Archives For Texas

Guns but No Roses

September 6, 2021 — 5 Comments

The Lone Star State, Texas to those maybe not cognizant of the various monikers given American states, reached a nadir on Wednesday, 1st August 2021 with not just the suppression of voting rights but the introduction of two new laws:

From Financial Times – Friday edition

~ House Bill 1927 – constitutional carry which means anyone over the age of 21, without license or training or even a background check may openly carry a handgun. The Wild West has returned. There is a proviso – that any person convicted of a felony, assault, terrorist threat or domestic violence is not covered by this new law. The question begging to be asked is, if there is no background check how does a vendor know if a potential buyer is a felon?

~ Senate Bill 8 – an abortion ban from six weeks, which means a woman, who may not even know she is pregnant, may not terminate a pregnancy even in cases of rape or incest. The law stipulates a fetal heartbeat is heard at six weeks, however doctors say, and lawyers agree, embryos do not have a heart at such an early developmental stage. A return to backstreet butchers. Theoretically a man convicted of domestic violence could threaten a woman with a gun bought without a background check, rape and impregnate her, and that woman would have no medical redress. 

Even more concerning is the gutless manner in which this law has been written, encouraging everyday like-minded citizens with an incentive of $10,000 to sue any person who ‘aids or abets’ an abortion. This includes a concerned relative who might have provided funds, a cab driver taking a girl or woman to a clinic and so the list goes on. A person may sue even if there is no connection to the girl or woman having an abortion, or the provider. The Supreme Court, weighted heavy on the Republican side has, in an unsigned ruling allowed the law to go into effect. President Biden is not impressed.

As far as shootings are concerned, there has been a 14% increase in Texas this year – that’s not including suicides. That increase translates into approximately 3,200 shootings. How in God’s name are the police, who are against this constitutional carry law, meant to know who is the good guy and who is the madman? An astounding 59% of Texans, including law enforcement officers, oppose this Bill, however 56% of Republicans support it. The public, it seems, is becoming inured to shootings, considered mass when there are four or more victims – think Odessa and El Paso where 30 people were murdered and dozens wounded.

It is a tragic fact that whilst the international light is shone on the horrors of rape in places like India, which whilst developing is still considered a Third World Country, there are still people in the so-called developed world who feel the need to force themselves on a girl or woman, and sometimes a man. Too many rapes go unreported, often due to the ineptitude and lack of empathy shown by the authorities, and fear of repercussions.

But here’s the thing. India has, under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, allowed abortion in some instances since 1973 (the same year as Roe v Wade) – and in 2003 that Act was amended to give women access to safe and legal abortion services. If India, a culturally misogynistic society, can pass such legislation why are there swathes of America, now lead by Texas, who hold such antediluvian and ruthless views on women’s health – both physical and mental?

I have lived in the disunited states since 1997 and, whilst I shook my head at some of the 19th century views held by some in the 21st century, and railed at the lack of gun legislation and the fear-mongering that came with every attempt to curb loopholes in existing gun laws, I respected the Second Amendment even if it had been ratified in 1791 by a group of privileged white men.

However, with the emergence of Trumpism and the splintering of any level of civility, a break down in society still fomented by the former president, those with radical right-wing views have emerged as a vociferous and often violent cabal of men eager to push women back into the dark ages. But what, to my mind, is even more disturbing are the number of women keen to be put back into the kitchens, both metaphorically and literally in the case of seeking an abortion.

Abortion is not, and I doubt has ever been, a decision taken lightly by many women and to suggest it is a form of birth control is disingenuous and offensive. Particularly when taken in conjunction with the lack of sensible and timely sex education in a state that promulgates the teaching of abstinence. 

Here’s a shocking fact gleaned from the World Health Organization. As maternal mortality declines around the world – even in India – it has been increasing in the United States since 2000. America has the distinction of ranking alongside the Dominican Republic as being one of two countries with that tragic statistic.

It makes me wonder if the quartet of middle-aged, white men who lead the Lone Star State – Abbott, Patrick, Paxton and Cruz – spurred on by deeply conservative voices, have between them an ounce of compassion let alone a modicum of intelligence, native or otherwise. I can’t help but wonder if these politicians, and this might shock some readers, are so focused on their own self-aggrandizement and political future that they have lost sight of what is right: the right to bear arms being sensibly regulated; the right for women to be responsible for their bodies, their health and well-being. With this new law and the closure of women’s clinics will come even less access to women’s basic health – pap smears, mammograms, birth control.

Guns rule and the yellow rose of Texas has lost its bloom!

That’s Democracy

March 13, 2017 — 2 Comments

Tanks rumbled past our house in the predawn haze. An armed soldier, visible only from the waist up, surveyed the road ahead from each turret. It was Thailand in 1986. A failed coup.

An army truck, the canvas flaps rolled up, slewed to a halt on the unpaved and muddy road at our neighbour’s locked gate. Armed soldiers burst past the terrified guard as he opened the gate. Screams reverberated around the compound and over the wall into ours. From my bedroom window I saw women, Cameroonians, slapped, pistol-whipped and man-handled into the truck. Money was exchanged and some were allowed to stay. It was Equatorial Guinea in 2004. A failed coup.

I have lived in countries where governments are corrupt. I have lived in despotic countries where, whether power has been taken violently or elections have been mired in irregularities, the leader has ‘a direct line to God’. I have never, thankfully, lived in a war-torn country.

Countries and cultures not my own have sometimes fascinated me, sometimes horrified me. But I have been able to compartmentalism the differences, without necessarily accepting them. In all the counties I have called home – twelve of them – I have prided myself on my ability to adapt to different environments, different political tenets, even when I might not have been entirely on board with those elected, freely. That’s okay. That’s democracy.

Relocating to America the first time in 1997, the year after Fox News came into being, I was struck by the intense political partisanship – there seemed to be no shades of grey, but there was still a civility. We lived in the suburbs, in a Republican stronghold and I learnt, mostly, to keep my opinions to myself. To respect the people around me who might not have had the same exposure to global cultures or customs, and therefore found it harder to understand those from different backgrounds. But I spoke differently and so, for the most part, I was accepted as a foreign liberal.

After a nearly three-year stint back in Africa, we returned to the United States and moved to a more flexible part of Houston – Downtown. In 2010 we shed our resident alien status to become US citizens. Texas has had a Republican governor the entire time I have lived here. There have though been both Republican and Democratic presidents. Some I have liked, and agreed with on both sides of the political spectrum. Some I have not. That’s okay. That’s democracy.

But the tenor has changed.

Until the week before the presidential election in 2016, I believed the American people would see through the bombast, the lies and complete lack of humility, and would reject the misogny and coarseness of a man attempting to become leader of the free world.
I was wrong. That’s okay. That’s democracy.

After the initial utter dismay, and after a dear friend pointed out I was in danger of becoming one of those people I despise – an intractable woman, I stopped myself swinging from stunned torpor to hysterical rantings, and prepared to give the new president the benefit of the doubt.

52 long days later wherein we have seen a rash of crass tweets, the clumsy roll-out of an ill-conceived immigration ban, a pathetic attempt to appease those wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act – an act everyone on both sides of the political divide agrees needs repair, the craven signing of the anti-abortion executive order, a lack of cohesive governance and the blatant mistrust of the security services, I say, in good Anglo-Saxon English, sod that. There are citizens who feel they have been given free reign on their behaviour. Who shout racial epithets before murdering an innocent Indian sitting at a bar. Whose Confederate flags flutter freely on the backroads. Who have the confidence to push through with seeming impunity laws against the LGBT community.

People in America are not mysteriously disappearing, never to be seen again, but there appears to be little room for dialogue or diplomacy. Any president who hamstrings the people working for him is a person only wishing to surround himself with sycophants. With serfs so wary of their own position they are not prepared to question the master. Those who do, are dismissed – Sally Yates and on Friday, US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara. An independent judiciary is obviously not high on our president’s list.

Neither is draining the swamp – that much touted praise. Washington is rich with millionaires new to government – with people singularly unable to understand, or who have forgotten, how a family struggles to put food on the table, struggles to get adequate healthcare, struggles with education. Washington is drowning in a mire of unelected nepotism – what was called in Papua New Guinea – the wantok system. That is not democracy.

There might not be tanks rolling past my front door, or thugs in uniform pistol-whipping my neighbours, but the current political climate in the United States is divisive, is unpleasant, is unwelcoming. We are a nation much of the world looks at with amazement, and fear, for all the wrong reasons.

Yet, We the People, elected this president so I guess it is democracy. And yes, in 52 days I have become that intractable woman.

Lost, One Culture

August 1, 2016 — 1 Comment

August in Texas is hot. Cumulus clusters float like candy floss across lapis skies. The beauty is as intense as the heat. A cloudburst delivers a brief respite – rain bouncing off the hard ground of the southern prairies in hard pellets.

Entering the gIMG_1801ates of the Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo just south of San Antonio, Texas, the seventh most populated city in the United States, it is easy to imagine the plaza filled with Franciscan friars, soldiers and men, women and children living their lives predominantly within the confines of the mission walls.

Pincered between the more aggressive nomadic Lipan Apaches from the North and by colonists from Spain eager to increase their footprint in the New World, those men, women and children were members of the hunter-gatherer tribes, known collectively as Coahuiltecans (Kwa-weel-tekens). Funded by Spain when prospects of riches north of the Rio Grande faded, the missions became the driver for the spread of Catholicism, though they did little to limit the spread of foreign disease.

Our screens today are filled with images of forced migrations – peoples fleeing war, genocide, politics and poverty. Some make it eventually to countries willing to share the burden of refugees, others spend years, sometime decades, in camps initially built to be temporary. Many have fled with few possessions, but in their souls they carry their culture – the essence of who they are.

With the years, particularly if the country resettled in is of an entirely different culture, the home culture becomes diluted. Becomes a marriage of cultures, a blending of mores. And yet high days and holidays are still celebrated, perhaps without the exact ingredients, but near enough to satisfy our instinct to recognize and belong. Over generations those cultures become evermore diluted until we are left with sometimes just the merest hint of our ancestry – a darker skin, an almond-shaped eye, or with words alone. I am German American. I am Chinese American, and so on. It has been a slow iterative process, which is occasionally reversed through sheer will and determination of a man or woman many generations removed – but that original culture can never be wholly reclaimed. Think Kwanzaa, celebrating an African heritage and created by Maulana Karenga in 1966–67 for African Americans. (See blog Dec 31st, 2010)

Imagine then the intensity of culture change for the Coalhuiltecans who, driven by the fear of bows and arrows from the North and European diseases from the South, placed their fate in the benign hands of men like Friar Antonio Margil de Jesús, founder of the Mission San José.

The five missions along the San Antonio River, all modeled on Spanish villages, gave protection from marauders but not disease. Many died. But their story is not decades in the making. Rather it is one of willing subjugation. By entering the mission gates, the Coalhuiltecans, in exchange for refuge gave up not just a way of life but dialects, religious practices – an entire culture disappearing essentially overnight.

From hunter gatherer, at one with the seasons, carrying supplies in intricately made baskets in their search of food, they became Catholic neophytes living by a bell pealing around the walled missions. Mass three times a day. Spanish and Latin became their language. In exchange for their freedom, skills were taught and the Coalhuiltecans became weavers, carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, farmers and soldiers.

Wandering around the plaza, ducking into the Indian living quarters, taking in the quiet beauty of the mission church, a limestone edifice built in the Spanish colonial Baroque style begun in 1768 when the mission was home to 350 Indians, there is a serenity I had not expected.

My thoughts jumped to modern-day camps, enclosed by razor wire, but built essentially to protect, or maybe to contain, the many, many thousands of inhabitants fleeing persecution. I doubt my descendants will walk those camps with a sense of peace, even though cultures may not have not been lost.

And I doubt there will be remarkable innovations left for future generations. Like the series of dams and aqueducts – the acequia system – which irrigated fields surrounding the missions with waters from the San Antonio River. A system still supplying farms today.

For some Coalhuiltecans the strictures of a prescribed life were too great, and they returned to their former way of living, only to die from the original threats. Lost, one culture. For those who remained a new culture evolved and became the bedrock of the Tejano. I am Mexcian American.

The August heat on the southern Texas prairies is intense. But rain will fall, to be collected in dams built under the auspices of Franciscan friars. What, I wonder, will be the legacy of our camps today? What will be the essence of the culture these refugees carry?


August 5, 2010 — Leave a comment

There’s a lot about Texas to love….

Continue Reading...