On Fear, Anger, and My Students’ Stories

Over at the new site, I’ve got a new post up that starts from Valeria Luiselli’s new book, Tell Me How It Ends, which the Texas Observer calls “the first must-read book of the Trump era.” Luiselli writes “it is never inspiration that drives you to tell a story, but rather a combination of anger and clarity,” and in my post I try to show how that’s reflected in the words and actions my students have put out since the election.

Check it out to learn about Luiselli’s amazing book, and to read my students’ words about the Day Without Immigrants protests that followed February’s ICE raid in Austin. Here, for example, is something a girl in my 4th period class wrote:

“Not many of our parents were able to stay home or miss work. So we as kids fought for our parents. Our parents crossed the border and worked off most of their lives for us. Now it’s our turn as kids to return the favor.”

And from a girl in 5th period:

“Every day when I wake up, the first thing I think of is, ‘What would happen to me if one day my parents get deported?’ I think it is not fair that my parents are afraid to go to work, but they have no choice because they are trying to get money to buy food and to pay the rent. It is hard for me to see my parents afraid of what is happening today in our country.”

I hope you’ll go read the whole thing.


I’ve Got a New Blog


I know it’s been a while since I’ve written here. But in case anyone is still checking in or getting notifications from this blog, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve started a new blog, with a broader theme, so I can write about all of the issues that are popping up in the Trump era. Please check it out: scholarlytexan.wordpress.com

From my first post:

In his essay “Why I Write,” George Orwell describes a particularly un-poetic chapter in his  1938 memoir of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia. In it, Orwell resorted to sheer reportage in defense of Trotskyites who were falsely accused of collaborating with Franco. Orwell worried that the chapter ruined the book. It was too dry, too factual. Nonetheless, he had to include it. “I happened to know,” Orwell explains, “what very few people in England had been allowed to know, that innocent men were being falsely accused.”

I happen to know, for example, what immigrant students write about what their lives are like now, under the Trump regime. I happen to know how they react when they hear the president’s name, or when they hear about anti-immigrant bills like SB4 or HB 383 in Texas. (To generalize, the girls start talking and planning and asking questions; the boys look down and to the side in anger.)

And I happen to know, too, that many Americans–white Americans like me, like the friends I grew up with–will never have to face this reality. I know that many of these Americans are kindhearted and don’t want to see families broken up over decades-old immigration violations. I also know that some of those sameAmericans soothe themselves with the notion that ICE is only going after the “bad guys.” I had one conversation with a Trump voter who told me that she supports the new DHS deportation priorities because, she said, “the same sort of felonies that would land me in prison are the going to land some illegal immigrants back in their home countries.”

I happen to know that’s not the real story. I happen to know, for example, that more than half of the immigrants arrested in February’s ICE raid in Austin had no prior criminal records. I happen to know, too, that many of my students have had parents deported solely for immigration-related offenses, or for “crimes” that would never land a (white) citizen in prison.

Read the rest, and expect more soon!




Who Is Listening to Pope Francis?

What’s the point of having a pope if every time he says something your response is “Yeah, yeah, we already knew that”?

Anybody watching the months-old tenure of Pope Francis has figured out the pattern by now: 1) Pope says something provocative; 2) secular media thinks it means a change in Church teaching; 3) Catholic Right says “It’s nothing new!”; 4) Rinse, repeat.

Look, I understand being frustrated that the secular media reports on Church teachings without being fully versed on the Catechism—but that really shouldn’t be surprising.

But I also see a big problem with just assuming that everything the Pope says is just more of the same. Namely, it excuses you from the responsibility of actually listening to him.

To wit: At the end of July, Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago, decided to withdraw church funds from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights because the board of the coalition publicly expressed its support for gay marriage. That is, the Church thought that the work of the Coalition was good, and they were willing to work with them to achieve that good work, until the Coalition said something disagreeable to the Church.

This comes two months after Pope Francis stressed the importance of meeting one another doing good. That sermon was more famous for the Pope’s insistence that even atheists are redeemed by the blood of Christ (and for the controversy that caused), but the important concept in it was what Francis called “the culture of encounter.”

Here’s what he said:

“And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

That seems to me to be the opposite of what Cardinal George is doing in Illinois; rather than meeting the Coalition board in its good work, rather than recognizing the best in them, he’s emphasizing their difference and what he sees as their error. And he’s refusing to do good with them.

Cardinal George quotes Pope Francis in his statement about the decision. Specifically, he cites Lumen fidei, noting that Francis wrote there that marriage should be “a stable union of man and woman,” based on the “goodness of sexual differentiation.” But that could have been written by any of Francis’ predecessors—in fact, it probably was written by Pope Benedict XVI, who started the work on that encyclical.  And so the pattern continues. Pope Francis is doing some wonderful and, yes, different things. But certain segments of the Catholic Church seem too wrapped up in finding continuity to pay attention to them.