Where do the Tempest Tossed go now?

As everyone surely knows, immigration is a big deal these days in politics. As someone who considers himself a centrist who leans in the direction of sensibility, I feel that some type of reform is needed. Whether that reform is a complete overhaul on how we determine the who, what, when, where, and whys of our immigration policies, or a simple creation of a short term work VISA program for migrant or seasonal workers to work in the agricultural labor field where many Americans do not want to work in the labor intensive, back-breaking profession of large-scale farming.

My writing today is addressing a specific case, one which I only know what I have read in the news media. I have done my due diligence, I have looked on various different media platforms from NPR to Politico to Fox News online. The story involves Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. On Wednesday of last week, May 3rd, the honorable Senator let out a flurry of posts on Twitter aimed at the White House in regards to an immigration case that apparently has been ongoing since December of 2015.

The Pennsylvania Gazette provides a good description of the plight of a mother and her son attempting to escape possible death at the hands of Honduran gangs. The article states that the mother and child had been picked up shortly after crossing the US border illegally and were sent to be detained at an immigration detainment center in Berks County in Pennsylvania. Then, over the next 17 months an apparent legal battle ensued to determine whether or not these two would be granted asylum. The article and every other article based on this case mentions that the mother and son had been targeted by Honduran gangs after the mother had witnessed a murder according to NPR.

NPR, the Pennsylvania Gazette, Fox News online, and Politico all mention that the legal appeals on behalf of the mother had all been exhausted. What I feel is important is to note that the deportation of the two came as Senator Casey live tweeted his attempt to get Homeland Security, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and the POTUS himself Donald Trump to intervene on behalf of the young child and his mother. For as the two were being out on a plane to Honduras by Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents, direct or with layovers no one is sure, lawyers were advocating for the boy under the Special Immigrants Juvenile Status as outlined by US Customs and Immigration Services.

If you do not want to read the text at the site or at the American Immigration Council’s site, it boils down that the mother had run out of options, the boy had not. Yet they were still deported. As of right now I do not know their fate, I hope for the best. Why the article if it has been covered by all of these news outlets. To advocate for sensible immigration reform. Our lawmakers in Congress have kicked around Immigration Reform for decades. From the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 which retired the national origin quota system, to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act which increased the crack down on those who employ immigrants in the US unlawfully, to the immigration reform of the 1990’s which increased immigration ceilings and created new categories of immigrants. Most of this increased the difficulty of coming to the US to work if you are an unskilled laborer. Because those who come to work seasonally on farms are a threat to American Jobs.

As an American who was, at one point, a young teenager. I worked in a cannery as a teen. I worked along several Latino men and women. We all worked, yet there seems to be a lack of illegal immigrants in white collar positions (my personal observations). Many do work in the restaurant business and have contributed to communities in very positive ways as with the case of Roberto Beristain. All tend to have valuable contributions to the economy. Our fruit and vegetable businesses are able to keep cost low because of low-cost labor, immigrants (illegal and legal) like Mr. Beristain provide for us cultural delights that we all enjoy. (Your local, small business burrito shack/truck would not exist without said immigrants. And I DARE you to say that food is not delicious) They purchase American goods, create diverse communities which integrate good ideas and people into them, and participate in the corporate economy in ways we cannot even fully describe.

Yes there are criminal immigrants. Those who engage in illegal drug trafficking, human trafficking, and other types of criminal behaviors. Those do exist, I do not deny that. And they must be dealt with appropriately, I do not know how. But I feel that some sort of threshold has to be reached where we admit that we need the low-cost, unskilled (yet skilled [have you ever worked on a farm] in many ways) laborers for very specific reasons. We must advocate to our Senators and Representatives to produce legislation that recognizes this and allows for the legal transit of these workers to those who require their labor.

For as the Statue of Liberty so eloquently states:

“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

So I ask you, no I beseech you, if the tale of a mother and 5 year old sent to the possibility of violence moves you. If it makes you wonder what does it take for a person to be accepted as an immigrant in need of shelter, if it makes you pause and think about the possibility of other deportations of similar people under this new presidency which seems to advocate increased action by our US ICE offices regardless of the situation or standing of said possible immigrants, or if you just sit and worry slightly at the plight of others and sympathize with those caught up in violent situations who have been made part of the huddled masses cast out of the nation which has offered up its shores before. Advocate for sensible immigration reform to your Senators and Representatives. Offer ideas and suggestions. Perhaps one of you will come up with the idea that in some way allows a 5 year old boy to continue to live in a place where he and his mother will be safe, safe from gangs who commit violent crimes against those who inadvertently witness their violent actions. Become involved, speak out, and resist the actions of our government which threatens to turn us into a nation of unfeeling, elitists who do not remember that all of us, except the member of Native American tribes, come from immigrants.

Please leave any comments or suggestions.

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A New Day, A New Direction

For several months now I have been struggling about my direction with this blog. For a while now it has been about travel and food, and while I continue to love these things. I am compelled to write about more serious matters. As many of you know (I hope) the President of the United States is extremely divisive. While I do not agree with him, he is my President as he won the electoral college. This is indisputable. Where is this going? The president is, and should be held to account by the people, not just his supporters, but all the people. His wide ranging comments, accusations, and stated intentions have grown from what I will call an annoyance to myself, statements which frustrate me to the point of near depression, to rhetoric which is alarming at its smallest and destabilizing at the most extreme. Destabilizing to the country in which I was born, the country which I served, and the country which I love. So I will write about the current state of affairs from my point of view. If you do not like it, I am sorry, but do not spit vitriol at me. Instead, seek to engage me in constructive conversations to allow us to grow to understand each other.

First, I did not vote for Hillary Clinton. My argument was I have always felt that she would not be an effective president. I believe the Mrs. Clinton made a good senator in New York, and she was an excellent Secretary of State. But as President I feel that she would not have been the person which would be able to represent the people beyond the large donors to her campaign (As Donald Trump has been representing thus far). So I did not vote for her.

Second, I am neither Democrat or Republican. While I registered to vote in the Democratic Primary this last year. I feel strongly that I am an Independent due to my support for progressive social values, yet a strong desire for conservative national economic values. Why social progressive? I grew up hearing that everyone deserves a chance. Every person is a human and no one is different except in what they do, in this belief all deserve a chance to reach their full potential free from the constraints of discrimination or bigotry. In this I feel that the individual is responsible for their actions, yet their choices (conscious or unconscious) in their social and home life should not bias me for or against them. Gay, straight, black, white, urbanite, rural dweller, Democrat, Republican…all are American. This I believe. For to long we have seen the opposite of ourselves as the “enemy” or opponent. As a society we have forgotten how to listen to the other side in an effort to compromise and find the middle ground…in fact we have never had that skill.

We claim that our country was founded on the idea that compromise in government will lead to a manner of governance which all feel represents them in some way. While our early government made compromises in this which led to the emergence of civil and social conflict. The issues of slavery and the industrial workplace haunt our nation enough today to remain in our social consciousness well beyond what we see as the end of the conflicts and confrontations which we believe solved them. This means that racism still exists, even having had a president who identifies as African American, discrimination exists, the struggle between the labor and capital classes still exists, and the struggle by some to have their basic human and civil rights still exists.

I realize that the preamble to what I will talk about has gone on far enough, but I wish to drive home the point that I feel that all have the right to exist as long as they respect the appropriate social contract tenants: obey the law in the cases where the law is not discriminatory or senseless. In those cases, work to change the laws. Treat and respect others as you wish to be treated and respected, or as a favorite comedian of mine says “don’t be a dick”. And work to understand those you do not understand, that way you can seek to become a better person who understands more about your nation as a community, rather than your community within the nation. I believe that if you seek to understand all who live within our nation (I do not say agree with everyone), this nation will grow beyond the sectional disagreements we currently possess to become more focused as a people and nation. Seek discussion and accord rather than division and discord.

Now for my new beginning. This morning I awoke to articles on the BBC and Guardian news services (I read foreign news services first because of the biases so prevalent in our own news) in which President Trump was quoted as saying “He blamed the constitutional checks and balances built in to US governance. “It’s a very rough system,” he said. “It’s an archaic system … It’s really a bad thing for the country.” This blaming of the system, in my mind, seeks to undermine the very bedrock of our nation which was was created by the founders, which has been amended trough blood sweat and tears, and which allows Americans to exist in a nation which does not allow for the despotic actions of a single, egomaniacle man. Prior to these statements my feeling was that President Trump is the President of the United States. I felt that he deserved the chance to present his agenda and attempt to get his laws passed. And he did, and to his consternation he was blocked legally and through political action by Congress, courts, and individual efforts of those who protested. This is how a President’s wants and desires are balanced out. Now he is seeking to change the manner of balancing those wants and desires into something which will allow him to act unilaterally without a check on his power or his actions. This is unacceptable. This is reprehensible. The fact that he has put forth the idea that he should not have his power checked is as un-American as I can conceive of when thinking about government.

While many media outlets remained focused on his approval ratings, his international relations actions, or his strange and meandering though processes as demonstrated by both his actions and his interviews. I would like to look not only at the rhetoric above but his ideas regarding loyalty. Especially in light of his re-deceleration of Loyalty Day on May 1st. While this is not a new phenomenon as we are reminded by many media outlets. The important thing to observe both his rhetoric, and the manner in which this event was covered.

When looking at NPR we see a recall of all presidential recognition of the day, from Eisenhower to Obama. We are reminded of the anti-Communist origins of the day, to the appeals to remember the diversity of the nation by Presidents Johnson, Reagan, and Obama. And NPR shows how the day was used by presidents to push agendas in regards to the beliefs of the time in which they were issued. FOX gives us a brief blurb of what the President declared with no regard to the history of the deceleration. Finally the Guardian gives the deceleration the examination in reference to the President’s thoughts on the Constitution and the investigation into the administration’s ties to Russia as summarized by the National Review here (Author David French) and by Politifact’s Lauren Carroll here. However, both accounts are out of date and we are receiving updates on these investigations nearly every week. As the President continues to make disparaging remarks regarding the make up of our nation’s government as seen in his questioning of the constitution (archaic system is how he termed it) or his questioning of Federal Judges.

With all of his questioning of the legal right of Federal Judges and the Constitution, as well as his possible ties to Russia. Dissent and investigation into this President is necessary, necessary to maintain our system of checks and balances, necessary to maintain our freedoms and prevent them from subversion by a man who is clearly nepotistic, and necessary to give voice to everyone in the nation. Not just those who President Trump views as his base. More next time.

So let’s recap; the best Chinese food is in the Middle East, Napoli pizza took my breath away, and street food is good everywhere (unless some bastard under cooks a meatball and you end up in the hospital after a horrible few days). I’ve covered Italian, Middle Eastern, and Chinese cuisine. But there is more…

I am one who adheres to the belief that food aids in the definition of culture. I believe that our very identities are wrapped up in food, everywhere. My earliest encounter with this was in the Costa Rica during a trip my Junior Year in high school. Of all the memories I gathered in that trip, the red beans and _______________ (add your accompanying dish here) was something which defines that trip for me. Even when I have not eaten the dish in 20 years. It is something that I can visualize and when I do the overpowering memory of taste takes me to that trip with fondness which outstrips my memory of any high school event ever.

Where am I going with this? Well, last post I wrote about street food and I am about to again. Most of us eat bread. And when we think of good bread we think of loaves or artisan breads which we’ve found that accompany a meal particularly well, sometimes we dwell upon the breads from a bakery which have been developed and perfected over a millennia of experimentation and crafting. I personally hold a great affinity for French Bakeries because, well what food person doesn’t really? Baguettes and other delicious creations come from there and go with everything from pasta to mixtures of oil and vinegar. But one of my favorite breads ever came from a place where I expected pasta to reign supreme.

In the city of La Spezia, Italy I found a bread which just thinking about makes my mouth salivate to the point of having to stop writing and drink something. I had roamed about the streets for the better part of a day with a friend. We didn’t find the layout to be anything near what Naples offered, but it was charming and we found interesting things here and there. But when we stopped in a small shop for a snack I discovered what I call Italian flatbread.

This bread was similar to that which use for panini’s, it looked like a flat Ciabatta with holes in it for some reason. When I tasted my purchase the buttery smoothness overwhelmed my taste buds and good sense. Over the duration of my visit there every meal involved that bread. I sought it out for snacks, and today I remember it fondly. I have tasted other delightful breads, but the memory of that one always brings a smile to my face. It makes me look into small shops to see what is there, that experience is what drove me to try things like Shwarma and other street culinary delights. That bread would be worth the difficulties of immigration…come to think of it, if anyone knows of a job in Italy I can get I’d head there in a heart beat!

A Memory of Taste Part 2

In my first post I wrote about the succulence of Napolie pizza. And while that was excellent, my next post is one of my favorite dining experiences. From November 2002 to June of 2003 I was stationed in Bahrain. While there I lived in the town surrounding the base. My friends and I would often venture out into previously unexplored (by us) portions of the town to find restaurants and bars.

On one of these occasions a buddy and I happened upon a building adorned in Arabic and Chinese writing. There were cars parked out front and a valet was taking keys and ushering people inside. Now, upon seeing this we could have decided to high tail it elsewhere, but our curiosity got the better of us. Not knowing if we would be turned away, we parked the car a short ways up the street and walked to the front door. As we approached the doorman opened the door and ushered us inside the building.

Once inside we realized this was a restaurant. It was set up like a Sheri’s or Ihop, a waiting room in the foyer with padded benches and the dining room was filled with booths and tables. As we looked into the dining area we saw families, Bahraini and foreign alike, but no American or European looking faces looked back at us.

The host sat us at a table in the center of the room, our water was brought, and a menu was set in front of us. As I opened the menu I was greeted with nothing but Arabic and what looked to me like Mandarin writing…no English was seen. I looked at my companion, he looked at me, “What the fuck?” We both shrugged and continued to look at the menue until our waiter approached us.

He greeted us, and asked us if we wanted anything to drink, and then saw our puzzled expressions. “Can you read the menu?” Once we told him no, he chuckled. “I can bring you food…if you’d like, trust me.” We decided to take his word for it, gave him the menus, and sat back to wait.

Once our food came, at first I was slightly disappointed. It was a small plate of veggies, and by small plate it was the size of a small salad plate. A little dubiously we began to eat…and the food was good. The first plate was finished quickly, and as soon as we were done a new plate was put in front of us. I almost didn’t notice the plate was taken away, but when the new plate of food was put in front of us we tucked in and continued to eat.

Now, I’d like to say that after the second plate of food we were done, because we could have been. No, instead I have to tell you that we had another plate set in front of us. Now, not being one to complain about good food, I started on that plate albeit much slower. This continued through the fourth, fifth, and sixth plates of food. I normally didn’t fill like this except on Thanksgiving but I kept on, mostly because the food was delicious but also by some sort of sense of misguided honor that this was a challenge to the Americans in this decidedly local restaurant.

As we finished the sixth different dish we saw a seventh approach, it was set in front of it and I looked at it, a man defeated by food. By stomach was so full that I wanted to lean back, loosen the belt and ease the snap of my jeans open to allow my belly room to escape. Our waiter appeared, “How are we doing? Is the food satisfactory? Do you need more?” This was the last plate! We were on the home stretch! My  mind made itself up, I would finish this meal, my taste buds had overridden my capacity to stop as soon as I knew an end was near. We informed that waiter that all was good and asked for the check. “No dessert?” I wanted to strangle him, but we politely declined and he walked away.

As we finished the meal I knew that this had been something special. When he returned with the check we asked the waiter about the restaurant. He informed us that the king of Bahrain had invited a 5 star chef from Hong Kong to come and start this restaurant. We had just eaten small portions of all the popular dishes from the menu. I was impressed, and as I rolled out the door I wondered if I’d ever eat Chinese food this good again.

Now I have lived and worked in China on several different occasions. In the North, South and Central portions of the country, and I have never eaten like I did that day in Bahrain. It was amazing in my memory. And the surprising nature of it most likely remains lodged in my brain for all time, but the accidental finding of the restaurant is one of my favorite experiences while traveling.

A Memory of Taste

Why do you travel? This is a question I get a lot. Whether it is designed to dig into my thought processes, or to fill the awkwardness some people feel during silences during social situations, it comes when people learn I have traveled and intend to continue to travel as I am able. For most we travel for different reasons, for me the reason is simple. Food. Experiencing places through food is a way to know people, don’t believe me? When you were growing up which friend’s house did you like the best? The one that had either good food or the best snacks (or the easily accessible booze…). I had a lot of friends who were fun to spend time with, but my favorite places were where the family would feed me good food. And if I was fed bad food, well…I didn’t spend to much time there.

So I travel to eat, and this has led me to partake in some interesting dishes. From street food to 5 star restaurants I have eaten a lot of different foods (man I am talking about eating a lot right now). My favorites are so different from each other that I demand that I keep looking to find new taste experiences, that way I can experience not only a country but one of the most important facets of its culture around a dinner table.

In Europe, my favorite foods thus far have come from Italy. I have ranged from England to Spain and down into Croatia…but Italy has captivated my taste buds thus far. The first of two places is in Naples, I don’t remember its name…hell it might not even exist anymore as I was there in 2000. All I remember is we walked up the dock, past the citadel and into the small streets of the city. Somewhere back in there we happened upon a restaurant that boasted a brick oven to bake its wares. The clientele ranged from families to obvious couples on dates, menu was simple and we ordered in no time at all. I ordered what I remember to be the diablo pizza and I sat back to wait.

In no time at all the pizza slid in front of me, round slices of pepperoni surrounded by melted mozzarella cheese with pepper flakes cooked into the cheese, sauce, and crust. If you have not experienced Napoli Pizza, then shame on you. It is not like American pizza, each one is intended for an individual, or to share between two. There is not small, medium, or large. They were all one size, and that was enough for me. As I dug into the round dish I noticed the explosion of different flavors; fresh mozzarella, fresh pepperoni, fresh dough, and enough spices to cause me to immediately break out into a sweat.

As I took each bite my mind screamed “ITS TO HOT YOU DUMMY!” But my mouth over rode this with the thought of how delicious this was. My father has said the same about ghost pepper tacos, ghost pepper sauce on his burritos, and other ghost pepper dishes…I still refuse the ghost pepper sauce. Anything that might haunt Mario and the Princess doesn’t deserve to be eaten. This pizza on the other hand made me forget where I was, who I was, and what my purpose was for the short time it was on my plate. It was delicious…a true thing of beauty. To all the people I know who have traveled through Naples, most have experienced the same or a similar restaurant. To those who travel to Naples, search it out, after the Citadel it is one of the small streets on the right hand side…If I could remember the details I would live at the restaurant.

Next time…the Middle East!

Pit falls and hilarities

So early last week I ate something, what it was I could not say (I have a sneaking suspicion that it was a meatball that at the time I thought was delicious). What ever that something was, Monday night I awoke around midnight with the dreaded bubble in the stomach that your mind automatically uses to check if all the hatches are still water tight. I then proceeded to spend Tuesday in a suspended state of dread and on the toilet. All this has happened when I no longer have anything to read and no TV to entertain myself, leading to my imagination taking me away from my be only to be abruptly jarred back to reality by an unpleasant gurgling in my lower intestines. Over the next day I cat napped, in the same manner as I day dreamed, until Wednesday morning. I was able to get to the hospital accompanied by one of my Chinese counterparts and spent time being evaluated and questioned in a state of dehydration and exhaustion which led me to believe that some funny things were being said about me. During this trip I learned a few things; first and foremost Chinese hospital visits cost considerably less that the American counterparts. I spent a total of 350 Chinese RMB for diagnosis, lab tests, and prescriptions which comes out to around $35…another win for the arguments for social medicine in my book. Secondly, when they want a waste sample to evaluate, imagine trying to get that squating over a hole in the ground while exhausted from dehydration and diarrhea…and opening the stall door to see what can only be described as an adult sized potty training device. The shame and exhaustion I felt was further exacerbated. Finally, Chinese hospitals aggressively treat things such as this, I was given a shot in the posterior, and IV drip, and enough drugs to help a moose with bowel problems I’m sure and sent home. Those drugs had me feeling better by that evening, I slept fairly well and was back at work the next day. All in all the Chinese doctor told me I got sick because I ate something when I was cold, so I had to take my medicine with hot water to even that out, this yin and yang approach to modern medicine is humorous to say the least, it was the main topic of jokes amongst my western companions here for the last few days. Next time I decide to eat under cooked food, I’ll drink both hot and cold water to ensure that I don’t get sick….

Observations

While my time here continues to bring me joy, there are always oddities and weirdness which cause me to chuckle. Perhaps one of the best benefits of teaching history in China is the near reverence the people have for the past. I know that this is a byproduct of the Confucian beliefs regarding ancestors, but it still warms me to hold a position of respect for my field of study. The fact that during class Communist Party song blast from speakers adorning the school is a source of never ending mirth and frustration due to my mind constantly wandering and wondering as to the content of the songs. I learned today that sometimes the parents need to be cajoled to orderly conduct when picking up their child, I determined this after seeing the gate guard in a helmet with an honest to goodness truncheon. That forced me to reconsider the concept of American helicopter parents. The best part is I’m slowly learning some words, and being able to communicate more efficiently is important, especially when choosing food.

 I’ve finally gotten the heat working in my flat, the next step is to explore a little beyond my village…