A Voice of Hope from the Place of Everywhere and Nowhere
By Michael Cheno Wickert
I’ve been trying to write my introduction for the San Diego Free Press for days now, but despite my ability to ramble on and on about so many topics, sitting down at a keyboard to write about myself is difficult. Therefore, I’ve decided to simply state that I am a father, a husband, and a teacher from Chula Vista. After many years of college and hard work as teachers, my wife and I were able to buy a nice house for our family. Now all the relatives can come and stay here without sleeping on the floor, and that’s a good feeling.
We sometimes refer to our home as the Refugee Camp because like our dogs and cats, our children were adopted. An unlikely bunch, we came together somehow and it is beautiful, but not always easy. Like the rest of our family, my wife and I were somewhat making it through life with the help of great people, but neither of us had a partner to fulfill that promise of happiness every morning as the sun rose and every evening as we drifted into sleep.
Our lives were not shipwrecks, they were more like messages in bottles bobbing up and down, following the currents until we came together; and little by little our little island grew into a home and then a family. Out of this wilderness, we found security in each other.
Really, it is this sense of security that I must reflect upon first. Each of our journeys has been significant and ongoing. I won’t reveal the inner struggles of each member of our family, but I can acknowledge my own journey. I am the product of divorce, remarriage, domestic violence, divorce again (and again), family court, substance abuse, numerous public schools, the public library, MediCal, government butter, public transportation, the so called justice system, social services, community colleges, and the California State University system.
In short, I am a liberal’s wet dream; and after all that I was given, I decided to give back. I never lie awake at night thinking about how I can get more, I lie awake at night thinking about how I can do more, and there is always more to be done.
Security often comes in two forms. One way is to have so much confidence that you never doubt yourself. The second way is to work really hard, and to have your progress and growth recognized by those around you so that you continue to improve. I am from the second group. Maybe that’s what makes me believe so strongly in the power of the collective, but with a healthy dose of individual action. When we notice the person sitting in the back, quietly listening and observing, we just might be looking at a reluctant lion who can change the world, but has no idea where to begin.
When we see that person who is talking just to make noise, there just might be a leader who needs to take more time to learn the complexity of ideas before speaking. When we encounter the least fortunate, the least understood, the least confident among us, we have to decide whether we make it our mission to hold those individuals up to feel the sunshine on their faces or we leave them cold like unnoticed shadows on a sidewalk.
I believe in the overall goodness of humanity, which is why I also believe that we need to hold those downturned faces up to the sunlight. Despite all the wars and inhumane actions of some, it would appear that throughout time and across cultures we have intrinsically participated in the giving of ourselves more often than the taking from others. Ultimately, this is why we survive. Compassion, sharing, and cooperation are probably evolutionary traits that have helped move us from simple tool using primates to the builders of space probes.
It is our curiosity that has taken us from surviving on this planet to thriving on it, and despite the destructive by-products of our industrial civilization many of us are cognizant enough to know that even the smallest environmentally responsible act makes the world a better place.
It is amazing to consider the millions of students who throng to colleges and universities to be challenged because they really want to learn the things our current educational system ignores. It is too busy telling kids to learn English and pass tests so that corporations can make billions and politicians can control a system many won’t even allow their own children to be a part of. Yet, we survive and we progress.
The ground beneath our feet here in sunny California is the stuff of legends and of hope. It is here that so many left the bone chilling cold and the stifling heat to remake themselves. It is here that the NAFTA starved raza came in search of work and food. It is here that the Kumayaay laid siege to Junipero Serra’s mission, on what is now Presidio Hill, in an attempt to expel the invaders and their religion of conquest.
It is here where the lights of Tijuana sparkle like diamonds, but are considered little more than shards of glass waiting to be swept away and replaced with condos and home owners associations. But someone forgot that the gardeners and maids who wield those cleaning brooms might not want to sweep that esquina del mundo into the ocean just yet. Maybe they want to give it some more time.
It is here, on the cusp of TijuanDiego that I sit, looking at the Chicano Park Bridge to the north and el Cerro de las Torres to the south. It is here that I watch a hawk circling overhead, looking for a meal. It is here that the rhythm of traffic on H St. raises up crashing urban sound waves across the walls of Rice Canyon up into Terra Nova, the new land. This is where fathers and husbands love their families, and work to cultivate hope for their children and for all of our children.
It is here where we are everywhere and nowhere, ni de aquí, ni de allá. Here we are just here, aquí nomás.
Michael Cheno Wickert is a professor of English and Education at Southwestern College, and author of numerous short stories and poetry that focus on the TijuanDiego region. He lives with his family in Chula Vista. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Facebook/Profe Cheno.