Posted by Maya Paley
Maria Suarez is the Volunteer Coordinator and a paraprofessional Talkline Counselor for the Women Helping Women department at NCJW/LA. She is warm, kind, always smiling, and a great cook who loves to bring in her famous dishes to work to share with colleagues. She is also a survivor of human trafficking. This year Maria received the Unsung Heroes of Los Angeles Award from the California Community Foundation. This is a summary of her story of six years in slavery in Southern California, 23 more in prison, and then freedom, self-fulfillment, and inspiring leadership.
Maria came to the United States from a small village in Michoacán when she was 15 years old. Within a few days of arriving here, Maria’s father went back to Mexico and Maria stayed with her sister in Sierra Madre. One day she met a woman who promised her a job, an esteemed offer for someone like Maria who felt she was not contributing enough to her sister’s household, and within a couple of weeks Maria was in a car with the woman for 45 minutes to meet her new employer. Upon arrival, Maria was told that she would be cleaning the house for the couple she was introduced to: an older man and his wife.
Maria felt uncomfortable from the beginning and told them she wanted to go home, but they convinced her to stay one night and told her they would take her back to her sister’s the next day. The man let her use the phone to call her sister, but the phone even had a lock on it that the man had to remove for her to make the call. She called her sister, who was very worried, but Maria convinced her that she would be back the next day. Maria was not taken home to her sister the following day. And she was not asked to clean the house. She never saw the woman who got her “the job” again. She was being held captive in Azusa, California.
The older man she was now living with put Maria in a room where she was surrounded by voodoo dolls. After two days he told her he was a witch and could watch her every move and hear her every thought through his crystal ball. He raped her and beat her daily for six years. “I was a slave,” she says. “And I was scared. I didn’t know any English even. And I had no idea where I was. When I tried to leave, he would threaten to kill my family.” In order to protect her family, Maria would tell her sister that everything was fine when they spoke on the phone.
Maria’s trafficker had a garage he would rent out. At one point he rented it to a young couple and started pursuing the wife. Maria describes that he started using his witchcraft by threatening them with voodoo dolls. He would also break into the garage, causing the couple to feel uncomfortable and scared. The husband eventually became enraged and killed Maria’s trafficker.
When Maria heard a loud noise she came outside to the backyard and saw the man on the ground. She was in shock when the man who killed her trafficker gave her a piece of wood and told her to hide it under the house. After being held captive for so many years, Maria did not know anything but to follow rules and commands, so she did what the man asked her to do. She hid the piece of wood, which was the weapon he had used to kill the trafficker. When the police asked, Maria was honest and told them she had hidden a piece of wood under the house as the man had told her to do.
Maria was arrested. She still spoke no English and knew nothing about legal representation and procedure. She was represented by an attorney who had been disbarred and was using another attorney’s bar number to practice law, but he was the only attorney her family could afford. Although she had nothing to do with the murder of her captor, Maria was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. After serving 22.5 years, Maria was released from prison, only to be picked up by INS and forced to serve another 5 months in state prison until her pro bono attorneys were able to obtain a T-visa for her – the first issued in California. The man who did kill Maria’s trafficker eventually told the Board of Prison Terms investigation that Maria had nothing to do with the murder of her captor, but this was all too late to make a difference for Maria.
Despite so many years of trauma, Maria never lost hope or stopped believing she would be free one day. She received her GED and almost completed her Associate’s Degree in prison. She learned English and spent time helping others and reflecting on what she wanted to do when she was free. Today Maria speaks up on behalf of survivors of human trafficking, tells her story, and educates the public about what human trafficking is, how it can happen anywhere and to anyone, and what we should all do about it. “I am not a victim anymore,” says Maria, as she smiles at me. She reminds me that she has a lot of work to do and calls to make to volunteers since it’s a short week for Thanksgiving.
When I did this interview with Maria during Thanksgiving and Chanukah I asked myself: had I met anyone so grateful to be free in my entire life? Had I met anyone so warm, so thoughtful, and so willing to share her story for the benefit of others? Maria’s story is hard. It’s complicated, long, and happened right in my own backyard in Southern California. It is a painful story to hear, but it is also a story of faith and endurance, of strength and love. It is a story of an unsung hero, but it is also the story of the many unsung heroes I have met throughout my life. And for all of them, including Maria, I am thankful.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
Human Trafficking Awareness Day is on January 11, 2014. Human trafficking happens in our own backyards here in Los Angeles County. Here is what you can do to help reduce human trafficking in Los Angeles County in the coming months:
NCJW/LA, CAST LA, Oasis LA, JLC, and T’ruah have joined together to create a two-phased program to implement SB1193, a law passed in late 2012 by the California legislature mandating businesses throughout the State to place posters with human trafficking hotline numbers on their premises. Our program includes two phases.
1) LA Youth Human Trafficking Poster Contest: 14-25 year olds in LA County are invited to participate in designing the poster to be put up in businesses throughout LA County. The deadline is January 6, 2013. Click here to read the rules and regulations or to submit a poster.
2) LA County Human Trafficking Poster Outreach Project: On February 9, 2013, the Project Partners will hold a training session at NCJW/LA to train volunteers to visit businesses throughout LA County, provide them with information about the new law, give them the poster to put up, and track the information on their posting. For more information on this phase of the project, email me at email@example.com.
12.9.13 at 10:54 am | Maria Suarez is the Volunteer Coordinator and a. . .
11.19.13 at 3:47 pm | Just two months ago something momentous happened. . .
9.18.13 at 1:25 pm | “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the. . .
8.21.13 at 5:46 pm | The first time I went to my high school’s. . .
8.5.13 at 1:41 pm | I did not come easily to feminism. I resisted the. . .
7.24.13 at 4:32 pm | Honestly, if I have to hear or see one more. . .
12.9.13 at 10:54 am | Maria Suarez is the Volunteer Coordinator and a. . . (33)
11.19.13 at 3:47 pm | Just two months ago something momentous happened. . . (7)
5.3.13 at 12:56 pm | I have this calendar of Yiddish sayings on my. . . (4)
November 19, 2013 | 3:47 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
Just two months ago something momentous happened in southern California: a transgender teenager was crowned homecoming queen at her high school in Orange Country. When she won, Cassidy Lynn Campbell told the media she was “so proud to win this not just for me but for everyone out there and for every kid—transgender, gay straight, black, white, Mexican, Asian. It doesn’t matter, you can be yourself.”
Her message is one we can all appreciate. We all want to know that it is okay to just be ourselves. We all want to know that we will not be shamed or disconnected from others if we are our true selves, as explained beautifully by Brené Brown in a TedX Talk.
November is Transgender Awareness Month.
I am going to make the assumption that most people I know did not know this. I might not have known myself if I did not work for a progressive organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights.
I tracked down Drian Juarez, the Transgender Economic Empowerment Project Manager at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center, to get some of her thoughts about Transgender Awareness Month. Here’s what she said:
“Transgender people are murdered on every corner on the planet just for being who they are. They are twice as likely to have college degrees or higher and experience unemployment or poverty at twice the national average. Unemployment rates are over 18% for transgender people. Employers do not understand what transgender is. It’s the same for housing, healthcare, and things like going to the DMV and having to choose male or female on your ID card.
Transgender people are often times visibly transgender, which challenges people’s concepts of the socially constructed ideas of what a man and a woman is supposed to be and do in a relationship. We make assumptions and assign identities based on cultural norms. But you can’t make assumptions about people’s identities, pronouns, and names. You should get to know them individually. Transgender people are challenging the core concepts of the gender binary by proving that gender is not fixed. “
There have been some legislative improvements for transgender people in California in the last few years. AB887 made it easier for transgender people to change their identity documents. This year, AB1266 allowed students in middle and high school to participate in sports or gendered events in their preferred gender identity.
So…how do you act as an ally?
Last month, the entire office staff of NCJW/LA went through a mandatory training on diversity. The workshop was called “Being an Ally to the Trans Community” and it was led by Drian.
Here are a few things cisgender (non-transgender people) folks should know about being a true ally to the transgender community, as explained and written by Drian Juarez in her presentation:
You can be an ally this month simply by attending a Transgender Day of Remembrance. Here are few events in LA County:
West Hollywood Library on Wednesday, 11/20/13:
Beth Chayim Chadashim on Friday, 11/22/13:
September 18, 2013 | 1:25 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
Hillary Selvin is the Executive Director of the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles and enjoys the spirituality that comes with being in the outdoors surrounded by the beauty of nature.
“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives”.
Remember that opening line from the TV soap opera series? I might be aging myself here but when we reflect about those words what do we really think about? From my own experiences as a three time cancer survivor the reflection that comes during this time of year, especially for me during Kol Nidre, is the power of our bodies to heal and the ability to keep moving forward. Who we become is a reflection of the challenges we have met throughout our lives.
When you look at the hourglass it seems that in the beginning the sand goes slower and the pebbles are easily seen. As the sand continues to fall it bunches up and some pebbles pass through the narrow part of the hourglass more easily than others. By the time you get to the end and all of the sand has reached the bottom of the hourglass, we see the pebbles spread out and flowing through until the last one drops down.
Just as the pebbles begin overlapping, so do our lives. In the beginning things are smoother and as life goes on we see more challenges. In the end our choices in life become clearer. In today’s world we talk about life transitions. When we are young the world is before us and we feel we can conquer anything. We choose our friends and careers based on what we dream we want to be or what falls into our laps because of choices we make. Life is ahead of us and we cannot wait for what is around the corner.
As we continue to grow the years start moving too quickly. Before we know it we have graduated high school and college and are working. The world we live in revolves around making it through life, getting better jobs, family, and other responsibilities. Our dreams become less fulfilled as everyday life gets in the way. Health is still pretty good and we are enjoying our best years. It is a time for us as adults to continue to choose our paths; for many revolving around work and family. It is a time to find balance in our lives. So many things we need to deal with; the choices we have made and the challenges that have confronted us.
Then the years really start getting behind us and the saying that the years go by so much more quickly as you get older really rings true. We begin to reflect on our youth, the choices we have made and we want to figure out where we’ll go next in our lives. Health, which for most of us has never been too much of an issue, all of a sudden becomes part of our everyday reality. We are now aging and our bodies are telling us that all the fun we had in our 20 – 40’s is catching up with us, but that does not mean we are going anywhere.
Our past and the challenges we have faced do not define us but become part of who we are, reflecting our choices, our loves and our lives. As a matter of fact, these can be our most amazing years as we put our experiences, knowledge and hopefully some of our wisdom to good use. Today it is called third chapter. Our life his full of different chapters, behind us and ahead of us, but the third chapter I believe is the best time for us to truly make an impact and difference for ourselves, those around us, and the world. It is really not that difficult.
So… “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives”. My goal is to make each day count and to remember that as the sand bunches up it also thins out to reach its destiny. I hope for you all that as the road becomes clearer you may find your destiny.
August 21, 2013 | 5:46 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
Alexandra Batzdorf just completed a summer internship at the National Council of Jewish Women/LA. Alexandra is a current Bard College sophomore majoring in Sociology with a concentration in Social Policy.
The first time I went to my high school’s “Womyn in Today’s Society” club, or WITS, I was terrified. Although I was intrigued by posters around school advertising WITS, it was not something I ever anticipated exploring. But my boisterous, self-assured friend was going that day and she insisted that I come along. I glanced nervously over my shoulders to make sure no one I knew was around to see me and label me a feminist.
Then I opened the door and walked into what would turn out to be the warmest, most positively influential space of my high school career.
Looking back, I’m not really sure exactly why 14-year-old me was so afraid. I come from a liberal family with a mother who is both a major financial contributor to my family and a feminist. My parents lived through and supported the women’s liberation movement and often had conversations with me about women’s rights. As I quickly learned through WITS, I was already a feminist. But to my peers and me, feminism was a dirty word.
I’m sure there’s a multitude of reasons why being dismissed as a feminist is enough to stop many an arguer dead in her tracks and replace her confident passion with shame, but I think one of the most influential culprits is the Internet. My parents’ generation is the first to have to worry about the information their kids are exposed to on the web. Many people find themselves opposed to censorship, but afraid of what might sculpt the young minds of their children. Before I go on, I want to make it clear that I’m not saying the Internet has single-handedly caused sexism. Sexism has been alive and well since way before the Internet. But the attitudes on the Internet reflect those in mainstream society, often with fewer filters and through an intensified lens due to the anonymity that the Internet provides.
While an obvious culprit may be access to porn that more often than not dehumanizes women, in my opinion, the more insidious problem is social networking. Today’s youth is absorbed by it. We’ve seen it used time and time again as a tool for cyber bullying. People are expected to present two images to the world: the real live person who physically interacts with people and the more symbolic social network profile that must somehow appeal to peers, future employers, family members, and the approximately 1.15 billion other members of Facebook all at once. This is a daunting task. Gone are the days of trying to keep work life and personal life separate.
With all this pressure to please everyone, people are bound to get picked on by someone. And with the ability to send messages to anywhere in the world, people are not afraid to voice their opinions. It’s easy to forget there’s a real, live person behind the computer screen. The combination of guaranteed anonymity and the higher threshold for shock value resulting from the exposure the Internet provides is a recipe for young people to gain the bravery to be meaner and to lose awareness of consequences on peers. In this way, social networking is an extremely effective method of perpetuating shame.
I’ve read articles about people who have had photographs of themselves breastfeeding removed from Facebook for indecency, while pages devoted to dehumanizing women remain untouched, despite countless reports. On reddit, a collection of interactive communities separated by topic, there is a subreddit (page within reddit discussing a certain topic) called “/r/TheRedPill,” (1) which describes itself as a “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.” Its title alludes to the red pill from The Matrix films that represents the painful and difficult objective truth of the world. It has 13,588 members. The subreddit “r/MensRights” (2) has 77,090 members. That is roughly the size of Camden, New Jersey. And what’s worse, the subreddit “/r/RedPillWomen” (3) has 1,160 members.
Men and women are affected by sexism and it shows. Just last year, I was at a museum with my then 8th grade cousin when he pointed to a painting depicting a naked woman with pubic hair and told me, “she needs to shave.” He is one of the sweetest kids I know. His mother works at a nonprofit devoted to social justice. I’ve had fantastic conversations with her about sexism and she often gives me books about influential women. Yet he already had a definite, restrictive notion of what it means to be valued as a woman in today’s society. He said it with a giggle, not anger or disgust. I can’t blame him any more than I can blame myself for fearing WITS at his age. He honestly didn’t know better.
Deeply engrained sexism can be seen everywhere. An activist from Australia was recently attacked via Twitter for “challeng[ing] [Tyler “The Creator”] Okonma’s lyrics, which encourage rape and violence against women by vocally supporting a petition on change.org that suggested he shouldn’t be playing all-age shows.” (4) The Twitter community responded by flooding her with tweets threatening to rape and murder her. (The tweets got pretty graphic, but if you want to see the whole story and some examples, see the link under “SOURCES” on the bottom of this page.) An attorney in West Virginia is trying to prevent future cases like the Steubenville, Ohio rape case by creating “Project Future,” (5) a program that teaches teenagers not to share evidence of rape via social media so they don’t get in trouble. This is disturbing not only because the response is to teach teens not to get caught, rather than not to rape, but also because the rapists were confident enough that the social media community would be accepting of their actions that they posted blatant proof.
Recently, The Hillary Project, a group devoted to keeping Hillary Clinton out of the White House, released “Slap Hillary,” (6) an interactive game that allows users to virtually slap a cartoon rendering of Clinton with a picture of her face. Disagreement with a political leader is remedied by violence against women. The only reason sites like this, as well as Twitter attacks, viral evidence of rape, and anything else on the web promoting sexism exist is that people who post them feel comfortable doing so. They have the expectation that others share these views and the safety of being physically separated from those who don’t.
I’m not saying the Internet has destroyed our youth. Times change. Trends swing back and forth like a pendulum. The Internet has simply exacerbated the seemingly inevitable fate of progress. But I do not want my generation to be known as the content people who went backward in the fight for freedom. Oppression shouldn’t make a comeback like Doc Martens and the high-waisted jeans that I remember being so popular in the ‘90s.
The Internet can be a fantastic tool for educating youth about systems of oppression among an almost infinite number of other things. And there are definitely sites out there that provide people with a lot of empowerment and self-positive education. The web has allowed for connections that simply weren’t possible before. I’ve been part of a Facebook page that allows young women in the U.S. and the Middle East to have open discussions about gender. And I still frequent subreddits with articles and dialogues pertaining to systems of oppression. But not everyone stumbles upon blogs like this one. We cannot expect people growing up with the World Wide Web to emerge unscathed by the hatred that still exists.
Kids have no way of knowing how much fighting has happened throughout history for women, people of color, the LGBT community, or any other group of oppressed people, which is quite an extensive list. It is our responsibility to teach them. Not everyone is lucky enough to go to WITS or experience the 11th grade social justice curriculum that was taught to me in the amazing Humanities Magnet in my high school. For those of you who have/know pre-teens who don’t feel comfortable talking about sexism (or that you want to provide with more information), I HIGHLY recommend Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism (7). It is sassy, fun, informative, and an overall enjoyable read created to empower young women afraid of the feminist label. I wish I had read it sooner. If you don’t think your kid will want to read it, fine, but then have conversations!
Do something! We are facing a time when the government is stomping on our reproductive rights. Planned Parenthoods are closing all over the country. Abortion is becoming more and more difficult to access legally. Female politicians are criticized for their looks, advocates of birth control are shamelessly called sluts (which remains a scathing insult, for reasons beyond me), and our youth are too desensitized by the Internet’s high threshold of acceptable critique to see the problem with this. If we want to maintain the work that has been done so far, let alone further progress, WE NEED TO TALK TO OUR KIDS ABOUT THE INTERNET.
August 5, 2013 | 1:41 pm
Posted By Allison Pearl
Allison Pearl is a summer intern at the National Council of Jewish Women/LA, a native of Los Angeles, a Marlborough high school graduate, and a current student at Vassar College. At Vassar, she is studying psychology and drama, as well as pursuing her interests in gender studies, writing and literature.
I did not come easily to feminism. I resisted the title because I was afraid of making the word a part of myself: that blurry, future person I was simultaneously trying to find and create throughout adolescence. Growing up and becoming myself was, and continues to be, a slow, delicate process, and I used to fear that dropping ‘feminist’ into the image that I was so carefully attempting to craft would be a clumsy mistake. And personally, I didn’t feel differently about the title after reading statistics, or after encountering sexism, or even after reading Simone de Beauvoir. My transition into seeing myself as a feminist grew out of something I have known and owned about myself my whole life: I am a reader. Both in school and on my own, I am perpetually in the middle of a book, with an ever-growing, unread stack waiting on my nightstand. I always begin a book hoping to lose myself in the balm of another world, another life. Yet, more often than not, a book will turn out to be a drifting embarkation which ultimately transports me back to myself: a quiet, familiar shore. I didn’t know while I read some of these books, nor for some time afterward, what my destination was, but when I arrived and then turned to look behind me, they were, of course, all right where I had left them. They had borne me back to myself, and when I turned around, this is what I saw:
“She, for an instant, delayed deadly purpose in tears and reflection,
Fell, ghostlike, on the bed where she uttered a few final phrases:
‘Spoils that were so sweet once, while fate and its god gave permission,
Take to yourselves this soul. Cut me loose from all of this anguish.’ […]
This said, she pressed her face to the covers: […]
‘This is the fire that, far out to sea, the cruel Dardanian’s
Eyes must absorb. He must carry with him these omens of our death.’”
I chose to take Latin in high school because I liked the dreamy, dusty seclusion of a dead language, the riddled grammar and crude pronunciations that create pictures, not sentences: once-sweet spoils, vessels on the shore, the path to the dead world, eyes absorbing. These fragments of Book IV of The Aeneid rise slowly up to meet me as I translate. Doomed, sweet Dido meets her end on a school bus in afternoon traffic on Pico Boulevard. She is beautiful to behold, even out at sea. She flings herself on the smoking pyre, adding herself to the pile of Aeneas’ forgotten possessions, and the smoke billows into the sky. This is Dido’s final message to Aeneas, who watches from his receding ship, and to me, her reader, watching from my own drifting vessel. Anticipating a written assignment, I lift my eyes from the page and begin to formulate Dido’s defense, contemplating her actions, her victimization, and her place in a man’s story. Eventually, I will reread this with an analytic eye that will spread a frost over the page. But in this moment, when the language is not dead but dying, I witness her, I feel the burden of desolation she ignores in her unshared death. Fifteen, on a school bus, in my khaki uniform skirt, a highlighter in my teeth, I underline with pen beneath her message.
“I espied thee, fair indeed and tall,
Under a platan, yet methought less fair,
Less winning soft, less amiably mild,
Than that smooth wat’ry image; back I turned,
Thou following cried’st aloud, “Return fair Eve,
Whom fli’st thou? Whom thou fli’st, of him thou art,
His flesh, his bone; to give thee being I lent
Out of my side to thee, nearest my heart
Substantial life, to have thee by my side
Henceforth an individual solace dear;
Part of my soul I seek thee, and thee claim
My other half’: with that thy gentle hand
Seized mine, I yielded.”
Eve- on trial. I’m sixteen, hurriedly reading Paradise Lost for AP English Literature, and I underline her image with unease. Someone is here; someone is knocking at the door. It occurs to me that there is more here than what is written on the page, and there is more to her. Eve is in the garden, and it doesn’t feel quite right. Apprehension slowly rises in me as I ponder the possibilities of what would happen if I looked below, at my own image, and liked what I saw, unimaginable as that may be. I do not know why or how she wants to return to her own self, the image in the pond, but I begin to think that perhaps I do not empathize not because I don’t understand, but because she is designed to be misunderstood. I am still far at sea, and the gleaming signal of smoke is perfectly mistakable for so many different things. Perhaps it means pain, anger, desolation, danger, submission, or even something more sinister, and I can’t know for sure, but I underline nevertheless. I watch with fear and envy her attempt to follow instincts that I cannot discern. These are just details we will skim over in class, but even though she fails, even though it all goes perfectly wrong, I am a witness. Here is reasonable doubt, disguised by his flesh, his bone, an individual solace dear. I ask if Eve is possibly a victim more of Milton, rather than Satan, and a classmate quickly says no, of course not. I can see why you would think that, but definitely not. I hesitate, then yield.
“She became with all that power sweeping savagely in and inevitably withdrawing, hypnotized, and the two senses of that vastness and this tininess (the pool had diminished again) flowering within it made her feel that she was bound hand and foot and unable to move by the intensity of feelings which reduced her own body, her own life, and the lives of all the people in the world, for ever, to nothingness. So listening to the waves, crouched over the pool, she brooded.”
I am in bed, hypnotized and stricken. I am holding To the Lighthouse on my chest, pressing hard for air. Waves are crashing all around a woman alone on a shore, before an ocean. This feels both overwhelmingly old and new. I feel the words seeping into me as I take in this woman on the page now pressed to my chest. There are some words we read that are forever written on our faces. I am inside and outside, vast and tiny, bound hand and foot. I am all tied up. I cannot really fathom it all at once, but something is ebbing and flowing. I feel myself drifting ever closer to the distant shore, with each book transporting me closer and each tide tempting me back. Relief, sorrow, confusion and envy are all flowering within me, and I guess as to why. These women have a witness to their pain, thoughts, bravery, love, reasoning, sensations, brooding: simply, to their experiences of self. I feel rootless, vast and tiny. I am feeling and listening and underlining them, but I am incidental. I am unseen and I think, quietly and timidly, that there is still more to me, in here.
“What did she so desire to escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: that what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disc jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?”
‘What else?’ All the answers ebb away as the chapter ends. I am reading The Crying of Lot 49 for a reason I will not have again. All of the answers are unmistakably in the ‘what else’: whatever will be left unsaid, whatever I find alone, whatever I can never have explained. Oedipa Maas is going to open a door I cannot follow her through. I don’t think I know any better. The rest of the book feels nauseating and bitter cold, but this part feels like the tide pool remaining once the ocean harshly pours away. Drifting architecture, no within and no without. The tower is everywhere, albeit magically and dizzyingly incidental- but everywhere. I can press hard in every direction, measure its field strength, even towards myself, into myself, but I am inescapable. All the power sweeping savagely in and inevitably withdrawing. I think I knew the solution, even then. Retrace my steps. This is the fire that eyes, far out to sea, must absorb. Take root. Find a witness.
“But look, I am writing once again.
I write, I wrote, I took root.
I am again one- and I can pull
So much thought, pulled taut
But then I will be furniture again,
My split ends are decoration in one’s home
But look now I am not even one, but everyone’s.
I do not do what I will
I did not come to be a subject
When I was so good at playing the object
And now I am no one’s.
And now I cannot come, I am all tied up.
I am not what anyone wanted. So I won.
Amateur and immature
I take root so I can be my own,
Because when one is one’s own, one is
Never a little too anyone.
I wrote to prove you wrong, and I
Did by becoming some thoughts, pulled taut.
You taught me, and I have slackened
Now into just this one,
So no, my only one-
I will not come.”
Less winning soft, less amiably mild. This is the end of the poem I write as high school comes to a close. Several people who matter in my life ask me if it is about them. I can see the words on their faces. And when each of them asks me, my immediate thought is yes, of course, everything works out beautifully if it’s for someone else. But I always say no, of course not. I can see why you would think that, but definitely not. They are all individuals solaced, but I am hearing a knock at the door. Someone is in here. There is still more here. I want to apologize for it, avoid and deflect what I am reading and what I have now allowed everyone else to read. Maybe my poem is designed to be misunderstood. But somehow, quietly and timidly, I don’t apologize, I don’t let go, and I don’t let it be a misunderstanding. This is my wat’ry image: a picture, not a sentence, less soft, less mild. And no one will try to turn back to it, except me. I will try, and try, and try. I try for a reason that I will never have for anything else. I retrace my steps. This is the fire that, far out to sea, eyes must absorb. Even from a distance- even through the smoke, the sea, the waves, the frost, I have finally glimpsed what I had misunderstood about the word. The message found me. I am now perfectly unmistaken, perfectly unmistakable in myself. This was always the destination. When I reached myself, when I saw myself arrive from a history, from a sea of women, I became a feminist. I read these women, one by one, and I suspect that sooner than I realized, they were all written upon my face.
(Sources: The Aeneid by Virgil, Paradise Lost by John Milton, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon)
July 24, 2013 | 4:32 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
Honestly, if I have to hear or see one more radio, T. V., newspaper, or magazine discussing the “Royal Baby”, I might just give up and walk off a cliff.
Seriously? Is this really the most important news of the century? At this point, I’m just going to use the “Royal Baby” attention to try and get you to visit my blog and actually take some important actions that can truly make a difference. Below are some important legislative updates and I’ve even included easy to follow action items so you can turn off that T.V. or put down that magazine and do something today with the time you otherwise would have spent thinking about the “royal welcome” or how Queen Elizabeth feels about the new heir being a boy.
1) Military Sexual Assault: You probably have heard a lot about military sexual assault this year. Did you know that unwanted sexual contact in the U.S. military actually rose by 37 percent in 2012? That’s 26,000 people, both women and men, being sexually assaulted in our military.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has proposed the Military Justice Improvement Act (S 967) to change the archaic system that allowed commanding officers to investigate and prosecute assault cases among their troops. With S 967, professional military prosecutors will now be responsible for handling sexual assault cases. You can take action to help get the MJI Act passed by writing a letter to your Senator. (For those of you in California, Senators Feinstein and Boxer and are both Sponsors of the Bill so you can thank them for their support.)
At this link you can easily contribute to the fight against military sexual assault by writing a letter to your Senator.
Also, the following Senators really need a push so if you have friends in any of these states, please nudge them to call their Senators. This a bi-partisan issue. You’ll find that there are both Democrat and Republican Senators who have held out in supporting this Bill. We need to contact them today to get them to change their minds.
Senators not yet openly in support of the Bill (all of their contact info and this alert can be found at www.4vawa.org):
Arkansas: BOOZMAN, John
Colorado: BENNET, Michael F
Connecticut: MURPHY, Christopher
Georgia: ISAKSON, Johnny
Idaho: CRAPO, Mike
Idaho: RISCH, James
Illinois: KIRK, Mark
Illinois: DURBIN, Richard J
Indiana: COATS, Daniel
Kentucky: McCONNELL, Mitch
Louisiana: LANDRIEU, Mary L. <
Montana: BAUCUS, Max
Montana: TESTER, Jon
Nevada: REID, Harry North Carolina: BURR, Richard
Ohio: BROWN, Sherrod
Oklahoma: COBURN, Tom
Pennsylvania: TOOMEY, Patrick J.
Rhode Island: WHITEHOUSE, Sheldon
Texas: CORNYN, John
Virginia: WARNER, Mark R.
Wyoming: ENZI, Michael B
When you call, be sure to ask to speak to the staff person who handles military/defense legislation and say:
• I am a constituent from [city and state] and my name is _________.
• I urge Senator [insert name] to co-sponsor S. 967, The Military Justice Improvement Act, which will hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable for their actions and provide victims of military sexual assault access to safety and justice.
• Thank the staffer for their time.
2) Another action you can take, if you’re a California resident, is in favor or Assembly Bill 271, which would repeal California law that encourages poor women to be sterilized, and you all know from my last post how I feel about that! I’m not going to write a lot about it because you can read it all on this blog post by Assemblymember Holly Mitchell who authored the Bill and Social Justice Advocate Sandra Fluke at www.momsrising.org.
But to take action, click here to sign onto this MoveOn petition. See how easy I'm making this for you?
Yes, I admit that I’m being pretentious and maybe a tad self-righteous here. And I admit that I’m using the “royal baby” phenomenon to get you to read my post and take actions on important issues that require true civic engagement. But, I have no shame and, at the very least, I own up to it. If you agree, let me know. If you disagree, go back to reading your tabloids. I’m over it.
July 10, 2013 | 5:56 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
“Mark my words, some future Governor of this state will come before the citizens to apologize…Jerry Brown can save that future governor the whole ritual by acting now.”
That is what Chris Hayes had to say on July 8th, when covering the report by Corey G. Johnson of the Center for Investigative Reporting released on July 7th: “Female Inmates Sterilized in California Prisons Without Approval.”
From 2006-2010, 148 women inmates were sterilized without the doctors obtaining approvals required by the state to do so. It’s likely that another 100 women were sterilized in the late 1990s as well.
The report states: “Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future.”
The residents of California and the United States should be outraged; thank goodness for the few news agencies who have picked up this story!
In the report, former women inmates detail being pressured into tubal ligation during pregnancies. Sterilizations during labor or childbirth are not allowed in prisons if federal funds are used to perform them due to the very real and obvious “concerns that prisoners might feel pressured to comply.” Dr. Dorothy Roberts clearly explains: “soliciting approval for sterilization during labor is coercive because pain and discomfort can impair a woman’s ability to weigh the decision.”
California has a horrifying history with sterilization. From 1909-1964, 20,000 women and men in CA were sterilized. The report also notes that Nazis asked California eugenics leaders for advice on the matter in the 1930s. See the quote by Hitler, which Chris Hayes mentioned on his show, in the photograph.
Hayes connects the issue of sterilizations in prisons with problems in our prisons in general. He notes that prisoners in California are conducting their 3rd hunger strike to protest “subjection to decades of indefinite state-sanctioned torture, via long term solitary confinement.” In California inmates can be held in solitary confinement indefinitely and 70% of those who committed suicide in California prisons in 2005 were in solitary confinement at the time, according to Hayes’ report.
The CIR report states that:
“Under compulsory sterilization laws here and in 31 other states, minority groups, the poor, the disabled, the mentally ill and criminals were singled out as inferior to prevent them from spreading their genes.”
Justice Now, a non-profit organization based in Oakland, has been actively trying to get medical data and records from the prisons for several years. A response they got from the Receiver’s Office acknowledged that tubal ligations were taking place in 2 prisons in California back in 2008. But nothing was done about this until 2010, when Justice Now filed a public records request and complained to Senator Carol Liu, who was then the Chairwoman of the Select Committee of Women and Children in the Criminal Justice System. Dr. Ricki Barnett of the Health Care Review Committee explained in the report that no requests for tubal ligations had come to the Committee for review since she joined the Committee in 2008. Barnett told officials at both prisons and at nearby hospitals to stop the sterilizations, but said in the report that they seemed to not know about the existing restrictions on the procedure, “operating on the fact that this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.”
Some of the doctors who performed the surgeries have claimed that they just wanted to provide options to the women inmates just as they would have options outside of prison and to ensure that their health is a priority. But inmates have claimed that they were pressured into getting tubal ligations without being given reasons or explanations as to why they should do so.
The doctors who performed these coercive procedures should be held accountable for their actions. Governor Brown must step up and, yes, apologize for the State’s lack of oversight and enforcement of the law and should ensure that those who work in the prison system are held accountable for wrongdoing. Future medical professionals in our prisons must be thoroughly trained to provide proper medical care to inmates, care that respects their human desires and needs, and does not use intimidation or coercion to perform eugenic procedures on disempowered populations. A process for review on the state level is necessary and the residents of California have a right to be informed and to review policies and procedures in our prisons.
Below is a statement made by Governor Davis back in 2003 to the 20,000 victims of sterilization mentioned earlier in the article. I believe it is time for another apology!
June 28, 2013 | 12:47 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
I’d been wondering for a while about the Shulamit Gallery. What was behind this place that focused on Israeli and Iranian art but had opened up its space to events that allowed for dialogue on political and social topics? Last Monday I attended an event in the beautiful gallery organized by New Israel Fund in which their Law Fellows, a Palestinian Israeli and a Jewish Israeli, both women, spoke about their work in Israeli human rights law.
Art, politics, presentation—all of this on Venice Blvd? What is the gallery’s role in the maze of the LA Jewish community?
On June 2, 2013 I met Shula at NCJW/LA’s Annual Meeting, which she attended as our Keynote Speaker, and I finally got some answers. Shulamit Nazarian, the Founder and Director of the gallery is behind the mystery that makes the Shulamit Gallery so intriguing and unique (not to mention her fabulous Co-Director Anne Hromadka who is a true expert on Jewish art and deserves a shout out). Born and raised in Iran, Shula and her family moved to Israel in 1978 when the revolution started. Because it was difficult for her father’s company to conduct business in Iran from Israel the family decided to leave Israel for the United States after 9 months there.
Arriving to Los Angeles in 1979 was no easy feat for the family as there was a lot of anti-Iranian sentiment among American Jews, who, as Shula explained to me, “misunderstood who we are as Iranian Jews and what was happening in Iranian politics at the time.” Despite the challenges they faced upon their move, Shula’s father always told her that the best thing that ever happened to them was the rise of Khomeini because they were able to come to the United States and have the kind of freedom they were never able to have in Iran.
During her keynote talk, Shula mentioned her indebtedness to her parents for raising her with the concept of Tikkun Olam and for teaching her of her responsibility to give back and help others. In every way they felt they could make a difference, Shula’s parents and family have supported art, music, educational, and other nonprofits in both the U.S. and in Israel through their family foundation. Shula’s pride in her family’s philanthropy is almost tangible when she speaks about her parents and about it, but her passion for her heritage stands out most when she speaks.
“Our history goes back to Queen Esther in Iran and Iranian Jews are the keepers of Iranian culture because even Islam and other religions came to the Persian Empire after we were already there,” Shula explained to me. This deep connection to the history of her community in Iran and their role as keepers of the culture played a role in leading Shula to be “a keeper of culture” herself.
Much of the art shown at the Shulamit Gallery makes a subtle political statement. “Artists have no boundaries so they can use the language of art in ways that are more ambiguous and open to interpretation,” says Shula. “I know for a fact that Iranian artists can get away with expressing themselves in ways that are important to them. It transcends beyond the boundaries of their country. So their art becomes their language for advocacy and expression and it becomes a lot less in your face. It allows the viewer to interpret it or understand it on their own. I think it’s important that they express those challenges that they experience as a community, as women, as people with political limitations.”
For Shula, showing coexistence and collaborations through art that already takes place in Israeli society is important: “people outside Israel don’t hear about it and are not aware of it and it’s so important that American Jews who have a huge fallacy about what’s going on in Israel see it because these are the strengths of Israel. “ Through exposing the art of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Israelis, Shula hopes to show the diversity within Israel and to help American Jews more deeply understand the Middle East.
Beyond art, politics, and the Middle East, starting the gallery was a significant milestone in Shula’s personal life as well. Around 7 years ago, Shula purchased a home designed by renowned mid-century architect A. Quincy Jones. Shula herself is an architect and, at the time, had recently divorced and found herself searching for meaning in her personal life. In expressing how she felt at the times, Shula said: “I felt that one of the ways was to support women and people in my community through something, but I wasn’t sure what that was.” As things happen when you least expect them, Shula fell into showing art in her new home. A few of her Vietnamese friends asked if they could show their art in her home and she agreed to do it, discovering a new passion for showing art. Shula was already involved with the USC Hillel Art Committee and soon ended up showing an exhibit of Iranian Jewish art at USC Hillel. She then transported the exhibit to her home to exhibit there. With her newfound passion for showing art, Shula felt that her home was not the ideal space for public art viewings. Thus, eight months ago, Shulamit Gallery was born.
For Shula, starting the gallery was part of her personal transition after her divorce. When I asked Shula what her advice would be to other women going through similar transitions in their lives, here’s what she said: “I think that transitional times are difficult and you feel like you’re in the air, you don’t feel the ground under your feet. But at the same time it’s the ambiguous times in your life that are a huge opportunity to start really going back inside and going back into your own essence. It’s actually a beautiful moment in your life. As difficult as it is, you have to trust yourself to know that we all have a role. Within time you will see the changes and you will see people coming into your life that allow you to push towards achieving your goals.”
Visit the Shulamit Gallery to see their current exhibit, Cessation, by artist Orit Hofshi until July 27, 2013. Information can be found on their website: www. shulamitgallery.com.