Amidst the slick, coiffed, ambitious and self-possessed multitude responsible for filling the pipelines of our society with relevant, accurate information, you are the plumbers in overalls, the guys with dirty fingernails, overtired from double shifts, trying to figure out how to finish each new job with too few workers. But unlike plumbers, you are the unpaid, the unprofitable, the squeaking-by artisans of heartfelt truth lodged in the souls of people seeking some way of expressing their deepest concerns in a letter, comment, story, critique or poem. [Read more…]
Dear Ohio – The Last Installment
From my new place in the soul of the universe, where I have resided only days, I look down at my worthless life as an immigrant.
Who am I, Hermelinda Barbachano, to say my life was of value to my fellow Americans?
I leave behind useful but few belongings – minimal furniture, used clothing, some old small kitchen appliances, extra medical supplies, a wheelchair, a portable commode and a walker. Beyond that, I fear you might be blind to the gifts I have given you. After all, we live in a time when material things are the only gifts that matter. [Read more…]
I’ve been seeing ghosts lately. Ghosts of people I’ve known and never known. They rise from visions of pure white teeth climbing the mouths of rolling hills, erupting in rows along grassy plains. Teeth, in a mouth that grows bigger with each passing year, teeth more numerous with each generation.
Out of these teeth rise the spirits of men and women, young and old, all colors, races, all religions and origins. These spirits once lived in a sharecropper’s shack in Kentucky, a brownstone in New York, a mobile home in Lancaster, a walk-up in Chicago. They once picked fruit in California, harvested grain in Kansas, mined coal in Virginia, raised cattle in Texas. In more recent years, they babysat a neighbor’s children in Arizona, graduated from a community college in Colorado, clerked in a grocery store in Hawaii, cleaned rooms at a resort in Alaska.
These spirits evaporated from the arms of their mothers and fathers, watched their spouses and children slip away while waving to them across the growing gap of land or water, swallowed their tears of loneliness and grasped onto their fellows as a lifeline of family. [Read more…]
The midterm elections are soon to be here. Maybe it’s time to talk about God.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Is she nuts? Two topics you’re never supposed to bring up in public – religion and politics – and she wants to talk about them. But here’s the thing, Dear Ohio. It’s not God who is killing this country. It’s religion. Specifically, it’s the desire of some religions to harness the power of government to force us all to do as they believe we should on any issue they choose. It seems as if they want to ban personal conscience if it does not comport with their own beliefs. If they are successful, then much of what we have accomplished as a society will be turned back to a time when the law was unconcerned with the suffering of those who did not hold power.
A list of the conduct religious powers are apt to remove from personal conscience can be garnered from the current public dialogue: [Read more…]
Things are starting to fall into place. Not in the way many of us hoped, but in a way that looks more and more like pre-World War II Germany.
Since the dawn of Hollywood movies, we Americans have been pretty good at re-creating any era we choose, dressing our sets, painting our backdrops, sewing our costumes. When the movie is finished, viewers can immerse themselves in a new reality, traveling back in time, or forward into the future, then exiting after things are resolved. How many times, for example, have moviegoers felt the terror of the Nazi regime, easing it with popcorn, soda, and a quiet walk to the parking lot while checking our phones? [Read more…]
It would be simple if we could think of Ohio – or any of our 50 states – as composed of only two sets of citizens: those who know the truth and those who don’t. But we Americans are all more alike than different. And we cannot sever our fortunes from each other.
Nevertheless, our ignorance of each other is killing us. Lost in our illusion of perfect “American Independence” – that fictional state in which we thrive without help from anyone else – we have one mantra: Every man for himself. (Or every woman.) We have neither the inclination nor the time to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before we judge them unworthy and leave them behind altogether.
Rich or poor, white or not, religious or non-religious, voters or non-voters, whatever our differences, we are we and they are they. They made their bed; they can lie in it. Of course, if they are rich or famous, we want to know what kind of sheets they have, the types of food they are served in bed, the fabric of their night clothes, and with whom they sleep. If they are poor, sick, elderly, refugees, homeless, hungry or struggling in any way that requires the help of someone else to survive, we advise them to take personal responsibility for their predicament.
We cannot be our brother’s keeper while we are lost in our own pursuit of the rapidly disappearing American Dream. [Read more…]
You are America’s portrait artist. As our bellwether election state, your results on Tuesday will be like a fine, sharp pencil, sketching the outlines of a new America, struggling to get the shading just right, the lines clear, the white space well-defined. Your results will begin to tell us once again who we are. Or what we have become.
In your last big portrait of America in 2016, our image was one of anger, creased with lines of cynicism, parched of human kindness, cloaked in a shredded garment of self-righteousness.
I can’t say I blame you for letting your pencil run away with your resentment. You are just as American as we are here in California and the other 48 states. All of us were reared on a diet of civic values that sang the praises of the people as the true governors of our democracy. But over the last few decades, largely because we were not paying attention, we discerned a new reality – one in which we had absolutely no importance to the people who hold the reins of our country. [Read more…]
I was listening to the soaring soundtrack of The Mission today, and it made me think of you. The film tells the story of a church-state conflict that arises in the 1750s and ultimately crushes a tiny Jesuit mission and the people who built it, members of the Guarani, indigenous peoples who inhabited tribal lands deep in the rain forests of central South America.
In the film, a tiny slice of the larger political fight for power over the Guarani takes place among Spain, Portugal, and the Vatican. The losers are the Guarani believers who took refuge in the mission – one of many that had been established by the Jesuits – in the hope not just of eternal salvation, but of earthly deliverance from the hands of the slave-trading countries that had invaded their lands. The natives’ hope is destroyed as Catholic European soldiers murder the natives as they attend Mass.
At this point, Dear Ohio, you’re probably wondering why the music from this film makes me think of you. As you well know from my previous correspondence, I write to you because you are the bellwether election state. And it seems of late that religion and politics have become welded together in a way that is galvanizing the electorate in Ohio and all other states in the Union. (How ironic to have this happen in a country where it is common to hear people say, “Never talk about politics or religion,” and where we celebrate a history of government and church being separate in order to promote freedom among all believers and non-believers.) [Read more…]
This is my fourth letter to you, my sister state, for we are all sons and daughters of this democracy, however embattled it now may be. And it must be remembered that in modern times, no presidential candidate has reached the White House without Ohio’s blessing. So I come to you once again, with a heavy heart, to see if those among you who care so deeply for our country, can still embrace the notion that all of us belong.
There was 10-year-old boy I met one day in my work as a lawyer for low-income families. His mother brought him to me because he was deeply depressed. Two thoughts bumped about in my mind when I made his acquaintance. The first was that I had never met a boy of 10 who was deeply depressed. The second was that it seemed odd a mother should seek help for a depressed child from a lawyer.
The boy was a beautiful, brown-skinned, big-eyed, dark-haired youngster whose eyes followed closely the adult conversation. He sat uncomfortably in the chair across from my desk, while his mother described the problem. He was facing charges in juvenile court for loitering and non-attendance at school. He didn’t want to get up in the morning, didn’t want to walk to the bus, couldn’t get through the school day, wasn’t interested in anything. [Read more…]
This is my third letter to you, my sister state. Oh, I know you don’t think of California as your sister state, but in the now-forgotten context of a United States of America, we are all sister (and brother?) states, right? Being our bellwether election state, Dear Ohio, you have a special importance for us all.
I was reading about the Lowmillers the other day. You probably know of them. They run a dairy farm their granddaddy and daddy started in 1942 in Columbiana County, Ohio. They’re very proud of it, and they’ve won awards for their farming excellence. But one day when one of the Lowmillers was hunting rabbit on his land with his cousin, they noticed the hunting dogs never stopped once to drink from the stream. And the Lowmiller boy said he got to thinking, “I kinda know what’s going into that stream.” It was runoff from manure produced by the dairy herd. [Read more…]
Once again, I write to you because you are the bellwether election state. In that sense, you are a critical part of the vetting process for presidential candidates.
In my last letter, I confided how bewildered I was that you had chosen a president so unlike my friends, Don and Ilene, who both grew up in Canton, Ohio. Everyone who knew these folks looked up to them, and some of us even tried to be more like them. They were people who invested their whole lives in the premise that everyone deserves to be treated with compassion, fairness and respect.
The house my friend Ilene grew up in still stands on 24th Street in Canton. Her father built it pretty much with his own hands. She remembered it as a place of love and understanding where she felt cherished. She said he was the kind of man who made her want to be good in his eyes. She remembered how he explained to her that quite often, it wasn’t the fault of his clients that they couldn’t pay their bills. Times were tough back then, and even spare change was hard to come by in some households.
You know, dear Ohio, when you don’t live in a state and you just meet people who once lived there, you have a tendency to think that everyone in that state is like the people you know. So, for a long time now, I have thought most Ohioans were like Don and Ilene – examples of compassion, understanding, respect and decency. I still cling to that belief.
But I noticed in the paper the other day that the president has figured out a way to dump people off the rolls of Medicaid, the federally supported health insurance program for the poor. He will now allow states to impose work requirements as a condition of receiving Medicaid. And two of the states racing to get federal permission to implement such a plan are Ohio and its neighbor, Kentucky.
That brings to mind a little story about my friend Ilene. [Read more…]
I know you didn’t create this presidential havoc all by yourselves, but you are, after all, the bellwether state in presidential elections. People say if a candidate doesn’t win Ohio, he or she can’t become President.
So I thought I’d start sharing with you some concerns I have, as you will most likely be vetting our next president. I know there are some Ohioans who profoundly dislike us Californians, but on the chance that some of you still consider us part of the United States of America, perhaps you will take a moment and read this letter. [Read more…]