picture of what was to come. "Susie, you
will have so many new shoes, and so many pretty dresses, you won't
know which one to choose. You will be able to travel when you
get well too, not like before, when you always had to stay close
to home, lest an attack strike!"
I used to say I grew up in Manhattan, but now I just say, "I
grew up in hospitals." If you add up all my hospital stays
I have had, each of them very protracted, it comes to about seven
years in all. To this day, I have had 40 blood transfusions and
I hope will not have any more in my life. Even something as simple
as giving birth to my first daughter Chrissie turned into a crisis,
and required a two-month hospital stay with transfusions and six
months in a wheelchair.
When I risked my life to have my second child, Diana, my mother
stood behind me. I asked her if she would be willing to take over
the raising of my children if anything went wrong during the birth
- specifically, if I were not to make it through. She replied,
"Of course." Brave soul, my mother!
She asked, "How is your chart looking, Susan?" I answered,
"That's a sore point - I have a packed eighth house."
(The eighth house rules death, but also surgery). She nodded.
"That shows the condition." I looked up at her - "Wait!
It shows the condition but not the outcome?" She smiled and
said, "Yes. Did the doctors ask you to write your will?"
I nodded affirmative, and added I had just seen a lawyer to do
my will a day earlier. She explained, "Of course! Had you
not had a packed eighth house, the topic of your will would not
have even come up." Then she asked, "Do you feel you
can have this baby, Susan?" I replied that, despite the doctors'
dire warnings, absolutely yes. And I will never forget her steady,
measured reply, looking at me with such kindness: "And so
you will. The end result lies in your heart and in your determination,
More health bouts would come throughout my life, but she was
always there, forever practical - we do what we must to get healthy,
and we do not spend unnecessary energy bemoaning why it is necessary
- we get on with what we need to do without delay. That way, we
more quickly become well.
It was to be my mother's sense of philosophy that I found influenced
me the most. I will give you an example of a defining moment that
was to forever change the way I would view my life and my place
in the universe, all because of her.
One day, when I was about 9 years old, I got an attack at my
grandmother's house. It was the end of June, so school had just
ended for summer vacation. We had just arrived in the country
and I knew I was to be in bed the whole time, until end of August,
and by then, summer vacation would be over. I wished I were home
in my own little bed, or better yet, well, and sitting on a wooden
box outside my father's store in New York City. I loved the heat
of summer, for I was not a country child - I missed the city.
I was frustrated.
That morning sun was steaming in the window on the second floor
of my bedroom; a pale green, leafy tree was brilliantly lit just
outside my open window. It was about 11 AM and I could hear my
little sister Janet squealing downstairs as she ran around the
yard with another neighborhood child.
My mother had just taken an hour to change the sheets on my bed,
as she had to carefully push the old sheets under me slowly and
at the same time gently pull the new, clean sheet under me too,
after removing the old one. It was the way they did it in the
hospital, but it took a lot of time. During the 6 to 8 weeks that
an attack lasted, I was as fragile as nitroglycerine, but she
knew precisely how to gently handle my leg, holding it a certain
way by the ankle, careful never to twist it even the slightest,
which always rested on a pillow, so not to set off spasms and
attacks of unbearable, pass-out pain.
That morning, I felt the need to say something shocking - something
that would sum up my frustration. I blurted out, "This old
leg! I wish someone else had this old leg!" My mother, by
then pushing fluffy pillows into new pillowcases at the foot of
my bed, looked up in disbelief. I had never, ever wished my pain
on anyone else. "What did you say?" Determined to shock
my mother over my frustration with my illness, I repeated what
I had just said.
Still wearing her apron, she sat in a chair next to my bed. "Susan,
don't you know you were hand picked by God to have this painful
illness? What If I told you that your pain might take away someone
else's pain in the world?" I was so surprised at this new
idea that she had just offered me - that my pain could actually
be used for a good and noble purpose. It was so intriguing, that
I was momentarily stunned. I asked, "Is that possible?"
She replied, "We know nothing about life, Susan. It is, and
always will be, a mystery. Anything is possible." Suddenly
my entire world changed in a flash, for the better. The very idea
that pain could have a positive result in the world, that it was
not at all useless, and that I might be able to take away someone
else's pain, inspired me deeply and completely reframed my relationship
to my illness.
"Where would this person be?" I asked her quickly.
My mother laughed, and shaking her head, said she didn't know.
I replied, "Could it be a little girl in China?" As
a child myself, I was trying to think of the most distant culture
I could conjure up - in my mind's eye I saw a girl about my age,
with shiny black hair made up in braids, in pink Chinese printed
silk. She nodded, "Why not?" She said she had to go
downstairs to start making lunch but that we could talk about
this more later. She gave me an epiphany I would embrace forever.
It would take years for me to fully understand the scope of the
idea she had suggested to me. Now I realize she was right (as
always) - I feel could never write in the compassionate way that
some say I do, had I not suffered myself during much most of my
life My columns appear in ten different countries of the world
each month (translated) and I am working on my tenth book that
will appear in many languages, including my latest, in Chinese.
My mother was always prophetic.
I had to beg her to teach me astrology - she refused dozens of
times. I simply wanted to know if all the physical therapy would
work, and if I had a good chance of ever walking again. It took
about 18 months of constant begging her to teach me, to get her
to relent. She told me "astrology is not a parlor game -
it is real and it is serious. It will require you study with
me for 12 years, with absolutely no reading for friends in that
time. (I reminded her that not being a student in high school
meant I had no friends. I lived home, had a big metal brace on
my leg, and was not going anywhere.) She finally agreed.
My mother told me we would study astrology, but also philosophy
and religion. We would study how to communicate clearly as well,
for she was concerned not only about saying the wrong thing, but
also about my saying the right thing the wrong way - and hence,
leaving the wrong impression, just as bad. Later, when I was to
become known in the field, she said, "I wish I could have
written books and columns. It was not to be in my day." I
assured her that I was simply writing her books and columns FOR
her: "Little Mom, all that I say, and all that I know, is
from you - these are truly your books. I am simply writing them
down for you."
She taught me the essence of love. Her love for my father survived
his death two decades ago. My mother had a remarkable habit of
talking clearly in her sleep. Her present day aid of six years,
Annie, would occasionally tape those nightly episodes so we could
hear what she had to say. Nearly every night for years, in her
sleep she would talk about her need to rush home to cook, to set
the table, and prepare a meal for father. I recently listened
to some of Annie's tapes of my mother's nocturnal "meetings"
with my father in her dreams.
Her conversation with my father might have centered on a world
event, the motions of the stock market, or about the new law that
was coming before Congress. (My mother's mind chewed on weighty
subjects). At other times, she would talk in her dreams about
her four grandchildren or other family members. It was her way
of digesting the things she heard and wanted to think about a
bit more, and those dreams also seemed to serve the purpose of
remaining close to my father.
Who is to say she did not have a mysterious window to the unknown,
a way of reaching my father each night as she dreamed? As
she used to say, we know so little of life, why we are here and
what we must do while we are here. She always said the ways of
life are mysterious, and she would remind me that we were but
soldiers of God, awaiting our next assignment. She always encouraged
me, even as a child, to begin thinking early about why I felt
I was born, and how I could make my best contribution to the world,
on a little or big scale. One was not necessarily better than
the other. She never sought fame (although I think I did give
her a measure of that), but she did strive to be the best she
could be, and to give all to us, her family.
She lived her life generously and showed me we could always give
to others, even when we had very little of our own to give. When
my father and my mother heard of someone old in the neighborhood
who needed to move because the rent had become too high or because
the building was coming down, they would go out of their way to
find that neighbor or customer a new apartment. I was 20 and just
graduated from NYU and looking for my own place, but my parents
kept giving away choice, affordable apartments to everyone who
needed a new place.
I finally say to them, "What about me, can't you help me?"
My mother and father would remind me the person they had helped
was old, or in pain, and they were more deserving of their help.
I actually found their reasoning touching and irrefutable, and
finally went out and found my first apartment on my own, also
in the same neighborhood,
When the poor came into my father's store, who were hungry and
my parents knew could not possibly pay for what they needed, my
mother would put all the food in a bag, and my father would say,
"Let's put this on the tab," knowing full well that
person would never be able to pay, nor would they be expected
to do so. This allowed each person to keep his or her dignity
- and feed a starving family.
My mother always gave my sister and I the most precious gift
a mother has to give - unconditional love and her full attention.
She was never distracted with other things; we were the center
of her world. She made our childhood wonderful, and even though
we were not rich, we were rich in other ways, with the positive,
strong family unit she had created. We adored her and did anything
we could think of to please her. She took care of us when we were
small and we tried to return the love to her when she needed our
help in her advanced age.
I always ended my visits with her by saying what she had always
said to me when I was little, "I love you as high as the
sky (raise my arms up the sky), as wide as the world (and extend
my arms out wide horizontally) and as deep as the ocean (extending
my arms down straight toward the floor)!" Later, when she
lost her hearing due to the antibiotic to cure an earlier bout
of pneumonia, we didn't need the words anymore to our little traditional
goodbye - we simply made those hand signals.
So, Little Mom, if you are watching me today from your spot in
heaven, I will end my little talk about you in the very the same
way we always did, with those little arm gestures. I love you
as high as the sky, as wide as the world, and as deep as the ocean.
It is a love so strong, it will go on forever in my heart, and
in the world. We will miss you, Little Mom.
Almudena Bernabeu is an International Attorney
at the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) in San Francisco.
Bernabeu began working with CJA in early 2002 and played a key
role in putting together the case against Honduran perpetrator
Col. Juan López Grijalba. As an International Attorney,
Almudena focuses primarily on the investigation and preparation
of Latin American cases. These cases include Salvadoran cases
Doe v Saravia, Romagoza et al v. Garcia and Vides Casanova, and
Chavez v. Carranza. Almudena is also a prosecutor in Spain in
the criminal case against former Guatemalan officials responsible
for atrocities committed against civilians during the 1970s and
1980s. Almudena, along with Spanish law professor Manuel Olle,
represents two Spanish citizens who were tortured in Guatemala
during those years. The Rigoberta Menchu Foundation filed the
case in December of 1999. Almudena is an attorney from Spain who
has been working in the fields of human rights and private international
law for the past decade. From 1995-99 in Southern Spain, she worked
in private practice and with two, UNHCR-coordinated non-governmental
organizations on asylum and refugee cases with a focus on clients
from North and Central Africa and the Balkans. She also conducted
numerous trainings for asylum lawyers and published several articles
on reforms to Spanish asylum and refugee law after the Schengen
agreements. Throughout the 1990s, Almudena worked pro bono on
asylum and human rights cases for Amnesty International-Spain.
She also researched and investigated cases heard by the European
Court for Human Rights. She has a particular interest in the work
of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. She is
a graduate of the Faculty of International Law, Universidad de
Sequoyah Trueblood: On the Mamos & the Sacred Law of Origin
“I define spirit as the mind of God
in motion here on Mother Earth.”
Sequoyah Trueblood (in Mack, 1999)
Sequoyah Trueblood was born in the USA on December 15, 1940
to a German-English mother and Native American father. He is a
blood member of the Choctaw nation, with Cherokee and Chickasaw
roots. Sequoyah has lived a remarkable life, overcoming a background
of abuse and cultural deprivation, combat in Vietnam as a Green
beret and special intelligence forces, drug involvement and incarceration.
After a period of healing, transformation and recovery of his
spiritual roots, Sequoyah has been of service in embodying the
heart doctrine, while living with and learning from aboriginal
peoples, in performing sacred ceremonies, and conducting healing
circles with diverse groups in Canada, the United States and Japan.
As a pipe carrier, Sequoyah conducts healing circles and traditional
ceremonies to remind us of “the one Ceremony,” which
is life itself, and of the sacredness of all things. The pipe,
composed of a stem representing the masculine and a bowl representing
the feminine, embodies the ancient teachings about the male and
female principles within all of creation. The pipe reminds us
that as men and women, we need to balance and harmonize these
energies and principles within ourselves, moderating aggression
and negativity, and learning respect for nature and life. Sequoyah
talks of healing the pain and suffering that exist within human
consciousness and the heart, so that humankind can remember themselves,
their origins and the Creator. Humans live out of harmony with
nature and consequently experience great suffering and conflict.
This diminishes the quality of human life and threatens the future
of society, and the larger ecology of the living earth.
In accord with the native tradition, the land of the Americas
and material reality is Turtle Island. The aboriginal teachings
are required in order that humankind learn to live in harmony
with each other and in balance with mother nature, so as to honour
the sacredness of Turtle Island. Sequoyah explains that humans
have turned one hundred and eighty degrees away from the light
of the creator and the original teachings, and do not know who
they are or their true origins. Humans live in fear–conditioned
by suffering, anger and negative emotions–all of which arise
from not knowing self and the Creator. Humans’ minds are
always in judgment of one another, rather than in being in heart
relationship, with tolerance and thankfulness. Sequoyah has been
instructed in spirit to help humans experience a necessary “polar
shift in consciousness and mind”–to turn around within
themselves so as to once again experience the Creator. From a
psyche polarised around false ego, the individual can awaken to
deeper spiritual realizations of Self. Humans can remember who
they are as “loving children of the Divine loving Creator,”
who originate from a realm of spirit and higher dimensions.
Since 1999, Sequoyah has spent periods of time with the aboriginal
tribes of northern Columbia, where he was introduced to the ways
and teachings of the Mamos, the spiritual elders of these original
peoples. The Mamos claim to be the “Elders Brothers”
of both “Younger Brother”-“hermanos menores,”–the
tribes of the area, and of the “very little brothers”–the
diminutive “hermanitos menores,” the mass of humanity
on planet earth. The Mamos maintain that the mountains of Sierra
Nevada de Santa Marta are a sacred planetary site, and, in fact,
the “Heart of the World.” The four tribes located
there embody the four chambers of the heart, related to the four
directions and elements of nature. The mamos, the spiritual elders
to the tribes, are said to serve to maintain and sustain the heartbeat
and life activities of the larger planet. They carry this out
through continual cycles of prayer, meditation and activities
within the realm of spirit. Sequoyah’s accounts of meetings
with the Mamos and native peoples attest to the mysterious powers,
claims and practices of these adepts or elder brothers.
Sequoyah explains that as guardians of humanity: “the
mamos ... are not born of this Earth. They were transferred here
from other Planets to care for the internal engine, the motor
that drives the space-ship Earth.” (1999) Through visions,
teachings on the inner planes and direct experience, Sequoyah
learned of the para-normal faculties of the Mamos, who are said
to work directly within the world of spirit, communicate telepathically,
travel out of body and through higher dimensions. The mamas are
the spiritual leaders of this sacred Earth site, the heart of
the world. The origins of this region are tied further to the
dissolution of Atlantis, and the earlier unknown history of humanity.
The term mamos also refers to the sun, which is a realm of spiritual
illumination. The mamos work within the realm of “aluna,”
the world of light,“interacting with the ocean of spirit
that is all life.” (Ereira, 1991) The Mamos’s messages
to Sequoyah concern the healing of the planet and human hearts,
and the extra-dimensional origins of life and creation.
During periods among the Kogi and Mamos, Sequoyah was instructed
in the Natural Law of Origin and asked to communicate this teaching
to the outside world at this critical time in human history. This
is the Mamos’ ancient teaching about the origin of life
and creation. According to the sacred Law of Origin, in the beginning,
a light emerged from the Womb of Creation, the mystical mother.
This light carried a heartbeat and was connected to the breath
of life. From the Womb of Creation, the light passed into the
sun, and then into the earth, and then into humankind. Thus, humans,
in the innermost dimensions of their being, embody the same light
and heartbeat which emerge from the Womb of Creation.
Sequoyah explains that, by experiencing the necessary polar shift
in consciousness and mind, humans, within the inner cosmos of
consciousness, can pass beyond the realm of judgment and negativity
and experience directly the worlds of spirit and the nature of
the Creator. Sequoyah depicts the triune nature of the Creator,
as being of the spirit of niawenhko’wa (great blessings
or thankfulness), konnoronhkhwako’wa (the great love), and
skennen’ko’wa (the great peace). The great blessings,
love and peace are connected to the light, breath and heartbeat
emerging from within the Womb of Creation. By ceremony , prayer
and thankfulness, humans can turn around within themselves, face
the Creator and experience the extra-dimensional nature of their
Sequoyah embodies the heart doctrine and elaborates the ancient
teachings of the Mamos and native peoples. Humankind have a far
more mysterious nature and history than little brother imagines
in their minds full of judgments, absorbed in sufferings, conflict
and life asleep. In this view, we are ourselves extra-terrestrials,
as the light of consciousness and the heartbeat are from the Creator
and the mystical Womb of Creation. These life forces well up within
us, as they similarly emerge from the Heart of the World, and
pervade all of sacred life.
"No matter what, we can choose
My journey, chronicled in my book Hiroshima:
Bridge to Forgiveness, has been long, difficult, and
inextricably linked to the seeming opposites of hatred and love.
My "path" of Hiroshima has taught me this most important
lesson: Those who have lost the most in war are also the ones
who have the most to gain by putting aside feelings of revenge
--going beyond our own cocoon, learning to forgive and making
peace with our own painful past. In my path from Hiroshima, conflicts
have shaped and redirected me, today allowing me to express my
love and gratitude for two countries that both nurtured and wounded
In my long and difficult journey toward
manhood, I buried my Father. The lot of an orphan in Japan's
family-centric society is often miserable and I struggled
to survive. I was "blinded" by my rage, as stupid and
violent as an angry ox. I was a reminder that Japan lost the War,
and grew up in an atmosphere of contempt, shame and guilt in the
rubble of postwar Japan.
I began by seeking revenge for the death
of my father but found [an] inner battle was raging inside of
me --seeming opposites of hatred and love that brought me to the
present, ultimately finding a rite of passage created through
forgiveness. My life story demonstrates how a heart twisted by
hatred and revenge can be transformed by forgiveness, evolving
to a path of peaceful wisdom and the essential work of healing
It is my firm belief when we are able
to conquer the raging war in our own hearts, one forgiving heart-at-a-time,
what Japanese people call KOKORO NO YASURAGI-YUTORI, this inner
transformation is much more powerful than any atomic weapon or
war in shifting the world toward peace. My message is clear and
simple: Instead of resorting to violence, war or endless cycles
of revenge, humankind must learn to forgive, to reconcile and
make peace with its former enemies --whoever they
are! Victory over conflict hinges on the individual,
who must conquer the raging war in his or her own darkest heart.
I have been interviewed many times by prominent newspapers and
television producers. Always, these reporters have reported their
details of the story of destruction; always they have left on
the cutting room floor Takashi's most important story of all:
FORGIVENESS. No matter what, we can choose to
forgive; and I believe each one of us is part of the solution.
I am now in my 70's and a resident of Berkeley, California.
I live with my guide dog, Yuki, who is my second guide dog.
Takashi Tanemori, son of a noble Samurai family, is
currently writing his second book, "The Urban Samurai".
Takashi founded the Silkworm Peace Institute. He is also
and a poet.
Peace is not a field of flowers. Its
Despite personal tragedy, Aqeela Sherrills
seeks peace on the mean streets of Los Angeles.
By Tijn Touber
There are seals swimming in the bay in front of the hotel where
Aqeela Sherrills is staying. The sun is struggling to chase away
threads of mist hanging over the San Francisco hills in the distance.
The hotel lobby smells of fresh coffee and pancakes. The sense
of serenity that dominates this morning in Tiburon, an upscale
town across the bay from San Francisco, in no way resembles the
place where Sherrills comes from: a rough gang-dominated district
of Los Angeles. In that place, youre asking for trouble
if you hit the street without packing some means of self-defence.
Its estimated that over the past 20 years, at least 10,000
murders have been committed in these Los Angeles neighbourhoods.
Thats far more than all the victims of the conflict in Northern
But Sherrills has managed to accomplish what has eluded negotiators
in many international conflicts: getting two rival, violent groups
to the negotiating table and then making sure that the terms of
the ceasefire agreement stick. Ultimately, the Crips and the Bloods
signed an honest-to-God peace treaty. Sherrills then created an
entire structure involving 80 people dedicated to safeguarding
the terms of the treaty and teaching the gang members self-respect
and life skills. The treaty, signed in 1992, continues
for the most part to be upheld and has become an example to other
cities. But this is just the beginning for Sherrills. I
expect that the next major peace movement will come from these
neighbourhoods, he says.
The baggy sweater Sherrills wears this morning cannot hide his
muscles, important for self-protection as a young man. He doesnt
need to fight today, but his eyes remain watchful. Sherrills is
no longer fighting with others, or with himself. He is fighting
deeply-ingrained patterns and prejudices: poverty, racism and
feelings of inferiority. They are so deeply-rooted that most people
dont see them and even fewer dare to name them. Black
folks hate themselves, Sherrills says plainly. And
they feel inferior. White folks have been conditioned to feel
superior. Its so deeply rooted that its subtle; people
dont even see it most of the time. But its there,
and it really needs to be addressed. The problems of violence
arent limited to American ghettos, theyre everywhere.
And if theres someone who can point out these problems and
has found a solution to them, it is Sherrills.
Watts was one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Los Angeles when
Aqeela Sherrills was born there 35 years ago. The area was split
in two by railroad tracks. One side was the territory of the Bloods
and the other belonged to the Crips. Conflicts over territory
and drugs were fought out on the street using state-of-the-art
weapons. Executions and drive-by shootings were daily occurrences.
In the early 1980s, Sherrills was just a kid at the time gang
violence in American ghettos started to escalate.
Sherrills grew up as the youngest of 10 children surrounded by
this horrific backdrop of violence. But in Watts, children never
stay young for long. Sherrills had his first son when he was 14.
That same year, his best friend, also 14, was shot to death. Sherrills
looks back, I went completely crazy. We wanted revenge and
we hit the streets. Fighting. Shooting. Robbing. By the
time he was 16, 13 of his friends had already died in gunfire
between the Bloods and the Crips.
The subculture of American gang life is dominated by violence
and drugs. But its more than that. It is also where fantastic
music, dance and clothing styles are created, which have a major
impact on global pop culture. Just watching MTV for a half-hour
makes it clear that gang culture has become hip. This makes Sherrills
laugh. Its cool now to say you come from a ghetto.
When I was young it wasnt so cool; most of us wanted to
get out as quickly as possible.
But Sherrills eventually pulled back from the gang life. Fantasy
is what saved him. Together with my brothers and sisters
I fantasized a lot about a better world, he remembers. My
parents werent home much and we would tell each other never
ending stories. It usually started with a Chinese master who gave
us supernatural powers. We used those super powers to make the
world a better place. Those stories made me trust, at a young
age, that another world was possible and that I could do something
about it. I knew I was destined to do something big. I just didnt
Sherrills oldest sister was the first to get out of the
neighbourhood. She was accepted to college and moved on campus.
This sister had always been a major inspiration to Sherrillsalbeit
because she was the one who always told the best stories. With
her help, Sherrills also got into college when he was 18, where
he studied electrical engineering. It appeared to be his ticket
out of the violence in his neighbourhood.
Initially, Sherrills didnt want to return home, even on
weekends. Although he didnt show too much interest in his
studies, he hung around campus. His first year was mostly spent
partying and dating lots of girls. But that summer, something
happened that changed Sherrills life. He read a book entitled
The Evidence of Things Not Seen by eminent African American writer
James Baldwin. The book describes what Baldwin saw as a plot against
black people, involving the shipment of drugs and guns into poor
neighbourhoods with drugs and weapons. The idea was,
Baldwin wrote: let the black people kill each other off. I was
furious and wanted to warn my brothers, Sherrills recalls.
Sherrills joined the Nation of Islam, an American spiritual black
separatist movement. When he rejoined his fellow students after
the summer, some didnt recognize him. He had lost 35 pounds
(15 kilos) and had given up alcohol, drugs, cigarettes and sex.
As befits a devout Muslim, he prayed five times a day. Meanwhile,
he began acting as a kind of Robin Hood, stealing money from drug
dealers and giving it to the neighbourhoods poor.
The big task for which Sherrill was destined, started to take
shape. He continued to pay little attention to his studies; he
wanted instead to go back to the hood and help his
brothers break out of the vicious circle of drugs and violence.
Sherrills organized gatherings for fellow students around the
theme of defending black rights. He reminded his fellow black
students of their roots-People died so you could go
to college!but he didnt get many to the point
of returning to the ghetto they came from. They simply didnt
want to be associated with their old neighbourhood, Sherrills
discovered, and he slowly turned bitter.
Sherrills continued to have run-ins with the law and even landed
in jail once for physically resisting a police officer who was
beating on him. But what transformed Sherrill into a peace activist
was not being arrested, joining Islam, or reading Baldwin, but
by the love of a woman. Before my celibacy stint,
he explains, I had a girlfriend: Lisa. I was crazy about
her, but very insecure about myself. I thought I was ugly and
couldnt believe that she really wanted me. I couldnt
handle her love and cheated on herto break up the relationship
and to prove that I was right. But I regretted it so much that
for the first time in my life I did something noble: I confessed
That confession had a miraculous effect. He suddenly saw the world
through different eyes. Before that I didnt trust
anyone, Sherrills explains. If things werent
going well for me there was always someone I could blame. Now
I was looking at myself for the first time in my life. It was
as if spirit came into me, as if I had become a new person.
This rebirth gave Sherrills the wings and courage he needed to
go into his neighbourhood with a few friends with the aim of making
peace. He talked, discussed and listened on every street corner
to members of the Crips and the Bloods. That was in 1989. A short
time later, Sherrills got help from an American football legend,
Jim Brown, who made his house in the Hollywood hills available
as a neutral place where members of various gangs could meet.
Sherrills looks back on those early days: We held six meetings
involving hundreds of cats from different neighbourhoods. We couldnt
bring off a ceasefire, but relations got better and better.
Brown was generous enough to donate a monthly sum so that Sherrills
and his buddies could rent a retail space and take their activities
to the next level. The cooperation with Brown led to the founding
of the Amer-I-Can project, which offers a program for life
skills. Sherrills explains, Jim had been offering
this program to prisoners for awhile. It teaches you to develop
self-respect, solve conflicts, create a life vision, make decisionsthat
kind of thing. Sherrills followed the program himself and
started giving lessons, something he would do for the next 11
Browns fame, combined with Sherrills street credibility,
turned out to be a golden formula for getting the unique peace
process off the ground. But it remained a tall order; after all,
how do you get young men who consistently confuse the concepts
of forgiveness and revenge to take a seat
around a negotiation table? Sherrills: Its not magic.
Its a step-by-step process. Its about communication.
I appeal to their deepest feelings. I try to touch their heart,
so that each of them can get back in touch with their humanity.
This process is based on relationships and cannot be motivated
by anything but love. We simply talk about the important things
in life: what makes people happy or sad, what are we afraid of,
what can we do better? That kind of thing. Again and again it
becomes clear that we ultimately believe in the same things.
In 1992, Sherrills finally sees a breakthrough: the Crips and
the Bloods sign a historic treaty. Sherrills describes that amazing
day this way: Everyone was happy, grandmothers were crying,
everyone was calling each other, for the first time fathers were
able to visit their children on the other side of the railroad
tracks Everyone was so excited. It totally changed the quality
of our lives.
After this success in Los Angeles, there was no stopping the
initiative. What started out locally, expanded into an international
organization active in 15 cities. At the highpoint of his peace
activities, Sherrills Community Self-Determination Institute
had 80 employees and its budget included $ 3 million U.S. (2.3
million euros) in government subsidies. For three and a half years,
he lived like an urban nomad travelling from ghetto to ghetto
to initiate peace negotiations and exact a ceasefire. The success
of Sherrills approach is partly due to the fact that he
does more than just treat the symptoms of gang violence. He wants
to tackle the problem at its roots. Violence on the streets
is a symptom of a deeper problem, he notes. As long
as there is poverty, we will never have peace. Poverty destroys
families, neighbourhoods, countries.
Sherrills doesnt see the problems of violence and despair
as confined to gang areas. In fact there is no difference
between what goes on in Watts or in Beverly Hills. The emotional
pain that people experience is expressed in Watts by murder and
in Beverly Hills by suicide. Sherrills then reveals a staggering
statistic: Last year there were more suicides than murders
in greater Los Angeles.
Sherrills shifts effortlessly between street slang and clearly
formulated spiritual and political statements. His charismatic
energy is both tough and loving. You can just as easily imagine
him both on a street corner in the ghetto and in a meeting with
top level government officials.
Sherrills approach works, in part because he speaks the
language of the street. I honestly love my neighbourhood
and my brothers, he remarks. There is so much beauty,
so much talent. Sometimes in the roughest places, you find the
most beauty. Aside from the violence, there are few other places
in California where you find so much sense of community. That
gang feeling is a part of it; it was always there, even before
the violence escalated. A gang is like a kind of surrogate family.
For young men, fighting is a way to be initiated. You cant
give up a gang without replacing it with something else. You have
to keep them intact and help the members start living according
to new values.
The problem Sherrills runs into time and time again is the marginalization
and criminalization of gang members. The word gang
member is a way of dehumanizing someone. When someone gets
killed people say: Oh well, it was a gang member.
But that gang member was someones son, friend or loved one.
The perception is that people in these neighbourhoods are hardened
against this type of grief. Thats not true. They are deeply
wounded and use this way to express it.
Nearly everyone in South Central Los Angeles is suffering from
a kind of post-traumatic stress, Sherrills believes. We
have got to address our own illnesses. How? You have to take a
step back and look at the issue from a more fundamental perspective.
In order to be able to do that, the heart has to be bust open.
We try to do everything in life to keep our hearts from being
broken. But there is so much beauty in having a broken heart -theres
pain, but you discover things in yourself that you never thought
And then in 2004 came the horrible test of Sherrills beliefs.
His oldest son, 18-year-old Terrell Sherrills, is shot while on
vacation visiting his father in Watts. Terrell had gone out to
a party with a friend, and around midnight a few gang members
arrive. Terrell is shot in the back and dies a short time later
in the hospital.
Terrell led a peaceful life, says Sherrills. He
didnt have anything to do with gang violence. He was in
college and was very popularand not only with the girls.
He came with me sometimes when I did my work. It was a huge blow.
He falls silent for a moment, showing that none of us can ever
defend ourselves against this pain. No one gets used to murder.
Sherrills says he had no choice but to choose love over revenge.
Its not about who killed my son, but what killed him:
a culture with no respect for life. I am not surrendering his
life to death, but reclaiming it and giving it new meaning.
The man who killed Terrell has not yet been caught. When that
happens, Sherrills wants to talk with him and his parents. I
want to ask them what kind of pain drove the guy to commit this
act. When did he become disillusioned? Where did it go wrong?
Of course, my sons killer deserves to be punished, but mainly
I want to keep him alive. I want to invest in him towards a better
future for us all. My dream is still that children can grow up
in Watts safely and without fear.
The main problem the United States is struggling with is that
it is a country built around violence, according to Sherrill.
We can be angry with George Bush, but hes doing just
what his predecessors did. We have to wake up to our culture.
We have killed millions of indigenous people. Our foreign policy
still means death for millions around the world. We can say Bush
is evil, but we are evil. We are trapped in a culture based on
Sherrills sees the same thing in his neighbourhood of Watts.
The treaty continues to be upheld, but not without problems and
obstacles. Sherrill says, When two brothers have problems
with each other, everyone joins forces to take revenge. The treaty
is broken!, they shout. But I say: Wait a minute: a certain
person has a problem with someone else. Thats their problem,
not all of ours. I believe that conflicts are healthy, but
you have to learn to deal with them in a constructive way.
Peace is a process, not a destination, Sherrills
continues. Peace is not a utopian field of flowers you parade
through together. Its hard work. Sometimes the peacemakers
lose their lives. The point is that we continually return to the
peace talks and solve the problems. And were getting one
step closer all the time.
Sherrills work in various U.S. cities has made him an authority.
Not only in the eyes of government officials and peace organizations,
but gang members as well. Its becoming increasingly easy
to go into problem areas and start peace negotiations. Sherrills:
Weve been given a kind of carte blanche to go into
the neighbourhoods. Within a few days we have an idea of who is
playing what role in the community and whats going on. Then
we make contact with the key figures to reach a ceasefire.
When the peace treaty in Watts had been in place, and mostly
followed, for 10 years, Sherrills launched a 10-year plan entitled
The Passage to Peace to completely put an end to gang violence.
We appointed key figures in neighbourhoods to keep the peace
in their community. We make people responsible for their own neighbourhood,
for their own problems. I say: I dont want to move
to a better neighbourhood. This is a better neighbourhood.
Instead of seeing it as a ghetto, we have to see the beauty and
the potential. We have to get together; then we have a chance.
Sherrills conveys that same message at conferences and seminars
where he is invited to speak. Whether its environment
movements, peace movements or cultural creative movements, they
all want the same thing: respect for life. My suggestion would
be to get together and create one big movement I would call Reverence
Movement. After all, the violence we inflict on ourselves and
one another is the same violence we are using to destroy the planet.
If every movement continues to treat the symptoms, we wont
get anywhere. Were only wasting time and energy.
We have to create a culture where authentic emotions are
allowed to be expressed. That would create a real release. If
the head of the Los Angeles police department would apologize
for the injustice we have suffered under the guise of justice,
it would create a landslide. If George Bush would apologize for
the slavery in this country, it would give so much release. You
can only conquer hate with love.
The hotel lobby has now filled up with people coming to attend
the conference in which Sherrills is participating. Every few
minutes someone gives him a hug. The conference is set to begin.
Weve only spent one morning together, but it feels like
a couple of days. For Sherrills, this intense solidarity has become
a way of life. He has learned that every meeting can be the last
and that every strong connection between people can set something
major in motion. The meetings he has are seldom informal. There
is usually a lot at stake. The intensity of his presence can mean
the difference between forgiveness and revenge, between war and
Outside, the seals are still swimming happily. The wisps of fog
hanging over San Francisco in the distance have cleared. The impressive
Golden Gate bridge sparkles in the sun, a symbol of American accomplishment.
This is a country where newcomers founded a culture that became
an example to the worlda model of freedom, democracy and
limitless possibilities. Aqeela Sherrills stands squarely in that
American tradition. He, too, is working to establish a new culturea
culture promoting reverence for life.
For more information about the Community Self-Determination
Institute: 9101 South Hooper Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90002, USA,
telephone +1 323 586 8791, www.wattsrecords.com,
Her tale was brutal, sexual. No one believed
a slave woman could be so literate. But now Harriet Jacobs
has reclaimed her name.
Harriet Jacobs wrote a slave narrative, thought
to be the obscure work of a white writer until two decades
Annie Nakao, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
"Pity me, and pardon me, O virtuous reader! You never knew
what it is like to be a slave; to be entirely unprotected by law
or custom; to have the laws reduce you to the condition of a chattel,
entirely subject to the will of another. You never exhausted your
ingenuity in avoiding the snares, and eluding the power of a hated
tyrant; you never shuddered at the sound of his footsteps, and
trembled within hearing of his voice."
When North Carolina slave Harriet Jacobs penned those words in
"Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl," a book she
self-published in 1861, she became the first black woman to write
a slave narrative. As recently as two decades ago, the book was
considered an obscure literary oddity written by white abolitionist
Lydia Maria Child. Today, with Jacobs' authorship authenticated,
her dramatic narrative provides new generations with a revealing
look at a often-hidden side of slavery: the sexual exploitation
The brutalization of black girls and women by white slave-masters,
who justified their dehumanizing treatment by viewing them as
"sexual savages," was a daily fact of life under slavery.
Stripped, beaten, raped and forced to "breed" more slaves,
black women suffered a double burden of slavery because of their
"Jacobs wrote what nobody dared to write," said literary
scholar Jean Fagan Yellin, 73, who toiled for six years to uncover
the identity of Jacobs as the true author of the book in the late
1980s. Yellin has recently published a biography of Jacobs, titled
"Harriet Jacobs, A Life," and is working on publishing
Jacobs' papers. A PBS series, "Slavery and the Making of
America," now in production, will also feature Jacobs' story.
The growing recognition now given to Jacobs is long overdue,
said Arnold Rampersad, Stanford University professor of literature
and noted biographer of such African American figures as W.E.B.
Du Bois and Langston Hughes.
"It's a very important slave narrative because it takes
into account directly the experience of being a woman in slavery,"
said Rampersad. "It raises the question of whether slavery
was worse for women than it was for men, which was not really
talked about much."
Slave narratives have been a critical part of the telling of
African American history. But unlike other narratives dictated
to others by illiterate slaves, Jacobs' own eloquent recounting
of her remarkable life -- she hid for seven years in an attic
to escape her white slave master before escaping north and becoming
an anti-slavery activist who wrote dispatches for famed abolitionist
William Lloyd Garrison's the Liberator -- makes her, in Yellin's
view, as heroic a figure as 19th century African American giants
Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman.
"We know of the heroic Harriet Tubman and her work during
the war as a Union spy," Yellin wrote in Jacobs' biography.
"We know of the heroic Sojourner Truth and of her relief
efforts. But because of slavery's anti- literacy laws, neither
Tubman nor Truth could write her own story. ... Astonishingly,
Jacobs managed both to author her own book and to get it published
Beneath the soaring atrium of the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero --
she'd recently addressed the American Literature Association in
San Francisco on the Jacobs papers -- Yellin, a small woman with
short gray hair and deep-set brown eyes, looked even tinier. But
she had an air of a woman used to plowing ahead, which probably
served her well in the years she, a lone white academic, spent
poring over an obscure slave narrative that few other scholars
seemed to care about.
"Listen, my hair was a different color when I started on
this years ago," quipped Yellin, a professor emerita at New
York's Pace University, where she taught English for 30 years.
It was her Irish Catholic father's and Jewish immigrant mother's
Old Left influences and the changing times that sparked an interest
in what she called "the nontraditional" and "oppositional."
"In the 1960s, the civil rights movement influenced everybody.
So I started looking at things I could study that made sense in
terms of the changes going on in the country."
While researching her dissertation on black figures in American
literature, she came across Jacobs' narrative, which at the time
was published under the pseudonym Linda Brent. She was fascinated.
But it wasn't until the feminist movement of the 1970s that Yellin
went back to "Incidents" as she tried to draw connections
between race and gender.
"At the time, nobody was interested because the book makes
people uncomfortable," she said. "It tells the terrible
story of sexual exploitation."
Yet from abolitionist times, many of the details of that history
remain veiled. White anti-slavery advocates avoided the topic
so they wouldn't shock their Victorian audiences. And despite
the handing down of stories of sexual oppression over generations
of black families and the now substantial body of eloquent writings
by black female authors about the struggles of women during slavery,
the magnitude of the sexual exploitation of millions of black
women slaves remains muted.
Reminders are unavoidable as revelations surface that the late
senator and segregationist Strom Thurmond at age 22 fathered a
child with a 16-year- old black maid who worked for his parents,
or that one of the fathers of our country, Thomas Jefferson, also
sired a child with his slave, Sally Hemings. Poles apart when
it comes to their places in history, Jefferson and Thurmond were
nevertheless participants in a system of sexual oppression that
for Jefferson was codified in the law of the land, and for Thurmond
was a vestige of social custom.
Central to that system of oppression was the centuries-old perceived
sexual availability of black women that even today fosters stereotypes
and assumptions about their sexuality.
"The whole myth of black women's sexuality, availability
and compliance is ingrained into the culture," Yellin said.
The issue surfaces in complicated ways -- provoking, for example,
uneasiness among some African Americans about Halle Berry's Oscar
win two years ago for "Monster's Ball." There was happiness
that a black woman finally won as best actress but pain that her
highly sexualized role was viewed as stereotypical.
It's there, too, in the anger of some blacks about the criticism
heaped on Janet Jackson earlier this year after Justin Timberlake
ripped her bodice during a Super Bowl performance and exposed
her right breast. Granted, this is a woman who, like many other
female entertainers, black and white, is marketed for her sexually
suggestive persona. Yet, would an equally suggestive Madonna have
received more sympathy?
"I'm not a student of popular culture, but that does seem
reasonable," Yellin said. "The fact is, there's a public
role out there and someone walks into it."
That public role, she said, stems directly from chattel slavery,
which used rape as a form of terror against every black woman,
Born in 1813, Jacobs lived a peaceful childhood until she turned
13 and her mistress, who had taught her to read and write, died.
She was willed to the baby daughter of an Edenton, N.C., doctor
named James Norcom.
Norcom, a tyrant who had already had 11 children by other slaves,
quickly began stalking Jacobs as a sexual prize. He did not rape
her but constantly harassed and threatened her about having sex
and even had a cottage built for that purpose far from the house.
"He told me I was his property; that I must be subjected
to his will in all things," she wrote.
That she was not raped was unusual, given that slave masters
either bribed their slaves with extra rations or better treatment
for their children, or beat or starved them into submission.
"That always comes up -- why didn't he rape her?" Yellin
said. "I am told that there are men who want acquiescence.
But that's not the issue. It's that she resisted him, defied him."
To escape Norcom, Jacobs -- ironically -- used her sexuality
to find a protector in a white lawyer with a higher social standing,
with whom she had two children.
"At 15, she was no fool," Yellin said. "She chose
the lesser of two evils. "
Yet she was later haunted by her choice. Years later, it pained
her to reveal her story to her activist friends. Determined, in
her words, to "try and be useful in some way," however,
Jacobs wrote the book, using the pseudonym.
Still pursued by the doctor, who remained her owner, Jacobs hid
in a tiny crawl space in her grandmother's attic for nearly seven
years before escaping north. Her two children eventually joined
her. Even in New York, the doctor and later his heirs continued
their search for years, until an abolitionist friend finally bought
Jacobs became an anti-slavery activist and Civil War relief worker
and correspondent for Garrison. She also opened a school for free
blacks in Alexandria, Va.
After she died in 1897, Jacobs was largely forgotten and her
book given short shrift by critics who discounted the work as
"Some of us say those critics were unable to accept the
idea of a literate black woman held in slavery," Yellin said.
Nearly 107 years after Jacobs died, Yellin had the satisfaction
of having the listed author of "Incidents in the Life of
a Slave Girl" changed to Jacobs at the Library of Congress.
"I wanted her to be there, in American cultural history,"
Jacobs was a large presence in Yellin's life as well.
"I have lived with Harriet Jacobs for a very long time and
am eager to get her presence out of my head, her papers out of
my house and her story into the hands of readers," she wrote
on the preface of her biography. "But I truly cannot imagine
life without her."
Harriet Tubman was a runaway slave from Maryland who became known
as the "Moses of her people." Over the course of 10
years, and at great personal risk, she led hundreds of slaves
to freedom along the Underground Railroad, a secret network of
safe houses where runaway slaves could stay on their journey north
to freedom. She later became a leader in the abolitionist movement,
and during the Civil War she was a spy for the federal forces
in South Carolina as well as a nurse.
LAST JANUARY thousands of us from across the world gathered in
Porto Allegre in Brazil and declared reiterated
that "Another World is Possible". A few thousand miles
north, in Washington, George Bush and his aides were thinking
the same thing.
Our project was the World Social Forum. Theirs to further
what many call The Project for the New American Century.
In the great cities of Europe and America, where a few years
ago these things would only have been whispered, now people are
openly talking about the good side of Imperialism and the need
for a strong Empire to police an unruly world. The new missionaries
want order at the cost of justice. Discipline at the cost of dignity.
And ascendancy at any price. Occasionally some of us are invited
to `debate' the issue on `neutral' platforms provided by the corporate
media. Debating Imperialism is a bit like debating the pros and
cons of rape. What can we say? That we really miss it?
In any case, New Imperialism is already upon us. It's a remodelled,
streamlined version of what we once knew. For the first time in
history, a single Empire with an arsenal of weapons that could
obliterate the world in an afternoon has complete, unipolar, economic
and military hegemony. It uses different weapons to break open
different markets. There isn't a country on God's earth that is
not caught in the cross hairs of the American cruise missile and
the IMF chequebook. Argentina's the model if you want to be the
poster-boy of neoliberal capitalism, Iraq if you're the black
Poor countries that are geo-politically of strategic value to
Empire, or have a `market' of any size, or infrastructure that
can be privatized, or, god forbid, natural resources of value
oil, gold, diamonds, cobalt, coal must do as they're
told, or become military targets. Those with the greatest reserves
of natural wealth are most at risk. Unless they surrender their
resources willingly to the corporate machine, civil unrest will
be fomented, or war will be waged. In this new age of Empire,
when nothing is as it appears to be, executives of concerned companies
are allowed to influence foreign policy decisions. The Centre
for Public Integrity in Washington found that nine out of the
30 members of the Defence Policy Board of the U.S. Government
were connected to companies that were awarded defence contracts
for $ 76 billion between 2001 and 2002. George Shultz, former
U.S. Secretary of State, was Chairman of the Committee for the
Liberation of Iraq. He is also on the Board of Directors of the
Bechtel Group. When asked about a conflict of interest, in the
case of a war in Iraq he said, " I don't know that Bechtel
would particularly benefit from it. But if there's work to be
done, Bechtel is the type of company that could do it. But nobody
looks at it as something you benefit from." After the war,
Bechtel signed a $680 million contract for reconstruction in Iraq.
This brutal blueprint has been used over and over again, across
Latin America, Africa, Central and South-East Asia. It has cost
millions of lives. It goes without saying that every war Empire
wages becomes a Just War. This, in large part, is due to the role
of the corporate media. It's important to understand that the
corporate media doesn't just support the neo-liberal project.
It is the neo-liberal project. This is not a moral position it
has chosen to take, it's structural. It's intrinsic to the economics
of how the mass media works.
Most nations have adequately hideous family secrets. So it isn't
often necessary for the media to lie. It's what's emphasised and
what's ignored. Say for example India was chosen as the target
for a righteous war. The fact that about 80,000 people have been
killed in Kashmir since 1989, most of them Muslim, most of them
by Indian Security Forces (making the average death toll about
6000 a year); the fact that less than a year ago, in March of
2003, more than two thousand Muslims were murdered on the streets
of Gujarat, that women were gang-raped and children were burned
alive and a 150,000 people driven from their homes while the police
and administration watched, and sometimes actively participated;
the fact that no one has been punished for these crimes and the
Government that oversaw them was re-elected ... all of this would
make perfect headlines in international newspapers in the run-up
Next we know, our cities will be levelled by cruise missiles,
our villages fenced in with razor wire, U.S. soldiers will patrol
our streets and, Narendra Modi, Pravin Togadia or any of our popular
bigots could, like Saddam Hussein, be in U.S. custody, having
their hair checked for lice and the fillings in their teeth examined
on prime-time TV.
But as long as our `markets' are open, as long as corporations
like Enron, Bechtel, Halliburton, Arthur Andersen are given a
free hand, our `democratically elected' leaders can fearlessly
blur the lines between democracy, majoritarianism and fascism.
Our government's craven willingness to abandon India's proud
tradition of being Non-Aligned, its rush to fight its way to the
head of the queue of the Completely Aligned (the fashionable phrase
is `natural ally' India, Israel and the U.S. are `natural
allies'), has given it the leg room to turn into a repressive
regime without compromising its legitimacy.
A government's victims are not only those that it kills and imprisons.
Those who are displaced and dispossessed and sentenced to a lifetime
of starvation and deprivation must count among them too. Millions
of people have been dispossessed by `development' projects. In
the past 55 years, Big Dams alone have displaced between 33 million
and 55 million people in India. They have no recourse to justice.
In the last two years there has been a series of incidents when
police have opened fire on peaceful protestors, most of them Adivasi
and Dalit. When it comes to the poor, and in particular Dalit
and Adivasi communities, they get killed for encroaching on forest
land, and killed when they're trying to protect forest land from
encroachments by dams, mines, steel plants and other `development'
projects. In almost every instance in which the police opened
fire, the government's strategy has been to say the firing was
provoked by an act of violence. Those who have been fired upon
are immediately called militants.
Across the country, thousands of innocent people including minors
have been arrested under POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) and
are being held in jail indefinitely and without trial. In the
era of the War against Terror, poverty is being slyly conflated
with terrorism. In the era of corporate globalisation, poverty
is a crime. Protesting against further impoverishment is terrorism.
And now, our Supreme Court says that going on strike is a crime.
Criticising the court of course is a crime, too. They're sealing
Like Old Imperialism, New Imperialism too relies for its success
on a network of agents corrupt, local elites who service
Empire. We all know the sordid story of Enron in India. The then
Maharashtra Government signed a power purchase agreement which
gave Enron profits that amounted to sixty per cent of India's
entire rural development budget. A single American company was
guaranteed a profit equivalent to funds for infrastructural development
for about 500 million people!
Unlike in the old days the New Imperialist doesn't need to trudge
around the tropics risking malaria or diahorrea or early death.
New Imperialism can be conducted on e-mail. The vulgar, hands-on
racism of Old Imperialism is outdated. The cornerstone of New
Imperialism is New Racism.
The tradition of `turkey pardoning' in the U.S. is a wonderful
allegory for New Racism. Every year since 1947, the National Turkey
Federation presents the U.S. President with a turkey for Thanksgiving.
Every year, in a show of ceremonial magnanimity, the President
spares that particular bird (and eats another one). After receiving
the presidential pardon, the Chosen One is sent to Frying Pan
Park in Virginia to live out its natural life. The rest of the
50 million turkeys raised for Thanksgiving are slaughtered and
eaten on Thanksgiving Day. ConAgra Foods, the company that has
won the Presidential Turkey contract, says it trains the lucky
birds to be sociable, to interact with dignitaries, school children
and the press. (Soon they'll even speak English!)
That's how New Racism in the corporate era works. A few carefully
bred turkeys the local elites of various countries, a community
of wealthy immigrants, investment bankers, the occasional Colin
Powell, or Condoleezza Rice, some singers, some writers (like
myself) are given absolution and a pass to Frying Pan Park.
The remaining millions lose their jobs, are evicted from their
homes, have their water and electricity connections cut, and die
of AIDS. Basically they're for the pot. But the Fortunate Fowls
in Frying Pan Park are doing fine. Some of them even work for
the IMF and the WTO so who can accuse those organisations
of being anti-turkey? Some serve as board members on the Turkey
Choosing Committee so who can say that turkeys are against
Thanksgiving? They participate in it! Who can say the poor are
anti-corporate globalisation? There's a stampede to get into Frying
Pan Park. So what if most perish on the way?
Part of the project of New Racism is New Genocide. In this new
era of economic interdependence, New Genocide can be facilitated
by economic sanctions. It means creating conditions that lead
to mass death without actually going out and killing people. Dennis
Halliday, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Iraq between '97
and '98 (after which he resigned in disgust), used the term genocide
to describe the sanctions in Iraq. In Iraq the sanctions outdid
Saddam Hussein's best efforts by claiming more than half a million
In the new era, Apartheid as formal policy is antiquated and
unnecessary. International instruments of trade and finance oversee
a complex system of multilateral trade laws and financial agreements
that keep the poor in their Bantustans anyway. Its whole purpose
is to institutionalise inequity. Why else would it be that the
U.S. taxes a garment made by a Bangladeshi manufacturer 20 times
more than it taxes a garment made in the U.K.? Why else would
it be that countries that grow 90 per cent of the world's cocoa
bean produce only 5 per cent of the world's chocolate? Why else
would it be that countries that grow cocoa bean, like the Ivory
Coast and Ghana, are taxed out of the market if they try and turn
it into chocolate? Why else would it be that rich countries that
spend over a billion dollars a day on subsidies to farmers demand
that poor countries like India withdraw all agricultural subsidies,
including subsidised electricity? Why else would it be that after
having been plundered by colonising regimes for more than half
a century, former colonies are steeped in debt to those same regimes,
and repay them some $ 382 billion a year?
For all these reasons, the derailing of trade agreements at Cancun
was crucial for us. Though our governments try and take the credit,
we know that it was the result of years of struggle by many millions
of people in many, many countries. What Cancun taught us is that
in order to inflict real damage and force radical change, it is
vital for local resistance movements to make international alliances.
From Cancun we learned the importance of globalising resistance.
No individual nation can stand up to the project of Corporate
Globalisation on its own. Time and again we have seen that when
it comes to the neo-liberal project, the heroes of our times are
suddenly diminished. Extraordinary, charismatic men, giants in
Opposition, when they seize power and become Heads of State, they
become powerless on the global stage. I'm thinking here of President
Lula of Brazil. Lula was the hero of the World Social Forum last
year. This year he's busy implementing IMF guidelines, reducing
pension benefits and purging radicals from the Workers' Party.
I'm thinking also of ex-President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.
Within two years of taking office in 1994, his government genuflected
with hardly a caveat to the Market God. It instituted a massive
programme of privatisation and structural adjustment, which has
left millions of people homeless, jobless and without water and
Why does this happen? There's little point in beating our breasts
and feeling betrayed. Lula and Mandela are, by any reckoning,
magnificent men. But the moment they cross the floor from the
Opposition into Government they become hostage to a spectrum of
threats most malevolent among them the threat of capital
flight, which can destroy any government overnight. To imagine
that a leader's personal charisma and a c.v. of struggle will
dent the Corporate Cartel is to have no understanding of how Capitalism
works, or for that matter, how power works. Radical change will
not be negotiated by governments; it can only be enforced by people.
This week at the World Social Forum, some of the best minds in
the world will exchange ideas about what is happening around us.
These conversations refine our vision of the kind of world we're
fighting for. It is a vital process that must not be undermined.
However, if all our energies are diverted into this process at
the cost of real political action, then the WSF, which has played
such a crucial role in the Movement for Global Justice, runs the
risk of becoming an asset to our enemies. What we need to discuss
urgently is strategies of resistance. We need to aim at real targets,
wage real battles and inflict real damage. Gandhi's Salt March
was not just political theatre. When, in a simple act of defiance,
thousands of Indians marched to the sea and made their own salt,
they broke the salt tax laws. It was a direct strike at the economic
underpinning of the British Empire. It was real. While our movement
has won some important victories, we must not allow non-violent
resistance to atrophy into ineffectual, feel-good, political theatre.
It is a very precious weapon that needs to be constantly honed
and re-imagined. It cannot be allowed to become a mere spectacle,
a photo opportunity for the media.
It was wonderful that on February 15th last year, in a spectacular
display of public morality, 10 million people in five continents
marched against the war on Iraq. It was wonderful, but it was
not enough. February 15th was a weekend. Nobody had to so much
as miss a day of work. Holiday protests don't stop wars. George
Bush knows that. The confidence with which he disregarded overwhelming
public opinion should be a lesson to us all. Bush believes that
Iraq can be occupied and colonised as Afghanistan has been,
as Tibet has been, as Chechnya is being, as East Timor once was
and Palestine still is. He thinks that all he has to do is hunker
down and wait until a crisis-driven media, having picked this
crisis to the bone, drops it and moves on. Soon the carcass will
slip off the best-seller charts, and all of us outraged folks
will lose interest. Or so he hopes.
This movement of ours needs a major, global victory. It's not
good enough to be right. Sometimes, if only in order to test our
resolve, it's important to win something. In order to win something,
we all of us gathered here and a little way away at Mumbai
Resistance need to agree on something. That something does
not need to be an over-arching pre-ordained ideology into which
we force-fit our delightfully factious, argumentative selves.
It does not need to be an unquestioning allegiance to one or another
form of resistance to the exclusion of everything else. It could
be a minimum agenda.
If all of us are indeed against Imperialism and against the project
of neo-liberalism, then let's turn our gaze on Iraq. Iraq is the
inevitable culmination of both. Plenty of anti-war activists have
retreated in confusion since the capture of Saddam Hussein. Isn't
the world better off without Saddam Hussein? they ask timidly.
Let's look this thing in the eye once and for all. To applaud
the U.S. army's capture of Saddam Hussein and therefore, in retrospect,
justify its invasion and occupation of Iraq is like deifying Jack
the Ripper for disembowelling the Boston Strangler. And that
after a quarter century partnership in which the Ripping and Strangling
was a joint enterprise. It's an in-house quarrel. They're business
partners who fell out over a dirty deal. Jack's the CEO.
So if we are against Imperialism, shall we agree that we are
against the U.S. occupation and that we believe that the U.S.
must withdraw from Iraq and pay reparations to the Iraqi people
for the damage that the war has inflicted?
How do we begin to mount our resistance? Let's start with something
really small. The issue is not about supporting the resistance
in Iraq against the occupation or discussing who exactly constitutes
the resistance. (Are they old Killer Ba'athists, are they Islamic
We have to become the global resistance to the occupation.
Our resistance has to begin with a refusal to accept the legitimacy
of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. It means acting to make it materially
impossible for Empire to achieve its aims. It means soldiers should
refuse to fight, reservists should refuse to serve, workers should
refuse to load ships and aircraft with weapons. It certainly means
that in countries like India and Pakistan we must block the U.S.
government's plans to have Indian and Pakistani soldiers sent
to Iraq to clean up after them.
I suggest that at a joint closing ceremony of the World Social
Forum and Mumbai Resistance, we choose, by some means, two of
the major corporations that are profiting from the destruction
of Iraq. We could then list every project they are involved in.
We could locate their offices in every city and every country
across the world. We could go after them. We could shut them down.
It's a question of bringing our collective wisdom and experience
of past struggles to bear on a single target. It's a question
of the desire to win.
The Project For The New American Century seeks to perpetuate
inequity and establish American hegemony at any price, even if
it's apocalyptic. The World Social Forum demands justice and survival.
For these reasons, we must consider ourselves at war.
FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains
copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized
by the copyright owner. Lysistrata Project posts this material without profit
for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair
use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C §
107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes
of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the