QUEENS OF JAZZ:
The Joy and Pain of the Jazz Divas
QUEENS OF JAZZ:
The Joy and Pain of the Jazz Divas
Nina is song. Not just a vocalist or singer, but actual song. The physical vibration and the meaning too. A reflection and projection of a certain segment of our mesmerizing ethos. Culturally specific in attitude, in rhythm, in what she harmonizes with and what she clashes against, merges snugly into and hotly confronts in rage. All that she is. Especially the contradictions and contrarinesses. And why not. If Nina is song. Our song. She would have to be all that.
Nina is not her name. Nina is our name. Nina is how we call ourselves remade into an uprising. Eunice Waymon started out life as a precocious child prodigy — amazingly gifted at piano. She went to church, sang, prayed and absorbed all the sweat of the saints: the sisters dropping like flies and rising like angels all around her. Big bosoms clad in white. Tambourine-playing, cotton-chopping, tobacco-picking, corn-shucking, floor-mopping, child-birthing, man-loving hands. The spray of sweat and other body secretions falling on young Eunice’s face informing her music for decades to come with the fluid fire of quintessential Black musicking. But there was also the conservatory and the proper way to approach the high art of music. The curve of the hands above the keyboard. The ear to hear and mind to understand the modulations in and out of various keys. The notes contained in each chord. She aspired to be a concert pianist. But at root she was an obeah woman. With voice and drum she could hold court for days, dazzle multitudes, regale us with the splendor, enrapture us with the serpentine serendipity of her black magic womanistness articulated in improvised, conjured incantations. “My daughter said, mama, sometimes I don’t understand these people. I told her I don’t understand them either but I’m born of them, and I like it.” Nina picked up Moses’ writhing rod, swallowed it and now hisses back into us the stories of our souls on fire. Hear me now, on fire.
My first memory of Nina is twofold. One that music critics considered her ugly and openly said so. And two that she was on the Tonight show back in the late fifties/very early sixties singing “I Love You Porgy.” Both those memories go hand in hand. Both those memories speak volumes about what a Black woman could and could not do in the Eisenhower era. They called her ugly because she was Black. Literally. Dark skinned. In the late fifties, somewhat like it is now, only a tad more adamant, couldn’t no dark skinned woman be pretty. In commercial terms, the darker the uglier. Nina was dark. She sang “Porgy” darkly. Made you know that the love she sang about was the real sound of music, and that Julie Andrews didn’t have a clue. Was something so deep, so strong that I as a teenager intuitively realized that Nina’s sound was both way over my head and was also the water within which my soul was baptized. Which is probably why I liked it, and is certainly why my then just developing moth wings sent me shooting toward the brilliant flashes of diamond bright lightening which shot sparking cobalt blue and ferrous red out of the black well of her mouth. This was some elemental love. Some of the kind of stuff I would first read about in James Baldwin’s Another Country, a book that America is still not ready to understand. Love like that is what Nina’s sound is.
Her piano was always percussive. It hit you. Moved you. Socked it to you. She could hit one note and make you sit up straight. Do things to your anatomy. That was Nina. Made a lot of men wish their name was Porgy. That’s the way she sang that song. I wanted to grow up and be Porgy. Really. Wanted to grow up and get loved like Nina was loving Porgy. For a long time, I never knew nobody else sang that song. Who else could possibly invest that song with such a serious message, serious meaning? Porgy was Nina’s man. Nina’s song. She loved him. And he was well loved.
In my youth, I didn’t think she was ugly. Nor did I didn’t think she was beautiful. She just looked like a dark Black woman. With a bunch of make-up on in the early days. Later, I realized what she really looked like was an African mask. Something to shock you into a realization that no matter how hard you tried, you would never ever master white beauty because that is not what you were. Fundamental Blackness. Severe lines. Severe, you hear me. I mean, you hear Nina. Dogonic, chiseled features. Bold eyes. Ancient eyes. Done seen and survived slavery eyes. A countenance so serious that only hand carved mahogany or ebony could convey the features.
The hip-notism of her. The powerful peer. Percussive piano. Pounding pelvis. The slow, unhurried sureness. An orgasm that starts in the toes and ends up zillions of long seconds later emanating as a wide-mouthed silent scream uttered in some sonic range between a sigh and a whimper. A coming so deep, you don’t tremble, you quake. I feel Nina’s song and think of snakes. Damballa undulations. Congolesian contractions. She is an ancient religion renewed. The starkness of resistance. And nothing Eurocentric civilization can totally contain. Dark scream. Be both the scream and the dark. A crusty fist shot straight up in the air, upraised head. Maroon. Runaway. No more auction block. The one who did not blink when their foot was cut off to keep them from running away. And they just left anyway. Could stand before the overseer and not be there. Could answer drunken requests to sing this or that love song and create a seance so strong you sobered up and afterwards reeled backward, pawing the air cause you needed a drink. You could not confuse Nina Simone with some moon/june, puritan love song. Nina was the sound that sent slave masters slipping out of four posted beds and roaming through slave quartered nights. Yes, Nina was. And was too the sound that sent them staggering back with faces and backs scratched, teeth marked cheeks, kneed groins, and other signs of resistance momentarily tattooed on their pale bodies. And despite her fighting spirit, or perhaps because of her fighting spirit, the strength and ultra high standard of femininity she established with her every breath, these men who would be her master would not sell her. Might whip her a little, but not maim her. Well, nothing beyond cutting the foot so she would stay. With Nina it could get ugly if you came at her wrong, and something in her song said any White man approaching with intentions of possessing me is wrong. Nina sounded like that. Which is why this anti-fascist German team wrote “Pirate Jenny” and it was a long, long time before I realized that the song wasn’t even about Black people.
Nina Simone was/is something so potent, so fascinating. A fertile flame. A cobra stare. Once you heard her, you could not avoid her, avoid the implications of her sound, be ye Black, White or whatever. Her blackness embraced the humanity in all who heard her, who experienced being touched by her, whose eyes welled up with tears sometimes, feeling the panorama of sensations she routinely but not rotely evoked wherever, whenever she sat at the altar of her piano and proceeded to unfurl the spiritual history of her people. When Nina sang, sings, if you are alive, and hear her, really hear her, you become umbilicaled into the cosmic and primal soul of suffering and resurrection, despair and hope, slavery and freedom that all humans have, at one level or another, both individually and ethnically, experienced, even if only vicariously. After all, who knows better the range of reactions to the blade, than does the executioner who swings the axe?
Nina hit you in the head, in the heart, in the gut and in the groin. But she hit you with music, and thus her sonorous fusillades, even at their most furious, did you no harm. In fact, the resulting outpouring of passions was a healing. A lancing of sentimental sacs which held the poisons of oppressive tendencies, the biles of woe-filled self-pity. A draining from the body of those social toxicants which embitter one’s soul. A removal of the excrescent warts of prejudice and chauvinism that blight one’s civil make-up.
Sangoma Simone sang and her sound was salving and salubrious. Her concerts were healing circles. Her recordings medicinal potions. She gave so much. Partaking of her drained you of cloying mundanities. Poured loa-ed essentials into the life cup. You left her presence, filled to your capacity and aware of how much there was to achieve by being a communicative human being.
Nina Simone. Supper clubs could not hold her. Folk songs were not strong enough. Popular standards too inane. Even though she did them. Did them to death. Took plain soup, and when she finished adding her aural herbs, there you had gumbo. Nina hit her stride with the rebellious uprises of the sixties, and the fierce pride of the seventies. Became a Black queen, an African queen. Became beautiful. Remember, I am talking about a time when we really believed Black was beautiful. Not just ok, acceptable, nothing to be ashamed of, but beautiful. Proud. And out there. Not subdued. Not refined. Not well mannered. But out there. Way out. Like Four Women. Like Mississippi Goddamn. Like Young, Gifted And Black. Like Revolution. Like: “And I Mean Every Word Of It”. This was Nina who did an album with only herself. Voice. Piano. And some songs that commented on the human condition in terms bolder than had ever been recorded in popular music before. Are we The Desperate Ones? Have We Lost The Human Touch?
My other memories of Nina have to do with the aftermath. I recall the aridness of counterrevolutionary America clamping down and shuttering the leading lights of the seventies. Nina’s radiance was celestial, but oh my, how costly the burning. Seeking fuel she fled into exile. Who would be her well, where could she find a cool drink of water before she died?
Then, like indiscreet body odors, the rumors and gossip began floating back. The tempest. The turning in on the self. What happens when they catch you and bring you back. Reify and commodify you, relegate you back into slavery. You are forced to fight in little and sometimes strange ways. But the thrill is gone. Cause only freedom is thrilling, and ain’t no thrill in being contained on anybody’s plantation, chained to anybody’s farm. Anybody’s, be they man, woman or child. Nobody’s. Nothing thrilling about not being liberated.
Nina, like most of us, went crazy so that she could stay sane. Just did it hard. Was a more purer crazy. Cause she had so much to be sane about. So much that leeches wanted to siphon, sip, suck.
How do you stay sane in America? You go crazy. In order to be.
To be proud. And beautiful. And woman. And dark. Black skinned. You have to go crazy to stay sane. You have to scream, just to make room for your whispers. You have to cry and cuss, so that you can kiss and love. You have to fight. Fight. Fight. Lord. Fight. I gets. Fight. So tired. Fight. Of. Fight. Fighting all the time. But ooohhh child things are gonna get easier.
Don’t tell me about her deficiencies, or her screwed up business affairs, her temper tantrums, her lack of understanding, her bad luck with men, her walking off the stage on the audience. Don’t tell me about nothing. None of that. Because all of that ain’t Nina. Nina Simone is song. And all of that is just whatever she got to do. Like she said: Do What You Got To Do. Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.
I play Nina Simone. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. This morning. Tonight at noon. Under the hot sun of Amerikkka, merrily, merrily, merrily denigrating us. In those terrible midnights. I play Nina Simone. Just to stay sane. Stay Black. To remember that Black is beautiful, not pretty. Beautiful is more than pretty. Beautiful is deep. I play beautiful Nina Simone. Nina Song. I play Nina Simone. And whether Nina’s song turns you off or Nina’s song turns you on, whose problem, whose opportunity is that?
No. Let me correct the English. I don’t play Nina Simone. I serious Nina Simone. Serious. Simone. Put on her recordings and Nzinga strut all night long. And even that is not long enough.
To be young, or ancient. Gifted, or ordinary. But definitely Black, definitely the terrible beauty of Blackness. Nina Simone. Nina Song. Nina. Nina. Nina.
Oh my god. I give thanx for Nina Simone.
—kalamu ya salaam
Submission deadline: Year-round
The Voices Project, an online literary venue for women to promote social change, is taking submissions of poetry or prose. Women and girls of any age or education level are encouraged to submit. We take submissions year-round and accept poetry no longer than 2 typed double-spaced pages. Prose, no longer than 250 words. Please include a short bio (200 words or less) with your submission. Anonymous submissions and multiple submissions welcome, no more than 3. Submit through our website: www.thevoicesproject.org/submit.html OR email us at email@example.com. Please read our detailed submission guidelines (download) on the “Submit” page of our site.
Online submission deadline: Rolling
BLACKBERRY: a magazine is an online literary magazine featuring black women writers and artists. Its goal is to expose readers to the diversity of the black woman’s experience and strengthen the black female voice in both the mainstream and independent markets. We’re currently looking for poetry, (a lot of) fiction, nonfiction, spoken word, and flash. Please check out our previous issues and take a peak at our site to get a feel for what we like.www.blackberryamagazine.com
The International Seminar organized under the title “The Role of Culture in the Caribbean Today: Contexts and Challenges,” will take place from September 29 to October 3, 2014 at Casa de las Americas in Havana, Cuba. The deadline for submission of abstracts is September 1, 2014.
The keynote speakers are: Anja Bandau, Richard Price, Sally Price, and Félix Valdés. Workshops will be led by specialists Alanna Lockward and Jean Frédéric Chevallier.
Description: In the current context, exponents of culture in the Caribbean region face numerous recurrent or recent issues, such as various colonial legacies, multilingualism, socioeconomic inequalities, and geographical isolation that serve as obstacles to dissemination and exchange. This situation, which is expressed in the frameworks of its multiplicity, implies for creators, producers, researchers and other professionals in the culture, the ability to develop sustainable projects, corresponding to the specifics of this cultural region. The seminar will feature keynote speeches by national and international experts; in addition to panels and workshops, there will be an opportunity for exchange and project planning for young professionals under 40 in the fields of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts.
The main topics to be addressed are: The contemporary Caribbean: A multicultural and trans-territorial cultural context; interdisciplinary approaches: popular religion, community, marginalities and exclusions in the Caribbean; the role of culture and critical debate in the Caribbean today: artistic creation and institutionalization; and perspectives of knowledge and new networks in the era of global communication.
Each workshop will have a maximum enrollment of 10 participants each, organized around the following topics: 1) Emerging artistic forms and sustainable projects for the Caribbean; and 2) Contemporary cultural practices, and community outreach in the Caribbean.
Interested parties should send their proposals for papers (for 15-minute presentations) or for participation in the workshops in Spanish to firstname.lastname@example.org before September 1, 2014. Proposals should include a brief abstract (250 words and title), a 200-word curriculum vitae, and a document with the following personal information: full name, nationality, highest degree attained, specialization, postal address, phone number, and email address. Submissions for papers should specify the main topic (see list above) to which the presentation relates. Submissions for workshops should indicate the preferred workshop topic.
Accepted participants will be notified by September 10, 2014.
For more information (in Spanish), see http://laventana.casa.cult.cu/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=8299
[Photo by Josef Willems.]
JULY 25, 2014
Adrien Sauvage is a young Ghanian-born British stylist, designer and photographer. His label is ironically titled “This is not a Suit” (ironic because he specializes in suits, like that other Ghanaian British designer, Ozwald Boateng).
The below short film/campaign titled ”The Art Of DE” (or Dressing Easy) was created, co-written, co-directed and stars Sauvage himself. He’s usually directly responsible for his ad campaigns, I read.
But I really dig this… it’s, for lack of a better phrase, cool! I love the simplicity of it (though also effective), as well as the black & white cinematography (I’m a sucker for black & white film, especially today, when it’s so very rarely used).
This immediately made me think of Jorgen Leth’s short film “The Perfect Human,” which I also included below.
Here’s Sauvage’s short film/ad (underneath it is Leth’s ”The Perfect Human” if you haven’t seen it).
JULY 23, 2014
As the Department of Homeland Security tries to deliver busloads of Central American children and families to places of temporary safety, shrieking demonstrators in California, Arizona, and other states are barring the way and demanding these kids be dumped over the border.These outbursts resemble the ugly mentality that, in 1939, prompted our government to send a ship with more than 900 German Jews aboard back to Europe where many were eventually killed by the Nazis. Like them, many of the Central American children will be murdered if they are returned home.
That’s what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees concluded after interviewing hundreds of these kids.
“The M-18 gang told me if I returned to school, I wouldn’t make it home alive,” said a 17-year-old boy identified as Alfonso.
“I was threatened by a gang. In El Salvador, they take young girls, rape them and throw them in plastic bags,” said 15-year-old Maritza. Like Alfonso, she fled to the United States.
Our government has apprehended more than 50,000 children so far. Protestors objecting to their arrival call them “invaders,” but these kids are refugees. They travel here on their own out of desperation — to escape murder, rape and conscription into gangs. And the United States bears much responsibility for the violence they’re fleeing.
Most of these kids are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, where the murder rate is spiking. The U.S. rate is 4.7 murders per 100,000 people. The rates in El Salvador and Guatemala are nearly 10 times as high, and in Honduras, 20 times — 90.4 killings per 100,000.
Children are in the crosshairs: More than a thousand young people were murdered in Honduras last year, and murders of children under 17 are up 77 percent over last year. One 13-year-old in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula was slain for trying to quit a gang. His 7-year-old brother was tortured and killed after he went to find him.
Why is this our problem? For some of us, the fact that frightened children have turned up on our doorstep is sufficient. If that’s not enough, how about accepting responsibility for the problems our government created?
The gangs ravaging Central America are the fruits of U.S. deportation policies, America’s failed Drug War, and instability stoked by decades of U.S. military intervention in Central America.
Even after Nicaragua’s “contra” conflict and El Salvador’s civil war simmered down, our government continued to destabilize the region. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the U.S. deported thousands of gang members convicted of various crimes “back” to the Central American countries where they were born. Those youngsters had imbibed the gang culture in the United States. But now, Uncle Sam told Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, they’re your problem.
Many of these young people had come here as toddlers. English was their primary language, and they had no real ties to their supposed homelands. Their prospects were dim: With few lawful skills, they unleashed their gang activities in their new homelands, including the illegal drug trade.
The war on drugs is a huge failure and hasn’t made a dent in U.S. illicit drug use. But criminalizing U.S. drug use has meant staggering profits — in excess of $4 billion each year — for Central American gangs. That money finances the violence and corruption that overwhelm local governments, and so the gangs of Central America have metastasized.
And so, too, children are confronted by killers. “They asked me who was my father,” 16-year-old David told a UN interviewer. “I told them my father was dead. They told me to say goodbye because I was going to join my father.”
No wonder Central American parents are willing to risk sending their children alone to the United States.
Given the major role our country played in creating this situation, we can’t tell those mothers and fathers their kids aren’t our problem. Most of us in this nation of 318 million people are the descendants of immigrants. We have room for child refugees who fear for their lives.
Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney who lives in Northern California. He supplements his work as a Silicon Valley intellectual property lawyer with pro bono work on behalf of the underrepresented. Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)
July 01, 2014
The historic influx of illegal immigrants from Central America is caused primarily by the high demand for illicit drugs in the United States, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said Thursday.“If you look at the root of the problem, you’ll realize that your country has enormous responsibility for this,” Hernandez said in an interview with The Washington Post — one of the only few extended conversations he had with American news outlets during his visit this week to Washington.
Hernandez and the leaders of Guatemala and El Salvador are scheduled to meet Friday with President Obama, Vice President Biden and members of Congress to discuss the mass migration of Central Americans to the United States, many of whom are young, unaccompanied minors.
Drug trafficking to the United States “generates violence, reduces opportunities, generates migration because this is where there’s the largest consumption of drugs. And we’re on the route,” he said. Raging drug violence in Honduras “is leaving us with such an enormous loss of life, and young people, generations of young people that we have lost because they entered the world of drugs. What is being done in the U.S. on the topic of drugs?”
He suggested later that American officials believe that drugs “is a health problem. For us, it’s a matter of life and death, and that’s not fair. What’s fair is that we work together dealing with our own responsibilities.”
(Watch video of the interview below or here)
Hernandez said that his government has been told by U.S. officials to expect a steady return of Honduran migrants in the coming weeks. As they return, Hondurans “arrive with pain in their broken hearts” — because they have been returned and because they feel cheated by human smugglers who collected thousands of dollars for an ultimately unsuccessful trip north.
Currently, two groups of migrants are being returned three times per week, he said. One group is flown from the United States to Honduras, while another wave comes by bus from Mexico and Guatemala.
“From Mexico, they come in buses, in big numbers. We’ve had to triple the size of our centers in order to receive these people. They’re coming en masse, but we’ve said that we need to be careful in order to respect their human rights,” he said.
During the interview, Hernandez was shown recent photos of young children and women who have been held in facilities near the U.S.-Mexico border. Asked whether he thought Central American immigrants are being treated properly in those facilities, he said: “At the first area along the border, I think they need to be treated better. But when they move on into the air bases or shelters, with more commodities, they’re in better condition. But, what good is it to be in a golden cage, if you don’t have your freedom? Or if you’re not free?”
“That’s why we need to have a fair process so that judges are watching out for the rights of kids, to reunite, and if then there’s nothing that protects them, then we’re here to receive them. With all our flaws, but we’re going to receive them,” he said.
Asked about Americans who believe that illegal immigrants should be returned to their home country as soon as possible, Hernandez sought to remind skeptics that the recent immigration wave has more to do with humanity than politics.
“Look, I’m a family man. And I would say that the important thing is for people to look into their conscious and to think like a father who’s here and wants to see their child. Or a mother who hasn’t seen their child in 12 years. It should be human point of view, first of all,” he said.
A full transcript of the interview, which was conducted primarily in Spanish, is below. It has been translated and edited for clarity:
Question: You’re here in Washington for meetings with President Obama, Vice President Biden and members of Congress. How would you assess how the U.S. government is handling this crisis? Is the U.S. responding appropriately?
Hernandez: First we need to establish that this is a humanitarian crisis. I think that we can do more, what we’re doing is not sufficient. That’s why we’re here. I’ve spoken with the presidents of Guatemala and El Salvador and we’ve put together a blueprint for a plan, a plan that would take the same route that once was an alliance of progress that the U.S. launched in South America, something similar to what Colombia did with the United States, Mexico and the United States.
And I would say those two plans were successful, but it moved the phenomena of drugs into Central America. And now, for us, it’s a big topic of many lives involved, more than ever in the history of the country, in the last decade.
Q: So you want a plan similar to those that Mexico and Colombia had with the United States to combat drug trafficking. People here in Washington will say that’s fine, but your government needs to show that It’s doing something to solve this crisis.
Hernandez: That’s the sad part of this for us, that there’s so little information in the United States about what we’re doing.
Q: Well, what are you doing then?
Hernandez: In the last presidency I was the president of Congress. One of the biggest problems has been the drug trafficking through Central America, particularly in Honduras where narco leaders from Mexico and Colombia set up camp, because of the two plans we just mentioned. We decided to work with the United States in the process to extradite Hondurans who’ve been involved in these crimes and because this would be a powerful persuasion. Well, we modified the constitution to begin with. We have already extradited the first Honduran. There are four capture orders in process right now. But either way, we are checking every justice operator, and they’re being put through tests of confidence. That had never happened in Honduras.
As a result of a series of measures we’ve taken, we now have judges, prosecutors, police officers, and military judges, because the problem was that the criminal organizations had penetrated the institution.
Another thing that we have done is create a task force that focuses on the migrant, which is being led by my wife. She came to the U.S. to visit the kids in the border, to surround herself with information about the crisis. We’re using our own resources like never before, tending to them with medics, with psychologists, giving them the opportunity to have access to jobs in the fields, as well as in the city. We have created incentive programs of production in the fields, and these programs are available to them. At the same time, [we have] the entire social offers from the government, to guarantee or support our presence in the borders with Guatemala, El Salvador.
For the first time, in one month we captured two leaders of human smuggling gangs. That’s never happened before. But we had to close our migration office because it was full of people working for the organized criminals. And now, we have created a new office that is producing important results. But equally, Honduras can put forth the effort, and we’ll continue doing it because we want to resolve the problem. But the problem is of such magnitude, that we need the U.S. to understand that this is a shared responsibility, but differentiated, and at the same time, that leaders in Washington understand this: If Central America lives in peace, if Central America reduces violence caused by drugs, if it’s a place of opportunity, it will be a great investment for the United States and there won’t be any more cost.
Q: Can you ensure that Hondurans deported back to your country will be treated safely and that people deported back to your country will get economic, education and health services if they come back?
Hernandez: I would like to invite you to come so that you can see our central attention facility that we have. They arrive with pain in their broken hearts, but also these are people that are in debt with the coyotes (human traffickers) before coming here, they sold everything.
So we receive them, we give them spiritual guidance with help from the church. We explain to them the opportunities they have with the social welfare programs we offer. We give them economic support when we know for sure that they will return to their homes, and if not, we’ll help them for a little bit. But we also explain why it’s not a good idea that they try to go back [to the United States].
Question: And why isn’t a good idea?
Hernandez: Because of the big risk and danger of everything. I think that the people who don’t know those areas, don’t know all the risks of the migration routes, and don’t realize that they’ll live their life that way, on the lookout for your son. Many children are lost along the way.
Question: So your government is telling people not to go? That it’s dangerous?
Hernandez: We have a public campaign, using our resources, like one we’ve never had before telling people why it’s not a good idea. And to make sure that they don’t get fooled by the coyotes.
And this is something that I hope you can help me with – because you guys know some of the American leaders: There’s been some ambiguity, an absence of clarity in the political debate about immigration politics about the benefit of the coyotes, and how they say to families that they can bring their children here. Or that if they come with a kid in their hands, a kid without parents here, they can get in. So we need to make sure that every Honduran and every Central American understands the reality. But it needs to be clear. Honduras also launched an international conference in Tegucigalpa to dig deeper into this topic. The United Nations, UNICEF, the OAS, CELAC, CICA, Europe, there also people from here, from the U.S., a lot of people came. And these efforts will help us, so the magnitude of the problem is understood, and decision can be made.
Question: What has the United States government told you about plans to deport Hondurans? Have they said to expect hundreds? Thousands?
Hernandez: Well, right now Congress is considering one side, one possible reform to quickly solve this. Others are saying that it might take a little longer but that the immigrants need to return. In large quantities.
My response has been, and will continue to be: Number one, first of all, you have to be concerned about the interests of the children, in the rights of parents and children to reunite. It’s a human right that goes far beyond the legislatures of countries. But in what way, if families exist according to the laws, the United States doesn’t have the right to assist. And if they need to return to Honduras, we are ready to receive them and help them like countrymen.
Question: But have they told you to expect hundreds? Thousands?
Hernandez: The quantity is important, but, we’ve also said …..
Question: Well, how many have come this week?
Hernandez: There are two groups arriving three times per week. One group from the United States and another from Guatemalan and another one from Mexico.
Question: Three separate flights?
Hernandez: No, from Mexico, they come in buses, in big numbers. We’ve had to triple the size of our centers in order to receive these people. They’re coming en masse, but we’ve said that we need to be careful in order to respect their human rights.
Question: [He is handed copies of recent news pictures of immigrants in detention facilities along the border:] You’ve seen people in these facilities – when you look at these, what do you think?
Hernandez: That it is not just treatment.
Question: Do you think the United States is treating them properly?
Hernandez: At the first area along the border, I think they need to be treated better. But when they move on into the air bases or shelters, with more commodities, they’re in better condition. But, what good is it to be in a golden cage, if you don’t have your freedom? Or if you’re not free?
That’s why we need to have a fair process so that judges are watching out for the rights of kids, to reunite, and if then, there’s nothing that protects them, then we’re here to receive them. With all our weaknesses (flaws), but we’re going to receive them.
Question: When you look at these pictures, these are Hondurans, your people. What do you think?
Hernandez: Well, I told you, it’s a humanitarian tragedy. That’s why my government mandated that this phenomenon is a humanitarian crisis. And that’s why I’ve said that this cannot stay uniquely within the context of Central America, and the United States. This is a human crisis. If this happened in Europe, Asia or Africa, it’s a human tragedy that shouldn’t happen. That’s why we have to work together. And you the reporters, we ask that you help to explain what’s happening there and here, and what’s being done here and there be known so the American people could educate their leaders, or have the leaders make decisions, but we can’t continue the way it’s going.
Question: There are many Americans who are upset about this, who say the United States shouldn’t have to pay for this crisis, that Central American nations should be doing whatever they can to keep their citizens. What is your message to Americans who say this isn’t our problem?
Hernandez: Look, I’m a family man. And I would say that the important thing is for people to look into their conscious and to think like a father who’s here and wants to see their child. Or a mother who hasn’t seen their child in 12 years. It should be human point of view, first of all.
Secondly, if you look at the root of the problem, you’ll realize that your country has enormous responsibility for this. The problems of narco trafficking, it generates violence, reduces opportunities, generates migration because this is where there’s the largest consumption of drugs. And we’re on the route. And what happens when there’s such a high demand of drugs? Over in Honduras the gangs and the narcos are clashing, and now they fight over territory, and who’s going to move the drugs, they fight over who’s going to take the money from the other one. And that’s leaving us with such an enormous loss of life, and young people, generations of young people that we have lost because they entered the world of drugs. What is being done in the U.S. on the topic of drugs?
Investigate it and you’ll see it. Here, many officials say it’s a health problem. For us, it’s a matter of life and death, and that’s not fair. What’s fair is that we work together dealing with our own responsibilities.
Jeff Simon and Randolph Smith contributed to this report.
June 16, 2014
I am so inspired by Rula Jebreal. The author, screenwriter, and foreign policy expert for MSNBC is not only worldly, beautiful, and whip smart, but has an incredible life story. Raised in an orphanage in east Jerusalem after the death of her mother at age five, Rula went on to study in Italy, receiving multiple degrees in physiotherapy, journalism, and political science. She is the author of the novel Miral, which won the Unicef Protection of Children award and was turned into a film by artist Julian Schnabel; it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2011. Rula is a fascinating interview. Here she talked with me about her journey, why it’s crucial to not rely on your looks, and why being surrounded by people who tell you the truth is important.
Bobbi Brown: What did you learn about beauty growing up in East Jerusalem?
Rula Jebreal: I grew up in an orphanage with this amazing woman Hind Al Hussein who was raising 1500 kids. She always so elegant; she would wear perfume—and she had a lot of perfume—mascara, and always lipstick every day. She said you could fight a battle with lipstick and I thought really? But it matters! The way you feel, the way you look matters, it matters how people perceive you and how you feel about yourself.
BB: She was clearly a powerful woman in your life, how did Hind Al Hussein influence you?
RJ: After the tragedy of losing my mother when I was five and my father when I was 11, I found a home that empowered me and gave me the best life. She told us listen, “You might think that you are poor, that you are an orphan, it doesn’t matter, you can decide who you are.” She said, “You can rewrite your own destiny, you can start fresh, work hard, study hard and compete with the rest of the world, but compete on a different scale.”
BB: Were you exposed to the outside world, like television, famous people, or celebrities in the orphanage?
RJ: Yes, but fame in my country is different. For example, we had the first woman Prime Minister Golda Meir and she wasn’t beautiful, but everybody thought that she was sexy and powerful and great. I found her beautiful because of her brain. Then Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto, these women are incredible, beautiful, powerful, these are the women that I always loved and admired. There is no privacy today and you are expected to always look good. We must judge female leaders based on what they say, their actions, their policies. I don’t think that we should judge them because their hair is not dyed or their makeup isn’t perfect.
BB: When did you realize that you were beautiful?
RJ: I wasn’t raised to think that I was beautiful, I was raised to think that I was nothing. I never got any attention until I was 18. Men in my country, for them, blonde women are the ultimate. Then I arrived in Italy to study. Somebody at the airport looked at me and winked, and I looked behind me thinking, who is he looking at? Then I realized that there was nobody behind me and I thought, “Oh my god, this guy is out of his mind, he is drunk or something if he thinks that I am attractive.” I slowly realized, while living in Italy, that the criteria had changed and dark skin was synonymous with beauty. I was actually considered beautiful even though I had dark skin.
BB: Most women who look like you aren’t experts on international affairs; they don’t act the way you act.
RJ: I think it is because society rewards them for how they look and I came from a place where you have to prove what you can do in order to be loved, accepted, and then rewarded. I think that this is the shift between East and West.
BB: You have such an interesting career. Tell me about what you do and how it all came about.
RJ: I am a foreign policy expert on MSNBC and I talk about all of the world’s problems, whether they’re in Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, or Palestine, and how that they’re related to the United States. It began when I was 28 and I wrote an article for an Italian newspaper, before September 11th, about the new order in the Middle East and Islamic extremism. I was invited to speak on Italian television and the channel’s owner hired me; they were looking for a more international perspective. Of course, in my field, you have to prove what you are capable of. You have to prove that you work hard, you study hard, you are knowledgeable, and you understand how the world is changing.
BB: When did you start wearing makeup?
RJ: I started wearing makeup immediately after I started working in television. I was the first anchorwoman in Italian television of foreign origin. The makeup artist would put on my makeup and I always felt uncomfortable, because I looked gray. It was never my color and they didn’t understand my skin tone. They didn’t have foundation that was good for me. It was always a struggle, until one day after many years of working, I went to Paris and I went to Sephora and finally I was exposed to the right makeup and I bought so much of it. Suddenly, I started feeling comfortable with makeup. I used to wear it only with television and now I can’t leave my home without putting on little mascara, concealer, and lip gloss.
BB: What are the make up colors that you normally gravitate toward?
RJ: You, Bobbi, changed my life in terms of looks because you’re your products arrived in Europe, many women with my skin tone felt relieved and safe. Finally there was somebody speaking to us, speaking our language and making colors that look good on us. I didn’t need to adjust to colors for white women. I had my own products.
BB: You have a daughter, did she ever come to you with self esteem issues or questions?
RJ: Fortunately, no, but sometimes she would come to me and say, “Mom, I hate that I have pimples.” I would say, listen every woman at different ages has pimples, don’t become obsessed and think that this is your limit in life and this is what makes you not beautiful.
BB: Talk to me about your diet, what do you eat, what do you not eat?
RJ: I love vegetables and I love fish. I’m a healthy eater, but it’s not conscious. I love sweets, carrot cakes, and ladyfingers, but I try to keep it to once or twice a week. I love a glass of champagne sometimes and a glass of red wine. I overdo it over the holidays and then I try to scale down. For many reasons I decided that once a month, I fast for a whole day and only drink water. It’s refined my body and my soul; even my brain works faster.
BB: Are you into anything in the beauty world, like facials or massages? Do you have a dermatologist?
RJ: I wish I had time for all of that! Once a year I get a facial, with television makeup you need to go and clean your pores. My nightly bath is my massage; it’s great after a long day with all of the oils. Then I have a nice glass of red wine or chardonnay and I watch a nice movie and then I can relax.
BB: What do you wish more young women knew?
RJ: Don’t rely on your looks because sooner or later you will age and your look will change. If you rely only on them, you will have a very short career. If you want to last, do something that will last for years to come. Rely on two components, your brain, hard work and then yes, combine this with good looks, but good looks come from who you are, what you stand for, from other qualities. And stay humble. When I go to talk at colleges, whether it’s Harvard or Yale, I tell them, even if you succeed at the highest of levels, you have to stay humble and you have to give back to your community—small things, big things. The people you surround yourself with when you are rich, wealthy or famous, at the end of the day, they are yes men. I want to be around people who tell me, “Listen, what you said on television yesterday was not right.” I want critical thinking, for somebody to challenge me. You know, you want real people.
BB: You’re so right, and that’s so important. I love hearing your perspective. I’m honored to have you on the site. Thank you so much.
Photo: Henry Leutwyler
July 25, 2014
When the bodies of three Israeli teenagers, kidnapped in the West Bank, were found late last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not mince words. “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay,” he said, initiating a campaign that eventually escalated into the present conflict in the region.
But now, officials admit the kidnappings were not Hamas’s handiwork after all.
Non-plagiarizing BuzzFeed writer Sheera Frenkel was among the first to suggest that it was unlikely that Hamas was behind the deaths of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach. Citing Palestinian sources and experts the field, Frenkel reported that kidnapping three Israeli teens would be a foolish move for Hamas. International experts told her it was likely the work of a local group, acting without concern for the repercussions:
[Gershon Baskin] pointed out that Hamas has earlier this month signed an agreement to form a unity government with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, bridging, for the first time in seven years, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza.
“They will lose their reconciliation agreement with Abbas if they do take responsibility for [the kidnappings],” Baskin added.
Today, she was proven right:
Repeated inconsistencies in Israeli descriptions of the situation have sparked debate over whether Israel wanted to provoke Hamas into a confrontation. Israeli intelligence is also said to have known that the boys were dead shortly after they disappeared, but to have maintained public optimism about their safe return to beef up support from the Jewish diaspora. Writing for Al Jazeera, Musa al-Gharbi argued that Israel wasdeliberately provoking Hamas:
All the illegal and immoral actions related to Operation Brother’s Keeper were justified under the premise of finding and saving the missing teens whom the Israeli government knew to be dead — cynically exploiting the tragedy to whip up public outcry in order to provoke and then confront Hamas. This pattern of deception continues under the ongoing military offensive in Gaza. For example, last week in collaboration with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Abbas, in its efforts to alienate Hamas, Israel announced a bad-faith cease-fire proposal, which Hamas was not consulted on and never agreed to but whose violation supposedly justified Israel’s expansion and intensification of the military campaign into Gaza.
Despite continued negotiations, the violence shows no signs of letting up, and after Thursday night’s massive protests in the West Bank, there is still no ceasefire agreement. On Friday, it became clear that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to broker a seven-day truce were rejected by Israeli officials. Instead, Israel will apparently widen its ground operation in the Gaza Strip, despite international outcry about the civilian death toll. According to unnamed officials, the proposed truce was too generous to Hamas’s demands.
Hamas, meanwhile, still hasn’t weighed in on the agreement, whose details are being kept secret, but continued to launch rockets into Israel. International peace talks are set to resume in France this weekend, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed.
Responding to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other resistance forces in the Gaza Strip’s rejection of the so-called “ceasefire proposal,” Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas lamented, “The Palestinian factions’ refusal to deal with the Egyptian proposal for ceasefire with Israel has disappointed all of us.”
That ceasefire called for the end of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, but said nothing of the Israeli occupation, siege, and blockade from which those rockets were born. It was, in other words, not a ceasefire proposal at all. With his comments, Abbas, the leader of Fatah and the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, distanced himself from the rest of the Palestinian factions.
Since the 2007 Hamas-Fatah conflict, the Palestinian political spectrum has polarized. Divisions between the two main factions are not merely geographical, institutional, ideological, or political. Most centrally, they run along the fault line of their conflicting agendas: resistance and anti-resistance.
Division is not new in Palestinian national politics. Political and ideological disagreements have been features of factional politics within the Palestinian national movement since its inception. However, during moments of resistance to intensified Israeli aggression, these fissures used to close up, to be replaced with a sense of unity and shared destiny.
Unfortunately, recent years have undermined this tendency. Resistance is no longer seen as a unifying umbrella under which Palestinian factions leave behind their disputes.
Western and Israeli media like to depict Abbas as a representative of the most moderate Palestinian political camp. But in the eyes of Palestinians, his hostility to the resistance makes him appear to be an unofficial spokesman of the Israeli government. That hostility is even more problematic given that he presides over a political trend that still presents itself as a “national liberation movement.”
Fatah arguably inaugurated the Palestinian resistance in 1965. It certainly dominated the PLO by the late 1960s. But since the signing of the Oslo Accords, it has abandoned the basic functions of a liberation movement. It became an exclusivist party seeking to impose its hegemony over Palestinian society, as well as monopolize political decision making, financial resources, and the means of violence.
Fatah’s irresponsible politics have diverted the PLO from its anti-colonial mission and subordinated it to the narrow interests of the Palestinian Authority elite. It has divided Palestinian society through a patronage network that has penetrated most institutions and organizations, and which serves as a mechanism of control to both co-opt potential leadership and push opposition to the margins.
Palestinian universities, historically an arena for a dynamic student movement, have become subject to PA diktat through the presence of Fatah security agents. Their role is to report on organizers’ activities, which leads both to the political arrests of students in the opposition, as well odd results in student council elections in favor of Al-Shabiba — the Fatah student movement.
Fatah’s adherence to the Oslo project and its economic normalization and security coordination with Israel have brought to the surface its divergence from the growing popular consensus that favors alternative strategies for the Palestinian national movements — ones based on resistance.
With the recent Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip and the crackdown on protests in the West Bank protests, the PA and its ruling party have rushed, as never before, to cooperate with the Israeli occupation — a cooperation which verges on alliance. Fatah has systemically aligned itself with the most hostile regimes to resistance, and transformed Palestinian embassies around the world into hubs for plots and cooperation with foreign intelligence services.
The movement has historically contained competing trends — with political agendas that have seemed sometimes conflicting, if not contradictory. For example, during the Second Intifada, Fatah’s military wing, Al-Aqsa Brigades, played a key role in military confrontations with Israeli troops, and often deployed suicide bombers. At the same time, some of its key security leaders collaborated with the Israeli security services.
The most militant trend within Fatah in the West Bank evaporated after the arrest of its symbolic leader, Marwan Barghouti, and the domestication of its members by Abbas. Only in the Gaza Strip is the Fatah military wing still active and indeed highly critical of its mother party in the West Bank.
Fatah has adopted the most hypocritical kind of pragmatism. For example, when Western governments pressured Arafat to create the office of PA prime minister in order to reduce his power and influence, Abbas was the US favorite to occupy the post. Quickly afterward, Abbas came into conflict with Arafat over the control of the security forces, leading to Abbas’s resignation in 2003.
As a result of this incident, Abbas was seen by the majority of Fatah members as the “Karzai of Palestine,” implementing US and Israeli agendas and conspiring against Arafat. He disappeared from the political scene. However, after the death of Arafat, somehow Abbas was reborn as a heroic visionary, and the most qualified to replace Arafat as the PA president, the leader of Fatah, and the chairman of the PLO.
Given growing popular anger against the PA, several Fatah members have distanced themselves from its positions. This move has not been accompanied by critical voices demanding radical change within the movement. It is now normal to hear conflicting statements by Fatah leaders and members. But during critical moments, they appear to surrender to central decisions, even if they run counter to the core interests of the Palestinian cause.
Since the early 1990s, the Islamic Resistance Movement — Hamas — has become the main political competitor of both Fatah in particular and the secular PLO in general. Unlike Fatah, which is endorsed by Western governments, Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization. Its growing popularity in the 1990s stemmed from its fierce opposition to the Oslo Accords, which had been translated on the ground into a series of suicide bombing attacks inside Israel.
Hamas also enjoys popular support among the marginalized poor due to its well-established network of social and charitable organizations and ability to mobilize its constituents.
During the Second Intifada, Hamas joined other resistance forces in attacking Israeli troops and settlers. It also carried out massive suicide bombings inside Israel. However, by the end of the Second Intifada, Hamas began to moderate its position, hinting at accepting the two-state solution, announcing the end of suicide bombings, and declaring its willingness to join the formal political process.
In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections with an overwhelming majority, a victory which threatened Fatah’s historical dominance of the national movement. In response, the international community, led by the United States, boycotted the democratically elected government and halted financial aid to PA institutions.
The rising tension between Hamas and Fatah, fueled by Western and Israeli backing of Fatah, ended in a semi-civil war in the Gaza Strip in 2007 and the subsequent divide between the de facto Hamas government in the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-led PA in the West Bank.
After the Hamas takeover of the Strip, Israel imposed a crippling siege on it, waged three destructive wars on its population, and invested extensively in sustaining the Palestinian internal division.
There are many who understandably dislike Hamas’s conduct. Its dominant position in the Gaza Strip has frequently been subject to harsh criticism concerning its authoritarian mode of governance, imposition of conservative social rules, and occasional suppression of opposition groups and journalists.
However, influential resistance outfits such as the Islamic Jihad, PFLP, and even some Fatah militant branches appear to favor Hamas rule over the Gaza Strip because they are granted freedom of military training and armament.
And yet, Hamas’s participation in the 2006 elections and its later use of formal political institutions in the Gaza Strip has led some observers to argue that Hamas has begun to take the route of Fatah, and its engagement in a political process with Israel is only a matter of time.
This perception became more widely accepted when Hamas abandoned its historic regional allies — Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria — which for years had aided it militarily and bolstered it financially, and allied itself with an emergent regional axis following the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, supported by other regional actors, particularly Qatar and Turkey, under the tent of US hegemony.
However, the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the capture of power by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi have undermined Hamas’s power as well as its ability to govern the Gaza Strip. These events have generated an existential crisis for Hamas, forcing it to accept a reconciliation deal with Fatah that contains several concessions that would not previously have been conceivable.
Reckoning with how this happened is crucial and unavoidable. Indeed, even putting such matters to the side, many of us have over time disagreed with Hamas ideologically and politically. We still disagree, and we will continue to disagree. But in the face of Israel’s deadly aggression, it has become increasingly clear that Palestinians share the same destiny.
In such critical moments, the systematic anti-Hamas propaganda engineered by some Palestinian trends does not specifically target Hamas as an organization. It in fact targets the concept of resistance itself, as a practice, an idea, a consciousness. The alternative on offer is not resistance through different tactics. It is its antithesis, an alliance with colonialism.
For this reason, we must now be clear. It would be a mistake to perceive all the existing factional agendas as part of the national liberation movement. Supporters of the Palestinian struggle ought to be aware that by now some have proven themselves to be enemies of the Palestinian struggle for liberation and self-determination.