Book Reviews

The posts in the category are reviews of books that I found enjoyable and thought-provoking

New and Noteworthy: Windows to African American History

1. “Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761, A Cartographic Narrative.”  http://revolt.axismaps.com/map/

2. Malcolm X Diary & Family Lawsuit http://colorlines.com/archives/2013/11/malcolm_xs_daughter_to_release_his_diaries_this_week.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

3, Barlett’s Familiar Black Quotations http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/27/books/bartletts-familiar-black-quotations-covers-5000-years.html & http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=247166538

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Mo’Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove

When I was growing up, I an effortless reader, a bookworm who loved to read for hours on end, losing myself in stories. Now, as an adult, I am saddened that it has become hard for me to find the time and attention span to devote to what was my beloved past time. I recently finished reading Mo’Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, the memoir of Ahmir Thompson aka “Questlove,” the Drummer for the Hip Hop Band The Roots, and was thrilled at how Mo’Meta Blues recaptured my love of reading from childhood, truly immersing me in what I had loved and continue to love about reading–exploring a new world, in this instance the world of Hip Hop.

Mo’Meta Blues did introduce me to people whose lives are so different from my own in a format that felt so unique–less of a memoir and more of a hip hop song that sampled  footnotes from Roots Manager Richard Nichols and emails exchanged between co-writer Ben Greenman and editor Ben Greenberg.  But Questlove also let me return to a place I have not visited in a while, Philly where I am from.

In addition to revisiting the city where I grew up, I also felt a musical nostalgia that brought me back to the first time I heard so many hip hop and R&B artists that make up the sound track of my adolescence. It was so funny reading about Questlove’s experiences attending CAPA (Philadelphia high school for Creative and Performing Arts) where he met Tariq Trotter “Black Thought” whom he created the Roots with as part of a rivalry against their classmates who “were always singing a capella in the bathroom,” classmates who later became R&B group Boyz II Men. It was so cool to read about the Roots performing with the Fugees, and think back to when I heard “Killing Me Softly” all over the radio and school hallways.

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Listen to The Roots & other Hip Hop artists

1. The Roots https://myspace.com/theroots This is the Root’s official MySpace page and includes a YouTube video archive as well as their music.

2. J Dilla https://myspace.com/jdilla I am embarrassed to admit that before reading Mo’Meta Blues, I never knew much about J Dilla and his legacy in what Questlove called the “new Renaissance of Hip Hop.”  After reading Mo’Meta Blues, it’s been a fascinating journey for me to explore J Dilla’s website, and learn about his life and powerful influences on so many artists from Questlove himself to Erykah Badu, Common, Kanye West… the list goes on and on. A moving story of coincidence that also unpacks J Dilla’s legacy was recently featured on the Snap Judgement Podcast: http://snapjudgment.org/j-dilla%E2%80%99s-lost-scrolls   

3. OkayPlayer http://www.okayplayer.com/ Okayplayer.com, created by Questlove in 1999, defines itself as “the original progressive urban music site” and  “premier digital destination for music connoisseurs worldwide.”

Read Mo’Meta Blues and Listen to the Interview that inspired me to read it

1. Thompson, Ahmir “Questlove” and Ben Greenman. Mo’Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove. June 2013.  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000I9S6AE/ref=atv_feed_catalog?tag=imdb-amazonvideo-20

2. “Questlove on Police Racial Profiling, Stop & Frisk, the Message He Took from Trayvon Martin Verdict.” Democracy Now. August 14, 2013.  This insightful interview cemented my crush on Questlove and finally prompted me to read Mo’Meta Blues.  http://www.democracynow.org/2013/8/14/questlove_on_police_racial_profiling_stop

Searching for Providence and Harvest of Empire

A few months ago, I read Patricia Foxen’s ethnography In Search of Providence: Transnational Mayan Identities. An ethnography is a descriptive work resulting from the study of human cultures, and Dr. Foxen has created an insightful analysis of Mayan K’iches’ who have emigrated from a rural Guatemalan farming community to Providence, Rhode Island after the Internal Armed Conflict. I found Dr. Foxen’s book fascinating, and so many parts spoke to my own personal heartfelt experiences. Her description of the Mayan K’iche’ communities in their “host community” of Providence reminded me of my experiences working with recently resettled refugees. Her analysis of K’iche’ in their “home community” in Guatemala gave me deep nostalgia for my experiences at the Mountain School.

Furthermore, I was intrigued by Foxen’s description of how the Maya K’iche’ use trickster behavior. According to Foxen, in El Quiche “the instability caused by poor weather and crops, an insecure economic environment, poor health, and social strife lead most K’iche’s to learn to be flexible and above all, listo (literally to be ready, or on one’s toes) for whatever opportunities present themselves” (194). Foxen elaborates on how as marginalized immigrants, K’iches’ leverage this coping mechanism to act as tricksters. 

Tricksters, present in many cultures’ folktales including those of the Maya K’iche’, usually appear as animals who are metaphors for how an oppressed people can use their position of weakness to outsmart their oppressors. Foxen gives examples of how K’iche’s acted as real life tricksters to survive the Guatemalan military’s brutal surveillance tactics, and later put these techniques to use when contending with “la migra, the police, and bosses” in the United States (195). Foxen noted that K’iche’ migrants take pride in their trickster abilities, which they see as part of their ethnic identity.   

Foxen’s study of May K’iche’s trickster behavior left a deep impression on me because I have studied tricksters in ancient folktales and in contemporary fiction, but had yet to delve deeply into how people in recent history have used trickster behavior. One work of contemporary fiction that I have studied that came to mind when reading In Search of Providence was Junot Diaz’s collection of vignettes Drown, which features Dominican immigrants acting as tricksters in order to adapt to their new lives in New Jersey. Diaz writes in English, and cleverly uses language to express the multiple worlds his characters are straddling. Drown begin with an epigraph by Gustavo Pérez Firmat that expresses this notion:

The fact that I

am writing to you in English 

already falsifies what I

wanted to tell you. 

My subject: 

how to explain to you that I

don’t belong to English 

though I belong nowhere else.

To give further insight into the ideas expressed in this poem Bilingual Blues, I have linked below for a second time to an interview where Junot Diaz and Francisco Goldman discuss how they grapple with living in “two linguistic spheres.”

Another book that I have recently read that address Central American migration to the United States is Juan Gonzalez’s revised edition of Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. I delighted in taking my time reading Harvest of Empire, slowing pulling back the lens to gain a broader perspective on Latin American history from the Spanish Colonization in the 1500s to the present day. Thus far, my knowledge had been focused on Guatemala. Recently, I have begun to learn more about El Salvador from living in a city with large Salvadoran population as a result of a wave of immigrants and refugees who fled their country’s Civil War in the 1980s.

I especially liked Part II Branches (Las Ramas) and Part III Harvest (La Cosecha) for their comprehensive view of the revolutions in Latin America throughout the 20th Century and the discussion of the contemporary immigration debate. One close-up I particularly enjoyed was Gonzalez’s discussion Puerto Rico. Gonzalez himself is Puerto Rican, and included anecdotes about his family and own life, which added a personal note to the sweeping narrative.

Learn more about the books and radio show discussed in this post

1. Foxen, Patricia. In Search of Providence: Transnational Mayan Identities. 2007. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0826515819/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

2. Gonzales, Juan. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America Revised Edition. 2011.  http://www.amazon.com/Harvest-Empire-History-Latinos-America/dp/0143119281

3.  Alarcón, Daniel. ”Junot y Francisco : En vivo desde Nueva York.” Radio Ambulante. February, 2013. http://radioambulante.org/es/

Lately reflecting on Trayvon Martin & What can a sincere white person do?

This post has been brewing in my mind since July, but I delayed writing and publishing these past three months–partly because I have been busy but also because I felt nervous about expressing myself on these issues. I learned today that my friend recently met one of my heroes, anti-racism educator Tim Wise, this past weekend. Thinking about all that this sincere white person does to undo racism has helped me find the will to share my thoughts.

Although I spent three months deliberating over publishing my reflection on Trayvon Martin’s death and the verdict of George Zimmerman’s trial for killing him, time has not remained as static as this page in my drafts folder.  George Zimmerman is back in the news for altercations between him and his ex-wife, and the ways in which privileged white women such as myself can dominate social justice movements, unintentionally overshadowing the voices of people of color, came into focus thanks to #solidarityisforwhitewomen.

But this post begins began back in July. Soon after George Zimmerman verdict was announced,  I read Ta-Nehisi’s Coate’s article “Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice,” which really spoke to what the verdict says about America, while also providing a great grounding of the laws surrounding the verdictCoates is so articulate in weaving together legal analysis and social insight, that instead of quoting or paraphrasing I will just provide the link and thanks to my friends who shared it with me: Coates, Ta-Nehisi.  The Atlantic. “Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice.” July 15, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/trayvon-martin-and-the-irony-of-american-justice/277782/

NPR’s Tell Me More has covered news involving Trayvon Martin since the winter of 2012, and I have appreciated the show’s focus on the trial and verdict. On July 15th, 2013, Tell Me More dedicated a full show to the verdict, and interviewed people from a variety of backgrounds who spoke about different aspects of the verdict, from the legal proceedings to more emotional perspectives regarding racial biases. One comment that stayed with me was from Jenee Desmond Harris, who writes for TheRoot.com, stating that “if Zimmerman is a racist…he is certainly not the old school kind.” (NPR Tell Me More. “Inside the Zimmerman Verdict.” July 15, 2013. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=202335038 )

Harris was mentioning the hue and cry of whether George Zimmerman is or isn’t racist and how those who insist that Zimmerman is not racist point to “new school” facets like his half Peruvian heritage, or dating and volunteering history. But the focus on Zimmerman’s ethnicity and actions obscure the unspoken internalized prejudices all of us Americans have from living in a country that is entrenched in biases against people of color. Biases that exist from the institutional on down to the individual level. These are the prejudices at play when Zimmerman saw and stalked Trayvon Martin, concluding after a glance at his skin that was a criminal threat, giving rise to the fear that prompted him to pull the trigger, ending an innocent life.

I have internalized racism too.  Part of my own efforts in trying to be a sincere white ally begins with acknowledging my own biases and doing my best to work against them.  A simple way that anyone can be introduced to their internalized biases is through the interactive website  “Project Implicit.”  (Project Implicit. 2013 https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/ )

A key part of trying to be a sincere ally begins with listening, listening to ourselves as we uncover our biases and listening to people of color. In Lois Mark Stalvey’s memoir, “The Education of a WASP,” Lois Stalvey listens to her African American friend Joanna recount a heartbreaking story from her childhood: how a boy with a developmental disability was lynched for allegedly harassing a white woman. Joanna tells Lois that the neighborhood watched after this boy, who was seldom alone and could not be guilty of the crime.  Lois listens to her friend cry, and realizes throughout history white people have enslaved, disenfranchised, and brutally killed African Americans, yet we feared them.”  (The Education of a WASP. 1989. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1752739.The_Education_of_a_WASP )

In closing, I am brought back to my post title and the author behind the phrase sincere white person.  A professor at my alma mater recently wrote “a love letter to white people”  in the Feminist Wire. ( Osmundson, Joseph. The Feminist Wire. “Love letter to white people.”  September 3, 2013.  http://thefeministwire.com/2013/09/love-letter-to-white-people/ ) and here is what Malcolm X has to say:  “I tell sincere white people, ‘Work in conjunction with us – each of us working among our own kind.’ Let sincere white individuals find all other white people they can who feel as they do – and let them form their own all-white groups, to work trying to convert other white people who are thinking and acting so racist. Let sincere white people go and teach non-violence to white people.” ( Alex Haley and Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 1964. pp. 383–384. https://www.facebook.com/TalkandAction/posts/10151165765347608 )

Exploring race in surreal fiction

When I was a child, I loved reading stories that involved magic and fantasy. The works of Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and Anne Lindbergh offered an escape from my mundane world and access into a vibrant imaginary one with infinite possibilities. All these years later, I still enjoy reading fantasy, yet now I am drawn to exploring how authors can use a surreal setting to comment on real elements in our society.  Lately, I have been interested in specifically looking at how issues of race and ethnicity play out in literature with surreal elements.

I mentioned the authors Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, and Anne Lindbergh  because I loved the sense of adventure, imagination, and strong female characters in these books when I was young,  qualities also found in Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games Trilogy. In this series’ post-apocalyptic universe, heroine Katniss Everdeen, who participates in the “Hunger Games,” an annual competition where children compete in dangerous and deadly obstacles to win grains for their community, a vital prize in a famine stricken world.  Katniss is described somewhat racially ambiguously with “straight black hair, olive skin,” and she describes her features as characteristic of the people from the coal mining town “District 12” where she lives, and notes that her blond and blue eyed mother and sister Primrose “always look out of place.”

These cues as well as indications of how Katniss is perceived by and interacts with those around her, led many people to read her as a woman of color. Yet for the movie adaptation, white actress Jennifer Lawrence was cast to play her. The website Racebending.com–a grassroots organization that advocates for the representation of people of color in entertainment media–has written a nuanced examination of this casting decision, and also quotes from a powerful essay written by a Guyanese law student titled “Why Katniss Everdeen is a woman of color.” Less ambiguously described is the character Rue, the twelve-year-old Hunger Games Tribute from District 11, who has “dark brown skin and eyes” and reminds Katniss of her little sister Primrose. However, a virulent outcry arose among many readers, who despite the aforementioned description, had visualized Rue as white.

These casting decisions and people’s reactions act as something of a litmus test by which fantasy reveals people’s attitudes regarding race. Surreal fiction can also be a forum where writers can delve into what such attitudes might signify, and I wish to share examples of how  renowned science fiction author Octavia Butler and contemporary author Danzy Senna use the literary trope of the “Gothic Double” to comment on race and ethnicity in American culture.The gothic double refers to a split in a character into two polar opposites, the classic example being the good/evil pair Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. These authors use this trope to convey different messages about race.

African American author Octavia Butler is groundbreaking for her prolific science and speculative fiction, featuring heroes and heroines of color. In fact, as I publish this post, the city of Seattle is debating dedicating a park in her honor. Butler lived out her final years in Seattle, and had a profound affect on young readers of color worldwide who had searched for someone who looked liked them. In 2006, I attended a Memorial Service for Octavia Butler led by my college’s Africana Studies department, and I remember the tribute from an  African American professor who described himself as a lonely kid in the library seeking refuge in science fiction, and finding empowerment in the worlds Butler created.

Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred uses the trope of the gothic double to evoke the effects of slavery and its brutal long arcing impact. 26-year-old African American aspiring author Dana is magically transported from her home in 1970s L.A. to a plantation in antebellum Maryland. After a few episodes time traveling between her home and the plantation, she deduces that she is summoned to the past each time to save the life of Rufus, the son of the plantation owner so that he will grow up to  father her ancestor Hagar.

One pair of gothic doubles is Dana and Alice Greenwood, the enslaved woman who is will be Hagar’s mother. Dana and Alice physically resemble each other although they have very different personalities as well as daily realities. At times they repeat the same words, and are further doubled by Rufus has a growing attachment to Dana as his savior and Alice as an object of his sexual desire.  A second pair of gothic doubles are Dana’s white husband Kevin and Rufus himself. This double unnerves me because Kevin is a loving husband, and when transported to the past with Dana he spends many years helping enslaved men and women escape to freedom. Yet Butler presents an uncanny pairing to Rufus, the eventual plantation owner.

There is so much more I could write about this chilling novel that fulfills  Butler aim of letting readers “really feel slavery” that it is hard to move on after a mere two paragraphs. But having already turned this post into a sprawling essay, I am going to move on…In “What’s the Matter with Helga and Dave” a short story in Danzy Sena’s collection You Are Free, Senna uses the gothic double to tweak  the microagression that occurs when people confuse one person of color for another under the ethos of “you all look the same.” The narrator, Rachel, is a biracial woman who appears white, is married and the new mother of a son with her husband Hewitt, a biracial man who appears black. Over the course of the story, Rachel and Hewitt’s interactions their neighbors–interracial couple Helga and Dave–begin as amusingly banal but then take a disturbing turn as Rachel and Helga become doubles of each other.

Learn more about the racial commentary of “The Hunger Games” 

1. Lee, Marissa. “Jennifer Lawrence cast as Katniss in ‘The Hunger Games.'” Racebending.com. March 19, 2011.  http://www.racebending.com/v4/featured/jennifer-lawrence-cast-as-katniss-in-the-hunger-games/

2. Hari Kondanbolu is a hilarious comedian whose work responds to issues of race in our culture. His sketch “Cocoa Butter” spells out the thought process of “white is the assumed default,” the chain of thinking that would lead readers to assume Katniss and Rue are white. Hari Kordanbolu “Cocoa Butter.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5_feKLhczE&list=PL60ABB8508554A11C

Learn more about “Kindred” and “You Are Free.”

1. Octavia, Butler.  Kindred. 1979. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0807083690/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

2. Senna, Danzy.  You Are Free: Stories. 2011. http://www.amazon.com/You-Are-Free-Danzy-Senna/dp/B006TQVHVK/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372811529&sr=1-3&keywords=danzy+senna

3. NPR Staff. “A Mixed Race Take On What It Means To Be ‘Free’.” Tell Me More. June 16, 2011. http://www.npr.org/2011/06/24/137395343/biracial-author-offers-lighthearted-disturbing-stories I first discovered You Are Free when I listened to this interview as part of Tell Me More’s “Summer Blend Book Series,” which featured fiction involving characters from multi-racial backgrounds.

Walk the Line & Burn Down the Ground

I love reading, and often wonder about how the voices of authors sound. Many times the narration I read in my head sounds quite different from the authors themselves.

I read Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away  years ago, and was delighted to hear June Cross’s voice in my ear on The Moth podcast. In both the book and the memoir, June describes growing up as the secret daughter of a white actress and black comedian during the 1950s. In the podcast “Walk the Line,” June describes attending a Johnny Cash concert with her mother, and how that experience gave her a way to “walk the line” and thus balance her African-American and white identities, which she had previously seen as separate, and believed that she had to choose between the two.

I discovered memoirist and actor Kambri Crews through the opposite path. I first heard “A Blind Ear,” in which Kambri, a child of deaf adults (CODA) shares a dramatic story that caused her to re-evaluate her understanding of her parents and their marriage. My interest piqued, I read her memoir, Burn Down the Ground.

The act of “burning down the ground” refers to a moment from Kabri’s childhood where  Kambri’s parents had to set a brush fire to clear the land where they built their home in rural Texas. Her father had explained that they needed to burn down the ground so that fresh new plants could spring up.  Burn Down the Ground is a metaphor for how Kambri balances her past and present.

Both memoirs and podcasts are compelling, linked together in my mind because of how the authors describe traversing barriers based on race and disability to forge their own identities.

Read and listen to June Cross

1. Cross, June. Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away. 2006. http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Daughter-Mixed-Race-Mother-Gave/dp/067088555X

2. “Walk the Line: Stories of Balancing Acts.” The Moth. 2011. http://www.podcasts.com/the_moth_podcast/episode/june_cross_secret_daughter

Read and listen to Kambri Crews

1. “A Blind Ear.” The Moth. Oct 23, 2012.http://www.podcasts.com/the_moth_podcast/episode/kambri_crews_a_blind_ear

2. Crews, Kambri. Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir. 2012. http://www.amazon.com/Burn-Down-Ground-A-Memoir/dp/0345516028

Native Voices–Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness

My passion for disability rights advocacy emerged when I realized that disability intersects with all areas of life. One such angle of life that I am very interested in learning more about is health and health care. To be more specific, I am interested in exploring how to make information about health more accessible to people with disabilities as well as to people who have traditionally been outside the mainstream–whether due to race, ethnicity, immigrant and/or refugee status, sexuality, poverty, or other marginalizing factors. I want to learn how improving access to health information could give such groups a greater voice in advocating for their own wellbeing.

To explore options for achieving this goal, I recently visited the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland. The National Library of Medicine is displaying an exhibit called Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness, that addresses these very issues. Native Voices is a compelling exhibit that features video interviews where Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians speak about wellness, illness, and cultural life, and how these three themes connect to one another. The exhibit also includes Native artifacts both historical and contemporary. I found this exhibit fascinating, and wanted to write a brief post sharing information about Native Voices as well as some of my favorite resources that convey Native Peoples’ perspectives.

To view the “Native Voices” Interviews online

National Library of Medicine. “Interviews–Meet Health Professional, Community Leaders, Traditional Healers, and others working to Improve the Health of Native Peoples.” Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness.
http://apps2.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/interviews/index.cfm. I stayed at the exhibit for an hour, and would have easily stayed all day if I had not discovered that all the video interviews were available online at this link. The interviews with Native peoples include perspectives from health professionals, community leaders, and traditional healers, and address five themes: Individual, Community, Nature, Tradition, and Healing.

Recommended novels by Native Authors that address themes present in Native Voices

1. Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. http://www.amazon.com/Ceremony-Penguin-Classics-Deluxe-Edition/dp/0143104918/ref=pd_sim_b_3 Tayo, a young man of mixed Native and Caucasian heritage, returns to his home on the Laguna Pueblo following his service in WWII. He is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and struggling to adapt to his once-familiar surroundings. Ceremony intersperses Tayo’s voice with perspectives from other Native peoples and folktales told in collective narration. The blending of these disparate voices yields a mesmerizing cyclical story. In fact, Leslie Marmon Silko’s writing so mesmerized novelist Susan Straight that she got lost on a road trip searching for a scene in Ceremony. 

For me, Ceremony also has great significance in conveying the emotional effects of internalized racial oppression. I am especially drawn to re-reading a monologue of Tayo’s where the reader can see his mind churning through this very concept. A few years ago, I wrote out this passage in calligraphy, and designed a collage where Tayo’s words were strewn around an antique map of the world as a means of showing the global pervasiveness of this damaging ideology. If people are interested, I would be happy to revise this artwork in my Etsy Store. Due to my love of reading, much of my visual art speaks to the power of language. (more…)

Learning about Guatemala–A Reading Recommendation and a window

My five day window into Guatemala was drawing to a close.  I was sitting with three friends in a cafe in the small town of Chichicastenango. We had come to Chichi for a wedding, and were now enjoying our last meal together before going our separate ways. My time in Guatemala was a bright interlude in a dreary summer landscape.  Seated at a table with three people who had lived and were living in Guatemala, I listened as they swapped stories, savoring their experiences like the potent hot chocolate I sipped.

Picking up on my interest to learn about Guatemala’s history, my friend suggested that I read The Art of Political Murder.  But back in my busy bureaucrat’s life,  I did not get around to picking this book up until than a year later. But when I did, I was swept into another world, the gripping world of Guatemalan political powers as the intersected with Bishop Juan Gerardi’s murder and its tangled investigation.

Bishop Juan Gerardi was the head of the Archdiocese of Guatemala, and was named Coordinator General of the Archbishop’s Office on Human Rights in 1990.  Determined to uncover the horrific human rights violations that occurred during the Guatemalan Civil War, he participated in the Recovery of Historical Memory Project (REHMI). Starting in 1994, two years before the Civil War ended, Gerardi and other clergy members gathered testimonies from communities throughout the country, and recorded their firsthand stories of the violence they suffered in the report. In most testimonies, the military was the perpetrator of the violence.

On April 24, 1998, Bishop Gerardi presented the completed REHMI report, which in addition to Guatemalans’ testimonies included the clergy’s research on the Guatemalan military and the Civil War. The report was titled, “Guatemala Nunca Mas (Never Again). To paraphrase Upside Down World, an online magazine covering activism and politics in Latin America, the REHMI Report explicitly stated the military was responsible for 87% of the 200,000 civilians who died or disappeared during the War.  Also, The REHMI Report was the first report to specifically name individuals responsible for these violent acts. The REHMI Report named over 1,000 individuals and military members, thereby challenging the impunity that the perpetrators enjoyed and threatening “the clandestine powers that protect the Guatemalan status quo.”  In response to this threat, two days later, on April 26, 1998, Bishop Gerardi was found bludgeoned to death in the garage of his San Sebastián parish house.

Francisco Goldman’s The Art of Political Murder Who Killed the Bishop? begins with the events described above, and moves forward to the convoluted investigation and cover-up of Bishop Gerardi’s murder, entwined with the quest for truth and justice that a courageous few, including Goldman himself, undertook. The narrative also moves backward, explaining how Guatemala’s history shaped the unfolding events. Goldman is a talented writer, in addition to The Art of Political Murder, he has written vibrant novels and contributed thoughtful essays to The New Yorker.  In The Art of Political Murder, his writing is as captivating in style as substance.  Like a deft narrative balancing act, Goldman captures the astonishing absurdity as well as the tragedy in the events around him. Moreover, Goldman’s description of the proceedings and people surrounding Bishop Gerardi’s investigation, brim with unexpected hilarity. This burst of humor in sadness brings to mind Bishop Gerardi himself, whose “stories were famously amusing and sometimes off-color,” as Goldman notes on the first page of his book.

My edition of The Art of Political Murder contains an epilogue that opens in the summer of 2007 with General Otto Perez Molina winning the second place candidate for the Guatemalan presidency.  Perez Molina is a former general and CIA asset, who trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. During the Civil War, he led a military battalion in the war’s most violent massacres in the northwestern highlands. These events have likely yielded testimonies included in the REHMI Report.  Reading Goldman’s epilogue, I wondered, what does it mean for Guatemala that Otto Perez Molina was elected president in 2011?

I had wanted to write a well-crafted analysis answering this question, one that would parse how the Molina administration affects Guatemalan. But all I can do is draw from the words of others. Perhaps I will be better able to answer my own question in two weeks time. For my window into Guatemala will open once again. I will visit Guatemala City, Xela, and Antigua to participate in The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission’s week-long delegation “Women in Resistance: Defending our Bodies, our Rights and Mother Earth.”

In this delegation, I will meet Guatemalan women in their communities, learn about their struggle for justice, and witness their inspiring work to protect their rights to their bodies and natural resources. I am so eager to meet these women and my fellow delegates, I am counting down the days until the delegation’s arrival. The author Anais Nin has a quote that captures my excitement, feelings of how encounters and connections can open up new worlds.  This quote also expresses how it was through a window of friendship that I discovered the world of  Guatemala. “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

Source Notes

1. Goldman, Francisco. The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? 2007.

2. Mizgata, Jennifer. “The Case of Bishop Juan Gerardi: Challenging Impunity though the Guatemalan Justice System.”  May 20, 2006. Upside Down World. http://upsidedownworld.org/main/guatemala-archives-33/271-the-case-of-bishop-juan-gerardi-challenging-impunity-though-the-guatemalan-justice-system

3. Bathanti, Jacob.  “Bishop Gerardi: A Life Devoted to Social Justice.”  2008. http://www.ghrc-usa.org/AboutGuatemala/TimelineGerardiWebsite.pdf

4. “Guatemala: Remembering Bishop Gerardi and His Report ‘Never Again!’” Global Voices. May 6, 2008.http://globalvoicesonline.org/2008/05/06/guatemala-remembering-bishop-gerardi-and-his-report-never-again/

5. “Guatemalan presidential candidate Otto Perez Molina and the Ixil Triangle massacres.”  Latin American Data Base/Latin American Institute. 2011  http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Guatemalan+presidential+candidate+Otto+Perez+Molina+and+the+Ixil…-a0264365892

6. “For Women’s Right to Live: Delegation to Guatemala.” Guatemalan Human Rights Commission. 2012.http://www.ghrc-usa.org/Programs/ForWomensRighttoLive/Delegation.htm